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Column 192For some people, the situation is even more serious. The Alzheimer's Disease Society states:
"In its presents form the definition excludes from protection against discrimination, those people who can be identified by predictive genetic testing as being at risk of becoming disabled due to genetic causes."
Therefore, if science moves forward and more people can be predicted to have the potential of being disabled in 10, 20 or 30 years' time, they will fall outside the purview of the proposed legislation. Again, that cannot be right. We are told by the Genetic Interest Group in a letter from its director, Alastair Kent: "Our concern is that the Bill as it stands unfairly discriminates against people who have a genetic disorder but who are at present healthy--in other words, people who are pre-symptomatic for a genetic disorder."
I am sure that the Government have not thought through the implications adequately. If the Bill proceeds to Committee, I hope that they will look carefully at the implications and at conditions which may not currently exist but which can be predicted, because if people choose to predict them they can be used as a basis for discrimination.
On goods and services, the time scale of 15 years is too long. Questions need to be raised about the financial limits indicated in the Bill. Will the services include insurance services, particularly for those with learning difficulties? Will they include the needs of deaf people, for example, telephone systems, entryphones and emergency systems? Will services be included for blind people such as information in Braille? Will they include services to help with the difficulties that blind people experience with their guide dogs, for example, in taxis or restaurants?
I believe that all those areas must be clarified, because without general anti-discrimination legislation it becomes questionable as to whether loopholes might be created. I am concerned that a loophole might be created with regard to certain health and safety considerations and whether it will be a let-out for people who should be applying the legislation.
I deal now with education, to which a number of hon. Members have referred. It should most certainly be within the purview of the Bill. If the Education Act 1993 meets the objectives of anti-discrimination, there is no problem in having it built into the Bill. If it does not, it most certainly should be written into the Bill to ensure that people who need that safeguard are not left out, that they do not fall between two stools. No child should be denied access to mainstream education. I believe that it is discrimination if that access is denied. As I understand it, the disability allowance would not be available for disabled part-time students. To that extent, discrimination is built into the Bill if it does not take on board the position of those students.
A number of hon. Members applied themselves to enforcement. The main difference between the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill and the Disability Discrimination Bill is that in the latter all that we have is access to the industrial tribunal system and some conciliation systems on a local level. No doubt those are very much to be welcomed, but the problem with industrial tribunals is that there is no legal aid.
That means that a well-off disabled person--I suppose that there are some-- will have access to legal redress, while disabled people who are poor will be
Column 193prevented from getting their rights. That cannot be right. If we are talking about principles of anti-discrimination legislation, the Government should look again at that question. It must be addressed or the Bill will be seen as a toothless charade and the Government will lose the opportunity to do something really worth while. There are a number of other problems in the Bill as it stands. There are problems for those with learning difficulties. Clause 14(3)(a)(ii) says that the conditions are that
"the treatment is reasonable because the disabled person is incapable of entering into an enforceable agreement or of giving an informed consent".
That is an extremely demeaning approach. Does a disabled person with learning difficulties lose his or her rights because he or she is incapable of giving an informed consent?
The whole approach in the past has been to ensure that there can be representation on behalf of those people to ensure that their wishes are taken on board. Exemption will take their rights away from them. That is nothing less than a specific discrimination against people with learning difficulties which has been built into the Bill. It surely cannot have been the Government's intention, but that is what we face, and Mencap feels strongly that that provision should be deleted.
There are other specific problems. Why are the voluntary organisations exempted, particularly when they may be the contractual suppliers of services to the public sector? In those circumstances, the rights of disabled people should be built into the legislation. Schedule 1 requires registration, but in recent years there has been a move away from the stigma that goes with registration. To that extent, we are missing an opportunity. The Bill also refers to "clinically well-recognised illness". What on earth does that mean? If it cannot be defined, how will the courts be able to apply the law?
I hope that the Government will approach the Bill's Committee stage with an open mind to accepting drastic amendments. I hope that the Bill will be amended to adopt lock, stock and barrel the provisions of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. However, it seems possible that the long title has been drawn in a way specifically to avoid that. That is why I shall be voting against the Bill today. If it is not amendable in that direction, there is a serious problem. Massive parts of the civil rights approach need to be transplanted into the Bill to make it acceptable. The Government have come some considerable way in the past two years, under pressure from all sorts of directions, to recognising the need for legislation. I now implore them to make the Bill comprehensive, enforceable and unambiguous. Then, and only then, will it achieve its objective of
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East): The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) has a long and honourable record in the House of speaking for the disabled. I support his remarks on those groups who suffer from genetic disorders. I, too, have received such representations.
