Column 544That is not only totally outrageous, but a challenge to the House which legislated 50 years ago to require firms to give 3 per cent. of jobs to disabled people. We must not duck that challenge here today. The Government's record is worse than that of most other employers. In defiance of the 3 per cent. quota, the latest figures which I have seen show that the Department of Health have 0.7 per cent. registered disabled employees, and the Home Office has 0.3 per cent. The figures show not one disabled employee at No.10 Downing street.
With all that to explain, Ministers are told--not only by disabled people, but by employers--that it is not what they say that impresses those they lecture about education and persuasion, but what they do. What respect can we have for advocates of persuasion who cannot persuade themselves ?
The issue today is about social decency. As Lord Renton said, it is wrong and not very creditable that the Bill has been obstructed for so long. Fully assured civil rights have become the defining principle of all enlightened policy-making on disabilities, for without civil rights, disabled people are doubly disabled. The handicapping effects of their disabilities are made even harder to bear by gratuitous social handicaps for which there is no moral justification--and what is morally unjustified ought no longer to be legally permissible in Britain.
Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington) : I would like to speak in support of the Bill. Looking around the Chamber, I see that I may be the only genuine disabled person here. I was born a spastic with cerebral palsy, which is an injury to the brain just before, during or after birth. It is an injury to the motor part of the brain, although some of my opponents would say that it has affected other parts of the brain. That is open to debate.
I have been very lucky, because the impact has been small. I do not want to put hon. Members off with the sheets of paper I am holding, but many of them are blank because I find it almost impossible to hold one sheet in my right hand on its own. That is one example of a minor disability, but it is a disability that I have had now for about 57 years.
I have been fortunate and there is nothing in the Bill which could help me, but I understand that people who are more severely disabled need the help that the Bill will provide. It is called the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, and we ought to touch on the difference and the link between rights and responsibilities. I give the example of terrorists. People ask me why I am not concerned about their rights as individuals. I say that rights and responsibilities are two sides of the same coin. A person cannot expect society to recognise his rights if he does not accept his responsibility to society to act in a way which reflects the democratic process.
In the case of disabled persons, the exact opposite is the case. They accept their responsibilities as disabled persons every minute of every day of every week of every year. It is our duty and obligation--morally and otherwise--to accept our right to help them : there is no doubt about that. The point has been made that there is sex and racial discrimination legislation on the statute book. I cannot believe why legislation to protect disabled people has not been on the statue book long before now.
Mr. Dicks : No, with great respect. Many hon. Members want to speak, and I shall not be speaking for long. If we all gave way, other hon. Members would not get a chance to speak. I hope that my hon. Friend will please accept my decision.
There is a difference between lifetime disability and disability which comes later in life. People such as myself, and others who are much worse, have grown up with the disability and know no different. They must cope with the problems of life from birth. However, others who become disabled late in life have many more problems. They must cope with problems of adaptation, and problems of the mind and spirit. They must change their way of life, and see life in a completely different way.
One thinks of blindness which comes to some people later, losing one's legs or the capacity to use one's arms or losing the capacity to father or mother children. All those things may come later in life, and give a shock to the system and to the personality.
One organisation which I am fond of, which I do a little to help--perhaps not enough--and which I mentioned when we had a similar debate one year ago, is the Spinal Injuries Association. Many people belong to the association and are supported by it because their injuries have come later in life. It has recently produced a racegoers' guide for disabled people to enable those who enjoy the sport to get to racecourses where there are facilities for disabled people.
I said one year ago, and I repeat it now, that one of the people involved in the association keeps falling out of his wheelchair on certain racecourses because there is no facility to let him go smoothly over the ground to the appropriate place to watch the races. Organisations such as that need support, and they should get a good deal more.
Mention has been made of the Government's approach to financial resources and the lack thereof. It is strange that we have the money to build luxury prisons, and that two of the prisons built under the Government since 1979 have contained sports facilities worth £1 million each for thugs, rogues and wrongdoers--yet there is not enough money for the disabled. We give money to my old hobby-horse, the arts. Some £600 million a year is spent on the arts, and the Department of National Heritage budget is approaching £2 billion--but there is not enough to spend on the disabled.
