|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. Scott : I very much agree with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham). We have time now on the Floor of the House. The offer made by the hon. Member for Kingswood simply to accept the amendment, and to say that that is the end of it and that a line can be drawn across the page is not a constructive approach to the way forward as the Government see it. The Government see the way forward not as allowing the Bill to become law, but as replacing the laudable efforts of the hon. Member for Kingswood and his predecessors who have introduced similar Bills, and operating along the lines I announced at an earlier stage, which have been reiterated since by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. We are determined to go out to consultation on five of the key areas that are reflected in the approach of the promoter and sponsors of the Bill
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have listened to the whole of this debate. Some of us on the Back Benches are getting rather frustrated. With all due respect and despite the fact that you have said to the Minister that he must address his remarks mainly to the amendments, I point out that he is constantly ignoring your request. It is frustrating for us as Back Benchers. We would not
Mr. Scott : It is true and it is clear in my view that the discussions that we have had on the Bill at previous stages have already begun to affect attitudes outside the House without any doubt at all. I shall not stray into the contents of the broadcast of the hon. Member for Kingswood this morning on the "Today" programme, which were manifestly inaccurate. I hope that when he looks at what he said on that programme and checks it against the facts, he will understand that he was inaccurate. In my view, attitudes are changing outside. The Confederation of British Industry has never really had any enthusiasm in the area, although it recognises that, whatever happens, there are likely to be costs for its members. It has now said :
"while there is clearly a need for a new legislative framework to protect people with disabilities in employment, and possibly in other areas, to introduce such legislation without consulting employers and other groups that will be instrumental in ensuring that such legislation is effective is unlikely to produce the best solution. There has been no opportunity for that in this present Bill." That is the view of the Confederation of British Industry and, manifestly, it has been a failure on the part of the sponsors of Bill to take it into account. Many members of the CBI take a constructive view towards the needs of disabled people and their rights in terms of employment. Many of its members are also members of the Employers Forum on Disability, for example, who have a manifest
Column 1090commitment to progress in that area and quite right. That is why I believe that further discussion today on the impact of some of the costs could be of use in further improving attitudes outside the House.
Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that the representations that I have had in recent weeks from retailers and businesses underline absolutely what he has just said ? Those companies are more than prepared to move progressively to providing better access for disabled people because it increases their business, if nothing else. However, they are absolutely horrified at the lack of consultation that has taken place during the passage of the Bill. They have not been consulted. It was only in April that they began to get information about the implications of what has been suggested. They fear that it will cost jobs and make it harder to continue to employ disabled people.
Mr. Sheerman rose
Mr. Scott : Perhaps I may respond to my hon. Friend and then, of course, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman. I very much agree with my hon. Friend and I also agree that there have been some very encouraging examples recently of increased awareness and real progress in the employers' approach towards disabled people. When businesses come to see hon. Members and make their views clear to Government, and probably also to the Opposition Members who are the sponsors of the Bill, about the need to consult to ensure that effective, supportable and deliverable practical measures are in place, it behoves us to take careful note of that and respond to it. They are still manifestly concerned about the problems, especially about the speed of the implementation of the sort of legislation that we are presently discussing.
Mr. Sheerman : Will the Minister be totally frank ? The fact of the matter is that that very sophisticated lobby are not shrinking violets. When legislation passes through the House and when it is anticipated, that lobby is here and asking for consultation all the time. The truth of the matter is that, assiduously, his Department was telling everyone out there- -the CBI, the Institute of Directors and everyone else--that the Bill did not have a chance and that, if it had a chance, it would kill it. That is why the Government suddenly woke up. They saw a majority of hon. Members behind it and a chance that it would go through.
Mr. Scott : That was a robust intervention, but it was somewhat inaccurate. Although we made clear our reservations about the Bill, particularly in my letter as early as 17 January in which I explained to hon. Members why I was opposed to the approach being pursued by the Bill's sponsors, I indicated that the Government wanted to see progress in this area. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister made it clear in response to a question that he wanted the Bill to go into Committee so that it could be examined in detail and we could discover which parts we could agree on and how we could carry forward some of the ideas.
If I may say so, that is precisely what the Government are now committed to doing. Having studied the discussions that are still continuing in the House, and apart from discussions that may be taking place outside the House, we are committed to discussing the matters to see as we undertake our
Column 10911.30 pm
Mr. Rooker : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Somewhere among the Standing Orders there is a Standing Order which allows you to instruct an hon. Member to resume his seat on the ground of tedious repetition. Will you consider doing that ?
