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Lord Carter: I am obliged to the noble Baroness for giving way. She spoke about employers and their wishes. We have discussed the Employers Forum on Disability and whether it could speak for all its members. I believe that the Minister raised that matter. I took the trouble to leave the Chamber and telephone a representative of the forum. I was told that every member, including all those mentioned by my noble friend, was consulted on the Government's consultation document. The vast majority supported the line that the forum has taken on the need for the council. I telephoned only five minutes ago and was told that all its members stated that they were entirely happy for the employers forum to speak on their behalf.

Baroness O'Cathain: They were probably not asked whether, if there was a sufficiently strong NDC with strong powers—

Lord Carter: Every member was asked in detail to comment on the Government's consultation document. The great majority came down heavily in favour of the briefing given by the employers forum and all said that they were happy for it to speak on their behalf. The noble Baroness should let the forum and the members decide what they want to say instead of deciding for them.

Baroness O'Cathain: I am not trying to decide for the employers forum. I was merely drawing attention to the fact that there is another side of the argument. Some employers and members of the employers forum to whom I have spoken would be happy for the National Disability Council, if sufficiently strengthened, to give such advice, so long as it was consistent advice. I shall make additional suggestions about the amalgamation or overlap between NACEPD and the National Disability

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Council. There is a danger of having two bodies, one for employment, which is NACEPD, and another for access, which is the NDC.

Once the legislation is enacted and the regulations are agreed and begin to work, it may well be that NACEPD could be subsumed into the NDC in order to make it a proper National Disability Council. But that is further down the line. I believe that to throw out the Government's suggestion of an NDC at this stage and to set up a whole new superstructure of a commission is not what employers require.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: Perhaps I may contribute to the debate and answer one of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain. I wish, first, to speak to Amendments Nos. 101 and 108. I was unimpressed with the point made by the noble Baroness. I believe that my noble friend Lady Hollis was right to say that terminology is not important but the meaning and thrust of what we are discussing are crucial.

The noble Baroness appears to be implying that no organisation should speak for its members unless every member has signed an affidavit to that effect. That is the equivalent of a football supporters' club saying, "We believe that this should be the policy for this club", and someone else saying, "You have 30,000 members. Have you asked them all whether they support that policy?". That is an absurd proposition and I cannot agree with it. The heart of the argument is our proposal for the National Disability Council. Whether we call it a commission or not is irrelevant.

I wish to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, on his presentation of amendments to the Bill. Coupled with the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, that represents significant support from the Conservative Benches for amendments to the Bill which will strengthen the Government's hand. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness are aiding the Government by proposing amendments and they are helping the Minister. We too will lean over backwards to help him. That is why we are being so diplomatic in putting forward these proposals.

The Bill should be a landmark Bill, but as it stands it will not and it cannot be that. It fails to provide a council or a commission which will give it a strong backbone. That is its problem. It is impossible to argue legitimately with the Law Society's view that it is unfair and unjust to introduce statutory rights which disabled people cannot afford to have enforced. The Law Society made a most strong statement.

Perhaps I may quote to the Minister one other authority; I use the word "authority" with a small "a". I refer to one of the finest and most eloquent Conservative Back-Benchers ever to sit in the other place, Alan Howarth. He said:

    "To create rights without providing the means to sustain them is a hollow act".

He is not a raving socialist or a severely disabled person but a healthy, articulate, balanced and loyal Conservative Member of Parliament. That means that the amendment should not be brushed aside; it is put

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forward in all good faith. Many disabled people do not have the means, some do not have the determination and many do not have the knowledge or confidence to fight discrimination. The Bill will give them only superficial protection if the individual is not supported. I have no doubt about that.

The commission's investigations into individual cases and its support for those going to the courts would ensure that they focused on the relevant and important issues. A strong commission would provide the resources to argue the case, which is profoundly important, and people would be able to obtain the vital information.

That is important because the legislation will be new and there will be areas of uncertainty. We need to establish legal rulings in crucial areas. However, this is not a once-and-for-all Bill. It needs changes and improvements not only to help individuals but in respect of general strategic issues. I am sure that the Minister will recognise that. It is important to have a body conducting an independent review, observing which part of the legislation is going well and which is failing and seeing where problems exist for disabled people, employers, companies and service providers. If the commission can help individual disabled people, employers and the institutions that is fine; let us do what we can about that. It is necessary to have a strong commission which will identify trends in attitudes and practices, which are the driving forces for extending future opportunities and for providing the right ones. If those aspects are in question we can do something about that.

Often disabled people lack confidence. A strong commission would give them that confidence because they would know that there was a powerful body ready, willing and able to fight for them. I do not refer to people who have lost an arm or to people such as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who is one of the finest battlers for disabled people that the House has known. I refer to severely disabled people who cannot fight for themselves. They need a champion and they do not have one in this Bill. They have a weak advisory body which has no real powers, independence or ability to fight cases through the courts. That is not good enough.

We are asking the Government to change their mind. We are not asking for an empty government organisation but for an organisation that is truly independent. Such an organisation would ease the pressure and frustration for disabled people. It would lead to fruitful discussions instead of angry demonstrations outside Parliament, and all of us would benefit from that. Without such an organisation and without an independent review, which this organisation could provide, the Government will be blindfolded and unable to assess the success or failure of their policies. That is not a very dignified posture for any government. I am sure that the Minister wishes to be dignified.

The independence of this council is vital if it is to be effective. It needs the resources and powers to be independent. However, I wish to say to the Minister in all good faith that I am receiving the impression from government spokesmen—not the noble Lord, Lord

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Mackay, but some of his colleagues—that they are tending to patronise disabled people. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, does not do that but some Ministers are beginning to do so. The "Does he take sugar?" syndrome is beginning to display itself. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, would wish to dissociate himself from that.

For example, when the Minister was pressed in another place about providing powers for the council and to commission research, he replied:

    "It will also be assisted by research commissioned on its behalf".

Is that not marvellous? We cannot have the commission itself looking into the problems of disabled people by disabled people for disabled people. That research will have to be commissioned. That is rather like patting their heads; like patting the heads of people in wheelchairs. That is simply not good enough. We must allow that independence and assume that people can do the job for themselves. We must assume that they have the pride and capability to carry it out. The Minister would be well-advised to accept the amendment and to give disabled people what they are seeking.

I conclude with this thought. This Bill is put forward by the Government as an attempt to combat discrimination. We know that it is well-intentioned but we feel that it needs strengthening. We have tabled those amendments which we hope will be accepted. Perhaps I may illustrate my attitude to the Bill by using the analogy of the Grand National. This Bill is saying that disabled people are able to enter the race of life in our society and they are welcome to do that. This Bill will enable them to jump the first big hurdle. But then, by refusing an effective law enforcement body, the Government have removed the jockey. They have kicked the jockey out of the saddle. Disabled people will be moving without direction and inevitably they will be the losers. When that happens—and I do not say if it happens—the Government will be condemned publicly instead of acclaimed publicly for their Bill. Ministers are heading for a disaster of their own making. The most calamitous mistake to be made is the failure of Ministers to include those provisions. They will regret it if they fail to accept the amendments and I hope that they will consider carefully to see whether or not they can accept them.

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