Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Berry : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have tried to consult. For goodness' sake, a private Member's Bill which concerns a matter that has been in the public domain for 12 years is before the House. There have been extensive debates and discussions--between the all-party disablement group and the Minister, between the all-party disablement group and the Prime Minister, and between the all-party disablement group and anybody who wanted to talk about such issues. I have attended meeting after meeting where the matters have been discussed.

It is absurd to say to a humble Member who happens to have been lucky in the ballot that he should have consulted even more. Those who support the Bill are doing as much as they can. If there has not been adequate consultation over the years, I do not feel that I must accept all the responsibility for that.

Given that history, and the fact that, three days before the Second Reading on 8 March, the Prime Minister said :

"I hope that the Bill will go into Committee for detailed examination of its provisions".--[ Official Report , 8 March 1994 ; Vol. 239, c. 147.],

many assumed--I think that it was reasonable to assume--that objections to the principles of the Bill had been withdrawn. After all, on each and every previous occasion, the Government had blocked the Bill at that stage, so it was reasonable to assume, as many hon. Members did, that the Government no longer objected to the principles of Bill, but wanted to examine the details. Whether that was as a result of a genuine conversion, as I hope, or whether it was the result of the superb lobbying by disabled people and

Column 506

their organisations, which I am sure contributed to our awareness of the issues, or whether it was a bit of both, I do not really mind.

For the first time ever, there was not a single objection to the Second Reading of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. Strictly, it was carried by 231 votes to nil, but I must acknowledge the four Tellers, who were doing their job. If they had not been doing that job, I know that they would have voted in favour of the Bill as well, so 235 Members supported the Bill on 11 March and not a single Member was opposed to the basic idea and the well-known principles of the Bill, or went through the Lobby to vote no. Not one hon. Member said no.

As the Bill went into Committee, in response to another parliamentary question on 12 April, the Prime Minister said : "What we need to do in Committee and thereafter is to look at the practical implications of the Bill and that will be done."--[ Official Report , 12 April 1994 ; Vol. 241, c. 15.]

In Committee, what did we do ? As the hon. Member for Exeter said, first, I moved a sittings motion to indicate that we ought to be prepared to meet on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, mornings and afternoons, for however long it took for the detailed examination, as requested and promised by the Prime Minister, to take place. We even decided not to sit one morning because the Minister was unable to attend, and we felt that it was right that our deliberations did not continue without the benefit of his contribution.

In Committee on 12 April the Minister said :

"I am not arguing that the Bill is not necessary."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee C , 12 April 1994 ; c. 60.]

I know that that is a double negative, but many of us read Private Eye and we know that, when one says that one is not arguing that the Bill is not necessary, in Private Eye -speak that means that one probably thinks that it is a really good idea.

We were encouraged by that and, as the hon. Member for Exeter also said, no Government amendments were tabled. Given the Prime Minister's desire for the "detailed examination", that seemed a little strange, but supporters of the Bill indicated that the door was always open for Government amendments. I even borrowed a phrase from my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and said that the door was just about falling off its hinges. We were begging for Government amendments to deal with any concerns that the Government might have, but none was forthcoming.

We were not discouraged. The supporters of the Bill tabled between 20 and 30 amendments that were designed specifically to address the concerns raised by the Government and by representatives of several organisations. I repeat the point made by the hon. Member for Exeter : that organisations have requested meetings with us, and that some meetings have been arranged. Other organisations have requested meetings and, again, meetings will be arranged.

The argument has moved considerably. No one argues now that education and persuasion are sufficient. That argument was not advanced on Second Reading and it did not crop up in Committee. It is no longer argued that legislation cannot work. Again, that argument was not advanced on Second Reading or in Committee. After all, if anyone believed that, what would be the future of sex discrimination and race relations legislation ?

Column 507

Before we examined the Bill in Committee, the Government had two genuine concerns about the Bill. First, there was the possibility that the Disability Rights Commission might have a policy- making function. The Government, quite legitimately, would not wish that function to be delegated. Secondly, they were concerned about costs. I believe that those were the only two remaining obstacles to the Bill.

