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Mr. Berry : I am prepared to make the document available in the Library, or whatever the proper procedure is. I have been very careful ; I have no idea who provided the document to journalists on Monday afternoon, as there is no name on it although it begins with the words, "the Government".
Column 532Either it represents the Government's view, or it is a forgery. There is open and not-so-open government. I have mentioned how the document appeared and the fact that it bore no name, but I do not want to digress--the point is that it states specifically that it will cost billions of pounds if the Bill is passed. It fails to recognise the costs of discrimination faced by disabled people.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North) rose
"lead to litigation and unquantifiable costs for business and taxpayers."
The document gives three examples of the costs involved : the cost of lifts at British Rail stations, the cost of improving access to schools and the cost of refurbishing a cinema. Each and every one of those costs would have to be incurred if education and persuasion worked. How is it possible to be told on the one hand that we do not need legislation, because education and persuasion will give disabled people what they are entitled to, and on the other hand that, if we do those things, it would cost money and that is why we should not pass the Bill ?
The arguments of those who oppose anti-discrimination legislation have been mutually contradictory. I could give other examples, but I do not have time. On occasion, there is evidence that the arguments are made up as we go along.
Cost is the crucial issue that may still divide us, although I hope that it does not. I think that we are winning the argument, but it may be the issue that still concerns some. It is 12 years since the publication of that CORAD report, which first recommended anti-discrimination legislation. Those who have been concerned about costs have had 12 years in which to produce serious evidence that, considering the benefits and the costs, there was a case to say that we should do nothing.
Where is the serious evidence and analysis of the economic implications of anti-discrimination legislation which was recommended in that report to Government 12 years ago ? I have never seen it.
Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon) : I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman that a thorough cost-benefit analysis of anti-discrimination legislation is vital. It has struck me as strange that the Government did not commission one some time ago. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, at a meeting that I had with my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Employment on 1 February, I asked him whether the Government had such a cost-benefit analysis, and he said no ? I asked him whether he would commission a cost- benefit analysis, and there and then he did so from his officials. However, in a question for written answer at the beginning of the week, I asked whether the Secretary of State for Employment could at least make available the preliminary findings of that analysis. The question was transferred to the Department of Social Security, and I was informed that there was no cost-benefit analysis.
Mr. Berry : The hon. Member is absolutely correct. As I recall, he and I attended a meeting of the all-party disablement group in the past week, where the Secretary of State for Employment and Lord Henley were asked for
Column 533evidence of the potential costs of the legislation. Lord Henley, with the candour of a man who really believes that Ministers should not mislead the House, said :
"We do not know how much it would cost".
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. When they are pressed, we are told that they do not know. There has been more than adequate time for those who believe that costs are prohibitive to produce some evidence. They have failed to do so. It is ironic that, even on this subject, prejudice rather than facts seems to hold sway.
Research in the United States shows that costs need not be a problem. Anti- discrimination legislation is cost-effective and enables more disabled people to become economically active and independent, rather than having to rely on benefits. Businesses are open to more customers and therefore derive economic benefit ; the more that disabled people are able to work, the greater the tax revenues and less has to be spent on social security.
The Bill explicitly recognises the need for gradual implementation and for any changes to be reasonable. Clearly, not all trains can be made accessible overnight, but all new trains can, and a phased programme of improvements can be implemented on existing ones. More important than anything else, I would argue that it is the very discrimination itself that costs too much. The costs falling on disabled people are ignored by opponents of the Bill in favour of alleged costs to the Treasury. Disabled people have to deal with their disability, the cost of being denied work and the basic human rights of choice, participation and independence--the cost of being denied the same rights as everyone else.
It is intolerable that the costs which discrimination impose on disabled people should be brushed aside, while unquantified, alleged costs to the Treasury should be presented as a reason to deny people their basic civil and human rights. If anyone were to support that scandalous proposition, one may well ask about their view of existing legislation on equal opportunities and race relations.
During his New Year interview for the BBC Radio 4 programme "The World This Weekend", the Prime Minister committed his Government to a classless society with the words :
"When I talk about a classless society I am talking about a society in which everybody, wherever they may come from, whatever they may start with, will have the same opportunities to progress as other people who perhaps start from quite different circumstances." The Bill is about creating precisely such equal opportunities for disabled people. Anti-discrimination legislation is now supported by a majority of Members of Parliament. Such a Bill has now been through all its stages in the House of Lords.
