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Column 966small firms across the country. If the Bill were taken to its logical conclusion, it would almost be like placing a tax on small businesses, and clearly that is not what the House has in mind. The Federation of Small Businesses stated :
"The FSB would be concerned about any new mandatory framework for action concerning legislative accessibility to shops or business premises in the high street which might involve substantial building expenditure."
Mr. Sheerman : On Second Reading, the hon. Lady intervened on the Minister, but did not make a speech. In trying to establish good communications with business, as members of my Front Bench try to do--and I have been in contact with many of the organisations to which the hon. Lady refers--one shorthand procedure is to read and then to send to those organisations the Committee proceedings. The points that the hon. Lady is addressing were well covered in Committee, especially in regard to small firms. She has done a disservice to the Bill and to the House by not reading the Committee proceedings and understanding that those points were met.
Lady Olga Maitland : I acknowledge that there was some contact with small business organisations, but they all feel keenly--bearing in mind the Bill's wide breadth and the scale of its impositions on businesses--that there must be broader and deeper consultation. It is not enough to have one chat, one phone call, one meeting and an exchange of documents. That is not real consultation.
The Association of British Insurers commented :
"The Bill as currently drafted would create serious difficulties for the insurance industry and our policy holders. It would effectively prevent insurers from differentiating between risks, which is a fundamental feature of insurance and applicable to all policy holders."
Mr. Berry : It may help the hon. Lady to know that we met the ABI and it now accepts that the statement that its members could no longer differentiate between risks was not correct. Will the hon. Lady withdraw her comment ?
Lady Olga Maitland : If the hon. Gentleman is right and the association holds to that view today, I will withdraw my remark--but I will be in touch with the ABI to learn its current position. The British Retail Consortium states :
"There is concern that the Bill would impose extra burdens on employers. The cost of converting older and smaller premises to accommodate the disabled may be prohibitive and cease to make the business viable."
We must take those concerns seriously. It would be invidious to ride roughshod over the very people whose co-operation is badly needed. That would not make for good legislation. A small firm operating from a grade 2 or 3 listed building may be required to make extensive changes to its premises. It might not be able to afford that--it could financially cripple the company. I know that the Bill says that there will be a long lead-in time, but we never know.
Column 967Employers' concerns are the key to the whole Bill. I will give just one more example, to qualify my arguments. Kwik Save Group plc bitterly complained about lack of consultation. It stated : "Nothing like sufficient research or consultation has been undertaken"
Mr. Austin-Walker : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My reading of new clause 3 is that it relates to whether an employer is responsible and liable for the acts of an employee. I cannot see the relevance of the hon. Lady's remarks.
"Nothing like sufficient research or consultation has been undertaken into the consequences of the proposals. For instance, there is no evidence that its correlation with employment or health and safety legislation has been considered. We need to allow the necessary time for proper research and consultation."
On that score, I must go further into
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Lady is now taxing the Chair. New clause 3 is not about health and safety, so her last quotation was totally irrelevant. I firmly request the hon. Lady to address the new clause.
Lady Olga Maitland : I stand corrected, Mr. Deputy Speaker. New clause 3 relates to the liability of employers and principals. It would make employers responsible for discrimination practised by their employees or agents, unless they have taken reasonable steps to prevent it. The new clause would correct an oversight in the Bill as drafted. The Bill places duties and responsibilities on a variety of people, many of whom employ a work force or act through agents. It would clearly be nonsense to outlaw discrimination while allowing people to dodge their new responsibilities by claiming that it was the employee or agent who had practised discrimination. It would be small comfort to a job candidate who was wrongly denied an interview on grounds of his disability to hear that it was an underling or employment agency, and not his prospective employer, who had discriminated against him.
New clause 3 guards against that possibility by treating discrimination by a person's employee or agent as though it had been carried out by the person himself. It also recognises
Mr. Campbell-Savours : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that Disability Action, Sutton, a group in the hon. Lady's constituency, is taking strong exception to what she is doing on the Floor of the House today by interfering in the rights of disabled people in her constituency. Will she resume her seat and concede to the requests of disabled people in Sutton and Cheam ?
Lady Olga Maitland : New clause 3 also recognises that it would be unfair to penalise an employer if, through no fault of his own and perhaps in direct contravention of his instructions, an employee discriminated unjustifiably against a disabled person. Therefore, the new clause allows an employer to defend himself against proceedings brought under the provision by proving that he had taken reasonable steps to prevent his employee from acting in a discriminatory manner. New clause 3 is modelled on a provision similar to that in section 32 of the Race Relations Act 1976.
Amendment No. 4 would remove a confusing and unnecessary phrase from the Bill's definition of "employer". The amendment seeks to clarify the Bill at the expense of extraneous detail. The fact that a contract for services has been established between two parties, one of whom is an employer, speaks for itself.