Column 194The hon. Gentleman described the Bill as a step in the right direction, but it is a great deal more than that. It is a massive move forward. It is a landmark Bill and this is an historic day. There has never been a day like this when the Government have put forward a Bill that will do so much for the disabled. The Opposition are mistaken in opposing it.
There has never been a Bill like it, certainly not in peacetime. The 1944 legislation was introduced during the war. The civil service exempted itself from that. I hope that it will not exempt itself from this Bill. I see that there are more civil servants in their Box today than there are Opposition Members on the Back Benches, which shows the complexity of the Bill.
The Government should be congratulated on introducing the Bill. I am sorry that the Opposition will seek to divide the House. They are mistaken to do so. They are churlish not to acknowledge the Government's tremendous record. In financial terms alone the Government's spending on the long-term disabled has trebled in real terms since 1979 to a current figure of £17 billion per annum. The number of those who claim the various benefits, such as the invalid care allowance, has risen from 5,000 to 200,000. When the mobility allowance was introduced by the Labour Government in 1976, it was phased in over four years, during which time there were only 5,000 recipients; compare that with the 320,000 people who benefit today from the disability living allowance.
The Opposition are churlish in their approach. They seem to have committed themselves to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which would cost many billions of pounds. I do not know whether they have come forward with an actual cost, but the Government's sensible and wise Bill has been costed at a modest figure which can be accepted.
I am surprised that the Opposition spend so much time attacking the provision exempting small firms with fewer than 20 employees. That has always been so with the quota. When Labour was in power it made no attempt to alter it. There is a perfectly logical reason. Some firms may employ disabled people in proportion to their size, but small firms cannot employ half a person.
The Employers Forum on Disability says that 60 per cent. of small firms of 10 people or fewer already employ a disabled person, so that is not where the problem is. The problem is much more with larger organisations, particularly in the public sector. The TUC produced an interesting paper showing than an extra 100,000 people could be employed, and quoted 42 health authorities and local authorities which employed no registered disabled person.
The Bill is a triumph for the Government and a personal triumph for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and his wife, Norma Major, have a great record of campaigning for the disabled, particularly for Mencap, in their constituency and now nationally. Mencap is one of the many organisations which have commended the Government on the Bill's objectives.
I congratulate the former Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott), and the present Minister for Social Security and Disabled People on their work in making the Bill possible. I also thank them for speaking to members of the Conservative disability group committee on what I think is a unique telephone
Column 195conference hook-up. Members of that committee are based all over the country and cannot travel at all easily. Both my hon. Friends have helpfully participated in those unique hook-ups.
That committee was also well received when it visited Ministers to discuss the arrangements that their Departments make for the disabled. We have had a number of such visits, including to the Department of Transport, whose arrangements are outstanding. In particular, Anne Frye has an outstanding record in making provisions for the disabled in that Department.
In the Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), the Minister of State, has made an outstanding contribution. Just a week ago a delegation visited the Department of the Environment to see my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who has been responsible for an outstanding consultation paper which has just been published. Within the Department of Employment the placement, assessment and counselling teams, PACTs, have an excellent record in placing more and more disabled people in employment.
Mr. Barnes: I offer my services as promoter of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which I shall be introducing on 10 February, to the Conservative disability network which has had discussions with Ministers on the content of the Bill so that we may debate the alternative provisions contained in that comprehensive legislation.
Mr. Thurnham: One of the major deficiencies of that Bill was the lack of consultation with interested parties. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what people had said about the Bill he would know that it is impractical. For instance, the proposals on small firms are impractical. The Labour party always seems to favour a bureaucratic solution. It was Mr. Leo McKinstry, a former Labour councillor and adviser to two Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, who, only the other day, among a number of interesting points that he made, said:
"That's what Labour is good at: creating bureaucracy." That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman's Bill would end up doing. It would also be a lawyer's beanfeast.
One of the Government's most commendable actions is that of setting an example. I should like the code of practice for civil service employment to be extended much more widely throughout the public sector. Organisations such as the BBC fall far short of what can be done in the public sector. It employs only 0.3 per cent. under the old quota arrangements. Most hon. Members would agree that the BBC could set an example and employ more than its quota.
I ask Ministers to extend the civil service code to the public sector, where a great deal more can be done. The Trades Union Congress paper was especially interesting in that respect. I recommend hon. Members to consider how an additional 100,000 jobs could be created in the public sector. That is where the deficiencies exist. They do not lie with small firms, many of which are employing more than their quota.
