|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Tom Clarke : Right honourable.
Mr. Leigh : I am sorry, that the hon. Gentleman brings to those matters. [Interruption.] I said right honourable. Let us not get too bogged down in titles. No one doubts his huge experience and the sincerity that he brings to those matters.
No one in the House wants to do down disabled people. No one doubts that they are often confronted by severe difficulties. I do not doubt that. I am lucky. I am healthy ; I have healthy children, but I know the appalling problems that confront disabled people and how frustrating it must be for them, for instance, when they come to an office building or a public building to which they cannot gain access. No one doubts the sincerity with which those matters are brought forward.
The research that I have been looking at, especially from America, which has been kindly provided to me, shows the enormous compliance costs that will be placed on business.
Mr. Alan Howarth rose
Lady Olga Maitland rose
Mr. Leigh : I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) and then my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland).
Mr. Howarth : I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I hope that he will spell out the evidence that he has of enormous compliance costs. As he has obviously studied the Bill and its proceedings with care, and other relevant proceedings in the House, he will be aware of a parliamentary question that I put to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. In his answer, my right hon. Friend refused point-blank to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of the measure.
We are, sadly, all too accustomed to the macabre frivolity which, over the years, has characterised the Treasury approach to questions of social responsibility. Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary regards the Bill as simply another conspiracy on the part of the pressure groups which he believes are driving the country to the dogs. Would my hon. Friend care to make any comment on that, and especially will he give us the evidence he has of unsustainable costs, given that it is provided in the Bill--it was amended in Committee--that there should be reasonable and manageable time scales for the implementation of any changes ?
Mr. Leigh : I understand why the Treasury was not prepared to answer that question. I should have thought that the work involved in the Treasury in seeking that type of information would be immensely time consuming and costly. I mentioned the American experience, where I am told that Government regulation costs at least $8,000 per household and may reduce national output by as much as $1.1 trillion per year. Unnecessary and inefficient regulation at federal, state and local levels is now costing American people between $810 billion and $1.7 trillion per year, even after taking account of the benefits of regulation, or between $8,400 and $17,000 per year per household. Those may be exaggerations, but even the Bill's promoters would not doubt that extra burdens will be imposed on businesses. Otherwise, why should many organisations, such as the Confederation of British Industry, the Institute of Directors and the Federation of Small Businesses, repeatedly say that they hold nothing against disabled people and recognise the difficulties that they face, but provide us with detailed briefing showing the enormous regulatory burdens that would be imposed on businesses ?
I am honest about the fact that I am speaking today because I do not want the Bill to pass into law. That is a perfectly honourable point of view.
Lady Olga Maitland : On the issue of cost burdens, has my hon. Friend taken into account the assessment made by the Conservative Disability Group, of which I am a sponsor, which says :
"The cost of making all primary and secondary places of education accessible to disabled persons is estimated at £2 billion. The direct cost to office buildings is estimated at £43.7 million" ?
Is he also aware that the group has estimated the cost of converting all public buses to accommodate wheelchairs at some £10, 000 per bus ?
Mr. Leigh : Yes, I have a similar briefing-- [Interruption.] That is not surprising. How are we expected to make a speech in the House of Commons unless we seek to obtain briefings from the Conservative Disability Group, the Institute of Directors, Mencap or anyone else ? This debate has been conducted in an unpleasant manner, with unnecessary barracking, particularly from the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell- Savours), which has neither improved the atmosphere nor helped disabled people. We are entitled to our point of view. Is not that what the House of Commons is all about ? We are also entitled to obtain briefs from various people.
The Conservative Disability Group says that the Bill is worthy and that the Government should examine the issues that it raises carefully and come up with an initiative that is practical, tested and of great benefit to disabled people
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Will the hon. Gentleman give way ?
Mr. Leigh : I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman has only just entered the Chamber.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : I have just been on the phone to Gainsborough.