Disabled people are rightly demanding their rights. They are demanding no more and no less than, to use the Prime Minister's words,
"the same opportunities . . . as other people".
The Bill, or something very like it, will eventually reach the statute book. I repeat that, in years to come, we shall look back and wonder why on earth it took so long. Why should we accept any further delay ?
Discrimination against disabled people is simply unacceptable. There ought to be a law against it--if the Bill reaches the statute book, there will be.
Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Before I call the next hon. Member, may I point out that there is a long list of hon. Members who wish to speak, and that overlong speeches are not fair to other hon. Members ?
Sir John Hannam (Exeter) : This is an important and exciting day for the 6.5 million disabled people in our country. I am proud, as I am sure many hon. Members are, to be able to lend support to the anti- discrimination Bill of the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry). He follows in the footsteps of eminent parliamentarians and hon. Members who have endeavoured to promote similar Bills. Indeed, he is sitting next to the most consistent of those campaigners, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), whose efforts with all those who are active in the sphere of disablement are at last about to bear fruit.
We all congratulate the hon. Member on his excellent speech. It is hard to conceive of anyone, having listened to the arguments which he deployed, voting against the Second Reading. If there are opponents in the House, they only needed to be in Westminster Hall on Wednesday to meet the 1,000 or more disabled people who came to lobby their Members of Parliament. The deep and passionate feelings held by them were expressed most vividly to all of us and talking to some of those disabled to people produced some illustrative and interesting examples of the kinds of barriers that they face in their every day lives.
A person who came up to me as I was talking to Lord Ashley said that he was the organiser of the Horizon Adventure Club from Cornwall, which is a club for young adults with learning difficulties. It enables them to lead fruitful lives. He said that if I wanted an example of discrimination, he would tell me what had happened to that group in the past week. He said that they wanted to hire a meeting room in a publicly owned building that was operated by a voluntary organisation, but they were denied use of the hall on the ground that it could not be used by subnormal people.
When I asked other people on that rally on Wednesday whether they had individual examples of being denied their normal rights, every hand in the hall went up and a roar of support echoed around the vaulted heights of the Great Hall.
I admit that it was a very emotional afternoon. I know that, as legislators, we must be objective and put emotions on one side. However, it is only too easy for us here to become immersed in the technicalities of statutes and other legislation and we can forget what is going on in the world outside and in the lives of the millions of disabled people in the community. I refer to the hearing-impaired, the sight-impaired, the physically handicapped, those with learning difficulties, those with disabling diseases--which are not always visible--children and adults needing education, disabled people who want to work--and, as they so often tell us, to pay their taxes--and those needing accessible transport, housing and leisure. In other words, they are people who want to be able to live normal lives.
The removal of barriers and the ending of unfair discrimination is the background to today's debate. As the hon. Member for Kingswood pointed out, there was the same growing awareness in the United States of the need to legislate to remove the same barriers. In 1990, President
Column 535Bush introduced the Americans with Disabilities Act. Like the hon. Gentleman, I shall quote the words of President Bush who said : "Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down." I suggest that in disability legislation, we are in the same position as regards the United States as we are in the economic growth cycle ; we are following a little later along the same path. Like the United States, we have a Government who have done all that is possible through the voluntary approach to good practice--through education and exhortation, and through dramatically improved financial support--to try to achieve a shared objective. We must accept that it is a shared objective, although approached by different avenues. The objective is the elimination of discrimination against disabled people and the achievement of their full participation in all aspects of life.
Through the use of our much more extensive voluntary sector, the British Government have provided far more help than was given in the United States. However, the end result is the same. Despite all our efforts, barriers remain as insurmountable as ever. The frustrations of the millions of disabled people have steadily mounted, reaching near breaking point as they see the remarkable turnaround in countries that have introduced anti- discrimination legislation. I have been an officer of the all-party disablement group for 20 years. Like other Conservative Members, I originally held the view that the Government path was right and that there was no real need to legislate except in the various Departments, one by one --the piecemeal approach. Following that path throughout those years, the all-party group tried to help to improve various areas for disabled people. There were employers' incentive schemes to improve employment prospects and we considered the quota system. We attended all the "Fit for Work" presentations and the working breakfasts across the country. I came to enjoy eating fried eggs again--I do not normally eat them.