I have had discussions with Department of Employment officials in my constituency. They say that, when they try to place someone with disabilities in a job, they do not at first go to the town hall or health authority; they go to private employers, who they know have a record of doing
Column 196what they can to employ disabled people. The Government should set an example not just in the civil service, but throughout the public sector because there is no doubt that a great deal more can be done, with 12 local authorities and 30 health authorities not employing any registered disabled people. Those organisations will say, "Ah, we employ disabled people who are not registered," but that applies across the board. There is something wrong if they are not already employing people who are registered disabled.
It is more than 12 years since my wife and I adopted Stephen, who is severely mentally and physically handicapped. During those 12 years, we have noticed a great improvement in the general facilities and equipment which are available. In so many ways, access is a great deal easier, pavement kerbs have been dropped, and one can go so much more readily into hotels and restaurants. Of course, he enjoys going on holiday and travelling a great deal. Sun Rise Medical is just one of many firms that produce far better wheelchairs than were available years ago. From personal experience, I can say that attitudes and conditions have much improved.
The Bill is exactly the right way forward for the country to gain a much more ready acceptance of our aims. It will avoid the backlash and negative reaction that could have resulted from some of the Opposition's proposals. I ask the Opposition to think again before dividing the House this evening on such an excellent Bill; it should be commended by every hon. Member.
Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West): I should like to start by saying how much I agreed with everything said by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). He has pinched about half my speech--you might say mercifully, Mr. Deputy Speaker--and that will shorten the proceedings somewhat.
The Bill should be entitled "Disability Discrimination (Exceptions) Bill" because it is far more remarkable for the areas of personal and civil activity that it excludes from its coverage than for those that it includes. It is in the nature of that exclusion that the real trouble with the Bill lies.
After so many years of struggle over the issue of civil rights for disabled persons and, in particular, after the disgraceful talking out last year of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), it is tempting to accept the Government's Bill at least as a gesture towards public opinion. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, it may need extension and improvement, but it is a start in the right direction. As it stands, however, it will be an immense obstacle to progress. In the words of one outstanding campaigner, Rachel Hurst:
"This Bill will set back the cause of disabled people by 20 years."
It is important that the Bill is fundamentally amended and that the many Conservative Members who support disabled persons' campaigns realise why it should be amended to incorporate much of the purpose of my hon. Friend's private Member's Bill.
I refer for brevity to the explanatory and financial memorandum at the start of the Bill. We are told in the first paragraph:
"The Bill introduces a right for disabled people not to be discriminated against when applying for employment or when employed".
Column 197That is simply not so. The second paragraph states:
"The Bill also introduces a right of access for disabled people to goods, facilities and services, which will require service providers to adapt their policies"
and so forth. That is simply not so. In both cases, greater accuracy would be served if the word "some" were inserted; the Bill would then read: "a right for some disabled people not to be discriminated against in employment matters", and "a right of access for disabled people to some goods, facilities and services". The exemptions in the Bill amount to the exclusion of about 96 per cent. of businesses in the United Kingdom from the parameters of the legislation. There is some dispute about the figures and about the proportion of the work force involved, but a substantial proportion of the work force is left out of the Bill's provisions.
As has been pointed out, the Government's policy has been consistently to encourage the growth of the small business sector as a proportion of our economy. The Bill sets the smaller end of that sector, businesses with 20 or fewer employees, on one side. There is not even talk of phasing in. The under-20 sector, if I can call it that, makes no contribution in the Bill.
The Bill makes specific the figure of 20 and we have had some brief exchanges about that. I think that the Minister was trying to imply that it could be increased by order, but of course it could also be decreased. The exceptions in the Bill include huge swathes of civil and social activity, most notably all existing education provisions--as far as I can tell--and all means of transport. Numerous smaller exceptions exist which, added together, further debilitate the Bill.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon mentioned a number of those exceptions, but, in addition, clause 14(3)(b) contains a qualification to the excellent clause 12(1)(a). Clause 14 states: "a provider of services is justified in treating a disabled person less favourably"
if that treatment is
"necessary in order for the provider of services to be able to provide the service to other members of the public."
That caveat could be ruthlessly exploited in terms of, for example, queues that were holding up a service in a particular place. Clause 14(4) makes it clear that the regulations will exclude insurance services. I noted that the Minister said that the Government were talking with the insurance and financial services sector to try to do something about that, but the clause specifically seems to presage the exclusion of insurance services from coverage by the Bill. That is one of the elements of discrimination that is most frequently cited by disabled people and their organisations. The Leonard Cheshire Foundation document, which I assume all hon. Members have received, has numerous examples of strong complaints about that.