Mr. Leigh : The hon. Gentleman has never shown any interest in my constituency before. I would welcome him in my constituency.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) : The hon. Gentleman referred to the experience in America. Has he read the excellent publication by Victoria Scott, who knows a great deal about disability, entitled "Lessons from America" ? If so, has he noted on page 22 that the National Federation of Independent Businesses says that not one of its businesses has suffered unduly or gone out of business as a result of the American legislation ? So employers in America have accepted the legislation. Where is the reason for us not to do the same ?
Mr. Leigh : The American economy is complex, and political debate there is as robust as it is in our country. Either side of this debate could adduce arguments on their behalf. The hon. Gentleman may be in receipt of a background briefing from the Heritage Foundation, an organisation of which he may not approve ideologically.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : A nasty bunch.
Mr. Leigh : That organisation has conducted some serious research. For instance, it says :
"Between 1 January 1983 and 31 March 1990, private sector employment in the US economy grew by some 90 million jobs, rising from 72.8 million jobs in December 1982 to 91.8 million jobs in March 1990. However, over the next two years, the private sector lost nearly 2.2 million jobs, reaching a low of just over 89.6 million jobs in January 1992. The number of private sector jobs has recovered only slightly since then, rising to 90.1 million jobs."
So the only answer that I can give the hon. Gentleman is that he should look at the evidence, particularly of the regulatory burdens. I see that you are looking at me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall return to the amendments that I have tabled.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : I have just spoken to one of the hon. Gentleman's constituents in Gainsborough and I am informed that the disabled community in Gainsborough wants the Bill to go through this afternoon. Deep concern is being expressed in Gainsborough about what the hon. Gentleman is doing in the House today. Is he prepared to ask his hon. Friends to withdraw the amendments so that disabled people in Gainsborough can have the benefit of the Bill ?
Mr. Leigh : I freely admit that disabled groups in my constituency want the Bill to go through. I do not deny that for a moment. I am in contact with them. The hon. Gentleman was not in his seat when I started my speech and honestly admitted that
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Order. The Chair wants new clause 3 to be debated rather than anything else.
Mr. Leigh : I shall now discuss amendment No. 55. One of the problems with the Bill is that it is shot through with drafting errors. Even if the House passed it, I doubt whether it would have a practical effect. No doubt the Minister, who is much better briefed on such matters than I am, can clarify the position for the House. One issue that I am raising in my amendments is that--on page 18, line 15, clause 11--we ensure that we provide for conciliation by an officer of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service--ACAS. Clause 11 allows recourse to industrial tribunals. As a lawyer, all I
Column 985can say is that we have built up enormous problems for ourselves through existing employment law and the nature of industrial tribunals. Contrary to the barracking that I shall no doubt receive, if my sensible amendment, which provides for conciliation by an ACAS officer, is accepted
Mr. Campbell-Savours : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wonder if you can help me. You will understand that when Members of Parliament are appointed Parliamentary Private Secretaries to Ministers they are under some restriction. I understand that that is not necessarily a matter for the House, but you might wish to comment on the rights of a PPS--in this case, the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait)--to let her constituents know whether she is in favour of the legislation. I understand that they are concerned and that there have been conversations today. They would like to know whether she wants the Bill to proceed today
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. That is not a matter for the Chair and I do not wish to comment.
Mr. Jenkin : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) has raised a number of bogus points of order this morning and has been brought up short by the Chair several times for that. Do you have powers to restrain his activities as he is disrupting the debate ?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : The Chair has certain powers, but I see no reason to use them at present.
Mr. Leigh : I was describing how the conciliation could be carried out by an ACAS officer. He has a duty to try to encourage the respondent and the applicant to make a voluntary agreement. My amendment is entirely in the spirit of what I am trying to propose. I tabled it the day before yesterday in the spirit of what I am trying to achieve for disabled people in this country--things should be done by example and voluntary agreements. My objection to the Bill and the reason why I believe that it is fatally flawed is that it attempts to impose a regulatory structure and might ultimately have the opposite effect on disabled people to that which it is aiming to achieve.
Mr. Tom Clarke : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You referred to the powers that you have, which the House respects. As the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) is not talking about the amendment, but about the Bill, is he in order ?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman can safely leave that to the Chair.
