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Column 903Question accordingly agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 125, in page 25, line 2, at end insert-- `(4A) Part II does not apply to service--
(a) as a member of the Ministry of Defence Police; or
(b) as a prison officer.
(4B) Part II does not apply to service as a member of a fire brigade who is or may be required by his terms of service to engage in fire fighting.
(4C) It is hereby declared (for the avoidance of doubt) that Part II does not apply to service in any of the naval, military or air forces of the Crown.'.
No. 126, in line 7, at end insert--
` "fire brigade" means a fire brigade maintained in pursuance of the Fire Services Act 1947;
Column 904"Ministry of Defence Police" means the force established under section 1 of the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987;
"prison officer" means a person who is a prison officer within the meaning of section 127 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, apart from those who are--
(a) custody officers within the meaning of Part I of the Act of 1994; or
(b) prisoner custody officers within the meaning of Part IV of the Criminal Justice Act 1991 or Chapter II or III of Part VIII of the Act of 1994;'.-- [Mr. Hague.]
Amendments made: No. 96, in page 26, line 3, leave out from `means' to `a person' in line 4.
No. 97, leave out lines 7 and 8.
No. 127, in line 16, at end insert--
` "mental impairment" does not have the same meaning as in the Mental Health Act 1983 but the fact that an impairment would be a mental impairment for the purposes of that Act does not prevent it from being a mental impairment for the purposes of this Act;'.-- [Mr. Hague.]
Amendment made: No. 101, in page 31, line 45, leave out `conciliation officer' and insert
`person appointed in connection with arrangements under section 22'.-- [Mr. Hague.]
Amendment made: No. 134, in page 34, line 24, at end insert-- `. In section 136(1) of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978 (appeals to Employment Appeal Tribunal), at the end insert--
"(ff) the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.".'.-- [Mr. Hague.]
Amendments made: No. 102, in page 36, line 1, after `2(5)', insert
`for "him" substitute "it" and'.
No. 103, in line 35, leave out `1989' and insert `1986'. No. 104, in line 40, at end insert--
`. In section 16(4) and (6) omit "or (in Scotland) the subject of".'.
No. 105, in page 38, leave out lines 3 to 5.
No. 106, in page 40, leave out lines 1 to 3.
No. 107, in page 43, line 17, leave out `and'.
No. 108, in line 18, at end insert
`and subsections (3) and (4) below'.
No. 109, in line 28, leave out `Secretary' and insert `the Secretary'.
No. 110, in page 44, line 25, at end insert
`and in paragraph 3(7) for "his" substitute "its".'.
No. 111, in page 45, line 10, at end insert--
`(c) in the definition of "relevant compromise contract" for "or Article" substitute "Article" and at the end insert "or section 9(2) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995".'.
Column 905No. 112, leave out line 31.
No. 113, leave out line 35.-- [Mr. Hague.]
Order for Third Reading read .
At this point we should pause for a second and raise our eyes from the level of detail that we have debated in Committee and on Report and remind ourselves of several things about the Disability Discrimination Bill. It is a landmark Bill. It is the only comprehensive Bill for disabled people ever introduced by a British Government. It will mark the United Kingdom out as one of the world leaders and the leader in Europe in the move towards comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people. It is a profound measure with significant implications for every part of the economy.
Mr. Hague: I am satisfied, and the House will be satisfied, that I am referring to the Disability Discrimination Bill. It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman interrupted me at that point because I was about to be generous to many people on the Opposition Benches as well as to many of my hon. Friends. I acknowledge that the Bill embodies a goal for which many people have worked tirelessly over the years. They include hon. Members on both sides of the House, many of whom are present in the Chamber tonight, as well as campaigners outside the House and many disabled people.
We owe it to all the people who have campaigned for such legislation to get it right. That means producing legislation that wins the support and active co-operation of all employers and service providers who must deliver the benefits that we want to flow from it. I also pay tribute to the constructive approach that has been adopted by hon. Members on both sides of the House in Committee and on Report. I am convinced and I think that it is clear that the points that have divided the House have been of far less significance than some basic principles that now unite it.
I also pay tribute to the consideration of detail that has gone on behind the scenes. Organisations of and for disabled people and many other groups have helped us to improve the Bill. The improvements that we have seen effected, particularly on Report, are due in no small way to their labours as well as to the efforts of hon. Members.
It is all too easy for ambitious law to become ambiguous law. Many hon. Members said during our debates that they did not want the legislation to be a beanfeast for lawyers. I certainly agree with that. We must be particularly careful in matters of disability discrimination, in which there could easily be far more uncertainty than in the sex and race legislation dealt with in the past. Therefore, the Government's guiding principle has been to achieve certainty wherever possible so that employers and service providers know what is meant by disability and we do not have a vague concept that might cover all kinds of people who never have been or may never be disabled.
