§ Order for Second Reading read.9.48 am
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
I beg to move. That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House will be aware that this Bill arises from a ten-minute Bill that was presented by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), which in turn arose from the report by the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People known as CORAD. No doubt it will be referred to in other speeches today.
The object of the Bill is to remedy a factor that is highlighted in that report. It states:The frustrating experience of almost all disabled people is that not only are they often restricted by their own physical limitations, but they have imposed on them additional restrictions by the structure of the society in which they live.The additional restrictions referred to are simply forms of unjustified discrimination. The CORAD report accepts that there are times when it is relevant to discriminate against people on the ground of disability. It slates:It is legal, for example, to restrict a job to male applicants if its physical requirements could not possibly be met by women. We would accept that the same should apply to disabled people. We are not suggesting blind bus drivers or deaf piano tuners.While many hon. Members are aware of individual unreasonable discrimination against disabled people, like the committee, I have found that this is only the tip of the iceberg. There is discrimination in employment, education, transport, the provision of goods and services and so on. A survey was conducted by the committee and from it the impression emerged that people were being excluded from jobs that they were perfectly well able to do simply on the grounds of their disability. The report states further:The findings of a survey by the Manpower Services Commission's employment rehabilitation research centre confirmed that disabled people are far more likely to be successful in their job applications if they conceal their disability initially.In introducing his ten-minute Bill, the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South mentioned the case of a draughtsman with an artificial leg who was offered a job but had the offer withdrawn when his disability was discovered.
I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members can quote similar instances, so I do not wish to take up the time of the House with further examples.
Why is legislation necessary in this area? It has been said that the public should be educated to a level where discrimination of this type should disappear. Well, nearly £8 million was spent in trying to induce the public to use their car seat belts, but that failed, and legislation had to be introduced to make it obligatory. In a report in The Times of 8 October 1982, Lord Snowdon questioned whether the 1981 International Year of Disabled People had resulted in disabled people getting a fairer deal. He asked:Has the public's awareness been roused to any significant effect or have all the problems simply been swept under the carpet yet again? Have all the reports, booklets and guides gone into the wastepaper baskets of those in power? Is the plight of 1239 someone who is disabled better than it was a year ago? I hope so, but there is so much more to be accomplished and I mean by action not words.It is to provide action in this area that the Bill is presented.
It is probably known to hon. Members present that legislation dealing with discrimination against disabled people exists in the United States, Canada, Australia and possibly in other countries. The CORAD report sought to establish a means of ensuring that disabled people were full members of the community, and not to earn them a few begrudged rights. The report pinpoints excellently the need for legislation. It states:Legislation does have an important declaratory and educative effect. It is a means of gaining the attention of the apathetic and provides a foundation on which good practice can be built. The majority of people comply with legislation, and for them sanctions are only a secondary factor. We believe that the effect of legislation would thus be to make people accept that discrimination against disabled people is wrong, to provide publicity for this and to lead to a worthwhile reduction in the instances of discrimination.That is the aim of my Bill—to create a climate in which unjustifiable discrimination may be eliminated.
§ Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)
How would the right hon. Gentleman's Bill deal with the problem of employers ignoring existing legislation about employing a 3 per cent. quota of disabled people? Successive Ministers have refused even to name the employers in my constituency who are flouting the law. It seems that appropriate action is not being taken against these lawbreakers who discriminate unjustifiably against disabled people.
§ Mr. Stewart
The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) is quite right. The requirement under the quota system has fallen by the wayside and there seems to be no enforcement of it. I hope that if my Bill reaches the statute book hon. Members will see that the commission that would be appointed would eliminate the dodging of the laws enacted by the House.
The Bill would at least give disabled people the confidence of knowing that they had a statutory right to equal treatment and that in the last resort they could have recourse to the law. The Bill is simple. I am concerned here with the principle. We can fill in details at a later stage, I hope in Committee. Clause 1 is covered by my earlier comments. Clause 2 puts the duties of investigation and conciliation on the Equal Opportunities Commission. My first intention was to set up a new commission, but, in the light of the Government's attitude to quangos, I took the view, rightly or wrongly, that it would be unwise to proceed and I departed from that idea. I hope that, as the Equal Opportunities Commission exists, the Government will accept that this function might be undertaken by the commission.
Clause 3 deals with the application of the Act and will define the types and degrees of disablement to which the Act should apply. If those are acceptable the remaining provisions of the Bill follow automatically.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
I confess that when I first read the Bill I assumed that the right hon. Gentleman had referred to the Equal Opportunities Commission so that the powers that already exist on discrimination against women would be available to people who were discriminated against on the grounds of disability. Is that 1240 the intention, or is it intended that it should have the powers set out in clause 2? Surely it would be better for all the existing powers to be applied on behalf of the disabled.
§ Mr. Stewart
The existing powers should apply to the disabled, as to anyone else, but my intention was that this would be a duty, presumably as an extra power, taken on by the Equal Opportunities Commission. The commission says that it is unable at present to make a commitment one way or the other. I hope the Government will accept that, as the commission exists and is working to prevent discrimination, it will not find it onerous or difficult to include the effect of my Bill among its duties.
The CORAD report acknowledges the support in the past from both Labour and Conservative Governments. The House, through measures already on the statute book, has recognised the principle of legislating against discrimination. There is nothing new in the principle. I hope that the House will back the Bill today as a step to lighten the burden of the disabled and to afford to them the opportunities to which they are entitled as of right in a civilised society.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
All hon. Members care about the disabled. I begin by congratulating the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on the way he has used his opportunity to promote the case for helping the disabled against possible discrimination.
We are all to some extent expert in the problem of disablement because our job gives us an insight into the depth and variety of the problems of disablement which most other professions are not privileged to have. All hon. Members must have handicapped constituents. We go to see them in their homes and they sometimes come to see us in our surgeries. We are all well aware of the problems. We know that some disabled people need adapted housing, some seek our help about education or a job, and some need help with mobility or special allowances. Sometimes the parents of disabled people tell us of the problems that they face in caring for their children. The mentally handicapped come under that head, and they often impose an especially difficult burden on those who look after them.
I doubt whether any hon. Member is not ready to work extra hard and to try to move every mountain for his or her disabled constituents. Some of us have schools or sheltered workshops in our constituencies. I have always found that visiting such places is an eye-opener partly because of the truly wonderful staff who, by God's grace, seem to come from somewhere and to work with the loving patience and devotion that is so inspiring, but partly because of the cheerful courage that is shown so often by those who will never be as healthy as we are.
Hon. Members do not consider the problems that surround disabled people without a depth of knowledge and, going right across the House, without a sympathetic interest in the matter. When I heard that the right hon. Member for Western Isles intended to bring in a Bill to help the disabled, I waited eagerly to see what it might contain. I haunted the Vote Office for at least two weeks to try to obtain a copy of the Bill, but it did not appear until Wednesday of this week. The staff of the Vote Office became rather tired of my turning up there and it was 1241 suggested that perhaps I should camp outside so that I could get a copy of the Bill as soon as it appeared. However, my patience was finally rewarded. It is unusual, to say the least, for a Bill to appear only two days before it is debated. Normally, we have rather longer in which to study what we shall debate.
When I obtained the Bill I joyfully grabbed the single sheet and rushed off to read it in peace. I must say, with great sorrow, that I was most disappointed with the measure, because I do not believe that it is viable.
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
Although the hon. Lady had not seen the text of the Bill, she must have known that its purpose was to implement some of the recommendations of the CORAD report. She had already read the speech on the ten-minute Bill by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), and she must have known from press articles what the Bill intended. The fact that the few words contained in this short Bill were not available until Wednesday does not make it difficult for us to debate the principle.
§ Mrs. Knight
The right hon. Gentleman, with all his experience of the House, knows better than that. We can accept a broad principle, but all of us must see what is in a Bill before we can be sure that we support it. I should be most surprised if the right hon. Gentleman believed that there was no difference between a principle being enunciated and a Bill being produced.
I understand the dilemma of the right hon. Member for Western Isles, because he had a difficult problem. He was obviously seized of the hazards normal to the frail little craft that is a private Member's Bill because great rocks of procedural hazards lie in its way, and the longer the Bill is, the more certain its shipwreck becomes. However, the Bill must say enough to make sense and it must contain some firm demonstrations of how it will work. Generality, like patriotism, is not enough. With great regret, I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that with the best will in the world, and with all my sympathy and desire to help, this Bill does not pass the test.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
Surely the hon. Lady is aware that those of us who sponsored the Bill with the right hon. Member for Western Isles would have wished it to go much further. I had a similar experience two years ago. However, the hon. Lady will know the obstacles in the way of such Bills, and she will know to where she should address her remarks. It is possible to overcome in Committee some of the difficulties that may be apparent in the first draft of the Bill.
§ Mrs. Knight
Perhaps when I proceed a little further with my speech the hon. Gentleman will appreciate why I am worried about the wording. For example, it speaks of "unjustifiable discrimination". How are we to judge what is justifiable and what is unjustifiable? What may be justifiable in one set of circumstances may well be thought unjustifiable in another.
Many, if not most, of the aruments with regard to discrimination will fall into one of two categories—employment or housing. Currently I am dealing with a constituency case of a young epileptic man who has no family, and who must live by himself. He has a pleasant little flat, but as an epileptic he never knows when he will have an attack, and on one occasion he lay 1242 alone in the flat for two or three days. He should be living in the sheltered accommodation that is available for the disabled, especially the elderly, with a warden to help him, and staff not too far away should disaster strike. However, I cannot get that man into such a complex because he is too young. He is also a schizophrenic. I shall not rest until he is properly cared for, but it is difficult to say how he is being discriminated against and that is one problem that the Bill must face.
§ Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)
Will not the Bill give the hon. Lady's constituent the right of appeal, observation and judgment, which will help her in this case?
§ Mrs. Knight
It does not. The young man is being discriminated against, not because of his disability but because of his age. That is what the social services department of my local authority tells me. We frequently find such fine dividing lines.
Would an employer who provided a job such as proof-reading be justified in not taking on a blind person if that blind person could work provided that the work before him was in braille? Would the employer have a duty to provide a print-out in braille? If so, I can see great difficulties. It could be said that the Government—which is only an alias for "the taxpayer"—must provide the money for those braille print-outs. However, money could be spent to help the disabled in better ways than that.
If we are talking about the unacceptability of the disabled having to travel in the guard's van on trains, I agree with the idea behind the Bill. Another discrimination is that in many places a disabled person still cannot go to the toilet and still cannot get up and down kerbs.
I believed that we are making advances in those cases. A great deal has been done to help people in that way.
Clause 1 says:Unjustifiable discrimination by one person against another, whether intended or not".I find that a worrying phrase. I have taken care to go to the Library to refresh my memory on the wording of both the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and in neither does it say "whether intended or not". It would be difficult to pursue a case if a person had genuinely no intention of discriminating against a disabled person. There are many cases—
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon
I am sorry to disturb the hon. Lady, but the Bill's implication is that all the powers and duties of the Equal Opportunities Commission in relation to sex would apply in relation to disability. Under the Bills she mentioned unintentional discrimination as in fact discrimination. It is not just the commission that can bring an action to put it right, but the person affected. That would be the case under this Bill. If the epileptic man to whom the hon. Lady has referred thought that he had a case, he could bring an action against the local authority for equal access to residential accommodation and he would have all the powers of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 to enable him to do so.
