Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding) : A moment ago, the hon. Lady said that she thought that the House should rubber stamp the Lords amendments. Will she think again about the phrase, "rubber stamp" ? Is it not the obverse of proper parliamentary scrutiny ?
Ms Walley : We want parliamentary mechanisms that enable us to deal with the issues of the day and to introduce parliamentary legislation that has been thoroughly researched and well prepared within the overall agenda of the Government's legislation. If that had been done in
Column 1287respect of the 1989 international salvage convention, we would not be dealing with this Bill. The later issue of parliamentary scrutiny had not been included and we are not dealing with it as I should have liked, partly because priority has not been given to merchant shipping. Indeed, the House of Commons does not even have a Minister responsible for shipping--he sits in the other place. Those issues must be borne in mind.
In view of all that has been said this morning on parliamentary scrutiny, will the Minister say whether that will conflict with the provisions of the Bill on deregulation and contracting out ? I agree with the hon. Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) that parliamentary scrutiny is absolutely important. Members of Parliament need to know exactly what legislation we are passing and be involved in the procedure of drawing up legislation. I welcome an amendment that will give proper parliamentary scrutiny to subsequent orders of this kind. Bearing in mind not just what is contained in the draconian first part of the Bill on deregulation and contracting out but that many issues relating to deregulation and contracting out could be taken away from this place, could the matter that we are now discussing be taken away at a later stage because of that ? Clause 1 was drawn up because we need to ratify the 1989 international salvage convention. I would welcome any subsequent conventions that arise out of that convention, or out of the International Maritime Organisation or European organisations, which would enable us better to respond to ships in distress and prevent environmental catastrophes.
Other issues arose from the Donaldson report, which many hon. Members have before them. Although those may not relate directly to the international salvage convention, they should be brought forward urgently. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has raised some specific issues with me. As so many other issues need to be addressed, the Minister's response may be an opportunity for him to say whether he now proposes to introduce new regulations to implement the recommendations of the Donaldson inquiry, which could be part and parcel of clause 1. Will he introduce the mandatory routing of oil tankers to avoid hazardous areas of sea ? Which of Donaldson's recommendations does he expect the shipping and ports industry to deal with voluntarily ?
Mr. Waterson : Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the main benefits of the Bill is that, by extending the strict liability to vessels other than laden oil tankers, part II, schedule 3 may help to deal with many clandestine and apparently minor discharges of bunker oil along our coastline which, on a daily basis, is very damaging to our natural wildlife, particularly to birds ?
Ms Walley : The hon. Gentleman makes an important case and I entirely agree with him. I am pleased that we are dealing not only with catastrophes but with the regular, consistent discharge of bunker oil into the sea, which is not properly dealt with at present. It may be better to debate that matter under clause 6, but it may also relate to the parliamentary scrutiny that we are discussing now. In which case, this might be an opportunity for the Minister to elaborate further on the Government's policy on ports.
It is clear from recent parliamentary questions that I have asked about whether the Minister will introduce regulations to deal with facilities for the ports and ways in
Column 1288which legal discharges can be made-- [Interruption.] I have just accepted an intervention on the subject, which is part and parcel of the parliamentary scrutiny that we are discussing. I agree that the issue of facilities in ports cannot be left to the marketplace. Having made those few comments, I look forward to the Minister's reply.
The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris) : I commend my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Mr. Harris) for his customary assiduity in introducing the amendment, and I join him in thanking noble Lords in another place who have helped to sponsor the amendments to the Bill that we wish to make this morning. The lonely vigil of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) on the Opposition Benches is notable for the very reason that she should recall more than she has--she alone appears to have the slightest interest in these important topics. By contrast, my hon. Friends have contributed to an extraordinarily high- quality debate on an extremely important issue. It is a bit rich for the hon. Lady to talk in terms of a sudden interest because it would be useful if the Labour party took a sudden interest in who governs the country, which is what the amendment is about. It has been notable over the years that the Labour party has been solely concerned to ensure that it introduced the sort of socialistic nonsense that the electors of this country will never take through the front door as they have shown by their affection for the Government
Mr. Norris : As ever, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you go straight to the heart of it. I was incensed. I crave your indulgence as I did stray, for which I should be reproached, and I am grateful to you. I shall leave my remarks on the record and those who witness our proceedings on television will draw their own conclusions about which side of the House is concerned about marine pollution.
