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Mr. Scott : It might be an appropriate moment to say that, having considered the provisions of the Bill and the arguments put forward, the Government intend to build further on the considerable advances that have been made as a result of our approach of education and persuasion, which I spoke about just now. We have introduced targeted legislation in this connection before and it has had an effect on people's attitude and approach to disability issues.
When the Bill was introduced, I expressed concern that it was in exactly the same form as it had appeared on previous occasions. I accept, of course, that it is a private Member's Bill and that it was difficult for the sponsors to engage in the sort of consultation in which the Government would be able to engage, were they introducing their own legislation. It is right for me to make it clear today that the Government intend to consult widely on proposals in a number of important areas concerning disability.
At the end of that process, the Government would be prepared to consider assisting in the drafting of any necessary workable and practicable legislation. We propose that the issues that should be covered by that consultation and by possible legislation should be employment, access to goods and services, the provision of financial services, building regulations, as they affect the lives of disabled people and the creation of a new advisory body on disability. Those proposals, Mr. Deputy Speaker, manifestly go wider than employment, which is strictly the subject of the amendments, but, in view of the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), it was useful for me to put on record the Government's intention.
Mr. Tom Clarke : May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, which was a comprehensive Act on disability and much more wide ranging than the appealing, limited Bill before us, was amended greatly in another place, because there was consensus and consultation took place ? Does he accept that there is no reason in the world why time cannot be given for the Bill today and for it to be considered in due course in another place ?
Mr. Wigley rose
Mr. Alfred Morris rose
Mr. Wigley : As I am still on my feet, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I seek clarification from the Minister about what he meant by saying that the Government may help to draft legislation. Is he saying that the Government are prepared to introduce their own legislation, as opposed to helping to draft a private Member's Bill, if an hon. Member were lucky to be selected in the ballot ? Is he working to a timetable that would enable such legislation, whether it was included in the Queen's Speech or introduced by a Back Bencher as a result of the ballot next year, to reach the statute book in the coming year ? In the context of the consultations that he will hold, is he talking about
anti-discrimination legislation ?
Mr. Scott : The answer to the hon. Gentleman's final point would be broadly yes, some statutory rights in terms of discrimination would be included. I would not want to be pressed now on the nature and timing of that legislation. The Government will
Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) rose
More than one piece of legislation may be necessary, although I do not want to pre-empt anything. The timing of that legislation might depend on the nature and extent of our consultations and the reactions to them. I can certainly offer the hon. Member my assurance that the Government have no intention of unduly delaying the process in any sense. The Government, having come to the view that it is the right way to proceed, certainly will want to do so with some speed.
Mr. Berry : I appreciate that the Minister wishes to appear reasonable, albeit at the 11th hour, but can he confirm that what he is not offering the House is Government support for a comprehensive piece of anti- discrimination legislation and that, indeed, what he has alluded to in a few choice phrases is significantly different from the comprehensive civil rights Bill that disabled people throughout the country are known to want as quickly as possible ?
Mr. Scott : I acknowledge that there are significant differences between a comprehensive Bill of the nature that which we are discussing today, and the consultative process and the implications of further action which would flow from the announcement that I have just made.
Ms Walley : Can the Minister confirm that we already have an opportunity to do something about the issue ? Why cannot he give a commitment that the consultation process that he is speaking about can start to take place now and be completed while the Bill passes through the legislative
Column 996procedure ? Surely he is simply deferring and deferring, as the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) said- -putting off something that he is not prepared to say openly that he is putting off.
Mr. Scott : With respect, in response to an intervention from my hon. Friend, who was pressing me to, as it were, short-circuit the arguments that I was developing about the new clause and amendments that we are discussing, I simply sought to give the House, I thought, the benefit of some advance notice of the intentions of the Government. I do not think that it would be right for me to go any further than that today because obviously the Government are still considering the
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I take note of what the Minister has just said, but I have been very indulgent so far. The debate has gone rather wide. Can we now get back to the new clause that we are discussing with the associated amendments ?
