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The consultation on the Bill has been extensive. The all-party disablement group, so ably co-chaired by the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) and Lord Ashley, has consulted the Minister, the Prime Minister and organisation after organisation for 12 months and more. I dare say that I have spent more time consulting the organisations that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam listed this morning than she has.
It is appalling that when one asks the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam the simple question of which organisations of disabled people she has consulted, she
Column 974cannot name one. She asserts that she has consulted, but she cannot name them. If that is not disingenuous--I hope that that word is in order--I do not know what is.
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that when the House considers legislation which affects a wide body of people--not only the people that it might aim to help--there is a duty to consult widely all relevant organisations ? What consultation has the promoter of the Bill had with the chartered airlines ?
Mr. Berry : I should like to answer that question. I received a letter from Britannia Airways and I have spoken to the company on the telephone. I promised that we would meet after the completion of business today, before the Bill--I hope--goes to the other place. I would have met that company this week if I had not been meeting other organisations to discuss the Bill.
Returning to new clause 3 and all the other amendments, let me say in conclusion that the Bill received an overwhelming Second Reading, with 231 hon. Members voting in favour of the Bill and not one voting against. The Government did not vote against. The Minister did not vote against. Indeed, there was not one speech against it.
Mr. Berry : I confirm that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West expressed grave reservations about the Bill, although not quite so stridently as in his letter to the secretary of Bristol Mencap that I quoted a few moments ago. Indeed, the contrast is marked. The hon. Gentleman did not have the courage to vote against a Bill which he now says is totally unacceptable. That is the point.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Obviously, the reason why the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) did not vote against the Bill was that he knew what happened to Bob Hayward, his colleague in Bristol who lost his seat at the last general election for in effect destroying such a Bill when it came to the House on a previous occasion. Is that not the real reason why the hon. Gentleman did not have the courage to walk into the Division Lobby to vote against the Bill ?
Mr. Berry : New clause 3 and other clauses have been tabled not in order to have the debate that we should have had in Committee. We had an extensive debate in Committee and many of the issues were discussed. If other aspects of the Bill should have been examined, that should have been done in Committee. Even now, if the new clauses and amendments are withdrawn, the issues can be discussed in the other place. Was it really pure coincidence that a handful of hon. Members tabled 80 amendments two days ago? Of course it was not. The amendments were drafted by the Government and tabled by tame Back Benchers to wreck the progress of the Bill.
Disabled people are not asking us to speak for them and do things for them, as the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam suggested : they are asking us to let them have the
Column 975basic civil rights that we demand for everyone else. We are not talking about charity or about being nice to disabled people--we are talking about people's rights. Disabled people are demanding the rights enshrined in the Bill.
Mr. Berry : Exactly right. The hon. Gentleman has studied the Bill and campaigned for the measures in it over the years. He knows that the Bill has been drafted carefully to ensure that the provisions can be introduced on a reasonable time scale to accommodate the problems of cost and so on.
What really annoys me is that in recent weeks I have heard the Government say one thing in public and seen and heard them do something totally different in private. In public, they have no opposition to the principle of the Bill. The Prime Minister welcomed the Committee stage. It was a case of "Of course, we all want to do something, don't we ?" In private, however, it was made abundantly clear that the Government would not let the Bill through and that they intended to wreck it.
As a new Member of Parliament, I am beginning to understand why many people hold this place and its Members in something less than total respect.
Mr. Berry : The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam is not in the best position the morning after what happened in the local elections yesterday to suggest that there is enormous confidence in her good self and the present Government. It is a serious point. If Members of Parliament and Governments, of whatever political party, behave in such a deceitful manner, persistently misleading people by saying one thing in public and a different thing in private, it is no wonder that we lose respect.
Disabled people want the Bill. They have a right to the Bill. They have campaigned for it for a long time. I beg those who have tabled amendments to withdraw them and allow the Bill to complete its Report stage and receive its Third Reading today. I guarantee that any matters that hon. Members wish to be considered, even at this late hour, will be considered in the other place. On behalf of the 6.5 million disabled people who want the provisions of the Bill, I will do whatever is necessary. I beg those Members who have tabled amendments to withdraw them.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman intends to stay in order, but, apart from a number of occasions when I reprimanded hon. Members, the rest of the debate has been in order.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) on new clause 2
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) obviously did have a coffee-- [Interruption.] Order. Is the hon. Gentleman's disability such that he cannot stay quiet below the Gangway ?
