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Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): I am grateful to my semi-Marxist friend for giving way. Perhaps he can help me with a particular concern about clause 10, which deals with discriminatory advertisements. If a football manager were to advertise for players for a football team, could such an advertisement imply that the applications will be determined by the extent to which the applicant does not have a disability?
Mr. Boswell: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for raising that matter, but I am conscious that he is more legally qualified than me. My answer ad interim is that if the Bill had a proper Committee stage, we could properly thrash the matter out and ensure that we got it right.
To take my right hon. Friend's point a little wider, the one thing that would discredit all this, to borrow from the language of race relations, is the Scotch porridge case, where people find themselves in ridiculous circumstances that defy common sense as they see it. What we need is an agenda to promote the rights of disabled people, without pillorying those who are trying to do their best to meet it.
Maria Eagle: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who says that he is not a Marxist. I am a Marxist, but of the Groucho tendency. The intervention of the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) ignores the fact that many disabled people play sport very well, even sometimes professionally. The answer is that it would be a bit dodgy for a football manager to advertise in the way the right hon. Gentleman suggested.
The reference to Groucho Marx reminds me of a sketch by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore that
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raises this very issue. A one-legged actor applies for the role of Tarzan, leading Peter Cook to say to Dudley Moore, "I have nothing against your right leg; the problem isneither have you".
Mr. Boswell: I had forgotten that, but I have a horrible feeling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if we extend this line of argument, we may get into dead parrots, at which point we would probably be marginalising at least one party in the House.
To conclude on a serious point, we should be "relentlessly inclusionist", we should look for every opportunity to advance the real interests of disabled people, and above all, we should make all that mainstream rather than a self-conscious exercise by a limited number of people in the House or elsewhere. To accomplish that, we need the right balance between sanction and encouragement, and between the law and good practice.
That is in no sense a cop-out for the law, which must be there as an underpinning, as I said, but I do not want anyone in the business world, for example, to settle merely for compliance with the law. It is perfectly proper to expect businesses, having made their reasonable adjustments, to consider what else they can do. They may well be pleasantly surprised when they do so, which applies not just to disability but in respect of the wider equality agenda. If a company is prepared to examine its customer base and try to ensure that its work force mirrors that base, it is likely to be more commercially successful, especially when dealing with the general public, than it would have been if it had walked away from these problems. It may not be easy to do, but many companies of different sizes are prepared to consider that option.
Above all, we do not want just a tick-box exercise saying "we have done it", and we do not want a parliamentary tick-box exercise, either, saying "we have legislated; that is the end of the matter; now get on with it". There needs to be a wider public debate about how we take the agenda forward.
In the end, the Bill is about treating people decently and enabling them to unlock their power and influence. I feel very strongly about a number of matters that I have to deal with, which tend to bear on the work of the Department for Work and Pensions. If we can make a convincing connection between the moral and business cases, there will be a chance of getting something done.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab):
It is always a pleasure to take part in a debate with the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell). As we have reminded each other on several occasions, it is more than 20 years since we first debated against each other. When I say that it was on the sixth form circuit, I do not suggest that we were in the sixth form 20 years ago: in fact, we were visiting sixth forms to present the respective positions of our parties. Even then, he was relentlessly inclusionist and, having seen him in action in the House in our time here together, I sometimes think that his compassion and values are more suitable for the Labour Benches than for the Opposition Benches.
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I am sure that the hon. Member for Daventry will not take much issue with what I am about to say. In 18 years in office, the previous Conservative Government managed one piece of legislation in respect of disability, but the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was singularly ineffective in a great many ways. It did not contain any powers of enforcement, nor establish a commission for disabled people. In fact, the Ministers responsible for the 1995 Act fought tooth and nail against proposals to include any enforcement powers.
I recall amazing scenes, when it was clear that one of the Ministers involvedwhose daughter was renowned for leading the disabled rights campaignsometimes found himself in a great pickle. He could see the strength of the argument in favour of establishing a commission, but was obliged to fight against it.
