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Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest) : I recognise and understand the reasons why my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) tabled the motion. Having taken a private Member's Bill, fortunately successfully, through the House a few years ago, I recognise that any successful
Column 529attempt needs adequate parliamentary time. I believe that such a sensitive and important issue should be properly debated in the House and that proper time should be given to it.
I recognise that it is within the power and remit of individual Members of Parliament to talk out a Bill. I have just been talking in the Tea Room with an hon. Member who, single-handedly, talked out a Bill that we all thought was a good thing at the time. I hope that, if this Bill is not successful, the Government will draw up, following the kind of consultation that I shall mention later, their own proposals effectively to outlaw discrimination against people with disabilities.
Although I have reservations about the Bill--my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) spoke about many aspects that cause me to pause--I believe that there is a need to ensure that the rights of disabled people are underpinned by legislation. I say that not only because I am secretary of the parliamentary human rights group, but because I see so many practical ways in which disabled people are discriminated against.
I also believe that, by strengthening the rights of a particular, possibly vulnerable, group in society, one underpins the rights of everyone in that society. On those grounds, I hope that the Government will take a constructive view, irrespective of the Bill's fate.
Equally, I recognise that the present position, although perhaps not as dire as some make out, is not acceptable. On 11 March, a number of constituents came to the House to talk to me. I was frankly horrified by what they told me about the ways in which disabled people, especially wheelchair-bound disabled people--although not exclusively such people-- were denied access to places that the vast majority of the rest of us would regard as a God-given right. I refer to places such as cinemas, public halls, from which, as the hon. Member for Exeter said on Second Reading, subnormal people were banned, and restaurants. Such behaviour is totally unacceptable, irrespective of the exclusions from employment which, sadly, so many disabled people have to suffer.
I mention in this regard the totally reprehensible activities of Hereford and Worcester county council, which is now controlled by a coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats. The council has decided recently, not as a cost-cutting measure as it claims in public--in private, the council admits differently--to take away the "wages" of disabled people who attend a social education centre in my constituency.
For many years, they have been used to receiving such wages as a reward for their work, and to get them used to getting back into the wider world of employment. That is cutting off one's nose to spite one's face with a vengeance. It is entirely vindictive. I take this opportunity of a public platform to urge the county council to ensure that its actions match its rhetoric in favour of disabled people by reinstating those appalling cuts.
I remind the House of the wise words of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) on Second Reading. This matter is not purely one of human rights ; it is one way to alleviate natural hardships. It is not
Column 530wrong to say that, although the vast majority of disabled people are as cheerful as anyone in the House, they inevitably suffer as a result of their disabilities.
My hon. Friend said that disabled people were resilient in the extreme. He then said that they accepted their responsibilities as disabled persons every minute of every day of every week of every year. Parliament should try to construct a framework that allows disabled people to overcome the difficulties and to fulfil those responsibilities themselves rather than have other people do it for them.
There is nothing worse for any disabled person--this happens too often socially--than to be condescended to, and to be talked to as though he or she had mental problems because he or she is in a wheelchair. Sadly, however well-meaning, too many people do that. The need for legislation has been clearly made out, but I am not sure that the Bill is the appropriate way to legislate. I have been slightly struck by the somewhat Jesuitical tone of the debate. When someone raises a perfectly valid objection to the Bill, it is said that one has a down on the disabled, that one does not want to help them, and that one does not want any legislation for them. Such political correctness is not conducive to the rational debate that is needed to ensure that any legislation is effective, is not counter- productive and helps disabled people in the way that we desire.
Mr. Clifton-Brown : Does my hon. Friend accept that, in taking our job as Members of Parliament seriously, we have a duty to point out the flaws in legislation ? That does not mean that we are in favour of discrimination for the disabled. We are just doing our duty as Members of Parliament.