We give money to immigrants. It is interesting that the Government's argument is that we should not go forward with the legislation because we do not know how much it costs. I have questioned my hon. Friend the Minister's boss--the Secretary of State for Social Security--on how much is spent on all the benefits which have been given to immigrants during the past few years. He replied that he was sorry, but he could not tell me as he did not know. We have an open door. No matter how many people come in to this country, money is found to feed, clothe and house them and to give them benefits--but there is not enough money to give to the disabled, and we should not do anything because we do not know the cost. That is a silly argument, and I have proved that it does not apply elsewhere.
There is now to be a lottery. If ever there is a cause to which some, if not all, of the money should go, it is the disabled. But where is it going ? It is going to the arts, which are looked after too well from the public purse and elsewhere, and to sport. Sport is good, and if money was going to disabled sport, I would not mind. However, it is going to sport in general, as far as I can see.
Column 546Here is a chance to raise money from the public domain. Have members of the public been asked where they want the money to be spent ? The average guy in the street--certainly the average guy in Hayes and Harlington--would have said that it should be given to the disabled. The money is going to arty-farty people and sportsmen, some of whom are earning fortunes as so-called stars--but we do not have enough money to give to the disabled.
The Government have spent £1 billion in the past eight years on AIDS publicity. They have told heterosexual people who will never get AIDS in their life that they must be careful and wear a condom. God, what we could have done with £1 billion to improve facilities for the disabled up and down the country. Yet the money has gone on a completely unnecessary publicity campaign which helps no one and which will make no difference.
We can find money to give to service women who join the forces willingly and who become pregnant willingly. Those women must leave the job because they have become pregnant, and we give them hundreds of thousands of pounds in compensation. Why should we pay them ? They have made their own free decisions. Why could not that money provide facilities for disabled people ? It is a crazy, stupid idea, and it is a stupid approach by the Government and by the legal process which allows that to happen.
The European Community, or the European Union as it is now called, wastes more money in a day than it would cost the Government to provide facilities for the disabled during the next five years. Do we care ? Do we hell. We ought to say that we do not care what the European Union claims that it needs to spend, and that we should start siphoning off some of that money. The best cause for some of that siphoned-off money would be to help disabled persons, and the sooner we do that the better.
We must recognise that disabled people are special. Most, if not all, of the predicament of disabled people is not caused by anything that they have done. Disabilities are often unavoidable. They are not always able to fend for themselves, which makes them special. They are willing to stand on their own with minimum support.
One of the minor disagreements that I had with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) the last time we had a debate such as this was that I do not believe that disabled people are basically miserable and unhappy with their lot. They are resilient, and often their sense of humour is far better than that of some of us in the Chamber. We should not pretend that they need our help because they are dour, miserable and always whingeing--that is the last thing they are. We have to recognise their resilience and encourage them. Disabled people do not wish to be a burden on the state, and most of them are not, although some of them have to be through no choice of their own. They make a contribution to society. As previous speakers have said, the opportunity for disabled people to make a vital contribution is often restricted through lack of facilities. Often they cannot gain access to study facilities, universities and theatres. We must change that.
Disabled people want to give their all, and to do things that the rest of us take for granted. They are willing to give up many things. I have not achieved much--I went to university and was elected to this place, if that is an achievement. I would give it all up to be able to take my wife into a bar and say, "Sit down there, darling"--I do call her that occasionally-- pick up two drinks from the bar
Column 547to take them back to where she is sitting. I cannot do that ; she has to stand beside me and take the glass because I cannot pick up a pint or a glass with two hands. If we go to a restaurant and are served food on a platter, I cannot use it. My wife has to sit beside me and serve me carefully. I would give up everything I have to be able to do the things that most of my colleagues do normally. Some people are much worse off than me and suffer far greater loss. Some people cannot walk--I walk with a limp. Some people cannot use both hands ; some people cannot see the food and the sunshine. Some people cannot understand the things that I understand, even with all my weaknesses.
It is no excuse for people who are fit and able to say that the money is not available and there is a cost imperative. The first thing that I would do were it in my power would be to sack everyone in the Treasury. No other organisation in this country causes more harm and hurt across the board than the Treasury, and those who live and work there. I wonder how many of them ever go out into the real world to find out what it is all about.
