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Column 619risks not working in practice. Any law that is self-defeating is not worth making. This legislation, of all that which we have made or might make, should not contain the seeds of its own destruction. We must get it right. If we pass legislation that will not work in practice--or, worse, which will partially rebound against the interests of the disabled--a great load will weigh on our conscience. Mr. Berry rose --
The House has a unique opportunity to compare two Bills containing similar conditions and progressing almost in parallel. The Government's more confined, sensible and understandable definition is more workable and practicable than the hon. Gentleman's Bill. One Labour Member said that he would like everyone to be included in the definition of disabled.
Mr. Berry indicated dissent .
Mr. Duncan: That renders absurd the whole notion of a distinction between the disabled, who should have rights not to be discriminated against, and the able-bodied. The hon. Member for Kingswood shook his head when I stated that an Opposition Member wanted everybody included. I cannot refer in detail to the proceedings of a Standing Committee that has not yet reported to the House, but a Labour Member said just that.
The hon. Gentleman's Bill is wrong also in its view of employment legislation. The Government's Bill will replace the unworkable quota system that, although not mentioned in the hon. Gentleman's Bill, would none the less remain. The Government's Bill would clearly extend rights, without exception, to 83 per cent. of employed people. Only small firms with 20 employees or fewer will be exempt from some provisions of the Government's Bill--rightly so, because some costs would not allow small firms to remain in business, which would deny opportunities to work even to the non- disabled.
The Government's Bill offers better access to goods, facilities and services and is practical. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) mentioned over-legislation in respect of transport. Diminishing public transport would be an absurd consequence of a badly worded Bill, and have precisely the displacement effect that I mentioned, which would be detrimental for everybody.
The hon. Gentleman's Bill does not make sensible proposals for education, but the Government's Bill contains many realistic measures--and the Education Act 1993 covers most of that area. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East, who is not in his place, mentioned polling stations. One of the polling stations in my constituency at general elections, or any other election, is a caravan. It is a rural constituency, where peculiar buildings are used for that specific purpose. To make them all subject to this legislation is pushing very good intentions to the point of utter silliness.
No one can question the genuine concern of Opposition Members to improve the position of disabled people, but some rather distasteful elements have begun to creep into
Column 620some of the political positioning attached to the campaign for disabled rights. I merely observe that those demanding more for the disabled--much of it at someone else's financial cost--and those who try to turn that against the Government's position on the issue are not morally superior to those who, from equally proper motives, question the basis of such costs, the practicality of implementing the legislation and whether it would permanently benefit the disabled.
Clearly and understandably, it is a rich source of political acclaim for someone to appear to champion the cause of the underprivileged, but there is a very fine dividing line between doing just that and milking such a cause for the dividend it furnishes the politician, rather than the dividends it furnishes to the disabled. It would be a mistake, in the interests of the disabled, for this Bill to be enacted. Its passing into law would be a pyrrhic victory. It would be a victory, all right, but a victory for the popularity of its political backers. It would come at a high cost which would be paid for in future years by the disabled. Soon after the initial rejoicing had settled, we would find that the demands, strictures and vexed litigation would all provoke a backlash against the disabled. That must be avoided.
I urge the House to congratulate those--including the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry)--who have advanced the cause of the disabled by pressing for this Bill, but then to reject the Bill in favour of cross- party support for the Disability Discrimination Bill, proposed by my hon. Friend the Minister for the Disabled.
Mr. A. Cecil Walker (Belfast, North): I have campaigned for the disabled for many years, and have supported several Bills--including this one--which have tried to gain for them the civil rights they deserve. The Government's policy, planning and research unit estimates that there are about 210,000 disabled people in Northern Ireland, of whom 75,000 are working age; thus, if the legislation reaches the statute book, it will affect substantial numbers in the Province, and many more in Great Britain.
Today I wish to highlight the particular issues which are of concern to disabled people in Northern Ireland. I have had an opportunity to sample opinion on the subject and, in particular, the Northern Ireland Employers Forum on Disability carried out a detailed survey to gather a national picture of employers' attitudes towards legislation for disabled people. The survey covered 20 per cent. of the employed work force in Northern Ireland, so it is likely to reflect the position accurately.
