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Mr. Alfred Morris : It may help the hon. Gentleman to know why I chose 31 January 1992 for Second Reading. I had drawn eighth in the ballot and was advised that the debate on the previous Bill would be short and one on which total unanimity would rule. It is no surprise that hon. Members were disconcerted. Many hon. Members said that the debate on the first Bill could have been much shorter. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman spoke in excess of 20 minutes.
A Conservative Member told me that that was the date to go for, especially in view of the fact that Lord Renton had said in the House of Lords that there was scant need, after all the debate there, for much more discussion here. But I took it on the basis of advice given to me from the Conservative party.
Mr. Stern : I do not dispute the right hon. Gentleman's decision to go for that date, and accept what he says about the advice that he was given. I am simply saying that the pressure on that day was such that, when the right hon. Gentleman rose to speak, the Bill had virtually no chance. But it was effectively killed by the length of his speech.
Mr. McMaster : I am not sure exactly what point the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but if he is trying to make the ridiculous proposition that the Bill's author, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), tried to kill his own Bill, no one on this side of the House, hardly anyone on that side, and no one in the country believes him.
Mr. Stern : On that day, my hon. Friend the former Member for Kingswood suffered the same sort of barracking as I am getting. I was going on to make the point that, in what was intended to be a brief speech, he suffered not only barracking but an average of one intervention in less than every two minutes of his speech.
Mr. Stern : I certainly intend to come to the arguments against the Bill. I am also concerned that a former Member of this House who had a distinguished career while he was here has been traduced by Opposition Members, and that no one has yet been prepared to defend him. I therefore reject the comments that have been made about his speech--for example, by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, who said that it was a "crude blocking tactic".
Mr. Stern : As I have just been criticised for not getting on with my arguments, I am not sure whether I wish to give way further in my opening remarks. I shall give way for the last time on this subject.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. We are on Second Reading of a specific Bill. While it is perfectly proper to allude to the history of the Bill, I urge the hon. Gentleman now to move on to his comments on the Bill.
There is considerable agreement on the circumstances behind the Bill and what might be seen as the need for it. I wish to say nothing against the central proposition that there is considerable discrimination against disabled people. A great deal can be done to eliminate, or at least ease, that discrimination. But I have doubts about the Bill because, unlike many hon. Members who have spoken, I am not sure whether the Bill's approach in terms of setting up a disablement commission and establishing a legal definition of discrimination is necessarily right.
May I give one or two examples of why the piecemeal approach, which is adopted by not just the Government but many public bodies and institutions, is more appropriate ? The hon. Member for Kingswood and I both represent parts of Bristol. We recently attended a reception, which I sponsored, in this House designed to publicise an initiative by the university of Bristol for access for deaf students. We were both rightly proud to be there and wanted to give publicity to the special effort that Bristol university has made over many years to provide the maximum and widest possible range of initiatives, particularly for access, so that deaf students can attend the university and play a full part in its activities and courses. I applaud the university for that initiative. I hope that many other universities will follow its example and do the same, not just for deaf students but for students with other handicaps. However, it would be foolish and wholly impractical for us to assume that every university or major institution could provide the same range of aids and initiatives. It would be a gross waste of public resources for them to do so.
Mr. Stern : May I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that I am fully aware that most, if not all, organisations associated with disabled groups welcome the Bill ? I do not dispute that, but it does not stop me pointing out that the Bill may not be the best way to proceed for the benefit of members of those organisations. This is a debating forum, not just a forum for acceptance of pressures from outside.
Mr. Congdon : I would find the hon. Gentleman's arguments more convincing if there were more evidence that the piecemeal approach, which we have had for many years, had succeeded in reducing discrimination. Apart from one or two exceptions, it is virtually impossible for disabled students to gain access to higher education. Surely
Column 558that demonstrates beyond doubt the failure of the piecemeal approach, and makes it necessary to introduce legislation along the lines proposed.
Mr. Stern : I shall happily try to show, in my subsequent remarks, that, although I accept the hon. Gentleman's strictures about the piecemeal approach--I accept that a great deal remains to be done--I still doubt whether the alternative approach proposed by the Bill would be more effective.
I mentioned the access for deaf students initiative as an example of a piecemeal approach that has worked in a limited way.