Mr. Coombs : I agree. Although I cannot remember the exact words, I refer my hon. Friend to the words of Edmund Burke. He said that we owe our constituents our judgment as much as the judgment of their interests, and that we should betray them if we acted otherwise. My hon. Friend has made a valuable point.
Mr. Fabricant : Will not my hon. Friend concede that, while pointing out the costs or disbenefits of any legislation, one should also point out the benefits ? Just as there may be costs, albeit staggered over an indefinite period, as a result of the Bill, there will also be benefits. A substantial proportion of the 6.25 million disabled people will be able to come off state benefit and to start earning money, while doing a useful job which will help their self-esteem. Heaven forbid, they may even pay Inland Revenue taxation into the nation's coffers.
Mr. Coombs : I agree with my hon. Friend. I never said that rational debate should preclude balanced debate. It is very important that that point is made. Equally, however, we are entitled to ask whether the legislation will target precisely the people that we think ought to be targeted.
Something that is slightly difficult to question in a somewhat politically correct, intellectual climate is the definition of "disabled". It seems slightly curious that, when every other level of health indicator in the country, including life expectancy and infant mortality, indicates that the general health of the population is rising, those people who are eligible to be regarded as disabled also goes on rising.
Although we talk of 6.5 million people and 10,000 people for every constituency, I would need to look
Column 531slightly askance at that. It is significant that, over the past 15 years, the number of disabled people who have been helped with care and mobility needs by the Government has risen from 360,000 to no less than 2 million.
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen) : While recognising that the health of the nation is improving, we also have to consider the statistics that show that many people, especially young people, who become disabled, often through motor cycle or car accidents, were fit and healthy until that moment of impact. Obviously, there has been a huge increase in those numbers, because, with medical technology and care, many people survive today who, perhaps even a decade ago, would not have survived in the community.
Mr. Coombs : That is a reasonable point. On the other hand, my motor cycle action group tell me that accident statistics are also falling, so the number of people involved in an accident in the first place is also being reduced.
Sir John Hannam : On that point, would my hon. Friend accept that most of the increases in the number of disabled people receiving benefits have come about because of the identification of people with handicaps ? Until recent years, many disabled people in our society were completely hidden and not identifiable. It is because of successive Acts of Parliament --notably the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act promoted back in 1969-70 by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris)-- that identification of disabled people has resulted in them receiving benefits.
Mr. Coombs : I accept that ; obviously, in a more sophisticated society, that will be an inevitable process. However, it is very important that we only identify as disabled those who are--I know it is a moveable feast--genuinely disabled. One thing that has caused some concern among my constituents is the orange badge scheme, which for too many people, moved away from what was originally intended, was more widely spread and, possibly, was abused by some people. I do not think that that does the cause of disabled people generally any good whatever.
Mr. Alfred Morris : As the author of the orange badge scheme, may I tell the hon. Gentleman that there are penalties available to us for any abuse of the scheme ? Originally, there was a gross under-reckoning of the number of people who would be entitled to that kind of mobility help. We could tell that because the Department of Transport did not ever believe that more than a million people could legitimately claim an orange badge.
However, I ask the hon. Gentleman not to devalue the importance of the scheme, which can make all the difference between getting off the pavement and on to the road for severely disabled people. I know that he is not intending to do that, but I hope that he will emphasise to local authorities and others that there are penalties available to deal with abuse.
Mr. Coombs : Of course I would not want to devalue a scheme which many in my constituency value and have found very useful. The point that I am making is that we must ensure that our resources are accurately targeted, and that we do not undermine the work that we are trying to do
Column 532for the disabled by allowing people to take advantage of the scheme. I am not saying that that is happening in a wide context, but it should be borne in mind.
It is also important, when one has a rational discussion, to try to analyse the fate of disabled people over the past few years and decide whether legislation is likely to improve that outlook. I happen to believe that discrimination anywhere in the world is best eliminated ultimately by changes in attitude, which may or may not be prompted by changes in legislation as much as by anything else. One of the reasons, I think, why, fortunately, for the vast majority of the population--although not in certain parts of London--racial discrimination is on the decline is that people are seeing how futile it is, and are gradually recognising the enormous contribution that ethnic minorities have to offer society. I recognise that, as Martin Luther King said,
"Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless."