§ Mrs. Knight
The hon. Gentleman has missed my point. We are talking about whether discrimination is intended. We can deal with intended discrimination, but I do not see how the law's great weight could be brought to bear on someone who had no intention of discriminating against a disabled person. Neither the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 nor the Race Relations Act 1976 provides for 1243 that. The words "discrimination, whether intended or not" are not in those Acts, presumably because such a provision would be impossible to enforce.
As I understand the Bill, the aggrieved person would have to go to the EOC. If the complaint were upheld the person involved could be sued in the civil court and would have to pay damages although the discrimination was wholly unintended, which could be the case.
I hope that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) will stay in the Chamber because he will be interested in what I have to say. I can give an example of wholly unintended discrimination. I have the privilege of sitting on a Select Committee with the hon. Gentleman who is blessed or cursed, I do not know which, as he is a politician, with a soft voice. When he speaks, he is often difficult to hear. If a deaf person were present, and the hon. Gentleman had to discuss something with that deaf person, the hon. Gentleman might be discriminating, wholly unintentionally, against that deaf person.
I have great sympathy with the deaf. I believe that they suffer almost the worst disability because there is no outward sign of it. Sometimes they are laughed at most cruelly. They have no way of showing that they cannot hear what a person says. If a deaf person did not hear and felt that someone like the hon. Gentleman was not explaining something clearly enough, he could accuse the hon. Gentleman of discriminating against him by not speaking loudly enough to be heard. It is easy to discriminate against the deaf by talking too quietly, and by not realising perhaps that some deaf people read lips.
Another hon. Member, for whom the House has great regard, is conscious of the fact that it is difficult for him if people do not take care to make clear lip movements which are possible for a deaf person to understand.
I am dubious about using the EOC in this way. I understand that the Bill's proposer wrote to the EOC only at the end of January. We have not yet reached the end of February and the EOC would have to take on an enormous burden if it were shouldered with the Bill's provisions. I understand that the letter was received by the EOC on 3 February and replied to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on 9 February. My information—I am always ready to be corrected if I am wrong—is that the EOC said that this was the first official approach on the subject and that it did not consider that six days were sufficient to discuss and consider the Bill's full implications. However, in the short time that it had, its reaction has been that the Bill's proposals do not fall within the EOC's current terms of reference and that the staff have no knowledge of the subject and certainly could not tackle the task alone.
§ Mrs. Knight
I shall give way at the end of what I am saying. I should prefer to tell the House all that I have been told about the EOC's attitude because it is crucial. If the burden that it is proposed to put on the EOC is unacceptable, how can the Bill proceed?
§ Mrs. Knight
I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished because this is a crucial point. The expertise built up by the EOC over a considerable time is 1244 in a different area from that which it is now being asked to enter. I have no doubt that, as the EOC has said, additional resources of manpower would be needed as existing resources are already working at full stretch and could not be diverted. I have more to say about the EOC's attitude, but hon. Gentlemen seem to be worried. I shall give way.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
Time is irrelevant. The EOC has told me that whether it takes on the task is a matter for the Home Office. The Government must decide whether it is to take on these duties.
§ Mrs. Knight
The House cannot accept that. Before the EOC is asked by the Home Office or anyone else to take on such a burden it would certainly put its views to the Home Office. A handful of hon. Members in the House on a Friday cannot place an entirely new burden on the EOC without its being given the right to say what it feels about the proposal.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
A document produced by the EOC in March 1982 says:Practical assistance to households having an infirm elderly, sick or disabled member should be allocated on a nondiscriminatory basis according to the needs of that person and regardless of the sex of the carer.The EOC has known and dealt with the matter. The fact that it was contacted only six days ago is not important.
§ Mrs. Knight
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong. In considering disablement, the EOC was considering disabled women. Its job is to investigate discrimination against women. I have explained its attitude to the Bill and the burdens that it would impose. Whatever a document about disabled women may have said last March, I assure the House that the attitude of the EOC to the Bill is as I have described it.
§ Mr. Ennals
I am not sure that the hon. Lady fully understood my hon. Friend's point. The EOC document positively statesregardless of the sex of the carer.That was in the context not of the EOC's responsibilities for women, but of its responsibilities for the elderly, the sick and the disabled, so in principle it has already taken this matter on board.
§ Mrs. Knight
The right hon. Gentleman must concede that in that document about disabled women last March the EOC in no way expressed itself ready to take on the burden of dealing with the whole range of discrimination against the disabled. The document related to a completely different matter. I am giving the EOC's view of the heavy duties that the Bill would impose, not its view of its own leaflet last March. If the Bill were passed, the EOC would require an additional branch with essentially separate functions and a different range of knowledge and expertise. It would require, as it were, a mini-quango under the wing of the EOC.
I am told that the EOC is very worried about clause 3. I very much doubt whether it mentioned in its booklet last March clause 3 of the Bill, which appeared only two days ago. If the preliminary research to establish the parameters of the Bill were to be carried out by the EOC, the EOC has no doubt that its present staff could not cope with the task and other people would have to be taken on. According to the EOC, the guidelines in clause 3 are unclear. The EOC is ablsolutely right about that. A wide 1245 range of expert opinion would have to be canvassed and 12 months would seem far too short a period for the work to be properly done.
The EOC also takes the view that two entirely different approaches would be required to assess discrimination in terms of sex and in terms of disablement. The rationale is quite different. For example, by and large there is no job done by a man that cannot be done by a woman, but there are a number of jobs in various sectors that could not be performed by people with certain disabilities. The criteria applying to one form of discrimination do not apply to the other. An entirely separate body would have to be set up to investigate discrimination against the disabled.
Finally, the overall view of the EOC is that there is no point in trying to use that body to oversee the working of the Bill as there is no clear connection between the EOC's current functions and those proposed in the Bill. I find it very difficult to support a Bill that decides, somewhat high-handedly, that the EOC should take on that burden when the EOC itself does not wish to take it on.
I wish to see discrimination towards the disabled. Far more money, care and thought should be devoted to them than to the rest of us. That is discrimination, and it is badly needed. Far more thought and care should be given to people who cannot walk or see or reason or hear than is expended on the rest of us. That is discrimination and in that sense I am all for it.
Much has already been done in this area, although far more needs to be done, but is the Bill the best way to help disabled people? With regard to the CORAD report, there were two responses. There was a minority report. I undestand that the discussion within the group reflected the fact that opinion on discrimination against the disabled was by no means certain of the desirability of legislating against it. There is no clear consensus among disabled people that anti-discrimination legislation is the best and most practical way to help them. CORAD worked on the assumption that negative discrimination was widespread. I undestand that of 20,000 questionnaries sent out on the subject, 714 relevant replies were received, 463 of which maintained that disabled people suffered discrimination. The suggested introduction of legislation to outlaw discrimination, however, was supported by only 38 people. It is important to take that on board as the wishes of the disabled must surely be as important as the EOC's ability to cope with the task.
Many have questioned whether the disabled want the Bill or regard it as wise. Selwyn Goldsmith, himself disabled, said on receiving his Hardint award in 1982:I submit there is relatively and absolutely little discrimination against disabled people in England.Clearly, he would have been against the Bill.
I could make many other points, but I do not wish to detain the House much longer. I simply mention one or two of the matters that would have to be scrutinised if we proceeded with the Bill.
What would happen about life assurance? To what extent would the Bill increase premiums as the non-disabled had to finance artificially reduced risk premiums for the disabled?
How would disablement be classified? I know of many instances of disabled people not wishing to be put on a register. If a case went to court, the person accused of discrimination would be bound to fight it very hard as it would be terrible to stand accused of such an offence. Such a case might be distressing for the disabled person in a 1246 number of ways. The extent of the disablement would have to be probed, which I know can be most distressing. I recall a case in which I wished to get more money for an amputee. Apparently, everything depended on how far above or below the knee the leg had been cut off, and it was deeply distressing for my constituent to have to submit to a whole series of medical tests and examinations. I am sure that many disabled people would find it most distressing to face the awful business of the coups probing the case in such detail.
There are many questions to be answered. With the best will in the world and with the most sincere intentions to do the best that we can for disabled people—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) has no right to shake his head. We are talking about how best we can help disabled people. Everything that I have stated is true. If the hon. Gentleman doubts my record and attitude towards disabled people, he can check my files. The hon. Gentleman has no right whatever to presume that only those who support the Bill care for disabled people. What has to be examined is whether the Bill is the correct vehicle and whether it will achieve what all hon. Members want—to make life fairer, better and easier for disabled people.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) made such a speech. Hon. Members now know what will happen to the Bill. It was a carefully briefed speech. The hon. Lady did less than justice to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and failed to appreciate the enormous difficulties faced by a private Member in getting a Bill together and having to discuss it with all the interested concerns, the pressure groups, hon. Members and the Minister. I happen to know that the right hon. Gentleman wanted a strong Bill and a strong commission. Following discussions with the Minister, he has decided to use the device of the Equal Opportunities Commission.
If the right hon. Gentleman has been leaned upon by the Minister, and I know he is doing his beet to be diplomatic to get his Bill through the House, it is not right that he should be attacked from the Government Benches for using the Equal Opportunities Commission. The right hon. Gentleman is being squeezed in a nutcracker. He is told that he cannot have a strong commission and must use the Equal Opportunities Commission. Now he hears from a Conservative Member that he should not use the Equal Opportunities Commission. One cannot win in those circumstances. It is not playing fair.
The hon. Member for Edgbaston was also unfair when she accused the right hon. Member for Western Isles of discrimination against deaf people just because he has a soft voice. I have never heard his voice. I am sure that it is a lovely Scottish lilting voice. Yet the hon. Lady condemns the right hon. Gentleman for using that lovely voice to discriminate against deaf people. She seemed to condemn him for shaking his head. She said that the right hon. Gentleman had no right to shake his head in the Chamber. I wonder whether a more fatuous statement has ever been made [Interruption.] Whoever it was who shook his head, he has the right to shake his head. The hon. Lady went bonkers in her speech. She lost her balance. She went too far. She did not understand what she was saying.
1247 I wish to congratulate the right hon. Member for Western Isles on his lucid presentation of the Bill. It is an important Bill. The right hon. Gentleman kindly mentioned the fact that it is based on my ten-minute Bill. I wrote to everyone at the top of the ballot. Only the right hon. Gentleman replied positively. Everyone else said "No". But the right hon. Gentleman accepted. The whole House should be grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for accepting this opportunity to help disabled people. My Bill was, in turn, based on the report of the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People, which was initiated by the previous Minister with responsibility for the disabled, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). It was a farsighted decision of my right hon. Friend to institute the inquiry.
The CORAD investigation was chaired by Peter Large. Everyone owes a debt of gratitude to Peter Large and his colleagues for their work. The report was a landmark for disabled people. I hope that the Bill will take matters further. Today is a notable parliamentary landmark. The Bill began its journey in the House with my ten-minute Bill but this Second Reading is the next vital stage. At 2.30 pm it will be seen whether hon. Members intend to allow it to continue quietly and steadily on its way to transform the lives of disabled people or whether someone will effectively sabotage it. That is what we shall be watching.