We secured amendments to various pieces of legislation. One example is the Companies Act 1985, which one would not imagine to be a vehicle for disablement legislation. We actually built in a requirement that in their annual reports, companies had to include a statement on what they had been doing for disabled employees. At the end of the day, what was achieved ? Where are we now ?
Official figures show that disabled people are three times more likely to be out of work--and unemployed for longer periods--than non-disabled people are. They are paid one quarter less, despite all the studies showing that they give better dedication, loyalty and effort to employers than do non- disabled workers.
I was a member of the Standing Committee that considered the Education Act 1981. The Act was intended to encourage integrated education, yet segregation is still the order of the day with less than a 1 per cent. drop since the Warnock committee reported in 1977. As the hon. Member for Kingswood said, disabled students make up only 0.3 per cent. of the entire student population in universities and polytechnics. Anyone who wants to know
Column 536why that is need only go round our universities to see how many of the buildings have been adapted over the years to give access to disabled people and those in wheelchairs.
Mr. David Congdon (Croydon, North-East) : My hon. Friend rightly mentioned the Warnock report and the Education Act 1981. Does anything show more strongly the need for the Bill than the failure of that important Act in enabling more youngsters, especially at primary age, to have access to mainstream rather than segregated education ? It is incredible that, 13 years on, many young people still have to go to special schools when they could be catered for properly in mainstream education.
Sir John Hannam : My hon. Friend is right. There are examples of local authorities that, in that time, have increased by 25 per cent. the number of pupils they send to special schools. In many areas, the position has deteriorated rather than improved.
There are 4 million disabled people with mobility difficulties. One per cent. of the total adult population use wheelchairs. Despite all the efforts by the Government and the House, most of Britain's public transport and public buildings remain basically inaccessible. Steps, heavy doors, impossible toilets, a lack of lifts and pedestrian areas created round shops effectively prevent disabled people from gaining access and carrying out daily tasks, such as shopping.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the basic rights on which we build our other rights is the right to vote ? Disabled people have considerable problems in gaining access to polling stations and exercising their right to vote on the same basis as able-bodied people. I know that the hon. Gentleman is aware of that problem, because he sponsored a meeting of the Spastics Society following a report about the problems at the 1992 general election. The report showed that polling station after polling station lacked basic access facilities for disabled people.
Sir John Hannam : That is another of the many examples of discrimination. The hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to secure the passage of private Members' legislation to try to address the problem. The all-party group secured amendments to a Bill to try to step up the amount of financial help that was available to local authorities to provide more access. However, the sad fact remains that 60 per cent. of all polling station buildings are inaccessible to disabled people. The answer given is, "They will have to find somewhere else that is accessible." That is often impossible for them and is a valid illustration of the difficulties.
For me personally, all the problems built up to a point, four or five years ago, when I began to realise that, despite all our efforts, we were running fast to stay in the same place, or perhaps moving only marginally forward. At every meeting or seminar, organised by our excellent voluntary organisations, that I attended, I heard increasing evidence of the fact that we were preventing our fellow citizens from entering everyday life.
It was when I attended an "access to the arts" seminar which was held in a Committee Room here that I finally concluded that anti-discrimination legislation was the only answer. Evidence came to the fore from studies and reports. We knew that many pubs, restaurants and sports stadiums were inaccessible to disabled people. However, I
Column 537heard then of whole cinema chains that refused entry to disabled people and of concert halls that either did not admit disabled people or allowed them in only if they were accompanied. I heard of similar occurrences at art galleries, hotels and theatres. I heard of landlords saying, "We do not want you living here." I heard of employers saying, "No disabled people need apply." I heard of a transport system that continues to be inaccessible to a large percentage of the general public. I then knew what had to be done. I have received today a letter from Dr. Stephen Duckworth who has produced, working in conjunction with one of our universities, a vast thesis on the problems. He says :
"To illustrate this : Last summer my wife and I were guests at the Queen's Garden Party. Afterwards on the spur of the moment, we decided to enjoy a West End show and selected one that was accessible. We bought the tickets and were about to enter the accessible' auditorium when I was told I had to leave because there was no place for me to sit whilst remaining in my wheelchair. They argued that I was a fire hazard but I could get out of building as fast as any severely' able-bodied person and, to my knowledge, I have never spontaneously combusted.