Therefore, I also understand that anybody who is minded to act in a grossly discriminatory way against disabled people may well pause if legislation is available. That is why I am agreeing on the need for legislation, but it is the kind of legislation proposed with which I may have some argument.
One does not want to put the record over the past 15 years in political terms, as it is not necessarily the record of the Government. There are so many other organisations involved in looking after the disabled that to do so would be wrong, but it has been a record of a gradual improvement in services available for the disabled. Indeed, on Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter talked about "dramatically improved financial support" for the disabled. Certainly, in terms of the taxpayer, a threefold increase in real terms over the past 15 years in the amount of money spent on the long-term sick and disabled speaks for itself.
Recent initiatives, such as the disability living allowance and, especially, the invalid care allowance, which helps 200,000 carers who look after people with disabilities, are important. I was pleased to hear the Minister talk of the success of the Employment Service in getting disabled people into the kind of jobs that we want to see them in and where they ought to be. PACTs--placing, assessment and counselling teams--in the Employment Service have had an important role to play in that area.
In transport, it is good to see that, gradually, British Rail, the taxi service and the buses are all waking up to the idea that provision must be made for people who are disabled, especially those in wheelchairs. I pay tribute in my constituency to Dial-A-Ride, which does a first-class job. I know that there has been a significant increase in the Government grant to Dial-A-Ride in London over the past 15 years. However, my local service does a first-class job in ensuring that disabled people are mobile, where otherwise they would not be. I understand that Dial-A-Ride in my area has two minibuses to do that important work, although--again, a little advertisement--it is short of drivers, and I am sure that any volunteers would be gratefully received.
There has been a huge upsurge in investment through the health service. I shall not go into that, except to say that the number of occupational therapists has risen exponentially by about 76 per cent. The number of speech
Column 533and language therapists, although far too thin on the ground--I have an especial problem in my constituency--has also risen by about 57 per cent. in 15 years. Other approaches to disability, such as the Steiner method and conductive education, in which I have an especial interest, have received Government support over the past few years in an imaginative way.
Also, in my constituency and elsewhere, there has been an upsurge in the work of voluntary organisations, such as Open Sesame and Citizens Advocacy and, in co-ordinating the activities of voluntary organisations, DIAL, the disabled information line in my constituency, has been important in guiding people and as a gateway to solving problems.
I have gone into that at some length because the general provision for disabled people in Britain has dramatically improved over the past 15 years, and that ought to be recognised when dealing with such legislation.
On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) acknowledged that one of the counter arguments is that the Bill might be too costly or unworkable in practice. Cost is, of course, important. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter quoted a Dr. Stephen Duckworth, who is disabled and who has done much work on behalf of the disabled. Dr. Duckworth acknowledges that concerns over litigation, bureaucracy and unquantifiable costs for business and taxpayers are important and cannot be shrugged off. If we are to rely upon business to implement many of the measures that will make the proposed legislation workable and practicable, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that anyone who introduces a Bill of this sort has the support of business as far as that is possible. We talked earlier about prior consultation, and I recognise what the hon. Member for Kingswood said about the difficulty of engaging in it. I know from my own experience that it is difficult to consult when we do not know where we shall find ourselves following the ballot for private Members' Bills.
It is crucial, however, that, before legislation is introduced and implemented, an appropriate cost-benefit analysis of the sort mentioned in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) be undertaken by the Government or some outside organisation. I hope that the Government will get on with that work as quickly as possible. Without that sort of study it is difficult to analyse the financial consequences of the Bill. I recognise that there is a power of exemption for the building and facilities measures that are set out in the Bill, and that the concepts of undue hardship and reasonableness are introduced. I am slightly concerned that, because there is a relationship to the financial resources of those who are required to implement these measures, there may be an element of inconsistency, and therefore arbitrariness. It is possible that there will be discrimination against shops, for example, that are required to make their premises available to disabled people.