I was discussing the useful debate that we have had with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick). He and I are mere journeymen in the world--we are small business men. When I listened to my hon. Friends the Members for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Streeter), for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterston), for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison), for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates), for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) and for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) I became terrified at the prospect of ever having to pay my hon. Friends for the sort of contributions that we have just heard free of charge. I am diffident about intervening or responding to the extraordinary outpouring of knowledge that my hon. Friends displayed. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant) has a degree in law and politics so perhaps, by implication, he is also to be commended for his assiduity. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham was right when he said that it was important to ensure that any amendment to the essential provisions of the Bill should be subject to the scrutiny of the House. He made an important
Column 1289point that was underlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud. Without wishing to select one contribution over all the excellent contributions that we have had this morning, I must say that in the House we can effectively scrutinise the changes proposed by others whose interests are not those of the United Kingdom. I believe that that was the expression for which my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham was seeking--the people that we are talking about were not necessarily born in the United Kingdom. We are talking about those who quite properly prosecute interests that are not United Kingdom interests. We want to ensure that when such changes are made, they are made with the full scrutiny of the House. It is important on all such occasions when we, quite properly, enter into international obligations--whether as part of the European Union or any other international forum--that this House remains in control of those negotiations and is able to endorse them after appropriate debate or to reject them if that is appropriate.
Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset) : I thank my hon. Friend for giving way --I decided not to make a speech so that we could get on. Will my hon. Friend take up the point that concerns my constituents ? Recommendation 9.3 of the Donaldson report mentions the harmful effects of pollution from bunker oil and waste, which are often carried around the world without the facilities to get rid of it. A company called ROIL proposes to place a facility into my constituency, in Portland--all the details have been given to the Minister for Aviation and Shipping. In asking us to ensure that we ratify the conventions, the Government must also help to put in place the necessary facilities.
Mr. Norris : I know that my hon. Friend has submitted full details of the ROIL scheme to my noble Friend the Minister for Aviation and Shipping. No doubt ROIL will continue to press for a waste oil facility and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce) will continue to press for new jobs in Portland. I hope that he will not mind if I do not dwell at length on the point that he has made. If I can help to bring the matter to the attention of my noble Friend, I will be happy to do so.
Like all law, conventions adopted within the International Maritime Organisation require amendment from time to time to take account of the changing circumstances in which they operate. I think that my hon. Friends appreciated the fact that many of the amendments are technical and do not necessarily require detailed consideration by a Chamber such as this. The Bill, therefore, provides for those amendments to be implemented by Order in Council--that is perfectly sensible and straightforward. It is clearly right that Parliament should have oversight of the implementation of such amendments. I, therefore, agree with those of my hon. Friends who supported amendment No. 1, which ensures that any future revision of the salvage convention can be simply and rapidly implemented in the United Kingdom, subject to the agreement of this House and the House of Lords.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton, who I know is, and has for a long time been, interested in the subject as he has a maritime interest in his constituency, need not worry about the ability of the House to make swift changes and take rapid action should that prove necessary--a point
Column 1290endorsed by my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh. My hon. Friend also mentioned the tragic accident involving the Pescado, which was the subject of a thorough investigation by the marine accident investigation branch.
As my hon. Friend knows, a number of recommendations were made as a result of that report. Some of the recommendations have been made public, some have been communicated to members of the family and others remain to be determined. Following that incident, there is and will remain a procedure that must be followed--whether in relation to tragic accidents such as the Pescado or incidents involving oil pollution--and under which rapid action can be taken and, if necessary, rapid changes can be made to the regulatory framework. None of that will be impeded because the House has the opportunity to endorse such changes where it is felt that they are appropriate.
In this country, we can be proud of the fact that we have the ability swiftly to address the causes of accidents, whether marine, aviation, rail or any other mode of transport to ensure that swift action is taken--I am thinking particularly of the MAIB and the air accident investigation branch. One of the things about which we are concerned is that we should not rush to make regulatory change before we have fully taken account of, for example, the cost that might flow from our over-enthusiasm in dealing with the cause of accidents immediately. I know that my hon. Friend is concerned about the Pescado and I understand his point, but it does not conflict with the intention of this amendment.