Column 906We want to achieve certainty so that employers and service providers know what they have to do to provide an accessible environment for disabled people. The Bill has the potential to affect the employers of many thousands of disabled employees in all manner of jobs and occupations. It has the potential to affect about 750,000 businesses, from broadcasting and banking to greengrocers and newsagents. That is why we have made sure that the legislation is sufficiently flexible to be applied right across the board and why we have had the good sense to allow that matters such as education and transport deserve to be treated in a different way. I am pleased that we have been able to make or plan to make in another place additional provisions on those matters.
We want to achieve certainty so that disabled people know how to obtain redress if employers and service providers fall short of the standards expected; hence, we want to have a national network of advice points, whether placing, assessment and counselling teams or citizens advice bureaux, so that disabled people have somewhere local and amenable to which they can turn when they need help. We have made statutory provision for codes of practice and guidance so that those who provide advice and support know what is reasonable in a given set of circumstances.
While we have ensured that the Bill abides by those principles, the Government have been prepared to listen and to make sensible adjustments. In our debates on amendment No. 12, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), earlier today, we accepted that we should widen the definition of disability to include those with a history of disability. We have accepted that the small employers' exemption should be reviewed for effectiveness and that we should remove the power to increase the number of employers exempted.
We have accepted that the Government's policy of requiring transport to be made accessible to disabled people on a replacement basis in the future should be, for the sake of certainty, written into the Bill. We have included measures against discrimination in the sale and letting of property. We have undertaken to look again at a variety of other matters. Our approach of flexibility founded on solid principles is reflected in the Bill. I believe that it is the right approach to this difficult and complicated subject and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Tom Clarke: We have had some interesting debates in the past two days. I am sure that the Minister shares my view that the public awareness of the debates has been interesting. As we have sat here, I have received note after note inviting me to raise issues which I would love to raise, but which, alas, time does not allow me to do. I am sure that the Minister has had the same experience and that his electorate has followed our proceedings.
Only two minutes ago I was requested in neat writing, better than mine, to raise on Third Reading the issue of access to work and the possible impact of introducing reasonable accommodation. That was a specific reference which a member of the public attached to Government amendment No. 120. So I hope that in our democratic processes members of the public will not think that we have not taken their views on board. Alas, because of the limited time--we could have debated the matter for a
Column 907whole week, if not more, so perhaps we should have a party conference on disability--we could not take all the points on board. I thank the Minister for his unfailing courtesy; I shall perhaps return to that later. It has been the ambition of many people inside and outside the House to make 1995 the year of disabled people's rights. The Bill is not adequate to justify that title, but we remain hopeful that progress can be made. The Government have been forced to tear up their "exemptions"--I use the word in the Bill--for education and transport vehicles. We count that as progress on two of the most objectionable features of the Government's original proposals. The Government have promised to move new clauses in another place that will do something to improve the position of disabled pupils and students in education and will apply the right of access to public transport by road and rail. We shall wait to see the contents before we pass final judgment, but the fact that Ministers have abandoned the appalling exemptions--to use their words and the words in the Bill--is a major victory for disabled people. I congratulate disabled people and organisations of and for disabled people on those achievements.
Ministers have also conceded a little ground on the exemption of small firms by removing the option to extend that exemption to firms with 20 or more employees. However, what they have given with one hand they have taken away with the other by introducing at the very end of our proceedings today a new employment exemption for particular services, which we have only just discussed, and discussed inadequately. Ministers have given ground in a number of areas in response to the positive arguments that my hon. Friends and others have raised during the past 10 weeks. Their concessions do not do enough to transform the Bill into the kind of comprehensive measure which we would have liked to see, but they give us some encouragement that further improvements will be possible.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said, we are pleased that the Government have now conceded part of what we sought in Committee in terms of access to information and to the means of communication. We do not regard the Government's concession as sufficient, and their explanation for failing to impose a requirement on manufacturers to provide information on goods in an accessible form is unconvincing.
The Government have fiddled a little with their definition of disability, but they have not addressed the central issue. The basis on which protection will be provided under the Bill remains--despite all our efforts --a narrow, medically based definition of disability, and we are therefore disappointed. The real issue is that discrimination arises from prejudice more often than from medical assessments. People need protection from prejudices against disability, whether those prejudices are based on an accurate assessment of a medical condition or on ignorance alone, as we have found so often in discussing the matter.