In about two months' time--I have done this in the past--I shall be involved in a walkabout in the three major towns in my constituency with Open Sesame, which basically is a group that works for the disabled. We take someone round the towns who is in a wheelchair and
Column 534observe the sort of problems that he or she faces--with pavements, for example, or access to shops. Another example is access to a bank counter.
If some shops are required by virtue of their financial standing to carry out improvements for the disabled, and next door to them is a shopkeeper who is not required so to do--he may be a one-man band--that might well introduce arbitrariness. That will not be healthy, and it is something that should be considered.
Sir John Hannam : May I remind my hon. Friend of the American experience ? When businesses realised that there was a potential but untapped new business sector of 49 million disabled people--there are 6.5 million in this country--and when business men saw the shop down the road adapted, or the hotel, to accommodate the new potential business, they jolly soon followed suit. They thought that it was a sound investment to make.
Mr. Coombs : That may be a benign effect of the Bill. Whether that effect will become immediately apparent is another matter. We should be aware of inconsistencies that could result if we were not to consider these matters in some detail.
Mr. Fabricant : My hon. Friend talked earlier of the county council that has control in his constituency. He said that it had not been that helpful towards the disabled. Does he agree that, when local shops--that was his example--or county councils provide facilities for the disabled, they are properly thought out ?
With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall briefly give an example of a facility that was made available by Staffordshire county council. At great expense to the council tax payer, it provided a ramp leading up and into county hall. It also provided electrically operated glass doors, which would open automatically to enable disabled people to gain access to the premises. Unfortunately, the doors opened outwards, not inwards. They would hit the wheelchair and shoot the disabled person back down the ramp. The initial installation cost a fortune, and its correction cost almost as much again.
Mr. Coombs : That example shows how careful we must be to ensure that appropriate adaptations are made for disabled people. That means that there must be co-ordination between private and public bodies. I have grave doubts about whether it is necessary to have a Disability Rights Commission. The hair on my head tends to stand up when I read the powers that are proposed for the commission. Clause 3(2)(b) refers to powers of general investigation to determine whether compliance is adequate when set against the requirements of the Bill.
I do not know what the likely financial cost will be of helping people to take their cases to court or industrial tribunals. I am appalled by the idea--it is argued that the Bill does not have any element of positive discrimination--that a necessary qualification for membership of the commission should be positively discriminatory in itself. I refer to the requirement that three quarters of the members of the commission should themselves be disabled. The idea that those who are not disabled cannot have some empathy--obviously there must be some disabled people on the commission--with the problems of disabled people is possibly insulting.
I understand that, in the United States, the rights of disabled people, if they are overturned, as it were, by
Column 535legislation, are pursued by individual Government Departments. That seems to be not a bad approach, so long as there is access to the courts and employment tribunals. I do not believe that the commission is necessary. We were talking earlier about being Jesuitical ; the potential of the DRC, as it no doubt will become known in this age of acronyms, is horrendous.
Paragraphs (a) and (c) of clause 2 have been drawn extremely wide in terms of discrimination. I am concerned that employers may so construct their recruitment procedures to make it more rather than less difficult to get jobs, precisely because they are terrified of being accused of prejudice-- when disabled people come forward for jobs alongside able-bodied people--if for good reasons they choose able-bodied applicants rather than disabled ones. There may well be a fall in the number of places available for disabled people, rather than the reverse which the Bill expects.
Again on employment rights, clause 4(4) refers to making "reasonable accommodation" for disabled people. Clause 4(4)(a) refers to
"making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and useable by persons with disabilities"
and we would all agree with that. Clause 4(4)(b) refers to "job restructuring, instituting part-time or modified work schedules".
