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Northern Ireland Act 2000 (Suspension of Devolved Government) (No. 2) Order 2001

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 26th September be approved [5th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Northern Ireland Act 2000 (Restoration of Devolved Government) (No. 2) Order 2001

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the order laid before the House on 26th September be approved [5th Report from the Joint Committee].—(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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5.57 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they propose to introduce a new Disability Bill.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may remind the House that it is only 30 or 40 years since disabled people were treated as objects of pity and charity, denied rights and patronisingly treated as a regretful necessity.

Since then there have been major achievements with an array of benefits, the establishment of many rights and new public attitudes towards them. Above all, there is a strong sense of the developing independence of disabled people themselves, stemming, in large part, from these advances. I regard that as of tremendous importance.

The Government deserve great credit for the many measures they have taken to help disabled people, especially in the benefits field and in the setting up of the Disability Rights Task Force and the Disability Rights Commission. Under the chairmanship of Bert Massie, the commission has been a leading advocate of new legislation. Its parliamentary affairs manager, Agnes Fletcher, has been particularly helpful.

The changes in both provision and attitudes brought about by these achievements are now part of the fabric of our society. But, as we begin the new century, this is the time to stand back and appraise the extent of the advances and assess what more needs to be done. Key questions to be asked are: to what extent have disabled people got genuine independence; to what extent are they free from discrimination; how different are their opportunities compared with those for non-disabled people; have they got equal chances of a job with others; and, can they be confident that they will get fair treatment by society or is it subject to chance and luck?

In my view, the answers leave room for not one iota of doubt that a new disability Bill is necessary. The Labour manifesto's commitment in 1997 to introduce "comprehensive and enforceable" civil rights for disabled people was welcome and crucially important. But we should be clear about what that means. Comprehensive civil rights mean that all elements of living are provided for with no elements of chance. Enforcement means that disabled people get what is intended, and that, if necessary, they will get it by enforcement. To me, that means secure provision with disabled people being respected as equals with non-disabled people and having the same rights.

How far and to what extent are those reasonable interpretations operative today? Let us take the case of employment. Protection from discrimination in jobs depends on luck for many disabled people who want to work. It can depend on the size of the firm for which they work or want to work and on whether they are public sector employees. No less than 80 per cent of all small businesses, and 7 million workers, are excluded

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from the current employment provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act. That is astonishing, and there can be no serious excuse for it.

The Government have now decided to include all firms eventually, but not until 2004. Why the wait? This excessive delay means that many disabled people are still vulnerable to discrimination until then. So, there are no comprehensive and enforceable civil rights in that regard.

Employees in the public sector such as fire fighters and police and prison officers also do not benefit from comprehensive and enforceable civil rights. They are simply excluded from the DDA—full stop.

Even when disabled people get jobs, there is no guarantee that they can travel to them. Non-discrimination provisions of the DDA do not apply to the means of transport. Disabled people can get on to the platform, but not on to the train. That has been called the trainspotters' charter—and with some justification, I think. Transport today is the Achilles' heel of disabled people in jobs. Some transport vehicles are covered under Part V of the DDA, which has not yet been implemented. Transport buildings fall under Part III of the Act, which expressly excludes vehicles. To compound that bizarre concoction, access to aeroplanes and ferries is not covered at all by the Act. It is a Fred Karno situation for many disabled people, in which 7 million people and 80 per cent of small firms are excluded.

If even small links are missing in the transport chain for disabled people, it is obvious that the journey cannot be completed. When elements as major as those that I have outlined are not in place, it is out of the question. This has major implications for jobs and independence.

Another example of the lucky dip principle is discrimination against people with HIV. Regrettably, there is discrimination against people who are diagnosed with HIV, but, incredibly, they are denied legal protection from discrimination under the provisions of the Act. It is designed especially to protect people, but, in respect of HIV sufferers, that protection comes only if and when they develop AIDS.

Some important rights for disabled people are to be found not in the DDA, but in the Human Rights Act. They include provisions ensuring that no one should be deprived of life intentionally and that no one should be subject to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment. The first provision could affect cases in which life support systems are turned off because of very severe impairment and in which disabled people may be denied life-saving treatment because of their disability.

As there is no commission to enforce the Human Rights Act (there should be one) powers should be given to the Disability Rights Commission to represent disabled people under the European Convention on Human Rights. After two and a half years' consideration, the Government have failed to act on that basis. Their feeble excuse that the Joint

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Policy Committee on Human Rights is also considering the EOC and the CRA is unconvincing. There is absolutely no reason for the excessive delay.

Those issues and others should spur the Government to consolidate and expand anti-discrimination legislation for Britain's disabled people. No doubt some of that could be done through regulation, but rather than tinkering by making a patch here and there, we need the Government to introduce a comprehensive new disability Bill in the next Queen's Speech. They can thus set a pattern and an example that can be a beacon to all other countries.

I repeat that this Government have a fine record on disability and they should be congratulated on all that they have done, but if they introduce this new Bill—I very much hope that it will feature in the next Queen's Speech—it will be not only a beacon for other countries, but will effectively tackle historic discrimination here and enable disabled people to live fuller and happier lives.

6.5 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, it is right for the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, to have tabled this Question, and also very timely. It follows my balloted debate on 4th July, whose subject was the Disability Discrimination Bill, which is now an Act.

In that debate I pointed out that that Bill was the first on disablement ever to have been drafted and introduced by any government. Previously, Private Member's Bills had had to suffice. Different parts of the DDA—I shall use that term to refer to the 1995 Act—have been taking effect at different times. The Act covers many times more subjects than could any Private Members' legislation. However, it did not cover all areas. For example, it did not complete what was required on transport and education. At that time, it would have taken much longer to have prepared legislation for those subjects. I am glad that the Act was not delayed in order to include them, as that would taken about five years. As a result of its introduction, many cases of discrimination in employment have been investigated since the relevant parts have taken effect.

There have been suggestions—the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, repeated them today—that amending legislation or introducing a new Bill could improve the definitions, in particular on HIV, and give increased responsibility to public authorities for promoting equal opportunities for disabled people. That would happen on the principle, which has been accepted, that it is within the bounds of what is reasonable. I remind the House that both British and United States legislation on this subject observes the principle of reasonable accommodations. That has worked well in this country so far.

The DDA made a huge step forward. It should be built upon now. Whether it is another Bill or subordinate legislation—statutory instruments or regulations—that is necessary, it is the Government who should initiate it. It is too difficult and uncertain

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an operation to be carried out by Private Members' Bills or Private Peers' Bills, even with government support.

One asks whether the time has come for the removal of the exemptions that are written into the DDA. This is the opportunity to consider them. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has already referred to them. First, there is the exemption of small businesses. It is gradually being removed in stages and the process should be complete by 2004. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government intend to hasten that process and to bring it forward?

Then there is the exemption for the Armed Forces. This is a subject on which I can speak from personal experience having been severely wounded and disabled in World War II in April 1945. I spent a year and two months in hospital—St Bartholomew's—which did a marvellous job in putting me together again. On the first anniversary of VE Day in 1946, I was still an in-patient in Bart's, although later that year I was allowed to emerge on crutches.

Partially disabled, I was allotted a task in intelligence in what was then the War Office—now, of course, it is the Ministry of Defence. I was still on crutches. I was employed there for only four months because I had been successful in the Foreign Office examination, and also successful in the Foreign Office medical examination, both of which I passed on crutches. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has heard me recall before, as I left the medical board the chairman said, "Of course, as a diplomat you will not be required to walk or stand"—which, curiously enough, was true at that time because we had only a few embassies and other missions abroad and they were all in salubrious capital cities.

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