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Mr. Boswell: I cannot answer the conundrum that my hon. Friend has just put to the House, but does he agree that the amendment was an honest attempt to introduce the concept of linking rules into qualification under the disability discrimination legislation, in the same way that similar rules apply to benefit claims made by people who suffer recurrent periods of illness or disability? Does he also agree that it would be sensible to consider applying those linking rules to the circumstances covered by this Bill?
Mr. Goodman: My hon. Friend is correct. I believe that Lord Skelmersdale was trying to introduce that linking principle. The other place agreed with him and voted for the amendment in the face of Government opposition.
I listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in response to my
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earlier intervention, but employers frequently discriminate against people diagnosed with depression. In one case study, 200 CVs were sent out to personnel managers. They were identical, apart from the fact that 100 of the people involved had been diagnosed with diabetes, and the other 100 with depression. It was no great surprise to discover that the people with diagnosed diabetes were far more likely to get interviews and make further progress down the chain. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is a fine Bill, and that it has been introduced by an excellent Secretary of State? I hope that it will not be weakened. If clause 18 is deleted, I hope that it will be replaced with something equivalent.
Mr. Goodman: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, and I was very interested in the information that he offered the House. It is true that people with depression face such discrimination, and that is why the other place voted as it did. It is also why the Joint Committee wanted to extend cover for people with depressionand other members of the Joint Committee are present in the Chamber today to vouch for that.
The Bill extends protection for people with HIV, multiple sclerosis and cancer to the point of diagnosis, and that is welcome. However, clause 18 also contains regulations that may prescribe circumstances in which that protection will not apply to certain cancers. Late last year, the Government issued a consultation document listing some of the cancers to which protection might not apply. They included in situ skin cancers that do not affect the full skin thickness and can be treated easily and simply. That seemed to the DRC, and to our colleagues in another place, to miss the vital point that stigma and discrimination can follow from the point of diagnosis, regardless of the severity of the cancer and the degree of medical treatment necessary.
The Government have undertaken, as a result of pressure in another place, not to make any regulations until a consultation and review of the proposals has been carried out with the DRC and cancer charities. That is to be welcomed. A Government amendment was also passed ensuring that any such regulations will be made under the affirmative, rather than negative, resolution procedure. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will report later, when she replies to this debate, on the timetable for that consultation and review.
Miss Begg: Before the hon. Gentleman moves on to discuss hate crimes, I want to tease out what he is asking the Government for in respect of cancer. Is he talking about a cancer that is not debilitating but affects the sufferer only in the sense that others perceive an ugly marka strawberry mark or some other deformity that attracts attention? Is not the effect of the latter condition worse than some of the other cancers to which he has referred? If so, should not it be covered by the Bill too?
I was asking simply for a timetable in relation to a concession that the Government have already made in another place. It is true that disabled people can be discriminated against regardless of the severity of the illness affecting them. As the hon. Lady
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would concede, they can be discriminated against simply because they have the condition in question, so it is right that such questions be raised.
As I said, I want next to move to hate crimes. Clause 3 extends the duties of public authorities. Amendments made in the Lords strengthened the duties to promote positive attitudes towards disabled people, to tackle all forms of harassment and bullying, and to promote participation in public life. That is welcome. The Disability Rights Commission reports that hate crimes affect one in five disabled people, and Mencap reports that hate crimes affect nine out of 10 people with learning disabilities. When does the Minister anticipate that the Home Office will implement section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provides for an increase in sentences for crimes aggravated by hostility based on a person's disability or sexual orientation?
On transport, the Joint Committee recommended an end date on rail accessibility of 2017, together with a limited exemption system that would expire in 2005. Amendments accepted by the Government in the Lords, after much debate, set an end date of 2020 in the Bill. I pay tribute to my noble Friend Lord Higgins, who helped get an end date in the Bill by originally pressing the Government for 2017.
An amendment to remove the power to make exemptions after 1 January 2020 was narrowly defeated in the Lords. The Disability Charities Consortium believes that that sends a strong signal that the Government need to state explicitly that any exemptions granted for the period after 1 January 2020 will have to be proportionate, necessary and for a very limited period only. We agree with the DRC that the 2020 end date must be a firm and definite deadline and that the exemptions procedure set out in clause 6(3) must not be allowed to offer a get-out clause to companies that fail to comply.
