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Mr. Swift states:
"Millions of people in the UK have some degree of disability, while many more, particularly elderly people, have some difficulty using the rail system. This is a massive potential market for rail travel which cannot and must not be ignored."
The approach adopted there, with a light legislative requirement elsewhere on the statute book and the right frame of mind, is producing the goods, and that is good news for disabled people.
Column 606I agree with the hon. Member for Monklands, West on the third practical example with which I shall deal briefly, access to the arts. The House has not debated that issue sufficiently. A lot of good is happening through voluntary activity. I pay tribute to my constituent, Paddy Masefield, a victim of ME, with whom I have worked on a number of issues.
Mr. Masefield would prefer me to support the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons), but his work at the Arts Council shows what can be done by people of good will. He has been on the arts and disability monitoring committee of the Arts Council for five years, and he is now a member of its national lottery board.
The arts is not a side issue. The disabled should be able to enjoy every aspect of life, and not just the ordinary things that we take for granted. They should be able to use restaurants and pubs--and to read menus--and they should be able to enjoy, and participate in, the arts. Access to auditoriums was the great issue of the past decade, and a lot of good work has been done. More remains to be done, however, but the progress is encouraging. Again, that has occurred without civil rights legislation. Clause 12 of the Disability Discrimination Bill will deliver the goods, and it is superior in its effect to part IV of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.
There is a challenge now to get more disabled people working in the arts. The provision for training--whether for performance, technical or management work within the arts--is woefully inadequate. Some establishments offer limited wheelchair access, but that is about it. Other disabilities are just not catered for.
A survey three years ago showed that fewer than 100 people with any disability were working in the whole arts field. The prison service and the police were well ahead of the arts world in that, despite the liberal establishment mentality of the arts world. I am delighted that the employment initiative begun by Lord Rix and continued by Lord Snowdon seeks to change that in the Arts Council. I wanted to go into more detail on that mater, but time is against me.
If disabled people are to succeed and flourish in the arts, they must get encouragement at the beginning of their educational careers. Disabled people who are interested in the arts must be encouraged to develop that interest at school. The biggest obstacle to them is not so much the absence of civil rights legislation as the attitude of many people who teach and encourage young people. They believe that disabled people will be unable to achieve in the arts world. The message that the House should send out is that they can. Some of the greatest historical figures in the arts world coped with amazing disabilities--Beethoven is perhaps the most obvious example. Disabled people have a vital role to play in the arts, but I do not believe that the Bill will help in that.
I shall briefly talk about the role that the Arts Council is playing in relation to lottery funds, because that gives an example of what can be done without legislation and with good will. I was delighted to see that, in the Arts Council's application pack for national lottery funds, the first criterion used in the assessment of applications is:
Column 607"the benefit to the public (including maximum access for disabled people".
The pack then provides detailed guidance to applicants in a helpful way:
"You should pay particular attention to the needs of disabled people, whether as attenders, participants, artists or employees. You should consider the needs of people with disabilities of all kinds, whether related to mobility, sight, hearing, etc. Appropriate disability equality training should be part of your project plan." That is the right approach, and I commend the Arts Council for what it is doing.
I make one plea to the arts world. It is not often recognised that many people who suffer serious disability are dependent on benefit, and the arts world could do more to encourage discount ticket schemes, not just for students and the unemployed but for the long-term disabled. Why cannot more venues offer a scheme to enable more people with disabilities to enjoy their facilities?
The arts world shows how great achievements can be made for disabled people by voluntary work. I agree that more needs to be done, but I see the mechanism to achieve that in the Government's Bill, but not in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. There are many more matters which I would like to debate, but I feel that I have been on my feet long enough.
Is there a case for a commission, as proposed in this Bill? I believe not. I am unconvinced that the Commission for Racial Equality has helped coloured people. The commission's proposal is one of my principal reasons for opposing the Bill.
I want to draw my hon. Friend the Minister's attention to early-day motion 574 on access to information for the visually impaired. That motion has all -party support, and I would sign it were I not prevented from doing so by being a parliamentary private secretary. [Laughter.] Opposition Members may find this amusing, but I do not. The motion
"welcomes the intention of the Disability Discrimination Bill to tackle communication barriers facing visually impaired people; hopes that the Bill will provide a clear, effective and enforceable right to information; and calls on the Government to support amendments to the Bill to ensure that the potential loopholes and anomalies in the Bill are removed."
