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Mr. Blunkett: I am sorry to intrude on what is undoubtedly an excellent speech, but I think that the right hon. Gentleman implied that the Government were lying by suggesting that we were investing the resources that have been announced today in capital over the next three years. Given the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I should like him to clarify what he meant by that.

Mr. Major: Of course I was not suggesting that the Government were lying. I meant that the £40 billion has been announced before, and that whether it will be there depends on the performance of the economy. I have spent much of my speech arguing that that performance may not be as good as the Government had supposed in their estimates, and that it may not yield the resources that they therefore expect. At that stage, the Government will have to cut expenditure, increase borrowing, raise taxes or do something else. My remark was made in that spirit. I was not suggesting that the Government were engaged in an outright deception--heaven forfend that such a thing should happen.

The policies for industry are absurd. They will add to regulation and to costs and increase the powers of trade unions in a way which will make neither them nor the employers happy--a remarkable double whammy--

Yvette Cooper rose--

Mr. Major: If the hon. Lady will forgive me, I shall not give way.

The Government have been fortunate so far. They have had the longest honeymoon in recorded history. They inherited a strong economy and they are now weakening it; they inherited falling unemployment--sadly, I fear that that is soon to increase--and a growing economy. Partly, but only partly, as a result of their measures, the economy is beginning to slow down. Despite the brilliance of the hype--it has been brilliant hype--it is a miserable performance, and the easy time for the Government is coming to an end. They are about to begin to collide with reality. I see the look of shock crossing the face of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry at the belief that reality might have the impertinence to come up and tap him on the shoulder. Given the way in which the world economy is going, it may not merely tap him--unless he is very lucky, it will grip him by the throat.

The Government are about to come face to face with reality and, unless they are very fortunate or skilful, they will find that the promises that they have set out will not be easily met. I fear that they will find that many of those policies will not operate as they had hoped either

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for them--something with which I do not much concern myself--or for the country as a whole, something with which I do concern myself. They need to look afresh both at their economic prospects as they frame policies, for no one wants promises that turn out to be impossible to meet, and, equally importantly, they must re-examine yet again and with care the option of removing--before it becomes too serious--the constitutional Scottish problem that will arise. In that, I hope that they will both seek and receive the assistance of the Opposition.

5.58 pm

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood): I want to deal with one proposal in the Queen's Speech that has not attracted much attention so far, but which will affect the lives of millions of citizens. Interestingly, it is a proposal that has already been supported by the other place several times, and one that has the support of the Leader of the Opposition, as I was surprised to discover yesterday. I am referring to the Government's proposal to legislate to set up a disability rights commission. Clearly that Bill will go a long way with support from the other place and the Leader of the Opposition, and it deserves to do so.

The House should warmly welcome the proposal, which would go a long way to implement the Government's commitment to ensure comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for disabled people. It will certainly be warmly welcomed by the 8 million disabled people who face discrimination in this country--people who are denied their basic rights to work, to learn, to travel, and even to vote.

It is no exaggeration, therefore, to say that yesterday was an historic day for disabled people, their organisations and their supporters. For the first time, disabled people are to have a statutory body to fight their corner. I am pleased that the Equal Opportunities Commission has been doing its work for many years, and we also have the Commission for Racial Equality. Northern Ireland has the Fair Employment Commission. But we in this country are yet to have a commission to ensure that disabled people are guaranteed their rights.

The disability rights commission should be welcomed primarily because disabled people will have a statutory body to ensure that they have redress if they are treated unfairly or unreasonably in the eyes of the law, but it will also be of great assistance to those who are required to abide by the law. There will be detailed advice for employers and service providers on how to make any necessary changes so that they can benefit from the skills of disabled people and from their custom.

The Government should also be warmly congratulated on the way they consulted before introducing the proposal to set up the disability rights commission. They have accepted the recommendations of the disability rights task force almost to the letter. This is one of those rare occasions on which a Government have consulted on a proposal and brought people together--in this case not only disabled people, but employers, local government, trade unions, the public sector and the private sector, under the aegis of the task force--to prepare a package based on consensus that they will then implement.

In that context, I pay tribute to the Minister for Arts, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), who, as Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, set up the task force and

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produced the White Paper, which was published in July. His commitment to civil rights for disabled people--over many years and from both sides of the House--deserves our recognition.

Let us not forget that disabled people and their organisations have campaigned for comprehensive civil rights for many years, and that hon. Members campaigned for many years in support of them. The first civil rights Bill, which was introduced as a private Member's Bill by my noble Friend Lord Ashley in 1983, provided for a commission. Since then, a commission has been considered an integral part of achieving civil rights by all hon. Members who have sought to legislate through a private Member's Bill, particularly my noble Friend Lord Morris and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes). As secretary of the all-party disablement group, I also acknowledge that hon. Members of all political parties have been part of that campaign.