If the amendment were not made, there would be no parliamentary oversight of the implementation of any revision of the salvage convention. Those who ask whether this power sanctions the implementation of radical changes to the salvage convention by subordinate legislation need not concern themselves--the answer is clearly no. The power sanctions only the implementation of relatively minor changes to the convention. If the convention needed to be revised extensively, that would be done not by agreeing amendments to the 1989 convention, but by agreeing an entirely new convention. The power of clause 1 (3) would not allow the implementation of a new salvage convention. For that, one would properly require primary legislation.
In answer to a couple of my hon. Friends, we do not anticipate the early need for significant amendments to the 1989 salvage convention, which supersedes a convention that was agreed in 1910. As I think my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne knows, the principles are, in general, well established and such amendment as is necessary is technical--it reflects technical change rather than any amendment of the principle.
The United Kingdom will, of course, ratify the salvage convention shortly after the Bill receives Royal Assent. The convention will enter into force one year after the date on which 15 states have agreed to be bound by its provisions. To date, nine states have made that commitment. The Irish Republic already has legislation in place to permit ratification. Australia and Canada, like the UK, should adopt the necessary legislation shortly. Entry into force in 1995 is, therefore, possible and one can assume that entry into force no later than 1996 is relatively certain. If, this autumn, the number of contracting parties to the salvage convention is still insufficient to bring the convention into force internationally in 1995, the terms of the convention will be applied in UK law from 1 January 1995.
Column 1291I should like to refer to one or two other points that were made by my hon. Friends during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh mentioned Teesport. I agree that that is an important matter. I think that he will agree that the issues have been answered, in a sense, by my hon. Friends' observations. We have had a valuable debate to flesh out precisely why, as a number of my hon. Friends have said, this is an important amendment.
Perhaps it was not fair of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth to chide the House for having allowed to Bill to go this far without spotting the need for the amendment. I underline that my hon. Friend the Member for St. Ives introduced the Bill as a private Member's Bill. He has prosecuted it vigorously with the support of Labour Members, who have been here, if not in number, then at least in spirit and who have not opposed the passage of the Bill. I am grateful to them for that. The hon. Member for Stoke-on- Trent, North mentioned the Donaldson report. I do not want to go down that track, because there are other amendments with which we should deal. As she knows, the Government remain committed to ensuring that the recommendations in Lord Donaldson's excellent report are fully aired and debated and, where necessary, brought into effect as urgently as possible.
On salvage tugs, Lord Donaldson's inquiry envisaged in the longer term a mixture of a few large salvage tugs and smaller tugs to administer first aid while a larger tug is on the way. The inquiry rightly acknowledged the need for negotiations with tug owners and other countries to establish what could be done before we decide on tug sectors. We intend to take those discussions forward and the inquiry also recognised that detailed negotiations on arrangements and funding would take time, but it identified Dover strait, the western approaches and north-west Scotland as the three areas most urgently in need.
We have asked the chief executive of the Coastguard Agency to carry out a study of the cost and benefits of providing the three tugs. That study should take about six months. The appropriateness and role of public funding, both in the short and long term, of the tugs needs careful consideration and we shall consider the matter in the context of the report's general recommendations on financing.
Ms Walley : In view of what the Minister has said, can we expect early Government legislation to implement the Donaldson report ? Mr. Norris The hon. Lady knows our attitude to the Donaldson report. We have commended those people who prepared the report and, in particular, Lord Donaldson for an excellent piece of work which gives us a number of valuable insights. We have accepted some of the recommendations and agreed, as Lord Donaldson suggested would be appropriate, to investigate others as a matter of urgency. She will not cause me to move from that position this morning, as she is well aware.
The hon Lady asked whether the provision of the salvage tugs should be more widespread. She knows that the inquiry recognised that it was impractical to provide coverage of all areas by full-size salvage tugs. Not only would cost outweigh benefits, but skilled crews might become stale and unable to function in an emergency. The inquiry suggests the Dover strait and south- western approaches because the density of traffic means that a tug
Column 1292is most likely to be needed there. Most other areas have some sort of tug available. The only exception is north- west Scotland, where a third salvage tug is suggested.