Mr. Scott : I am willing to return to that. If I could say only one sentence : of course we would ensure that, in moving down the route that I have indicated, we undertook widespread consultation, not only with those who might be affected in terms of costs or impact on their businesses, but manifestly with the organisations of and for disabled people, in this specific and very sensitive area.
Mr. Jenkin : I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend. With regard to those specific amendments, given the important announcement that he has just made about the future intentions of Government policy, which is a major development, would amendments-- [Interruption.] --of the nature that we are discussing now be necessary, or would the legislation that he proposes be restricted and limited, to avoid the wide problems that develop from that comprehensive type of legislation ?
Mr. Scott : It is too early for me to give such a judgment. I nevertheless believe, and have believed throughout the passage of the Bill, as I hope that I have demonstrated, that, whatever the outcome of the legislative procedure on which we are embarked, discussion in the House of the issues surrounding matters of discrimination and the role that the law might have in combating that in a range of areas is worth while, because every bit of discussion that we have further informs, not only the House, but those who develop policy officially.
Mr. Dicks : My right hon. Friend the Minister knows how much I respect his work for the disabled. My disability affects the motor part of the brain rather than the thinking part. This seems to be just another cover-up and another delay to avoid introducing legislation. Does my right hon. Friend understand that disabled people cannot gain the access or help that they want ? To hear the Minister say that he may be taking the matter forward by delaying it even more is nonsense. Many people without limbs have brains and they know what is going on. They want action today. As a loyal Tory Back-Bench Member, I cannot understand the Government's problem in bringing in the Bill.
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Mr. Scott : My hon. Friend will recognise that the announcement that I have been able to make was as a result of considerable discussions within Government on the way forward. If we are to legislate in this area, we must be sure that we get the legislation right, that it is workable, workmanlike, practicable and based on widespread consultation both with those who would benefit from such legislation and those who may have to alter their practices to comply with the legislation. But if we enter into that consultation, it will be in a positive frame of mind. I am not seeking to delay matters. If we pass the Bill today and it goes through another place, many of those steps would not happen tomorrow, but would take a long time to come into effect-- [Interruption.] I advise those Opposition Members who are fussing to listen and see the terms of further Government announcements in due course, and then respond to them.
As I was saying when the closure motion was moved, the clause would compel employers to evaluate the guidance given to staff and procedures being used. It would ensure that employers were properly responsible for the actions of their staff and agents in that important area. That, of itself, must be a good thing. Even in the best organised company with the most enlightened training programmes, there are bound occasionally to be employees who do not respond. The clause would allow an employer who had done all that he could to prevent unjustifiable discrimination to defend himself. The new clause is an important and sensible addition to the Bill. On amendment No. 4, the Standing Committee amended the Bill by modifying the definition of "employer" in clause 1. Instead of the definition under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944, which gives a small business exemption for employers with fewer than 20 employees, the definition now contained in the Bill as amended no longer provides that exemption and extends to an
"employer under a contract for services".
Discussion in Standing Committee focused largely on the removal of the small employer exemption and amendment No. 4 allows the House to reflect on whether the treatment of employed and self-employed people can be assimilated as easily as the Bill's sponsors suggest. A person "employed" under a contract for services is any self-employed person supplying services to the business, be it a window cleaner, a computer consultant or an independent lawyer or other professional. However, the rest of the Bill is drafted with "employees", as commonly understood, in mind. Thus, in clause 1, the definition of "qualified disabled person" means a disabled person who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the employment position--I emphasise that word--that he holds or desires. In the same way, clause 4 talks of job discrimination in relation to job application procedures, the hiring, promotion or dismissal of employees, employee compensation, training and any other terms, conditions or privileges of employment.