The DRC, or employment tribunals which look at the matter in a particularly perverse way, may not interpret that type of job restructuring as applying just to disabled people. It may well be necessary for a factory manager to make substantial changes to the work scheduling of his whole company to accommodate the needs of only one or two disabled people.
If that were to happen, it would massively increase costs for industry, would be very disruptive and would ultimately be detrimental to the economic growth which is absolutely vital to ensure that we have resources available for disabled people in the first place. The Bill's sponsors should discuss that point in detail with representatives of industry, and in particular with organisations such as the Engineering Employers Federation. I make my final point not as a chartered surveyor, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury did, but as someone who has been involved in the building trade for 22 years. I am very concerned about clause 8, which refers to new constructions and the need to
"design and construct new buildings, extensions . . . in such a manner that they are readily accessible to, and useable by, disabled people".
In one sense--peace and motherhood--we cannot disagree with that. However, how far will that be taken ?
I am aware that there is a test of reasonableness, but the DRC or particularly unsympathetic building inspectors may say, "Given that you are Wimpey or Tarmac and a relatively large company with the necessary resources, why shouldn't you make every house on the site readymade for a disabled person to move into ?" Those adaptations would involve considerable cost and would necessitate wider doors, wheelchair access to stairs and so on. I believe that such a demand would be retrograde. It would raise construction costs considerably, and would therefore be counter -productive in the long term for disabled people.
Although there is no doubt that there is a need for legislation to protect the interests of disabled people and to ensure that the quite abhorrent practice of discriminating
Column 536against them unnecessarily is outlawed in this country, I am not convinced that the Bill is the right way to achieve it.
Most of all, I impress on the sponsors and the Government that, as my former boss, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), used to say when he was taking Bills through the House, "The devil is in the detail." Unless we consider the costs and benefits in detail, unless we consult the people who will be required to implement the measures, we may well end up with legislation which is not only unworkable and very costly, but which does not do what we want it to do, which is to end discrimination against disabled people.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : The House will not be surprised to learn that I most warmly welcome this debate and as warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) both on his good fortune in the ballot and on his unhesitating choice of motion. This is not by any means the first time that we have sung from the same hymn sheet. For more than 20 years now, we have acted in the closest rapport in seeking to make life better for Britain's 6.5 million people with disabilities and their families.
Never in all that time has the hon. Member for Exeter faltered in conferring on disabled people whatever luck he has had in ballots for private Members' Bills and motions. Without exception, the organisations of and for disabled people are also most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for this opportunity to emphasise again to the Government the very urgent need now to enact a Bill which Stephen Bradshaw, the director of the Spinal Injuries Association, who also chairs Voluntary Organisations for Anti- Discrimination
Legislation--VOADL--describes as the most important legislation this century on disabled people's rights.
It will be recalled that when I first drafted and asked the House to give the Bill a Second Reading on 31 January 1992, the Government's attitude was said to be one of "benevolent neutrality". I quote the words of the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People in an interview he gave the BBC "You and Yours" programme the day before the debate. With only one exception, all who spoke in the debate gave the Bill's principles their support. The exception was the former Member for Kingswood, who talked the Bill out, having first said that he would not do so. He subsequently made a personal statement of "unreserved apologies" to Mr. Speaker Weatherill and the House as a whole for misleading us in his speech on the Bill. Nevertheless, the Bill's chance of enactment had been destroyed and disabled people all over Britain felt cheated by what had happened. My noble Friend Lady Lockwood later introduced the Bill for me in the House of Lords where it completed all its stages. Its provisions were also endorsed by this House when it approved a motion that was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on 26 February 1993.
To keep up the momentum created by the approval of that motion, versions of the Bill specifically to benefit disabled people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were then introduced by my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) and for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), and by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). All three Bills had overwhelming
Column 537all-party support. Some 90 per cent. of Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament wanted the benefits of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill for the disabled people they represent from the only Parliament that can legislate for them.