Mr. Stern : Of course I shall give way to my Bristol colleague, but I am conscious that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have asked for short speeches. So far, I have given way eight times. At the present rate, I shall be giving way about 40 times in the next 10 minutes.
Ms Corston : I thank my fellow Bristol Member of Parliament for giving way. Is aware that a member of staff at Bristol university, who I gather is one of his constituents and who came to lobby Parliament earlier this week about the Bill, spoke to me through a signer about the access for deaf students initiative ? He said that it was all very well as far as it went, but that a statutory duty should be placed on organisations such as universities to provide such a scheme, and that the piecemeal approach was not appropriate.
Mr. Stern : That student is entitled to his opinion but, as I was saying, the depth and breadth of the work done by Bristol university on the initiative is such that it will undoubtedly act as a model for many other universities ; however, to suggest that every university should be required by law to provide exactly the same facilities is wholly impractical and would indeed discourage other universities from adopting similar initiatives for other aspects of disability. The Government have in the past favoured the piecemeal approach. A great deal has been said this morning about the failures of that approach. If we are to debate what are basically two alternative ways of proceeding, it is not fair to let that claim pass unchallenged. Instead of trying to give a complete rundown of what the Government have achieved, I shall pick on one aspect, almost at random, in which I happen to be particularly interested--further education- -and list what has been possible under the piecemeal approach backed by legislation. I am not denying that there is a role for legislation. The Government have placed a statutory duty on further education authorities to reflect the fact that disability should not be regarded as a bar to access. Indeed, the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 strengthens that duty. It contains an explicit duty in relation to adult students, including those with learning difficulties. It applies to local education authorities and to the Further Education Funding Council, and does not allow the needs of disabled students to be disregarded.
The funding council has set up a specialist committee to review the range and type of further education available to disabled students and recommend how the council may best fulfil its statutory duties towards them under the Act.
Column 559Further education provision for disabled students has increased considerably in recent years. There are now more students in mainstream courses, and many institutions have developed link courses with day centres, adult training or social education centres and long-stay hospitals. In addition, there are special outreach classes for students who cannot be catered for on college premises. There are discretionary awards from some local education authorities, often paid at an increased rate in line with the grant supplements available. There is also a scheme to support building and equipment projects at independent FE colleges which cater for students with disabilities.
Like the records of all those dealing with disability, I accept that our record could be improved. However, our record shows that the cold water poured on the piecemeal approach today does not take into account the advances that have been made in this and many related spheres.
Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton) : The needs of the disabled have also been considered in care in the community. In that instance, we have moved away from the piecemeal approach and decided that we need to analyse the needs of the individual--I stress the word "individual". Having analysed the needs of the individual, we no longer say that we shall provide whatever we happen to have available, however inappropriate it may be.
Care in the community now demands that a package must be developed based on individual needs. Therefore, does my hon. Friend agree that, in care in the community, which also affects disabled people, our approach is quite different from that which he advocates ?
Mr. Stern : There are many different approaches. My doubts about the Bill are not to do with whether legislation or Government action can be used to back the improvement of facilities for people with all sorts of disability. I doubt whether the over-arching approach of a legal definition of disability, the establishment of a disability commission and its power to decide that there is a need for further legislation is necessarily the best. I happen to think that it is not.
I cite a further example of a case in which the piecemeal approach will continue to be necessary whatever the law says. It arises from this morning's newspaper.
I understand that the disability organisation Artsline has accused Buckingham palace of discrimination, because the palace asks disabled sightseers to book their trip in advance. It is an example of plain discrimination where I am entirely on the side of the organisers of visits to Buckingham palace, because Buckingham palace, which is only newly opened to the public, has not yet been able to make the adaptations that will be necessary in due course to allow full access to disabled sightseers.
I have no doubt that the palace will eventually do what is necessary but, in the meantime, Artsline is claiming that the disabled are being discriminated against.
Mr. Sheerman : If there were a commission on the rights of the disabled and a complaint was made about Buckingham palace's treatment of disabled people, the commission would evaluate the complaint. I should expect that its decision would be reasonable.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Bristol Radio recently advertised for a researcher. The advertisement stated that Bristol Radio was an equal opportunities
Column 560employer, but that the researcher had to have a full driving licence. That case would also go to the commission and, we hope, a sensible decision would be reached.