The survey shows that more than 80 per cent. of employers favoured the introduction of civil rights legislation for disabled persons. Two thirds of employers supported compensation payments for disabled people who have been subjected to direct discrimination. Other employers supported the establishment of a disability commission with enforcement powers.
The Government have been keen to bandy grossly inflated figures which they claim would have been the cost of implementing previous private Members' disability rights Bills. They have also claimed that employers have little appetite for such legislation. The survey does not support that case.
Column 621Although I welcome the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill, it falls far short of the mark. There are four particular areas of concern which the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill would put right. First, there continues to be confusion over the definition of disability. Such a definition should include reference to the history or reputation of having an impairment, as that can be a source of discrimination.
Secondly--here I disagree with the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh)--the exclusion of employers with fewer than 20 employees is unfair. In Northern Ireland, some 84 per cent. of firms have 10 employees or fewer. If the figure for firms with 20 or fewer is extrapolated from that, it is likely to be closer to 90 per cent. Therefore, only 10 per cent. of businesses in Northern Ireland will be subject to the Government's disability legislation. That is grossly unfair. If the principle of employees' rights is just, it must extend to all disabled employees. This Bill would rectify that anomaly.
Thirdly, disabled children must be given the same opportunities as other children. If prejudice and discrimination are to be removed from our society, surely the place to start is in the classroom. The Bill would ensure that schools provided access to the standard required of employers. The measures set out in the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill provide little incentive for schools wholeheartedly to embrace equality of opportunity for disabled children.
Fourthly, this Bill would ensure that legislation for disabled people was backed up by a watchdog with teeth. Without a disability commission with enforcement powers, many employers will attempt to circumvent proposed legislation and disabled people would have little power to do anything about it.
Mr. Tim Smith (Beaconsfield): I commend the hon. Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Walker) on the work that he does for his constituents and the particular interest that he takes in the needs of disabled people. When I was a Northern Ireland Minister, I was not responsible for disability matters, but I was responsible for transport policy. I took particular interest in the needs of disabled people for public transport. It is rather good news for Northern Ireland that there are two successful bus manufacturers in the Province, one of which is Wright, Robert and Son of Ballymena. The company has developed the first low-floor bus, which I was able to see. I should like it to be on roads throughout the United Kingdom. I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) had to say about the London underground, but I felt that many of his remarks were a little impractical. I am sure that, when it comes to public transport, what disabled people need is access to low-floor buses. They are a remarkable invention. I hope that Wrights of Ballymena succeeds in selling large numbers of its product.
Dr. Joe Hendron (Belfast, West): The hon. Gentleman has a lot of experience of Northern Ireland. The disability commission is very much part of the Bill. In Belfast, occupational therapists are asked to go to the homes of disabled people to assess whether they need various structures put in. The waiting list for such an assessment is sometimes six or eight months. Does the hon.
Column 622Gentleman agree that the disability commission for which the Bill provides would be able to make sure that proper assessments were made and people did not have to wait six or eight months?
Mr. Smith: To answer the hon. Gentleman, I am afraid that I shall have to jump slightly ahead of what I was going to say. What concerns me about the Bill generally is the balance of costs and benefits. I can see the benefit of what the hon. Gentleman has just said. I can see many of the benefits from the Bill, but I am very concerned about the costs that would be placed on employers, particularly small employers. The difficulties would be accentuated in Northern Ireland, because employers there must deal not only with existing legislation that regulates employment but with sex discrimination legislation and fair employment legislation. I would be very concerned at adding yet another burden to employers in a part of the United Kingdom where there is already such high unemployment, but I understand the hon. Gentleman's point entirely.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) on securing a high place in the ballot for private Members' Bills. No one questions in any way his sincerity in introducing the measure--I share his concern about the fortunes of disabled people--but I am sorry to have to tell him that I am not able to support his Bill, for reasons on which I have already touched and on which I want to enlarge.