I hope that the Committee on the Disability Discrimination Bill takes careful account of that motion.
The dispute in the House is whether we can legislate to change attitudes, and I do not believe that we can. That is my central concern about the high hopes which the Opposition are building in disabled people for this Bill. When I said goodbye to Paddy Masefield following a meeting with him, a taxi was waiting for him. That taxi was fully accessible for disabled people in wheelchairs, because this Government have insisted that all new taxis since 1989 have that facility. There are 7,000 accessible taxis in London as a result of this Government's actions. However, the look on the taxi driver's face and the contempt that he had for a disabled person in a wheelchair were shocking. Yes, we have provided the legislative framework to enable that disabled constituent to get into a taxi, but the look on the taxi driver's face shows that we can undo all that good. I would have been humiliated if I had been that man getting into that taxi. It was a shocking experience.
Column 608I do not believe that anything in this Bill will overcome that attitudinal problem, which is still so much a barrier to so many disabled people. It risks exacerbating that hostility to disabled people. That is why I oppose this Bill and support the Government's measure.
Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale): I am pleased to support the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), which is co- sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), but I stand here with a heavy heart because I know that the Government have no intention of allowing the Bill to get on to the statute book. I do not know what tactics they will use today or in later stages but I remember the disgraceful tactics they used last time. They instructed parliamentary counsel to draft amendments and farmed them out to certain Conservative Members, one of whom had to come before the House and apologise for misleading the House by claiming that the amendment was her own.
Whatever the Government's tactics will be, I have an overriding sadness because I know that they will not accept the Bill. They have introduced their own Bill--they were forced to do so by disabled people's organisations across the country--but what a Bill. We have tried to amend it in Committee, but none of our amendments has been accepted and I doubt that we will get any through in the future. I am not just sad, I am angry. It is the anger of frustration. I know that the Bill is supported by many people in the House and across the country. Disabled people's organisations and the vast majority of the 6.5 million disabled people about whom we have spoken support the Bill. I am not so angry perhaps as some of the disabled people themselves. Their anger is the anger of pain, the anger of discrimination, and the anger of lack of understanding, as well as the anger of frustration. The country should be angry, too. I make no bones about saying that disabled people are asking for their basic human rights. I do not apologise for saying that over and over again. They are not asking for positive discrimination. They are asking for equality. That is all. They are not asking for privilege or what some hon. Members say that they are asking for. They are asking for equality. The Bill would give them that equality.
The Government's Bill is discriminatory. Let us take the definition of disabled people, which we tried to amend in Committee. The Government would not accept the amendment. The definition excludes rather than includes. It excludes some multiple sclerosis sufferers. It excludes people who have a history of mental health problems, those who have controlled epilepsy, HIV, Huntingdon's disease, mild cerebral palsy or--and I say this for the sake of the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Luff)--myalgic encephalomyelitis. The list goes on. The hon. Member for Worcester shakes his head, but he can ask the Minister. The Bill will exclude people with ME.
The Bill that we are discussing today includes people, such as those with sensory impairment. Several hon. Members have asked why we want them to be included. Many people who have a hearing impairment or who are visually impaired or blind do not like being lumped together with people with physical and mental disabilities. They see themselves as having different worries and problems as a result of their disability. We will not
Column 609succeed in persuading the Government to accept our amendment to the definition, even if the matter is brought back on Report. That is why it is important for us to support the Bill today.
There are other reasons why we should support the Bill. Whatever the Prime Minister says, the Government's Bill does nothing on education. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill provides a right to mainstream education if someone needs or wants it, a right to higher education and a right to training programmes. The Government say that they will introduce some legislation. What legislation? Will it be comprehensive? This Bill is comprehensive on education. The Prime Minister said that transport was covered by the Government's Bill. I accept that it covers access to train stations and bus terminals, but it does not cover access to trains and buses. Today's Bill gives disabled people the right to mobility. Without mobility, what is the point of the other measures? If disabled people cannot travel to their place of work because there is no transport for them, what is the point of making the buildings accessible in the first place?
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): Is the hon. Lady suggesting that disabled people should have access to all transport within a given period and that, therefore, existing buses on the road would have to be adapted? How does she expect bus companies such as Ribble Buses in my constituency to afford that?