In the case of Northern Ireland--a parliamentary first if ever there was one--all 17 of its Members of Parliament backed the Bill ; but their Bill, like those for Scotland and Wales, was blocked by Government Whips entirely without debate. As the Minister knows, the intervention of the Whips to block legislation about which he had said he was "benevolently neutral" provoked expressions not only of anguish but of despair from disabled people all over Britain. They were in despair not least because it now appeared that even the support of a majority in this House and the Bill's successful passage through the House of Lords, where not a single vote was cast against it at any stage, meant nothing to the minority in this House who were determined to use any and every procedural ploy to block the Bill. The treatment of the Bill at Second Reading on 31 January 1992, and the antics of Government Whips Friday after Friday, were described by one of the most respected disabled people in Britain as "a nauseating farce" and as
"a disgrace to parliamentary democracy".
Then came some good news when my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) won a high place in this Session's ballot for private Members' Bills. It was my hon. Friend whose early-day motion had demonstrated that there is a clear parliamentary majority for the Bill in this House and I had no hesitation in asking him to promote the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill in this Session. There could not have been a better choice and I am most grateful to him for having secured both a Second Reading for the Bill and a successful conclusion to its Committee stage, during which every opportunity was given to Ministers--and everyone else with an interest in its provisions--to table any amendments they wanted to see made. My hon. Friend has shown himself strong in regard to principle and flexible about detail. In addition to accepting amendments to the Bill proposed in Committee, he will be tabling amendments of his own at Report to meet every constructive point raised with him upstairs.
Among the amendments to the Bill accepted in Committee, none was more important than those about giving deaf and hard of hearing people equal access to technical communications. That is something the rest of us take for granted, as a civil right, but a deaf person cannot get the same ease of access to the public telephone system as a hearing person.
Equal access to justice for deaf and hard of hearing people was also dealt with by amending the Bill in Committee. Such access must no longer be a privilege for hearing people only. It is a civil right, but as of now deaf people could face a police interview without adequate communication support and could quite easily be exposed to gross miscarriages of justice.
There was no dissent from that in Committee and, if the Bill achieves nothing else, its enactment will be more than justified by what it can achieve for deaf and hard of hearing people. Tim Sargeant of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and Jane Oberman of Deaf Accord worked
Column 538long and hard to inform parliamentary opinion of the importance of the amendments approved in Committee and we should all be most grateful to them.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said in Committee, and repeated today, his door was not only wide open to suggestions for amending the Bill there, but was virtually off its hinges. No promoter of a Bill could possibly have been more reasonable and responsive in his approach to suggestions for improving its provisions. My hon. Friend has been, and is now, as ready to discuss reservations about the Bill raised by the Institute of Directors as he is to listen to any other organisation or individual with an interest in the Bill.
The institute is said still to be concerned about some of the Bill's provisions, but I cannot believe that company directors in this country are less capable of coping with civil rights legislation for disabled people than their counterparts in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France and Sweden. Employers in all those countries are already implementing legislation with the same purpose and, in many cases, the same provisions as those of this Bill.
There is no evidence of whingeing among them, and indeed the response of employers in the United States has proved wholly worthy of the challenge made to them by President Bush when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. He said :
"You can now unlock a splendid resource of untapped human potential that will enrich us all".
That there remains a huge untapped human potential here in Britain is utterly beyond dispute. Nor is it wholly the fault of employers in the private sector, although official studies show that employers there are six times more likely to turn down a disabled person for an interview even if her or his qualifications are identical to those of a non-disabled applicant. That statistic shouts the word "discrimination" and many thousands of employers openly state that, whatever the qualifications of disabled job seekers, they will never interview them.
