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House of Commons

Friday 10 February 1995

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock

PRAYERS

[ Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]

PETITIONS

Otterburn Military Training Area

9.34 am

Mr. Peter Atkinson (Hexham): I have the honour of presenting a petition which has been signed by 95 per cent. of the residents of the Reed and Kirkhope valleys in Northumberland, who live and work in the vicinity of the military training area at Otterburn and who are seeking to remove national park status from the military training area. The petition reads:

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. The Humble Petition of the Residents, Farmers, Landowners and those having recreational or commercial interests in the Otterburn Training Area and surrounding Parishes.

Sheweth that the continued designation of Otterburn Training Area as part of the Northumberland National Park is not in the best interests of National Defence or of the local economy and that such designation should be removed for the following reasons--

Declarations by the Northumberland Park Authority that its purposes and objectives are fundamentally incompatible with the purposes and needs of military training, have exposed its underlying inability as a planning authority to give fair and objective consideration to proposals for the improvement of training facilities on Ministry of Defence land.

The Park Authority's concern to remove, reduce or suppress military activity at Otterburn, in order to increase public access, poses a very serious threat to the economy of the area which benefits by over £6 million annually from the Army's presence, through direct civilian employment, letting of farms, purchase of services and spending by military visitors.

The Park Authority, with a significant proportion of its members coming from urban areas, has demonstrated little understanding of the way military activities, compatible with hill farming, have become part of the rural way of life in the Otterburn area for the past 80 years. It has also failed to appreciate that the quality of the landscape is directly due to the Army's care and development of the natural environment, which would be endangered by excessive tourism, as witnessed in the Lake District.

Recent demonstrations by supporters of the Council for National Parks against proposed improvement of roadways to facilitate important weapon training, illustrate a growing conflict of interest between the national parks movement and national defence, and underline the folly of Her Majesty's Government ever allowing an area with a long established primary function as a vital military facility to be included within a National Park.

No good reason exists why a military training area, with an excellent record for conservation and giving maximum possible access to the public within in the bounds of safety, should not continue to afford enjoyment to the public without a National Park designation placed upon it.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will urge the Secretary of State for the Environment to seek the removal


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of the Otterburn Training Area from the Map and jurisdiction of the Northumberland National Park.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. To lie upon the Table.

Disabled Students

9.37 am

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield): I wish to present a petition bearing the signatures of 400 Wakefield people who are concerned at the discrimination against disabled students in higher education. The petition has been organised by my constituent, Mr. Tony Murray, who suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. He believes that the proposed Government Bill will not in any way address the discrimination that he has faced.

The petition states:

The Humble Petition of the People of Wakefield sheweth

That disabled students should have identical rights and equal opportunities in Higher Education and not be prevented from pursuing their academic careers by insufficient care packages in the community.

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House acts to ensure disabled students have unrestricted access to Higher Education.

And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. To lie upon the Table.

Land Mines

9.38 am

Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon): I wish to present a petition which is signed by more than 8,000 members of the Land Mines Action Group. The petition states:

anti-personnel landmines kill 800 and maim the same number of men, women and children every month, that more than 100 million such mines have been laid around the world, that control of the use of such mines is impracticable, that such mines are being cleared at a far slower rate than they are being laid, that self-destruct and other technology to limit the lethal effects on civilians are not fully effective, that the US has recognised the indiscriminate nature of landmines and declared a moratorium on their export,

wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House ban UK use, stockpiling, manufacturer and trade in all anti-personnel landmines and your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. It is a disgusting and barbaric trade and Britain is absolutely isolated in the world in not banning the manufacture and export of those weapons. It is impossible to understand why the Government will not become a signatory, as it is more than 10 years since Britain has actually exported any of those weapons. The petition shows that the people of this country are anxious that the Government should fall in line with international opinion and ban this disgusting trade. To lie upon the Table.