Mr. Scott : I plead for your understanding, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as I seek to respond politely to repetitious interventions and make clear what I believe is the Government's position and, underlining our opposition to seeing the Bill reach the statute book, I nevertheless underline our commitment to ensuring that there is a proper, new legal framework, in particular, to protect disabled people in employment. That is one of the five points on which we are committed to consult over the next six months, manifestly with an understanding that, at the end of that consultative period, we will consider what legislative moves may or may not be necessary. That will be important in terms of consultation. We will approach that consultation in a widespread manner. We will not just consult employers. We will be prepared to consult the organisations of and for disabled people so that they can make their views clear about the shape of that legislation.
With regard to employment, we all know that the quota system is discredited. We want to move to a more sensible
Mr. Scott : Manifestly, it is a matter of costs and we are concerned about the £17 billion worth of non-recurring costs and the £1 billion a year of recurring costs which, it is said in the compliance cost assessment, could be placed on businesses and other enterprises if the Bill reaches the statute book in its present form.
I understand that hon. Members may have some reservations about the cost compliance assessment. As I told the House when we last discussed these matters, it was an exercise that was carried out under considerable pressure of time. Each Department was asked to make its assessment of the costs on those organisations which were, in a sense, in its client area so that the Government could put together a package that could be placed before the House in terms of a total compliance cost assessment.
We did that. There is no reason why, having seen the cost compliance assessment, hon. Members should not examine it in detail and consider the extent to which they feel it reflects the position as they understand it. However, it was the best that the Government could do between Second Reading and their legal commitment to produce such an assessment before Report. We are anxious to move ahead quickly with consultation and to take such action as we believe is necessary in the light of those consultations.
Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) : I hope that my right hon. Friend will make it clear that the Government's thinking on this point is that, while the aims of the Bill are laudable, some reports from the United States about the backlash created by the costs of US legislation show that it is
Column 1092creating an unhealthier atmosphere in terms of public and business attitudes towards disability than currently exist in the United Kingdom.
Mr. Scott : The Americans with Disabilities Act is still in its early stages. It is right that we are getting conflicting signals. As I said, I am particularly conscious of one piece of evidence which looked at and, basically, produced a favourable report on the early days of the implementation of that Act. As I said before, I hesitate to query that.
Mr. Scott : There are reports coming forward. I would probably be out of order if I went into too much detail. [Interruption.] I have responded to interventions from Labour Members, as I did at an earlier stage. Any hon. Member who knows me would know that I probably have a better record of giving way to interventions than almost any other Minister who stands at the Dispatch Box.
Mr. Peter Atkinson : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way to me again. I shall make a point about the cost. We have had enormous figures bandied around. What is certain--and what can be said with certainty--is what it costs individual businesses to do individual jobs. If Labour Members had done a calculation of what it costs to put a lift in a shop, they would know that the minimum price is £20,000--and it could be £100,000. Shop owners also know what it costs to widen a door--and that could be anything from £2,000 to £5, 000. In the area which I represent, which is a country area where shops are not rich or necessarily prosperous, that burden would be devastating to companies.
Mr. Scott : I am trying to respond to the point raised by my hon. Friend. I agree that there is considerable concern on this front not only among employers but in other areas as well. For example, Business in Sport and Leisure--BISL--which is an umbrella organisation promoting the interests of private sector companies involved in the sport and leisure industry and representing more than 50 companies, has said :
"The sport and leisure industry is committed to providing facilities for disabled people and access where at all possible, in the centres it owns. Most newly built night clubs, bingo centres and ten pin bowling centres have facilities for disabled people and access by lift provided at all levels"
Mr. Scott : The hon. Member has access to a telephone directory. If he wishes to ring the organisation concerned, why does he not do so ? I am addressing the issue of costs, the speed of implementation of the provisions of the Bill and the implications for the Bill of the amendments which are properly before the House at present. BISL went on to say :
"It is, however, often impractical, if not impossible, to do this in existing buildings, even when considering refurbishment, because of a number of different levels and staircases. Schemes have been considered where lifts for disabled people might be attached to flumes and swimming pools. The costs, however, of schemes like this outweigh their possible use. Overall, we are
Column 1093concerned with the very high cost that this Bill would involve for the leisure industry if it becomes law. We would urge the Government to undertake the widest possible consultation and to consider the full impact on business if this measure is to receive Government support."
I have already said that the measure is not receiving the Government's support. However, I have given an undertaking to BISL, as I have to others, that as we come forward with our proposals in this area, we will engage in the widest possible consultation. Recently, a great deal of progress has been made in the leisure and tourist industry. Wonderful work has been done, for example, by ADAPT--Access for Disabled People to Art Performances Today--under the leadership of Geoffrey Lord. [Interruption.] I shall not respond to sedentary interventions, or I shall get into more trouble with Mr. Deputy Speaker. Nevertheless, we have seen considerable progress in this area from a variety of organisations that have sought to improve provision for disabled people in major sports and other facilities. There is clearly room for a great deal more to be done. Many people have contacted me to express their concern about the current inaccessibility of theatre, cinema and other provision. Again, mammoth costs are likely to be involved in that area, not least because many of our theatres, cinemas and arts venues were constructed about 100 years ago and it would be very expensive to adapt them properly to meet the standards for disabled people that we all want to see. It cannot be done overnight. That is the point dealt with in the amendments. We have to ensure that these matters can be tackled over a sensible period, which may vary from industry to industry and provision to provision.