The Government have added some substance to the definition of what arrangements employers should make to support disabled employees. Those may be helpful to employers and to disabled people alike, although we would be anxious to ensure that the examples of appropriate steps are not interpreted as an exhaustive list--far from it.
Column 908The most important concessions have been achieved on transport and education, and we heard about those matters this afternoon. We have argued from the beginning that it made no sense to exclude disabled people from those gateways to opportunity in a measure intended to outlaw disability discrimination. We have argued for a programme to be introduced under which all public transport vehicles should be made accessible. Ministers have fought a long rearguard action against that, but they have finally conceded defeat today and we welcome that. Not only do we welcome the inclusion of road and rail transport, but we look forward to that principle being embraced by fishing and ferry services as well.
I do not underestimate the achievement of this House in producing the measure--why should I? It is a great credit to the democratic processes of our parliamentary representative government that we have squeezed those concessions at almost the 11th hour from the Government. We welcome the access to vehicles such as buses and trains, but--as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) eloquently argued--we want the measure to apply to ferries and shipping services as well.
All this has not been achieved by sleight of hand. I welcome sincerely the presence in the Chamber of the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott), for whom I have the highest regard. I believe that, within the ministerial restraints and constraints which exist, the right hon. Gentleman fought hard to achieve the measures which have been announced tonight. My only regret is that, as a distinguished parliamentarian, he was not able to speak on behalf of the Government today. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman should be very proud of his achievements, and we recognise that. I also pay tribute to the input of my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) who, in introducing their private Members' Bills, clearly provided a lever which compelled the Government to recognise public opinion and the opinions of the House.
I recognise that we in the Labour party have had support on the issues from hon. Members from other parties, including the hon. Members for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and for Rochdale (Ms Lynne). The hon. Lady fought her corner superbly in Committee. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and hon. Members from all political opinions in Northern Ireland have been absolutely firm in their demands on the issue, and they have every reason to be proud of themselves.
It would be an absolute omission were I not to mention my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), whose name will always be associated with civil rights for disabled people. When some people were questioning at an early stage whether two Bills could be debated in one Session of Parliament, my right hon. Friend was steadfast, forthright and determined. As always, my right hon. Friend represents the very best in the all-party group which deals with disability.
The hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) played a noble part today in inviting the Government to introduce their concessions, and he can associate himself with those achievements also.
The issue of transport remains important and, although we welcome the concessions, we will be watching what happens in another place where noble Friends such as Lord Ashley, Baroness Masham and others who have fought so often and so hard on the issues will be vigilant.
Column 909I wish briefly to refer to the issue of taxis, which we were not able to address on Report because of the procedures of the House. I realise that the Minister and the House are facing a difficult situation in which there are strong opinions on both sides. The achievements in London ought to be applauded, and they could represent a model for elsewhere. However, strong representations have been made on the issue, not least by some hon. Friends, including the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin).
The excellent Employers Forum on Disability, whose representatives I met the other week in the presence of Bill Morris of the Transport and General Workers Union, advised us to look cautiously at the issue of taxis. There are two opinions on taxis, and I hope that we will have reached by the end of our deliberations the consensus which disability--outstanding among all other issues--seems to attract. The House is at its best on disability issues, and today's debate has been no exception. I am sure that the debate on taxis will continue, and I would like to assure my hon. Friends and many others that we recognise that there are at least two separate views on the issue.
On education, the Government recognised the force of our arguments, and I look forward to the details of the new rights for disabled students which the Minister mentioned yesterday. I welcome also the obligation on individual schools and colleges to say what they will do to improve access. Having argued the point yesterday, I accept that there is a big responsibility on them to do so. We hope that suitable enforcement procedures will be introduced at the same time, so that those institutions that do not make adequate provision are placed under some obligation to improve matters within a reasonable time.
On education and transport, we will watch closely to see how clause 12 will be redrafted. We want the total exemption of those services to be replaced by a clear statement that they are subject to the law in the same way as other service providers. Of course, we accept that particular provision must be made for what must be done when, but it is essential that the new version of clause 12 clearly establishes the principle that those services are under a duty not to discriminate.
In spite of the Government's concessions on transport, education and so forth, they remain stubbornly opposed to the most important change that Opposition Members--with some support from Conservative Members--have suggested, which is to give adequate enforcement powers to the Government's proposed National Disability Council. Until they do so, no matter how much the Bill may be improved in its scope and coverage, it will not be adequate because it will not provide disabled people with the powerful backing required to eliminate discrimination.