Our duty is not to patronise disabled people, but to recognise them as our equals, respect their dignity as humans, help them to live a normal life as far as their disabilities allow and provide the resources to allow disabled civil rights to become a reality. If anyone in the House today does not have the guts to put the case for people with disabilities, they must be out of their mind. It is an excellent cause to support.
It was suggested that the Department of Social Security might be distributing leaflets suggesting why the measure should not be supported. I have never known a Minister with responsibility for disabled people who has been as helpful and understanding as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. I told him earlier this week that I would speak in favour of the Bill and he said that he understood my view. But, unfortunately, my right hon. Friend is governed by the mandarins in the Treasury, which has the smallest group of civil servants in the country and the highest paid permanent secretary. How they do it, I do not know. My right hon. Friend is governed by idiots who do not understand the real world. Therefore, before people criticise my right hon. Friend, they should bear that in mind. Things could be a damn sight worse if anyone else were doing the job.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman), who is not present, had a set-to the last time that we debated this subject. I had a go at him because I thought that his speech was unfair, and had become political. In the same way, the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler), who is no longer present, made a silly remark about one of my colleagues. It is not a political issue, but one that involves honour, decency, justice and respect for our fellow citizens who are not as well off as the rest of us.
Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale) : I understand that we are today debating the 12th Bill aiming to confer civil rights on people with disabilities. Naturally, my party and I welcome the Bill, but I do not welcome the fact that such an important measure has so far failed to be enacted. I hope
Column 548that this is the last time that we have to debate such a Bill and that the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) will successfully steer the current Bill through the House.
For too long debates on disability issues have been dominated by arguments about health, social security and community care. I hope that today's debate will redress that imbalance and put the issue into the realm of human rights. Society's suspicion of what is different has led to the marginalisation of people with disabilities. Restrictions on their legal and social rights, access to buildings, information, employment and leisure have led to the exclusion, by default or design, of people with disabilities from the mainstream of society.
For example, the current law allows an employer lawfully to refuse even to consider a job applicant who uses a wheelchair or who has controlled epilepsy, no matter how well equipped the applicant is to do the job. The current law allows someone selling a house to refuse to sell it to a health authority that intends to use it as a home for former psychiatric hospital patients. The current law condones a holiday camp that bans a group with cerebral palsy from booking a week's holiday in high summer.
Those examples--hon. Members have mentioned many others today--show that people with disabilities are discriminated against daily in almost every aspect of their lives. Disabled people are six times more likely to be refused a job interview and two and a half times more likely to be unemployed. Therefore, it is not surprising that two thirds of people with disabilities live below the poverty line. It would be a mistake to say that the only people calling for the Bill are a vocal and politically motivated minority of the disabled population. There is a groundswell of support for the Bill precisely because disability does not affect a small minority.
The number of people with disabilities is thought to be about 6.5 million. However, the Royal National Institute for the Deaf estimates that 7.5 million people have some form of hearing loss. According to a poll conducted during the International Year of Disabled People in 1981, 29 per cent. of the people of this country--nearly one third of the population-- are affected directly, or through a family tie, by disability.
It is not surprising that support for a civil rights Bill has grown across the country and commands the support of half the Members of Parliament. The only opposition to the measure seems to come from Ministers who argue that the best way forward is through education and persuasion. The evidence thus far shows that that approach simply does not work. Let us consider the failure to include in the Railways Bill when it was first published a provision for groups representing people with disabilities to be consulted. The Government's programme of education and persuasion does not seem even to have made the distance from Caxton house to Marsham street, let alone covered the rest of the country. The Government's piecemeal approach lacks the moral force that would be given by the clear statement of rights in the Bill.
The Government's further argument is that the implementation of a civil rights Bill would lead to extensive and unwelcome demands on public finances. However, the evidence from the United States, following the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, shows that that need not necessarily be the case, and the burden on business should not be excessive. Companies in America that have begun to improve access say that the cost arguments have been exaggerated. That
Column 549opinion is supported by studies by the federal authorities that have found that, when access features are incorporated in new buildings or new construction work, they add less than 1 per cent. to the total cost.