So what did we do ? We moved an amendment to ensure that codes of practice recommended by the Disability Rights Commission should be introduced through the Secretary of State, subject to parliamentary approval. As a democrat, I believe that to be the right approach. I also believe that the amendment undermined an objection that the Government had to the original Bill. We have made it clear that codes of practice will be a matter for the House to approve or not. As the hon. Member for Exeter said, we moved an amendment that had the effect of phasing in the Bill's provisions. Again, that will ultimately be subject to parliamentary approval. Costs will be incurred by the Treasury when hon. Members decide that that is right. No one else will make that decision. As a democrat, I think that that is right. I hope, however, as I know most people do, that the Bill's provisions will be implemented quickly. There is no reason for delay.

We have taken head on the Government's objection about costs. As I have said, costs will be incurred when Parliament decides that that is appropriate. I do not know what else we could have done in Committee to take on board the two remaining objections that the Government had to the Bill. Of the 20 or 30 amendments tabled, the Minister voted against only one. That amendment happened to relate to codes of practice being subject to parliamentary approval. I remain mystified that that was the one amendment he voted against, but in the spirit of good will I shall not press that further.

The key point is that the Minister did not oppose any of the clauses. As I have said, he opposed only one amendment. To borrow a phrase that he used in Committee extensively, I do not want to quibble about that. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was generally extremely helpful. When responding to an amendment to clause 1, he used the words :

"Although I would not advise anyone to vote against the amendment".

Later, he said :

"My doubts about the amendment are not acute."--[ Official Report , Standing Committee C, 12 April 1994, c. 46-50.]

During the debate on clause 3, he said :

"I have no objection whatsoever to the amendments".

At a later stage, he said :

"That discussion has served us well."--[ Official Report , Standing Committee C , 30 March 1994, c.10-20.]

On clause 4, when we discussed discrimination in employment--a crucial part of the Bill--the Minister said that he had "tremendous sympathy" with what the sponsors were trying to achieve, and that he did not want their hopes to be destroyed because of reservations that he had expressed. At an earlier stage, he said :

"I do not want to delay the passing of clause 4."

That obviously warmed the hearts of all Labour Members in Committee. Now I am in trouble with my Whips.

Another important part of the Bill related to the provision of good services and facilities. Clause 6 was the key remaining provision. When discussing the clause, the Minister said :

Column 508

"I have a great deal of sympathy with the points made."--[ Official Report , Standing Committee C, 12 April 1994, c. 70-90.] When we moved on to clause 9 on enforcement, he said :

"I do not want to delay the Committee in dealing with the clause . . . I do not oppose it."

When it came to new clause 3 and the definition of disability--I know that definitions have occupied some hon. Members' minds for a long time--the Minister said :

"I compliment the authors of the new clause".

The prinicipal author sits on my right, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe. He continued :

"I praise them for having produced it at such short notice."--[ Official Report , Standing Committee C , 13 April 1994, c, 110-112.]

The right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that members of the Committee were busy producing amendments, even at short notice, and even ones that were praiseworthy.

In summary, on Second Reading there was an overwhelming vote in favour of the principles set out in the Bill. No one voted against it.

Mr. Fabricant : Will the hon. Gentleman reconfirm for the benefit of the House and for the record that the Bill is not a positive discriminatory measure ? The effect of the Bill is simply to ask for equal rights. I wish to declare a personal interest. I have a researcher--I have already discussed this matter with him--who is severely disabled. The greatest insult would have been to employ him because he was disabled. I employed him because he was bloody good at his job, if I may say so. I should like the hon. Gentleman to confirm what I have put to him.

Mr. Berry : The answer is that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. The Bill is all about securing for disabled people a statutory right against unfair discrimination. It is about rights. It is about ensuring that disabled people have the same rights as everybody else--no more but no less. The hon. Gentleman is therefore correct. No doubt that is why on Second Reading there was an overwhelming vote in support of the Bill.