That would usually be a matter that we would seek to explore with a Minister in Committee. However, since we are sadly not guaranteed a Committee stageI am happy to give way to the Minister if she wants to confirm that there will be onewill she assure disabled people that the exemptions will be proportionate and necessary and last for a very limited period only? What guidance can she give them about how long that period is likely to be?
The Government agreed during the passage of the Bill in another place to publish draft regulations to make changes to part 5 of the DDA in relation to transport. Will the Minister look again at public service vehicle accessibility regulations with a view to including a requirement for audio-visual provision on buses? At present, there is no provision in the regulations for such a requirement.
The previous enforcement regime on train operating companies that operate inaccessible stock illegally was considered too severe. It has been replaced by a light-touch regulatory framework and a new regime of fines described in clause 8, but as yet the Government have given no indication of the scales that will be used to determine fines. Such information must be forthcoming if disabled people are to have confidence in the new framework. Will the Minister tell us how the fines will be calculated and how the Government will ensure that serious breaches will be more seriously punished? Can
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repeat fines be applied and, if so, how soon after the initial fine? What systems are in place for when a train company appeals against a fine?
Finally on transport, the aviation and shipping industries will continue to operate under a code of practice on accessibility, unlike the rail and bus industries, which will operate under a legislative framework. The regulation powers set out in clause 5 allow the Government to make both codes statutory, but the draft regulations that were recently considered do not include aviation and shipping. The Government have indicated that they will await the outcome of research into both industries before taking further action. Will the Minister say when the first fruits of that research will be published? The House will aware that that is a sensitive issue, as the DCC has mustered some high-profile examples of discriminatory treatment, such as its claim that Brittany Ferries has a policy of not carrying assistance dogs unless they are confined to the car for the entire journey.
I turn now to disability equality duties for schools. As the Secretary of State said, schools will be subject to the general anti-discrimination and pro-opportunity duties set out in clause 3. The question, which he touched on, is whether specific duties should be laid on schools, which would arguably boost outcomes for disabled children. I have heard it suggested that those duties should be in the Bill, rather than applied by regulation. Some 24 per cent. of disabled young people had no qualifications whatsoever in 2003, compared with an average of 11 per cent. for the same age group in the same year. The DRC argues, inter alia, that the lack of specific duties sends the message to schools that disability equality is not as important as race equality, and that that is inconsistent with and undermines achievement of the recommendations made by the Prime Minister's strategy unit, which are based on effective implementation of disability equality schemes.
The DRC claims that Ministers originally intended schools to have such specific duties. It is certain that Baroness Hollis suggested on Report in another place that the way forward now is to review the existing policy and legislative framework in 18 months. It is suggested that there has been some tension on the issueheaven forbidbetween the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education and Skills, and in particular the implementation review group in the DFES. That group was the only organisation to respond negatively to the consultation by the DWP last year.
None the less, I welcome what the Secretary of State said about the regulations. We would be opposed to imposing unnecessary and unwelcome new duties on heads, teachers and governing bodies, so if any proposed specific duties were opposed by teachers, we would oppose them too. However, as the Secretary of State knows, it is striking that they do not seem to be opposed to such duties. The Special Educational Consortium to the TUC, National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers argues that such duties would actually reduce red tape. In ordinary circumstancesif I may refer to the timetable one more timewe would have hoped to explore the issue by tabling amendments in Committee or on Report, but that course is unlikely to be open to us.
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We would also have hoped to table amendments to exploreI put it no more strongly than thatwhether the DDA should be amended to enable cases concerning education discrimination in Scotland to be heard by the additional learning support tribunal for Scotland rather than the sheriff court, on the ground that tribunals are the most appropriate place to hear discrimination claims.
The Bill also invites us to look ahead. The Government intend to set up a commission for equality and human rights and to absorb the DRC into that commission by October 2007. By that time, many provisions in the Bill will have been in place, we hope, for nearly a year. The Bill to introduce the commission is apparently due to receive its Second Reading in this House after Easter, so it has not yet passed through one House of Parliament, let alone two, and must consequently be unlikely to reach the statute book. We will want to examine that Bill closely, but we have already made it clear that we are deeply concerned by some of the possibilities opened up by the proposed abolition of the DRC. The commission is the guardian of the present Bill, and people with disabilities have special needs and requirements.
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