Mr. Stern : I accept that that might happen, but the intervention of a disability commission is introducing a wild card which seems unnecessary in the example that I am citing. Buckingham palace is quite willing to allow the disabled full access, but it needs time. That time will be provided, whether or not there is a commission. I deal now with one of my principal objections to the Bill. The Bill would require the establishment of a quango--a commission--with full powers to intervene and perhaps to promote legislation. However effective it was in increasing access and rights for the disabled, the Bill would automatically introduce an overlay of costs and employment opportunities on the commission at public expense. Such costs are unnecessary, when the alternative piecemeal approach is also available.
Mr. Stern : The two commissions to which the hon. Gentleman refers have been in existence for some time. I do not advocate their abolition, but I ask the hon. Gentleman a sincere question. Like me, he represents part of a city in which there is considerable social stress. Does he honestly believe, as I do not, that, after 30 or 40 years of work by the Commission for Racial Equality--work done by a long-standing and sincere commission established by legislation--acts of racial discrimination, while they may have changed in appearance, are scarcer now than they were before the Commission existed ? I do not believe so, and I say that from experience in my constituency. For the legislation to be effective, it has to be practical and enforceable. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have proved that it would be. I accept that they have proved the need for a fresh look at the legislation available to ensure the maximum possible speed and the maximum availability of facilities for the disabled. That is why, despite the fact that I am opposed to the central core of his Bill, I am undecided whether to call for a vote today. However, if the Bill is to go into Committee, the hon. Gentleman who introduced it must recognise that, in Committee or on Report, he will need to meet arguments about the wording of individual clauses--those will be important.
For example, I notice that, on a matter which was discussed earlier, clause 6(3) provides for a number of exemptions in relation to the provision of services in small boarding houses. I cannot see any reason for an exemption on the grounds that we are discussing--cost.
Mr. Stern : On the face of the Bill, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that clause 7 may well deal with that objection. I am not sure, because the two items are in separate clauses, and one would need legal advice on the linkage. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that that matter needs to be discussed in Committee.
Mr. Austin-Walker rose
Mr. Stern : I am conscious of the time, and the fact that other hon. Members wish to speak. I am sure that the myth will grow about my speech, that I spoke for far too long, but it is because of the number of interventions that I have taken.
The hon. Gentleman, as I was saying, has introduced a Bill whose thrust is that the obligation to provide better facilities for the disabled should be by means of a disability commission and a legal definition of disablement. I am saying that many of us, while we accept the obligation under the Bill, do not accept that that is the direction in which the Bill should go to achieve the objectives that he seeks.
Therefore, in Committee or on Report, we shall be arguing, not that we disagree with the Bill or the need for it, but that the central thrust of it is in entirely the wrong direction. It may be that, in Committee or on Report, we shall be able to achieve a compromise which will enable the legislation in some form to go ahead. I do not know.
Unless the hon. Gentleman is prepared to accommodate the cost--to many of us the unnecessary cost--of the whole idea of a disability commission, and unless he is prepared to accommodate the doubts that many of us feel about the legal definition of disability, as set out in the Bill, I forecast many interesting discussions ahead. I end my remarks as I began, by wishing the hon. Gentleman well in his endeavours, while doubting the means that he has chosen to bring them forward.
Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich) : I join other hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Kingwood (Mr. Berry) on introducing the Bill and especially congratulate, as have other hon. Members, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on his determination over many years. I hope that today he will see his efforts come to fruition.
It is 15 years since my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe appointed Peter Large as chair of the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People--CORAD. The Government's response to the recommendations of that committee were that, rather than go down the legislative route, they preferred to rely on education and persuasion. At that time, the Government said that they were benevolently neutral. Some hon. Members felt that at that time the Government were malevolently hostile.
I would not wish to heap all the scorn on the former Member for Kingswood, Mr. Hayward. It was clearly a Government tactic to talk the Bill out by allowing the previous debate to go on until 12.35 pm, so that there was not an opportunity to vote on my right hon. Friend's Bill. To leave that aside, I believe that there is a change in mood and I hope that the Government, if they are not to support the Bill, will at least be benevolently neutral and allow it to proceed to Committee.
There is a necessity for a Government programme of campaigning for education and persuasion, but that must be reinforced and underpinned by a legislative framework. There were arguments that legislation on gender and race discrimination was inappropriate and that in those areas
Column 562one should rely on persuasion. I shall quote from Martin Luther King, when he dismissed the case for relying on education and persuasion only to end racial prejudice. He said :
"Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless."