The hon. Lady asked for an undertaking in relation to the contents of the excellent Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry currently has before the House. It is classic of the Labour party to assume that any attempt to reduce the burden of regulation on industry or business will lay to waste killing fields of danger and expose employees unnecessarily, solely in the pursuit of profit and putting safety last. That is, of course, a nonsensical approach to the sensible business of ensuring that regulations are always appropriate to the protections that any individual or organisation can reasonably expect.
Mr. Norris : I shall not be drawn on that, save to say that we believe that regulations should exist only where they are necessary for the protection of the public, as individuals or collectively, and where they are concerned with safety, honesty and probity. Any regulation that goes beyond that to any degree and imposes a burden on individuals or businesses which cannot be justified should not remain on the statute book for one moment longer.
I am sad to say that the Labour party is obsessed with the idea that the slightest reduction in the burden on industry or business will somehow simply allow the massive accretion of private profit at the expense of personal safety. That sort of attitude will ensure that it remains exactly where it is long after the next election, with or without the ministrations and leadership of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott).
The hon. Lady need not concern herself that the deregulation Bill will have the slightest impact on the terms of the convention. My goodness, I saw you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about to direct my mind to the amendment, but I hope that you appreciate that I was answering a request from the hon. Lady. Methinks I was provoked yet again, not just by the hon. Lady but by the normally silent member of the usual channels mafia, the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) who is occupying his usual place on the Opposition Front Bench.
I do not wish to detain the House unnecessarily. We have had an excellent debate and I am grateful to my hon. Friends who participated. My hon. Friend the Member for Hallam reminds me that I may have overlooked mentioning my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere. All the contributions were excellent. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton is an experienced enough lawyer to know that, although he made his debating point with force, my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham and others are clearly right that it is necessary for Parliament to have the right and ability to scrutinise proposed changes to obligations entered into by this country in conjunction with others. The amendment provides for that and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Lords amendment : No. 2, in page 2, line 43, leave out from ("section") to ("shall") and insert
("(a) may make provision corresponding to the provision authorised for an Order by paragraphs (a) to (d) of subsection (4) of this section ; and
I hope that this matter can be dealt with quickly. The amendment corrects a minor error in the wording of clause 3, and I am grateful to their lordships for correcting it.
Clause 3 is important. It aims to simplify the procedure for the domestic implementation of technical amendments to the International Maritime Organisation conventions governing the safety of life at sea and the prevention of pollution from ships. Those two issues--making our seas cleaner and safer--are what the Bill is all about. Hon. Members have spoken about the work of the IMO. I visited the IMO across the river yesterday to meet its secretary-general, Mr. William O'Neill, about Lord Donaldson's report. It is clear that the IMO has carried out its own appraisal of that report, but, of course, the initiatives on the report have to be taken by the Government. I have no doubt that the Government will make recommendations to the IMO on safety at sea and the prevention of pollution by ships. Despite the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Merchant), it is necessary for many of these matters to be dealt with internationally. I look forward to the Government, taking a lead where international initiatives are required in putting such matters to the IMO. I have always been greatly impressed by the IMO, which is rather different from most United Nations agencies. I was about to say that it does a down- to-earth job, but that is quite the wrong metaphor for a maritime organisation. It functions in a workmanlike and impressive way.
Question put and agreed to.
Lords amendment : No. 3, in page 3, line 22, at end insert ("and provision authorising the making of regulations authorises the amendment or revocation of regulations made by virtue of paragraph (e) of the said subsection (4).")
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.-[ Mr. Harris. ]
Ms Walley : Will the amendment make it easier for the Government to lead discussions at next year's North sea conference in Denmark on the need to curb deliberate and continual dumping of oil at sea ? That matter was mentioned briefly in the debate on amendment No. 1.
Mr. Norris : I can assure the hon. Lady on that point. Plainly, the extension of the United Kingdom's jurisdiction for counter-pollution measures will apply to the law not only as it stands but to any future law. The amendment makes that clear.