[Interruption.] Order. Hon. Members have an absolute right to be heard provided that they are referring specifically to new clause 3.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. An attempt is being made in the House by Conservative Members to destroy this legislation. Nearly all Conservative Members present today have organisations in their constituencies have contacted Labour Members
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. That is not a point of order for the Chair. The Chair is here to ensure that there is full and proper debate on the issues before the House. We are now considering new clause 3 and the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) was making an intervention.
Mr. Stern : I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was about to make the point that the thrust of amendment No. 4 is borne out by experience in other fields and in particular where the Inland Revenue has great difficulty in establishing whether-- [Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker, there has been a campaign of barracking from the Opposition Benches today. May I appeal to you for protection to enable hon. Members to be heard ?
Mr. Stern : The thrust of amendment No. 4 is borne out by the experience of the Inland Revenue, which has great difficulty establishing whether a person is employed or self-employed and the definition of contract for services is frequently used in such cases. Unless my right hon. Friend
Column 969the Minister or the Bill's promoter can rebut the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), amendment No. 4 would be a worthy addition to the Bill.
Lady Olga Maitland : I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) for making a very worthy intervention. It was a lot more constructive than many of the comments that have been made from across the Floor of the Chamber.
The definition of employer should not extend to a person who may or may not engage the services of another under a contract for services. That term has no useful meaning within that context and its removal will clarify the Bill and go some way towards the aim of promoting conciseness wherever possible.
Amendment No. 5 would remove the final three words from the Bill's definition of employer.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : Before the hon. Lady considers amendment No. 5, may I ask whether new clause 3 has the support of disabled persons in her constituency ? That point was made a few moments ago. Even if it has, would they approve of anything that would delay the rapid passage of a Bill that is wanted throughout the country and particularly by disabled people ?
Lady Olga Maitland : I can confirm that disabled people want the very best possible Bill, the best legislation and the best drafting. They do not want a Bill that is hastily drawn up, which contains flaws and which they feel would not help them in the way intended.
Lady Olga Maitland : We are now straying from the main point, of the amendment. With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will stick to the main point, as I am sure that that is what you have in mind. Amendment No. 5 would remove the final three words of the Bill's definition of employer. The words add nothing to the meaning of the definition. Indeed, they cause confusion by seeming to refer to a mysterious set of Acts which are not mentioned earlier in the Bill. The removal of those words would clarify the Bill.
Mr. Wigley : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) inadvertently or otherwise misled the House a few moments ago when she said that Kwik Save had expressed an opinion on the Bill. I have just spoken to the chief executive of Kwik Save, which is based in north Wales. He told me that he has received no approach and he stated categorically that he would have known of an
Column 970approach had there been one. Perhaps the hon. Lady would like to withdraw that part, and many other parts, of her comments.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Yes, indeed. Is not it true that to deliberately mislead the House of Commons is a contempt ? If it is a contempt and the hon. Lady has deliberately misled the House of Commons, surely the matter should be referred immediately to Madam Speaker ? Does not "Erskine May" say that that should happen at the first possible occasion ?
Lady Olga Maitland : I can certainly produce the evidence from Kwik Save, but time prevents me from going through all my papers right now. However, if the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) would like to catch up with me later after the debate, I will show him the original correspondence. I can go no further than that.
Amendment No. 5 is simple : it aims to clarify the definition of "employer" in the Bill. The words "under those Acts" are tagged on at the end of the definition. The words are confusing because no Acts are mentioned in the Bill to which they could refer. Indeed, the definition reads sensibly without those words. I propose the removal of the offending words. I commend the new clause and the amendments to the House.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. If the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) wishes to make a speech on any element of the new clause, she is perfectly entitled to do so. Points of order are directed to the Chair and for a ruling from the Chair. I have given a ruling on the issue.
Mrs. Clwyd : I am listening carefully to your words of reprimand, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I apologise to you. I came into the Chamber just before the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam sat down. She claimed that she had spoken to disability organisations in her constituency, although she failed to mention one. It is important that the House should know that I have just spoken to the Sutton and Cheam branch of Mencap. It fully supports the Bill and it is important that the House should know that.
Mr. Berry : I urge the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) to withdraw the new clause, and I urge other hon. Members who have tabled amendments not to press them--for a very simple reason : all the amendments can be considered in another place, but only if we conclude the Report stage and Third Reading this morning. It is abundantly clear that efforts have been made by some hon. Members to prevent us from completing those stages this morning.
I say immediately that I do not throw that accusation at all Conservative Members. There are Conservative Members who are as angry as we are-- [Hon. Members :-- "And honourable."]--and who are honourable. Other Conservative Members are not behaving honourably at all. The amendments were not tabled to ensure careful and detailed consideration of the Bill. They were tabled specifically to wreck the Bill.
All the amendments could have been tabled in Committee, but I did not receive a single approach from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, from the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) or from any other hon. Member who has tabled amendments for consideration today. However, we did receive representations from organisations such as the Association of British Insurers. We tabled amendments suggested by them and discussed them in Committee. The point is perfectly simple. All 80 amendments could have been discussed in Committee if they had been tabled in Committee. I repeatedly begged the Minister to table amendments on behalf of the Government to address any concerns that he might have. As he failed to do so, I and my colleagues in the Committee tabled amendments through which we attempted to address the Government's concerns. As I said last Friday, I believe that those amendments went a long way to taking on board those concerns. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam and her colleagues have been put up to this by the Government. Lady Olga Maitland indicated dissent .