The Bill seeks to regulate behaviour to ensure that disabled people enjoy their full, basic human and civil rights.
In framing a law, we need to ensure that we are getting the right law. The Bill offers us that. We already have some laws in respect of disability, such as the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944, which many Members in the Chamber and many disabled people will think is perhaps the wrong legislation and is, in many senses, unworkable. It is the law of the land and has been since 1944, yet only 20 per cent. of employers comply with that legislation.
To fail to comply is a criminal offence. I question whether the criminal law should be brought in or whether it should be under civil law, but it is significant to note that, despite the fact that employers flagrantly flout that law, the party of law and order has not been involved in any prosecution since it came into power. I am not suggesting that prosecution is the right road to go down, but, clearly, that law is failing disabled people in the country and we need to have a law that provides for some redress and change. The hon. Member for Bolton, North (Mr. Thurnham) suggested that it was not the job of the Government to lecture other employers on what they do, when they are not doing so well themselves. I take issue with that argument. It is clear that central Government, local government and public bodies generally fail to meet their requirements under the Race Relations Act 1976, under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and fail to meet the needs of disabled people.
However, the fact that public bodies are failing does not mean that we should not have legislation for the private sector and other bodies as well. Other areas of legislation such as gender discrimination and race discrimination provide a right of redress for the person who is discriminated against, whether by a private employer, a private company, public bodies, central Government or local government. At present, disabled people have no rights of redress in law when they are discriminated against, whether by a public or by a private concern.
There is a need for education and persuasion, but that is not all. Some years ago, I was on a course with, among others, a man who used a wheelchair. As part of the course, we visited the local magistrates court in Greenwich. My colleague was unable to go into the magistrates court in his wheelchair because the clerk of the court told him that he was a fire risk. At that moment, he did not need education and persuasion, although he may have needed that over a longer period. At that moment, he needed legislation that gave him the right to enter that court. The person who is denied a job, when he or she has the capacity to do it, on the basis of some disability does not need education and persuasion at that moment. That person needs the law to guarantee basic civil rights.
The Minister said on 28 March 1991 :
"some employers' recruitment practices discriminate unfairly against people with disabilities."--[ Official Report , 28 March 1991 ; Vol. 188, c. 1148.]
Other hon. Members have told us that a survey has shown that 6 per cent. of employers say that they would never, "under any circumstances", employ a person with a
Column 563disability. To change that, we need legislation now. We do not need to wait for those employers to be educated and persuaded.
I appreciate that there are difficulties in legislation. There were difficulties in the race discrimination legislation. There have been some difficulties in the implementation of the gender discrimination legislation, but the fact that there are difficulties in implementing legislation is not an argument for inaction. It is an argument for introducing legislation, giving due and careful consideration to it in Committee and being prepared at a subsequent stage to amend, strengthen or enhance it if it proves necessary to do so.
There are other important aspects of anti-discrimination legislation. It is, for example, possible for someone in a restaurant or a cafe to refuse to allow disabled people to come in, on the ground that it might upset other users of the restaurant. It is possible for an employer in a shop, for example, to say that the customers might be upset if a disabled person served them. Employers can say, "I do not wish to discriminate. I am not prejudiced. I am doing this because there is pressure from my customers." Under the race discrimination legislation, pressure to discriminate is not allowed as an excuse and would not be tolerated. We need to ensure that the Bill contains provisions to ensure the rights of disabled people so that employers and providers of services cannot use such excuses for denying disabled people their basic rights.
Most references in the debate have been to people with physical disabilities or with learning difficulties. Before I came to the House, I was actively involved with my local MIND--National Association for Mental Health--group. With mental illness, disability is often far less visible. However, once an employer knows that someone has had some psychiatric history or episode, there is often a closed door to employment. Thousands of people are thrown on to the scrap heap because of discrimination and prejudice about mental illness. I hope that the Bill will become law and that it will end for all time the stigma associated with mental illness in employment.
There have been suggestions that the Bill runs counter to the Government's current philosophy in terms of their desire for deregulation. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) has some doubts about the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976. I hope that he does not reflect the Government's view of deregulation policy and that those equality measures are not under threat.
