Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Rix: My Lords, the word "troika" has been bandied around your Lordships' House this afternoon. I apologise: I see we are now a coach-and-four occupying the Cross Benches—from which I should like to say a few words.

The Minister must, like Mark Antony, feel an urge to murmur, "Unarm me. The long day's task is done and we must rest". I marginally misquote, for the original

24 Oct 1995 : Column 1077

referred to "sleep" rather than "rest", but I vulgarise the text in case at this hour your Lordships' House might take amiss the reference to sleep.

I have had cause to be grateful to the Minister and his hard-working team of officials for listening courteously even when not able to do quite what I wanted to be done. I also thank those who have argued along with me and who have allowed me to argue along with them.

The Bill leaves your Lordships' House in moderately good heart. I hope that it will soon take its place alongside the Children Act, the 1970 Act, of which we have just heard, the 1970 Education (Handicapped Children) Act, which had such a dramatic effect on the lives of children with a learning disability, and the parts of the 1986 Act which made it to reality, as generally a good thing and in some respects, a very good thing. I use the 1066 And All That classification system.

We lost on small employers. At this late stage I cannot resist expressing the hope that small employers being sent the code of good employment practice will at least be urged to make reasonable accommodation where they can and that they are pushed fairly vigorously towards not practising or advertising the practice of unfair discrimination where there are no costs at stake. If small employers are not to be subject to compulsory virtue, the least we can do is to say something fairly forthright about any of them who are minded to be bloody-minded for no reason. I am sure that the great majority will, as now, practise voluntary virtue.

At one stage I had hoped for some mention in the Bill of what I might call incitement to Nimbyism as a form of unfair discrimination. I refer to the requirement to "consult" the neighbours about community care developments, even when there is no legal requirement so to do. I have had an opportunity to discuss that with the Minister and he has written to me. I accept the need for the change of use regulations. However, I hope that in line with the Minister's letter there will be firm guidance against the type of non-regulated consultation that we have seen, where personal details of prospective occupants are made available to neighbours, with the implication of a veto on people having a home of their own.

Finally, I wish the Bill and the work that will now flow from it a fair wind and Godspeed.

The Lord Bishop of Birmingham: My Lords, from this Bench I salute the prospect of the passage of this Bill. I shall not repeat all the thanks and congratulations which have been offered by people better informed than myself. But it is clear that many people have worked extremely hard to bring matters so far and the passage of the Bill will be a notable achievement.

It seems to me that there are two moral principles at issue. The first, plainly grounded in the Scriptures, is the duty of public authority to defend those who find themselves on unequal terms in defending themselves. In the Scriptures one reads about the duty of public authority—kings or whoever—to defend the widow, the orphan and, someone we rather forget these days, the stranger. It is good that that moral principle is being

24 Oct 1995 : Column 1078

embodied in legislation today with respect to the disabled. So thank God for a piece of legislation with such an evident moral base to it.

The second moral principle is that of the need to put aspirations into action, because at the end of the day we shall be judged not by our intentions but by our deeds; not by what we say we would like to have done but by the effects; if you like, not by policies but by operations.

There has been a worry all through the discussions on this Bill—it has been evident even today—about whether aspirations will in fact be put into effect. Only today we heard the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, speak about his concern for effectiveness. That is precisely the concern which has motivated those who have expressed anxiety at various points. Members on this Bench, with others, remain concerned that adequate instruments for putting aspirations into effect may not yet be in place; that is, that disabled people have not received the support that they might have been given in securing the rights which are being in principle acknowledged. We hope that we are wrong. But if we are not, this is surely a matter to which Parliament will later have to return.

We can certainly say that, with the passage of the Bill, something irreversible will have been done: it will never be possible to turn the clock back again. As many have said from all sides of the House, it is already clear that the passage of the Bill will turn out to be the beginning and not the end of a process.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, it is very rare to hear a speech as gracious, as dignified and as realistic as that given by my noble friend Lady Hollis. She spoke for all of us when she summarised our appreciation of the situation with which we have been faced during our debates. It has been a great pleasure and privilege to work with my noble friend, with the rest of our Front Bench and, indeed, with our Back-Benchers. It has also been a particular pleasure to oppose the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, and his colleagues. I believe that between us we have managed to show that vigorous debating can still be civilised debating. We can enjoy the clash of opinions while all seeking the same ends; namely, to protect disabled people from discrimination.

I should like to thank my noble friend and her colleagues and the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, and his colleagues. I should also like to thank the many researchers on our side who helped us by drafting speeches and notes and providing facts. I refer to Caroline Gooding and all her colleagues. I am indebted to them, as indeed are all my colleagues, for the marvellous work that they did. We sometimes just become spokesmen and women for the people who do the devilling and the hard work. There are one or two people that I cannot mention, but I am indeed indebted to many people.

Perhaps I may describe the Bill as a limited advance. After the Minister's very kind words, it is hard to be realistic. However, we fail disabled people if we are not realistic. The fact is that the Bill has basic flaws; indeed, it has two basic flaws. First, it fails to cover a large number of severely disabled people—for example, workers in small firms. When the Bill is enacted it will still be perfectly legal to discriminate against them. So how can

24 Oct 1995 : Column 1079

we say that it is a marvellous Bill? We cannot. Moreover, as has been said, the Bill has no commission for enforcement, so how can we call it a marvellous Bill? We cannot. As I said, the Bill is flawed.

I have two messages. The first is for the Minister and his colleagues. I believe that there will be yet another Bill coming forward from us, possibly in another place after the ballot in a few weeks' time, or indeed from this side of the House, seeking what we have been seeking all along during all these years. The second message is, I hope, from this House. It is for disabled people and it is a stark message: we still require hard pounding and vigorous campaigning to get comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation in Britain. I thank the noble Lord and my noble friends.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend and his colleagues in the Government on bringing forward the Bill. As originally drafted, it was in my view a very much more practical Bill than the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, although that was devised on the right principles to end discrimination. No law will end discrimination.

The Bill is really an encouragement to the education of the population and the people as a whole. If the country is not educated not to discriminate against people because of disabilities, or for any other reason, the legislation will fail. It is from that point of view that I have considered the Bill and have endeavoured in a small way to improve it. It is but a first step but, as Confucius said, a journey of a thousand miles starts with but a single step. We are moving in the right direction.

I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, for her kind remarks about me. My noble friend on the Front Bench said that he sometimes found me a little troublesome. I take that as an accolade because it means that I have made him, and I trust other Members of your Lordships' House, think and have helped to produce the improved version of the Bill that we now have. I hope that it will benefit not only people with disabilities but the population as a whole. I wish the Bill well.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, your Lordships will appreciate that I have to have the last word. Perhaps I may thank all noble Lords for their kind remarks about those of us who have sat on the Government Front Bench throughout the Bill and those outside who have worked on the Bill. I have no intention of revisiting some of the arguments of earlier stages. We should now look forward to the next stage, which is the implementation of the Bill and the work on the statutory instruments that go with it.

I am particularly grateful to the right reverend Prelate for suggesting that I have been on a moral crusade. I have to say to your Lordships that occasionally when I was confronted with a mound of paper late into the night that was the furthest thing from my thoughts. However, I hope that the Bill will do what we all hope it will do and make a great change to the lives of disabled people.

My last words are to thank my colleagues who have helped me with the Bill, my noble friends Lord Henley, Lord Inglewood and Lord Lucas. With those remarks, I trust that your Lordships will pass the Bill.

24 Oct 1995 : Column 1080

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page