Clause 4(2) continues in a similar vein, with aspects that are apt to be settled by the relationship between employer and employee, not to the much more varied and episodic relationships between an employer and an outside contractor. Clause 4(4) tackles the meaning of "reasonable accommodation" and talks of job restructuring, instituting
Column 998part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to vacant positions and appropriate adjustment or modification of examining training materials or policies, which are more appropriate to the employer-employee relationship. The enforcement machinery of complaint to an industrial tribunal would confer on that body a potentially far- reaching and novel jurisdiction in relation to contractual disputes between business and self-employed contractors with which the tribunals are not familiar and which might have a significant impact on their case load and staffing.
The corresponding provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976 phrase their prohibitions differently, focusing on the employment rather than the employer. Section 4(2) of the Race Relations Act makes it
"unlawful for a person, in the case of a person employed by him at an establishment in Great Britain, to discriminate".
At the same time, "employment" is defined by section 78 of the Act to mean employment under a contract of service or apprenticeship or a contract personally to execute any work or labour. That tortuous explanation illustrates that the present Bill may be deficient in its treatment of contracts of apprenticeship, which the law recognises as distinct from contracts of employment. The Bill is perhaps over-ambitious in its all- embracing sweeping up of all contracts for services, as opposed to the more limited category of contracts personally to execute any work or labour.
The Bill's sponsors may have been unduly influenced by American models and terminology which may not always adapt precisely to the United Kingdom's legal framework and conditions. The sponsors have departed from our United Kingdom domestic models in the Sex Discrimination and Race Relations Acts. It will be for them to consider the concept of reasonable accommodation and how that might apply to relations between businesses and their arm's length self-employed contractors.
On amendment No. 5, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam that the words "under those Acts" seem to add nothing to the meaning of the Bill's definition of "employer". Indeed, I fear that they might cause confusion by seeming to refer to a mysterious set of Acts--"those Acts"--that are not mentioned earlier in the Bill. The removal of those words would clarify the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North- West (Mr. Stern) mentioned some sensitive areas of discrimination in employment. As I said in the House on 11 March--and, indeed, on many other occasions--it is the Government's aim that disabled people should be recognised as people with abilities who can contribute to wider society in the same way as anyone else. I recognise the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend in moving amendments Nos. 26 and 32. I have mixed feelings about some of the precise issues raised by my hon. Friend, but we can all agree that the Bill proposes to outlaw discrimination. We have to examine some of the detailed difficulties that might arise from the drafting of the present Bill and we must be concerned about indirect discrimination.
It is more difficult to determine precisely how we can tackle indirect discrimination in this sector than it might be in a number of others. Indirect discrimination can be shown much more clearly in matters of race or sex, but it might be more difficult to demonstrate in the case of disabled people. The group is not homogenous--it
Column 999involves a wide range of disabilities and the varying effect of those disabilities on individuals might make it much more difficult to establish what constitutes indirect discrimination. It might be worth the Bill's sponsors giving that subject further consideration.
Ms Lynne : The Minister said that it might be more difficult to demonstrate indirect discrimination in relation to disabled people than to other groups. If he recognised that before, why did not he table amendments in Committee so that we could have discussed Government-tabled amendments there, instead of having to waste the time of the House today and have a disgraceful filibuster on the Bill to prevent disabled people from enjoying their just rights ?
Mr. Scott : I hope that the hon. Lady is not accusing me of filibustering. I am trying to respond to points raised in the debate. As for my approach to the Bill in Committee, I was trying to fulfil the remit given me by the Prime Minister, which was to examine the Bill and to raise points of concern that presented themselves to me. In a number of cases, the Bill's sponsors responded with improvements. I thought that that was more in tune with my remit than if I started tabling amendments in Committee.
Mr. Scott : That is a statement by the hon. Gentleman--it is not one which I would wish to comment on or agree with. As the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged, in Committee we significantly improved the Bill, partly as a result of contributions that I was able to make and partly as a result of his generosity in responding to the points that I put to him.