The Prime Minister, rightly in my view, felt it necessary to promise detailed examination in Committee. I believe that that examination took place. I hope very much, notwithstanding my comments a few moments ago, or perhaps because of them, that the Minister will confirm that we discussed every clause and amendments to them. As supporters of the Bill, we went out of our way to table amendments to address the concerns that the Government had raised. Surely all must be well for Report. Unfortunately, as the hon. Member for Exeter has implied, all is not necessarily well for Report, and that is why we need the motion.

I have already referred to the Government Whips Office. The hon. Member for Exeter has said that he is not exactly flavour of the month with the Government Whips Office. What is going on ? Could it be that public statements to the effect, "We look forward to the Bill going into Committee and being subjected to detailed examination," run slightly counter to what is being said in private ? There is no doubt that that is the position.

I was engaged in a debate on the radio last Friday. Another hon. Member was involved who is not in his place, so I cannot name him. He asserted what many hon. Members have said to me : "Of course, the Bill will be talked out on Report." We all know that there is some deviousness about. In public, opposition to the Bill in

Column 509

terms of votes or hostile amendments in Committee is frankly difficult to find. However, we are told in private that the Bill will be talked out.

Mr. Clifton-Brown : As the hon. Gentleman has devoted such a great deal of his time to this subject, in order to allay one of the principal possible objections to the Bill from employers' organisations, can he tell us what the likely cost on employers, and on the country as a whole, is likely to be ? If we are to consider the Bill genuinely in the House, we must have some idea of those costs.

Mr. Berry : I cannot give an estimate of the costs. The Government have been seeking information from various companies and I had hoped that, before this stage, they would have published the results of their rather extensive research.

However, the key point about costs is that the Bill specifically ensures that, if any provision would cause undue hardship to an enterprise, firm or business, that provision would effectively be waived. Undue hardship specifically relates to the cost of adaptations that might be necessary. A whole clause is devoted to the definition of reasonableness in that context. I hope that the hon. Member will agree that that is the best that can be done, and that it is perfectly adequate.

I have suggested that what is being said publicly about the Government's position on the Bill is somewhat different from what is being said privately. I have two comments about that. First, I believe that the Bill is far too important to be treated in that way. This is not a game. Politics is not a game : it is a serious business. It is right and proper that disabled people and their organisations should know exactly where people stand on the issue. This is not an issue in respect of which politicians of any party should be playing games.

Secondly, I believe that the tactics which some fear the Government might use to talk out the Bill on Report will further bring Parliament into disrepute. At a time when public opinion of politicians in this country is, if not at an all-time low, at a pretty low level, such behaviour would only confirm the view that some politicians simply cannot be trusted.

In South Africa this week, discrimination on the grounds of race is beginning to come to an end. I am sure that many decent people have had tears of joy in their eyes and have felt admiration for the political activists who have brought that about. Why is it that this week, in this country, we cannot start to remove discrimination against disabled people at least to ensure that their case will be properly considered ? Why cannot we shed a few tears of joy at the ending of discrimination against disabled people in this country ? When will we be able to stop feeling anger towards those who still try to block this Bill ?

The Bill, or something very like it, will of course eventually reach the statute book. No member of the Committee has any doubt about that. As I have said before, in years to come we will look back and wonder how on earth it could have taken so long for this measure to come about.

Why should disabled people accept any further delay ? I do not believe that they should. I therefore support the motion and enthusiastically urge all hon. Members to do the same.

Column 510

10.34 am

The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott) : It may be convenient if I intervene at an early stage in thdebate, although I know that many hon. Members wish to contribute to it in due course.

I have every sympathy with the concluding remarks, in particular, of the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), who was the main sponsor of the Bill. I acknowledge that we are addressing a deeply serious issue today and that we will be addressing it again next Friday. We discussed it on Second Reading and in Committee with considerable seriousness. The issue affects the lives of millions of our fellow citizens and it affects society as a whole because of its potential impact on the quality of life of many disabled people and the way in which society addresses their needs and abilities. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on his exceedingly good fortune in drawing first place in the ballot for private Members' motions. He has provided us with another opportunity to discuss this very important issue which, it would be fair to acknowledge, has increasingly commanded the attention and concern of hon. Members and of the public at large as the years have passed since a Bill of this type was first introduced.