Clause 28(3) excludes from the Bill
"any act done for the purpose of safeguarding national security." That could cover a multitude of sins. On top of such specific exceptions, the Bill contains dozens of references, hints, nudges and indicators of how the regulations will further undermine what purports to be the intention of the Bill.
Column 198What the Minister announced on television as a revolution in favour of disabled people proves, on examination, to be a squeak of good will, strangulated by the Treasury and by the fear of incommoding businesses and public services. I do not underestimate those sectors; they obviously must be taken into account. With appropriate phasing and funding, the revolution could be achieved. Employers are by no means universally hostile. Last autumn, Mr. Robin Gilbert, the Confederation of British Industry director of employment affairs, said:
"we need a new and effective framework of law in this area which opens up opportunities for people with disabilities so that they can make a fuller contribution in the workplace and as consumers". He is not the only business person to have the breadth of vision to understand that a significant shift of access to employment for disabled people will ultimately pay for itself in national terms, as well as achieve its main purpose of enhancing the lives of up to 6.5 million of our fellow citizens.
Earlier, I mentioned education and transport. It seems clear that, in the mind set of perhaps a majority of people, disabled people are odd, discomfiting or somehow insufficient, a view that much of this Bill and all of the private Member's Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood seek to tackle. That mind set is formed in youth at school, or at least it is not corrected at school.
There can be little doubt that anyone is disabled by virtue of exclusion from a school or college because of, for example, mobility difficulties. The exclusion in clause 12 of virtually all education services from the Bill's provisions is astonishing, contrasting starkly with the treatment of the same sector in the private Member's Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood. The second half of clause 12 of the Government Bill is totally exclusive, whereas clause 12 of my hon. Friend's Bill was totally inclusive. That, I feel, symbolises the difference between the two Bills. The Minister claimed that the policy of "mainstreaming" in schools pursued by Government and local authorities--and by many schools themselves --was addressing the problem, and there is no doubt that much good work and many better intentions have emerged. Colleges in particular, largely impelled by the need to secure student fees from almost every possible source, have done a great deal to improve access.
I remember with horror having to lift a wheelchair user and his wheelchair- -with the help of three of my students--up four flights of stone stairs to gain access to certain classrooms in the college at which I then taught. Much begging-bowl work had to be done with local businesses and others to get a lift put in; but such problems are slowly improving. The hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) spoke extremely well about the need for access provision for, in particular, part-time students, so I shall not rehearse those arguments again. Under section 21 of the Education Act 1993, local education authorities are obliged to survey schools for such purposes on behalf of the Department for Education. In my own LEA, Lancashire, the vast majority of schools are not adapted for disabled access. Over the past few years just over 100 have been so adapted--out of a total of just over 700-- but in almost all cases that has been done to cater for the needs of individual statemented pupils with specific difficulties. Although every effort is
Column 199made in the process, it cannot be guaranteed that the adaptation will suit a subsequent student with a different special need. The severe constraints on LEA spending in recent years have made progress in that direction very problematic; this year's swingeing cuts are making it impossible. Lancashire, for example, has had a total cumulative shortfall of £75 million in its education standard spending assessment over the past three years, and simply cannot sustain a realistic adaptation programme. It is all very well to plan full access for new schools, but-- like other authorities--Lancashire has hundreds of Victorian schools with flights of stone steps and inaccessible toilets. At the present rate at which my LEA is allowed to replace those schools, replacing them will take just over 800 years--although I do not suppose that that will bother any of us. Many--probably most--schools remain at least partly inaccessible to disabled people. Of course that cannot be corrected overnight, but a framework in law that would ensure its correction over a finite period should be enshrined in any legislation. It should, for example, be possible to ensure that all school premises that are entirely on the ground floor are made wholly accessible in quite a short time, and SSAs, credit approvals and grants should allow LEAs and other authorities to achieve that.
Schools and colleges that are multi-storey or have scattered campuses should be set a more generous target, with phased funding. Until that is achieved, or at least projected, for many parents of young people with disabilities choice of school, or even preference, will remain a cruel myth --and I have not even mentioned the continuing revenue consequences of what we are discussing.