The Government's view is that the Bill is still defective. It does not take sufficient account of the impact of the costs that it will involve. We were asked to produce a compliance cost assessment for the Bill. It has now been produced for the House. I acknowledge that it does not include the cost- benefit analysis which my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon and others were keen to have. Nevertheless, the compliance cost assessment shows that the up-front costs of introducing the Bill could be as high as £17 billion, with on-going costs of £1 billion a year.
This was the best that the Government could do in the face of the legitimate demands by those interested in the subject that we produce a compliance cost assessment. We had to ask Departments, under severe time pressure, to produce their assessments of what the costs in their areas of policy would be. Then we brought together those costs into the single figure that I have just given the House. I am sure that all who take an interest in these matters will in due course want to look carefully at the assessment to make up their minds about the approach that should be adopted.
Mr. Berry : Will the Minister acknowledge that this is the first time he has given that information to those who have been promoting the Bill ? As he said, the Bill has been knocking around for two years. He has been engaged in discussions with the all-party disablement group on this very Bill for two years. How is it that, at 1.42 pm, less than an hour before the end of the Report stage, the Minister can
Column 1000introduce information for which we have been asking for months ? Does he feel no embarrassment about behaving in this way ?
Mr. Scott : The hon. Gentleman knows very well that it is generally the practice--whether it is law I am not sure--not to produce compliance cost assessments until after Bills have been given a Second Reading. After Second Reading, we were under considerable pressure to produce an assessment. We set the work in hand, and only in the past few days have we been given the strands of information produced by Departments which in turn have enabled us to give the information to the House.
I thought that it would be helpful, as I now have the information, to give it to the House today.
Mr. Alan Howarth : My right hon. Friend has provided us with figures only on one side of the equation : the negatives. Will he explain why the Government regard it as out of the question to make an assessment of the benefits, too ? It is entirely within the practice and experience of the Treasury to feed new variables into its models and predictions when it makes assessments of the prospects for the economy. The Government could perfectly well do that task--so why do they not do it ?
Mr. Scott : My understanding is that the Government have a duty to provide a compliance cost assessment, and copies of it were placed in the Library yesterday afternoon, as my hon. Friend is aware. There is no such duty to produce
Mr. Scott : Not when I have already started replying to an intervention. The hon. Gentleman knows that I respect him and that I never decline to give way to him, but, as I am already replying to an intervention from my hon. Friend, I think that he owes me the courtesy of allowing me to finish.
The Government do not have any sort of duty to produce a cost-benefit analysis. I understand that that might be useful to the House and have suggested on previous occasions that the sponsors and promoters of the Bill address their minds to the benefits that would flow from the introduction of the legislation that they are undertaking. They could at least start a debate, which might be useful and in which Ministers could take part, on the relative costs and benefits that would flow from such legislation. The Government have complied with their duty--to provide a compliance cost assessment.
Mr. Berry : The Minister now tells me that a document was placed in the Library yesterday afternoon. I ask my questions as a new Member. First, is there any obligation at all on the Minister to inform the promoter of the Bill that that information is available in the Library ? Secondly, as I have not received any such information, is it in the post ? Thirdly, is it purely fortuitous that that information should arrive the day before the Bill is on Report ?
Mr. Scott : As a courtesy to the hon. Gentleman, I apologise. We would normally have informed the promoter of a private Member's Bill. If there was any discourtesy, I apologise to him. Under the rules, compliance cost assessments must be before the House before the Bill is on Report. That is why they were put down yesterday
Column 1001afternoon, the earliest possible moment, as soon as that piece of documentation reached my desk. I did my best and I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for the fact that his attention was not drawn to the fact.
If I can move on
Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I repeat what I said earlier and I have been very indulgent. Hon. Members are straying wider and wider from the clause and amendments. The Minister and all hon. Members must get back to them.