9.40 am

Guy's Hospital

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey): I have the honour to present, together with many colleagues on both sides of the House, a petition with well over 1 million signatures in support of Guy's hospital in Southwark and London Bridge. The petition is a response to a strategic decision announced by the Secretary of State


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a year ago yesterday, which would mean the rundown of Guy's hospital, the removal of most of its beds and the closure of its accident and emergency unit.

Guy's is one of the most valued and most used hospitals, not just in the City but in this country. It is also one of the most famous hospitals in the world. It is clear that there is mass public opposition to the Government's proposal.

The petition reads:

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled

The humble petition of the friends, past and present patients and the staff of Guy's Hospital and the people who live and work near Guy's,

Sheweth

That Guy's Hospital is a vital service to the people of Southwark, South East London, South East England and beyond.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House believes that the decision announced by the Secretary of State on 10th of February 1994 with regard to Guy's should be reversed and that a full accident and emergency service should be kept at the Hospital and that all the beds necessary for a fully functioning hospital should be retained on the Guy's site.

And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, etc. If ever a response was needed to the current consultation on the future of Guy's hospital, this must be the time.

To lie upon the Table.

9.41 am

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst): I beg to present a petition on behalf of my constituents and many thousands of other people. Its terms are identical to those recited by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). I shall not detain the House by repeating them. As he said, it is part of a petition that has attracted well over 1 million signatures.

I warmly endorse the views expressed in the petition. I am especially concerned that thousands of people who daily travel to and work in the City of London should continue to have available to them the services of the accident and emergency department at Guy's. I also believe that it is essential that patients and their relatives in south-east London and much further beyond should continue to enjoy easy access to the in-patient facilities at Guy's through London Bridge station. That benefit should continue.

To lie upon the Table.

9.42 am

Mrs. Bridget Prentice (Lewisham, East): I wish to present a petition on behalf of the people of Lewisham. Its words are similar to those of the petition presented by the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). It calls for Guy's hospital, particularly its accident and emergency unit, to remain open. I have


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nothing to add to what the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) said, other than that I hope that the Secretary of State will pay close attention to the views of the more than 1 million people from south-east London and beyond who believe that Guy's hospital is essential to the quality of health care in their area.

To lie upon the Table.

9.43 am

Ms Harriet Harman (Peckham): I beg to present a petition on behalf of my constituents in Peckham. As other hon. Members have said, more than 1 million people have signed it. They are saying that the Secretary of State must listen; she has got it wrong. More than 1 million people say that she must not close Guy's hospital. She must change her mind.

To lie upon the Table.

9.44 am

Ms Tessa Jowell (Dulwich): I beg leave to present a petition on behalf of my constituents in Dulwich, as part of the petition already referred to by other hon. Members. It has attracted 1 million signatures from across the country. People have pledged their support for the retention of the accident and emergency unit and all acute services at Guy's hospital. South-east London cannot manage without Guy's. The country cannot manage without Guy's.

To lie upon the Table.

9.45 am

Ms Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): I beg leave to present a petition on behalf of my constituents in Lewisham, Deptford. They collected 6,000 names as part of this enormous petition. My constituents are part of a deprived community with very great health needs and Lewisham hospital alone cannot service those needs. Many people are dependent on Guy's hospital, especially the accident and emergency unit-- [Interruption.] Conservative Members seem to think that this is a matter for some mirth, but our constituents feel very seriously that their lives are being threatened. The Secretary of State made a life-and-death decision a year ago. That decision must be reversed--the petition says so.

To lie upon the Table.

9.46 am

Mr. Jim Dowd (Lewisham, West): I associate myself and the people of Lewisham, West with the overwhelming number of people--1 million--who have signed the petition. We ask the Secretary of State to end the turmoil that has been the hallmark of health services in south-east London for many years. Further, we ask her to protect and defend one of the finest centres of medical excellence anywhere in the world. As the petition makes plain, it is not just people in south-east London, but people right across the nation who want that. To lie upon the Table.