In practice, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter has tabled a motion which is a plea for extra time for the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Kingswood. My hon. Friend outlined the Bill's aims and the support that has been expressed by organisations of and for disabled people and the public at large for the passage of the Bill. He also drew attention to the increase in consultation with employers and other providers upon whom, inevitably, some costs would be bound to fall were any legislation of this type to be implemented. Through his motion and by using a very proper procedural device, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter is seeking to provide more time for a private Member's Bill. In essence, he wants the normal business of the House to be changed to allow extra time for a private Member's Bill. Despite the fact that I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to a former Leader of the House, Standing Orders of the House are not my main homework and I would not claim to be a master of every technicality and procedure of the House. However, it is my understanding that the Standing Orders, which were amended in February 1990, specifically preclude in Standing Order 13A the use of a private Member's motion to determine the "precedence, arrangement or timing" of business or

"allocating time to any proceedings"


"amending or varying any Standing Order".

My interpretation of that is that, whatever the outcome of our debate today, it cannot technically affect the progress or otherwise of the next stage of the Bill. It cannot affect the time that may be required for the Bill.

Mr. Skinner : We should place on the record the reason for that change in the Standing Orders. That change was made because, on at least two occasions, a Member came first in the ballot and decided to turn his day for a motion into a day for a Bill. While I have been a Member of this place, that practice started when the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) allowed Enoch Powell to take over his private Member's motion day to

Column 511

pursue his Bill to prevent embryo research. I took part in that debate and used a parliamentary device to stop it. The practice was next used in relation to abortion.

The Standing Orders were changed only to prevent someone who had a victory in the ballot on private Members' motions from turning that Friday or Monday into a day to pursue a Bill. The hon. Member for Exeter has used only a motion ; he has not used a Bill. That is the distinction. He is not attempting to do what was done on the two previous occasions. He is calling on the House to give a general voice, acclamation and support for the continuance of the Bill. He is also calling on his Government to repeat what has happened on other occasions--as he said, 64 occasions in all, including 33 times by a Tory Government--when Governments have allowed time for parliamentary Bills to proceed. Clearly, the two things are not the same and I hope that the Minister understands that.

Mr. Scott : I do not wish to clash with the hon. Gentleman on this issue. There are many other issues where I would relish a clash with him, but I think I shall duck a clash on procedure. The advice that I received was that, technically, whatever the genesis was for the change to our procedures and Standing Orders, the Standing Orders as they presently exist preclude the use of the motion in such a way. We should recognise that that is the reality of it, whatever precedents may have occurred before that specific change in our procedures took place. Governments of either persuasion may have also used other ways to meet the demands of the House.

The advice on procedure that I have been given, about which I am confident, is that it would not be possible for my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter-- I think that he acknowledges this point--to use the motion to provide automatically for extra time and that the passage of the motion today would not automatically provide for that.

Mr. Berry : Notwithstanding what the Minister has said, can he confirm that there is nothing in the Standing Orders to prevent the Government from accepting the spirit of the motion and providing the time that it calls for ? Can he confirm that there is nothing whatever to prevent the Government from doing that ?

Mr. Scott : Indeed, I understand that the matter was raised yesterday in a question to my right hon. Friend the Lord President by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) as reported at column 386 of the Official Report . Obviously, I can go no further than my right hon. Friend went on that occasion. However, I certainly can confirm that it would be within the Government's powers to do that, although the Standing Orders certainly preclude the passage of the motion today--that is the point that I am making--from automatically providing time or extra time for the Bill.

I shall turn to the issues. Effectively, this is a procedural motion. However, in my brief remarks, I shall touch on some aspects of the Bill and our approach to the general issues, as my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter and the hon. Member for Kingswood did. I hope that our discussion today will not trespass on the time that we shall spend on Report next Friday, because that stage in itself is an important step in our parliamentary procedure.