The example of my constituent Nicky Crane is a case in point. Nicky is a multiply disabled 12-year-old whose parents insisted that he be "mainstreamed" in his primary school. An heroic effort by Tarleton county primary school enabled him to achieve that, and to be astonishingly well integrated in the school. During the search for a secondary school place, Nicky stayed for an extra year at the primary school. The nearby high school is multi-storey, and the Cranes' demand for a place there for their son put both the school and the LEA in terrible difficulties. I know that it is not the Minister's function to deal with the details; I am simply trying to describe the huge problems caused to people such as the Cranes by disability discrimination.
The costs of the boy's proper care and teaching, in terms of capital spend and the on-going revenue implications, were enormous, and the situation has now reached deadlock. Naturally the parents dug in their heels, and in the interim the boy's progress has been halted or even reversed. I am talking not of an urban area but of a rural area where provision is scattered, and there is no other reasonable choice of secondary school. I strongly endorse what the hon. Member for Caernarfon said about the special difficulties that the Bill poses for rural areas.
If such bitter, even tragic, struggles are not eventually to be scattered across the country, we shall need a framework of law involving realistic proposals for funding and timing. It is not acceptable for disabled students to be seen simply as a financial problem. Attitudes to disabled people that are revealed in discriminatory employment practices and automatic
Column 200exclusion from some services have much of their origin in attitudes learnt in childhood; the Bill should try to tackle that, but it does not.
The means of access to vehicles is also excluded from clause 12(5)(b). The Minister may know of the number of trains that are currently inaccessible to most physically disabled people. One side of a station close to where I live, Burscough Bridge, is currently inaccessible to people with mobility difficulties; unfortunately, the waiting room and ticket office are sited on that side. Clause 12(3), which deals with infrastructure, might well cure the problem, which is welcome, but a second problem remains: the platforms at Burscough Bridge are several feet lower than the steps on to the trains. It is a moot point whether that problem comes under "access to . . . place" or access to
"the use of any means of transport",
but no doubt that can be examined in Committee. I do, however, have a wonderful photograph of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)--who, although he is not the tallest of men, is physically fit and active--trying to step on to a train at Burscough Bridge. He has one foot on the step of the train, and it is above the level of his waist. I have seen elderly people sitting on the carriage floor swinging their legs down to try to reach the platform. Nothing in the Bill tries to tackle that problem, which exists throughout the country.
I have tried to illustrate with examples some of the problems experienced by disabled people in my constituency--problems that I have observed for myself. The Bill specifically rules out solutions to those problems. Despite its "curate's egg" nature, it is a massive con trick that will not fool those who are most desperate for proper and inclusive legislation. Its language is reassuring and accommodating, and the Minister has presented it with charm; but the actuality of what it sets out to achieve is pathetic. It could constitute a monumental barrier to essential progress in the achievement of civil rights for disabled persons--and, indeed, its timing suggests that it is intended to constitute such a barrier. 7.29 pm
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire): The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) said that the Disability Discrimination Bill was a con trick, while the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke)--who opened the debate for the Opposition--said that it was weak and narrow. I believe, however, that the Bill is both broad and practical.
I support the Bill for three reasons. First, it continues the strides made by the Government on behalf of the disabled. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) said, it is a landmark Bill and, as a consequence, it should not be belittled. Secondly, the Bill is fully in line with what I believe conservatism is all about--helping those who are less able to help themselves, but rewarding ability. The Bill enhances opportunities and rewards merit, and the two are not mutually exclusive. Thirdly, the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) said, is a practical measure to get legislation passed for the disabled. I have been concerned that a myth has been growing during the debate about the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill which was promoted by the hon. Member
Column 201for Kingswood (Mr. Berry). In no way do I deprecate anything that the hon. Gentleman has done on this subject, and I commend the motives of the actions which he has taken in the Chamber during the past few months. Following on from a discussion that the hon. Gentleman and I had in the Chamber today, I would like to quote what the hon. Gentleman said on 29 April during a debate on a motion proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) to allow more time to debate the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. I shall quote three extracts from the hon. Gentleman's speech which put the matter into perspective.
"As supporters of the Bill, we went out of our way to table amendments to address the concerns that the Government had raised". All that was right and proper. He later said:
"However, the key point about costs is that the Bill specifically ensures that, if any provision would cause undue hardship to an enterprise, firm or business, that provision would effectively be waived. Undue hardship specifically relates to the cost of adaptations that might be necessary."
Again, that is fair and reasonable. Later still, the hon. Gentleman said:
"As we have specifically said . . . the timetable for those changes should not be set out in the Bill but should be for the Secretary of State, subject to parliamentary approval".--[ Official Report , 29 April 1994; Vol. 242, c. 510-527.]