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Orders of the Day

Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

9.47 am

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East): Some very good petitions have been presented, but they were rather lengthy, and I was beginning to get worried, as I thought I might have to stand up and move the closure motion at the beginning of the debate. In fact, there is plenty of time for this important debate.

Since 1982, when Lord Ashley was in the House, there has been a succession of Bills embracing the principles contained in my Bill. In 1982, Lord Ashley introduced a ten-minute rule Bill called the Disablement (Prohibition of Unjustified Discrimination) Bill, which in many ways was the pioneer for my Bill. Since then, there have been at least 14 parliamentary attempts to pursue such legislation. Some Bills were introduced in the House of Lords, there have been amendments to Government Bills, and there has been a series of private Members' Bills.

Among current Members, three of my colleagues, who are here today, have made significant attempts to introduce legislation for civil rights for disabled people. I am referring to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) and, last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry).

In view of all that, why am I pursuing the issue again, especially when I have my own pet project--electoral registration--ready in my files? Indeed, I introduced that subject in a private Member's Bill two years ago, and it would have been a labour of love to introduce it again. Why, given that the Government have introduced their own Bill, am I now introducing this Bill? It is because its time has clearly arrived.

There is no doubt that my Bill will become law, either through the proceedings we are starting today or through some future proceedings. If I cannot get my Bill through on this occasion, the baton will be passed on to other people. The Bill is supported by all Opposition parties. If the Bill has not gone through by the time that there is a change in the political position in the House, a future Government will reintroduce it in Government time, and it will be carried. The Government's alternative measure is seriously flawed. Its proposals are inadequate and the Government must explain exactly to whom it applies. It is a step forward by the Government, because it represents a recognition of the problem, but it is a very small step as far as disabled people are concerned.

All hon. Members have a legitimate interest in the issue of disabled rights, as 10 per cent. of the population are affected by the measure that I have introduced. Some 10,000 of my constituents in north-east Derbyshire are concerned about disabled people's rights. Hon. Members who intend to oppose the Bill should reflect upon the fact that the electorate at large are concerned about disabled rights. Many people have sympathy with the issue or have experienced the problems first hand, and one in every three families contains someone who will be covered by the Bill.


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Many interest groups in my constituency are directly linked with disabled rights. The Derbyshire Coalition of Disabled People, which participated in yesterday's lobby of the Parliament, operates from Clay Cross in my constituency. It is an organisation of disabled people which serves the needs of the disabled. It is a solid supporter of the Bill, as it was of past measures which came before the House which are relevant to the Bill's principles.

Links, which operates throughout Chesterfield and north-east Derbyshire, supports the Bill. Further afield, the Centre for Integrated Living at Ripley, which is run by and for disabled people, backs the legislation. That organisation was established largely through the actions of Derbyshire county council. I pay tribute to the work of the late Sid Collins, who was a councillor in Eckington in my constituency. He received solid support from David Bookbinder, the former leader of that authority. The British Council of Organisations for Disabled People also has its headquarters in Derby. So I have clear constituent links with organisations which are involved with disabled people's issues.

Because of that activity, North-East Derbyshire district council is a national leader in policy making on behalf of disabled people. It has enlightened policies in the area of sport and in the facilitation of disabled people into employment. It does a fine job for the disabled in many areas, and it has already implemented several of the proposals outlined in part VI of the Bill concerning access to polling stations. Disabled access is provided to all polling stations in the area, although further improvements are needed.

I wish to explain the procedure by which I selected the Bill. The Queen's Speech mentioned that the Government intended to introduce a measure dealing with discrimination against disabled people. The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People made a statement in the House on 24 November in which he outlined the provisions of the Government's Bill. By that time, I had been lucky in the ballot for Private Members' Bills, and I stated my intention to reintroduce the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill unless someone ahead of me in the ballot did so--I realise that the Government can use the procedures of the House to try to block important measures--or if the Minister could demonstrate that his Bill would do the job. However, that was not the case, as neither of my Bill's main points was included in the Government's legislation. Therefore, on 12 December I submitted my Bill for its formal First Reading and the Bill was published two days later. The Government acted a month later, publishing a White Paper at noon on 12 January. It was not open to consultation, because the Bill received its First Reading and was published at 4.15 that same afternoon. It was a matter of news management.