The Bill will not be sabotaged without the active or passive consent of the Government. The Minister with responsibility for the disabled and the Government are on trial. At the close of the debate we shall know where they stand on discrimination against disabled people. On a straight vote, or by the more devious method of talking out the Bill, the country will know whether the Government favour or oppose legislation to outlaw discrimination against disabled people. It is well nigh impossible for any hon. Member to argue directly against action to deal with unjustifiable discrimination.
The hon. Member for Edgbaston asked what "unjustifiable" discrimination is. I shall tell her. Justifiable discrimination means that a blind person cannot be a bus driver. Unjustifiable discrimination occurs when a bloke goes for a job for which he is suitable but is denied the job simply because he is disabled. What is and what is not justifiable is capable of being understood. The essence of the Bill is to provide remedies against unjustifiable discrimination. That is the strength of the Bill. It is outrageous that unjustifiable discrimination exists.
I find it remarkable that some people appear to doubt that discrimination is a serious problem. The Minister, in a letter to Peter Large on 25 May last year, said:The Government would need to be convinced that there were significant breaches of human rights and I do not think that your report substantiates this.The Minister then pointed, like the hon. Member for Edgbaston, to the small amount of evidence given to the committee and made the ludicrous suggestion that these cases of discrimination were exceptions and that the loss of good will that might result from legislating for positive discrimination could outweigh any limited benefit to a few people. How does that rank as an utter and absolute distortion and failure to understand the point? I am astounded that the Minister with responsibility for the disabled needs to be convinced about the extent of serious 1248 discrimination. CORAD found abundant evidence in most aspects of life. The hon. Lady was wrong in saying that discrimination was mainly confined to education and employment. Of course, those are two important areas but CORAD found discrimination in education, employment, insurance, transport, entertainment, the transaction of domestic business and civic duties. In every aspect of life there was discrimination against disabled people.
§ Mrs. Knight
I know that the right hon. Gentleman would wish to be fair to me. I was careful to say that it would be mainly—I did not go into the other aspects that the hon. Gentleman is right to mention—housing and employment. I did not consider that the burden would rest only on housing and employment.
§ Mr. Ashley
That is a fair point, which I accept. The hon. Lady did say mainly housing and employment. I am sorry if I was unfair to the hon. Lady.
CORAD said that the examples that it uncovered were only the tip of the iceberg. I am sorry to use a cliché, but it was used by CORAD. That should be borne in mind when the House considers the Minister's claim that the examples were exceptions.
In assessing the response of disabled people to CORAD, although it represents a relatively small number, the hon. Member for Edgbaston and people generally take insufficient account of the important fact that disability often drains the vitality of people. It reduces their willpower and determination to fight. Many disabled people are old and want to avoid unpleasantness. Far too much of their time and energy is taken up in battling disability itself. They cannot fight for a better deal. I hope that the House will bear this point in mind.
From the evidence of the report, of my postbag and of my personal association with disabled people, discrimination against them is very widespread. Sometimes it is thoughtless, sometimes it is calculated, but always it is hurtful. I hope that the Minister will not bring out the weary old excuses that the Government want a survey before taking action. To deny the existence of widespread discrimination is to fly in the face of obvious facts and is a confession of ignorance.
Many arguments can be dredged up against using the law to combat discrimination against disabled people. The same old arguments were used against the Sex Discrimination Act and legislation against race discrimination. The Minister's argument in his letter to Peter Large about the loss of good will is a case in point. Why should a reasonable proposition, outlawing unjustifiable discrimination, result in loss of good will? There is no evidence for that contention. I do not believe that there will be any loss of good will by the population if we have this modest, reasonable legislation.
It is sometimes argued — and I suspect that the Minister may argue this—that we need education and publicity rather than legal rights. We have heard that old chestnut for the past 20 years and the Minister mentioned it again in his letter to Peter Large. However, education, publicity and persuasion have not got very far in the past 20 years. Legislation is a concomitant of, not a substitute for, education and publicity.
As the Government claim to be cost-conscious they should recognise that changing behaviour through education and publicity is not a cost-effective option. As the right hon. Member for Western Isles said, the 1249 campaign on car seat belts cost over £7 million. The cost of this Bill is estimated at about £1 million. My conclusion is that if the Government reject the Bill either by a vote or by talking it out, they should keep the House fully informed about the expense of education and publicity. The right hon. Member for Western Isles, myself and my hon. Friends will be tabling hundreds of questions to find out just how much money is spent on education and publicity if this Bill goes down the drain. We shall want to know all about that.
If the expenditure on education and publicity is low, Ministers will not be carrying out their implied promise, but if the expense is very high the Prime Minister will no doubt want to know why the cost-effective measure of anti-discrimination legislation was not adopted by the Minister. If the Bill fails, I shall draw the attention of the Prime Minister to her Minister's failure to adopt this cheap measure and instead spend money on ineffective measures.
Mr. Tom Tickell was mentioned by the hon. Member for Edgbaston. She was unwise to do so because some of the most foolish opposition to the CORAD report came from Mr. Tickell. Ominously, the Minister expressed great interest in Mr. Tickell's minority report, and said that he was interested in what Mr. Tickell had to say. I am interested in what the other 99 per cent. had to say, not Mr. Tickell.
Mr. Tickell was worried that disabled people would have more rights than non-disabled people. Fancy that. That is rather like worrying about the wealth of poor people. He was worried that disabled people would be far better off in terms of rights than those who are not crippled, blind, deaf and have all the other disabilities. It was crackers to write that dissenting report. The fact that those opposing the Bill are having to quote Tickell tickles me. It is very amusing because it shows how they are short of decent arguments against the Bill.
The Bill is not giving to disabled people more rights than other people possess. It gives them the right to equal treatment. At the moment, they do not get that equal treatment, but they are entitled to it. The view that the Bill would give them an unfair advantage, when the object is merely to eliminate disadvantages, is utter nonsense.
In a nutshell, we need the Bill because some disabled people suffer unjustifiable discrimination. That means that they are denied the jobs that they could do, refused adequate education from which they could benefit, kept off transport that they need and are being debarred from pubs and clubs, where they could chat like the rest of us. Persuasion and publicity have failed to stop these scandals, so we now need to give disabled people full rights, enshrined in law.
The Bill is a simple and direct way of dealing with the problem by supplementing, not supplanting, education and persuasion. Of course, it is only the first stage in the fight to end discrimination against the disabled. All the Bill's supporters would have preferred a more radical and far-reaching measure and that is what we are aiming at. However, this modest Bill is an essential first stepping stone. Historians will look back with incredulity at the piffling, niggling and pettifogging objections to the first measure aimed at reducing discrimination against the disabled.
Despite a few qualifications in my mind, the Bill will have an important declaratory effect. It will represent a national commitment and will show that Parliament is 1250 being firm and resolute in defending the rights of the disabled—as firm as on any other important issue. It will influence future legislation by making the promoters of new Bills consider whether they discriminate against the disabled. It will begin, only begin, to bring Britain into line with other progressive countries such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand, which have already enacted anti-discrimination legislation. It will modify the behaviour of the public towards the disabled and it will give the disabled new hope, new rights anc! a new confidence in themselves. It is a fine measure imbued with noble aspirations, and I commend it to the House.
§ Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)
It is always a great pleasure to be called after the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), who speaks trenchantly on behalf of the disabled. If anyone is qualified to speak on their behalf, I am sure it is the right hon. Gentleman.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on his good fortune in the ballot. It is a position which I have sought for many years but never succeeded in securing. I wonder whether at the end of the process the right hon. Gentleman will still consider it to be his good fortune to have secured such a place in the ballot, bearing in mind the complexities that are involved in taking a private Member's Bill through its stages prior to its enactment.
I thank the right hon. Member for Western Isles for taking up the subject of discrimination against the disabled. I have some reservations about the practicability of legislation of this sort, but I recognise that it is an important, although controversial, issue for the disabled. This is the first time that there has been a full debate on the issue in Parliament. Legislation to end discrimination is a difficult and controversial issue. I hope that the Bill receives a Second Reading, but it will need to be examined in great detail in Committee.
The fundamental question is whether discrimination exists. If it does, what form does it take? Criticisms have been made of the CORAD survey. However, I pay tribute to the work of the committee and of Peter Large, who chaired it. Anyone involved with disability for a number of years will have come across many examples, as I have, of discrimination against disabled individuals. The disabled are discriminated against because of their inability fully to participate in the community despite the legislation that has been passed to assist them. The fact that we have attempted on many occasions to help integrate the disabled and assist them to overcome some of their handicaps is an acknowledgement that they are disadvantaged, that they face additional problens and that this can be seen as discrimination. If that were not so, we would not have to legislate to remove the discriminations.
There are three important areas of integration which are vital where discrimination occurs. The most striking example is access. CORAD received the most complaints about access, despite the access provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. More than 10 years later public buildings are still being constructed—a close example is the National Westminster Bank in Marsham Street—without the correct access for the disabled. I know that hon. Members will be able to quote examples in their constituencies.
1251 The Disabled Persons Bill—I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), who introduced it last year—was a significant step forward. I am delighted by the announcement of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction that he has issued a consultative letter about a new building regulation that will require new buildings to be accessible to the disabled. This is a major milestone for the disabled and is something for which the all-party disablement group and disablement organisations have been fighting for over a decade. It is a tremendous step forward.
Unemployment among the disabled has always been much higher than among the general population. The disabled are especially hard hit now. In April 1982 17.2 per cent. of the registered disabled were unemployed, compared with 12.6 per cent. of the total work force. It is striking that 54 per cent. of the registered disabled have been unemployed for over a year.
The 3 per cent. quota was established in the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944. It was a recognition that the disabled faced much harder problems in obtaining employment. Unfortunately, this is often due to a combination of prejudice and lack of knowledge of the capabilities of disabled workers. In 1980 only 35 per cent. of firms complied with the quota but only 31.8 per cent. complied with it in 1982. The number of employers below the quota but without a permit having been issued to them has increased to 23.7 per cent. There have been only 10 prosecutions since the Act was introduced in 1944. It is true that the number on the disabled register is falling, but this is because the disabled no longer see any advantage in registering. Indeed, if they can hide their disability they do so as it can be counter-productive to apply for a job as a registered disabled person.
I am delighted that the Government have decided to retain the quota and that they will be publishing a code of practice on recruitment, training and the promotion of the disabled. The code must be properly enforced. The non-enforcement of the quota and the experience of the fit-for-work campaign show, unfortunately, that merely attempting to change attitudes does not always work. We had to use the legislative process for the wearing of seat belts—I appreciate that hon. Members on both sides of the House did not necessarily agree with that—and that was a prime example of the necessity to introduce legislation.
Financial incentives do not appear to work. In 1981–82 less than half of the £168,000 allocated to the capital grant scheme to assist employers to make adaptations to their workplaces was paid out. I pay tribute to the Government for increasing the expenditure on disablement employment schemes from £509,000 in 1978–79 to nearly £1 billion in 1981–82. The Government cannot be faulted; they have not failed to provide resources to make the schemes work. The problem is that the moneys are not necessarily being taken up by employers.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
Clearly there is much to be achieved by legislation to overcome the discrimination suffered by the disabled, but the failure of employment legislation is serious. I have difficulty in reconciling what the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and many of us wish to achieve by means of the Bill's enactment with the failure of employment legislation to assist the disabled.