Amendment No. 30 follows earlier suggested amendments to the definitions of "qualified disabled persons" which seek to remove the requirement to make reasonable accommodation for disabled employees. Many employers might consider that aspect of the Bill a burden and be turned against the main spirit of it as a result, but my judgment is that employers would be persuadable in that area. Some might be turned against the Bill by that provision, but I believe that attitudes of employers are changing at the moment. We want them to change still faster.
On amendment No. 35, there would be some merit in having a less complex clause that would enable respective Secretaries of State, in consultation with outside bodies, or with each other where necessary, to determine what regulations might be needed for the various purposes.
As we can see, the term "reasonable accommodation" used in the Bill covers a whole range of specific employment issues, including that of making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to, and usable by, disabled people. Inevitably, it would be difficult to make existing places of employment and individual workstations "readily accessible and usable". The introduction of such a term could have quite onerous design implications. Such differing terms in the Bill could lead to inconsistency in interpretation and a common presentation would be useful.
Clause 4(2)(a), which is the trigger for clause 4(4), uses the term "reasonable" and so do, for instance, relevant parts of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and the requirements of part M of the building regulations. Their consistency has some merit and they form a better basis for guidance.
The House will be aware from previous statements and from the earlier part of my speech that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is assessing the practicality of extending access regulations to alterations and to non-domestic buildings. If he decides to introduce such requirements, there would clearly be some interface between any statutory duty laid on employers to make the "reasonable accommodation" that is sought by the Bill and whatever "reasonable provision" would be required because of changes in the building regulations.
I shall now deal with amendment No. 77. As the Bill stands, the commission may refer any cases of discrimination in "the employment field" or "in any other field"--that is to say, in any field whatever. I am convinced that the commission's discretion to make such references should be strictly limited to those areas covered by the
Column 1002legislation. The terms "employment field" and "any other field" are extraordinarily imprecise and too widely drawn and could create uncertainty and confusion. The amendments do much to overcome that problem.
I welcome amendment No. 58 which seeks to ensure that a disabled person would have the right of appeal on a question of law to an industrial appeal tribunal. Industrial tribunals are the proper form for the referral of any complaints that might arise from part III of the Bill.
Clause 11 provides that a complaint arising from part III should be considered by an industrial tribunal. It describes the remedies that tribunals may award if a complaint is upheld. However, it is out of line with existing legislation in respect of complaints taken to industrial tribunals. As I understand it, other legislation in this field--for example, the Race Relations Act 1976--allows that where a case has been taken to an industrial tribunal and the decision is unfavourable, the complainant may take the case to appeal. Therefore, if clause 11 is amended, it will simply be brought into accord with other legislation in this area.
As I said, the amendments would provide for a right of appeal on a question of law to an industrial appeal tribunal. It is the normal provision for appeals against an industrial tribunal decision to go, on a point of law, to the employment appeals tribunal.
As I said some time ago when I started my speech, employment is an important area, but there are other important areas. Access not just to premises but to goods and facilities, to which we may shortly turn, are also important, but employment matters a great deal and I have had time only to skim the surface on this group of amendments. I thank my hon. Friends for giving me the opportunity to discuss the amendments with them and no doubt they will consider my remarks, as I hope will all hon. Members.
Mr. Sheerman : Hon. Members who have followed the progress of the Bill from the beginning will know that it is certainly against my nature to be party political or partisan, but I have bitten my tongue and in Committee, on Second Reading and at other stages in the progress of the Bill I have tried to put my party hat slightly to one side to make progress on the Bill, which has support in all parts of the House. The Bill has the whole-hearted support of the Opposition because it is part of our policy commitment to introduce such legislation.
We must also inform the general public, the disabled, and those who have a disabled family member, by putting the record straight on what happened today--which was shameful. I greatly respect the Minister, but he is the master of the honeyed phrase. He is good at presenting a bad case. What happened today was as we predicted. The Government have murdered the Bill procedurally. We warned the House of that, and we warned the public not to build their hopes too high because we suspected that the Government would ultimately do as they have. We saw that process unfold this morning. We saw Conservative Members clearly organised by the Whips.