Surely the fundamental question is, should the rights of any of us be limited by considerations of cost ? To my mind, the answer to that is a resounding no. Why should people with disabilities have fewer rights than the rest of the population, and why should people with disabilities in this country have fewer rights than people with disabilities in America ?
Rather than regarding the civil rights bill for disabled persons as a potential burden, the people of America and their Government responded positively to the challenges and opportunities afforded by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The New York Times heralded that Act as
"the most sweeping piece of anti-discrimination law to be approved since the Civil Rights Act 1964".
That comparison with the civil rights campaign by African Americans is significant for, as Stephen Hawking reminded us in his letter to The Times on Monday, if black people or women were discriminated against to the extent that people with disabilities are, there would be a public outcry. As a result of the problems of access and the lack of wheelchair places, many people with disabilities are effectively barred from theatres, cinemas and restaurants as black people were in the southern United States before the Civil Rights Act.
For too long, Governments in this country have preferred to regard the people of Britain--all the people of Britain--as passive subjects, not active citizens. As was evident from the lobby of Parliament on Wednesday, one group of people, at least, is not prepared to accept that position any longer.
The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is a great liberating measure, comparable to the Civil Rights Act in America, that will unlock the potential of thousands, if not millions, of our fellow citizens. As many hon. Members have mentioned, President Bush declared to American business leaders on signing the American Act, "You can now unlock a splendid resource of untapped potential that will enrich us all . . . let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down."
The Bill is the battering ram that will help to bring down the shameful walls of exclusion in this country. I urge all hon. Members to support this vital measure.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), not only on his good fortune in the ballot and his decision to choose this subject for his Bill, but on the excellent way in which he spoke. He set a good tone for the debate. Reasonableness is evident in the Bill itself and was very evident in the manner in which he spoke. One hopes that it augurs well for the progress of the Bill from the Chamber into Committee. As the hon. Member for Kingswood said, the Bill has a long pedigree, and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) played a major part in its earlier progress.
The treatment of minorities is a hallmark of our society. Ignorance and prejudice lead to the disasters of wars, but through wars, to some extent, we have been able to dispel of some of that ignorance and prejudice towards disabled people. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Act 1944
Column 550came in towards the end of the second world war, undoubtedly as a reaction to public feelings about the war wounded. The same thing must have happened in America after the Vietnam war--people changed their attitudes to people with disabilities, which led to the Americans with Disabilities Act. One of the big questions that confronts us today is whether the US legislation is the model for us.
I have already referred to the Institute of Directors. I was a little disappointed with the letter that I received from the institute yesterday. It described the Americans with Disabilities Act as proving to be one of the costliest regulations in recent American history and felt that the Bill before the House today should be opposed on that ground.
Mr. Sheerman : As many Opposition Members will not have seen that letter from the Institute of Directors, will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether the institute quotes its authorities in the United States for making that allegation ? Some of us who have been to the United States to speak to business and political leaders do not believe that that is the case.
Mr. Thurnham : I shall be glad to make a copy of the letter available to the hon. Gentleman, but I do not believe that the Institute of Directors has come up with sufficient evidence on cost fully to justify that argument.
The issue of costs has emphasised the doubts about the Bill. The hon. Member for Kingswood attacked the Government for not having come up with a cost-benefit analysis, but perhaps he is open to the same criticism ; he did not present us with a detailed analysis. Perhaps that is one aspect on which the Bill will be open to more examination in Committee.
I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) has left after his spirited attack on the Treasury. It was slightly unfair that he should have singled out the permanent secretary for his greatest ire, because the Treasury's record is amazingly good. The amount of spending on long-term sick and disabled people has trebled under the Government to a current figure of "£16.5 billion--an increase of 225 per cent."
in real terms. Also,
"two million people now receive help with the costs of their care or mobility needs--compared with only 360,000 when"
the Labour party was in government. I do not think that it is entirely fair to criticise the Treasury in the way that my hon. Friend did.
Mr. Howarth : My hon. Friend will also be aware that the Treasury is rather anxious to reduce its spending on long-term sick and disabled people. That is a rather important part of the background to the introduction of the Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Bill. Does he agree that a proper cost-benefit analysis might persuade Treasury officials, and all of us, that the economy would benefit so substantially as a result of anti-discrimination legislation that such legislation would be the most effective way for it to reduce expenditure, about which it is worried ?