Mr. Berry : The hon. Lady shakes her head. I am afraid, therefore, that I shall have to produce evidence to confirm that point. The hon. Lady and I were invited on Wednesday evening to record a "Westminster Daily" programme in which we were to debate the Bill. The first thing that the hon. Lady said to me as we prepared to go into the studio was :
"Where are we with the Bill ?"
I explained to her that the Bill had received an unopposed Second Reading, with 231 hon. Members voting in favour and no hon. Member voting against. I explained to the hon. Lady that the Bill had completed its Committee stage, at which point she said:
" I must read the proceedings of the Committee."
She made that statement after she had tabled amendments for debate this morning.
Column 972I know that we have to choose our language carefully in the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I intend to stay in order, but I must say that I think that it is less than honest for the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam to pretend that amendments have been tabled after careful consideration when, out of her own mouth, it is confirmed that she has been put up to it by the Government.
Lady Olga Maitland : The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) has been making the most gross slurs against my good name. I have been very concerned for a long time about the disabled in my constituency and elsewhere. For the purpose of tabling new clauses and amendments, it is irrelevant whether I had read the report of the Committee stage at that moment. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his remarks.
Mr. Berry : Not only have I no intention of withdrawing those remarks, but I shall make a further one, which will be borne out by the video of the programme in question. On three occasions, the hon. Lady was asked whether she had been put up to this by the Government and on three occasions she refused to answer the question.
Lady Olga Maitland : I object to the hon. Gentleman's remarks. I have always and consistently said that the amendments are mine. I have had a long-standing interest in the disabled in my constituency and I stand by that.
Mr. Berry : The video is there. I am aware that the hon. Lady has threatened legal action against Disability Times ; perhaps she will threaten legal action against me as well. All I can say is that the hon. Lady has behaved dishonourably and dishonestly in this matter.
Mr. Alfred Morris : My hon. Friend says that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) has threatened the disability press-- in particular, Disability Times . That would be an odious thing if it happened. Can my hon. Friend give a source for what he has said ?
Lady Olga Maitland : The hon. Gentleman's remarks are absolutely scandalous. He is still trying to imply that I am threatening legal action. How did he come by that information from my private conversation with Disability Times ? Is he not aware that I confirmed to Disability Times , yet again, that the new clause and amendments were mine and mine only ?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. Before this goes any further, may I be clear that the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) did not say that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) had acted dishonourably in the House ? Is that right ? If he had done, I should have to ask him to withdraw the remark.
Mr. Berry : I sought the strongest remark that I could make without causing offence to the Chair. If you could advise me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of the strongest language that I could use, I should be grateful.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : I accept the hon. Gentleman's good will in making that suggestion. However, if he did say, as I understood it, that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam had acted dishonourably in the House, I wish him to make it clear that he did not make that statement.
This is a serious matter. Disabled people have been campaigning for a civil rights Bill not just for a few weeks or a few months, but for many a long year. They have been campaigning ever since the first Minister for the Disabled, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), set up a committee to investigate the possibility of such legislation being introduced. In 1982--12 years ago--that committee reported. The issue has been on the table since then, so when people make statements about their good intentions they should be certain that they can substantiate them. There is no doubt that a few Conservative Members are seeking to talk out the Bill. The hon. Member for Bristol, North-West, for example, said on Radio Bristol a fortnight ago that of course the Bill would be talked out. That was before one single amendment had been tabled. He subsequently tabled 50 amendments.
Mr. Stern : I am happy to amplify what the hon. Gentleman said. He may recollect a conversation that he and I had last February, in which I pointed out to him that the inevitable fate of the Bill was that it would be talked out because it was bad legislation.
Mr. Berry : Not one hon. Member voted against the basic principle of the Bill on Second Reading. Yet in other places they said that they were against the Bill and would do all that they could to stop it. As the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West rose to his feet, I will read out a letter that I happen to have in my possession which he wrote to the honorary secretary of Bristol Mencap. Bristol is a city that he and I have in common. It is probably the only thing that we have in common. The hon. Gentleman pointed out in his letter of 17 February 1994 :
"As you will know, I regard the various drafts of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill as pernicious legislation which would merely serve to provide a cloak for expanding bureaucracy . . . something to be opposed at all costs."
Yet he did not oppose it.
Three or four weeks later, we had the Second Reading debate and the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West and, indeed, the Government could have voted against the Bill. They did not do so. The Prime Minister looked forward to detailed discussion in Committee. But not one amendment was tabled by the Minister or suggested by the hon. Members for Bristol, North-West or for Sutton and Cheam or anyone else who might seek to talk out the Bill this morning. That is why most of us in the Chamber, on both sides of the House are, to put it mildly, a little angry at the behaviour of a small minority.