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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, at this stage of a Bill's passage noble Lords usually say two things: that the Bill is better than when it started and they then thank each other generously for making it so. As the Minister said, this is now a better Bill. That is largely, although not entirely, due to the Government. We suspect that their original intention was to thwart civil rights legislation by a pale pastel version of their own, but the Government then found that they had opened a Pandora's box. The inherent logic and good sense of the arguments pressed by the disability organisations and the all-party parliamentary groupI refer to organisations such as RADAR, the Disability Alliance, Scope, MENCAP, MIND, the RNIB and the Deaf Allianceas well as other voluntary organisations made the case so compellingly to the Government, Ministers and their advisers that I suspect that the Bill went far further than the Government originally intended. We all appreciate that very much.
We on these Benches are delighted that the Government either brought forward or accepted amendments on transport and taxis. We should congratulate the Department of Transport on its initiatives on that score which will transform accessibility to public transportand not before time. Amendments were also accepted on education and on the nature of disability, especially HIV infection. That amendment was ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes. The Government accepted amendments on the past history of disability and showed a willingness to institute a review of small employers after five years. We also won an amendment against the Government on the perception of disability with regard to goods and services. We very much hope that in the Commons the Government will not seek to overturn that amendment. That would be churlish as well as deeply undesirable. It would be sad if the Government's final act on such a landmark Bill was pettily to seek to overturn a verdict or judgment of your Lordships' House.
The Bill started as a fairly good Bill. It became much better. However, from these Benches we have to saythe Minister suspected that we would say thisthat this is not a good enough Bill. I say that for one very simple reason which we visited earlier this afternoon. We do not believe that at the core of the Bill there is a
Twenty-five years after the landmark 1970 Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, disabled people deserve moreand they are entitled to more than we have so far achieved in this Bill, good though it is in many ways. I think that the Government and their advisers will come to regret their obstructiveness on this issue. We shall certainly do our best to make them regret it. The Bill as it stands fortunately lends itself to further development. Re-reading the Bill at the weekend I was almost persuaded of the virtue of statutory instruments which would allow the next government to build on this Bill and to take it further forward to deliver the rights and opportunities that every disabled person should enjoy.
The Bill is a good Bill. It has become a better Bill, but it is still not good enough because it lacks a central authoritative body to make it effective. I fearI shall not be happy if I am proved rightthat we shall see that as the next two years unfold.
Having said that, however, like the Minister I should like to offer my thanks. I thank first my noble friends Lord McCarthy and Lady Dean who dealt with employment issues. I thank also my noble friend Lady Lockwood who dealt with issues relating to the commission; my noble friend Lady Farrington who dealt with education; my noble friend Lord Gladwyn who dealt with taxis; and my noble friend Lady Jay who covered HIV and medical issues.
It will not surprise noble Lords that I should like to express special thanks to two of my noble friends. I refer first to my noble friend and colleague Lord Carter who is always industrious, stalwart, loyal, hardworking and expert in ways that the House will understand and appreciate. Finally, I should like to say a special "thank you" to someone on our side of the House whose name has been so identified with disability issues over the years. I refer to my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke. I am grateful to the Minister for singling him out. My noble friend has always been the most stalwart of campaigners. If the Bill is not good enough, it is through no fault of my noble friend. Disabled people and your Lordships' House are very much in his debt.
It also gives me very great pleasure to thank the spokespeople from the Liberal Democrat Benches, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who has fought so assiduously for the Bill on behalf of disabled people, often aided by the expertise of his noble friend Lady Seear. Together they have the gift of penetrating to the core of an issue, delivering it with speed and effectiveness.
On an issue such as disability, we are all greatly indebted to the Cross Benches in particular. Their Members were led by the noble Baronesses, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) and Lady Masham, aided by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. They have the expertise that few of us on our Benches can match. They contributed and worked in such a way that we would expect nothing less.
The Bishops' Bench has done its best, despite its crowded diary, always to take part and to show that issues of disability are issues of moral citizenship, raising issues of ethics as well as expediency at each and every step of the way. That is something of which we well need to be reminded. We ought also to thank the other oppositionthe opposition behind the Treasury Benchled by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, with tenacity and courage, aided, sometimes, although not as much as we should have liked, by his noble friends. Of that we are very appreciative.
Finally, we should like to give our especial thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, and his ministerial colleagues. He is always a pleasure to oppose. He is an even greater pleasurevery occasionallyto defeat. He is always generous in victory, graceful in retreat, but, alas, we have not seen enough of him in defeat to know how he will take it. He has always been amiable, courteous, well-informed and up to speed. Like him, having come through a gruelling four Bills, the robustness and resilience with which he has handled this afternoon's proceedings is a tribute to the Government Benches.
I have one very last thank you. It is to the disability organisations and disabled people themselves. At the end of the day, it is disabled people and their organisations that have put disability issues so insistently on the map, so that whether the Government wished to or not, they had to address those issues. We should congratulate them.