Ms Lynne: No, I am saying that all new stock should be accessible to disabled people. I carried out a survey last year of new rolling stock and the new train operators in particular. A majority of the new train operators said that the new rolling stock was not accessible to disabled people. We must pass the Bill with a provision to make sure that new rolling stock is accessible. Many of those new train operators said that they could take only one wheelchair per train. If a group of disabled people turn up at a train station, they all want to get on the same train. They do not want to have to wait and get on another. Transport is not totally included in the Government's Bill.
Let us deal now with the disability rights commission, one of the key aspects of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. We want a commission that will have similar rights to the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Rights Commission for women. Why should disabled people have fewer rights than anybody else? That is what the Disability Discrimination Bill-- the Government's Bill--proposes. The proposed national disability council will have no teeth and no power of enforcement and there will be no legal aid for disabled people. What will they do? Go to an industrial tribunal. Big companies will have the time and the money to go through any dispute line by line. Disabled people will not be able to do that, because they will not have legal aid. We need a commission to protect the basic rights of disabled people. We need the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.
Firms with fewer than 20 employees will not be covered by the Government's Bill, but they will be covered by the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which says that employers will have to comply by making available reasonable accommodation, in a reasonable time scale. The Bill is not asking for immediate action. It does
Column 610not say that, as soon as the legislation reaches the statute book, everybody will have to comply immediately. Of course not. The Government said that they could not accept the previous Bill because it would cost £17 billion. That figure has been disputed. I think that even the Government accept that. This Bill takes into account financial considerations as well. That is why there is a timetable. That is why there will be time to implement the measures. Mark my words, civil rights for disabled people will come one day, and the Government must accept that. Disabled people will continue to fight for their rights until they achieve them. It is disgusting that they have to fight for them. But it will happen.
The Government's Bill, if passed, will have to be updated endlessly-- possibly repealed, as all other flawed legislation has been. If other countries give their citizens equal rights, why cannot this country? France, Japan, Australia, America, Canada, New Zealand and Denmark do it. Why not this country? It is to the Government's shame that they do not and that yet again we are having to debate civil rights legislation.
Disabled people demand justice and fairness. That is all. I ask the Minister to think again. I ask him not to close his mind or, more importantly, not to close his heart.
Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham): I apologise to the House for having missed the early part of the debate. Unfortunately, I had to be in a meeting with a constituent, which made it difficult for me to be here. I am grateful nevertheless to have the opportunity to speak in this extremely important debate.
I should like to make my position clear on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. I would like it to proceed through to Committee so that the debate on it can continue. I would like certain elements of it to be incorporated eventually into the Government's Bill. Clearly, it would be ridiculous to have two disabled persons Bills going through the House at the same time and coming on to the statute book at the same time. If the Bill is to proceed--some elements in it have considerable merit--at some stage the two Bills will have to be brought together. I am not sure how that would happen, but a mechanism would have to be devised to make it work. The Bill rightly opens up the important debate about what disabled people need. One thing is absolutely clear--disabled people's present rights are totally unacceptable. I will give the House one example. A severely physically disabled constituent told me about her experience in a restaurant. Because of her disabilities and those of some of her companions, the restaurant manager required them to leave after they had sat down and started their meal. Incredible as it may seem, other diners found that the sight of people with disabilities eating in the same place put them off their food. That is unacceptable and it must be illegal for restaurants to act in such a way.
I hope that any legislation that is enacted will give disabled people powers to insist that, like any other customer, if they have a reservation in a restaurant or have been accepted in, the restaurant cannot refuse to serve them, except on the same basis as it has the right to refuse to serve people who do not have a disability. Clearly, if people are rowdy or drunk restaurants should have the right to refuse to serve them, but they should not be able to do so purely on the basis of disability.
Column 611We certainly need tough legislation to outlaw discrimination against disabled people, just as we need legislation to protect other groups. I speak with some feeling on that issue, being beyond a certain age, because one of the problems in my constituency is the considerable extent to which people of mature years are discriminated against, especially in the job market. It is difficult for someone over the age of 40, and even more difficult for someone over the age of 50, to persuade an employer that they should be treated equally with someone younger for recruitment purposes. I want such discrimination outlawed, although I recognise that that would pose serious problems in balancing the rights of the employer and pension entitlements as well as the rights of the person of mature years. The rights of disabled people are not unique and such rights are not confined to the groups of people covered by previous legislation, such as the Race Relations Act 1976.