Mr. Thurnham : I agree with my hon. Friend that we want to see the cost-benefit analysis, but I think that he is a little unfair about the Treasury. The Treasury's anxiety is to reduce the increase in costs rather than to impose any cuts, as I understand it, because there has been the considerable increase that I have already quoted. Our anxieties relate to the extent to which we can fund continued increases in all the welfare provisions.
Column 551Before leaving the subject of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I strongly commend to Members of the House the report prepared by Victoria Scott on her Winston Churchill fellowship, entitled "Lessons from America." She goes a long way to dispelling the fears which exist but which have not been properly quantified.
I believe that in this country discrimination is reducing and people are becoming more aware of the contribution that people with disabilities can make. In my family we have been able to adopt a handicapped child-- something which was not commonly possible for many years in the past. Stephen has made a great contribution to our family and friends and, I would like to feel, to society. This year, for the first time, he will be able to go to Buckingham palace for the garden party. I do not think that that is a result of the anti-discrimination legislation on disabilities--it is more likely to be owing to the lack of sex discrimination--but we shall be delighted to take him for the first time.
I was struck by the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) in his excellent speech about Dr. Duckworth, at Buckingham palace last year, being unable to go on to, I think, a theatre afterwards. That type of restriction makes me feel that the Bill is necessary, because it is wrong that people should be discriminated against in that way.
I have spoken about the Government's record on spending overall. A considerable amount is spent on employment of people with disabilities, both through Remploy, at a cost of more than £10,000 per person employed, and through sheltered placement schemes such as Shaw Trust, at a cost of half as much as that. The question that confronts us today is, how much further should the Government go ? My preference is that we should perhaps all lead by example more than by legislation. There is so much that we can do. All of us can do more. I do not think that we in this House do enough.
Perhaps I could comment on the other place, because there was an advertisement this week in the Evening Standard for a vacancy for a senior clerical officer, headed "House of Lords", and nowhere in the advertisement is there any mention of encouraging suitable people with disabilities to apply. As the code of practice makes provision for that, how is it that the Houses of Parliament can authorise it but fail to observe it ?
We must lead by example before telling others what to do. The code of practice has on its cover a symbol comprising two ticks and two dots, making two eyes, with the words "Be positive about disabled people". One extraordinary anomaly is that Government Departments are not allowed to display that symbol. The Government tell everyone else to display it, but Departments are not permitted to do so because the Privy Council feels that that would be to discriminate against able-bodied people.
I hope that the hon. Member for Kingswood will forgive me if I hesitate about legislating, but it is my belief that it is wrong to tell others to do something that one does not do oneself. The Government must do more, as we all must, to set a better example before legislating.
A document published by the Trades Union Congress, "Disabled People Working in the Public Sector", estimates that there could be an extra 100,000 jobs in that sector if it were to set a better example. We know that not everyone
Column 552wants to register as disabled, so that the known number of registered employed disabled does not tell the whole story. However, that document reveals that 30 health authorities and 12 local authorities do not employ any registered disabled people. A nationalised concern such as the BBC employs only some 70 registered disabled from a total of about 25,000 employees--0.3 per cent., or only one tenth, of the quota figure.
The public sector must set an example without legislation. A general directive should be sent to all Departments to employ more disabled people. If the Department of Employment can meet the quota, why not other Departments ?
Figures show that the civil service does better than the public sector generally, but comparisons between the private sector and public sector show that in every year to 1992 the private sector employed proportionately more registered disabled than the public sector. We should not need to pass laws to make the public sector do what it should do anyway. I would prefer public sector organisations to set an example before telling the rest of the country what to do. In my constituency, private companies such as Vernacare Ltd. and Indispension Ltd. have an excellent record of employing people with disabilities, yet I was told by the local Employment Service that it had a poor response from town halls and health authorities when they were asked to employ disabled people. The Government must do more to improve matters without legislation, but if necessary with legislation. My preference is to lead by example, but if that cannot be done, we must legislate.