Mr. Quentin Davies : The clause is extremely important, because it gives effect to the provision in the law of the sea conference that coastal states can extend their jurisidiction over waters beyond the territorial sea for the purposes of controlling marine pollution. This island is beside the world's busiest sea lane, between the English channel and the North sea. A small proportion of ships passing our coasts fly the British flag or the flags of the other coastal states. Therefore, it is important to exploit the possibilities provided by the new law of the sea that emerged from the 1982 convention to apply our own standards as a coastal state. The amendment is sensible ; it makes it clear that when the legislation is used to extend coastal state jurisdiction by regulation, we can subsequently change the regulations. That is important, because, from time to time, marine pollution regulations need to be revised without having to go back on that essential extension of the jurisdiction of this country over the seas beyond our territorial waters. I hope that the amendment will be accepted. Question put and agreed to.
Lords amendment : No. 4, in page 3, line 37, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 42 and insert
(a) the word "1984" shall be omitted from the section 4A(1) of the 1974 Act and the paragraph 4(a) and (d) constituting Schedule 1 to the 1974 Act as respectively inserted and substituted by Part II of Schedule 4 to the 1988 Act ;")
Mr. Norris : The amendments are important because clause 5 will allow the UK to accede to the 1992 protocols. The Government are keen to do that as soon as possible, so that higher levels of compensation quickly become available to victims of oil pollution. The 1992 protocols will enter into force one year after the date on which a total of 10 states representing both leading carriers and importers of oil have agreed to be bound by their provisions. To date, only Mexico has agreed to be bound by the 1992 protocols. The Government plan to accede to the protocols shortly after the Bill has received Royal Assent.
Hon. Members will be interested to know that copies of the 1992 protocols are available in the Vote Office for them to consult. We have arranged for the text of the protocols to be published as a Command Paper and laid before Parliament at the beginning of the next Session.
In the past, the implementation of IMO instruments has taken a considerable length of time. We are anxious to avoid a repetition of that with the 1992 protocols ; we are working with our partners towards early implementation of the protocols in domestic law, and will seek to encourage other countries to follow suit.
Question put and agreed to.
Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.
Column 1295It being Eleven o'clock , Madam Speaker-- interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings) .
The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott) : With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a statement regarding the publication today of a consultation document on measures to tackle discrimination against disabled people. The document addresses five key areas affecting their lives. The Government would welcome comments on the proposals in the course of the next three months.
The Government give a high priority to helping disabled people to live with dignity and independence. Over the last 15 years, much has been done to further that aim. This document seeks to build on that record, offering wider opportunities for disabled people to partake in and contribute to the life of our community.
As the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister welcomed the fact that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was to be examined and discussed in more detail in Committee. This and subsequent debates also provided the opportunity for other voices to be heard in addition to those of the supporters of the Bill--employers, small businesses and other service providers, the very people on whom the burden of any additional cost would be likely to fall. The Government's consultation document will ensure that all those affected will have the opportunity to comment on the next steps. The first issue addressed in the document is that of employment. The quota system, which requires that registered disabled people should make up at least 3 per cent. of larger work forces, is increasingly recognised as unworkable. Only one third of those in the work force eligible to register do so--about 1 per cent. Therefore, the quota scheme as it stands cannot be sustained and the approach is, in my view, inappropriate to today's needs.
Many employers, of course, adopt good and sensitive practices when employing disabled people, but the Government recognise that some employers may discriminate unjustifiably against them. We are therefore inviting views on how that unjustifiable discrimination against disabled people can be tackled in this important area. One option might be to strengthen the quota scheme itself, but it is hard to see how its underlying problem of low registration could be overcome. Another approach might be simply to repeal the quota scheme and replace it with an entirely voluntary system.
The Government are aware, however, that there is now widespread support for the present system to be replaced by a statutory right for disabled people not to be unjustifiably discriminated against in employment. Such a right would replace the quota scheme. We are consulting on ways in which such a right might be framed, but the Government would be prepared to consider the position again if there were substantial support for a workable and effective alternative. The introduction of such a right would have to take into account the fact that some people would be unable to do some jobs because of their disability. Employers would also have to consider whether it was reasonably practicable--taking account of cost and other factors--to make an adjustment to the working environment or practices or to provide specialist equipment to enable a disabled person to do his job. A code of practice would be issued to provide
Column 1297guidance on those matters. We would draw on the experience of employers and disabled people when developing the code.