Although Parliament has indeed been at its best, even given the fact that we did not achieve all that we wanted, sadly the same could not be said of the British media. The Guardian today made up for lost ground in a very interesting leader entitled, "Enabling the Disabled", which appealed to the Minister as much as it did to me. One or two of the profound comments in it are relevant to this debate. It said:
"For 15 years they"--
Column 910"could see no discrimination, hear no discrimination, nor smell no discrimination against disabled people. Then, hey presto, they were faced with a private member's bill in the last parliamentary session which they were only able to stop by ordering backbench sycophants to torpedo it"--
Mr. Clarke: As I was about to say, they are not much in evidence tonight. I have looked in vain for the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), but I think that she got the message last time around.
The Guardian concluded appropriately by saying:
"What is needed--as the history of race and sex discrimination demonstrates --is an enforcement agency. Even Conservative supporters--see last week's Guardian Society--are insisting on this change. Peers take note. Without it, the whole edifice collapses." I could not have put it better myself.
We have taken into account the views and pledges that the Government have expressed and we do not want to be churlish. I am confident that the Government will come under renewed pressure on the matter in another place. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) set his colleagues an example last night and today, which others may follow if this matter comes back from another place as a result of a successful amendment, or perhaps more than one. Opposition Members will certainly continue to set a high priority on the means of enforcement and on turning good intentions into real progress. If we achieve that, whatever the other limitations of this legislation, we will have gone a long way towards making this the year of disabled people's rights. Unless and until we do, the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East, will remain the best hope for progress and I say so proudly as one of his colleagues.
We shall not, however, oppose the Third Reading of this Bill, weak and inadequate though it remains, despite the concessions that I welcomed--I do not want to be churlish about them. However, we look forward to seeing it much improved before it is placed on the statute book. We hope that the House will have a further opportunity to consider some of those improvements.
We accept that the most important concessions achieved are those on transport and education, but we hope that, when the Bill goes to another place and in the intervening weeks or months, the Government will have the opportunity to reflect not simply on our debates but on the views of organisations of and for disabled persons--heavens, we all admire them. In that cold January day on the eve of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East, they stood in cold Westminster Hall, sending green cards to Members, some of whom responded--some did not. They did not even have access to loudspeaker equipment. I hope that the people there that day and the many other disabled people and carers who organised similar events and meetings throughout the country will feel that at the end of the day, despite their misgivings and their understandable scepticism, there is yet something to be said for representative parliamentary democracy. In that spirit, and as a tribute to them, we will not oppose the Third Reading, but will act with vigilance on the events that take place.
Column 9118.45 pm
Sir John Hannam: In the same spirit as the spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), I am pleased to follow what he said and I am pleased that the Third Reading will not be opposed. We have had two fruitful days of consideration of this important Bill and, although the Government were not able to concede on two of the early issues--the commission and the small firms exclusion figure--since then, thanks to the willingness of my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People to discuss and negotiate improvements with us, the Bill has been much improved and strengthened. The key areas of education and transport are now included and my hon. Friends the Ministers in both those Departments are to be thanked.
The provision of information, definitions of disability and the history of disability, leave of absence at work and other employment assistance are now included and other improvements, through Government amendments, have all combined to make this
anti-discrimination legislation a truly historic step forward for disabled people.
Towards the end of today's debate, we found that we were unable to discuss two important areas--civic rights, on which I was hoping to move some amendments, and leave of absence provisions. I will touch on those so that my hon. Friend the Minister can deal with some of the issues that we would have raised.
The leave of absence provisions, on which the Government moved amendment No. 120, relate to responsibilities that employers must have for their disabled employees or those who may become disabled while working and who may need a period of leave for rehabilitation or retraining. We also recognise that a newly disabled person, even after rehabilitation, might not be able to continue in the same employment.
The provision of leave of absence as a part of reasonable adjustment is the motivation behind such options as disability leave, which was an initiative developed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind and was launched less than two years ago by the then Secretary of State for Employment, who is now Secretary of State for Education.
The pilot scheme has enjoyed widespread support from employers and organisations representing disabled people. The steering group includes the Midland bank, Barclays bank, the Employers Forum on Disability, the Trades Union Congress and the Department of Employment, in addition to the various disability organisations. It would have been incomprehensible not to have recognised the potential of that initiative by including in the Bill provisions to enable disability leave to be given. I welcomed, therefore, Government amendment No. 120, which we unfortunately did not have a chance to debate in any detail. I put that on the record because it is an important part of the changes to the Bill today.
Civic rights, as I term them, were the other important issue that we did not discuss because of pressure of business. The amendments on the Order Paper were aimed at providing disabled people with reasonable access to the process of politics and the justice system. One was designed as a probing measure, to ensure that adjustments
Column 912are provided under part III of the Bill, if required by disabled persons, to enable them to serve as an elected or appointed member, for example as a Member of Parliament or a councillor, or if required by a disabled person wishing to make representations to an elected or appointed person. For example the law debars a deaf and dumb person from standing as a parliamentary candidate. There is only one elected deaf councillor, despite the wonderful example in this place of the co-chairman of the all-party disablement group, the noble Lord Ashley.