The 1995 Act talked about disability discrimination but contained almost no reference to transport, which is the key to accessing all other services. Bizarrely, the Act made it obligatory for station platforms to be accessible to disabled people, but not trains. In that respect, it was a charter for disabled train spotters: it was certainly not one for disabled travellers.
The 1995 Act completely excluded education, and that omission is something that this Government have had to put right. Also, it failed to address the problem of people's attitude to, and understanding of, disability. That problem is at the heart of the barriers between disabled people and their full civil rights. Those barriers must be broken down.
Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con): I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is going down this route, as it is not in the spirit of the debate so far. Like him, I was in the House when the 1995 Act was passed. I can confirm categorically that it had a considerable impact, in more than narrow legislative terms, as it helped disabled people in our communities to resolve problems of access, and so on. I hope, therefore, that he will not pursue that line of argument.
Tom Levitt: My point is that the 1995 Act contained huge gaps that need to be filled. I shall say more about them in a moment, but I accept that a process of evolution was under way. I do not understand why the Government of the day committed themselves so firmly to opposing private Member's Bills on disability discrimination put forward by my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke). Their Bills were all very sensible, but they were all thwarted.
I also mentioned in a previous intervention the long delays in the DDA, such that parts of the Act, had we not addressed them, would still not have been implemented even now. They include part III on access to goods and services. Indeed, as that legislation stood in 1995 in terms of employment rights for disabled people, it affected only about 6 per cent. of all businessesI think that that figure is right. The small firms exemption meant that the vast majority of businesses were not obliged to take the needs of disabled employees and prospective employees into account.
The DDA set up the National Disability Council, which gave some disabled people a forum, but I do not believe that that body, ably led by David Grayson,
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would ever have been as effective as the disability rights taskforce. When that was created, as soon as this Government came to office, it had a momentum to it, precisely because the doors were then seen to be open to ensuring that civil rights for disabled people became a reality.
I was privileged to serve on the Committees that examined the Disability Rights Commission Bill and the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill. In their turn, they both added to the power of disabled people to achieve their civil rights and plugged holes in the DDA. We also implemented part III of the DDA and removed the small firms exemption, so that 100 per cent. of businesses are now covered by the rules.
The Bill addresses many of the remaining gaps in provision. I am particularly pleased to see that councillors are included for the first time. I actually wrote a pamphlet on the subject of councillors and disabled access in 1995, so I was 10 years before my time, but I am glad to see that its recommendations will now be enforced.
The Bill also addresses transport. Again, there must be a lead-in time, which must be a compromise between the ability of the providers of transport services to respond and the urgency of fulfilling those civil rights needs. I believe that we have got the balance about right on that.
The Bill removes many exemptions from the previous legislation and, to pick up the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden), I am pleased about private clubs. It is fair to say that the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter), after his private Member's Bill did not succeed either last year or the year before, can nevertheless be pleased to see how the spirit of that proposal has been introduced into the Bill that we see before us.
The duty to promote good relations is essential, and the duty to promote the civil rights of disabled people exists on not just local but all public authorities. I am sure that, considering how the debate has gone in the past 10 years, we have seen the cart before the horse. A momentum already exists, but the Bill will ensure that no public authority will lag behind.
Alongside the civil rights legislation that we have had over the years, we have changed part M of the building regulations to make buildings more disabled accessible. The new deal for disabled people has helped 200,000 people have the dignity of work, and now for the first time more than 50 per cent. of disabled people are in employment and many more are seeking opportunities to earn through work. The vast improvements in the funding for the access-to-work schemes also enabled that to come about.
There are still some holes in the legislation, and I would like to mention three of them. One relates to an issue that I wanted to push strongly in the scrutiny Committee, which is the situation of volunteers. I understand why the Bill may not be the most appropriate place to include provisions on that, but it must be said that we have rights for employees and prospective employees who are disabled, and the role of volunteers nowadays in many organisations is very much akin to that of employees. Many volunteers are doing work experience and many are gaining experience as part of achieving a qualification. Many have an
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understanding with their employers that is close to being a contract of employment. However, to argue at this stage that we should extend the disability rights legislation to cover volunteers would ignore the fact that sex equality legislation and race equality legislation do not apply to volunteers. Perhaps the Equality Bill would be a better place in which to ensure comprehensive protection for volunteers against unjustified discrimination when their role is akin to employees. I was pleased to have had the opportunity in the scrutiny Committee to explore that possibility and to make the case for extending disability discrimination legislation to volunteers.
