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Column 154That is why we need the national disability council. It will work closely with existing organisations representing the interests of disabled people. Its primary duties will be to advise the Government on measures relating to the elimination of discrimination and the drawing up of codes of practice to help with the interpretation of the Bill. The question of who should sit on the NDC has yet to be decided, but it will almost certainly include members of representative committees and organisations, business representatives, and disabled people themselves. Another reason why disabled people will be well protected under the legislation is that there will be, in the sector of service provision, somewhere for them to turn if they feel that they have been discriminated against--to go alongside the existing support network for employees.
The Bill makes provision for the establishment of an advice and support service to help disabled people secure their rights and to promote the settlement of disputes arising under the right of access to goods and services. We intend that the advice and support should be locally available so as to be of maximum benefit to disabled people and easier to use than the centralised service offered by existing commissions in other areas.
My Department will support the advisers with detailed guidance on the right of access. There will be procedures to help disabled people to set down the details of their complaint so as to make plain the precise legal provision that they think has been infringed. Their complaint would then be put forcefully to the trader accused of discrimination.
We have begun discussions with the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux on the possibility of helping citizens advice bureaux to be better able to advise and support disabled people and to provide the service that we have in mind. Those discussions will address such issues as the detailed nature of the services, the possible involvement of disability organisations in ensuring that staff are properly trained and can provide an effective service, the degree to which citizens advice bureaux are accessible to disabled people and how any deficiencies may be remedied.
However, in those cases where legal redress is sought, the county court's power to award an injunction will be extremely important for the purposes of the Bill. Although damages will be available, what disabled people want is an increasingly accessible environment and a change in people's attitudes. That is our objective in bringing forward the Bill and that is what it will provide. Our enforcement strategy is the right one in the circumstances.
Mr. Barnes: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Hague: I have already done so, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman once more in acknowledgement of his involvement in these affairs.
Mr. Barnes: I have written to the Minister about the role of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service upon which he is now elaborating. The letter suggests that we are not very far down the path in the process and that all the ideas in the Government's legislation must be developed considerably and then finalised. Surely there is a difference between a private Member's Bill which tries
Column 155to set up some structure or arrangement and Government legislation which should tell us exactly what their plans are.
Mr. Hague: I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are well down the track in developing our plans. I have been able to announce to the House today considerably more progress than I set out in my letter to him--I know that it was written yesterday, but I thought that it would be better to inform the House of Commons of our proposals rather than leak it to the hon. Gentleman by letter last night. That is why I have set out our plans to the whole House today.
We are well down the track in our discussions. We are taking the sometimes painstaking time and trouble to ensure that the system works and will provide a locally available source of advice and assistance for disabled people. I think that it is worth taking that time and trouble because the prize is considerable: if the service works, it will provide tangible help to large numbers of people.
Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley): Is not my hon. Friend trying to make what is reasonable and normal become acceptable and commonplace?
Mr. Hague: Yes. I am trying to frame our legislation in such a way as to require people to do things differently and also to change attitudes in the country without creating a backlash against the objectives that we are trying to secure. That is why we have framed the legislation in that way.
I make special mention of two aspects of the Bill which I propose to amend in Committee to take account of representations made since the Bill was published. Firstly, the Bill applies to Great Britain, with power to extend its provisions to Northern Ireland by Order in Council. It has always been the Government's intention that those new rights should apply throughout the United Kingdom. We also want them to take effect in Northern Ireland from the same date as elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
We expect hon. Members from Northern Ireland to be able to take part in any discussion of the Bill's provisions. However, a number of hon. Members from Northern Ireland--including the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), who is in the Chamber now--have sought stronger assurances on those points. To avoid doubt, the Government have decided to extend the Bill to cover Northern Ireland from the outset. The necessary amendments, including any local provisions required, will be tabled in Committee.
Secondly, some hon. Members have said that the sale and letting of property should be covered specifically in the Bill. The Government agree in principle. We will need to consider the details of how the legislation might be framed, and I will address that matter during the Committee.