The new clause deals with a genuine problem in that the definition of the relationship between employer and employee in the Bill is less than precise, as is that of the relationship between acts carried out by one or the other. That matter was not discussed fully in Committee.
I also commend to the House amendments Nos. 4 and 5, which my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam tabled, not least because
Mr. Stern : The Opposition has launched a campaign of deliberate delay today. They are determined to delay these proceedings as much as possible and to throw the blame on those few hon. Members who oppose the Bill. I will give way to the right hon. Gentleman if he will undertake not to raise matters that have been raised in the many interventions this morning and if he intends to say something that is germane to the subject of my speech.
Mr. Morris : I am grateful to the hon. Member. His colleague from Bristol, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), in a distinguished speech, appealed to the hon. Gentleman and to other hon. Members to withdraw their amendments so that we can reach conclusions on Report today. My hon. Friend gave the hon. Member and others a straight pledge that he will see that amendments similar to any on the Order Paper today, or any other amendments that the hon. Gentleman wishes, are considered in another place. We are time constricted--their Lordships are not. Will the hon. Gentleman respond, please, in view of what he has said about brevity, to what his Bristol colleague said ?
Mr. Stern : I will certainly respond. I cannot see how an hon. Member in this place can give an undertaking about how the other place will proceed as it has its own rules and orders. I will not permit the amendments that I tabled in an effort to improve an extremely doubtful Bill to be put into the hands of someone who is in favour of all the principles behind the Bill.
I will continue to give my reasons for the various amendments that I have tabled. The first amendment in my name in the group is No. 26. I shall be grateful for any comments from the Minister, but my understanding is that the amendment supplements new clause 3, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, by writing similar provisions into another defective part of the Bill. I certainly commend the amendment to the promoters of the Bill. If the hon. Member for Kingswood, who has not dealt with these detailed amendments so far, wishes to answer the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam and I have raised, I shall have no objections to his speaking again in this debate.
Amendment No. 29 goes to the core of one of the approaches in the Bill about which I have strong doubts. It is designed to affect the legal definition of discrimination in clause 4. As I said on Second Reading, the Bill attempts such a definition, but it cannot possibly achieve one and it creates further problems, which are apparent. My
Column 977amendment will strike out words that are capable only of creating litigation after litigation and problem after problem for the enforcers. Despite having read the discussions in Committee, I can see that those views have not been adequately considered. I fully understand and accept what the hon. Member for Kingswood is trying to achieve with the wording, but in my view it will certainly not achieve that aim.
For example, paragraph 2(c) in the first part of clause 4 that I am trying to delete--at least on a probing basis--contains a selection of words that can only be described as vague. This House has a duty to ensure that any legislation that we pass to another place--I accept that further amendments can be made there
We have a duty to ensure that legislation is sufficiently clear to be intelligible to the lawyers who will have to interpret it. [Interruption.]
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) seems to have some difficulty containing himself this morning. I appeal to him to be quiet because hon. Members want to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern).
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You have reprimanded my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours). He was telling me that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) had recently hosted a group of deaf people from his area in the House of Commons but did not have the guts to tell them while he was escorting them around this place that he intended to oppose this Bill, which is being proposed on their behalf.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman was doing so in such a loud voice that I could not hear what the hon. Member who had the Floor was saying. I should be grateful if the hon Gentleman would whisper to his hon. Friend in future.
Mr. Stern : May I immediately counter that deliberate mis-statement ? No, I withdraw that. May I counter the baseless mis-statement by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), which is directly contradicted by the truth ? When I hosted the group from Access for Deaf Students Initiative from Bristol in this House I discussed my views on the Bill with some of them. Those views were no different from those that I have stated today. I invite the hon. Member for Bolsover to withdraw his statement, which directly contradicts the truth.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. No one is giving way, as I have the Floor. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made a statement, which the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) has refuted. The House recognises that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West was the person present and also recognises the clarity of his statement.
Mr. Stern : I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What we have just heard is typical of the calumny that has been heaped on those of us who, in all honesty, are trying to get the House to produce decent legislation rather than just going along with what we are told that people outside want.