Primarily we need, not merely legislation, but a change of atmosphere. We must make it unacceptable for people to discriminate against the disabled, as it is unacceptable for someone to discriminate on the basis of race or colour. That change comes about through a combination of circumstances: through education and through society ceasing to tolerate that type of discrimination, and also through legislation. The great change in racial prejudice and attitudes came about as a result of the Race Relations Act and I hope that a similar change will occur with what will eventually become the Disability Discrimination Act. The details of the legislation will be less important because it should not need to be applied too often. The importance of legislation is that is signals to society that certain behaviour is unacceptable and must be changed--it causes a change in attitude.
The legislation must be careful as it is possible, with all good intent, to create more problems than we cure, which is a great difficulty. I identify that difficulty in the provisions in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, as opposed to the Disability Discrimination Bill, for the size of work force to which it should apply. I do not have any particular brief for the definition in the Disability Discrimination Bill of 20 employees, which may well be too large a work force.
To apply the full rigour of the legislation in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill to a small business employing, say, one person would be likely to cause unintended consequences. The most obvious one is that a small employer would be much more reluctant to take on additional workers because of worries about the additional cost that would be incurred. Such businesses may not wish to discriminate against disabled persons, but the legislation might add another barrier to a small company that was struggling to grow and to increase employment. Therefore, the law should be applied rather differently to a small company. One definition covering all sizes of companies would lead to difficulties and would have the reverse effect to that which is intended.
I am also concerned about an employer's inability to ask questions of a disabled person before employment. I entirely understand why that should be proposed-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) is muttering. I thought that he was about to intervene. I am happy to give way if he wants to do so.
Column 612Small companies are likely to be overly cautious about recruitment if they cannot inquire into someone's background at the initial interview. They will be cautious about who they employ and early in the recruitment process they will find reasons to turn down those about whom they have the least suspicion. The effect of imposing the legislation, especially on small employers, may lead to a worse situation for disabled and other people than would otherwise be the case.
A third problem relates to the upgrading of buildings to allow access for the disabled. I understand from the Bill's proposals that if an old building which did not have access for the disabled were to be modernised, it would be necessary to provide access for the disabled. That is entirely good and I do not suppose that anyone would disagree with that.
The consequence of such legislation in the United States, where it has been in existence for some time, is that some older buildings have not been refurbished. The owners of buildings who have found that the extra rental from refurbishment does not compensate for the additional cost of making the buildings accessible, have not gone ahead with refurbishment. I know of buildings in New York whose refurbishment has been delayed to a point where the buildings have seriously deteriorated. The consequences in the United States have been other than those that were intended, and that is a danger in such legislation.
There are benefits in the Bill of which I as a London Member am conscious. One in particular relates to my concern about the Disability Discrimination Bill in relation to poor access to the London underground. We all understand why access for the disabled to parts of the underground system are poor. It is because many deep Victorian stations in the centre of London do not have lifts and installing them would be extremely difficult, expensive and disruptive. However, it is not impossible and as those stations are refurbished, lifts should be installed.
Such a description does not apply to many London underground stations: it does not apply to the five in my constituency which are essentially surface stations. Access from the roadway to the platforms has not been modernised and staircases are still in use. Installing lifts would not be difficult. Clearly, expense would be involved, but it would not be massive. That applies to many stations in the London Underground system. Modernising those stations to make them accessible to disabled people should be a priority for London Underground. It should do that because it wishes to attract more custom, especially from wheelchair-bound people.
The objection that is always raised to that proposal is that, after the disabled person has got on to the underground train, which is another problem, he will not be able to get off the train at another station. That is true, but, equally, the problem is manageable. Careful signing--perhaps colour coding--could be put up. Some stations could have signs saying that they had no exit for disabled people. A disabled person going to work on public transport would then be able to adjust his route to ensure that he would go from one station with disabled access to another with such access. That would enable disabled people to make much greater use of London Underground. The cost would be relatively low.
Column 613It is worrying, however, that London Underground does not put a high priority on disabled access, and that the refurbishment, for instance, of the Central line, which does not cover my constituency, but which I know very well, has not improved disabled access. Attempts have not been made even to give partial disabled access to that line.