I believe that attitudes to disability and disabled people are changing. In the world of work, people are starting to appreciate that disabled people have strengths and weaknesses in the same way as everybody else, and that an individual's disabilities are not nearly as important as his or her abilities. In the service sector, people are beginning to realise that making services and facilities accessible to disabled people is pure good business sense. The Bill shows that the Government are determined to play a major role in maintaining that transformation of attitudes. We are determined to tackle the frustrations
Column 156which disabled people encounter in attempting to do the things that many of us take for granted, and we are determined to do so across the board.
We have listened to disabled people and their representatives and we have listened to employers. We have built on the Government's already impressive record of helping disabled people by producing a Bill which represents an historic advance for disabled people. It establishes a new right not to be discriminated against in the field of employment, it establishes a new right of access to goods and services, and it establishes a new national disability council. It is a Bill of which we can be proud, and I commend it to the House. 4.19 pm
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West): I beg to move, To leave out from `That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: That this House declines to give the Disability (Discrimination) Bill a Second Reading because it believes that the Bill is not an acceptable or enforceable measure to ensure civil rights for all disabled people because its employment provisions would extend to less than five per cent. of firms, because it fails to provide for a comprehensive definition of disability or for a Disability Rights Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination, because it specifically excludes access to the means of public transport and because it fails to make unlawful discrimination in the sale and letting of premises.
I begin by thanking Madam Speaker for her very clear statement on procedure at the beginning of the debate. Whatever the decision of the House today, Opposition Members look forward with confidence to 10 February when we shall support the Bill presented by my hon. Friend for Derbyshire, North- East (Mr. Barnes) because we realise that that is the only civil rights Bill before the House this Session.
The Bill that the Government have laid before the House today is not so much a measure to help disabled people as a measure to help Ministers get out of the hole that they dug themselves last year. Their Bill is, above all, a public relations exercise. They certainly need to improve their public image, but it will take a good deal of positive publicity and a much more positive Bill than this one to undo the damage done by the shambles that we witnessed last Session. Since their obstruction in the House of disabled people's civil rights, the Government have spent £1 million on advertising, trying to project a more positive image, but as 6.5 million disabled people, their families and carers know, the image and the reality are very different. The Bill before us today shows that the Government have moved less far than they would pretend and nowhere near so far as disabled people want.
Last week, I heard the Minister claim, as he did again today, that he has brought about strong and wide-ranging legislation to deal with discrimination against disabled people. What we have before us, however, is neither strong nor wide ranging: it is weak and narrow and, worst of all, it actually introduces a new discrimination between different groups of disabled people, as the Minister confirmed today. It is a Bill of half measures and unenforceable concessions. The Minister said that his Bill represented a great stride forward for the Government in their approach to disability, but it is no such thing: at best, it is a great step sideways. Indeed, in terms of the employment of disabled people, it represents one step forward and two steps back.
Column 157As the Government have at least entered the debate, we should remember where they were when they began. In 1990, Her Majesty's Government told the World Health Organisation that they were "not convinced that the goal of integration and equality can be particularly advanced by any all-embracing or generalised law proclaiming the rights of disabled people."
In the same year, the Department of Employment--I understand that an Employment Minister is to reply to the debate--also expressed misgivings about the very idea of disabled people's rights when it said:
"disability, unlike race or sex, can be relevant to job performance".
The same document stated:
"Anti-discrimination legislation is unlikely to be effective in achieving policy objectives and might be counter-productive by making a constructive approach by employers less likely."
That was said against all the evidence of the American experience. It was not even an argument that persuaded President Bush who, unlike the Minister, seemed to see the benefits rather than what the Minister described today as the burdens involved. It is from such a backwoods of indifference or even hostility to the rights of disabled people that the Government have begun to emerge. It was not until January 1992, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) presented his Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, that the then Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott) told the House:
"We all know that there is still too much unjustified discrimination against disabled people."--[ Official Report , 31 January 1992; Vol. 202, c. 1251.]