What of the public sector ? A recent report shows that 100,000 more disabled people would obtain jobs if public sector employers were to achieve the 3 per cent. employment quota established by the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1994. Only 0.7 per cent. of employees in the public sector are disabled people and, in many Departments of state, the percentage is very much lower. The Home Office employs only 0.3 per cent., or one tenth, of the 3 per cent. quota ; while, according to the latest figures I have seen, not one disabled person is employed at 10 Downing street.
I most strongly appeal to employers in the public and private sectors alike to recognise the abilities of disabled people and what they have to contribute to industry and society. They seek not the dependence of social security benefits, but the dignity of becoming taxpayers. They crave the right to be judged on their merits and the freedom to compete on fair terms with everyone else. They do not want privilege, but simply to be treated like other people when it comes to jobs, enjoying their leisure and living their lives as they want to do.
They do not argue for blind bus drivers or deaf piano tuners ; nor do they believe that all acts of discrimination can be ended overnight. It is unfair discrimination that they want to see eliminated and they accept that it will take time for this Bill to achieve its full purpose. They point out, as does the chief executive of the Royal National Institute for
Column 539Deaf People in his letter to all Members of Parliament earlier this week, that the Bill as now drafted provides for full consultation with employers before regulations are made by the Secretary of State and that it protects individual employers against regulations that would inflict "undue hardship" or that fails in any particular case "the test of reasonableness" provided for in the Bill.
I have had, of course, a national correspondence about this Bill ever since moving its Second Reading on 31 January 1992 and could quote cases galore of blatantly unfair discrimination against disabled people. All of them underline the importance of this motion. I shall refer here, however, to only three such cases.
The first is that of a physically disabled young man with a brilliant degree who was told by his employer that, because he was disabled, he would be paid less than other new employees for doing exactly the same work. The second case is that of a woman appointed to a senior civilian post with a major police authority who, because of her disability but with no justification on grounds of special risk, was refused entry to its pension scheme. My third case is that of a young graduate who became hearing- impaired by meningitis after a serious road accident when she was seven. Specialising in accountancy, she won the top degree of her year at Manchester university when she was 21, but the only job she had for more than two years afterwards was a temporary one at the check-out counter in a local store during the Christmas period. Her hearing aid enables her to use a telephone and to work normally, but she was rejected again and again by accountancy firms in favour of other applicants, some of them her contemporaries at university, whose qualifications were much inferior to her own. She told me in a letter :
"To mention you are disabled makes it virtually certain that you will not even be interviewed for a job".
How can any employer, or anyone else, possibly sanction that kind of discrimination against a disabled young woman who simply wants the same opportunities as everyone else to earn her own living ? Speaking in September 1991, shortly before I published the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, the Prime Minister said :
"I believe deeply that all men and women should be able to go as far as talent, ambition and effort can take them. There should be no barriers . . . I want a society that encourages each and everyone to fulfil his or her potential to the utmost."
How, then, can he possibly justify the tactics of obstruction that have been used against the Bill, more particularly by Whips acting officially as members of his Government ? Has he seen The Sun 's description of his Government's tactics as "chicanery" and the very strong support for the Bill elsewhere in the press ? Ought he not now either to withdraw what he said in September 1991 or stop obstructing this Bill ? If he meant what he said then, he must surely welcome today's motion and hasten the Bill's progress to the statute book. The right hon. Gentleman must also accept the justice of what Lord Renton, his predecessor as Conservative Member of Parliament for Huntingdon and a distinguished lawyer, told the House of Lords when speaking in the Third Reading debate on the Bill there on 4 November 1992. I do not quote the noble Lord in direct speech, of course, Madam Deputy Speaker, but what he said was that he found it extraordinary and not very creditable that legislation to outlaw discrimination against disabled people had not already been enacted. He went on to say
Column 540that, after all the thought given to the Bill in the House of Lords, he did not believe many hours of discussion would be necessary in the Commons. Yet the principles of the Bill have now been debated for more than 15 hours on the Floor of this House and its details for very many hours more in Committee. Are not Lord Renton's words the most compelling case of all for approving the motion today and enacting the Bill without further delay ?