One of the problems with the underground is that the train floors are some 6 to 9 in above the level of the station platform; in some stations on the Piccadilly line, the floor is 6 to 9 in below the platform. Again, that is not an insuperable problem for disabled access. Trains stop at the same place on platforms. If they do not, it is easy to make them stop at the same place every time. It would be relatively simple to have ramps to the doors to enter trains. Equally, the new design of trains should enable wheelchair access to trains straight from standard-height platforms without too much difficulty. Once on the train, wheelchairs would need anchor points, but, again, that problem could easily be overcome.
I understand that, under the Bill, London Underground would be under much greater pressure to institute changes in its system to give at least partial disabled access. I would greatly welcome that, but the Government's Bill pushes the whole problem to one side, which is worrying.
I wanted to mention the effect of, as I understand it, both Bills on listed buildings. We inhabit one listed building--this House. Access to such buildings is important for disabled people. As was said in an earlier part of the debate, which I regret that I missed, access for disabled people to the Palace of Westminster is a scandal. It is extremely difficult. Many disabled constituents come to visit me here and getting them into the Galleries and on to the principal floor of the building is possible, but difficult. For any large number of disabled people, it is an extremely lengthy business because only one small lift provides access to the principal floor. That highlights the fact that it will be difficult to adapt many listed buildings. The problem involves balancing the needs for the conservation of listed buildings with rights of access. I am not sure that that balance has been achieved in the Bill. A considerable amount of flexibility is needed, given the nature of listed buildings and the access that is desirable, and the alternative ways of providing access to those buildings for the numbers that are necessary. We would need to consider the desirability of having a blanket requirement so that public buildings would have be accessible to disabled people regardless of the importance of the building and its integral nature as an artistic structure.
The issue of whether we should have a council or a commission has been raised. I shall not dwell on that subject at great length as I know that other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate. One problem with having a commission is that it is difficult to say clearly at this stage whether existing commissions--I am thinking particularly of the Commission for Racial Equality--work effectively. There is a strong case to be made that the Commission for Racial Equality is not effective in achieving its aims.
A council such as is suggested in the Government's Bill might be more effective than the Commission for Racial Equality, with which there are enforcement problems. Something of a more educational and advisory nature would not suffer the opprobrium frequently attracted by the Commission for Racial Equality. The opprobrium could be directed more towards the Government, who would have the enforcement role normally played by a
Column 614commission. That might allow a council to do the job more effectively than a commission. That is something that we need to debate and it is one reason why I am keen for the Bill to proceed. Such debates are needed and, by running the two Bills in parallel, we can have effective discussions.
Although the Government have gone an extremely long way towards meeting the needs of disabled people, I am happy to see the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill proceed. At some stage a decision will have to be taken on whether parts of that Bill should be included in the Government's Bill. I believe that certain elements should be included, and I have tried to outline one or two of them. The Government have made great strides and I should like to see some sort of compromise reached. I am certain that we need vastly to improve the rights of disabled people.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), not only on his fortune in the ballot, but on choosing the Bill and on the excellent way in which he presented his arguments to the House earlier in the debate.
The Bill is close to my heart because it is in direct line of succession to the Bill that I introduced on 18 November 1983. It might be useful for the House to recall some of the events at that time because some Conservative Members have said that the subject is not a party political one, and we should not make party political points about the Bill.
When I entered the House of Commons in 1983, I naively thought that problems of discrimination against disabled people could not conceivably be regarded as party political. Who on earth could justify discrimination against disabled people? On 18 November 1983, I found that 210 Conservative Members of Parliament felt that they could justify no legislation against discrimination against disabled people. On that occasion, only four Conservative Members voted for the Bill.
The hon. Member for Suffolk, South (Mr. Yeo), who was at that time the director of the then Spastics Society, was one of those who supported the Bill. Its other Conservative supporters were the hon. Members for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) and for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam), and Mr. Martin Stevens, a predecessor of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington)--who, I am pleased to say, supports the Bill, as did his predecessor.
In 1983, the argument that the Government used most--they used a number of arguments--was that education and persuasion were quite sufficient to deal with the problems of discrimination. Cost was another factor used. My Bill- -the Government seem to pluck figures out of the air--was supposed to cost £300 million.
I remember going to a meeting of the all-party disablement group around that time, where I was told by a former Minister, who is no longer a Member, that my Bill was intended to undermine the Government's economic policy. I wish it had, but it was a forlorn hope, given the extreme Prime Minister of the day.
