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Lord Carter: My Lords, like other noble Lords and the disability organisations that are connected with the Bill, I welcome it and the Government's repeated commitment that it will become law by the end of this Parliament.
As my noble friend the Minister pointed out, the Bill is one of a number introduced by the Government in the past five years that has sought to deal with discrimination against disabled people and their civil rights. I refer to the Disability Rights Commission Act 1999, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, the Mental Capacity Bill, which is awaiting its Third Reading in the Commons and this Bill which, as we know, is based on the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. For completeness, I should also mention the draft Mental Health Bill, which is now being considered by a Joint Select Committee of which I am a member.
The Government can be rightly proud of their record in bringing forward legislation to help end the continuing discrimination, in all its forms, against disabled people. Mention of this array of legislation reinforces a recommendation made by the Joint Select Committee on this Bill that the Government should ensure that each piece of legislation is consistent with all the others. For example, the Joint Select Committee considering the draft Mental Health Bill is finding very real problems relating to its provisions to the Mental Capacity Bill, the Mental Health Act 1983 and the Children Act. This Bill is, in a sense, more straightforward, since it is based on existing legislationthe 1995 Actand it should be easier to check against other legislation. I hope that my noble friend will be able to assure us that the department intends to do this.
As the chairman of the Joint Select Committee on this Bill, I am glad to take this first opportunity to thank our special advisers, Jenny Morris and Barbara Cohen, and our Clerk, Jake Vaughan, and his staff for their excellent advice and support.
I am obviously pleased that the Government have accepted a number of the major recommendations we made. But my noble friend will not be surprised to learn that, along with other noble Lords, we shall wish to explore with the Government those recommendations that they did not accept. I have no doubts that amendments will be tabled to assist the Government in this regard.
I will not take up the time of the House by listing the substantial changes to the draft Bill which have been made by the Government, with one exception. That is the amendment of the definition of disability in respect of people with mental illness. The requirement in the 1995 Act is that mental illness must be "clinically well recognised". Although the wording was well intentioned, I do not think that either William Hague, the Minister at the time, or anybody else understood its full implications. The direct effect is that it is harder for people with mental illness to get protection from discrimination than those with physical illness. That is, in itself, discriminatory. So the acceptance by the Government of our recommendation for change has been very widely welcomed.
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The definition of disability and mental illness illustrates the whole question of whether the definition of disability should be based on the social model or on the medical model, as in the 1995 Act and in this Bill. The social model attempts to define disabling barriers rather than medically defined impairment. To use the simple example we quoted on page 21 of our report, a disabled person might say, "My impairment is the fact that I can't walk; my disability is the fact that the bus company only provides buses which are inaccessible". The social model recognises that environment produces discriminationthe medical model merely describes impairment.
The Joint Select Committee recognised all the advantages of adopting the social model, but we took the pragmatic view that it would be difficult to use this Bill, which is based on the medical model, to insert a general and a social model of disability into the Bill, thereby almost certainly delaying its introduction substantially.
A lot of the problems associated with disability discrimination would be overcome by focusing on the act of discrimination and not the extent of impairment. We hope that the Disability Rights Commission will concentrate on this approach when reviewing the operation of the Act.
Although the Bill is extremely welcome, I turn briefly to another area where many of its provisions could be improved. As the Minister pointed out, Clauses 2 and 3 make it unlawful for a public authority to discriminate against a disabled person in carrying out its functions. They place a new and positive statutory duty on public authorities when carrying out their functions. This is clearly very welcome. However, the Select Committee, reflecting the very weighty evidence that we received, recommended that alongside the duty to provide equality of opportunity, there should be an equivalent duty to promote good relations between disabled and non-disabled people.
I have read with great care the Government's response in rejecting this recommendation. But sadly, as I lack any qualification in linguistic philosophy, I could not make head or tail of it. I hope that the Minister will explain exactly what the Government meant when they said that the recommendation to promote good relations between disabled and non-disabled people was not acceptable.
The Minister, Maria Eagle, was extremely helpful when she met the Joint Select Committee. On this particular matter, it is worth quoting her comments, which appear on page 265 of the evidence volume. She said:
"If somebody can explain to me why this is necessary and what good it would do and how it would work then I am perfectly willing to listen to it. I think there are differences in this legislation and other equality legislation which makes this less relevant in respect of disability, but obviously I am willing to be persuaded".