Mr. Leigh rose
Mr. Sheerman : The hon. Gentleman and I know each other well, as we represent constituencies in a similar part of the world. I know that the hon. Gentleman comes from an extreme wing of the Conservative party, but, even so, I am not castigating him for that. We all know his views and he has an absolute right to criticise the Bill and vote against it. The bad atmosphere in the Chamber today has not been caused by his views, but by the methods that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends are using to stop a democratic vote on a Bill which has a clear majority behind
Column 986it in the House. There is a feeling of frustration on both sides of the House and in the country that a strategy is being adopted to prevent a democratic vote from taking place. That is why we are angry.
Mr. Leigh : When I drew a place in the ballot, I ensured that I produced a Bill that was, I hope, interesting and had the support of both sides of the House and all the relevant interest groups. There is a long tradition that if one wants a private Member's Bill to become law, one has to present a Bill that is largely
non-controversial. Disabled people have been misled into assuming that there was a chance of the Bill becoming law--there was not. A political gesture is being made. The process has been unpleasant because people have tried to fool disabled people into thinking that the measure will become law. There is never any chance of controversial legislation being introduced by a private Member. Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman spoke about his amendments. Moreover, if he does not intend to give way, there is not much point in hon. Members jumping up and down.
Mr. Leigh : I am trying to talk about my amendments : the problem is that I keep being interrupted.
Mr. Berry : Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the Bill is sponsored by Members of all political parties in the House ; that it has been as actively promoted by certain Conservative Members as by the Opposition ; and that the all-party disablement group is enthusiastically behind it ? Will he also acknowledge that the Prime Minister expressed in this Chamber the wish
Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow) : That won't impress him.
Mr. Berry : Perhaps not. In any case, the Prime Minister said that he "looked forward" to a detailed examination of the Bill in Committee. If, as the hon. Gentleman maintains, the Bill was clearly worthless and incapable of being enacted, how could the Prime Minister, of all people, look forward to its scrutiny in Committee ?
Mr. Leigh : There is no harm in Bills being examined in Committee, or in the fact that they may be promoted and supported by hon. Members on both sides. It is important to remember, however, that what we are witnessing today is perfectly normal parliamentary procedure. The same has happened to private Members' Bills many times in the past, and it will happen to them again. We are just as entitled to put across our points of view as others are entitled to theirs.
My amendments are simple. Amendment No. 54 allows an ACAS officer to seek a voluntary agreement. The ACAS officer would not offer any opinion on the merits of either side's case or take sides in any way. ACAS has an excellent record in these matters. It is far better that difficult cases be dealt with by conciliation from the start. The flaw in the Bill lies in the creation of a huge new and highly expensive legal structure which no doubt will have to be paid for by legal aid. That could result in consequences with effects opposite to those intended.
The amendment would also allow complaints to be settled by means of a compromise agreement, thus
Column 987enabling two sides to reach a binding agreement outside the industrial tribunal system, provided that the people involved are properly advised by qualified lawyers.
Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth) : I speak as a member of the all-party disablement group ; some of us voted for the Bill on Second Reading. My intervention is intended to be helpful. One of my hon. Friend's concerns is with the overzealous application of regulation which might be detrimental to businesses and to employment prospects. I served on the Standing Committee considering the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill. There, we introduced an idea which my hon. Friend might find useful. If a dispute is caused by the application of regulations by officialdom to a business or enterprise, that enterprise is entitled to go to a magistrates court and to ask for a stay of execution until the case is heard in full by a magistrate.
Mr. Leigh : My hon. Friend brings his experience to these matters-- it seems a worthwhile way of proceeding. We are trying to ensure that we resolve these disputes in the least possible bureaucratic way, avoiding long legal procedures that can be costly for both sides.
Amendment No. 57 allows for complaints to be settled by means of a compromise agreement between parties, when the complainant has been legally advised and specified conditions have been met, as an alternative to recourse to the industrial tribunal procedure. Thus, a binding agreement outside the industrial tribunal system becomes possible. That seems much more sensible.
