Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. At column 1080 of the Hansard published today of Friday's proceedings on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, at the foot of that column, after the paragraph beginning "For example", there is an intervention wrongly attributed to me, which is very damaging as to my standing in relation to the Bill. I have had a word with the Editor of Hansard about the mistake. It is one, I feel, that should be very urgently corrected, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who reads it who was here.
The other point, briefly, is that you, Madam Speaker, will know that there has been a demonstration by disabled people here today. I was not informed of the reason
Mr. Morris : I have raised a point of order about a mistake in column 1080 and I am asking for any guidance you, Madam Speaker, can give disabled people in answer to the question, "How can we possibly win, what more can we do when we have a parliamentary majority for the Bill ?" I know it is very difficult, Madam Speaker, but there is very strong feeling among disabled people that they are not getting anywhere by the parliamentary process.
Madam Speaker : Of course I have to answer to the House and not to any individual or group outside it. The right hon. Gentleman is really asking how he can pursue the issue and I quite understand his and many others' frustrations about this. May I suggest to him that he has to use the usual channels or approach the Leader of the House about further time for this ; or there are the recess Adjournment motions later this week--he might like to attempt it through that method.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Earlier today, as you may be aware, at about 11 o'clock, a number of disabled persons wanted to get into the House of Commons, and I agreed that I would see them and take them round Parliament. They wanted to go through the main entrance. They were stopped by the Serjeant at Arms, who said that he was not prepared to see them trying to get up the steps. He then told me that they could go round through the big carriage gates. They decided to do it as an act of symbolism--to crawl on their hands and knees against what has happened to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. When they got to the carriage gates, although they had been promised access that way, the gates were shut in their faces.
It is one thing for the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People to kick away the crutches of those disabled people, but I think that it is an affront when, in parliamentary terms, they are not allowed to go through the main entrance and they are not allowed to crawl their way through the side entrance either. When will you, as Speaker
Column 22of the House, ensure that the Serjeant at Arms allows disabled people to have the same rights of access to this building as anyone else ?
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman and the entire House are fully aware that there is access for disabled people through New-- [Interruption.] Just a moment ; I am speaking. This is very serious. There is right of access to the House through New Palace Yard for disabled people. I believe that this morning some disabled people were unfortunately encouraged by some Members of the House to crawl-- [Interruption.] Order. Listen to what I have to say. They were encouraged to crawl up the steps at St. Stephen's entrance, for the benefit of the media. They were informed that they could approach through New Palace Yard. If those gates were not open, I will make it my business to find out why. That is the entrance for disabled people. There are facilities there to help them enter every level of the House. I believe that the dignity of the disabled should be respected as much as that of any individual Member of this House.
Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Now that she has returned from Malawi, has the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) said whether she is prepared to come to the House to apologise for misleading the House about who drafted the amendments that were tabled in her name to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill ? Six and a half million disabled people will suffer because of her actions.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : Further to the earlier point of order, Madam Speaker. I came through the New Palace Yard gates at 2 pm. There were several disabled people there. The gates were not shut. I understood from the police that they could have come in two at a time with the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) if they so wished, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that 11 years ago I, too, introduced a Bill to outlaw discrimination against disabled people. On that occasion, rather similar tactics were used against my Bill, with the support of the Government. However, Lord Longford introduced a similar Bill to the House of Lords and came within 12 votes of being successful. If a noble Lord took up the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and it was successful, would it take precedence over other private Members' Bills entering the House ?
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) : Further to the point of order of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). May I point out that in the proceedings two weeks ago last Friday my right hon. Friend is recorded in Hansard as intervening in the speech of the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) to correct him when he referred to my right hon. Friend as an hon. Member. Everyone knows
Column 23that my right hon. Friend is one of the most modest Members of the House and that he would never have said such a thing. I said it, and I am greatly surprised to be told by Hansard that, although the error can be corrected in the bound volume, it cannot be pointed out in the meantime. Is it possible for a future edition of Hansard to put the record straight ?