When I heard that my hon. Friend had come first in the ballot, it came as no surprise when I found out the subject that he had chosen for our discussions today. It is yet

Column 512

another example of his deep commitment to improving the lives of disabled people, which he has demonstrated on many occasions. I acknowledge the reasons and the thinking behind his choice of motion.

As I said, there is an established handling procedure and, however strongly any of us may feel about the issue, we cannot deviate from it. That is not to say that the Government are not listening with care and sympathy to those who are actively campaigning for the Bill and properly using every opportunity to ensure that it reaches the statute book and that the thinking behind it is widely understood in the country outside.

It has already been said that on Second Reading, on 11 March, I reaffirmed the undertaking given earlier by the Prime Minister that the Bill would be examined and discussed thoroughly in Committee. It has been acknowledged by my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Kingswood that we fulfilled that commitment in Committee. We thorougly examined and discussed the issues involved in eliminating discrimination against disabled people against a range of amendments and discussions of the clauses in the Bill.

It is fair to say that, whatever our specific interests, as members of the Committee we entered into the work with a shared recognition that discrimination exists, that it is wrong and that more steps need to be taken to tackle it. The differences that cropped up in Committee, as they have cropped up in other discussions on the matter, were about the steps that need to be taken to tackle that discrimination.

I am grateful to my hon. Friends and, indeed, to Labour Members for the consideration and objectivity that they brought to our discussions in Committee. The discussion was conducted in a calm and constructive way. That enabled us to identify a degree of common ground between the sponsors of the Bill and the Government. Although the good-natured atmosphere in Committee did not prevent us from touching on some sensitive areas of difference, there was considerable common ground. Some other complex issues that had been discussed earlier were touched on again in Committee. Once again, that was a healthy part of our procedure in Committee.

It is fair to say that concerns are still being expressed by employers in industry and elsewhere, and by providers of goods, services and facilities, about the potential costs of the Bill. We must recognise the consultation that is now taking place. I wish that that consultation had taken place earlier, but I am certainly pleased to see that the all-party group and the sponsors of the Bill are now discussing with employers and other providers the question of costs. I recognise the amendment that we made in Committee to ensure that the impact of costs will come into the hands of the Secretaries of State who are concerned with the specific issues in the elimination of discrimination.

There were some reservations about the technicalities of drafting, but I do not want to go into them now. However, I see some positive ground and acknowledgement that parts of the Bill may act as indicators for possible solutions to the elimination of discrimination against disabled people. I reiterate my strong commitment and that of the Government to the shared aims of the sponsors of the Bill. We recognise the weight of support that the Bill has attracted. We are responding in our thinking to those pressures and we will continue to do so.

Column 513

I certainly reiterate what the Prime Minister said--the quote has been used frequently in our discussions. He said that we are seeking to see what common ground exists and what ways there are forward. As I said, I am not here today to discuss in depth what happened in Committee, because that is properly the function of the debate on Report which will take place next Friday. Proper debate will take place then, but I reiterate that the Government remain committed to the elimination of discrimination. We have already made further progress since the end of the debate in Committee.

Only last week, the mobility unit of the Department of Transport and the passenger transport executive group published a new set of guidelines aimed at architects, transport operators and planners involved in the design of public transport terminals and interchanges. That means that areas such as bus and railway stations, including items such as accommodation and furniture, will be covered, whether we are creating new facilities or adapting old buildings and shops.

Those good practices are important if designers are to meet the needs of all passengers, including those with disability and particularly those with mobility needs. That is one small illustration of the progress that the Government are determined to continue to make in that important area. In housing, transport and services facilities, we will continue to press forward with that work.

In education, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education recently laid before Parliament a draft code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs. Some 30,000 copies of that code were sent out and more than 1,000 written responses were received, the vast majority of which welcomed the new initiative. The code is being redrafted, it has been welcomed by the all-party children and disablement groups, and it will be considered by the House shortly.

The House will have welcomed the announcement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment about the access to work scheme. We know the scope of that scheme and we know that widespread concerns were expressed about the need for employers to make contributions towards the cost of the implementation of that scheme. My right hon. Friend, in taking account of the suggestion made by the all-party disablement group, has decided to introduce the scheme without seeking an employer contribution for a year, and then to review the position. I believe and hope that the House will agree that that is a positive response from the Government to representations which they have received.