Amendment No. 58 is also simple. It includes a right of appeal against an industrial tribunal decision to an industrial appeal tribunal. In general, the amendments are designed to ensure that disabled people have a right of appeal on a question of law to an industrial appeal tribunal. That is customary procedure, but it has been left out of the Bill. My amendments are clearly put. They would improve the Bill and I commend them to the House.
The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott) : It may be for the convenience of the House if I speak at this point to the amendments and new clause, because time is limited and we have a number of other groups of amendments to discuss this afternoon.
Before I turn to the substance of my remarks, may I say that the accusation of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) that my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait) had entered into a conspiracy with some of my hon. Friends in relation to progress on the Bill is utterly without foundation. I asked my hon. Friend, in her role as my Parliamentary Private Secretary, to ascertain which hon. Members intended to intervene, so that I could time my own speech in a suitable way. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will utterly withdraw any accusation that he made towards my hon. Friend on that account.
Mr. Sheerman : If the right hon. Gentleman's PPS was circulating for that purpose, I apologise unreservedly. I was more concerned about the evidence outside the Chamber that she was talking to the same group of people, miraculously, who are now in the Chamber and talking the Bill out. That was what I was referring to. That is the problem. Everybody knows that there is a Government Whip-inspired attempt to stop the Bill.
Mr. Scott : I would have been more impressed if the hon. Gentleman had had the grace simply to withdraw his remark, which was totally unfounded.
Mr. Stern : On a point of order Mr. Deputy Speaker. That is the second time this morning that statements have been made that are directly contrary to the truth. May I assure the House that, as one of the people to whom the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) clearly referred, I have had no discussion
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. What is the point of order for the Chair ?
Mr. Stern : May I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the statement that was just made, as applied to me, is wholly untrue ?
Mr. Scott : My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) moved the new clause and amendments that stand in her name. I believe that it would have been more in tradition with the keeping of the House if she been listened to and allowed to develop her arguments instead of having to endure a range of bullying interventions when presenting her arguments to the House. This is an immensely serious business. We know the impact on the lives of disabled people. It is right that we should address those matters in a mood of great seriousness.
Mr. Berry : I share the Minister's concern about the seriousness of the matter, as he well knows. Given that the matter is serious, will he tell the House the Government's response to the motion that was passed, without opposition, last Friday, urging the Government to provide adequate time for the remaining stages of the Bill ? The Bill is sufficiently serious to require full consideration of its remaining stages.
Mr. Scott : I understand the feelings expressed by the hon. Gentleman. I am not in a position to respond to the point that he raised. He knows as well as I do that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) put a point to my right hon. Friend the Lord President--I believe that it was last week
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Yesterday.
Mr. Scott : --and received a considered reply from him on the matter. It would not be prudent or wise of me to seek to expand on anything that was said by my right hon. Friend, who is, after all, in charge of the business of the House.
Mr. Skinner : What I said to the Lord President yesterday--the Minister was sitting next to him--was that the Government should recognise that a unique motion was passed unanimously last Friday calling on them to provide adequate time to ensure that the Bill got through, noting that, on 64 previous occasions in the past, Governments, both Tory and Labour, had given assistance to private Members' Bills and that it was not a precedent. We are asking the Government to observe the will of the House last Friday, which was expressed through its support for the motion tabled by the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam). The Minister, who I expected to stand up yesterday and again today, has not responded. I ask him now : will he, on behalf of the Government, give a guarantee that they will provide adequate time in line with
Column 989that resolution so that disabled people throughout Britain in every constituency will get the benefits of equal treatment ?
Mr. Scott : The hon. Gentleman knows that I am not in a position to give those undertakings. He raised the matter in the proper quarter and received an answer from the Lord President.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman can answer this question. Have he or his Department been in any way involved in the drafting of any of the amendments or the new clause tabled by the hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern) or for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring) ?
Mr. Scott : No part whatever in the drafting of any of the amendments and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody in my Department has been involved in the drafting of any amendments in this area.