We even saw amendments tabled. Those of us who examine legislation requently can recognise a Government-drafted amendment when we see one. I am not saying that it was directly done, but I share the desire of my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) for an investigation into who supplied the amendments that were tabled in such large numbers over the past couple of days.
Column 1003It was discourteous, to say the least, for information relating to the Bill to be made available in the House only the day before this debate--on a Thursday when most right hon. and hon. Members were in their constituencies to help their local council candidates. The Government have killed the Bill cynically. They organised its destruction. That is not to say that some Conservative Members--such as the hon. Members for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth)--did not work extremely hard to get the Bill through Committee and to make it a success. The Bill was murdered as a result of Government conspiracy and certainly not with the support of all their Back Benchers.
The Minister had the cheek to accuse Opposition Members of using bullying tactics when the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) moved her new clause. He knows why feeling is so high today. It is because the majority of right hon. and hon. Members and the public favour the Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman was campaigning in Chelsea yesterday, as I was in Huddersfield, he would have picked up on doorsteps the weary cynicism of the electorate towards the House of Commons. It grows every time they see the kind of activity of which we have been part today, in which there has been behind-the-scenes engineering so that the will of the people is not expressed by a vote of the House. The public expected an honest vote.
An early-day motion supporting the Bill received majority support. There followed a Second Reading and the Committee stage. Last Friday, the House unanimously supported a motion to give the Bill adequate time. Instead, we saw the actions of a cynical Government. I blame not just the Prime Minister but the Secretary of State for Social Security. I know that is difficult for the Minister, because the Secretary of State is his boss. Nevertheless, the right hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Lilley) is totally against the principles of the Bill and everything that it represents. I know that, and most right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House know it.
Mr. Sheerman : You are quite right, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was not going to call them names. I merely wanted to say that the hon. Lady who moved the new clause and those who have supported it and the amendments so vociferously are, if we look at their entries in "Who's Who", dripping with privilege. In that regard, the hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam and for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh)
Mr. Sheerman : As the hon. Gentleman says, he has done a runner. Those hon. Members and others have every privilege of wealth and education. Their lives are liberated to the fullest extent, but they are trying to prevent disabled people from having the basic rights that they demand.
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New clause 3 and the amendments have been filibustered. The Minister spoke for 50 minutes. However, I shall be very brief. What has happened today is a disgrace and a slur on our parliamentary institutions. The Government will be held to account. This shabby little effort, this white rabbit which has been picked out of the hat today by the Minister, is not a piece of anti-discrimination legislation but an excuse for not giving the House the right to vote for what disabled people want.
Lady Olga Maitland : It is time that we put politics aside on the important issue of the disabled. It is a great slur on the character of the Labour party to suggest that anyone who dares to say, "Let us stop and think clearly and carefully about this Bill" is reprehensible. Surely it is far more reprehensible to go willy-nilly down the road and make errors on the way.
Ms Lynne : I remind the hon. Lady that the Bill has all-party support. Members of her own Back Benches support it, for the very reason that disabled people need civil rights legislation. No doubt her disgraceful behaviour today will be noted in her constituency.
Lady Olga Maitland : The hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said that it was Labour party policy to focus on the disabled. He somehow suggested that no one else cared about the disabled. He is wrong. He also made the great slur
Mr. Alfred Morris : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Am I right in thinking that we are awaiting a reply from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) to show that she notes that we have accepted new clause 3 and therefore wish to proceed ?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : The right hon. Gentleman anticipated me. I was about to remind the hon. Lady that we are still considering new clause 3 and the associated amendments, although there has been an indication that, when the time comes, the new clause will be accepted.
Lady Olga Maitland : I think that we had better clarify exactly where we are on this. If Labour Members would bear with me, I was under the impression that I was now able to move on to my amendments in the next group. Is that not correct ?