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the White Paper was the result of an extensive consultation process, and therefore further consultation was not required?

Mr. Barnes: We do not know what consultation took place. Why did the Government issue a White Paper only a few hours before they published the legislation? The purpose of White Papers is to inform hon. Members and the nation about the Government's legislative intentions. In this case, the Bill was ready for publication. Anyone


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who read the Bill at 4.15 pm soon realised that the grand language of the White Paper should be treated with some scepticism. The White Paper referred extensively to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland was pushed like mad--probably because four sponsors of my Bill are from parties in Northern Ireland. However, Northern Ireland Members were not hoodwinked by the Government's provision, and the Minister has now stated that, in Committee, the Bill will be altered to apply directly to Northern Ireland. Despite the Bill's initial references, it contained no measures of any substance dealing with Northern Ireland.

An examination of the Bill immediately revealed that I had made the correct choice in publishing the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. The Government's measure is very inadequate. It contains highly restrictive definitions as to who shall be covered by "disablement", thus limiting its scope.

I keep asking the Government about the numbers. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill refers to 6.5 million people. The definitions that I have used in the Bill link in with Office of Population Censuses and Surveys figures for 1988. They show that, in Britain in 1988, 6.2 million people were categorised as disabled, and that figure increases to 6.5 million when Northern Ireland is included. How many people are included in the Government's definitions? The Government have done a cost assessment, and they should know what the numbers are.

As well as the restrictive definitions, the Government Bill contains exemption after exemption. Various education authorities are excluded under the Bill. It lists 14 mainly funding bodies which are affected, including local education authorities and higher and further education funding authorities--as well as the equivalent funding authorities in Scotland. Which education bodies does the Government's legislation cover? The Secretary of State has the power to restrict the provisions further.

Mr. Nirj Joseph Deva (Brentford and Isleworth): On a point of clarification, is the hon. Gentleman saying that his definition applies to 6.5 million people, and that 6.2 million people will be covered under the Government's definition--which is a difference of 300,000?

Mr. Barnes: No. I said that the OPCS stated in 1988 that, according to its definitions, 6.2 million people were included in Britain. I said, because of the similarity of the definitions that were used, that that was a good, solid figure, which has never been challenged. One can add a reasonable number extra for Northern Ireland, which would bring the figure into line with the 6.5 million that we have always spoken about.

No one has ever challenged the 6.5 million figure, and the Government were delighted to use that figure last year, because they fiddled about with it in connection with their cost assessment.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I confirm that the figures given by the Government's research department estimate that there are 210,000 disabled people in Northern Ireland, of whom 75,000 are working.

Mr. Barnes: So the figures that I am giving are correct.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford): I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I came


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in specifically to listen to his opening remarks. As he is discussing definitions in the Bill, I wish to say that two aspects concern me immediately in clause 1(a).

First, the hon. Gentleman slid the word "sensory" into the middle of the definition. I cannot find any real definition of what that is meant to apply to, as all conditions are either physical, mental or a combination of both.

Secondly, I am worried about the words "major life activities". I am bothered that the concept of "major life activities" is so generous as to draw almost everyone into that category. Is the hon. Gentleman doing himself a disservice by trying to widen the definition so much that it includes people whom most people would not consider to be disabled?

Mr. Barnes: The "sensory" provision is in relation to the American legislation. We can discuss in Committee the exact parameters of the definition to apply. In saying that some of the definition is so wide that it could apply to masses of people--almost anyone--the principles in the Bill are intended to ensure that the definitions begin to link more with the discriminators than with the people who have been discriminated against.