Mr. McMaster : It is a new point of order, Madam Speaker. As you will be aware, the Accommodation and Works Committee is currently considering the topic of access to the Palace by disabled people. Last week, I gave evidence on behalf of the all-party disablement group to that Committee. Although I understand what you said in your ruling about the dignity of disabled people, one of the points that was made strongly in the Committee last week
Madam Speaker : Order. Matters that are dealt with in Committees are not matters for me. It is not a point of order for me. If the hon. Gentleman has a point of order, I will hear it, but I am afraid that we are getting into a debate. What happened in Committee is not a matter for me.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is there any way in which amendments could possibly be tabled earlier ? I ask the question because on 11 March, as you know, the Second Reading of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was passed with 231 votes in favour and none against. In Committee, for which I know you are not responsible, not one Government amendment was tabled. When the Bill came back to the House on Report, more than 80 Government amendments had been tabled, although not in the name of the Government, to ensure that the Bill to help 6.5 million disabled people was killed off. Is there any way in which an indication could be given previously so that people would know that the Government were determined to kill any attempt at legislation to help the disabled ?
Madam Speaker : The hon. Member himself can be extremely helpful in that matter. He is a member of the Procedure Committee which is already examining the procedure for private Members' Bills. I have submitted a reference to the Committee myself.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On a point of both order and, to be candid, frustration, Madam Speaker. How come questions properly placed on the Order Paper--including one of substance to the Prime Minister--for Thursday have now suddenly evaporated by alchemy from the Order Paper ? Did not it used to be the case that when questions were accepted for a Thursday --even if the dates of recesses were changed--they were taken, and the House then proceeded to the Adjournment debate ? Was not that the situation ?
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman must have missed a motion which was on the Order Paper and an announcement which I made a few days ago. If he would like me to direct him to the motion, I will do so. There was a motion on the Order Paper, and the hon. Gentleman may well have missed it.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. The baying from the Conservative Benches during points of order was entirely inappropriate, because there is genuine anger outside about what happened to
Mr. Foulkes : I have been asked by people outside to ask you whether there is anything that you or the House can do in relation to the code conduct of Ministers. People outside cannot understand how a Minister can secretly draft amendments, not tell the truth to the House and still continue as a Minister.
Madam Speaker : Order. I have been through this a number of times, and I think that the hon. Gentleman knows the answer. I have given him the answer already. [Interruption.] Order. If the hon. Gentleman listens, he might like to tell whoever is interested that the entire procedure for private Members' Bills is now before the Procedure Committee.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that you take the opinions and decisions of the House seriously. Will you confirm that you will take seriously, and would like to see acted upon, the decision made by the House on a motion brought in by the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) that opportunity should be found to discuss and vote on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill ?
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).
That the draft Industrial Tribunals Extension of Jurisdiction (Scotland) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Industrial Tribunals Extension of Jurisdiction (England and Wales) Order 1994 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Chapman.]
-- Question agreed to.
As amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered.
Amendment made : No. 80, in page 20, line 5, at end insert (2) In section 14 of that Act (consultation) there shall be inserted at the end
"(4) Before making any building regulations containing provision of the kind authorised by paragraph 11(1)(c) of Schedule 1 to this Act, the Secretary of State shall consult
(a) the Building Regulations Advisory Committee,
(b) such persons or bodies as appear to him to be representative of local authorities, and
(c) such other bodies as appear to him to be representative of the interests concerned.".'.--[ Mr. Neil Hamilton. ]
Amendment made : No. 51, in page 20, leave out lines 24 to 40.--[ Sir Michael Neubert. ]
Amendment made : No. 6, in page 20, line 41, leave out from beginning to end of line 18 on page 21.--[ Mr. Fatchett. ]
Amendment made : No. 52, in page 21, leave out lines 19 to 25.--[ Sir Michael Neubert. ]
Amendment made : No. 82, in page 22, leave out line 25 and insert-- (9) Before making any order under this section, the Secretary of State shall consult with such representative organisations as he thinks fit ; and any such order shall be made'.--[ Mr. Norris .]
Amendment made : No. 81, in page 85, leave out lines 12 to 20.--[ Mr. Neil Hamilton .]
Amendment made : No. 84, in page 88, line 14, leave out and' and insert to'.--[ Mr. Neil Hamilton .]
Amendments made : No. 91, in page 24, line 25, after 16,' insert-- [Controls on fund-raising for charitable institutions : exclusion of connected companies], .
No. 104, in page 24, line 25, leave out 22 to'.
No. 79, in page 24, line 39, leave out 14 and' and insert 13 to'.--[ Mr. Norris .]
Amendments made : No. 25, in page 27, line 31, leave out (c)' and insert (d)'.
