Previous SectionIndexHome Page

4.47 pm

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood) (Lab): I welcome most warmly the publication yesterday of the draft Disability Discrimination Bill. I also take the opportunity to express my equally enthusiastic support for the Government's policies on jobs and public expenditure. They have brought benefits to my constituents, as they have to everyone else in the country. However, as we have had only a passing reference to the Disability Discrimination Bill, I shall devote my 10 minutes to that measure.

4 Dec 2003 : Column 722

I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Both have earned the respect of many people inside and outside the House for their efforts not only on the Bill but to secure equal opportunities for disabled people. I warmly applaud them.

The draft Bill will secure for disabled people many of the rights that were specifically excluded from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which was introduced by the Conservatives. Eight years since the Act reached the statute book, disabled people are still seven times more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people. It is still the case that twice as many are likely to have no qualifications and that seven out of 10 disabled people report that they cannot go about their normal day-to-day activities because they cannot access buildings or transport. It is hardly surprising—but it should be shocking—to recall that there is now evidence that one in four disabled people offered employment decline that offer because they do not have access to the transport that will get them to work and back home again. We still face such problems, eight years after the Disability Discrimination Act was introduced.

We face the problems largely because, as is well known, the Conservative Government of the time introduced the Act only because of public outrage at the manner in which they blocked legislation in earlier years. They opposed the very principle of securing equal rights for disabled people through legislation but, because of public outrage, they were eventually forced to legislate.

I am afraid that the Tories' hearts were not in it. They did not establish a commission to enforce legislation. They excluded education and transport vehicles from the DDA. They excluded firms employing fewer than 20 people from the Act's provisions, which meant that millions of people in employment were denied any protection under it. They also excluded private clubs and drew up a list of occupations excluded from the Act's provisions, such as the police, members of the armed forces and firefighters.

I would appreciate the Secretary of State's comments on the exclusion of certain occupations because it has always struck me as distinctly odd. The DDA provides that genuine occupational requirements should be recognised. We are not saying that disabled people have the right to take jobs for which they do not have the necessary skills, qualifications or experience. We are saying that if a disabled person has the necessary skills, qualifications and experience and is the best person for the job or is entitled to training opportunities and promotions, he or she should not be denied that by virtue of being a disabled person under the Act. Given that such people must prove that discrimination exists to get protection under the Act, I do not understand why any occupation should be excluded because we are considering a universal principle. I have heard the Secretary of State talk about the matter outside the House, so I am sure that he will clarify the Government's view.

Many of the problems that I outlined have already been addressed. We now have the Disability Rights Commission. The exclusion of education from disability rights legislation was put right by the Special

4 Dec 2003 : Column 723

Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, and the small firms exemption will disappear in October 2004. As my hon. Friends know, I wish that the exemption had not been created in the first place and believe that it should have been removed more quickly. However, small firms will not have the excuse of being able to pay no attention to legislation by October next year—praise be! Additionally, reasonable adjustments are defined in legislation. The shadow Chancellor talked about the imposition of burdens on small firms but they will be protected from unreasonable adjustments. The draft Bill will finish off most of the job of enshrining basic rights for disabled people in law.

We need to extend the definition of disability for the purposes of anti-discrimination legislation. I warmly welcome the fact that the Government have set out their intention in the draft Bill for legislation to apply to all people with HIV, cancer and multiple sclerosis. The draft Bill contains a reference to the fact that regulations might provide for circumstances in which people with cancer would not be covered. Perhaps the Government want to protect people with cancer who are receiving substantial treatment and thus narrow down the group of people who would benefit. I hope that the Secretary of State will comment on that in his winding-up speech.

Current legislation protects people with conditions such as HIV, cancer and MS if their condition is such that they cannot undertake day-to-day activities. However, it does not protect people who are diagnosed with such conditions if their symptoms do not mean that their physical or mental health is affected in such a way that their day-to-day activities are impaired. However, given that it is right to protect people from discrimination because they have been diagnosed with a condition that impedes their day-to-day activity, surely it is right to outlaw discrimination against people who have been diagnosed with such a condition that is not yet affecting their day-to-day activities. How can it be right that people with HIV, cancer or MS must wait until they have significant physical impairment before they are protected by the law? There should be protection from the point of diagnosis. I think that the Government are moving toward accepting that important principle in the draft Bill, but they have not quite done so.

Clause 3 of the draft Bill provides for the extension of the DDA to cover discrimination in relation to the use of transport. I welcome that most warmly. As of today, it is still the case that if a person in a wheelchair wants to get on an accessible bus and the driver does not stop to pick them up, he is not breaking the law. It is also the case that if the bus does stop and the person in the wheelchair tries to get on, the bus driver can be abusive and push them back off again. Tragically, the Disability Rights Commission has cited examples of that type of activity. Such discrimination must be wrong, so it is welcome that the Government are taking powers through the draft Bill to address that gap in the DDA.

I hope that while the Government are dealing with transport they will finally give us a date by which rail vehicles will be required to be accessible. I occasionally pop up in Transport questions to ask about that, but I have yet to receive an answer.

4 Dec 2003 : Column 724

I am delighted that private clubs with more than 25 members are to be included, as they are under the race relations legislation. I am sure that that will be widely supported by political parties, because it means that we will have to ensure that we do not give less favourable treatment to disabled people, and that we make the necessary reasonable adjustments for them.

I am also delighted that public authorities will have a duty to promote disability equality, as they do in relation to race equality under the race relations legislation.

In conclusion, I warmly welcome the draft Bill and hope that the Government will reiterate their commitment to legislate on the proposals during this Parliament, as they promised during the run up to the last election.

4.56 pm

Mr. William Cash (Stone): I want to refer to a matter relating to economic management that has been causing the Chancellor of the Exchequer some concern—the primacy of European law under the proposed European constitution. Having listened to some hon. Members' speeches, that matter seems to have been somewhat overlooked. For example, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) mentioned the last Conservative Government's disastrous policies on the exchange rate mechanism, conveniently forgetting that Labour Members were entirely behind those policies. Indeed, on the basis of the Government's current commitment to economic and monetary union, they would take us back in again.

Last month, the Chancellor expressed deep concern about the danger of the European constitution undermining the role of national Governments in economic policy making. That is a serious matter, because it has an impact not only on the debates that we will have in future if the constitution goes through, but on the effectiveness of our position in the House of Commons in representing our constituents.

To a great extent, the Government's concerns are not being backed up by a determination to retain control over our own economy. In June, the Treasury produced a paper called, "Policy frameworks in the UK and EMU"—economic and monetary union—which states:

It continues:

that, of course, is what monetary union is all about—

It then mentions the excessive deficit procedure, to which I was somewhat opposed in the Maastricht treaty, and the stability and growth pact, which was introduced

4 Dec 2003 : Column 725

in circumstances where I felt that it would have been wiser not to do so—many of us opposed it vigorously—and which has now collapsed in ignominy.

It is worth pointing out that the same paper states:

operate on the basis that

We should reflect on that because although we are outside the single currency, we are not outside the framework in which the economic and monetary union policies operate. In considering the stability and growth pact and the exchange rate mechanism, which many of my distinguished colleagues, including some on the Front Bench, and I vigorously opposed, I was reminded of Shelley's famous poem, "Ozymandias":

It goes on to describe the pedestal:

That is how I would summarise the policies of the European constitution in relation to our economic affairs and management.

The draft European constitution threatens to tighten the noose of European economic management and would transform the European Community and European Union treaties into a free-standing constitution for Europe, adjudicated by what is effectively an EU supreme court. So much for the House's jurisdiction. It proposes easier censure of member states for failing to comply with EU economic policy and deficit guidelines by making such censure subject to the double majority system of qualified majority voting. It would remove the requirement of unanimity for the Council of Ministers to adopt economic measures to apply to member states. It would also confer on the Council of Ministers a mandate to lay down fresh detailed rules and definitions for the excessive deficit procedure protocol. That is all in addition to existing treaty provisions on economic policy co-ordination and so-called multilateral surveillance of member states as well as the notorious dead letter of the stability and growth pact.

We are not considering only technicalities but jobs, public services, realistic growth and public expenditure levels. The stability and growth pact was never a workable instrument but its recent killing off by France and Germany has created a new crisis. The supposed solidarity of EMU has been exposed as a sham. France and Germany originally intended the proposals to contain the profligacy of, for example, Italy. However, by breaking the pact they have undermined the rule of law and they have done so with the disgraceful connivance of the British Government.

4 Dec 2003 : Column 726

The United Kingdom is complicit in the destruction of the stability and growth pact. With Sweden, it opposed the redrafting of article III-88(1) of the draft European constitution on the adoption of measures for the eurozone on economic policy co-ordination and excessive deficits.

Increasing functions are being created for the European Union. As I pointed out to the co-ordinating strategic planner of the Commission in the Select Committee on European Scrutiny the other day, creating more functions leads to more costs and more requirements to pay them. The European constitution must then be re-examined and it states that the Union has to provide the means to support the objectives. The money will come from taxation. The European constitution will have an upward effect on our tax system.

Let me deal with asymmetric socks—[Interruption.] Indeed, perhaps I should consider asymmetric red socks. I meant "shocks". The economists have warned about that for some time and now Ireland is experiencing rampant inflation, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are in recession and Portugal is an economic disaster zone. The internal contradictions of EMU have their own dynamics. They create not diversity but chaos and we will be affected, whether we are in or out.

Monetary union has managed to create the worst of all possible worlds for the eurozone: regional imbalances of inflation and deflation, at first a low and now a damagingly high exchange rate, low growth, high unemployment, treaty obligations broken in every direction, bitter recriminations and a shattered illusion of moral unity. What is proposed is more of the same, whereas we need a fundamental rethink about all this, not only in the United Kingdom but in the rest of the EU.

The Union's plans for economic management are dirigiste—their approach is almost Soviet—and they are unrealistic and unworkable in a democracy because they bear no relation to what people want. But they will have massive effects on people's daily lives, and on regulation, competitiveness, productivity, the social market economy, levels of public expenditure, hospitals, schools, public services and unemployment, as I pointed out in the economic debate about Maastricht all those years ago.

There is also the other requirement under the charter concerning the length of the hours that people work, which will have a tremendous impact on our hospitals, as we saw the other day. There is also the right to strike, which even a Labour Government have not introduced. Even if the UK never joins the euro, our export markets will be affected by it, and our domestic economy remains subject to economic and monetary union.

This constitution must be rejected. There must be a far-reaching, fundamental renegotiation that addresses the reality, not the false vision of the Euro-eélite. Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer agree, and if not, why not?

Next Section

IndexHome Page