Until that time, the Government were unwilling to recognise the problem. They have shifted their position because the pressure of public opinion has left them little choice.
The history of efforts made by Members of both Houses goes back many years. Lord Ashley presented a Bill while a Member of this House 14 years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) also made several attempts. Lord Longford and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe made memorable contributions to winning a majority in Parliament for civil rights for disabled people.
Last year, the pressure finally grew too great even for the present Government to withstand, and the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) dragged the Government kicking and screaming into the debate. Right hon. and hon. Members were lobbied extensively by their constituents, and thousands of people came to Westminster to lobby their elected representatives. My hon. Friend's Bill won overwhelming backing by organisations of and for disabled people, received its Second Reading by 231 votes to nil and returned from Committee even stronger than before.
Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South): I was a teller when the Bill received its Second Reading and I recall that some Conservative Members who are here today to say that the principles behind that Bill were wrong nevertheless voted for its Second Reading.
Column 158Mr. Clarke: I share my hon. Friend's recollection. As he reminds the House, the true number in favour of the Bill was 235.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire): I was present on that occasion and I recall that the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) said that he was prepared to emasculate the Bill--not his words, but I paraphrase his remarks--to remove the onerous conditions that it would apply to businesses.
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend, from a sedentary position, makes the right reply: the observation was, indeed, cobblers and unworthy of the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant).
After the Bill's Second Reading, the Government chose to frustrate the will of the House. The right hon. Member for Chelsea had his chance to prove that Government recognition of the need to act against discrimination was more than skin deep, but he did not take that chance because he was not allowed to do so. Since then, we have seen more of the same--a Government with no real commitment to or understanding of the issue giving ground reluctantly under pressure from all parts of the House and the country
The Government were under such enormous pressure that last July Ministers offered to open formal consultations. Whatever they were told by those whom they consulted, the Government were clearly intent on preventing another civil rights Bill coming before the House if they possibly could. That is why we have this half-hearted Bill before us today, which still leaves disabled people as second-class citizens.
The fact that the Government have presented a Bill of their own, however inadequate, nevertheless represents a victory for civil rights campaigners and is a substantial climbdown from the positions taken by Ministers and certain Conservative Members in the past. Today we have evidence of the Government's profound embarrassment on this issue. They now grudgingly accept that anti-discrimination legislation can be effective in achieving policy objectives, that it does not make a constructive approach by employers less likely, and that it can advance the goal of equality for disabled people. But the Government's Bill does not embrace the demands that disabled people's organisations are making on behalf of millions of people--demands which are reflected in our reasoned amendment.
After the evasions of the past, the Minister said last week that it was time for the Government to make a statement on discrimination against disabled people, just as the Americans, with their Disabilities Act, have done in the United States. That is what the Minister claims that the Bill will do, but the statement made by this Bill falls a long way short of the far-reaching and comprehensive statement of principle that a majority in both Houses wanted.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): It is all about money.
Mr. Clarke: My hon. Friend, who makes an enormous contribution to disability issues, reminds us of the Tory argument of cost. He will be reassured to learn that I intend to return to that later.
Column 159The Bill says that disabled people have the right to equal treatment in employment. Only a week ago, the Prime Minister --no less--told my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) that this was not a limited Bill because, as he put it, the Bill
"carries rights for disabled people when they are unfairly discriminated against in employment."--[ Official Report , 17 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 581.]
The Prime Minister could not have chosen a better example to show just why this is such a limited Bill, taking away with one hand while making limited concessions with the other.
The whole truth is that the Bill carries rights only for some disabled people when they are unfairly discriminated against in employment. If a disabled person happens to work for a small firm, that person gains no rights at all. If the job for which he or she applies is with a firm employing fewer than 20 people, the right to equal treatment simply does not apply. The Prime Minister highlighted employment because, we are told, that is the centrepiece of the Government's legislation. They have given this area pride of place, while relegating some others, such as education and transport, to the White Paper, and excluding others, such as discrimination by landlords, altogether.