We believe that the right should apply only to people who have a substantial disability that is long term or recurring. We are seeking views on how best to define that group in a clear and practical manner. The new right, like the quota scheme, should not apply to employers with fewer than 20 employees.
Where individuals believe they have been unjustifiably discriminated against, they would have a right to complain to an industrial tribunal. However, it might be possible to provide, as an alternative to full tribunal proceedings, a less formal but more practical and more speedy process to resolve such issues. Disabled people not only want jobs-- important though that ambition is--they also want to be able to participate, to the greatest extent possible, in the full range of activities open to the able-bodied population. It is important, therefore, to make the environment increasingly more accessible to them. The building regulations have done much to make new non-domestic dwellings accessible as well as most extensions to such buildings.
We are considering whether the regulations should also apply to the design of new domestic dwellings so that they would take greater account of the needs of disabled people. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is considering advice in that area from the building regulations advisory committee. He aims to consult on detailed proposals before the end of the year. That will promote an informed debate on the extent to which new dwellings should be made more accessible to disabled people. There will be a similar consultation exercise in Scotland.
Making buildings physically accessible is of little use to disabled people if they are excluded by prejudice or groundless fears for their safety. We are seeking views on making it unlawful for any person providing goods or services to the public to treat people unfavourably because of disability. Discrimination would be ruled out in a variety of areas, including access to public places, accommodation, entertainment facilities such as cinemas, theatres and restaurants, as well as facilities for transport and travel. The new right of access would not apply where existing physical barriers prevented access or where compliance may create insurmountable safety problems. Where access was wrongly denied, a disabled person would be able to take civil proceedings. He or she would be able to recover damages for any financial loss suffered as well as damages for injuries to feelings. In the latter instance, it might be a fixed sum or an amount subject to an upper limit. The Government could vary the sum or limit in future years. Depending on the level of damages for injury to feelings, claims could be subject to the small claims procedure where proceedings are informal and simple and the cost relatively low.
However, the disabled person might often prefer that the situation which had originally caused offence should be rectified without recourse even to the small claims court. To facilitate the resolution of cases without recourse to legal action, the Government are considering whether to institute a mechanism to help the parties concerned reach
Column 1298a mutually acceptable solution. For example, that might be done by funding a voluntary body to provide an advice and conciliation service for disabled people.
I come now to financial services. We have received little evidence of discrimination in the provision of financial services. None the less, we are inviting the Association of British Insurers, the British Bankers Association and the Building Societies Association to develop and issue statements of good practice on the treatment of disabled customers, including clear advice on how to pursue complaints and, in the case of banks and building societies, to explain the role of their ombudsmen. The Association of British Insurers, for example, will be asked to include in their statement of good practice, first, the need to be aware of the main forms of disability and their relevance in assessing the size or probability of an insurance claim ; secondly, that insurers should ask only for medical information that is demonstrably related to the additional risk associated with insuring the disabled person ; and thirdly, the need for insurance companies to have a clear mechanism for the investigation of complaints from disabled people and for those complaints to be handled sensitively and speedily.
The ABI will also be invited to set up an independent advisory committee, comprising representatives of insurers and the disability organisations, to monitor the effectiveness of the statement of good practice.
The banks and building societies already follow the code of practice,"Good Banking". That code has, as one of its guiding principles, that banks and building societies should act
"fairly and reasonably in all their dealings with their customers".
The Government are committed to tackling discrimination against disabled people. There is a strong case for setting up an independent body that could closely monitor that area and advise the Government on the effect of existing efforts to combat discrimination. The body would work closely with existing bodies representing the interests of disabled people.
The new body might be called the National Disability Council. In particular, its duties would include monitoring discrimination against disabled people and advising the Government on general issues and measures relating to the elimination of discrimination and progress towards those aims ; drawing up codes of practice when requested by the Government ; reviewing the effect of the new right of access on business ; and reporting annually to the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, who would be required to lay its report before Parliament.