Our big day was ruined by discrimination and I want the right to challenge this so that future generations of disabled British citizens enjoy the same opportunities as everyone else."
Like many other hon. Members, I took an even closer interest in what was being proposed in the United States, Australia, Sweden and Canada. We shall be able to consider the evidence from those countries in detail in Committee--an opportunity which we have been denied in previous years--and substantiate our belief in the legislation and answer the Government's reservations about cost and their belief that the Bill would provide a bonanza for lawyers. In previous years, the main argument focused not on costs but on the belief that such legislation would create a lawyers' bonanza and a legal nightmare. Lawyers argued consistently against the statutory approach until 1992, when a committee of the Law Society conducted a survey on employment and concluded in favour of an
As the hon. Member for Kingswood said, at last week's meeting of the all- party group, the Employment Minister in the other place, Lord Henley, argued, in opposing the Bill, that in the United States there had been remarkably few references to the courts in the 18 months to two years since the Bill took effect. He tried to use that argument to show that the legislation was not working, but it positively proved the reverse. Since its enactment in 1990, massive improvements have been made in access, but no single business has been brought down by the cost of compliance or the implications of the legislation. Many have found great benefits in tapping a previously unknown market.
Mr. Simon Coombs (Swindon) : My hon. Friend, like the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), makes a persuasive case. I promised my constituents that I would listen to the debate and judge accordingly ; so far, I am convinced by what has been said. Is my hon. Friend aware that the English tourist board, in conjunction with Glaxo Holdings, has produced a guide on access to tourism locations for disabled people this week ? It has said that billions of pounds are being lost to tourist attractions of all types because of the lack of access.
Clause 6 of the Bill provides that it would be unlawful to discriminate by not providing access to small hotels and boarding houses. That would be play an important part in
Column 538avoiding the loss of revenue to which the guide drew attention. On whom would the cost of bringing facilities up to the right level in small hotels and boarding houses fall ? Facilities will have to be introduced if the terms of the Bill are to met and discrimination outlawed, but they will have to be upgraded only once.
Sir John Hannam : That is a key point and one with which the Americans had to deal. I received a letter from the United States Assistant Secretary about that matter. Compromises and costs had to be worked out. As my hon. Friend said, the tourist board has stated that a huge untapped resource exists. The issue is investment. When a company or business wants to invest, it does not come running to the Government or someone else to obtain the money--it decides whether the investment is worth while. The same will apply in this instance. There are huge potential gains, not losses, for the tourist industry.
Mr. Stern : I am not sure that my hon. Friend has appreciated the force of the comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Coombs). We all agree that such facilities will have a beneficial effect in society terms, but the expected gain in income for small boarding houses could never cover the investment required. We must have an answer to the question of who will cover the cost.
Sir John Hannam : I take issue with my hon. Friend. The Bill provides for a period of time to allow changes to be made and for finance, which the Government already provide, to improve access. The letter that I received from Dr. Stephen Duckworth and which was addressed to the Secretary of State for Employment deals with the point. It states :
"Your concerns over litigation, bureaucracy and unquantifiable costs for business and tax payers are important concerns. However if you look at the experience of companies in the United States, this does not seem to have become the problem that was previously anticipated. Indeed, evidence suggest that 170,000 new businesses and products have been designed as a result of the Americans With Disabilities Act'. As I am sure you are only too aware, employment in the UK is entirely dependent on the growth of small to medium enterprises."
Evidence from the United States survey has shown that tourism companies and hotels that have quickly adapted their premises to remove discrimination have gained access to a new economic sector. In some cases, their turnover has increased by 15 to 20 per cent. Under their departmental approach, the Government require the gradual implementation of such improvements. The financing of those improvements can be made in the most beneficial way.
Mr. Tyler : May I not only support what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but perhaps help him in one respect ? The tourist industry in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland can still benefit from section 4 grants for improvements to facilities. Sadly, and most significantly, that is not so in England, especially in the west country, in which the hon. Gentleman and I have a special interest. If section 4 grants were specifically available for this purpose, it would help smaller businesses to get over the hump of initial investment.