I hope that hon. Members agree that the benefits of the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act have been clearly demonstrated in terms of opening up opportunities for women and for black people. I believe that, in many ways, that legislation needs to be strengthened, as I believe that the Bill may need to be strengthened. The fair employment legislation in Northern Ireland provides a far better framework for ensuring equality of opportunity in employment and I should like such legislation to be introduced for disability as well.
The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West demonstrated the old adage of knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing, as most of his speech was dedicated to cost. There have been many red herrings about cost. I should like there to be a real analysis of the cost benefits
Column 564of freeing the system so that disabled people can enjoy full civil rights. Many disabled people are denied their civil rights--the right to work and the right to pay their taxes--because there is no legislative framework to back up those rights. Why do hon. Members who mention cost never talk about the financial cost to disabled people of discrimination in the labour market ? What price do we put on human rights ?
My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) mentioned the role of the commission proposed in the Bill. It will have an important function. Individuals should have the right to seek redress if they feel that they have suffered discrimination, but the commission has an important monitoring role to play to ensure that disabled people's rights are upheld.
It was clear that the hon. Member for Bristol North-West had not read the Bill. He said that clause 7 was separate from clause 6 in terms of the provision of goods, facilities and services, but I suggest that he reads clause 7(1), which states :
"In determining for the purpose of section 6 above the reasonableness of any modification."
It is clearly related to clause 6. Clause 7(2) makes it clear that in determining reasonableness,
"The factors to be considered in determining whether such actions could be undertaken without undue hardship shall include
(a) the nature and cost of the actions in question ;
(b) the overall financial resources of the person or body concerned and the effect on expenses and resources or the impact of such actions upon the operations of the person or body ;"
Mr. Stern : I do not wish to make a major point of this, because the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) may be able to give the necessary assurance in Committee that would make everyone happy. I merely made the point that putting the proposal on cost in a separate section gave rise to some doubt about its applicability to the previous section, where it could have been included. It is not a major point ; I am sure that we shall discuss it in Committee.
Other legislation includes provisions on determining
reasonableness. It is enforced every day of the week by industrial tribunals. Their view of what is reasonable for Shell, BP or British Gas will differ from what they regard as reasonable for small businesses employing 20 or 30 people. To try to suggest that the Bill departs from basic principles on reasonableness that operate day in, day out in courts, industrial tribunals and elsewhere is a red herring.
The Government advanced their arguments on why the Bill should not proceed to the Committee stage on a previous occasion. I cannot anticipate what the Minister will say today, but I can comment on what he said about the matter in an earlier debate. He said : "There is still too much unjustified discrimination against disabled people. We know that that is wrong and often has a cruel impact on the quality of life of disabled people."
I doubt whether any hon. Member would disagree with that statement. He continued :
"I have noticed attitudes towards disabled people changing, as well as changes in the attitude of disabled people towards their situation."
I agree that attitudes are changing and that they may have improved, but it was clear in the Lobby last week that attitudes are not changing fast enough.
Column 565The Minister went on :
"Disabled people do not just want sympathy. They do not want to be patronised or to be looked-after people or people who are told what is good for them."
No, they do not : what they want are their basic human rights. In the Chamber today we have an opportunity to give them those rights. The Minister added :
"nor is there by any means unanimity in the disabled community . . . that legislation is necessarily the right way".
None of us has ever suggested that there was unanimity, but the overwhelming feeling of disabled people is that the legislative route is the right one.
The other reason that the Minister gave for not wanting the Bill to proceed in the previous Parliament was this :
"I am influenced . . . by the fact of the prospective life left to this Parliament . . . a good long Committee stage might sort out some of those difficulties."-- [ Official Report , 31 January 1992 ; Vol. 202, c. 1251 -52.]
Well, we have an opportunity now for a good long Committee stage to sort out any difficulties of the sort that the hon. Members for Bolton, North- East and for Bristol, North-West mentioned. Those difficulties can be resolved in Committee ; that is where the Bill should go.
I share the reluctance expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood about quoting President Bush, but what he said has been quoted only in part and sometimes inaccurately. He spoke not only of
"the shameful wall of exclusion"
finally coming tumbling down. What he said in full was : "you have in your hands the key to the success of this Act for you can unlock a splendid resource of untapped human potential that, when freed, will enrich us all."
There is some argument about what terminology to use in this debate. I use the phrase "disabled people" because I believe that, by its attitudes, society disables them. We have the chance today to enable and empower them, which is why I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading.