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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the Disability Rights Commission also said in its briefing that the Bill requires no further amendment?
Mr. Goodman: It is important to ask whether the Disability Rights Commission would have said that were we not having a general election on 5 May and if more time were available for further consideration.
Mr. Boswell: My hon. Friend will know that I have a high regard for the Disability Rights Commission and its work. However great the wisdom of the DRC, would it not be even better to tap the wisdom of hon. Members and ascertain their thoughts on amendments? When we are dealing in particular with uncontentious legislation, is it not a bad way to do business for the Government to hold a pistol to Members' heads and say, "Either give way and concede without further discussion, or the whole measure will be taken away with no prospect of return for many years"?
Mr. Goodman: It is important that Members here and in the other place and disabled people and their organisations are able to make their views plain. Like other hon. Members, I have had conversations about the Bill with disabled people and disability organisations, but I can recall none saying that the Bill, though good, is incapable of further improvement.
Tom Levitt: Given the universal acclaim for the Bill, to whatever degree of perfection, will the hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that his party will, through the usual channels, move heaven and earth to co-operate if it proves necessary to accelerate the Bill's passage through the House?
Mr. Goodman: I hear that representation and the hon. Gentleman will have heard me say earlier that we want to see the Bill on the statute book. When I asked the Secretary of State earlier whether he could guarantee the Bill a full Committee and Report stage, and guarantee its passage on to the statute book, he said that he was not a business manager, so he could not. Neither am I, so we are in the same position in that regard.
Mr. Goodman: I am not sure whether the Secretary of State knows the full views of the usual channels on the Government side, so the argument goes both ways. The key point for the hon. Gentleman to note is that if the Bill had been introduced earlier, we would not need these exchanges across the Floor of the House and we could get on with consideration of the Bill.
Is the hon. Gentleman arguing that we should not have subjected the Bill to the pre-legislative
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scrutiny Committee? I am interested in having that question answered, because that is the main reason why the Bill has come before the House so late. Does he believe that we were wrong?
Mr. Goodman: The Secretary of State will recall that when the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee was established, many disability organisations said that they would have preferred the Bill to come before Parliament straight away. Speaking as a member of the Joint Committee, I agree that that Committee did good work. If the Secretary of State looked further into the proceedings of the Bill, he would find that, after the Joint Committee had reported and the Government had responded to it, the Government could have moved faster to introduce the Bill in the House of Lords. The introduction of the Bill was held up, if I recall correctly, by our old friend the Hunting Bill. Many of my hon. Friends do not believe that that Bill was at all necessary. I hope that I have dealt with that procedural point.
Maria Eagle: The Government accepted a number of the recommendations in the scrutiny Committee report and incorporated them in the Bill. Furthermore, the Bill was already much improved before coming before this House as a result of the Joint Committee's work. How the hon. Gentleman can argue that all that process adds up simply to delay is completely beyond me.
Mr. Goodman: As the Minister knows, the Bill before us here today is late. It remains the case that, after receiving the scrutiny Committee report and the Government's response to it, the Government could have introduced the Bill more quickly in the other place. Had they done so, the Bill would have arrived more quickly here. In that case, we could have had full Committee and Report stages, which we are now most unlikely to have. The blame lies fairly and squarely with the Government.
The likely lack of time for improvement and amendment means that many disabled people will greet this all but unamendable Billthat is what it looks to be, in practicewith mixed feelings: with gladness, naturally, because it is a good Bill, but with a measure of regret for missed opportunities, because it is not as good as it could have been. Throughout this Parliament, we have consistently called for the Bill to be presented and considered as soon as possible. Had it been presented and considered earlier, as I said a few moments ago, it would have been amendable and improvable in this place.
The blame for this singular lack of urgency lies fairly and squarely with the Government's business managers. They, lest we forget, timetabled the only debate on disability in Government time in this Parliament on the worst possible day of this Parliament: Euro-election day, the day on which most Members from all parties
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were most likely to be absent. The business managers plainly had other more pressing priorities, such as finding time for the Hunting Bill.
We must presume that the legislation that reaches the statute book will look almost indistinguishable from the Bill before us today. The Bill is, indeed, as the DRC has indicated, very much improved as a result of cross-party and Back-Bench pressure on the Government in the other place. I want to pay tribute to the peers of whatever political party who, for example, forced no fewer than 13 concessions from the Government on Report and defeated the Government in a crucial vote on depression. That vote extended the Bill's protection to people with depression, and is now enshrined in clause 18. I shall return to that matter later, in light of what the Secretary of State said. In the meantime, I pay tribute to my noble Friend Lord Skelmersdale, who moved that amendment, for his work on the Bill, and to my noble Friend Lord Higgins. As the DRC states in its briefing on the Bill:
"As the result of tough cross-party scrutiny in the Lords, and effective engagement with disabled people and their organisations, the Bill has been strengthened to deliver major gains for disabled people in access to housing, access to rail transport, in relation to public bodies' responsibility to tackle hate crime and promote positive attitudes towards disabled people and in relation to participation in public life."
Miss Begg: For some 12 minutes, I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman complain about the lack of time for scrutiny of the Bill. I have been waiting for him to get on with explaining what the Bill lacks. I hope that he will stop wasting time complaining about the lack of time.
Mr. Goodman: I am very grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was about to say that some of the gains in the Billand the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South supported the provision in respect of depression, at least in principle, during the Joint Committee proceedingswere originally suggested in the Joint Committee report. For example, the report proposed that disabled people in rented accommodation should have effective rights not to have requests for access improvements to their homes unreasonably refused by landlords. That proposal was originally suggested in recommendation 56 of the Joint Committee's report and is now enshrined in clause 16.
Another example concerns the imposition of clear duties on the public sector to promote positive attitudes towards disabled people, to tackle all forms of harassment and bullying, and to promote participation in public life. That was originally suggested in recommendation 14, and is now enshrined in clause 3. In the other place, the Government also moved towards the Joint Committee's position on cancer. Originally, the Government directly rejected 17 of the 75 recommendations from the Joint Committee, and eight indirectly. However, I note from the Secretary of
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State's figures that we got there in the end. All members of the Joint Committee, and others, will therefore welcome those gains.
I referred earlier to the amendment tabled by my noble Friend Lord Skelmersdale to extend the protection given by the Bill to people with depression. The Government opposed the amendment but, as we have heard, it was nevertheless carried in the other place and is now enshrined in clause 18.
The Joint Committee recommended that people experiencing separate periods of depression totalling six months over a two-year period should be considered to meet the long-term requirement set out in the 1995 Act. Lord Skelmersdale's amendment, which was supported by Mind, was a variant on that theme. According to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, depression is usually a time-limited disorder lasting up to six months. Clause 18(3) stipulates that people will have protection if they undergo episodes of depression and if one such episode in the previous five years lasted at least six months.
We agree with the Disability Charities Consortiumthe coalition consisting of Leonard Cheshire, Mencap, Radar, the Royal National Institute of the Blind, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, and Scopethat clause 18(3) is modest and reasonable. We want it to stay in the Bill, so we were obviously disappointed by what the Secretary of State said in his opening remarks. Given that there has been no confirmation in this debate yet that the Bill will receive full Committee and Report stages, I am curious to know how the Government propose to remove the provision from the Bill. No doubt, we shall discover that in due course.
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