Sir John Hannam : I strongly support the campaign to extend section 4 grants to tourist areas such as the south-west. I do not want to slide into the trap of rehearsing the same old argument about having to go to the Treasury
Column 539for more money. Experience in other countries does not show that that would be necessary. Tourist boards, for some 15 years, have operated schemes and policies to encourage hotels and restaurants to provide access. We are talking not about huge sums but about a ramp to get people into a building. Most premises have ground floor accommodation or some form of lift. I do not believe that arguments on cost are an obstacle to the passage to the Bill.
I said that I had received a letter from the United States Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. Its Assistant Secretary, Judith Heumann, wrote about this Bill and in her letter she states :
"In the short period of time that the ADA has been in effect, significant steps have been taken toward ending discrimination and enabling persons with disabilities to lead independent lives. According to a 1993 survey by the United States General Accounting Office, most features of the business and government facilities that were included in the study were accessible to persons with disabilities. The study also found that most owners and managers perceived barrier-removal efforts as beneficial and not burdensome. The ADA is providing persons with disabilities and their families with opportunities to be actively involved in all aspects of their communities. The ADA is creating job opportunities and enabling persons with disabilities to take advantage of the recreational and social activities, assume civic duties, access popular public media, and join with their family, friends, and neighbors in the countless mundane activities that make up the better part of our daily lives. The ADA is also reshaping our educational curriculums. Concepts of accessibility, universal design and accommodation are being integrated into teaching curriculums for designers, architects, educators, and administrators. As a result, a generation from now, persons with disabilities will be able to share the assumption of their non-disabled friends and neighbors that the stores, schools, and city services in their communities are accessible to them. The ADA requires society to acknowledge and accommodate the unique needs of individuals with disabilities. It empowers persons with disabilities and their families, and is making a positive difference in the economics and moral fibre of American society."
Those words can apply equally to this country.
The other factor that I believe influences the Government's position on the Bill is their worry about the expense. It would be unrealistic to expect such changes as we propose not to have financial implications, about which some of my hon. Friends have questioned me this morning. There will need to be alterations to buildings and vehicles, and workplaces will have to be provided with equipment. All this has been recognised in the American legislation. In another part of her letter, the Assistant Secretary of State said that a number of key compromises were necessary :
"Many of these compromises attempt to draw the proper balance between the financial resources of a covered entity and its obligations to comply."
That is the sort of thing that we shall have to look at carefully in Committee. In the United States, phasing-in periods were allowed for compliance, and monetary damages for non-compliance were limited.
The Americans took account of all the reservations that we might expect to hear expressed by companies, institutes of directors and others. This Bill recognises the need for gradual implementation and the idea of reasonable accommodation. In the United States, periods of up to 20 years have been allowed for implementation of some of the changes. We, too, will need some fairly long phasing-in periods--for instance, for changes in vehicle design and public transport. Imagine trying to adapt London Underground for disabled passengers within the next
Column 540couple of years : it would be wholly unfeasible. We shall need to establish mechanisms for monitoring and promoting the changes and for checking the costs to employers of providing reasonable accommodation. Those costs will have to be met in some way. It is important, however, to weigh the predicted costs against the potential savings in terms of benefits and the additional tax revenues that will flow if more disabled people gain employment. The Secretary of State for Employment has already recognised the need for such investment, in the access-to-work programme which we all welcomed during the past week.
As for the fear of an avalanche of legal cases, I believe that lawyers are doing a damn sight better out of the present piecemeal approach than they would from a comprehensive Bill which would in itself ensure far greater commitment to non-discriminatory measures in the private and public sectors. We seek only to outlaw unfair discrimination, not to force acceptance of things that disabled people cannot do.
We need to give the Bill a Second Reading today, not only to give hope to the millions of disabled people and the further millions who care for them but, just as importantly, to allow the Committee to thrash out in detail these vital issues. I believe that when we engage in detailed discussions we will allay the Government's fears and secure their support for our aim, as the Minister put it in his recent letter,
"to reduce and eventually eliminate discrimination against disabled people and enable them to participate fully in all aspects of life." We all share that objective. Now we have to find the means to achieve it. We have not managed that in the past, but we can now--by implementing the Bill.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam). Although we face each other across the Floor, we are, not for the first time, wholly at one in this debate.