No. 26, in page 27, line 43, after is' insert available and'. No. 27, in page 27, line 45, at end insert
(d) the capacity of the place so specified (if there is only one) or of both or all the places so specified taken together (if there are more than one) is sufficient to provide an operating centre for all the vehicles used under the licence.'.--[ Mr. Norris .]
and may assume that those undertakings will be fulfilled'.
and may assume that any conditions so attached will not be contravened'.
No. 23, in clause 38, page 36, line 28, at end insert
(dd) that during those five years the licence holder has, in the opinion of the authority, at any time operated otherwise than with due regard for the requirements of road safety and grounds (a) to (d) above and (f) below do not apply'.
No. 19, in clause 49, page 46, line 9, leave out
and may assume that those undertakings will be fulfilled'. No. 20, in clause 49, page 46, line 27, leave out
and may assume that those undertakings will be fulfilled'.
Mr. Fatchett : Amendments Nos. 21 and 22 would remove some of the assumptions in the Bill, especially about undertakings given and conditions that may or may not be met. The amendments would make the licensing authorities more able to consider certain issues and to see whether they are pursued.
That is the technical nature of the amendments, but the real reason for the debate is the safety of heavy goods vehicles and coaches, which greatly concerns the general public.
Why this debate in this form at this stage ? The answer is easy. It is because safety is a key element of the Bill and a theme which came up time and again in Committee and on Report. It is a question of the balance between various interests.
The Government's definition is that the deregulatory process is stimulated by removing a burden on industry. To be fair, the Government also refer in the Bill to the need for
Column 27necessary protection. Our concern throughout has been the need for a balance between the various interests--those interests that are legitimately represented by business and industry and those represented by employees, consumers and the general public. We would argue that the Government have listened to industry and not to other interest groups with a valuable opinion, which should be listened to, on safety and the general public interest.
We have just heard a series of points of order about the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. The Government response to the issues in that Bill has always been to point out the burden to industry. Nothing could illustrate the argument on deregulation better than the Government's response to that Bill. Their short-sighted and limited perspective meant that they talked simply about one range of burdens and one area of interest. We argue that under that legislation and in many other cases broader interests have to be taken into account. Nowhere is that more vividly illustrated than in relation to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, as many people have a direct interest in that legislation.
The role of good government and good administration is to weigh those interests, achieve a balance and ensure that all the voices are heard. As much of the ideology that underpins the Bill shows, the Government are driven by just one of those interests : the industrial interest. They are taking little or no account of the interests of employees, consumers or the general public.
In the context of the safety of heavy goods and commercial vehicles, I believe that a variety of interests need to be taken into account. It is not just the industry itself that should be listened to ; the Government should listen to the police, the public, those who travel on buses and those who live in areas that are affected by buses and heavy goods vehicles. We fear that the Government will listen only to the voice of industry and not to these other important voices ; and the amendment is designed to tease out the balance that the Government intend to strike, and to include in the Bill a greater commitment to the general points of safety that I have already mentioned.
The bus and heavy goods vehicle industries have faced severe economic competition and suffered to a considerable extent as a result of the recession--in many respects, as a result of Government policy. These are clearly industries that have to deal with great pressure on costs. Our concern is that the Government are giving a wink and a nod to those who may see the Bill as a sign that they may take short cuts with safety and maintenance standards as a way of dealing with the pressure on their costs. We have argued throughout that the Government should have as their first priority not just the industry but the general interests of the public.
There is no great backing for these provisions in any case. They are yet another example of the Government's trying to save a relatively small sum of money without necessarily gaining the support of much of the industry or of other organisations. For instance, Headlight , a trade magazine which speaks for the industry and is widely distributed in the industry, has argued that the current legal controls have provided worthwhile benefits in terms of vehicle condition and driver standards. People fear that if
Column 28the Government reduce these legal and administrative controls they will be giving cowboy operators a sign that standards can be further reduced.
The Police Federation has expressed its alarm at the prospect of continuous licensing--the essence of this part of the Bill--for heavy goods vehicles and buses :
"Any licence relating to an operator's fleet size, business premises and hours of business granted in perpetuity could severely affect the safety of members of the public and have a detrimental effect on environmental factors."
So the police are unhappy about the proposals embodied in the Bill.