I received a letter from the British Retail Consortium on 28 March. It states :
"It is important that employers' costs are kept at a sustainable level, and that the timescale set for compliance"
that is what we are talking about
"with such legislation is achievable".
Mr. Scott : At the risk of being repetitious, I say that the House should use our proceedings today further to explore and inform discussion on this important matter. The British Retail Consortium letter continues :
"Disabled people should be treated fairly and employers"
Mr. Dicks : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it normal for a Minister of State to arrange for amendments and new clauses to be passed to Back-Bench Members, who then table them, and to come back to talk about the very amendments that he created, and to filibuster ? Is not that an abuse of this place ?
Mr. Dicks : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The amendments that the Minister is speaking to are the very amendments that he and his office drafted for the narks on the Back Benches to move last time.
Mr. Scott : If I may pick up the thread again, it is right that we should take note of the views of those organisations. We should not quickly, easily and glibly pass over the questions that are reflected in the amendments about the scale and time scale of measures which will place extra costs on business, industry and other providers in society.
Mr. Scott : I am delighted to know that the hon. Gentleman agrees and I hope that he recognises now that it is right that the Government, in picking up on one of the main threads in his Bill--access by disabled people to premises--should hold comprehensive consultation with those organisations and take careful account of their views. They are apprehensive and they have communicated some of their views in response to the provisions in the Bill because they are concerned about the time scale.
Mr. Scott : I should like to continue for a few more sentences. I have said it before and I say again that one of our concerns is that, in legislating in this important and sensitive area, in which we all share the underlying aims of the sponsors of the Bill, we should not create resentment among employers and other people who will be affected by the passage of legislation such as this or any Bill introduced by the Government which will involve costs on industry and businesses.
Several hon. Members rose
Mr. Sheerman : I am reluctant to intervene, but will the Minister consider that this is a private Members' day and this is a private Member's Bill that has the majority of the House behind it ? I beg him to salvage his reputation and not to block the Bill. He has spoken for nearly an hour and I beg him to salvage his reputation and the Bill by speeding on and finishing his remarks.
Mr. Scott : I could have made a great deal more progress had I not given way on the number of occasions that I have done this morning. When we last discussed the matter, I gave way more than 20 times during a 50-minute speech.
Mr. Scott : Indeed, and I have given way a considerable number of times. The majority of interventions were by Opposition Members, the rest by Conservative Members who support the Bill. I do not think that I should be the subject of criticism about giving way. A number of organisations have made clear their commitment to progress in the area, but also their concerns about costs and time scales.
Mr. Alan Howarth : Does my right hon. Friend accept that employers and other organisations may have been led into a misapprehension by the Government's compliance cost assessment ? Unfortunately, the document was not available to hon. Members by the Committee stage. The Government produced it some considerable time after the Committee concluded and, remarkably, they ignored the
Column 1095amendments made in Committee. The document ignored clauses 8 and 10, as amended in Committee, which made it clear that there is no five-year time limit for compliance with measures in the Bill. Why did the Government produce a document that asserted that there was and therefore gave people to understand that the £17 billion alleged cost of compliance would fall all at once, or in a maximum of five years, on business ? My right hon. Friend knows that that is not the case. Why did the Government produce a document that so easily led to misunderstanding and undue alarm ?
Mr. Scott : I do not want to go back over that ground. Obviously my hon. Friend and other hon. Members can raise such doubts or criticisms of the compliance cost assessment as they think fit. I explained the pressures to the House recently. A compliance cost assessment is not normally produced by Committee stage. It is produced after Second Reading and in time for Report. That is the Government's duty and it was fulfilled.
Mr. Alan Howarth rose
Mr. Scott : I know that my hon. Friend would have preferred a cost benefit analysis. It would certainly not be wrong for him to go down that route. If it were undertaken, it might be a very valuable exercise, but it certainly is not the duty of Government. If my hon. Friend has serious reservations about the compliance cost assessment, I urge him to bring them to my attention so that we can consider them properly.
The exercise had to cover a considerable number of Departments at the same time and to pull the information together into a coherent representation of the costs, as we could best assess them, in time for Report.