Many of the Bill's provisions are for the Government, so it should be a Government Bill. However, I commend the hon. Member for Kingswood for introducing it and for giving the House an opportunity to examine the Bill closely in Committee to see which parts of it can be adopted by the Government.
Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South) : As many other hon. Members want to speak, I shall not repeat the points so excellently made by others. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) on using his luck to promote the Bill. We were all delighted the day that that result was announced, because, when my hon. Friend's name was drawn seventh, we all knew which Bill he would present--he has supported it consistently.
I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who piloted the Bill on previous occasions and helped to keep up the pressure. It would not be right to speak about anti- discrimination legislation without giving an honourable mention to the joint chairs of the all-party disablement group, who have worked so hard over the years to achieve success.
The last occasion on which I spoke on this subject was when the Bill last received a Second Reading, on 31 January 1992, when it was blocked. I will not relate the circumstances, but I concluded my speech by saying of the Bill :
"If this is not its day, its day will come."--[ Official Report , 31 January 1992 ; Vol. 202, c. 1258.]
Its day has come--today.
Anyone who witnessed the lobby in Westminster hall on Wednesday will be aware that the will of disabled people throughout the United Kingdom is such that the Bill
Column 553cannot be rejected again. If it is--as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said--there is no doubt that a similar Bill will be on the statute book one day soon.
The Bill is about the fundamental human rights of disabled people to be full and equal citizens. Although I try to be careful, I noticed that in my last speech I referred to treating disabled people as full and equal citizens, which perhaps displayed an attitude that I now regret. We must change attitudes, stop underestimating disabled people, and provide them with equal rights.
A Bill is not about reflecting basic values that are important to us, or about charity, paternalism or philanthropic gestures. It is about just rights for disabled people. That message came across loud and clear in Westminster hall, where I met a group from Strathclyde disability forum. People travelled from all over the country to attend that lobby, including from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, North (Mrs. Adams).
One of them, Irene Galloway, had to leave her wheelchair at the front of the bus, crawl to the back of the bus, climb on a seat and travel overnight to be one of the thousands of people at that lobby. That is how strongly Irene Galloway, who has experienced being both able-bodied and disabled, feels about the Bill.
She was accompanied by Gary Struthers. It was an emotional moment when I recognised him, which I did not at first. When I was an apprentice gardener, Gary was my journeyman. He was a fit, able-bodied person who enjoyed life, but then discovered that, through illness, he would become progressively disabled. Gary has also seen life from both sides in that way. He said that, when he became disabled, he could not believe how many doors were shut and how much discrimination existed. The Bill is all about changing attitudes and stopping some of the things that happen to disabled people.
I listened to some of the opponents of the Bill--for they were that--who spoke in Westminster hall. They said that they agreed with the Bill in principle, but that it needed amending. I would like to know what they meant by that. If one accepts the principle of the Bill--the Bill is about a principle--why amend it, except to improve it ?
If right hon. and hon. Members mean that they want to amend the principle of the Bill, quite frankly they are not on. They are trying to con disabled people into believing that they support it when they do not. I must make it clear that many of us in the all-party disablement group--on both sides of the House--are determined that the principle of the Bill will not be destroyed in any of its stages. That does not mean that we are unwilling to listen to amendments that improve it, but its principle is sacrosanct.
If we agree with the Bill, it must be supported through all its stages. I hope that that happens today. We can no longer take a piecemeal approach to disabled people in providing small pieces of legislation. The Government's approach to the Bill was effectively destroyed this morning by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood, when he said that, if one really believes that education and persuasion can work, all the costs associated with the legislation are inevitable, because one will arrive at the same place. It is a contradictory argument to say that, on the hand, we cannot afford it, but on the other to say that we disagree only about tactics and that we both want to get to the same place. My hon. Friend made a brilliant point when he highlighted that.
Column 554We must also look at the record of successive Governments, but I shall focus on the current Government's record on providing for disabled people. Inevitably, it leads to the conclusion that any legislation must be comprehensive. The piecemeal approach has simply not worked, for several reasons.
Let us take a few examples. We heard this morning that overall spending on personal services has increased--quite rightly. That must be seen in relation to the fact that the number of elderly disabled people has increased. We heard that, even taking that into account, benefits have increased in real terms ; I accept that.