The Government, in their triple role of policymaker, employer, and service provider, can and should provide a strong lead. I am now co-ordinating a programme of action developed to build upon the many positive initiatives that are already taking place. Later this year, the Government will be launching a major publicity campaign designed to change attitudes and actions that adversely affect disabled people. We will also seek to involve organisations of and for disabled people in wider public consultations and to increase the representation of disabled people on public bodies.
A new programme for action on employment of disabled people in the civil service, launched in conjunction with this document, will provide a strategic framework and detailed action checklists to help Departments and agencies recruit and retain disabled people. Many Government Departments and agencies have
Column 1299already improved the accessibility of their buildings and the quality of service they offer to disabled people. To encourage this approach throughout the public service, a checklist on how the citizens charter principles apply to service provision for disabled people will also be published shortly.
The Government have an impressive record in helping disabled people, but more needs to be done. This document outlines the Government's proposals for further action designed to release the untapped potential of disabled people in our society.
I commend the document to the House and ask that hon. Members and all those who share our concern to improve the quality of life of disabled people by removing barriers and expanding opportunities, to respond in a constructive and forward-looking way to its proposals.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : It was with some sadness that I listened to the Minister's statement on what could possibly be his last appearance at the Dispatch Box. His words add very little to what was said in the previous debate in the House, and in his subsequent letter to me on 26 May.
The Minister knows that there are two ways of evaluating the Government's performance before the statement--it is either malevolence towards disabled people and their rights or it is incompetence. Those of us who have been here Friday after Friday know which it is.
It is clear to us that the Government did not have the honesty or integrity to oppose publicly and openly a Bill offering civil rights to disabled people, and that they did not have the courage to allow the House to make its own decision on such a Bill. That is the background to today's statement. But for the Government's total embarrassment on recent Fridays, there would have been no statement, however inadequate.
We received a copy of the statement very late--only a few minutes before the Minister spoke. I thank him for giving us a copy, but I see that it refers to codes of practice ; we hear "voluntary" "advisory" and, unfortunately, "citizens charter", but we do not hear about "power" to disabled people. Nor did we hear about a commission, which is the only effective way to deliver rights to disabled people.
Will the Minister confirm that the statement says nothing about important matters such as education and transport, which seriously affect the lives of disabled people ? The statement runs to five pages of guff, but contains nothing about education or transport. [Interruption.] If I am allowed to be heard, I shall continue. I know that there are certain sensitivities on the Conservative Back Benches--we have certainly witnessed a discreditable performance Friday after Friday. Once again, Conservatives would like the Opposition's voice not to be heard on this important issue. Why does the statement fail to address various aspects ? It is clear that the Government believe that education and persuasion are all that is necessary, workable, affordable and practical. Suitable legislation that meets all the criteria and which would deliver power to disabled people has already been before the House.
Why has not the Minister produced a document that delivers civil rights ? That is what the debate is all about, but the Government are terrified of delivering them to disabled people. Why has not the Minister made a statement of intention that delivers on holistic and
Column 1300integrated approach ? The House and disabled people outside know that the statement is piecemeal, partial, pathetic, grudging, belated and inadequate. Disabled people and their supporters will not accept it.
Mr. Scott : I recall a story about a parson who from time to time used to write in the margins of his sermons the initials "AWSL". They stood for "argument weak : shout loudly". Nothing better typifies the hon. Gentleman's approach than those initials.
The previous Labour Government's record bears no comparison with that of this Government in meeting the needs of disabled people over the past 15 years. We have trebled the amount of money provided to disabled people through the benefits system ; we have introduced the disability living allowance, the disability working allowance and the independent living fund ; carers' income has increased one hundredfold ; and I believe that our record bears comparison with anything that has gone before.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) listened with great care to the statement, and that he will respond in his usual constructive manner when he has had time to reflect. I believe that it contains another major step in the right direction. We do not believe in the concept of rights in the sense that it was embraced in the Bill. We prefer to tackle the key issues affecting the lives of disabled people in a practical, workmanlike and affordable manner. We will continue that approach.