We are saying that it should not be possible to use the argument of disability to discriminate against people. Therefore, wide definitions are needed, although for legal purposes--drafting and so on--those definitions need to apply to disabled people themselves. It needs to be seen what categories are covered.

Matters of definition, as long as they are contained in the principles in the Bill, can be subject to examination, elaboration and defence. It seems to me to be entirely justifiable, because it has been around for a while.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon): Is there not a glaring example of the contrast between the constructive and broadly based way in which the hon. Gentleman is drawing up his Bill and the restrictive way in which the Government are drawing up their Bill, in respect of companies employing less than 20 employees? People with identical disabilities will be cut out of the purview of the Government Bill by virtue of something outside their control--the size of the company they work for, which may even be reduced in size while they work there, causing them to lose their rights. Is not that the reason for having a broadly based definition, as the hon. Gentleman is doing?

Mr. Barnes: The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. The Government, by producing their own definitions and elaborate restrictions, make it easier for us to establish the significance of the definitions that we are including.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Barnes: I will continue for a while.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: On the definition point?

Mr. Barnes: I shall return to the subject of definitions later, because I have not started to elaborate what will be contained in the Bill. That might be an appropriate time to give way.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): He wants to know whether he qualifies, with a black eye.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Under this Bill, he probably does.

Mr. Barnes: In selecting the Bill, I also seek to facilitate the clearly expressed opinions in the House that


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have become evident in the past; the opinions that surrounded the support for my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood when he introduced his measure. Those opinions are reflected in the fact that the Bill that I have introduced, with its list of sponsors, and early-day motion 466, which I tabled in support of it, have included in them--when one includes the top six sponsors--people from all 10 political groupings in the House of Commons, including the two Conservative parties that exist at the moment.

That shows quite solid support, because, in many cases, the people who have appended their names for sponsorship are leaders or deputy leaders of political parties, or are spokespersons on social security matters in their parties. That shows that there is a need to introduce that measure now. I believe that it has already led to two improvements in the Government Bill- -the decision about the willingness to apply it directly to Northern Ireland, although what has been applied to Northern Ireland is not as good as what is contained in the measure before us, and the provision that has been added in terms of sale and letting of property.

I am convinced that the Bill's existence will put pressure on the Government when their Bill is in Committee, although they would have to go a very long way before the principles in it began to reflect this Bill.

Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield): The hon. Gentleman has made his argument about Northern Ireland twice, but the White Paper says clearly that the policy in Northern Ireland, in content and timing, will be consistent with that in the rest of the United Kingdom. Surely, one way or another, whether through the Government Bill or in a separate order for Northern Ireland, the Government had already made their position clear.

Mr. Barnes: When the White Paper was published, and when that statement was made, the Bill, which was published at the same time or a few hours later, excluded reference to Northern Ireland and said that the measure on Northern Ireland would be introduced by the negative Order in Council procedure, so there would be no opportunity for Northern Ireland Members to debate that measure. If they prayed for it to be before the House, it would be a case of "take it or leave it", so they have the sense that they must attach their discussion of it to the current Bill, although they will not be included in it.

I understand Nothern Ireland Members' great anxiety about the Order in Council procedure. I find it odd when I notice which of the private Member's Bills that come before us include Northern Ireland and which exclude Northern Ireland. Obviously, the matter is of such a nature that Northern Ireland is included in the Bill.

I was explaining why I decided to pick the matter up. Even though I am carrying the baton at the moment--the baton that has been passed on by others and has been shaped by organisations of disabled people--we are merely the politician front runners in connection with it, going through the various procedures. The Rights Now Campaign, the umbrella organisation of disabled organisations, has played a significant role.

We had a grand lobby in Westminster Hall yesterday. A key role was played in that by Scope, and I also emphasise--as a non-sponsored Member of Parliament--


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