The public have good reason to be genuinely concerned about safety issues. The figures are appalling : in 1992, the latest year for which we have available figures, 742 people died in road accidents involving heavy goods vehicles. HGV accidents are also likely to be more serious than road accidents generally--4 per cent. of people caught up in accidents involving heavy goods vehicles incurred fatal injuries, compared with only 1 per cent. overall. All the evidence, in fact, points to the need for the current system to be maintained or toughened up, not weakened.
The annual report of the licensing authorities shows that there has been a huge increase in disciplinary action taken against vehicle operators, from 742 cases in 1991-92 to 1,255 in 1992-93. In 611 of those cases, the offence was serious enough to result in a licence being taken away. The most common reasons for licences being revoked were poor maintenance, overloading and drivers' hours. The number of HGV drivers' conduct cases referred to the licensing authorities has also increased, from 47,000 to 50,593.
When we dealt with these issues in Committee, my hon. Friends spoke about a number of surveys on the increased pressure on drivers' hours, safety and stress. They made it abundantly clear that the industry will be deregulated at great risk and at a loss to the public of safety standards.
Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : The House will agree with the hon. Gentleman's serious points about the need to reduce stress and to maintain regulations on drivers' hours and on vehicle condition. The hon. Gentleman says that he would not favour the introduction of continuous licensing. How are the two issues linked and why would it not be possible to revoke continuous licences ?
Mr. Fatchett : The hon. Gentleman may be well advised to read some of the arguments in Committee when the point was explored in great detail. I have quoted the view of the Police Federation and I certainly maintain that there is substantial symbolism in the Government's action. I warned the Minister at the time--I think that on this issue, if on no other, the general public would be on my side--that the evidence and the image being presented by the Government is that they are prepared to take a risk with safety. The Police Federation and some people in the industry argue that there is a virtue in continuous licensing, and the Government are making a mistake in appearing to soften the regime. That is essentially what we said in Committee and what we shall be saying in this debate.
As the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) rightly said, the figures are serious. There has been a series of tragic events about which some of my hon. Friends will speak in relation to their constituencies, and I shall not delay the House by going through specific incidents. However, some of them have clearly shown that the current
Column 29safety regime is not strong enough. Comments from magistrates, coroners and the police show that they do not wish to see a softening of standards, but would like to see them toughened for goods vehicles and coaches.
By stretching the amendment slightly, one could relate that to the public concern about safety standards for minibuses. There have recently been a number of incidents involving school minibuses. There was an incident at the weekend about which there was a public outcry, and the reaction was that we need tougher safety standards and that there should be legislation to ensure the compulsory fitting of seat belts.
I introduce those issues to show that the Government have got the balance wrong and that public concern on these issues is for greater safety. They wish to see standards improved for their own good and for the good of those who travel by coach or by other forms of regular transport.
There is a strong argument for industry to have the highest possible safety standards. If standards are reduced, the only organisations that will benefit will be those that are prepared to take short cuts to cut costs. The law should be tough on those organisations and sanctions should be severe. The good operator will lose out and the not-so-good and the cowboy will benefit. That is in nobody's interest : our interests should be to maintain or improve standards.
Our amendment would toughen the system and make sure that there was power to investigate what was going on. It would ensure that safety standards are rigorously enforced. That is what the public and good operators in the heavy goods vehicle and coach industries want. For those reasons, I commend the amendments.
Mr. Peter Bottomley : The House and the country will understand that there is a need for operator licensing. For environmental protection, for ensuring that there is a responsible manager, and for other reasons, that system should continue.
The point before the House is whether there is a significant detrimental risk by moving to continuous operator licences. I do not think that there is.
There is a danger that, in arguing about specific cases, which, as the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) said, might happen in this relatively short debate, we lose sight of how we cut the number of casualties on our roads.
Without wanting in any way to diminish the anguish that is felt by any family affected by a road crash--I often wish that we could refer to road crashes rather than accidents, because they have causes--and without wanting in any way to diminish the importance of taking further measures to reduce the consequences of a crash, I do not think that it is sensible to have this kind of debate without putting on record what was said during the debate on the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill last week.
Since the Government set the target of cutting the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roads by 30 per cent. by 2000, there has been a 40 per cent. increase in traffic. So the index of traffic has increased from 100 to 140. The number of tragedies involving deaths and serious injuries has been cut by a third. So the index for casualties has gone down from 100 to 70.