Much better progress than was expected has been made in placing disabled people into jobs. The Employment Service had a target last year that 3 per cent. of all its placings of unemployed people should be disabled people, which would have led to 44,000 disabled people being placed in work by the specialist staff of the Department and through job clubs. I am pleased to say that it looks as though more than 50,000 people will be placed in such jobs, apart from the large number of disabled people who find jobs through the Employment Service's self-service system.

Changes have also been announced to the funding arrangements for the supported employment programme

Column 514

--what we used to call sheltered placements. Again, we must recognise that that is important progress. The Government are determined to continue with that progress, and we are determined also to look at the provisions of the Bill and to see what common ground can be established between the Government and the Bill's sponsors. Today, we are dealing with a procedural motion, the implications of which I outlined at the beginning of my remarks. We will come to Report next week with an attitude which firmly reflects and reinforces the commitments made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and we will pursue the remaining stages of the Bill in that spirit. We will return to the issue next Friday, and the Government will continue to study and reflect on the comments which undoubtedly will be made in those discussions and, in due course, we will make clear to the House our conclusions about the further consideration of the matters.

10.52 am

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : May I first apologise to the Minister and to the House for briefly being absent at the beginning of his speech ? Unlike the Committee stage, when we had excellent cross-party co- operation, there seems to have been a small hitch about when the Minister was to speak this morning.

The Bill has been endlessly debated and has been amended and perfected in a process of scrutiny which few measures in the history of Parliament have undergone. It has been repeatedly introduced by an indefatigable band of warriors, and supported by all-party groups. It passed all its stages in the other place in a previous incarnation, and it has now completed its passage through Committee in the House. It is a tribute to the way in which a piece of legislation can be supported across party lines, and can be burnished, honed and improved. Having a fair amount of experience of the legislative process in the House, and particularly in Committee, I am sure that I speak for many other hon. Members on both sides when I say, would that all pieces of legislation could have such scrutiny and such a quality of detailed investigation.

We are talking about a finely honed piece of legislation. I have been involved in discussions on Bills where the Government have totally changed their mind about the Bill halfway through the Committee.

Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington) : Not often enough.

Mr. Sheerman : As my hon. Friend says, perhaps not often enough. We all know the problems of legislation that has been hurriedly introduced. Minds must be changed halfway through, and massive numbers of Government amendments must be introduced. There have been criticisms this week about the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill which have related to hasty legislation which has been implemented too quickly with insufficient thought.

One cannot say that about this Bill, which has been given more attention than any other Bill. So exhaustively has the Bill been debated and its virtues extolled and listed by those giving wide-ranging support from all parts of the House, it becomes--even for a politician--quite difficult to say something new about it ; the arguments have been made so well.

Column 515

On Second Reading, I drew the attention of the House to the remarks of Ernest Bevin on the Disabled Persons (Employment) Bill in 1943 and on the 1944 Act. I thought that the level of debate and the vision that he showed in the House at that time was an inspiration to us, 50 years later.

I do not intend to waste the time of the House by repeating what others have said most ably. I congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on providing the House with this opportunity. It is pushing on very nicely the progress of the Bill. With regard to what the Minister said about the debate in a week's time, and given that there are no deviations from the norm and we get a proper amount of time for Report, this will be seen as an important milestone in the progress of the Bill.

I want to do something unusual, and confront the reality of the situation of the Bill. I want to put the mind of the Government at rest on the problems that they seem to think surround the Bill. I hope that the House will bear with me while I look at some of the ideas of the Government and of the Conservative party. I will try to show to the House, and particularly to the Government and their supporters on the Back Benches who have not yet signed the early-day motion or publicly come out in support of the Bill, that there is nothing to be afraid of.

I want to confront the reality of the Bill. Whatever else is said today, a private Member's Bill--even one of the quality of that introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry)--must depend, as all hon. Members are aware, on a fair wind from the Government. It is a comment on the House that all of us are aware that a private Member's role, and his independence and ability to introduce legislation, has been seriously reduced over a long period by Governments of all political parties.