I strongly believe in equality of opportunity, and that it should extend to all people regardless of race, religion or, indeed, disability. That is the starting point on which we can all agree. There are disabled people whose contribution to society is grossly undervalued simply because of their disability and the fact that able-bodied people look on them in a different way because they are different. I would be the first to recognise that we must try to change those attitudes. I want public attitudes towards disabled people to change. The only question that we must address is whether the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is the most practical way of going about it or whether, in certain circumstances, the proposed legislation could prove to be counterproductive.
If one goes too far, too quickly, one could have the opposite effect to that intended--
Mr. Smith: The hon. Gentleman queries my suggestion that the Bill would act too quickly. Instead of a gradual evolution of policy, which I would like to see, the Bill is so radical that it would involve a quantum leap forward.
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South): Does the hon. Gentleman realise just how long disabled people have been waiting for a Bill that really addresses their concerns, and does he realise that they are sick and tired of the parsimonious excuses from hon. Members like himself in terms of doing something now to address the issue?
Mr. Smith: Yes, I do understand that; I started my speech by explaining that I understand how disabled people feel, but we must consider people generally. The Bill is a radical measure. It would involve a quantum leap forward. The question is whether it might not have the
Column 623result of alienating some people, for example, small employers, who might take strong exception to its provisions.
Mr. Alan Howarth: Does my hon. Friend agree that legislation in relation to disability must be an expression of the values of our society? Does he agree, therefore, that it is essential that we declare unequivocally that discrimination against disabled people is abhorrent, that it is unacceptable and that it cannot be a question of ifs and buts, loopholes, qualifications and saying that some people are to be protected but others not--for example, there might be an exemption for small businesses and in effect we would say to small business men, "It is okay for you to discriminate against disabled people, because you are a small employer"? Does my hon. Friend agree that that really is a very inadequate social statement on behalf of us all?
The Bill which we are debating does, in fact, allow reasonable exemptions and application of the legislation over a sensible and manageable time scale so long as we are moving towards the objective with which we should all agree.
Mr. Smith: No, I do not agree with that, as I was trying to explain to the House. My hon. Friend is right up to a point: of course it is possible for legislation to have a declaratory effect. One should not exaggerate that, however. Up to a point, legislation can change public attitudes, but we should not suppose that it is some sort of panacea. I am arguing that it could be counterproductive to go too far. We need a sensible balance. The Government's Disability Discrimination Bill more nearly finds the right balance. It would not be sensible to go too far or too fast. We need an evolutionary and gradual approach.
Mr. Llew Smith: Is the hon. Gentleman willing to meet groups of disabled people and tell them that their demands are putting pressure on the Government to move too fast and that they must slow down their demands?
Mr. Smith: The Chiltern Cheshire home at Gerrards Cross is in my constituency and, on previous occasions, I have told it exactly that. The home pressed me to support previous measures. I have explained that I understand why it strongly supports this Bill. As Members of Parliament, we must take a broader view and consider what we believe to be the public interest. I have tried to explain to the home why we need to move at a slower pace and have an evolutionary approach. That is what the Government are about. The Finance Bill, which is being considered in Committee, contains an example that was dealt with earlier this week. Clause 39 deals with company cars driven by disabled people and makes a small improvement in the taxable benefit in kind. That is the sort of approach that I prefer for disabled people, so that we can be sure that we will carry people with us. The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) said that the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill and this Bill were based on two differing sets of principles. When I challenged him and pointed out that both Bills involved the creation of new rights for disabled people, but that one--the Bill under discussion--simply went further than the other, he did not demur. The
Column 624distinction between the two Bills is not one of principle, but one of degree. It is more a distinction in kind than in principle, because both Bills create more rights.
The hon. Member for Monklands, West said that access to the House of Commons was a good example of the sort of issue that we should be discussing and he dwelt on it at some length. I agree. I saw the meeting that took place in Westminister Hall yesterday and I realise that that is a far from suitable venue for such a meeting, yet it is the only practical option available. That example raises all the issues, including the question of what is cost-effective and practical. It would be expensive and might be wholly impractical in some respects to alter an historic building such as this to accommodate the disabled.