We heard earlier about the scrutiny Committee's statistics and, in addition to the contributions of its members, the quality and enthusiasm of the witnesses, including my hon. Friend the Minister, who appeared before it were very high. That was the only time I have been a member of a scrutiny Committee and it was rewarding, fulfilling and, looking back, valuable. It was appropriate for that Committee to scrutinise the Bill.
The second matter that I want to refer to is housing, about which the scrutiny Committee raised issues and made recommendations, although many of them were not taken forward. I am pleased that matters relating to common areas in shared properties will be reviewed. I want to make one suggestion, which would not require legislation. We have part M of the building regulations, we have disabled facilities grantswhich cover funding for extensions and alterations to propertiesto set standards and the concept of lifetime homes has become a reality in the design of properties. Can we be assured that the standards that those three different criteria apply to those three different concepts are consistent and that lifetime homes, disabled facilities grants and part M all seek to point developments and alterations in the same direction and to produce the same level of access?
I heard what hon. Members have said about not having a Second Reading debate on the Equality Bill now, but I am pleased with the debate on the new equality commission. I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) when, as Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, and subsequently at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, she was responsible for the early days of that legislation and the article 13 legislation, so I have been involved in the debate on the equality commission for some time. I was originally a sceptic and did not believe that it would be possible to take on board the historic and particular needs of the three existing strands for which commissions exist and merge them with the three article 13 strands. However, I was wrong. I said that there had to be clear horizontal and vertical structures so that if I were being discriminated against by harassment, irrespective of whether it was because I was disabled or because of my gender and so on, I should have access to the best legal advice on harassment from the commission. That horizontal strand is just as important as saying that a disabled person should have access to people who are experts on disability.
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I now look forward with optimism because the process has worked. In particular, the views of disabled people and the Disability Rights Commission have been taken on board in moving towards the equality commission.
I want to celebrate two other Government achievements because I have had a close personal involvement in both. One is the roll-out of digital hearing aids in the NHS, managed by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People at a time when I was a trustee of that organisation. That was an excellent example of partnership between Government and the voluntary sector and will be seen as a real emancipation of people with hearing impairments. The other is the recognition of British sign language. The Government not only recognised it as a language, but provided funding to give some reality to what is meant by recognition. I looked back through Hansard and discovered that I called for such recognition in an Adjournment debate in 1999, but better late than never. Recognition is an excellent step forward for the 50,000 people in this country whose first language is sign language.
If we look back 10 years, not many people could be said to be public role models for disabled people. That situation has changed. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), the former Home Secretary, is one example and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) is another, but I wish to put on record a few other names. The reputation of Peter White, the Radio 4 presenter who is blind, as a journalist has grown and grown over the years. People such as Heather Mills have taken on high profile positions, not necessarily on disability issuesrightly, in many cases. They have shown that disabled people can be in the limelight and carry it off. I know a little about stand-up comedybut that is a story for another dayand there are now several disabled comedians, including a deaf comedian, who are well established on the circuit. Of course, only in the past few days, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson has had her contribution to public life recognised. I also welcome the fact that as we all pull together towards London 2012, it is being made clear that it is a bid not only for the Olympics but for the disabled Olympics.
That all shows that public opinion has moved on in 10 years and perhaps, as the hon. Member for Daventry suggested, the 1995 Act opened a few doors. It could have done more, but we have now made up for many of the omissions. In that respect, I regard the Bill as a consolidating measure that will make progress in some areas and put right some matters that had not been put right in the past. I am certain that every party in the House will co-operate to ensure that the Bill gets a fair and appropriate hearing in the next few weeks and that the ambitions expressed today that it become legislation as quickly as possible reach fruition.
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