My point is that we should get the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill into perspective. Some of the arguments made by Opposition Members might make one think that it is an all-embracing Bill, yet some of the criticisms which hon. Members make about the Disability Discrimination Bill also relate to matters enshrined in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.
Mr. Barnes: The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is wide-ranging and comprehensive, but it is obvious that all the rights contained in it cannot be put into practical application overnight. Therefore, it contains provisions for a commission to operate a dynamic role over time to extend and develop the measures. The Bill is not restrictive and limited in the way in which the Disability Discrimination Bill, which the hon. Gentleman supports, is.
Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman clearly did not hear what I just quoted. There were many let-out clauses in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, and many of the issues were completely unenforceable. Some hon. Members have spoken about clause 7, which deals with the exemption for firms with 20 employees or fewer. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Robinson) said that clause 7 could be discussed in Committee. I believe that that is so. The question whether the criterion is the number of people employed or the turnover of a company should also be discussed.
The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) said that Australian and New Zealand legislation specifies no limit whereby firms might be exempt, and hon. Members may recall that the United States has a limit of 15 employees. I would remind the House, however, that the legislation in Australia and New Zealand is substantially weaker than that proposed by the Government today. I
Column 202believe that this Government, and all Governments, have a duty of care to ensure that the safety net for those who are unable to help themselves is of a fine enough mesh that no one slips through. I believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North- East said, that it is indeed a landmark Bill.
I would have preferred the Bill to be retitled Opportunities for the Disabled Bill, rather than what I would call the politically correct Disability Discrimination Bill. The civil rights lobby fails to recognise that positive discrimination--however well-meaning--is wrong. People want to be employed because of their ability, rather than because of their disability. [Interruption.] I suspect that hon. Members agree with that, and the hon. Member for Kingswood is showing assent.
In a debate on this subject last year, I made the point that I have a researcher who suffers from a disability. I make the point again that he would want to be employed because of his capability, and not because of his disability. Positive discrimination, or the politically correct term "affirmative action", merely promotes resentment among the work force and, far from changing prejudices, reinforces them. Political correctness has worked against my researcher. He now works for a lobbying company since being employed by me.
Mr. Fabricant: I am choosing my words carefully--for my researcher's sake and not for mine. For fear of the media, the lobbying company told my researcher that he could not keep his House of Commons pass. [Interruption.] As a consequence, he is now unable to use the parking facilities for the disabled here. When I met him-- [Laughter.] I am amazed that hon. Members find this funny. When I met him yesterday in Central Lobby, he was exhausted because of his enforced walk on sticks. I believe that that makes a mockery of the so- called anti-sleaze campaign being waged by the Opposition.
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington): I do not make light of the difficulties with which the hon. Gentleman's researcher must cope. The point that I am making, and which the hon. Gentleman ought to be aware of, is that--as far as I know--lobbying companies do not issue passes for this place, and at no time should they do so.
Mr. Fabricant: The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I issued the pass because he was my researcher. However, the lobbying company--his employer--was featured on a television programme on Sunday called "On The Record." He himself was not featured.
Mr. Fabricant: The researcher works for the lobbying company, but in his spare time he also works for me. [Interruption.] That is right and proper. I have no connections with the lobbying company whatsoever, and the researcher does no work for me that is relevant to his lobbying company. There is no problem or conflict of interest whatsoever.
When the lobbying company was approached by the BBC, it ordered him-- wrongly, in my view--either to give up the pass that I had issued him or to give up his
Column 203job. That was absolutely wrong. He still works for me in his spare time, but he has lost his pass. That is political correctness working against disabled people. It is McCarthyism.
I accept that an advisory body in the shape of a national council for the disabled could be a good thing, but I have some reservations. It must be made clear that the council will not become yet another costly and unwieldy organisation that spends its time meddling in our day-to-day affairs. In an era of deregulation, it is good that the Government are not imposing unfair burdens on businesses and that is why I welcome clause 7.
Sadly, ensuring that disabled people are not denied opportunities open to others cannot happen overnight. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, a change of attitude is necessary. It will come about, not through the passing of politically correct measures that impose impossible burdens on business, but by creating a climate of persuasion, through education in schools and at the workplace. The hon. Member for Kingswood recognised that when he produced his Bill, as I pointed out when I quoted some Hansard extracts from earlier this year.
The practical measures proposed in the Bill should do much to continue to change attitudes towards the disabled and to enable them to live still more valued and creative lives in our community. For that reason, I commend this constructive Bill to the House. 7.40 pm