Would it not be more sensible to ensure--as I am sure we will--that the new parliamentary building that is to be built over Westminster underground station has the best possible facilities for the disabled, and that it will be possible to gain access from street level via steps, ramps or anything else, to make it as accessible as possible for them, and to provide a substantial room for meetings? Would that not be a better and more sensible approach? I believe so, because the costs that the Bill will impose will, in some respects, be unbearable.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) said that the Government's Bill was in some ways against the interests of disabled people. I think that he cited two respects in which that occurred. The first related to quotas, and we have discussed it at some length. The argument seems to be that, by abolishing quotas, disabled people will somehow be disadvantage; yet quotas have never been fully taken up and many disabled people who work have never been registered as such. Perhaps that is because of the stigma that would be attached to them. I do not know why that should be, but it is a fact.
Surely it is better to provide, as the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill does, new rights for disabled people in terms of job and employment prospects. It is difficult to argue that the quota system has benefited disabled people; therefore, it is difficult to argue that its abolition would be against their interests. The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe said that, in some respects, sex discrimination and race relations legislation was tougher and more effective than the proposals in the Disability Discrimination Bill. In some respects, he may be right. For a start, there is the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality. The Government's Bill does not provide, as this one would, a disability rights commission. I accept that that is an important difference, but it is not an argument for saying that the Government's Bill disadvantages disabled people. Clearly, it involves a major advance for disabled people, although that is not enough to satisfy hon. Members throughout the House.
If the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill were a Government Bill, it would have to contain an explanatory and financial memorandum. I make no criticism of the fact that it does not contain that: it is a private Member's Bill. If presented by the Government, such a Bill would have to state the financial effects, and those are at the heart of my objection to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East has not told us what the costs would be.
The Government's Bill involves considerable costs to public funds, of which the main one relates to the right of access. That will cost between £30 million and £80
Column 625million. In addition to the Bill's financial effects, there is the business compliance cost assessment, which is the cost to the private sector of complying with the measure. I know that there is much dispute about that, but there is no doubt that substantial costs are involved, and that applies even to the Government's measure. The Government's Disability Discrimination Bill states that the total maximum cost of compliance with the right of access provision is expected to be between £380 million and £1,130 million over the phasing-in period. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill goes much further than the Government's measure and will cost considerably more over an undefined phase-in period. There is the cost to be placed on the taxpayer for adapting public buildings and the cost to private sector employers. The Bill would affect every employer, including those who employ only one or two people, unlike the Government's Bill, which contains an important exemption for small companies. Nobody who runs a business has to employ people. If too many burdens are placed on an employer, he will find other ways to obtain services. It is possible to buy them in from a larger business, thus avoiding the cost of the legislation. That relates to what my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) said about the fact that, if such new regulations are introduced, it is completely unrealistic to expect that economic behaviour will not be altered. That is my main concern.
Clause 2(c) deals with "reasonable accommodation" and clause 4(e) relates to
"failing to make reasonable accommodation for the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified disabled person".
That provision is rather vague. It is not specific and does not make clear to me precisely who would determine what was reasonable. It could be a bonanza for lawyers, because it would give rise to disputes. The disability rights commission--
Mr. Tom Clarke: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for me to point out that, if Conservative Members continue to make long speeches, and if the Minister does not have time to reply, which he might otherwise have wished to do, it is not the fault of any Opposition Member?
I am concerned principally about the costs of the Bill to the taxpayer and to the private sector. I am concerned about the fact that we have not been told what the financial consequences of the Bill are, and that it does not have a compliance cost assessment. We all understand the benefits, but I am worried about the costs. 1.50 pm
The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. William Hague): It may be for the convenience of the House if, spurred on bthe hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), I speak in the debate now to make clear the Government's position and
Column 626their attitude to the Bill. It is a pity that there are still hon. Members who wish to speak. The hon. Members for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and for Belfast, West (Dr. Hendron), and I think my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), have been here throughout the debate, but have not yet had a chance to speak. I would have liked to speak after them, but, given the passage of time, I should speak for the Government now.