I did not regard today's rather weak comment on the latter subject by the Minister as falling even into the category of the sort of mild concessions offered elsewhere.
Mr. Hague: I must ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that it was not a weak comment but an agreement by the Government to include sale and letting, if that was what he was referring to, in the Bill. They will be included.
The hon. Gentleman has mentioned education. Perhaps he can clear up any confusion which might arise from the Opposition amendment--it does not mention education--and confirm whether it is Labour party policy to include education in any right of access, and also tell us what assessment he has made of the public expenditure consequences of so doing.
Mr. Clarke: I find it astonishing that the present Minister, of all people, should refer to education when he did not even include it in his consultation document last July. Not once in our debates has he referred to the fact that fewer than one in 1,000 such teachers has access to schools. Nor has he referred to the fact that the Bill does nothing for further and higher education. Just to reassure the hon. Gentleman, I stress that I am happy to support the measures for education in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and I hope that, as a result of today's debate, the Minister, too, will find them acceptable.
Let us be absolutely clear: what the Government propose in employment will not outlaw discrimination. In relation to large companies, the proposals will merely change the legal rights that disabled people already have. I shall return to that point later. Meanwhile, the Government are saying for the first time that discrimination on the part of small firms is perfectly in order. That is not a great stride forward: it is not a stride forward at all, and it sends out all the wrong signals to employers. Instead of saying, "You must not discriminate against disabled people," the Government seem to be
Column 160saying, "You should not discriminate so long as you can afford not to do so." In the words of the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation:
"Small employers will not be covered by the Act and will therefore be free to discriminate."
A disabled job applicant or employee will not receive a guarantee of legal protection against discrimination under the Bill--none whatever. He or she will be told, "If you want legal protection, you must work for a large firm." If the job is provided by one of the 96 per cent. of firms that are exempt from the Bill, that is just too bad.
Mr. Hague: I thank the hon. Gentleman for fulfilling his promise to give way to me twice.Why does he think that the US Congress decided to exempt firms with fewer than 15 employees from the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act?
Mr. Clarke: I think that the former Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, the right hon. Member for Chelsea, will have read at his leisure the excellent book written by Victoria Scott, entitled "Lessons from America". If he has now received the answer, I hope that in time the present Minister will receive it as well. If the Minister and his hon. Friends behind him have any doubt, I advise them to read the responses, which were also about implementation. If the Minister does not understand that now, I do not have much faith that he will understand it in Committee.
This goes to the heart of our objection to the main thrust of this thoroughly inadequate Bill. What disabled people want is a right to equal treatment, not mere concessions. But the Bill means that only concessions are on offer. The Government have conceded that there should be no discrimination by certain classes of employer, but they have not provided a right which applies equally to all disabled people. They are discriminating between one group of disabled people and another.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East): The hon. Gentleman is making a big song and dance about firms with fewer than 20 employees, but they are already exempt from the quota arrangements, so there is no change in the position for them. The hon. Gentleman has missed the point altogether. A report produced by the Trades Union Congress last summer referred to its concern about the lack of job opportunities in the public sector. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some Scottish district councils and Scottish health authorities do not employ any registered disabled people at all? The TUC pointed out that a further 100,000 people should be employed in the public sector to meet the quota.
Mr. Clarke: Of course I welcome the views of the TUC, and I very much regret that the Government do not. I also very much regret that they do not even take on board the views of the Confederation of British Industry, which described the Government's proposals as "out of harmony". Perhaps just as importantly, the Employers Forum on Disability--not, I believe, a body affiliated to the Labour party--said:
"There should be no exclusion from the Bill's provisions on grounds of an enterprise's size. It cannot be right for a disabled person to be discriminated against just because an enterprise has fewer than 20 employees. Just as small companies are covered by race and gender legislation, so they, too, should be included in this Bill."