I welcome the fact that the Conservative Opposition now support a disability rights commission. That was not always the case, of course; indeed, until four years ago, the then Conservative Government were totally opposed to legislation of any kind to secure equal rights for disabled people, and were prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to stop such legislation.

That said, I am usually prepared to let bygones be bygones. In politics, there is not much mileage in bearing grudges, and I try not to do it. I would not have said anything else about the past if it had not been for the remarks in yesterday's debate by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the Leader of the Opposition.

I had to check Hansard this morning, because I could not believe that I had heard the right hon. Gentleman say:

I am occasionally surprised at comments made in this Chamber--we all are. Some of us are surprised most of the time, but when I heard those words, I could scarcely contain myself. I asked myself whether this could possibly be the same Member of Parliament who, as Minister for Social Security and Disabled People in the previous Administration, vehemently opposed a disability rights commission on every occasion. With regret, I have to inform the House that the right hon. Gentleman is that same gentleman.

I spent an enjoyable couple of hours this morning going through the Official Report of the debates on Second Reading, in Standing Committee and on Report for the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. There is a mountain of quotations from the right hon. Gentleman fundamentally opposing the notion of a disability rights commission. I shall simply select one at random--there are so many, it is difficult to know where to begin.

In Standing Committee, the right hon. Gentleman said:

He went on:

    "The issue of a commission has become an article of faith, but I ask the Committee and people outside Parliament to understand that there is more than one way to approach the problem."--[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 23 February 1995; c. 389-390.]

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    The then Government's approach to the problem was to set up not a disability rights commission, but the National Disability Council, whose remit was to advise the Government.

It was therefore particularly unfortunate for the previous Administration that the NDC annual report--which was produced after not two or three years of operation, but one--recommended that a disability rights commission be set up. It virtually said, "Please abolish us, and set up a commission."

David Grayson, the admirable chair of that organisation, said in his foreword:

The NDC said that because it recognised after one year's work that there was not such a body, and that the NDC itself certainly was not a body of that sort. The NDC called on the Government to attach "an early priority" to legislating for comprehensive and enforceable civil rights.

I warmly welcome the commitment in the Queen's Speech to set up a disability rights commission. The White Paper published in July made a number of points; I shall not take up the House's time by repeating them all, but I shall echo a few, which are absolutely essential to the efficient functioning of the disability rights commission.

The commission's mission must be to work towards the elimination of discrimination against disabled people. That, above all, is its prime task. It should advise the Government on the legislation that is necessary to move from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to full, comprehensive and enforceable civil rights. In that sense, the disability rights commission will be an extremely important vehicle in assisting the Government to fulfil the final part of their commitment.

The commission should encourage good practice by employers and by service providers, because this is not simply a matter of legislation and of threatening to take people to court.

Everybody knows that the most effective anti- discrimination legislation is legislation that is rarely used in the sense of taking people to a tribunal or to court. If the legislation and the institutions that back it up are good enough, conciliation and advice can deal with the problems. Naturally, there must be a final right to prosecute if the law is broken, but it is extremely important that one of the key objectives of the disability rights commission should be to encourage good practice among employers and service providers, and to make arrangements for conciliation. It should also be able to assist individuals to enforce their rights not only under the Disability Discrimination Act but under the Human Rights Act 1998.

All that requires adequate funding. I am not jumping on to my usual hobby horse. That is the recommendation of the National Disability Council, which points out that sufficient resources must exist if the commission is to do its job properly. It is a crucial issue. The Equal Opportunities Commission has a budget of some £7 million a year, and the Commission for Racial Equality has a budget of some £11 million a year. The disability rights commission will require more than the CRE's £11 million if it is to fulfil its responsibilities.

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Let us not forget that, like the CRE, the commission will undertake awareness-raising activities, but those will include awareness of impairments, barriers to disabled people's participation and how to overcome them, and the provisions of relevant legislation. It will have to ensure full accessibility to information, of advocacy and support. It will have to advise on reasonable adjustment, as defined in the Disability Discrimination Act. It will also have to support individuals who take cases to court under the Human Rights Act. Those are substantial duties, and the new commission's funding must be adequate to reflect them.

The establishment of the commission will be a major step towards comprehensive and enforceable civil rights. I hope that, at an early date, it will assist in achieving three other objectives that are part of that agenda: first, small firms should not be exempt from civil rights legislation; secondly, we should define disability to include all those who experience disability discrimination; and, thirdly, we should include transport and education within the framework of anti-discrimination legislation. We have none of those provisions at present.

I am sure that the vast majority of hon. Members welcome the proposal. It is a significant step towards implementing the Government's commitment to securing comprehensive civil rights for disabled people. It should be welcomed with enthusiasm: it is long overdue.

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