Amendment No. 29 would delete clause 4(2)(d). I suggest to the hon. Member for Kingswood that the wording in that paragraph is so imprecise as to be positively impractical. Once again, we are being asked to pass law that no court could possibly enforce. We must accept that if and when the Bill, in any form, becomes law, it will be enforced at some stage as a result of contested litigation in the courts. I do not think that the House can pass a Bill containing such imprecise wording without at least further clarification about exactly what it is intended to mean. I have read paragraph (d) several times and I cannot see any way it could be applied with clarity to any employment case.
Amendment No. 30 would delete paragraphs (e) and (f) of clause 4, because they would be wholly oppressive on any employer to whom they could possibly be applied by an employee or a potential employee. Reference has been made to the Americans With Disabilities Act 1990 and it is worth considering how it works in terms of attempting to change employers' habits through legislation. That, too, is the purpose of the Bill and the amendments. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) rightly pointed out that a great deal of authoritative work has been done on the working of the ADA and that there are a number of different views about it. I have not read the book that my hon. Friend quoted, but I am sure that strong views are held in favour of the working of that Act. It is only right to put an opposite point of view, which does not come from an American source but a well-respected charity that works with the disabled in this country, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, RADAR. Victoria Scott, a RADAR official, pointed out :
"Many of the costs of the ADA provisions are being carried by consumers or customers. For example, the cost of making the Relay (typetalk) system available in every state has cost every telephone user an average 10-30 cents per phone bill . . . The ADA has cost America money to implement . . . The costs are dispersed amongst central and Federal Government, private business, transport companies and millions of consumers . . . The main concerns about the ADA surrounded the cost of compliance and the vagueness of certain legal terms"
where have we heard that before
"such as reasonable accommodation', undue hardship' and readily achievable'. During the passage of the Act, many expressed concern over the vague terminology."
Column 979It is a pity that more hon. Members are not doing the same. Victoria Scott went on to say :
"Even now it is still fashionable to bemoan ADA's moving targets."
On the question of legal problems, she pointed out :
"The US Chamber of Commerce has said that the ADA is too adversarial, that it pits disabled people against employers." I think that my case for the amendment rests.
Mr. Alan Howarth : I know that my hon. Friend has expressed his opposition to the Bill consistently and frankly over the years and he deserves to be respected for that. It is quite wrong to pray in aid the research that he has quoted, because Victoria Scott proceeded to refute those very points. She cited some of the criticisms that had been made of the ADA, but she went on to explain that they are without adequate foundation. She argued that the concepts of reasonable accommodation and undue hardship are sufficiently robust, as they might be interpreted by the courts, to protect the interests of small business. My hon. Friend is entirely right to be concerned about any legislation that added undue or unreasonable costs to business, because that would be counter-productive. The Bill is securely designed to prevent that from happening.
My hon. Friend is right that the purpose of Victoria Scott's article is to refute the criticisms that have been made. I accept that, given the complexity of the ADA, criticisms, refutation of those criticisms and refutation of the refutation of those criticisms will be made. That is bound to happen because that Act is relatively new. In this debate on the Bill, however, we have heard from one side of the argument alone. Criticisms continue to be made about the Bill, however, and it was my purpose to ensure that at least they were heard in today's debate.
Mr. Stern : For once, I will reply to a seated intervention from the hon. Member. I did not sit on that Committee because I was not allowed to do so. I applied to be a member and I told the hon. Member for Kingswood that he was in danger of setting up a Committee that was slightly less than balanced if he did not accept as a member of it someone who had strong doubts about the Bill. The hon. Member for Kingswood told me that he was not a free agent in the matter and, for whatever reason, my request to be a member of the Committee was not accepted.
Mr. Berry : The Committee of Selection made the appointments to that Committee. I was consulted, however, and was inundated with requests from people who wanted to serve on the Committee. I was under considerable pressure to nominate the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister, which I did, to show good faith--that was the term used when that suggestion was put to me. I could not go any further and, given the actions of the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West this morning, I believe that I was correct.
Mr. Stern : We have discussed this amicably on a number of occasions and all I can say to the hon. Member is that if I had served on that Committee I might have been able to put forward a number of the amendments that I have tabled for discussion today.
Mr. Berry : Will the hon. Member confirm that there was nothing to prevent him from giving me those amendments either before or during the Committee ? Will he also confirm that at no time were any of his 50 amendments moved by a member of the Committee for our consideration ? It was perfectly possible for that to have been done.