The Minister saidI am not sure whether he realised the full import of his remarks, although I hope and believe that he didthat he did not believe this Bill would be the final word on this issue. He has said many true things today, but that is perhaps the truest. I can assure him that the next government will take the greatest of pleasure in using the statutory instruments in the first place, and then going on to build on the Bill, to ensure that disabled people enjoy the rights and can exercise the opportunities that they as disabled people are entitled to have.
Lord Addington: My Lords, it falls to me from these Benches to wish the Bill well, and we do wish the Bill well. It is not the Bill we wanted. We wanted a general anti-discrimination Bill for the disabled. However, the present Bill is better than the one with which we started.
I thank the Minister for the way that he has handled the Bill. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has just said, he has at all time remained as even-tempered as one could possibly expect, as has his team. I should like to thank also the noble Baroness and her team on the Benches to my left. We have been able to co-operate to try to achieve a common goal. It is a pity we cannot do that with everything, but on this Bill I am glad we have been able to do so.
Other noble Lords have been mentioned. The noble Baronesses sitting beside the Hansard Table have weighed in heavily throughout the Bill's proceedings. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, has made himself felt throughout the debate, as indeed have the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and the noble Baroness, Lady O'Caithain.
As I said, the Bill is not the one that many of us wanted. We wanted a general anti-discrimination Bill. The Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, does not have what we regard as the driving forcea mission which is outstanding and campaigning. The Bill's long title is not designed to take on all disability issues. That is the main problem that we on these Benches have with it. I believe that is true in other parts of the House. If we can look at it as a first step, it may well be useful. Indeed one hopes that it will be. One can but wish the legislation well and hope that it is the start of many other pieces of legislation which will attack and dispense with the type of discrimination from which disabled people have suffered from time immemorial.
Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, my noble friend generously referred to some of us who for many years have been involved in Parliament on this subject. As we near the end of this Bill's passage through Parliament, I must express particular pleasure that it has been introduced by a government. It is the first time that a government have introduced a Bill of this kind.
I was one of the first to introduce a Private Member's Bill in Parliament in 1968. I have always said since then that it would be best if a government did the legislating. I wish to thank and congratulate my noble friend Lord Mackay on his explanations and stamina. I would also like to congratulate Members of the Opposition Front Bench on their assiduity throughout the Bill. The Bill does not go as far as some would wish but it does make great strides in several areas of life. It is needed and it will, I hope, transform attitudes widely. It can be built on in the future by governments of both persuasions.
In my case, another reason for pleasure is that I was an active Member in the Parliament of 1959 to 1964, before later parliamentary stalwarts became MPs. I go back a long time. Because I was a member of the government for three of those five years, my activities could not be translated into Motions, debates or Private Member's Bills. That came later. But in the early 1960s
It is appropriate to refer to the 1970 Act almost 25 years after it became law, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. In 1969 the right honourable gentleman, Mr. Alf Morris, came first in the annual ballot in another place. As a result, he was able to get that Bill through Parliament. I must record that he received wide support, about which I was delighted. In May 1970 an early election was suddenly called before the Bill had been completed. I am glad to say that the Conservative Opposition made special agreement that it should not fall, as did most of the other legislation, with the dissolution of Parliament. The result was that Royal Assent was received early in the new Parliament of 1970, which was 25 years ago last week.
That was a landmark. My main contribution in the other place was to arrange the amendments which extended the Bill to Scotland. The right honourable gentleman, Mr. Alf Morris, with the little time available to him, could secure drafting only for England and Wales. At the time we thought that he was receiving drafting help from the government of the day in 1969 and 1970. However, he has since recorded that the late Richard Crossman, then Secretary of State, was strongly opposed to his Bill and tried to get him to drop it. Full credit should go to Mr. Alf Morris for persevering and succeeding and using such help as he could find.
As the Bill leaves us, I wish to draw attention to the wide variety of disabilities which exists. We must spread knowledge among the public. The figure of 6.5 million disabled people in the United Kingdom is much used at present. That figure came from the 1991 census, which was very valuable in giving us the latest information. It overlaps with the number of elderly people, because more than 5 million are people over working age, most of whom were not disabled before old age. There is, therefore, the possibility of the figure giving the wrong impressions. The constituent parts of the census explain the various categories and that a large proportion of the more than 1 million disabled people who are of working age are employed and economically active.
About 0.5 million people of all ages are dependent upon wheelchairs; that is less than one-twelfth of the total. The symbol of a wheelchair has been most effective as a logo. However, I hope that the general public will not unconsciously treat it as a stereotype. The blind, the deaf, the mentally ill and those in the many other categories of disability, as well as those with combinations of disabilities must be kept fully in mind. When the Bill is enacted I hope that we will help to spread awareness of the wide range of disabilities and the considerations affecting them.
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