Column 161If the hon. Gentleman and the House have any doubts about the importance of that representation, I point out that among the numerous organisations represented by that august body are Barclays bank, the Benefits Agency, Boots, the British United Provident Association, the City of Westminster, the Inland Revenue, Reuters and many others.
Ms Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar): Are not small businesses the fastest-growing sector of industry today, with about 30 per cent. of employees being employed in small businesses? Does not exempting those businesses from the responsibility of employing disabled people therefore exclude a large section of industry?
Mr. Clarke: As is so often the case, my hon. Friend is right. Small firms employ 36 persons in every 100. That is one of the arguments that persuaded the Americans to set a timetable, and also one of the arguments which persuaded almost everybody who submitted views to the Minister to agree with my hon. Friend. It is interesting that not once in his speech did the Minister refer to any specific representation on that point from any organisation or professional body.
It is not even that the Bill is the result of several qualifications by employers. In response to the very consultation exercise that I have mentioned, the CBI told the Minister that the cut-offs and exclusions for small firms would be out of harmony with the general thrust of the proposed legislation. They are certainly out of harmony with the needs of disabled people. The Bill makes no positive provision for the vast majority of firms, which employ a third of the national labour force; it tells them simply to please themselves.
The failure to provide rights equally to all disabled people is the essential difference between the Bill and the kind of measure that we want to see. We want a civil rights Bill which is effective, enforceable and comprehensive. What we are offered is a piecemeal measure which will be effective only in certain areas, which is full of ifs, buts and maybes, and which will lack the clout to ensure that it is fully implemented in practice. In the words of the "Rights Now" campaign, which has worked so hard to achieve a real measure of civil rights for disabled people, the Bill is ineffective, unenforceable and piecemeal.
The kind of measure that we shall support when the opportunity arises will start from the principle that no one should suffer discrimination on the grounds of disability. That is what the House and the nation want to see. That is what Americans, Australians and Canadians already have, and that is the road down which Britain should go.
The Bill is fundamentally flawed because the statement of principle on which it is founded is that equal treatment should be provided only by those who can afford it. We had an example this very day at an industrial tribunal in Skipton this morning. A young man suffering from cerebral palsy was considered by his large employer, the Skipton building society, not to be communicating properly, so he was dismissed. In the opinion of the young man and his family, the company was guilty of constructive dismissal and they rightly took the matter to a tribunal. Sadly, the proceedings this morning were
Column 162adjourned until next week until it is known whether the family can afford representation. What kind of equality in human rights is that?
The Government's basic premise is that disabled people do not have equal rights but instead should be grateful for whatever concessions the Government choose to offer.
Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome): Has the hon. Gentleman just made a commitment to a future Labour Government introducing legislation along the lines of the private Member's Bill? If so, has he consulted his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) about the cost implications?
Mr. Clarke: I have given way generously and I do not propose to do so again, unless it is to the Minister, to whom I am prepared to give way more than the twice that I promised.
I have had discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East, although they were unnecessary because at the last Labour party conference, on live television, my hon. Friend confirmed that the next Labour Government will proudly present such a Bill. People who suffer discrimination because of disability are, sadly, not confined to those with an actual disability. Prejudice, by definition, is not restricted to the precise legal and medical definition in the Bill. Too many of our citizens know that it is enough to have a history of medical problems to suffer discrimination, and many refuse to accept that that should be the case in a modern society, but that is not enough to benefit from the limited legal protection that the Bill provides, as we saw in the case that I mentioned earlier.