Another area which we could not discuss today was access to the justice system. It is vital for disabled people to gain full access to the judicial system and legal proceedings. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister said that the Bill covered the judicial system and legal proceedings and that the design of new Crown and county courts should enable disabled people to have independent access into and within those buildings. While "The Court Standard and Design Guide" states that all new court rooms and those undergoing significant alterations must comply with part M of the building regulations, that does not deal with the problem of access to existing court rooms. The building regulations do not cover many of the adaptations and facilities that would be required by disabled people in court, nor do they specify monitoring and maintenance--many of the sound enhancement schemes for hard of hearing people installed under part M do not work. A survey carried out by the Lord Chancellor's Department in 1993 showed that 44 per cent. of Crown and county courts had inaccessible main entrances; 59 per cent. had no disabled toilets; and only 6 per cent. had facilities for deaf and hard of hearing people.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister would have wished to comment on those points, had he had an opportunity to do so, and I hope that he will accept the concerns felt by disabled people about problems of access to courts, justice and juries.
A year ago, I and my colleagues on the all-party disablement group were desperately trying to persuade the Government to adopt positive anti- discrimination legislation. As the hon. Member for Monklands, West described, it took a long, hot summer of campaigning and applying pressure, with lobbies of Parliament, marches, demonstrations and debates in the House. But following the personal intervention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, together with the previous Minister responsible for disabled people, who was in the Chamber a few moments ago, we began to see some progress. A somewhat inadequate consultation document first appeared on the scene. That changed for the better into a nearly satisfactory Bill and White Paper. Now, having filled the gaps during Report, we have reached the point where a good measure is heading for the other place, where a number of further changes will no doubt be implemented by members of the all-party group, which is more than adequately represented there.
Many hon. Members are still committed to the private Member's Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which will also continue its progress through the House. As one of those supporters, I believe in the old adage that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. This Bill has now become a nice plump bird and is on its way to the statute book before the summer is out. I therefore congratulate all those who have worked so hard, both within Parliament and in all those organisations outside. I hope that they regard their efforts as well rewarded.
Column 913I therefore hope that the House will give this landmark Bill an unopposed Third Reading.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe): I was deeply moved, as others on both sides of the House must have been, by the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). He has shown a shining sincerity in arguing the claims of disabled and other needful people from the day that he entered the House. He is worthy of the highest admiration, and his Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), is also entitled to our deepest respect. He has brought enormous skill, humanity and commitment to his new sphere of responsibility, and I thank him most warmly for all that he has contributed to our debates on the Bill.
The Bill was heralded as an historic advance for disabled people. In fact it marks only the end of an historic retreat from contemporary standards of protecting disabled people across the developed world. We used to lead the world in legislating on new help for disabled people; for example, in legislating on access to the built environment, the first country ever to do so, 25 years ago. We pioneered as well, also in the 1970s, such entirely new benefits as the mobility allowance, the disabled housewife's allowance and the invalid care allowance.
The Government's measure is, of course, their latest attempt to assuage the public outrage provoked by the wholly scandalous tactics used to obstruct the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill ever since I drafted and first presented it to the House in 1991. There were no less than three personal statements of unreserved apology for misleading the Speaker and this House in debates on the Bill. They were three of only four such statements that I have witnessed in 31 years as a Member of Parliament.
There are those who ask today why, now that the Government have been dragged kicking and screaming to accept the necessity of legislation, we do not just welcome them as repentant sinners and work further to amend and improve their, by common consent, pallid alternative to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. That is not my description; it is how disabled people themselves have described the Government's Bill as compared with our Bill.
A woman who is well disposed to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill wrote to me recently to say:
"Now that you have won and the Government at long last are having to legislate, why don't you simply claim victory and amend their Bill to your liking?"
Nothing would have been more agreeable to me than to have been able further to amend, at will, the Government's proposals and thus to end the parliamentary battle I began in 1979 when I appointed the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Large. But changes to their Bill on the scale required to make it acceptable to disabled people have proved impossible. Even had they not been, why, having invented the wheel, should we have had to waste time trying to adapt the Government's unacceptable imitation of one?
As well as attempting to make the Government's Bill more acceptable, are we not right to go on trying to enact our own? Another question posed is why, even if we are unable further to improve the Government's Bill, can we not accept what is on offer as a major step forward after