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Ms Lynne : The Minister said that, to the best of his knowledge, his Department did not give any information for the briefing of Conservative Members who tabled amendments. Will he ask his officials whether anyone in his Department had any knowledge of the tabling of amendments on behalf of the Government ? I should be grateful for an answer.
Mr. Scott : The hon. Lady will not get one. In my view, she and other hon. Members are embarking on a fruitless exercise. I should much prefer to get down to the merits of the amendments and new clauses. If the hon. Lady, together with the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, wants to pursue that matter with my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council
Mr. McMaster rose
Mr. Berry : The Minister spoke of making further improvements to the Bill and he mentioned the seamless garment of Government. Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that disabled people and many hon. Members are frustrated because while the Government make statements about improving the Bill, they are--either through lack of time or because of the sudden emergence of 80 amendments--wrecking the Bill ? Does the Minister appreciate that we are being told different things by different parts of the Government ? That explains our frustration this afternoon.
Mr. Scott : I have some understanding of that, although the most important thing is to address ourselves to the business with which we are dealing and that is the Report stage of the Bill. As part of that consideration, it is perfectly proper for my hon. Friends to table amendments which they believe would improve the legislation. Mr. Campbell- Savours rose
I want to ask the Minister a question that was asked by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne). Will the Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye (Mrs. Lait), ask the civil servants in the Box whether they are aware of departmental officials giving any help in the drafting of amendments, or handing them to Conservative Members or of Conservative
Column 992Members having been briefed ? We are simply asking the Minister to turn to his PPS and ask her to ask the civil servants so that we can have an answer. We notice that the Minister hid behind the words
Question put, That the Question be now put :
The House divided : Ayes 60, Noes 0.
Division No. 229] [1.00 pm
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomry)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hannam, Sir John
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW)
Kilfedder, Sir James
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Lynne, Ms Liz
Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)
Quin, Ms Joyce
Roche, Mrs. Barbara
Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Gordon McMaster and
Mr. Harry Barnes.
Tellers for the Noes
Nil Tellers for the Noes :
Lady Olga Maitland and
Mr. Michael Stern.
Whereupon Mr Deputy Speaker-- declared that the Question was not decided in the affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 36 (Majority for Closure or for proposal of question).
Mr. Scott : I was saying when the closure was moved that the attitude of employers and providers of services in Britain to the possibility of legislation in this important area was changing. As the new clause is particularly about employers, I should like to mention them specifically. We have had recognition from the Confederation of British Industry and other organisations of employers that action, including legislation, is acceptable. The Employers Forum on Disability has given a considerable lead in influencing opinion among employers
Column 993more widely and it is to be congratulated on the steps that it has taken. Employers still have concerns about the precise nature of the legislation, not least about the impact that it might have on their costs. They worry about the lack of consultation--a subject to which I shall return in a moment.
We have also heard about the insurance industry and fears that it may have.
Mr. Scott : No, I am sorry, but I will not give way again for some time because it is important to have a coherent presentation--or as coherent as I can make it--of the Government's position. I apologise to my hon. Friend.
I received a letter from the Association of British Insurers today, stating that it supports the Bill, but making it absolutely clear that that support is given with the vital proviso that the Bill be amended to allow exemption for insurers so that they can continue to differentiate between risks. I believe that the sponsors have already given an assurance to the ABI on that matter, but it was important to draw the attention of the House to the existence of that letter as we are discussing such matters.
Employers' attitudes are changing positively. It would have been wise for the sponsors of the Bill to begin consulting employers earlier. I am not making a great issue of that. However, the hon. Member for Kingswood said that he had been consulting in recent days and intended to carry on the consultations. He would have been wiser to have those consultations and reassure employers and others--the Bill could have an impact on their businesses and costs--before the Bill began its stages in the House, rather than having to deal with their concerns rather late in the day. Consultation, especially on the impact of the costs imposed by the Bill, should have been the sponsors' responsibility and they came to it rather late in the day. Those involved who contacted me on the matter certainly expressed that view. Having recognised that change of attitude, which has increasingly been reflected by employers, I must deal with the new clauses and amendments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam tabled new clause 3, which is important, as are the amendments associated with it. It would be important for any legislation on the subject to ensure that unscrupulous employers could not hide behind the defence that an act of discrimination had been committed by someone else, even if acting on their behalf. I made clear my reservations about the legislative approach that the Bill's sponsors took. If the Act is to be effective, employers must take responsibility for ensuring that their staff and agents are aware of its provisions and are suitably trained to act accordingly.
The Government have always maintained that the key to changing attitudes is improved awareness and training. As I made clear on another occasion, whatever its merits the Bill would not remove the need for continued education and for raising awareness about disability. Of course, one can legislate to remove discrimination, but prejudice, misunderstandings and other problems cannot be removed simply by legislation. If society is to arrive at a better understanding of the needs of disabled people we need much education and persuasion. We will achieve that
Column 994understanding through better training and education on the issue and through raising the general level of awareness in society.
Mr. Alan Howarth : I entirely agree about the importance of education, but does my right hon. Friend also agree that legislation is necessary to shift the culture and to make it possible for such education to be more effective ?
Even though my right hon. Friend sees flaws in the Bill and scope for it to be improved, will he allow it to proceed beyond Third Reading to another place, where the Government could table amendments to improve it ? If he feels that the Bill is not capable of satisfactory amendment, will he undertake to embark on a consultation process on a draft Bill, which the Government could introduce ? The Government could commit themselves to introducing a Bill with which they are satisfied in the next Session of Parliament.