At an hour-long meeting with the Prime Minister, he told me that cost was the first of three reasons for his reservations about the Bill. While he readily accepted that unfair discrimination against disabled people was "a very real problem", he said that any action to tackle it must be "without cost implications". In other words, we can afford civil rights for everyone else in this country, but not for disabled people. They and their organisations find this deeply offensive. They point out that there was no mention of any cost factor in the Prime Minister's declaration of his belief in equal opportunities for all in September 1991. That declaration was as unambiguous as it was widely circulated.
The Prime Minister's second criticism of the Bill when we met was that it does not
"sit comfortably with the Government's policy on deregulation". But nor does the legislation on gender and race, and that criticism is an implied threat to the continued existence of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality. The third criticism put to me by the Prime Minister was that the Bill takes "too comprehensive" an approach to the problem. His preference was for "piecemeal change". But discrimination against disabled people cannot be solved ad hoc. As one employer told me recently :
"To end discrimination in the workplace, you must not only protect disabled people there but also achieve for them equality of access to training and transport among many other facilities and services." In the employer's view, "piecemeal change" would be an attempt to try to divide the indivisible and a total waste of time and money. What is very sad is that Britain used to lead the world in legislating to make life better for disabled people. That is why, when I was the Minister in the late 1970s, I was invited to chair the World Planning Group to draft the "Charter for the 1980s" for disabled people worldwide. Now we lag behind many other countries. They have seen that today there is no more important issue for disabled people than that of civil rights ; and, indeed, that fully assured civil rights are now the defining principle of all enlightened policy making on disability. They have demonstrated by the legislation that their Parliaments have enacted that what we are discussing in this debate is not an idea whose time has come, but one whose time came, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said, when the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People, CORAD, so ably chaired by Sir Peter Large, reported to the Government in favour of legislation to end unfair discrimination against disabled people in 1982, since when one Minister after another has refused to implement the report.
It was made very clear when I appointed CORAD in 1979 that it was the then Labour Government's firm intention to act on its report ; but it is in other countries, not here in Britain, that the report has so far had its main effect. There, the report was read by Ministers who were prepared to act ; but at least we can take some pride in the fact that
Column 541it was in this country that the case for legally protecting disabled people against unfair discrimination was first fully documented in an official report.
The Government may wish to argue that for the House to approve this motion would be to act without precedent. But, as we have heard today, not least from the hon. Member for Exeter, that is not the case. In fact, time was found by the then Government, with full co-operation from the Conservative Opposition, for my Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill to reach the statute book on 29 May 1970. My Bill could not possibly have become law before the dissolution on that date without extra time being given by the Government for its final stages. That ought surely to be a good enough precedent for approving this motion, which is, after all, about a Bill which might be described as a lineal descendant of the 1970 Act.
What this motion is basically about is keeping faith with disabled people and restoring their faith, and that of all who work to help them, in this House of Commons. If they are sceptical about the parliamentary process, even sometimes now a little cynical, we need look no further for the cause than the treatment of the Bill that this motion seeks to enact by a minority in the House who have been opposed not only to its enactment, but sometimes even to discussing the Bill.
The tide, however, is rapidly turning against those who think that the law has no part to play in achieving social equality and full citizenship for disabled people. The question now is not whether Britain will go with the tide, but whether we shall be the last country in the developed world to do so.
I am reminded again today of the striking and very memorable photograph of two baby girls that was widely displayed by the Spastics Society with the movingly eloquent caption :
"One of them has cerebral palsy, the other will grow up with full human rights."
The Spastics Society knows, like all supporters of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, that without full civil rights disabled people are doubly disabled. The handicapping effects of their disabilities are made even harder to bear by unnecessary social handicaps for which there is no moral justification ; and what anyone in this House opposed to this motion must answer today is the question : "Why on earth should what is morally unjustified any longer be legally permissible in Britain ?"