All of us in the House represent disabled people who have looked forward to this debate with hope in their hearts. Their hope today is that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill can win strong enough support to convince the Government that they must now assist the Bill's passage into law.
For the information of disabled people, I must explain that there are some Members of Parliament who very much want to see the Bill quickly become law, but who, for compelling reasons, are unable to be here today. That applies notably to my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), one of the few hon. Members significantly to have legislated as a private Member for disabled people. He was totally committed to visiting Africa this week, as shadow Minister for overseas development, and he could not cancel the commitment. Typically for him, his absence is due to a commitment to Africa's poor.
All disabled people felt cheated by the talking out of this Bill by Robert Hayward--having explicitly stated that he would not be talking it out--when I first presented it for Second Reading on 31 January 1992. Five days later, he apologised for what had happened in a personal statement which concluded :
"I now recognise that the effect of my words was to mislead hon. Members and that Members were entitled to assume that I
Column 541intended to resume my seat before 2.30 pm. I offer my unreserved apologies to you, Mr. Speaker, and to fellow hon. Members."--[ Official Report , 5 February 1992 ; Vol. 203, c. 287.]
But those apologies in no way undid the damage that had been done five days previously. By use of a crude blocking tactic, the Bill's progress had been halted indefinitely ; and I am most deeply grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) for agreeing to use his good fortune in last November's ballot for private Members' Bills to reintroduce the Bill. Since entering the House, my hon. Friend has worked long and hard and with skill, sincerity and success to help disabled people. It was his early-day motion that demonstrated the very wide all-party backing for the Bill and the fact that it now has clear majority support in this House. My hon. Friend's motion helped to keep interest in the Bill alive, as did the initiatives of my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) and for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) who, last June, introduced versions of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill that would have secured its benefits for the disabled people of Scotland and Wales had the Government Whips not blocked their Bills on Second Reading.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said, my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) also helped to sustain interest by carrying, on 25 February 1993, his motion calling for the Bill's enactment.
As the House has heard, my noble Friend Lord Ashley and the hon. Member for Exeter are co-chairmen of the all-party disablement group in the House and, like the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), the hon. Member for Exeter has been extremely and consistently helpful both at meetings of the group and in this Chamber. I am sure that they and many others on both sides of the House will join me in paying warm tribute as well to the immense help that we all receive from Vicky Scott, of the all-party disablement group, than whom no one has done more to promote the Bill. We are all in her debt. That could mean that we are, to some extent, also in the Minister's debt--but I must not pursue that implication in today's debate.
I have seen the suggestion in some recent statements from the Government that this Bill, as a private Member's measure, is almost by definition ill- drafted and incapable of becoming law without drastic change. That is not so. I suppose that, over the past 25 years, I have brought to this House more legislation about the problems and needs of disabled people than anyone else--most of it as a Minister from 1974 to 1979--including the mobility allowance, the invalid care allowance, the disabled housewives' allowance and the non-contributory invalidity pension, all of them entirely new benefits.
But none of that legislation, all of which has stood the test of time, was more carefully drafted than the Bill we are debating. The House should also note not only the Law Society's favourable comments on the Bill's viability and what some very distinguished legal authorities have said more recently about its drafting, but that it succeeded, with only some very minor amendments, in completing all its stages in the House of Lords. Of the employment provisions in the Bill, with which it was principally concerned, the Law Society goes as far as to say that they are
"precisely the direction in which the law should move". As my hon. Friend recalled, it was 12 years ago that the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People--
Column 542CORAD--the committee of inquiry I appointed, under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Large, when I was the Minister, reported to the Government on the urgent need for anti-discrimination legislation to protect the interests of people with disabilities. Since then, Ministers have insisted that education and persuasion, at nil cost to the Government, was the best way forward.
But more than simply time has passed. The social changes the Bill seeks are today all the more urgent and, as every new test of public opinion shows, massively supported by the electorate. Acts of discrimination against disabled people have increased, and the case for legislation is stronger now than ever before.
A young policewoman, badly injured when tackling a gunman, is turned away from a charity event because she is in a wheelchair. A soldier who lost both legs in the Falklands is banned from his local cinema because of his disability. A doctor who has devoted much of her life to helping fellow blind people is parted from her guide dog when entering Buckingham palace to receive the MBE. A disabled young man with a first-class degree is told by his employer that because he is disabled he will be paid less than other new employees for exactly the same work. A 21-year-old graduate, with the most brilliant degree of her year, spends over two years in the dole queue watching all her contemporaries secure jobs ahead of her simply because she is hearing-impaired.