It is clear that employers and others are concerned about the Bill. I do not want that alarm to turn into resistance to the idea of progress towards meeting the needs of disabled people. In my job, I have sought consistently to persuade employers and providers of services used by disabled people of the need for action in that area. I have sought to assure them that the Government certainly do not want to impose unfair costs at too great a speed and in a way that would make employers and providers feel resentful or hostile to the very concept. We must ensure that such moves as are taken by employers, shopkeepers and other providers of services used by disabled people provide services on a fair and equal basis, as they do for other citizens. We are trying to increase employers' awareness and to make them concentrate on people's abilities and enable them to achieve success--the aim that we all share. In response to my hon. Friend, let me say that the Institute of Directors and Business in Sport and Leisure had expressed their anxieties before the compliance cost assessment was published in April. They had corresponded with the Department before that and we should not imagine that they expressed those anxieties simply as a result of the publication of the compliance cost assessment.
Even if the Bill as a whole were to guarantee a fair wind and acceptance in the business sector, people in that sector still have significant anxieties about the time scale. People need time to learn about the new rights and the duties which would be
Mr. Scott : I do not want to return to the argument that I had with the hon. Gentleman at the beginning of my speech because that would be tedious and repetitious. Undoubtedly there is worry in the business community and among other providers-- [ Interruption. ]They may or may not be right, but they are worried. They are worried that, if the Bill reaches the statute book at the moment, the proper pressures that would be put on the Government to implement the Bill speedily, if not immediately, would impose costs on them in business. I think it unlikely that, if the Bill were to reach the statute book in its present form, there would not be immediate and consistent pressure on the Government to implement the provisions of the Bill as rapidly as possible.
Mr. Thurnham : Does my right hon. Friend agree that those objections are the reason why we have to have a proper debate now, and that it would be naive to imagine that a Bill about which there has obviously been a lack of consultation could be rushed through the House without the House having the opportunity to hear those significant objections ? I hope that my right hon. Friend will not feel intimidated in making those significant arguments so that we can hear the reasons for the Government's objections. He has made it clear that the Government cannot accept the Bill in its current form.
Mr. Scott : I believe that the underlying anxiety which has been expressed to Government, and I think has been represented to other hon. Members, is that the Bill does not simply tinker with existing statutes but represents a wholly new approach to meeting civil rights.
Mr. Scott : Exactly. It is civil rights for disabled people. That represents a new departure for many people outside the House and many of them still feel nervous about it, even if they accept the underlying aims of the Bill, which, as I say, are widely accepted on both sides of the House. They find that it is a new departure which arouses fear, or apprehension at least, in many of the organisations that represent the interests of business people. I believe that they want more time to adjust to that, and that the amendments would help to achieve that.
Mr. Atkinson : I am sorry--and Conservative Members. One of the anxieties of businesses is that, although an exemption is given in, I think, part IV, the all-pervading clause 2 still applies and the line saying if
"he fails to make reasonable accommodation for his disability" is the line that is worrying business men and companies because that could be used to override the exemption in part IV of the Bill. It may be wrong and I am not a lawyer, and nor are they, but that is the worry of businesses.
Mr. Scott : I shall have to study that intervention by my hon. Friend carefully, because I am not sure that he has accurately interpreted the Bill. [Interruption.] I want to be careful to study his words without judging them too much.
For employers in particular, the impact of the Bill would be virtually immediate, as the commission would have to be set up in six months. Other provisions could be brought in at various times, but employers express particular concern
Mr. Berry : You have referred to the introduction of the Disability Rights Commission within six months. The amendment that you are speaking to suggests that that could be delayed. We have accepted that amendment. Please, Minister, why is it that you repeatedly
Certain points have been accepted by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I do not understand why they are then repeatedly trotted out as reasons for not making further progress on the Bill. The Minister has spent more than an hour doing that. I find that astonishing and disabled people will find it even more astonishing.
Mr. Scott : I find some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks astonishing. Since he has provoked me, I allude to his performance on the "Today" programme this morning, which is relevant to our discussions. He suggested that we "held up" amendments to the Bill until after the local government elections. In fact, our amendments were tabled on the eve of poll of the local elections. This morning, the hon. Member said quite clearly--I have got the transcript--that the amendments were "held up" until after the elections so that we could appear benign until those elections were out of the way.
Mr. Berry rose
Before I draw my remarks to a close, I should like to refer to the American experience. The supporters of the Bill continually point to the American experience--in a way, that is right and understandable. They acknowledge that the Americans with Disabilities Act has had a major influence on the Bill, and rightly so. Bearing that in mind, we should study carefully how the American Act was implemented and the sort of problems that were encountered in its implementation. In my view, implementing the Bill at the speed envisaged by the sponsors would not allow time to learn from the American experience