Mr. Stern : I am happy to answer those questions, which continue the discussion that we had on Radio 5 this morning. The answer is simple : in the words of Mr. John McEnroe, "You cannot be serious." If the hon. Member looks at the composition of the Committee, he will accept that, apart from the Minister and his PPS, it was composed of hon. Members who were broadly sympathetic to the Bill's objectives. My amendments are largely critical of the Bill.
Mr. Stern : No, not until I have finished the point I am making. Given that my amendments are largely critical of the Bill, it would have been foolishness in the extreme to expect that those amendments could have been moved in Committee by someone who was philosophically and practically opposed to their purpose. I will now give way to the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker).
Mr. Stern : Amendment No. 33 is a probing amendment and would strike out clause 4(3). The wording of that subsection would make the remit of the clause far too wide. By treating a relative, however distant, of a person with a disability as a person with a disability for the purpose of the clause means that we would be subject to endless litigation about how remote or how close the connection with the disabled person should be to qualify to be covered by the terms of subsection (3).
Mr. Sheerman : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Opposition Members cannot hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. The Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary is now talking to the two prime destroyers of the Bill, as she was this morning before the debate started, organising the destruction of the Bill, and as she organised a meeting to conspire to destroy the Bill before the House started to discuss it, in order to carry on the Government's
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. There have been far too many sedentary comments all morning. That does not alter the fact that the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) has a fairly quiet voice, and I should be grateful if he would raise it a little.
Mr. Jenkin : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sitting right beside the hon. Members mentioned in the point of order of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) and I could perfectly well hear the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern).
Mr. Stern : Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 are intended largely as probing amendments, but they are a genuine attempt to improve the wording of the relevant sections of the Bill. I commend them to the hon. Member for Kingswood on that basis.
Amendment No. 37 is another probing amendment. Although I can understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, clause 5, which deals with medical examinations, also seems to me to go far too wide. For example, I suggest that clause 5(1) is otiose. No evidence has been produced of any need for that subsection. When I have spoken to employers about the provision, a number of them--employers who employ medical examinations for some of their staff as a normal practice--regarded the clause as insulting. The hon. Gentleman should have created a climate in which at least a greater need for that subsection was demonstrated.
As for clause 5(3), I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that the provision omits the practice in many firms not simply of requiring a medical examination before taking on an employee, but of requiring for employment purposes a continuing regular medical examination in order that that employment can continue, which is applicable in certain types of employment.
My hon. Friend the Member for
Mr. Stern : My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) has tabled amendments Nos. 55, 57 and 58 and I look forward with interest to his explanation of them, given the detailed experience in employment and trading law that he gained as a Minister in that sector.
Finally, I shall briefly discuss the last two amendments in my name in this group. Amendment No. 77 seeks to correct wording that is much too vague. To answer the question that the hon. Member for Kingswood asked my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam earlier, I regard the specific wording that I seek to strike out in clause 77 as so vague and unworkable that if necessary I would press that amendment to a Division on that point alone.
Finally, the purpose of amendment No. 79 is simply to create the possibility of a reasonable claim by an employer that he has not discriminated without his having to go through the entire process of litigation which would otherwise be necessary. Despite a certain amount of barracking, I have gone through the amendments in my name as quickly as possible and I am happy now to allow my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle to continue.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : I shall speak to my amendments Nos. 55, 57 and 58. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North -West (Mr. Stern) was kind enough to refer to my experience in the matter.
I would not want anyone to accuse me of hypocrisy in the matter, so I have to say straightaway that I oppose the Bill. I oppose the Bill as a result of my experience as a lawyer and as a Minister in the Department of Trade and Industry. I believe that it is a regulatory Bill. The burdens that it imposes on small businesses as they emerge from a
Column 982recession would be severe. Therefore, I make no secret, because I do not believe in hiding anything from the House of Commons, that I oppose the Bill.
Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Alfred Morris : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that many people regard the Bill as a deregulation Bill--a Bill which will deregulate, as my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) said in Committee, the lives of disabled people. They feel that in contemporary society, their lives are heavily regulated. Will the hon. Gentleman think of their viewpoint and accept that there is a strong case for saying that it is a deregulation Bill ?