I make it clear that the Government fully support the objective of ending discrimination against disabled people. Disabled people are discriminated against and we need to act to bring that to an end. There are millions of disabled people in this country, and there may be more in an ageing population. As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) said, any of us can become disabled at any time.
Discrimination takes many different forms. Of course, an inaccessible environment is discriminating. In addition, although it is sometimes difficult to believe, restaurants refuse to admit people in wheelchairs and ban guide dogs, cinemas refuse to admit unaccompanied disabled people, and pubs do not welcome people with learning difficulties.
Last year, in an attempt to get a broad idea of how disabled people feel about their lives, Scope commissioned research. Its report, entitled "Disabled in Britain: A World Apart", which many hon. Members who are here will have read, illustrates the fact that disabled people believe that they face disadvantage and discrimination when looking for work, and once they are in employment.
The "second-class" label that is often applied to disabled people means that an employer may see a disabled applicant as slower and less productive, even though, very often, that is not the case; an insurer may see someone with a disability as a danger behind the wheel of a car, although that is usually not the case; to the cinema owner, disability may be a fire risk; and to a restaurateur, it could signal a diminishing clientele. Eliminating discrimination is not just about making the environment accessible. It is about all of us coming to terms with disability, removing the labels, and accepting people who are ready and able to take on the rights and responsibilities which the rest of us take for granted. All hon. Members on both sides of the House now readily agree on that much. In recent years, the Government and the House have done much to try to enhance the independence of disabled people, especially in improvements to the benefit system, in changes to building regulations, and in the variety of legislative action. But far-reaching changes are still needed if disabled people are to share fully in the life of the community. We are embarking on an ambitious task that must be approached in the right way.
That means that a Bill of this sort should be clear, so that disabled people understand their rights, and employers and traders understand their duties. It should be flexible to ensure that the powers exist to fine tune the law in the light of experience, and for the Government and Parliament, rather than the courts or other bodies, to fine tune the law. It should be fair to the whole community, while at the same time asking them to treat disabled people fairly, too. Sadly, the Bill is unclear in that there are too many cloudy generalisations that duck the hard decisions which legislators must make. The Bill is also, which seems strange when considered in the light of my previous comment, inflexible in that there are no
Column 627powers to amend the provisions of the Bill, if it should prove to be unworkable. It is unfair in that too little regard is paid to the ability of the rest of society to adapt to the Bill's requirements and to existing initiatives and arrangements that are already working well.
Mr. Howarth: I know my hon. Friend's abhorrence of discrimination and I congratulate him on his personal achievement hitherto. He said that his task was ambitious. It is to shift the British establishment, which always moves slowly, grudgingly and gracelessly--in Yeats' image, it only ever "Slouches towards Bethlehem".
Will my hon. Friend explain why the Government regard it as fair to introduce a new discrimination as between employers of 20 employees and employers of 19 employees? Which organisations have asked him to introduce that discrimination? Will he explain why there should not be a disability rights commission that would enable the disabled and the disadvantaged in our society to sustain the legal rights that we would wish to establish for them?
Mr. Hague: My hon. Friend is becoming well known for the literary quality of his interventions, and we have just had yet another outstanding display from him. He asked about the proposed exemption from the employment right--although not from other aspects of the new rights--for small employers with fewer than 20 employees. He will know that the Government and I are following the example already set in the US legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990, with which he and I are closely familiar. The motivation of the Government is the same as that of the US Congress.
We believe that small employers would have great difficulty in implementing such legislation. We do not want the legislation to be counter-productive, which it could be without the exemption. As my hon. Friend knows, the Government's Bill contains provision to change that number in the light of experience and we would want to see what happens over time. My hon. Friend also asked about the commission, but I shall come to that subject later in my remarks.