These are but a few well publicised recent cases of blatant discrimination against disabled people. Too many more go unremarked. But that should not surprise us, because it is not illegal in Britain to discriminate on grounds of disability. No matter how unmerited and damaging the discriminatory act, there is no court that any of this country's 6.5 million disabled people can go to for redress. That is why today there is no more important issue for disabled people than that of civil rights.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South said, they are fed up with being "done unto" and weary of philanthropic gestures from on high. They want justice and they want rights. They insist that discrimination against them must be made illegal, and crave the right, enshrined in law, simply to be treated like other people when it comes to studying, working, travelling, enjoying their leisure or just plain living.
The Bill was drafted solely for that purpose and, I repeat, it has already been approved by the House of Lords. Its supporters in this House include all 17 of Northern Ireland's Members of Parliament--a parliamentary first if ever there was one--and some 90 per cent. of Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament want its benefits for their disabled constituents from the only Parliament that can legislate for them.
The Bill does not argue for blind bus drivers or deaf piano tuners ; nor does it pretend that all acts of discrimination can be ended overnight. It is about ending unfair discrimination, and we accept that it will take many years to turn legislative precept into social practice. Lord Renton, who preceded the Prime Minister as the Conservative Member for Huntingdon, speaking in the House of Lords, said of the Bill that he found it strange as well as wrong, extraordinary and not very creditable, that Parliament had not already legislated to outlaw unfair discrimination against people with disabilities.
He said also that, after all the thought given to the Bill in the House of Lords, he did not believe that many hours of discussion would be necessary in the House of
Column 543Commons. Since then, Government Whips, knowing that the Bill effectively has a majority in this House, have worked overtime to prevent a vote on its provisions. But now, thanks to my hon. Friend, they can no longer avoid a vote.
The Government's principal reason for blocking the Bill is cost. Any action to end discrimination, says the Prime Minister, must proceed "without cost implications". In other words, we can afford civil rights for everyone else but not for disabled people. They and their organisations find this deeply offensive, just as they resent the criticism that the Bill does not
"sit comfortably with the Government's policy on deregulation". That argument must, of course, apply equally to the legislation on gender and race, and is an implied threat both to the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission on Racial Equality. The Government's third main criticism of the Bill is that it takes "much too comprehensive" an approach to the problem. At an hour-long meeting I had with the Prime Minister to discuss the Bill, he accepted that discrimination against disabled people was "a very real problem" which he hoped education and persuasion and "piecemeal change" would remove. But the problems of discrimination against disabled people, not least in the employment field, cannot be solved ad hoc. As one employer put it to me recently,
"To end discrimination in the labour market, you must not only protect disabled people there, but also radically improve access for them to training and transport among other facilities and services." In his view, "piecemeal change" would be an attempt to divide the indivisible and a total waste of time and money.
Britain used to lead the world in legislating to make life better for disabled people. We did so in 1970 by becoming the first country ever to legislate on access for disabled people to the built environment ; and again in the mid-70s by introducing a whole range of new benefits to improve their quality and standard of life. Today, we lag behind other countries. The United States, Australia, Canada, France and Sweden have all long since legislated to give disabled people legal protection against unfair discrimination.
As my hon. Friend recalled, President Bush, when signing the American statute in 1990, told United States business men : "You can now unlock a splendid resource of untapped human potential that will enrich us all . . . let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down."
There was no echo of that at my meeting with the Prime Minister. He said in mitigation that the American Act will not be fully operative for some years, which I accept. But at least the clock has started ticking there, and the sooner we legislate here, the sooner Britain's disabled people will achieve their undoubted right to full citizenship.
As of now, the "shameful wall of exclusion" stands as high as ever in this country. A recent survey found that employable disabled people here are six times more likely to be turned down for a job. With unemployment at 40 per cent., compared with 9 per cent. among non-disabled people, they are stuck at the back of the longest queue in Britain. Thousands of employers say openly that, whatever her or his qualifications are, they will never employ any disabled person "under any circumstances" and, indeed, will never interview a disabled job seeker.