MIND, the National Association for Mental Health, tells us that in its experience discrimination on the basis of a history of a past mental illness is one of the most common instances of discrimination, but such discrimination will not be covered by the Bill. An employer, landlord or service provider may discriminate against people because they appear disabled or because of some condition that they have suffered from in the past, but the law will not act on the victim's behalf unless he or she can prove disability under the Bill. Schedule 1, remarkably, runs to two and a half pages, seeking to define who is or is not disabled and who will or will not benefit from the limited protection against discrimination that the Bill is supposed to provide. So narrow is the Government's definition of disabled person that they even need to include in schedule 1 a paragraph asserting that people already registered as disabled will continue to be regarded as disabled under the new legislation--hardly a massive step forward. As the "Rights Now" campaign has pointed out, people with histories of mental illness will be able to claim legal protection against discrimination only if they can show that they have not recovered from that illness--hardly a comprehensive measure against discrimination.
In the same spirit of half-hearted concessions, the Minister continues to set his face against the creation of a disability rights commission. That is the over-arching and most critical weakness--and my heavens, there are many--in the Bill.
Employment again provides the best example. With regard to larger companies, the Prime Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East again last week, that the Bill gives disabled people
Column 163"the right to complain to an industrial tribunal when they feel that unlawful discrimination has occurred."--[ Official Report , 17 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 581.]
What the Prime Minister failed to mention was that the law at present requires large firms to provide a quota of places for disabled workers--a provision that the Bill will abolish.
We all know that the quota has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance.There is a case for enhancing and enforcing the quota as Scope, formerly the Spastics Society, recommends. To abolish the quota when introducing its intended replacement, before the new system has even been set up, is hardly a great stride forward for disabled people's rights. Indeed, it is a great step backwards. I have seen no evidence that any of the organisations representing the disabled or any of the professional associations welcome the abolition of the quota system in those circumstances.
Let us consider the new system at the heart of the Bill--the mechanisms that are supposed to render quotas unnecessary by ending discrimination against disabled workers employed by larger companies. As Scope said, one good thing about the quota was that the onus was on employers and the Government rather than on disabled people themselves. Under the new system, the onus will be on a disabled person to seek redress through an industrial tribunal. There will be no independent statutory body to back such a claim and no legal aid will be available to improve the chances of success.
In the case of employment discrimination by large firms, the Government's proposals will merely replace one ineffective system with another. The Government passed up the opportunity to bring about real change, not only by excluding smaller firms from their legislation, but by failing to back up the legislation with a body that has real powers. A comprehensive civil rights Bill must, by definition, have at its heart the means for disabled people to enforce their rights. The Bill before us lacks any such mechanism. It is not just an opportunity to create enforceable measures that has been missed: it is worse than that.
The Government's Bill is designed around the concept of an advisory council because the driving force behind the Government's measure is the spirit of mere concessions, not the assertion of civil rights that disabled persons are entitled to experience. If the Government wanted to give the full force of law to the rights of disabled people, they would wish to do so in a way that would be effective. If they want to throw a sop in the direction of disabled people's rights, they will be happy to create an advisory talking shop and other powerless structures, which is what they plan to do in the Bill. The Minister talks of bureaucracy even as he creates structures without power.
Disabled people must have the legal means to sustain the rights conferred on them by Parliament. It is not enough to say that this is the law and the courts will enforce it if one can afford to take the risk of raising litigation. The opportunity exists to give those rights the backing of a body with powers designed for that purpose, but the opportunity is not being taken by the Government in their Bill. The national disability council that the Minister proposes would not be such a body: it would be empowered to consult and to advise, but it will not be empowered to do any more than that. It is explicitly and specifically denied that power.
Column 164The Government have said that, under the Bill, the council's responsibility will be
"to investigate any complaint which may be the subject of proceedings."
The Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission, by contrast, have precisely those powers. They have a remit to pursue people who break the law. That is a major disincentive to people who would discriminate--and that is how it should be. As the Government well know, from the point of view of an employer or service provider who would prefer to discriminate against a disabled job applicant or customer, the prospect of being challenged by a powerful and independent commission, acting with the full majesty of the law, is a good deal more intimidating than the prospect of being taken to court or to an industrial tribunal by one individual, assuming that the individual concerned can afford it. The provision of investigative powers to a commission has further implications. The Commission for Racial Equality told the Minister: "The Commission's investigative powers have enabled it not only to uncover incidents of discrimination, but also to highlight examples of `good practice' in its promotional work and have informed the development of its Codes of Practice".
