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This group of amendments would have the effect of changing substantially the nature of the proposed council. It would become similar to the commissions which deal with issues of race and sex, as has been pointed out in previous debates at earlier stages.
My noble friend Lord Swinfen and others have explained their reasons for trying to make a major change on Report after the Bill's passage through the other place. Their aims and sincerity are clear and laudable.
We all want the Bill to be fully effective when it is enacted. The question is whether the council is being given a large enough role. In our debate in Committee, I put some questions to the Minister. First, I asked whether the council could make it known publicly, if it wished, that its advice was not being accepted by the Government. I thought that my noble friend gave me a satisfactory reply when he said that it could do so.
Secondly, I asked about research. That is the subject of a later amendment. The Minister told me that the requirements for research would be channelled through the Government so that any research, or the results of it, that was already taking place would be available and that would avoid duplication. The council would not necessarily be aware of all the research that had been or was being carried out in different spheres.
On a third point, the Minister confirmed that the council would not be excluded from the employment provisions in Part II and that it would take over more in that field when NACEPDI use that acronym with which we are all now familiarcomes to the end of its life.
There is one matter remaining for me; that is, the resources available to the council. The figure so far indicated by the Government seems somewhat meagre. The CBI is also concerned about whether sufficient finances will be available also to ACAS and the PACTS teams of the Employment Service because of the functions which the Government expect them to perform in pursuance of the aims of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will reassure us on those matters.
I have received from the CBI today, as no doubt have other noble Lords, a note containing a summary of its latest views on these amendments. The CBI suggests that the council should be able to initiate research and be empowered to produce codes of practice. In both cases, that is written into the Bill but the approval of the Government is required. I hope that the Government would not withhold consent in any reasonable circumstances. Indeed, under Clause 35, the council is expected to prepare some of the codes of practice at the request of the Secretary of State.
No doubt the CBI has also made its ideas clear to the Government. It is not proposing major changes to the Bill, as I interpret its views, but recommends that it should be implemented in the way that it suggests.
When my noble friend Lord Swinfen was winding up a similar debate on 27th June, he agreed with me that discrimination in the sphere of disability is different from that of race and sex but that the principle is the same. He then referred to employment only and not to goods and services. Only about one-fifth of the disabled people in the United Kingdom are of working age. Over 5 million are retired or over working age. Under Part III, which deals with goods and services, they will all come under the umbrella of the Bill. The issue will not be simply whether someone is or is not accepted for employment, as in the case of race or sex. Often it will involve also the making of adjustments not only to the workplace but to methods of working in employment. Also it will be relevant in relation to the provision of goods and services to the public.
The public in the United Kingdom contains about six times more disabled persons who are retired or over working age than of working age. Their disabilities vary to a vast extent both as to the types and degree of disability. In Committee, the Minister gave examples of a wide variety of forms of disablement. I shall not give more examples now, especially since I initiated a debate in your Lordships' House on 14th December after this Bill had been announced. Speakers in that debate provided a mine of information which can be looked up.
Today I shall add another personal example at the suggestion of one of the doctors and surgeons who have been seeing me two or three times a week for the past two months because of present troubles. Those doctors and surgeons have wished me to take part in these debates, provided I obey their strict orders. Some noble Lords will have seen me doing that.
When troubles have arisen from my disabilities such as they arethe disabilities were caused 50 years agodoctors both abroad and in this country have sent me back to St. Bartholomew's hospital where I spent 14 months being repaired at the end of World War 2. I have
Further, I am told that if the bullet had been an inch higher or lower, or had struck me in the front at a different angle, the disabilities would have been different, if I had survived, depending on what was severed, smashed or punctured on its way through and depending on what it just missed. I should add that the skilled surgery and nursing of those at Bart's and others has always been equal to the occasion.
The point that I am making is that the disabled are not a single, homogeneous group or category. It is a mistake to over simplify by making that assumption. Arrangements to abolish disability discrimination are bound to be much more complex and wide reaching than those for race and sex. For 36 years, in both Houses of Parliament, I have been encouraging governments to bring in legislation themselves on the subject. I have made that clear; and, indeed have made it clear that I thought the resources of the departments of government were needed when I introduced my own two Private Members' Bills, having been successful in ballots.
Now the Government are at last doing that and tackling a huge area of this vast subject. I believe that the Government have to be the lead body, while having an independent, well qualified advisory council. It may be said that I am influenced by the years that I spent in another place as a Member of governments and of the Cabinet. I agree that, to some extent, that may be so. My experience tells me that action under the Bill is mainly a job for government.
It may also be said that the Government may drag their heels or, indeed, that future governments will do so when the Bill becomes law. If that happens, I am sure that Members of both Houses will be chasing Ministers and continually raising what needs to be done, especially those of us who meet in the Parliamentary Disablement Group.
I find that I reach a rather different conclusion on the amendments from my colleagues in the Parliamentary Disablement Groupcertainly as regards those who have spoken so farbecause I would not wish to see the major changes made in the role of the council which the amendments would bring about. I hope that they will be proved to be unnecessary.
Lord Zouche of Haryngworth: My Lords, I should like to support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Swinfen. The issue is crystal clear to me. The National Disability Council is virtually worthless without the powers to advise business and industry, to advise disabled people and to investigate complaints. At the moment the National Disability Council only has powers to advise the Secretary of State.
This is a truly historic moment for the disabled. Let us not mess it up with inadequate legislation. The big question must be: can it really work in its current form? The Association of Disabled Professionals has grave
All those disability organisations are of one voice. They all have serious misgivings about the current proposed legislation. They all believe that anti-discrimination legislation must include a strong central council with adequate powers and funding. I believe that the heart of my noble friend the Minister is in the right place and that he genuinely believes that the NDC will function adequately in its current proposed form. However, his view is not shared by the disabled and the professional organisations who represent them. In fact, I have heard one disability organisation say:
In conclusion, we have come so far and raised so many hopes, let us not fall at the last fence. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister might give a little ground and allow the NDC sufficient authority to help make the new law workable, both for disabled people and their prospective employers.
Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, it is the wish of all organisations and individuals who have contacted me over the matter that there should be a body which will be independent and be able to sort out the problems and advise employers, organisations and individuals on all the various problems that will arise. There must be an overview.
In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, was most effective in explaining to the House that she was in a unique position: being a woman, belonging to an ethnic group and having a very severely disabled husband. On that occasion, the noble Baroness said that, of course, the disabled problems needed a commission as much as the other two groups. The noble Baroness has given me permission to mention her unique situation.
The fact is that sex and race are much more straightforward than disability, which has such a multitude of different aspects to be covered. Each problem can involve a different individual. There are about 6 million disabled people in the country. Can the Minister spell out clearly what the proposed council will do and who will run it? It was a good idea to suggest that it should be linked with the Citizens Advice Bureaux, but I can see that they already have more than they can cope with.
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