If we want to look for a villain in the piece, we should look to Asquith during the first world war. He chopped the amount of private Members' time in the House, and it has never been retrieved. During the second world war, all private Members' legislation was suspended and it was not until 1947-48 that 10 motions and 10 private Members' Fridays were reintroduced.

That is a poor contribution to a modern democracy from Back-Bench Members of Parliament. Wearing my Back-Bench hat, I say that we have put up with it for too long. A private Member has a scant chance of introducing legislation and of its succeeding. We are, as ever in the House, far too dependent on the Whips and on the normal channels for deciding what is to be debated in the House and what makes progress. I say that in a parliamentary sense. For far too long, the country has been democratically short-changed by the amount of time and opportunity for the private Member to get his legislation and ideas pushed through the House and given a fair amount of time. I do not entirely blame this Government or previous Governments. If responsibility lies anywhere, it lies with private Members. We have been careless in the custody of our responsibilities. At some stage, private Members--Conservative Members and my hon. Friends--will have to get together and put that right. We shall have to bring pressure to improve the situation.

Mr. Fabricant : I have a hypothetical question for the hon. Gentleman. If there were ever a Labour Government in the future, would it change the position ? Would the hon. Gentleman like to commit that possible future Labour

Column 516

Government to amending the practices of the House to allow extra time for private Members' motions and business ?

Mr. Sheerman : I welcome that intervention from the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). He will know that the Labour party does not have a bad record in government. I mentioned 1947 and 1948, when we reintroduced private Members' time. We have quite a record in terms of introducing Select Committees, and so on. The hon. Gentleman probably joins me in making the point that there has to be greater emphasis on the independent role of Members of Parliament. The stark situation today in the real world is that private Members' Bills do not normally succeed unless they are entirely non-controversial or they have a fair wind from the Government. That is the truth. Everyone in the House will recognise that. If the Bill does not get a fair wind from the Government, it will fail. There is no doubt about that.

I want briefly to examine why the Government should change their mind and support the Bill. In an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Exeter, I suggested that there were rumours that the House would rise early for the summer recess. So there is no excuse for not allowing time for the Bill to complete its passage. People will be frustrated if the Bill is not given a fair wind. When our electors support a Bill, the frustration that they feel is not that a Bill comes to the House, is given a fair hearing and voted on. Their frustration is that a Bill is debated, but there is no opportunity once it comes back from Committee to the House for it to make progress on its merits. That is the frustration that the disabled lobby and people with disabilities will feel if the Bill fails to make progress because of time. We must have the Government with us.

I want to do a rather unusual thing. I want to examine the worries of Ministers' gurus and the ideologues in his party. I shall examine quickly three recent speeches--the Minister would say that they were very important speeches--made by three leading members of the Minister's party.

A fair analysis of the ideas of the modern Conservative party, certainly as expressed by its ideologues and leaders, would suggest not that there was anything wrong with the Bill but that it went along with the grain of political and ideological thinking in the Conservative party. I highlight the fact that, even given the philosophy of the modern high priests of the Tory party, the introduction of a piece of legislation such as the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill goes with the grain rather than against it. Let us start with perhaps the least cerebral of the three thinkers--the Prime Minister. He made a speech which I believe was a serious attempt to restate his interpretation of modern Conservatism. He called the speech "Conservatism in the 1990s : Our Common Purpose". It was delivered, of all places, at the Carlton club on 3 February 1993. He said :

"When I became Leader of our Party, I spoke of carrying forward the Conservative tradition'. I spoke of Conservatism as a common sense view of life from a tolerant perspective'. I set out my aim to create a classless society'--and a nation at ease with itself'. A Britain in which effort is rewarded ; and everyone has a stake in our country's future. A Britain where every youngster can aim high ; every family can build for its own future. Dignity, security, independence, self-respect--these are the human aspirations we understand and we endorse. Conservatism in the l990s has the ambition to bring them within the grasp of every citizen."

Next Section

  Home Page