A commission with powers to investigate discrimination is also in a much better position to fulfil the rest of its duties. An advisory council with no such powers is not directly engaged in implementation of the law. It therefore cannot be active in promoting the rights of disabled people, but must remain on the sidelines while implementing and interpreting the law is left to lawyers and those who can afford access to them.
The Minister offers locally accessible services of advice and conciliation, which are of course welcome, but conciliation has no force without a legal mandate behind it. A law without the means of enforcement is barely a law at all. It is merely a voluntary code of practice which can be broken with impunity.
The Government's Bill focuses on employment, but excludes one third of the work force from its provisions. It claims to outlaw discrimination, but lacks the independent and effective body which could enforce equal rights. Instead of a comprehensive approach, based on civil rights, it offers a piecemeal approach designed to head off more far-reaching change while making as few concessions as possible.
The Bill's faults do not end there. As the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation pointed out:
"The long title of the . . . Bill is drafted restrictively, so that it refers solely to employment and the provision of goods and service. This leaves out large areas of social life".
On transport, the Government have chosen to concede to disabled people a right of access to premises, but they say that vehicles must be dealt with separately. A citizen therefore has the right to go to a station, but no right to get on the train. There is no good reason for such a split.A serious effort to prohibit discrimination in transport could readily include both vehicles and premises in the same measure, as the civil rights Bills that have come before the House have done, and as organisations such as Mencap argue should now be done. Of course, we should be flexible and allow access to be built in for vehicles at the replacement or renovation stage, but we should set a
Column 165timetable for doing so and we should start from the premise that disabled people have the right to catch the train and not just to watch it leave the station.
In education, too, the Bill fails to deliver. It has nothing to say on that subject, and the Government's White Paper issued at the same time is not much better. The Government will provide a right of access to new schools and to extensions, but not to existing schools, as we know from the Education Act 1993. If the Government were busy building new schools, that might be more significant, but that is not happening and the vast majority of our children will continue to be taught in old school buildings, the majority of which do not even have toilets that are suitably adapted for disabled children to use. The Bill has nothing to say about discrimination in the sale and letting of premises. Despite the Minister's statement, there is nothing in the Bill on that. We know, however, that such discrimination exists.
The Bill also has nothing to say about removing discrimination in the exercise of civic rights and in the fulfilment of civic duties, so nothing will be done about the appalling position whereby disabled citizens have to be carried into polling stations to vote for their elected representatives because the returning officer is not obliged to make polling stations accessible.
The Government make recommendations about changes to community care. It is a measure of their failure in that area that for the past nine years they have had an Act on the statute book--the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation Act 1986--which could have prevented the release of people into the community who then find that no community care is available. Half of the Act has not been implemented, and nothing in what is now proposed begins to deal with the real crisis that the Government's mishandling of care in the community has caused.
Supporters of the Government's measure have a good deal to say about cost, and some of them have done so today. That seems to be their chief concern. Last year, the Government produced a wholly spurious figure of £17 billion as the cost of implementing the civil rights Bill then before the House. Those figures were utterly discredited by the "Rights Now" campaign and others, who found numerous examples of double counting and gross overestimates. The Department of the Environment's contribution to that costing admitted that it was a "speculative guesstimate"; yet it accounted for more than half the supposed cost.
The Government have introduced a Bill of their own which allegedly goes more than halfway to ending discrimination, and which includes a compliance cost assessment of a mere £1.5 billion. The kindest description of that assessment might be "creative accountancy". It would be more useful to have a cost benefit analysis which balanced the cost of improvements against the wider economic benefits of involving disabled people fully on equal terms as employees, customers and citizens.
Column 166Mr. Alan Howarth: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Clarke: I will, but for the last time.