In his speech introducing the Bill the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North- East (Mr. Barnes) said--I think with a smile--that the Government's Bill hardly applied to anyone. I think that he was suggesting that he thought that the Government's Bill would apply to fewer people than the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. He is right about that.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the number of people who would be covered by the Government's Bill. As I have been explaining in Committees elsewhere in the House, any or all of the 6.5 million people counted in the survey of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys could be included in the Government's definition. One problem of his proposed legislation is that he does not know how many people would be covered by it--although I think that he thinks that it would cover 6.5 million people. The aspects of his definition covering a reputation for being disabled or an association or
Column 628relationship with a disabled person could bring in large numbers of people and cause the figure to increase well beyond the 6.5 million counted as disabled in the OPCS survey.
The hon. Gentleman does not know, we do not know and no one will ever know how many people would be covered by the Bill because its definition is so broad. In fact, it is so broad that it would damage the credibility of the law and lead people to say that the legislation was not just about protecting disabled people against discrimination.
Mr. Barnes: If my Bill is drawn so widely that the numbers cannot be known, the logic of that seems to be that the Government's Bill is so narrow in scope that the numbers can be known and have been taken into account in cost assessment. May we therefore know to how many people the Government's Bill would apply so that we can judge whether there should be a Bill covering a far wider number, even if the Minister does not think that that number can be quantified?
Mr. Hague: I do not think that that was a logical argument, because, of course, the only way in which to know for sure how many people are affected by any definition is to conduct a comprehensive survey based on it. That has not been done for either Bill. It is clear that any or all of the 6.5 million people counted in the OPCS survey in 1988 could be in the scope of the Government's definition. The problem with the definition proposed by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East is that it would undoubtedly include people who are not disabled or may never be disabled, which is extremely dangerous territory.
The hon. Gentleman also made special reference to Northern Ireland. There has never been any question of excluding Northern Ireland from the Bill. The reason why we wrote into the Bill that implementation in Northern Ireland would be by negative resolution procedure was that one of the hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland saw me and suggested that that would be better than an affirmative resolution, which would take longer to bring into force. As I hope all hon. Members know, including the hon. Gentleman, I have since made it clear that we shall write Northern Ireland into the Bill and I propose to do so in Committee to remove any doubt.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East justified bringing the Bill forward on the basis that it would put pressure on the Government. I not sure that, now that we have reached the stage when the Government are producing their own legislation, it puts pressure on the Government or anyone to introduce legislation such as the hon. Gentleman's Bill. Conversely, in introducing his Bill, the hon. Gentleman has illustrated how it is possible to take a good argument of considerable merit about helping people and ruin it by taking it too far. It is not surprising, therefore, that when organisations of and for disabled people met in December to consider whether such a civil rights Bill should be introduced, a large proportion of the 22 organisations around the table expressed the wish that a civil rights Bill should not be introduced this Session, but that hon. Members from all parties would work with the Government on the Disability Discrimination Bill, which I have introduced.
In the light of those factors, the Government do not support this Bill. We recognise, however, that it would be a most unusual step for the Government to ask the House
Column 629to vote against the Second Reading of a private Member's Bill. I have not asked my hon. Friends to do that today, as is readily apparent from the number of my hon. Friends present. Nevertheless, I make it quite clear that the Government intend to ensure that our Bill to end discrimination becomes law and that this Bill does not. We do not intend to provide the additional parliamentary time, which the Bill would undoubtedly need if it were fully examined, went through all stages and became law.
I shall explain in more detail why the Bill is not satisfactory. The first question that we must ask when proposing new legislation is for whom we want to legislate. I expect that the initial public reaction to that question, if we were to ask people in the street, would be that the Bill should cover those with an obvious physical disability--the wheelchair symbol comes to people's minds. But we know that disability goes much further than that, so it is important that we find a workable definition of disability; one which covers all people who could be regarded generally as disabled.