The Government's Disability Discrimination Bill is a sign of success. I know that the Opposition are attacking it because it is perfectly true that it is insufficient and late,
Column 615but it is a signal that, over the years since that Second Reading in 1983, the campaigning of disabled people and their organisations is beginning to succeed.
The Government are now providing part of a meal. They have offered disabled people an aperitif. The main course is in my hon. Friend's Bill, and perhaps it will be consumed as a result of the debate. I hope that it will become law, as it is long overdue. However, the main course and the dessert will undoubtedly arrive after--if not before--the next general election, when there will be a Labour Government.
Mr. Barnes: My hon. Friend mentioned his Bill dealing with discrimination against disabled persons in 1983, and in my opening remarks I recognised his pioneering work. The attention of the House should also be drawn to the fact that my hon. Friend introduced a ten-minute Bill on the same subject in 1987, and also sought amendments to the Employment Bill in 1989 to cover many of the areas addressed by my Bill. My hon. Friend has done some serious, pioneering work from which everybody else has benefited, including myself.
Mr. Wareing: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I certainly recall the debate in 1989 on the Government's Employment Bill, and the fact that I tabled an amendment which would have alleviated discrimination--in fact, outlawed discrimination--against disabled people in employment. I am glad that at least that amendment is now partially accepted by the Government.
The great change that has taken place since 1983 has been in the Government recognising the need for legislation. That is a success, and so far, so good. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East and other hon. Members have mentioned the restrictive nature of the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill.
I am concerned that a person will still suffer discrimination under the Government's Bill--not under my hon. Friend's Bill--if they apply for a job with a business which employs fewer than 20 people. I cannot see the logic of that. It is nothing to do with a quota system. My hon. Friend's Bill is not proposing that businesses must employ a certain quota of people, but that a disabled person should have just as much right to apply for a job with, for example, a small law firm as he would with Marks and Spencer or one of the larger businesses.
I am also concerned about the lack of opportunity for disabled people to enjoy the right to further education.
In my previous incarnation, I was a lecturer. I recall that disabled youngsters, and even disabled mature students, had to tailor their studies to their ability to get to a classroom. For example, if French classes were being held on the top floor, a student could not study French, and instead had to study perhaps Latin, where the classes were held on the ground floor.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston): Did my hon. Friend notice the large number of disabled students who came to the House yesterday as part of the disabled lobby? They raised important points about inadequacies in provision within the education system which result in discrimination against disabled people.
Column 616having to study in old buildings where provision is wholly inadequate. Even some of the newer buildings have inadequate provision. This is a serious matter. We are not talking just about older people who become disabled; we are talking about disabled students.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East has paid great attention to the political and civic rights of disabled people. It is an important matter. In view of the way that disabled people have been treated by Conservative Governments since 1979, perhaps the Government are not too keen on providing access to polling stations for disabled people. One of the polling stations in my constituency is not only inaccessible to disabled people but is situated over the boundary, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle). It is impossible to reach. It may be argued that materials are available outside the polling stations which allow disabled people to exercise their right to vote. That in itself is discrimination. Many disabled people do not want to be pointed out in that way. Rightly or wrongly, they regard it as a stigma.
I went to Bucharest as an official observer at the first democratic election immediately after the demise of the Ceaucescu regime. Ballot boxes were sent to hospitals so that the patients could vote. We should think about that sort of provision. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East has done a tremendous amount of work, and he should be encouraged to continue. If they do nothing else, the Government should look seriously at that aspect of the Bill. When I introduced my Bill in 1983, I was made aware of the Government's opposition to it. Even if it had reached Committee, they would have tabled amendments to it. This morning, the right hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) tried to filibuster. It was a disgraceful performance. In 1983, he told me that he had instructions from the Government to kill off my Bill. At that time, I wondered whether a more simple Bill might have been more successful--perhaps one simply saying that unjustified discrimination against disabled people was illegal. Even that would have been slight progress. How can we implement one law for the rich and another for the poor? In establishing a disability rights commission, my hon. Friend's Bill gives force to the consideration of the rights of all disabled people.
Government Members have argued that that will lead to an increase in the number of cases before the court. I argue that my hon. Friend's Bill will result in less litigation. Unlike the body which the Government are proposing, the commission will not only give advice to Government but have a restraining influence on those people in our society who seek to discriminate against disabled people. In most cases, a simple application to the commission will see the grievance redressed.