My noble friend will not be surprised to learn that amendments will be tabled to try to persuade the Government to change their stance on this matter. If the words "promote good relations" create a problem, I am
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sure that we can think of alternatives. One example would be "promoting the social inclusion of disabled people".
Other noble Lords will wish to raise other matters, such as landlord and tenant, transport and education, so I shall not go into any detail on them. To add to the words of the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, the one aspect of daily life that causes the most frustration for disabled people is the lack of accessible transport. Journeys which to non-disabled people are quite straightforward become major exercises in logistics, and disabled people need to do much forward planning for every journey they make.
This Bill is very welcome. It goes a long way to dismantle many of the barriers that face disabled people in their daily lives. As always, this House will examine it, with its usual ability to explore and improve. I am equally sure that the House will do nothing to impede its speedy progress on to the statute book.
The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, I, too, welcome the proposals to extend the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and in particular the opportunity to express the hope that the shift in focus of disability anti-discrimination legislation should be on the act of discrimination, rather than on the nature and extent of a person's impairmentthat is to say, the "social" rather than the "medical" focus, as the Joint Committee on the Bill puts it. Where are the barriers to full participation in our common life?
In response to these proposals, I wish to make two points. The first is in support of moving to the social focusthe focus on discrimination. Discriminating between people is not, however, merely a social matter; there is something much deeper. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition and its framework, within which our culture and legislation are formed, there is a developed understanding of each human person as made in the divine image. That means that we are to look at each person as a reflection in some sense of the godhead, and to be valued for that. The Judaic blessing to be said on seeing a disabled or deformed person says:
So we are to look at each person in this positive light, not only for who they are but for what they can contribute, not in isolation but as members of our social community. That is why I am particularly concerned that we pay attention to the question of the barriers, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, has just described them.
My second point is that, because of what I have just said, it is in the social context of schools, hospitals and prisons and in places of social interaction that the practicalities of this Bill are so significant. We need to ensureand here I shall use the example of deaf personsthat those people have adequate and rapid access to those who can sign in an appropriate language. I highlight the problems posed by deaf people because there is nothing so isolating as deafness. The profoundly hard of hearing cannot
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engage socially, as can those who can hear, partly because this disability is so superficially invisible. It is for that reason that the Churches place this disability on the top of their agenda for disabled people. Indeed, the Church of England has special chaplains for deaf people, and special deaf churches.
The problems raised by that constituency highlight an important series of social engagements at key moments in people's lives. I hope that the developed legislation will take account of those engagements and describe in some way how they are to be handled. First, there are problems when deaf people are in contact with the police. Because such events happen at a moment's notice, it is not always possible to ensure the kind of provision that one can perhaps ensure in a more settled institution, when people book in and make appointments. How are we going to help the police to develop a pattern of advice and consultancy that is rapidly and readily available?
Similarly, in the criminal justice system, there are potential problems for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. That may also apply to those from ethnic minorities for whom English is not their second or perhaps even their third languageas well as, more obviously, for those who are deaf. I know that there has been some difficulty for members of the prison chaplaincy service in enabling the deaf chaplains who work in the diocese to gain access to prisons. In the past that has certainly not always been an easy point to resolve with the Home Office and the Prison Service. I hope that some thought and advice will be given, in the wake of the legislation, to making that possible.
Hospitals represent another social context in which deaf persons in particular need to be sure that they have understood what patterns of treatment are being proposed. We need to give our formal consent, as adults, to any proposed treatment, and people are overawed by the context of hospitals anyway. If people cannot understand what is being proposed at such key points in their lives, when informed decisions need to be made, that is another area in which they need enormous degrees of support.
In education, visible access to school buildings and centres for night school and college is, of course, important. But what provisions are there for education for those who are particularly hard of hearing? Where are the thresholds and barriers that make it difficult for people to gain access to education provisions and skillspeople who may have a very developed intellectual life and, indeed, may need it much more than perhaps we do, because they are deprived of other forms of social interaction?
Within the framework of all the disability discrimination legislation, I hope that the Minister will consider the details of all those social contexts, as the detail of the new legislation takes visible shape in Committee. I hope that in summing up, she will be able to say what particular action the Government will take in the particular areas that I mentioned, especially for the deaf and hard of hearing.
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