The Government do not think that the definition of disability in the Bill is workable. It embroiders the concept of the generally disabled, making the gateway so wide that many other people who would not be generally accepted as being disabled would be eligible. We would not have a credible law if we brought within its ambit people who are not or who may never be disabled. Yet the Bill proposes that. It extends its protection to people who have a relationship or association with someone with a disability, creating vast uncertainties for the courts. There are millions of people who provide support for elderly parents who are likely to have disabilities. We cannot possibly say that they all count as disabled people without making the law a laughing stock.
The second aspect of the definition that is wrong is the use of the term "major life activity". What exactly does that mean? I assume that the intention is to protect people who would be regarded, in the everyday sense, as disabled. However, the very phrase suggests that the activity in question is specific to the individual. That could lead to giving legislative protection where a person's disability impedes his pursuit of a highly individual aspiration.
The term "major life activity" has been taken from the Americans with Disabilities Act. The difference is that in that Act there is a regulation which provides an illustrative list of those activities, while there is no power to do the same in this Bill. How are people expected to know? I understand that the intention is to publish a code of practice, which would no doubt offer guidance--but it would not be legally binding. The courts ultimately would need to interpret it and their interpretation may be wider or narrower than Parliament intended. There would be no power for the Government or Parliament subsequently to correct that without further primary legislation. The ability to do that is one of the first tests of a piece of legislation, and at that first hurdle the Bill would fall. The Bill also covers people reputed to be disabled. How many people have to believe something about someone for that person to have a reputation? Does the employer or service provider have to be one of them? To expect employers and service providers to operate that provision efficiently is unrealistic. There would be endless litigation turning on the meaning and understanding of "reputation". While I understand who the promoters of the Bill intend to cover, the net has been cast so wide that almost anyone
Column 630could qualify as a disabled person in particular circumstances. Such an approach undermines the credibility of the Bill and would quickly bring it into disrepute if it were enacted.
The doubts about the definitions used in the Bill bring me to a wider concern.
Mr. Alfred Morris: When the Minister has finished his demolition job on a Bill, the principles of which have been debated in this House for more than 40 hours, will he tell us whether the Government are prepared to allow the Bill a Second Reading today or whether they will vote against it?
Mr. Hague: In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not know whether he was listening earlier. I hoped that I had made the Government's position quite clear. The Government do not support the Bill and I am in the process of laying out--the right hon. Gentleman called it a demolition job--the reasons why we believe that the Bill is flawed and why we do not want it to be enacted. I explained earlier that it would be a most unusual step, not taken for seven years or so-- [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman will continue not to know the answer to his question if he does not listen to me. Now we know why he did not hear me before--it is because he does not listen. I want to make it absolutely clear that it would be highly unusual for the Government to ask the House to vote against a private Member's Bill or to put a Whip on such a Bill. We did not think that we should do that on this occasion and we have not done it. I also made it very clear that the Government intend to ensure that our Bill, which we believe will be more effective in ending discrimination against disabled people, becomes law and that the Bill before us does not become law. I also said that the Government would not provide any additional parliamentary time for the Bill beyond that which arrives in the normal course of events--which I fear may be inadequate given the extent of debate that we would have to have about many of the matters that I am now listing.
Mr. Berry rose --
Mr. Hague: The hon. Gentleman knows very well that many organisations of and for disabled people counselled Labour Members not to bring in a civil rights Bill this Session. I referred to that point earlier.
The crucial point that we have discussed in Committee during the proceedings on the Disability Discrimination Bill is that we are trying to bring in a law which will work for the whole nation. It will encourage millions of people to change their attitudes and beliefs and to act according to those attitudes and beliefs. We must have regard to the views and attitudes of many people who have never before expressed views about those matters.
Mr. Tom Clarke rose in his place and claimed to move , That the Question be now put.
Column 631Question put , That the Question be now put: --
The House divided : Ayes 177, Noes 2.
Division No. 69] [2.10 pm
Column 631Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Benn, Rt Hon Tony
Bennett, Andrew F
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)
Bowden, Sir Andrew
Bray, Dr Jeremy
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Campbell-Savours, D N
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)