Mr. Alfred Morris : Very early in these debates I raised the point that I had highly authoritative information that amendments on the amendment paper--the amendments that we are discussing now, among others-- were drafted by the Government. The right hon. Gentleman says that he has no knowledge of being involved. Were they in any way contributed to or drafted in Whitehall--in other words, by the Government ? As the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, the right hon. Gentleman has a very close interest in the matter.
Mr. Scott : The right hon. Gentleman has put down a number of questions to the Lord President and I am sure that my right hon. Friend, who is responsible for these matters, will give the right hon. Gentleman a reply to that matter. I have responded as best I can from the knowledge that I have in this situation.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : May I intervene on that important point ?
Mr. Scott : I have not given way.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It would be helpful to the House and to the progress of the debate if the Minister were allowed to speak to the new clause and the associated amendments.
Mr. Scott : It might be sensible and for the good
Mr. Campbell-Savours : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall keep it strictly in order. You heard the Minister say "to the best of my knowledge", which means that departmental officials will know the precise position. Could you on behalf of the House ask
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order for the Chair. [Interruption.] Order. The Minister is responsible for his own speech.
Mr. Scott : I have some sympathy for a number of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam, but I should like to enter some caveats to her assessment of the effect of the Americans with Disabilities Act on the lives of disabled people and its impact on business in the United States. I do not want to go into detail
Column 990at the moment on that. Obviously, I have read more than once and with considerable care a document called "Lessons from America" on this issue.
Mr. Tom Clarke : Will the Minister give way ?
Mr. Scott : Perhaps I could be allowed to complete a sentence. I do not think that I have yet managed to do that, but when I have I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect.
I have some reservations about the Bill as it stands and support some of the amendments. The overwhelming impression is that business and providers of goods, services and facilities in the United States of America have reacted positively and constructively to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and have not found the costs prohibitive. These are early days in the implementation of that legislation, but so far I do not have specific worries about the way in which it is proceeding.
Mr. Tom Clarke : The Minister showed good sense in reading "Lessons from America", which was written by an excellent woman in this field, Victoria Scott. The great worry is that some people do not listen to her first-class advice. If she were offering advice at the Dispatch Box, would not she say to hon. Members that not a single argument has not been answered by that document ? Such legislation works in American and it would work here.
Mr. Scott : The hon. Gentleman must judge what would be the response of that particular lady. It would be rash of me to interpret her views for the House.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam that if we are to make legislation in this important area--this point was made several times in debate--we must take people with us. There is no use imposing legislation on reluctant providers of services or employers. The work of persuasion, raising awareness and educating people about the needs of disabled people--and the abilities that they can bring to various parts of society--must be acknowledged.
Mr. Alan Howarth : I do not mean to test my right hon. Friend's patience but to be constructive. He spoke of the need to carry people with him. He has often expressed his principled objection to discrimination and indicated his support for the manner in which the Bill addresses discrimination and its purposes. Where, then, is the difficulty in the Government ? May I tempt him to set aside the obfuscation of collective responsibility and say whether the difficulty is to be found in the Department of Trade and Industry or the Department of the Environment ? Have Ministers in those Departments not yet applied their minds to the issues ? If so, it seems hard on my right hon. Friend to have to defend collective responsibility.
Mr. Scott : I am surprised that my hon. Friend should in any way doubt that Government is a totally seamless garment. I speak from the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Government as a whole. I am sure that all parts of Government agree that if we are to legislate in this sensitive and difficult area, we must get it right. I well understand
Ms Lynne : Will the Minister give way ?
Mr. Scott : Perhaps I may be permitted to complete two sentences this time.
Column 991I will refer later to the Government's reasons for not tabling amendments at Committee stage, but the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) will acknowledge that he responded to various points that I raised in discussions in Committee and accordingly produced amendments. There is still work to be done on the shape of the legislation, so I am not surprised that some of my hon. Friends felt it necessary today to table a range of amendments at least to explore the possibility of further improving the Bill.
Ms Lynne rose
Mr. Berry rose