Then why do the Government see that as a problem rather than an achievement ? The thrust of many of the Government policies at the moment, including the Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Bill, is to say that it is costing too much and that we must move away from that. Much legislation has been enacted by the House but is never enforced.
We know about the quota system, to which the hon. Member for Bolton, North- East (Mr. Thurnham) referred, and the fact that even Government Departments are not achieving anywhere near the quota. I tell this story every time, but it is worth repeating.
When I was leader of Renfrew district council, it achieved 1 per cent. of the quota--not the 3 per cent. required in law--and the Department of Employment gave us a "fit for work" award. It gave us an award for breaking the law by only two thirds, because that was better than was being achieved elsewhere in the community. The Government have a record of enacting legislation but not enforcing it. Words are now not enough. The legislation must be comprehensive, and include a disablement commission that can ensure that the law is enforced. The importance of the disablement commission is not only practical and about enforcement : it is about sending out the right messages that will change attitudes in society by saying that if people, discriminate against disabled people, there will be a commissioner to deal with it. That is another important aspect.
Hon. Members have made the point that there are 6.5 million disabled people in Britain. There are 651 Members of the House. It therefore follows that there are some 10,000 disabled people in every constituency. We are all here to represent our constituents. We cannot properly represent them if we do not support--I suspect unanimously--the Bill today.
We must get rid of the situation in which, in Britain today, I can advertise a job for a secretary and cannot say to a female, black, disabled candidate that I am not giving her the job because she is female, or because she is black, but can say that I am not giving her the job because she is disabled. That is wrong in society in 1994. The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East asked how far the Government should go. I think that he would agree that the Government should go just as far as equality. We do not want disabled people to be given preferential treatment ; they are not asking for that. They ask simply for equality. They have a right to be full and equal citizens. I think that the Bill's day has come.
Column 555a quarter hours of debate. I shall be the first Member to speak today to express considerable doubts about the Bill. I hope that you will forgive me, therefore, if, while not in any way wishing to talk for too long--there are no tactics involved--I take a little while to express those doubts in as much detail as necessary.
Several references have been made to events on the two previous occasions, particularly by the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who introduced the Bill on 31 January 1992. I shall come back to that shortly. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Tyler) made a particularly small-minded reference. I am sorry that he is not in his place, as he deserves all the obloquy that has been--and will be--heaped on him for his comments on this occasion.
The first occasion on which I was present in the House for a debate on a Bill of this nature was when the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) introduced a similar Bill on 18 November 1983. On that occasion, the hon. Gentleman, quite rightly--like the hon. Member for Kingswood on this occasion--took the opportunity of coming high in the ballot for private Members' Bills to introduce a Bill that had been the subject of considerable discussion.
On that occasion, because it was high in the ballot, the Bill had a full day's debate. The hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill--I thought very well on that occasion. According to Hansard , he spoke for about 49 minutes, with some 10 interventions. He did not speak at any great length. That example was quite rightly followed by the hon. Member for Kingswood today, who spoke for about three quarters of an hour.
Despite that moderate introduction to the debate, the House decided, after about five hours, that there had not been sufficient debate. There were various reasons for that, and there may have been various tactics behind that, but nevertheless that was the decision of the House.
The situation when the Bill was next debated on 31 January 1992 was different. The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe had not come that high in the ballot. The Bill therefore was the second Bill on that day. For those who do not regularly follow parliamentary procedure, it is worth making the point that a second Bill on a private Members' day has virtually no chance of proceeding further unless it is unanimously accepted by the House, and only then if considerable restraint is exercised by those who wish to contribute to what will necessarily be a brief debate.
I remember, because I was in the House that day, the expressions of horror and disbelief that gradually spread over colleagues' faces when the right hon. Gentleman, in a debate that could last a maximum of 1 hour and 55 minutes, spoke for 27 minutes without the excuse of a single intervention. Indeed, he spoke for longer than the Minister on that occasion.
It was not surprising, therefore, that, at 10 minutes past 2, an Opposition Front-Bench Member noted that at least two other Members of the Opposition wished to speak in the debate. I recollect that at least six Conservative Members still hoped to contribute to what was recognisably, by then, a hopeless debate.