Poorer people--those on income support, for example--will be able to go to the commission without worrying about the possible expenses of a court case. The Government are correct to give disabled people the right to bring a discrimination case involving their employment before an industrial tribunal. However, poorer people who bring such a case will not be assisted by the provision of legal aid.
Column 617Many hon. Members on both sides of the House support the Bill and there is a chance that it will pass. Perhaps at this late stage the Government may say that they will allow it to go to Committee, at the very least, in order to consider the issues further.
For far too long, disabled people have been the Cinderella of minority groups in our country. They are an important minority group. A survey conducted some time ago found that 29 per cent. of families have at least one disabled family member. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) has often said, one disabled person in a family makes the entire family disabled. This Bill is not just for disabled people; it is a Bill for the whole nation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East has said, we are all potentially disabled. Any one of us could have a car accident, be involved in some natural disaster or be afflicted by a serious disease. We must all take part in the campaign on behalf of my hon. Friend's Bill. I wish him well, and I hope that the legislation will pass. The door has been wedged open for disabled people, but it is time to push it wide open and assure disabled people in this country the full basic rights that we all enjoy. 1.13 pm
Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton): I listened very carefully to the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), and I hope that what I am about to say will help us to find some common ground. Unlike other politicians throughout the world, most hon. Members on both sides of the House--perhaps contrary to the conventional wisdom--are not in politics to enrich themselves. They are here to improve the lot of people in this country and to improve this country's standing in the world.
I trust that there is, in the important and sensitive area that we are discussing, some common recognition of the basic decency of most people's sense of purpose in becoming elected to the House, and in forming an opinion about the way to legislate for the plight of the disabled. Nevertheless, we differ in our assessment of the way in which such progress can be attained.
We are primarily divided by a conflicting opinion of what the state can and cannot achieve. The line across the Floor of the Chamber divides those who believe in socialism from those who believe in capitalism, and those who believe in equality from those who believe in diversity. Increasingly, hon. Members on either side of the line have markedly differing opinions of the respective place and priority of rights as distinct from duties.
The motives behind the Bill are undoubtedly genuine--no one questions that- -but there are potentially grave problems with the statutory execution of rights. Duties are a requirement on the individual that helps general well- being, but rights, and the exercise of rights, more often than not, involve a cost. That cost could fall on some other individual. To demand a right or to exercise a right can mean that someone else has to pay the price for that right to be exercised.
Rights are therefore part of a much wider equation, and they are a part of a calculation of benefit and cost, in which calculation the cost will fall on people other than
Column 618those to whom we wish to give advance and improvement. Indeed, it is in the nature of such rights that other people will have to pay for them.
Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon): Does my hon. Friend agree that, at the very least, there should be a general duty on all of us not to discriminate unreasonably against a disabled person in any aspect of life? On the matter of cost, will he acknowledge that there is an enormous cost to our society in excluding disabled people and denying ourselves the contribution that they can make?
In most cases, the accelerating bandwagon of people demanding rights in many new areas should be resisted, but I believe that the wish to grant rights to disabled people is well-founded, and bridges the philosophical divide that I have described.
We all wish to remove the distasteful part of human behaviour that adds insult to injury by compounding the unfortunate circumstances in which a disabled person is placed. We all want to remove those habits, attitudes, decisions and horrid inequities that take unacceptable advantage of someone's existing disadvantage. That is a laudable and proper purpose of legislation. More than any other demand for rights, a demand for fairness in treating the disabled is legitimate. In answering that demand, we must make good law. One does not get something done well, or indeed at all, simply by wishing for it to be done, sticking one's intentions in a Bill and sending it off for Royal Assent. We cannot legislate to make everyone a millionaire. We cannot house everyone in a palace. We cannot pass a law to make everyone healthy. We could not even do what the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) wanted to do when he tried to abolish poverty in old age by presenting a Bill called the Poverty in Old Age (Abolition) Bill.
In passing any law, we need to assess the real context in which that legislation will work, and we are duty bound to assess the displacement effects of the law we make. By "displacement" I mean that for every action there is a reaction. A minimum wage would minimise the number of jobs. High taxes slow or reduce demand. The intrusive exercise of rights could remove bit by bit opportunities that such rights were designed to enhance.