§ Mr. Hannam
That is the crux of the difficulty The principle is clear. We legislate regularly to remove discrimination and this Bill is a straightforward measure to remove discrimination. The problem is in the method adopted. In all such legislation we have had to take steps to deal with the fact that the voluntary system and changing attitudes have not necessarily worked. This Bill provides wide scope for anti-discrimination powers. Such powers are used in other countries so we are not walking entirely into the unknown, but I have reservations about the practicality of such legislation.
Some anti-discrimination legislation does not work because it is not enforced. We shall have to examine the enforcement problem. Disabled people are not asking for any unfair advantage. They are not asking for reverse discrimination when looking for jobs. They just want an equal chance and opportunity. Many disabled people are not even granted an interview if they state that they have a disability. The CORAD report and a survey by the Manpower Services Commission describes many such examples
An example of discrimination in employment is enshrined in statute—in section 16 of the Wages Councils Act 1979. Under that provision disabled workers can be paid a lower rate than that set out in the appropriate wages council order, subject to the approval of both sides of the wages council and the wages inspectorate. In the first five months of 1982, 65 lower rated payments were granted. That affects a very small percentage of the work force—about 0.01 per cent. of those covered by wages councils—but to the people involved, struggling on low incomes and the extra costs of disability, the little extra money that they would receive if they were on equal wages would be of disproportionate benefit to them. It is estimated that it would cost the state about £70 per worker a year and employers a maximum of £384 a year if section 16 were repealed. A small alteration could right an injustice. I hope that we can deal with that in Committee.
The Education Act 1980 excluded handicapped children and their parents from the right of choice of school, from appeals against admission and information at school. The measure was not intended to do that and pressure from the all-party disablement group, myself and many others hastened the publication of a White Paper which resulted in the Education Act 1981.
That Act lays a duty on local education authorities to educate children with special educational needs in ordinary schools, with the proviso that it is consistent with the efficient education of other children and the efficient use of resources. I accept the need to apply that restraint, but there are fears that at a time of financial stringency slow progress towards integration will be made by certain local education authorities. For example, an education authority might say that it has no money for a ramp or an induction loop system and therefore stop the process of integration in a particular school.
The Act has increased the consultation rights of parents in the assessment and decision process. Parents have rights of appeal, but there are many provisos hedging them round and they are still in a very vulnerable position vis-a-vis the LEAs.
Disabled people who want to become teachers also face unjustified discrimination either on unreasonable medical grounds or because colleges are not accessible. It is 1253 extraordinary in this day and age that a disabled person qualified to teach can be prevented from doing so because a building is not accessible.
I have mentioned three important examples of discrimination. Permissive legislation has not ended the discrimination, although progress has been made in adapting and changing attitudes. During the International Year of Disabled People in 1981 there was a great change in attitudes throughout the world. Most of the replies to CORAD said that the situation had improved since the introduction of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 in terms of improved facilities and services provided by the Government, local authorities and voluntary organisations. Others giving evidence to the committee spoke of how people's attitudes had changed and said that disabled people now felt that they were more readily accepted by society.
I fear that that will not be enough to end the personal discrimination which often makes a disabled person feel like a second-class citizen. There are still outrageous stories, for example, of publicans refusing to serve disabled people and of holiday camps refusing to admit them. CORAD has many such examples.
In the last year an incident occurred in Devon which was widely reported. A young footballer with an artificial leg was sent off the field by the referee. That decision was reversed after representations were made. Recently some disabled parents were "put on trial" to see whether they could look after their baby. Social services employees have to put the interests of the child first, but I am afraid that sometimes decisions are made on the basis of ignorance or prejudice about the abilities of disabled people. We all agree that it is unacceptable that disabled people should have to tolerate such discrimination, but we must also consider whether legislation is the best way to deal with the problem.
As CORAD said, we cannot legislate to make people love each other, but we can set an acceptable standard of behaviour towards disabled people. The American experience suggests that by changing behaviour one can change attitudes.
The argument about the use of the Equal Opportunities Commission must be brought out in this debate and in Committee. I am glad that a method has been devised so that a new commission need not be set up, but we still do not know whether the Equal Opportunities Commission is prepared to take on the extra responsibilities. If it is, that will avoid the need to set up a new bureaucracy with all the expense that that would involve.
I welcome the use of the EOC because its attitude is one of conciliation rather than an adversarial approach. Conciliation is the basis of Australian legislation. The Australians have had success in bringing the parties together when there is a dispute instead of merely establishing right or wrong.
Criticisms have been made of the EOC, but it has had eight years experience. Everyone agrees that it has played an important role in conciliation and in preventing the need for lengthy, expensive and acrimonious legislation. I have been studying the anti-discrimination legislation in south Australia, which is very important to us as we consider the Bill because its shows how the Equal Opportunities Commission will have to carry out its duties here. Under the Handicapped Persons Equal Opportunity Act 1981, enforcement in Australia is carried out by a handicapped persons discrimination tribunal and by a commissioner 1254 and, if reasonable efforts to resolve the matter by conciliation fail, the commissioner can refer the case to the tribunal and assist the complainant in presenting his case.
An example of a case which is in progress at the moment there is that of an individual with a remote muscular disease employed in the accountancy department of his local council. We often get cases in our constituencies of people who believe that they are being discriminated against. This man believes that he is being discriminated against because he is not being given the opportunity to be trained in the use of a computer and is thereby denied the opportunity of promotion, and generally he fears demotion and the relocation of his job. The conciliation process has begun and may resolve that matter satisfactorily without it having to go to any further lengths.
I support the principle of the Bill, but I think that it is a difficult and controversial area and that there will be many practical problems in implementing the legislation. I draw attention to some of the issues which will need to be resolved if the Bill is to proceed beyond the Committee stage. I should like confirmation that the effect of clauses 2 and 3 is that no offences will be created until the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Secretary of State have decided what constitutes unlawful discrimination and the resolution has been approved by Parliament.
Am I right in assuming that as, in the first year, no offences under the Act will be committed, individuals and organisations will be able to complain to the commission and that, from these investigations, a list of specific activities and disabilities will be drawn up? What will be the role of the commission in dealing with these complaints in the first year? Will it be merely conciliation, or will it have some statutory force?
As for specific disabilities, I think that we are all agreed that any legislation must include mental handicap and mental illness, as these often suffer the most discrimination. But, by their very nature, some disabilities will present serious problems. For example, psoriasis is a condition which causes the skin to flake off. Will it be discrimination against those who have this complaint to bar them from working as air hostesses or stewards on food hygiene grounds, or will it be discrimination to do so on public relations or cosmetic grounds? It is easy to see that that illness would present a health hazard in terms of food hygiene. In such a case, it would be justifiable to bar such a person from that job. But if the basis of discrimination was on public relations or cosmetic grounds, we should be getting into a very difficult area of definition, and it is easy to see the difficulties which would ensue.
This area inevitably is a bit of a minefield. As with the list of medical conditions and disabilities which are exempt from prescription charges, for example, strong cases can be made for including all sorts of other disabilities, and it is difficult to avoid offence and the feeling of discrimination among those who are excluded. The word "unjustifiable" is not defined in the Bill. Will that be covered in regulations, and will they include some definition or examples of what might be reasonable or unreasonable discrimation?
I quote another example from south Australia. A complainant alleged that he was not appointed as a switchboard operator because of his partial blindness. The manager maintained that he could not cope in emergencies because of the procedure involved reading the names of the personnel to be contacted and these names changed 1255 daily. It was considered too expensive to change the whole switchboard system to accommodate someone with limited sight. That complaint was dismissed on the ground that the work required could not be performed adequately. However, it would be interesting to know what was considered too expensive and whether some sort of buzzer system could not have been installed easily and cheaply.
I am not sure whether the words "intended or not" in clause 1 are necessary. We all agree that most discrimination is unintentional and will be resolved through the conciliation process. The words in the legislation make it sound a little draconian and may cause offence.
I should also like some clarification of the definition of "discrimination" in clause 5. As it reads at the moment, there is discrimination if a person applies a condition to a disabled person which he does not apply to an able-bodied person and which the disabled person cannot comply with because of his disablement. For example, an employer may require a disabled applicant to be able to run up and down stairs when he does not necessarily ask the same of an able-bodied person applying for the job. Surely what is meant is that general requirements or conditions should not be applied to disabled people which they cannot meet because of their disablement. I suggest that the wordswhich he does not apply to another personshould be deleted.
We in the United Kingdom have a great deal to be proud of in our provision for and our attitude towards disabled people, but it is salutary to think that other countries have found it necessary to introduce legislation—Canada, New South Wales and South Australia, all modelled on the British constitution. It is interesting that the United States of America, with its philosophy of less government, has the toughest legislation. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act 1973 requires equal opportunities for handicapped people in all programmes and activities receiving federal funds. All colleges and universities must conduct a self-evaluation to identify and remove barriers to equal opportunity. They must make a statement of their commitment not to discriminate, and they are required to set up a grievances procedure and to designate at least one person to co-ordinate their efforts under section 504.
I have been to the United States, and I have come across a great deal of criticism of the American legislation, especially about the gross waste of money resulting from extravagant measures taken, for example, to adapt whole fleets of buses rather than just the number required for disabled people in the community. But it has literally opened up educational, cultural and recreational facilities to disabled people and it has heightened an awareness of their rights and needs amongst the general population.
I welcome the Bill as an attempt to end discrimination and to assist the integration of disabled people. I see many difficulties in getting it into legislative form, but I hope that the Bill receives a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)
It is a great pleasure to be called immediately after the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), who is a Government supporter but who is a great friend of mine. I hope that the Minister has noted that the hon. Gentleman's speech justified an unopposed 1256 Second Reading for the Bill. The hon. Gentleman raised a number of matters which will have to be considered in Committee, but he recognises the need for legislation.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) is also a friend of mine, but someone has misled her very badly. Her speech purported to be based on the views of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which has declared precisely what it wishes to see done. What the commission sees to be needed is completely in accord with the Bill.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
The hon. Lady does not agree, but I did not produce the Equal Opportunities Commission's document. It is not Labour party propaganda, nor does it come from Conservative Central Office. It comes from the Equal Opportunities Commission. The commission printed it. I did not print it.
§ Mrs. Knight
I did not deny that that document detailed the problems facing disabled women and that it was produced by the Equal Opportunities Commission. I was reporting what had been told me about the reaction of the EOC to the suggestion that the burden inherent in the Bill should be placed upon its shoulders. The Equal Opportunities Commission said quite flatly no more than a week ago that it did not see how it could cope with this measure.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
The hon. Lady is really saying that it is a matter of resources. The EOC said in its report that help should be givenregardless of the sex of the carer.I did not say that, but I can see that the Minister's argument may be that we shall need more resources.
I do not always feel that specific examples make a good case for legislation, but I shall outline three examples of the problems that we face at present. The hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) and I met some Welsh people yesterday, including an articulate man suffering from severe polio. The Secretary of State for Transport has decided that he is a capable driver, but his insurance company disagrees and loads his car insurance policy. That man went off in high dudgeon and passed the test of the Institute of Advanced Motorists at the highest level. He also has a no-claims bonus, but his insurance policy is still loaded because he has had polio. I should think that few hon. Members have passed the advanced driving test, but that man has proved his driving ability and, merely because he has polio, his insurance policy is loaded.
The second example involves my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). The hon. Member for Edgbaston spoke about people nodding their heads. My right hon. Friend and I share a room in the House and I probably talk to him more than any other hon. Member, with the possible exceptions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and the hon. Member for Exeter.
When I talk to my right hon. Friend he reads my lips, but we often communicate by nodding or shaking heads. If he says "Let's go for a drink", and I shake my head, he knows what I mean.
§ Mr. Ashley
For the information of the House, I should say that my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) usually shakes his head only when he is asked whether he will buy the drinks!
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
What I have said reveals the nature of the relationship between deaf people and others. The hon. Member for Edgbaston intervened in my right hon. Friend's speech and was given a direct answer, because he has the equipment to enable him to overcome his handicap.
The third example came to my notice when I was watching BBC television this morning. A blind woman, Mrs. Allen, went to Buckingham Palace yesterday to receive her MBE, but her guide dog Brandy was not allowed into the palace. I do not believe that Her Majesty would have wanted keep the dog out and I do not suppose that the person who refused to allow the dog into the palace meant to discriminate against Mrs. Allen, but the incident shows that the problems faced by disabled people need careful consideration and understanding. I attach no blame to anyone for what happened, but it is a measure of the problems that we face.
I return to the section in the EOC report which has already been quoted at least twice in the debate:Practical assistance to households having an infirm elderly, sick or disabled member should be allocated on a nondiscriminatory basis according to the needs of that person and regardless of the sex of the carer.That point must be emphasised.
We have always faced the problem of the treatment of home workers writing Christmas cards or addressing envelopes at low rates of pay. We are moving towards the time when home workers will be seated at computer terminals. An able-bodied person can tell his employer that he will find a job elsewhere, but those who are not mobile and who are tied to their homes can be exploited, and they deserve to be given the right of appeal if they are discriminated against. I hope that the House will accept that there is no other way to protect such people.
The CORAD report said:Without a regulatory body the enforcement of legislation would be cheaper, but it would then be up to individuals to pursue cases privately through the courts and only the comparatively wealthy and well educated would be likely to be able to take advantage of this.That is the key to the problem. The report continues:Yet these are the very people who probably encounter least discrimination and are best equipped to encounter discrimination when it occurs.The hon. Member for Exeter, my right hon. Friends the Members for Wythenshawe, Stoke-on-Trent, South, the hon. Member for Caernarvon and I often meet people who speak on behalf of the disabled. They are articulate and can cope with the problems. I suggest, as I have suggested time and again, that those who are not well equipped need protection, and for that reason alone the House should give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.
The hon. Member for Exeter and my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South raised issues that need to be discussed at length and in detail. If the Bill needs polishing we can polish it in Committee. I ask the Minister to give us the chance to do that.
§ Mr. Keith Wickenden (Dorking)
May I add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on his success in the ballot and on introducing this important Bill. I am sure that there will be no dissension over its principles or on the basic thinking behind it. May I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman and to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in that I cannot remain here until 2.30 pm, if the debate continues that long, because 1258 I have to leave at about 1.15 pm to fulfil a constituency engagement. I should like to have been present until the end of the debate, although, were it to come to a vote, my absence will perhaps relieve me of something of a dilemma.
I looked forward to reacting the Bill when it became available because, as many hon. Members know, I have a particular interest in that have a disabled child, as do many other hon. Members. I find that nearly all of those who take an interest in the problems of the disabled do so because of their own personal circumstances. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I agree, not all. To my shame, did not take much interest in the matter until the circumstances were forced on me. Perhaps that is partly why the right hon. Member for Western Isles feels that the Bill is necessary. We do not take sufficient interest unless we have a personal involvement. To their greater credit, others perhaps do so without that necessity.
I am torn—this is one reason why I am glad that I shall not take part in a Division—in that all my instincts support the Bill, and yet at the same time I see its many defects. So I find myself in great difficulty. I am very unhappy that the Equal Opportunities Commission should be the means by which this legislation, if enacted, will be implemented. I confess that I have no great love for that commission, or for the Commission for Racial Equality, or for any other commission that we have forced on the country. I suspect that if the Bill had sought to abolish the Equal Opportunities Commission, instead of extending its duties, the House would have been better attended, and it would probably have had a better chance of success. Whether that would be right is a different matter
My concern does not relate to the principle behind the Bill—no one can doubt that it is wrong to discriminate unjustifiably on any ground—but to the point that often what is well-intentioned seems to have the opposite effect to what is intended, not only with bodies like the Equal Opportunities Commission but, for example, in housing legislation, where we have tried to give security of tenure to tenants and ended up by drying up the housing market.
The right hon. Gentleman is understandably trying to legislate for fairness, so that those people who are not fair in the way they treat people should become fair. I doubt whether it is possible to legislate for such an attitude of mind. One might be able to create the climate, through legislation, in which people paid more attention to that which they should do, but I doubt whether we should achieve that end simply by this legislation.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
I understand the hon. Gentleman's point of view, because one of the great problems connected with discrimination is the need to act quickly, to be able to do something more or less within days, because of the suffering that is involved. I therefore sympathise with what the hon. Gentleman says about the Equal Opportunities Commission, although of course it does good work in other directions. As the hon. Gentleman has a natural sympathy, which I understand from my personal knowledge of him, bearing in mind the need to help the disabled in this direction, may I ask him whether he would support the Bill and seek to amend it constructively in Committee'? That seems to me the most constructive attitude to take.
§ Mr. Wickenden
On balance, I probably would, although if I failed to amend it I should be most unhappy 1259 if it went through in the present form. That is my dilemma. I want to support the Bill, and yet I do not like the form in which I read it.
I want to expand on what my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) said about the phrase in clause 1 "whether intended or not", although I appreciate that it is really a Committee point. That is a difficult phrase. I shall give an example of the practical difficulties that might arise. Only two months ago, my company advertised a job that required two rather unusual qualities. We had only two applicants, which was unusual, in view of the present state of the employment market. I interviewed them both. The man who, on paper, was much more highly qualified for the job came across extremely badly at an interview—in fact, so badly that I doubted whether he fully understood the nature of the job that I wanted him to do. Fortunately, as I was on the point of giving the job to the other man, I happened to mention the fact to someone who had spent some time with him in the waiting room, and I learnt that the man was partially deaf. He had not revealed that fact to me, and in fact the poor man had not understood most of the questions that I had put to him. I called him in again, made sure that he understood the questions, and got exactly the answers that I needed. I could have discriminated against that man quite unintentionally, and I could have been prosecuted for it. That would have been unfair and unreasonable. I was lucky that someone more perceptive than I realised the problem. That is the sort of practical difficulty that will arise if those words remain in the Bill, because they do not allow any discretion.
§ Mr. Wickenden
Yes. In fact I think I probably positively discriminated in that case.
I do not wish to waste too much of the House's time, because other hon. Members are in less of two minds than I on the matter, and better qualified than I to speak. I just want to raise one matter, and that is to draw attention to the fact that we tend—we are probably as guilty as people outside the House—to treat all disabled people as though they were members of the same group, although disability can range from the loss of a finger to being severely autistic and wholly unable to communicate. Within those two extremes there is a range of disabilities and problems that make it difficult to legislate to solve the problems. We need a sense of awareness among people without, I hope, the need to take draconian measures, as my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) described them, against people who may be sympathetically inclined but thoughtless or not perceptive.
I wish the right hon. Gentleman well with the concept of the Bill. As I said, I have doubts whether this is the right way to approach the matter, but I do not question for a moment the good will shown by him and the sponsors of the Bill in wishing to do something to solve this difficult problem.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) in his refreshingly frank, stimulating and so obviously very sincere intervention. With others who have spoken in the debate, I warmly congratulate the right hon. 1260 Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on his good fortune in the private Member's ballot, and on his choice of Bill.
I congratulate the right hon. Member as well, on this special occasion for him, both on the content and the manner of the speech with which he opened this important debate. He was strong on the issue of principle and flexible on issues of procedure. That is an important combination that should have won him support in all parts of the House, and we on these Benches will gladly give his Bill a fair wind.
There will be very important drafting and technical points to consider in Committee and we shall contribute as fully and constructively as we can to improving the Bill upstairs. In doing so, we shall want to have full regard to the experience gained in operating anti-discrimination legislation in other parts of the world, not least in New South Wales and South Australia. In today's debate, however, the issue is whether the Bill ought to proceed to Committee, and we have no doubt that it should.
This is also a special occasion for me, since I intervene from this Front Bench not only as Opposition spokesman but also—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) recalled—as the then Minister who, in January 1979, set up the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People. This is the first opportunity I have had to place on record in the House my appreciation of the skill and thoroughness with which the membership of CORAD accomplished the task I gave them.
Those I appointed to the committee were mostly disabled people themselves or the parents of disabled children. Every member was chosen for his or her knowledge and personal experience of the problems of disability. By common consent, the committee did its job extremely well. All reports of its meetings agree that its members never descended into mutual admiration. I am grateful not only to the majority who backed the committee's call for anti-discrimination legislation, but also to those who argued strongly either that it went too far or not far enough. In particular, I thank Peter Large, who chaired CORAD, for working so tirelessly and against formidable difficulties to make the committee's work a success.
Peter Large has told me:Only at the beginning of our work did we enjoy the services of a full-time Secretary; towards the end, staff shortages left us with less than a part-timer.That is a biting comment on the pettiness of the present Government's economies. It reveals one of the most mean-minded of all their cuts. Yet they not only denied CORAD adequate help; they then criticised the committee for not having done more to document its case. Perhaps the Minister will tell us just how much the Government saved by economising so pettily on the servicing of a committee whose work was so important to millions of disabled people and their families in this country.
From 1974 to 1979, the previous Labour Government gave unprecendented new help to disabled people and their families. In my five years as a Minister, spending both on cash benefits and services for disabled people more than trebled. By contrast, one of the present Government's first acts was to discriminate against long-term sick and disabled people by cutting invalidity benefit without even a moment's consultation with the 620,000 people who were to suffer a wholly unmerited cut in living standards. 1261 That leaves scant room for trust in this Government's concern urgently to end discrimination against disabled people.
The Government's relentless pressure on local councils has cut the help they can give to disabled people. There have been major and discriminatory cuts in special housing provision. Wheelchair and mobility housing starts were cut by over two-thirds between 1979 and 1981. Home adaptations have also been cut very sharply compared with the last year of the Labour Government, leaving many thousands of disabled people as prisoners, in their own homes.
The next Labour Government will be expected not only to reverse these punitive cuts but to build on the achievements of 1974–79. We shall be expected to end the retreat of the past four years and to improve cash provision and services alike. Yet the disabled cannot live on bread and services alone. They seek the same opportunities to contribute to industry and society as everyone else. That is why I appointed CORAD and why its report is so important.
Most members of CORAD were initially opposed to making it unlawful to discriminate against disabled people. But, after a lengthy study of the pros and cons lasting more than two years, the committee decided by a large majority that legislation was both necessary and urgent. It did so on the basis of examples of discrimination from a host of individuals, from the national bodies of and for disabled people and their branches, from local societies of the disabled and from many other organisations and groups.
The examples were of discrimination in activities as diverse as education, employment, entertainment, the transaction of domestic business and civic duties. Many hurtful and damaging experiences were reported and CORAD concluded that disabled people should, whenever necessary, have access to the law to secure their right to equal treatment.
CORAD also concluded, as the right hon. Member for Western Isles said, that statutory protection need not be expensive; that it would gain the attention of the apathetic; that it would not antagonise public opinion if sensibly drafted; and that the achievement of equal treatment as of right for disabled people would be a major step towards a truly humane society. It must be emphasised that CORAD seeks nothing more nor less than equal treatment for disabled people. The committee's aim in recommending legislation was not to give disabled people more rights or more opportunities than other people. Its purpose was simply to allow disabled people access to the law to achieve the same treatment as everyone else.
There are, of course, occasions when a measure of positive discrimination is called for if equal treatment is to be achieved. That is not only my view, but that of senior Ministers in the Government. In fact it was stated with clarity and force by the Home Secretary in the debate on the Scarman report on 10 December 1981, when he said:It has long been recognised that where a section of the population has needs that are different from, or significantly greater than, those of the majority of the population, special measures may be called for. We are not talking of giving black people a favourable advantage over white people. What we are saying is that everyone in our society should have equal opportunities, and that those who start from a disadvantaged position may need special help to provide them with similar opportunities to those enjoyed by the majority of the population."—[Official Report, 10 December 1981; Vol. 14, c. 1006.]1262 That is the essence of the case for legislation to vouchsafe equal treatment for disabled people. There is nothing revolutionary about giving them special help. The Manpower Services Commission's fares to work scheme, special parking spaces for disabled employees, the attendance and mobility allowances, tax allowances for blind people and hearing aids for the hearing-impaired are examples of special help. Innovatory as they may have seemed when first introduced, they are now seen as unremarkable examples of positive discrimination aimed simply at bringing disabled people up to the level of their non-disabled contemporaries.
CORAD recognised—as the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) recalled—that legislation cannot of course make people love each other. It can, nevertheless, make people behave properly towards each other and thus have a beneficial impact on public attitudes. Knowing that they have a statutory right to equal treatment, the disabled would have more confidence to integrate into society. In turn, they would have more opportunities to show that they have abilities as well as disabilities, and that they can be givers as well as the recipients of help.
There are many thousands of disabled people who crave the chance to exchange their dependence on supplementary benefit for the dignity of becoming taxpayers. Under this Government, however, unemployment among the registered disabled has become a total scandal. It is twice as high as that in the workforce generally and, as the all-party disablement group was told by representatives from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, unemployment among employable disabled people is now as high as 80 per cent. in some parts of Britain. That statistic from one of the most important spheres of life not only speaks but shouts of discrimination against disabled people. They have been pushed to the back of the longest queue in Britain. Yet the Government's reaction is to intensify this discrimination against disabled people by reducing the number of disablement resettlement officers.
Whatever anyone may think of CORAD's call for discrimination to be made illegal—the committee itself was not unanimous; one member opposed the whole idea—the report is clearly of very considerable public importance and especially to Britain's 5.5 million disabled people. It merits wide-ranging debate as a document that deals with issues both of individual liberty and social equality.
Yet that is not how the Minister with responsibility for the disabled saw the report when it was presented to him. Instead of calling a press conference that would have allowed the chairman and members of CORAD. of whatever viewpoint, to launch a public debate on the report, and the Minister himself to be questioned about his intentions, he chose simply to release a brief and tendentious press statement of his own. The statement "thanked" the committee for its work and brusquely rejected its principal recommendation. In fact, the report was not so much officially released as almost smuggled out of Whitehall by the committee.
There was no mention in the Minister's terse statement even of how the individual disabled person could obtain a copy of the report. Indeed, but for the all-party disablement group's decision some weeks later to hold a press conference to breathe new life into CORAD's recommendations—here I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South and the hon.
1263 Member for Exeter as the group's chairman and secretary—the report would have been ministerially smothered at birth.
If that was not the Minister's intention, he certainly fooled the media. In a typical example of the specialist press coverage, Therapy, the respected journal of the remedial professions, headlined its report of his statement:
"CALL FOR 'Fair Deal' LAW FOR DISABLED THROWN OUT"
In rejecting CORAD's recommendation, the Minister said in his statement:I know that some disabled people suffer unnecessary restrictions, but much has been done by education and publicity to improve the position. It seems better to build on this than to legislate for positive discrimination as a right. The loss of good will might outweigh any advantage gained".But none of the many hurtful and damaging examples of discrimination reported to CORAD had been solved by education and publicity and, as the all-party disablement group's press conference was told, very considerable public expenditure would be required even to make a dent in the problem.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South recalled, £7.8 million was spent on education and publicity to encourage people to wear seat belts, a simple and single issue, and we still needed legislation. That is one example, as he said, of how attempting to change behaviour by education and publicity is not a cost-effective option. If the Minister disagrees, we should be told in this debate when he will be budgeting for the required expenditure and how much the Government are prepared to spend. The fact is, of course, that the Government have no intention of spending any meaningful sum on education and publicity to end discrimination. The game was given away by the Government's refusal even to provide adequate staffing for CORAD. How can Ministers who refuse to finance a full-time secretary for CORAD now possibly pretend to be considering a long and expensive campaign against discrimination?
The terms in which CORAD's main recommendation was rejected by the Minister's statement last May deserve close examination by every right hon. and hon. Member of this House. His case for dismissing the recommendation can also be applied to the legislation on equal opportunities for women and racial discrimination. There may be aspects of that legislation which are unsatisfactory, but few people will accept that women and the ethnic minorities would be better off relying on education and publicity alone. That was, however, one implication of the Government's original response to CORAD.
While the Minister claimed that CORAD'S report goes too far, there are people who feel that it should have gone further and have paid particular attention to the problems of the intellectually disabled. Such people include Larry Walters, who was a member of CORAD and who feels very strongly that there should also have been an in-depth study of the discrimination that adds so hurtfully and grievously to the problems of people who are mentally handicapped and mentally ill.
If anyone regards that as unreasonable, they should read a deeply disquieting letter that was sent recently to the Prime Minister by the parents ofa mentally handicapped 'boy' (of 37)who is a resident patient of Botleys Park hospital, Chertsey, Surrey.
1264 The letter was copied to me as an Opposition spokesman and the former Minister with responsibility for the disabled. It speaks of conditions both at Botleys Park and its associated hostel, Murray House, where three patients recently died of food poisoning. Runnymede borough council's environmental health officer has reported, says the letter, on "atrocious conditions" in the hospital's kitchens and, in particular, on their infestation with pests, including cockroaches.
The Prime Minister is then told of a so far unpublished report of the development team for the mentally handicapped which, the parents' letter says, makes "horrifying reading" and quotes as follows:The discharge rate has been minimal … this is perhaps not surprising in view of the atmosphere of stagnation and utter frustration prevailing in most of the hospital. Stated in its simplest terms this is due to the vicious circle of underfunding, understaffing, overcrowding and poor environment, which has in our view created a high-risk situation demanding immediate attention.Of the hospital's lavatories, the report says:The toilet areas were the most disgraceful we have ever seen.Of Murray House, it says:Conditions … are no better than in the main hospital … for the next two years the outlook must be very bleak both for staff and patients.The parents refer in the letter to the way in which cuts in local and national Government expenditure have exacerbated the plight of the mentally handicapped and write with anguish of their son's increasing reliance solely on the hospital, because of their increasing age.
§ Mr. Wickenden
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for raising the Chertsey problem. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a report in two volumes, the last of which was published last autumn, was commissioned by the Surrey district health authority, which subsequently became part of the south-west Thames health authority? My hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Mr. Hamilton) and I have been trying for some time to obtain copies of the report because we understand that it is severely critical of the conditions not only of the Chertsey hospital but of others in Surrey. We have been denied them so far on the grounds that they are confidential. I invite the right hon. Gentleman to join us in trying to obtain them.
§ Mr. Morris
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Dorking. The letter that I have quoted is from the parents of a mentally handicapped person who wrote to the Prime Minister about Botleys Park and Murray House on 24 January. They revealed extracts from a so far unpublished official report. The Prime Minister was told by the parents that the report of the development team for the mentally handicapped makes horrifying reading. I have asked the Prime Minister how she will respond to the parents' letter, and I ask now what solace the Minister with responsibility for the disabled can offer the parents. Will the development team's report now be published? What action will the Government be taking? Does anyone doubt for a moment that, if an in-depth study had been undertaken of discrimination against the mentally disabled, a much tougher and more wide-ranging Bill than this would have been demanded? I join the hon. Member for Dorking in asking for full publication of all the facts about Botleys Park and Murray House.
What the parents' letter that I have quoted confirms is that, much apart from going too far, there are many who 1265 will feel that the action we are today considering on CORAD's report does not go far enough, and that the problems of discrimination against disabled people will not have been fully dealt with until those of the mentally disabled, living both in the community and in institutions, have also been tackled.
Of course, the CORAD report should not just be discussed in terms of its main recommendations about anti-discrimination legislation. The report includes 38 other recommendations that have also yet to be implemented. It will be helpful, therefore, if the Minister can take the opportunity of this debate to tell the House what action has been taken on those other recommendations. Has the report been sent to local authorities? Did the Minister draw it to the attention of the BBC and the IBA, and does he know what their response is to that part of the report which addresses itself to the media? As I am sure he will now appreciate, there is interest in the report as a whole and in the response of every institution and organisation to which its recommendations are addressed.
Martin Luther King is aptly quoted by CORAD's chairman as having said:Morality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.If the disabled are to be genuinely a part of and not apart from society, that is a message the validity of which this House and the Government must now accept. The Opposition will give the right hon. Member for Western Isles all the help we can as he takes up the claymore in the cause of greater equality for disabled people. His Bill is supported by, among other bodies, the nine organisations that make up the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, the Wales Council for the Disabled, the Scottish Council on Disability, the Midlands Council for Preparatory Training for the Disabled and by the Disablement Income Group.
The right hon. Gentleman's Bill is wholly consistent with the aims of the "Charter for the 1980s" for disabled people worldwide, the drafting committee for which I had the honour to chair, and which the Prime Minister "warmly welcomed" on behalf of her Government at 10 Downing Street on 11 November 1981. The world charter asserts that disabled people have the same rights as all humanity to grow and to learn, to work and to create, to love and to be loved. That is this Bill's philosophy, too, and that is why today we wish the right hon. Gentleman well in all his endeavours.
§ 12.3 pm
§ The Minister for Social Security (Mr. Hugh Rossi)
Perhaps it would be convenient for me to intervene now and to give the House the Government's view of the Bill. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) will forgive me if I do not follow him into his partisan arguments. I would rather concern myself with the immediate matter before the House. I should be happy to debate with him on any occasion he may choose the other matters that he raised.
I add my congratulations to the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on having used his good fortune in securing a high place in the private Members' ballot to ensure that the House has a full opportunity to discuss an important recommendation of CORAD. All those who have followed the debate can be in no doubt that there is a deep and genuine concern and compassion in all 1266 parts of the House for those in our society who have the misfortune to suffer from some disablement. In this, the House reflects, as it always does when at its best, the attitudes and feelings of the British people whom it represents.
I can say, speaking only for myself, that of the responsibilities that I have held in Government, that of being Minister with responsibility for the disabled is the most rewarding. In my work I have travelled throughout the United Kingdom and have met many people who are wholly dedicated to giving support to the disabled, whether as members or employees of statutory authorities or in the multiplicity of voluntary organisations in which this country is so rich.
Everywhere that I have gone I have found, whether it be among the totally dedicated or the general public, overwhelming goodwill for disabled people. That goodwill was especially apparent during the International Year of Disabled People which, with all its attendant publicity and activities, focused the mind of the public on the needs, abilities and aspirations of disabled people to live normal lives without unnecessary obstacles being placed in their way. The repercussions of the International Year of Disabled People continue to reverberate. The goodwill generated has been maintained and the heightened awareness has led to greater and greater integration and participation by disabled people in ordinary life.
Of course there is still a long way to go, but, given the scenario that I have tried to describe, some might consider it a little curious that we should be discussing discrimination against the disabled. Discrimination, pace the definition in the Bill upon which my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) commented, generally means to the man in the street treating someone wrongfully because he or she belongs to an identifiable group or minority of people towards whom there is deliberate unfairness or dislike, antipathy or even hostility in the community. Surely that cannot be said of the disabled as a minority within our society. As the debate has reflected, and my experience, limited though it is, has taught me, the complete reverse is true. There is a depth of warmth, compassion and good will among the majority of our people for the disabled.
I concede at once that there is also much thoughtlessness and ignorance of the problems and needs of the disabled. Buildings are designed, transport is run and goods are packaged without the requirements of the disabled in mind. Still too many employers are unaware of the reliable employees that disabled people can be. Leisure activities are organised without the thought that would enable disabled people to take part. The House must consider—old chestnut or not, as the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) described it—whether these are matters more for education, enlightenment and example than for punitive legislation imposing the risk of court proceedings against those whose failure is not yet to have understood.
In presenting his thesis to the House that perhaps legislation is the best way to solve the problems that beset the disabled, the right hon. Member for Western Isles drew heavily upon the CORAD report, which is the basis of the Bill. Therefore, we should consider the weight that the House should give to the report. The Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People was established by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe when he was 1267 Minister with responsibility for the disabled. It was constituted essentially as a follow-up to the silver jubilee committee's campaign to improve access for the disabled. The terms of reference required CORAD to consider the architectural and social barriers that may result in discrimination against disabled people. CORAD has done most valuable work, especially on access, and has identified many areas for concern where work must and is being done to make the life of the disabled more tolerable than it is today. I have paid tribute publicly to CORAD and to Peter Large, the chairman, when I received the report.
However, I feel some unease about the validity of the conclusions reached about anti-discriminatory legislation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) mentioned, CORAD carried out its work basically by sending some 20,000 detailed questionnaires to a range of organisations to try to reach individual disabled people. Of those 20,000 questionnaires, 700 returned. Of those 700, CORAD judged that about two-thirds involved real cases of discrimination, mainly over access problems. Approximately 40 of the respondents favoured specifically the kind of legislation that we are considering. The Bill rests essentially on 40 advocates of law out of 20,000. In a sense, it is not surprising because at no point was CORAD equipped to study the need for comprehensive legislation with the necessary thoroughness. That is not to disparage the valiant efforts it made but to underline that it tried to tackle something which was essentially beyond it.
§ Mr. Ashley
Why is the Minister disregarding my point, that simply to take the number of responses to the CORAD report is utterly misleading? Anyone in contact with the disabled knows that they are too sick, too weak and discouraged to fight and respond. It is undeniable that discrimination is widespread in Great Britain.
§ Mr. Rossi
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's point that there are many disabled people who could not cope with the questionnaire and complete it, but we are talking of 40 replies only.
If this was a matter of major worry among disabled people—I shall say a little more about that in a moment—one could have expected substantially more than 40 people to reply.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
It is surprising that 40 people only out of the 700 who regarded themselves as being discriminated against thought that the law ought to intervene, but if the Minister does not understand that indirect and unintentional discrimination is illegal under the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, how does he expect the disabled to understand?
§ Mr. Rossi
The hon. Gentleman is presuming to know what I understand or do not understand about these matters. I am discussing the nature of the inquiry carried out by CORAD and whether that inquiry and its results are sufficient upon which to base legislation. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the disabled do not understand what is being asked of them, he is questioning the nature of the inquiry and what was being put to them. It is something that I suggest he studies a little further.
I can give an example of the fundamental difficulty that arises as a result of what CORAD is attempting to do.
§ Mr. Rossi
If the hon. Gentleman will compose himself patiently, it will be revealed in due course.
The committee made a conscious decision not to cover the enormously important subjects of mental handicap and illness. However, the Bill, as I understand it, will cover those groups. If there is to be legislation of this kind, those groups should not be excluded, but how can we legislate regarding them when there have been no studies of the requirements, extent, purpose and effect of such legislation on the mentally handicapped and ill?
As the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South said, when the report came out I wrote to Peter Large, the chairman of CORAD, and outlined my doubts, but said that I would be interested in the reactions to the report. I did not feel that the evidence was convincing, but that the report could act as a catalyst promoting further fresh evidence that discrimination was a widespread problem. Since the report was published approximately 12 months ago, 32 representations have been received in my office, eight of which were standard texts prompted by one voluntary organisation, despite the fact that the report received widespread publicity when it emerged and that attention has been drawn to it in the House more than once.
In addition, RADAR sought to hold a conference last autumn to discuss the report. Widespread publicity was given and the disabled were invited to use it as a forum to make their demands for legislation known. I agreed to attend, to listen and to learn. Regrettably, the response was so poor that the conference had to be cancelled. That does not seem to show such grave anxiety among the disabled as to make legislation imperative. Such signals as I have received from the disabled are by no means clear. There are advocates for legislation, but there are those who are deeply opposed to it. As well as the minority report challenging the committee's conclusions—
§ Mr. Rossi
—I received subsequently representations from two other members of the committee questioning the validity of the evidence collected by CORAD, throwing doubt upon the structuring of the survey, the imprecision of the questions asked and the distribution of the questionnaires. It was also said that the results had not been analysed professionally and skilfully.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
This worries me. The Minister is stressing an inadequacy which needs explanation. Did CORAD have the support of a full-time secretary and full-time staff to meet the needs of its inquiry? Is there any truth in the suggestion that towards the end of the inquiry there was no full-time secretary and that someone was doing some part-time work from time to time? Was that the position?
§ Mr. Rossi
A full-time secretary was deputed by my Department to assist in CORAD's work. Towards the end of the work the secretary was required also to assist with the Bill of the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley). To that extent, her time was divided between the two tasks. I have been assured that, happening at that stage of CORAD's work, it did not adversely affect the work.
We are all responsive to our constituents' approaches to us. I have been impressed by a communication that I have received through my constituency. The Haringey 1269 Disablement Association sent me the minutes of a meeting of its executive committee a few weeks ago at which the CORAD report and the proposed legislation was discussed. That is a borough-wide association in a Labour-controlled borough. The association was established with the help of urban aid to look after and fight for the needs of disabled people in the area. I do not influence that organisation, although it regards influencing me as very much part of its role, and I accept that.
The minutes show a division of opinion and very mixed feelings about the value of the CORAD report and the proposed legislation and they record that the association decided to write to Members of Parliament for Haringey expressing dissatisfaction with the CORAD recommendations. Those people are my constituents—disabled people for whom I have responsibility not just as a Minister but as their representative in the House.
The matter does not rest there, however. In my many contacts with disabled people in the past 12 months, I have found that same ambivalent attitude towards the need and indeed the desirability for legislation.
Having regard to all this, the House may feel that it would not have been too unreasonable of me to consider that the case for legislation was not yet proven. However, I was impressed by the statement by CORAD to which the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe referred to the effect that some of the signatories had opposed the concept of legislation at the outset but that by the end of the study they had become converted to the need for it, having been persuaded in part by experience in other countries. I felt that if anti-discrimination legislation in respect of the disabled had been successful in other countries there would be a powerful argument for similar legislation in the United Kingdom even if the value of such action had not been fully appreciated here.
I therefore asked my officials to undertake a study on my behalf. The results, I am afraid, do not justify the conclusions that CORAD seems to have reached. As CORAD pointed out, it is essential to bear in mind that different countries have different legal structures. Even allowing for that, however, the evidence from abroad does not conclusively point towards legislation. If such legislation were passed here, we should be the only European country to have such a law. That is not because other countries have not considered the matter. The Scandinavian countries have consciously decided that influencing public attitudes through education and persuasion is more effective than law in breaking down the barriers that face disabled people. Indeed, Denmark went further and took steps some years ago to remove various anti-discriminatory clauses in existing legislation because it believed that that approach had proved unsatisfactory.
Other countries have attempted legislation of various kinds, although none has been so comprehensive as that proposed today. The most recent—the Handicapped Persons Equal Opportunity Act 1981 in South Australia—specifically excludes mental disability. It set up a tribunal to investigate complaints in many of the areas referred to by CORAD. That Act has been in force for six months, but I gather that it has so far dealt with fewer than 20 complaints, none of which required legal action. Nevertheless, that Act has clearly not been in force long enough for us to draw any conclusions for or against the validity or value of legislation in this area.
The country with the greatest experience in this area is undoubtedly the United States. A series of regulations 1270 flowing from the Rehabilitation Act 1973 aimed to prohibit discrimination in the federal agencies, in programmes receiving federal support, such as education, social services and transport, and in firms granted federal contracts. Again, the legislation is not so comprehensive in its scope as the Bill before us today.
I do not wish to belittle the progress made in the United States since the introduction of that legislation, but it must be seen in the context of the overall provision of services for disabled people in that country. When that legislation was introduced, the United States had no Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, no sophisticated net work of social services and a far weaker voluntary sector than in this country. I submit, therefore, that the base line from which the Americans started was far lower than that which now exists in this country.
Nevertheless, there are important lessons to be learnt from the American experience as to the cost and practicability of introducing legislation of this kind effectively.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
The Minister has received advice from officials and it may well be informed advice, but cannot the House have the opportunity to debate this in detail in Committee so that the elected Members of this House may then decide whether what has now been said is valid?
§ Mr. Rossi
Certainly. That is entirely a matter for the House. I believe that it is my responsibility today to put to the House the pros and cons of the situation as I see it. Before the House embarks on a new area of legislation of this kind, I must advise it of the experience in other countries.
First, I shall describe the bureaucracy involved in the American experience. Four quangos operate the regulations. The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board cost $2.3 million to run in 1981 but received only 106 complaints throughout the United States, only two of which required legal action. The Office of Civil Rights, which deals mainly with discrimination in health, education and welfare, is estimated to have spent $20 million in 1981 on discrimination problems affecting disabled people. The 500 or so staff dealing with that part of the work considered about 2,000 cases in 1981—that is, four cases each. The office also felt obliged to spend more than $3 million on telling service providers how the regulations worked, as it discovered that some were spending more than was necessary to meet the requirements. The bureaucracy required to police the United States regulations, to issue guidance on compliance, to monitor achievement, and so on, represents only a minute part of the cost implications of the regulations. The cost to the providers themselves can be enormous. Universities, for example, spent millions of dollars on adaptations to meet the regulations. One university spent $700,000 to accommodate two students in wheel chairs. The financial implications for transportation providers, initially estimated at $7 billion over 30 years to accommodate about 17,000 disabled people, were so severe that in 1981 the relevant regulation was changed to allow more flexible approaches to transport.
I am not saying that the requirements of disabled people are so expensive that they should be ignored. I am questioning, on the basis of United States experience, 1271 whether the law is the best way of determining the limited resources that can be spent in the best interests of disabled people. I shall give an example of what I mean. In the same period as millions of dollars were spent on sophisticated machinery to weed out discrimination, the numbers of disabled people entering vocational rehabilitation programmes in the United States dropped steadily to the extent that in 1980 fewer people were rehabilitated than in 1973. That raises a serious point about the use of resources and the effect that anti-discrimination law is bound to have not only on the resources available for other service provision for disabled people but in the national economy as a whole.
§ Mr. Skinner
Is the Minister aware that his own Department spends vast sums sending out letters and communications to people receiving supplementary and various other benefits? Is he aware that many man-hours are involved in sending out sometimes substantial numbers of letters to people who are receiving 30p supplementary benefit? Why that sum of money and that amount of bureaucratic time should be spent in sending out 30p could be, and is, questioned by some people. The answer is that it has to be done because it is the law. The same argument about the small number of complaints was put forward in respect of race relations and equal opportunities legislation. The fact that there is not a tremendous amount of complaints is no justification for saying that the legislation is not necessary.
§ Mr. Rossi
If the House has determined that people should be entitled to 30p, my Department is under an obligation to see that it is paid. It is a question of the House reaching a balance on the matter.
The House must bear in mind that a Bill of this kind would inevitably impose further legislative procedures and burdens on industry at a time when firms are struggling simply to survive. We have to be doubly certain that additional burdens are absolutely necessary. It cannot be stated, on the basis of the evidence that we have seen so far, that this is so.
I have expressed my doubts about the firmness of the evidence produced to support the concept of anti-discriminatory legislation and the extent of the demand for it among disabled people. I should like hon. Members to consider whether, if legislation is desirable, this Bill is the right way to go about it. I have looked at the text carefully. It bears eloquent witness to the sheer technical difficulties facing the draftsmen of any such law. The very first words of clause 1 are "unjustifiable discrimination", which it is sought to prohibit. That is an honourable aim which I share. However, to say that some discrimination is unjustified is to imply that some must be justified. There is nothing to demonstrate what can be justified except that discrimination that is not intended cannot be justified. The contradictions implicit in these conflicting concepts are not merely semantic points that can be put right in Committee. They go to the root of the Bill and show that the basic objectives and means of achieving them have not been thought out fully.
Next, we are told that unjustified discrimination is to be unlawful. This does not make it a criminal offence but presumably gives rise to a breach of statutory duty. Again, presumably, the remedy will be a civil cause of action. I invite the House to imagine the burden of proof that a 1272 disabled plaintiff would have to discharge if he were to go to law. Even then, what remedy or damages would he be entitled to? How are they to be calculated? The Bill is silent on those matters. Yet they are fundamental points on which the House is entitled to be satisfied before the Bill goes much further.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
The hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way to my hon. Friends. What they really want to know is whether, if satisfactory means of giving it effect can be found, the Minister accepts the principle of legislation against discrimination? The hon. Gentleman has talked about the daunting difficulties of drafting. If those can be overcome in New South Wales and South Australia, why cannot they be successfully tackled here in Committee?
§ Mr. Rossi
The right hon. Gentleman asks a rhetorical question. If he had been listening carefully to what I have been trying to say, he would realise that the matter of the principle of legislation is still in doubt. Legislation must be on the basis of evidence of the demand for it among disabled people.
I have gone to some lengths to explain to the House my knowledge and experience of these matters. I have also tried to explain that the experience of the countries that have experimented with this legislation has not been very happy. One or two of them, having embarked upon this road, have needed amending legislation, or have even had to withdraw the legislation.
This is a matter for the House, as it is a private Members' occasion, but I must tell the House what has happened elsewhere and what the problems and the demands are for a Bill, especially when it is based on the evidence of 40 replies to a questionnaire.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
The House is anxious to try to reconcile matters of fact. On the statute book there is legislation against discrimination on the grounds of race and sex. The disabled are also discriminated against. It is not good enough for the Minister to pose arguments, which we have listened to with great respect, and to talk about the advice of his officials. What is important is whether the Government will allow the House of Commons to take the Bill to Committee and there do the necessary refinement.
§ Mr. Rossi
The Government are in the hands of the House on this matter, as it is one for the House to decide. From what I have seen of the evidence, I feel that the House would be ill advised, at this stage, to embark on legislation such as this, because clearly the House does not know where it will be going on this legislation, nor can it know where it is going on the basis of the evidence of the experience of other countries in this matter. By all means, if the House wishes to give the Bill a Second Reading, we shall look at these matters in greater detail in Committee. However, having considered what the ultimate sanction in the Bill would be, which is a right of action in court by disabled people, I wonder whether we should be doing disabled people, who have enough to contend with in life, a wrong if we were to invite them into such seas of uncharted and uncertain litigation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dorking (Mr. Wickenden) said that a part of the Bill gives rise to 1273 difficulty, and the House will have to give due consideration to it. This is the thorny issue of disablement. If someone is confined to a wheelchair or is completely blind or deaf, the position is clear—that person, by all criteria, is disabled. However, what of intermittent disabilities such as epilepsy or asthma? What about chronic conditions as a result of heart or respiratory complaints? At what stage do these become disabilities? Are we to leave it to the judges to decide whether a person is mentally handicapped or of low intelligence, or are these matters to be resolved by medical assessment in individual cases? If so, is the medical profession prepared to take on this sensitive task? Is the definition of disability, for the purposes of the law, to be by some form of register such as a local authority register? If so, what of those who do not wish to register but feel that they have been discriminated against?
§ Mr. Ioan Evans (Aberdare)
The Minister is going into great detail about Committee points. Will he allow the Bill to go through the House and into Committee?
§ Mr. Evans
It is unfair, when dealing with the principle of a Bill, to be arguing about matters that could be determined by the Committee. Does the Minister agree that there is discrimination against the disabled, and if the terms of the Bill are not to the Government's point of view, what will he do about discrimination against the disabled? Can he address himself to that point?
§ Mr. Rossi
If the hon. Gentleman feels that I am not making sufficient progress, I shall be assisted if there are fewer interventions. Perhaps I have been over-generous in giving way to those who wish to intervene. If that is so, I shall not give way again.
I am not addressing the mind of the House to Committee points. The issues that I am raising are basic to the Bill's concept. There is no attempt to define "disablement". There is nothing to assist the House to understand what is intended by the word. I am trying to show the problems that we would create by enacting this type of legislation. These are not invented difficulties. The problem of defining disability continues to exercise the minds of legislators in countries where measures similar to the Bill have been tested, and not very successfully. It has also exercised the minds of the international disablement fraternity. It is not a problem that we can overlook lightly.
I shall not enlarge on any other matters of detail. I take the mind of the House on that score. I shall merely draw attention to a few of the apparent difficulties that the Bill presents. The greatest difficulty will be to determine the activities to which the Bill, if enacted, will relate and which will, therefore, become unlawful. That decision has been delegated to an outside body, the Equal Opportunities Commission.
Is the commission prepared to undertake the task? My understanding is that it feels that two completely different approaches would be required to assess discrimination by sex and by disablement. The rationale behind those assessments is very different. For example, it may be said that a job that can be done by a man can also be done by a woman, but there are a number of jobs that cannot be 1274 performed by those with certain disabilities. The criteria that apply to one form of discrimination do not apply to the other. The commission would be entirely separate from a body set up to oversee discrimination against the disabled. I understand that its overall view is that there is no point in using it as a body to oversee the implementation of the Bill as there is no clear connection between its current functions and those that are proposed.
We have a Bill that is aimed at prohibiting a type of discrimination that is not really a problem against a group that is not specified, in situations yet to be defined. The task is to be entrusted to a commission that has no experience in assessing discrimination and no powers of enforcement. Legal remedies would be decided by the courts, without any guidance from the legislature about the size or the nature of the damages to be awarded. The drafters of the Bill appear to want to protect Parliament from making the difficult decisions that legislation of this sort inevitably requires. However, it is for the House to decide whether to pursue the principle of legislation and to amend the Bill at a later stage to meet some of the serious criticisms that I have shown can be made of it.
§ Mr. Stewart
The Minister has referred to the Equal Opportunities Commission. He should bear in mind that it is not entirely satisfactory from my point of view for the commission to be the responsible body. It is purely a fallback position. I was left in no doubt that if the Bill proposed that a new commission should be established—that is what I wanted—the Government would have opposed it because of their attitude to quangos.
§ Mr. Rossi
The right hon. Gentleman is tight. He asked to see me and we met just after the Christmas recess. The right hon. Gentleman showed me the draft of the Bill, which provided for a new commission. He asked for my advice. I knew the attitude of the House to the creation of such a commission.—[HON. MEMBERS: "The Government's attitude."] The majority of my right hon. and hon. Friends are against quangos. The anti-quango movement comes from the grass roots.
In view of the deep feelings against the creation of new quangos, my advice to the right hon. Gentleman was that if he went down that road he would be unlikely to persuade the House to give him his Bill. I suggested that he explored other avenues. The right hon. Gentleman has taken my advice, but I am disappointed that he chose a certain course because it has led him into other difficulties.
I am obliged not to take an encouraging view of the proposal. My duty is to advise the House of the difficulties that would be created if the Bill in its present form were given a Second Reading. There is insufficient evidence to justify sweeping legislation. However, I do not suggest that discrimination never takes place against a disabled person, whether intentionally, unintentionally or through ignorance. When it occurs it is devastating to the defenceless victim.
I want to ensure that action is taken to reduce discrimination to a minimum. I believe that much can be done by taking up cases formally, even if no legal sanctions are imposed. Intervention can be salutary. Britain was the first country to appoint a Minister 1275 responsible for disabled people. Part of my responsibility is to inquire into complaints of discrimination when they are brought to my attention and to see whether they can be resolved. For example, I have had helpful discussions with representatives of theatre and cinema managers and proprietors to try to overcome access difficulties, particularly in relation to the interpretation of fire regulations.
I am not inviting the world and his wife to put pen to paper. My Department already has to process about 30,000 letters to Ministers a year. However, if any responsible organisation or right hon. or hon. Member writes to me on behalf of a disabled person with evidence that he or she has suffered discrimination on the ground of disability, I shall pursue the case with the utmost vigour. My colleagues in other Departments will give me their full support. In that way not only will it be possible to have the matter put right for the individual, but a body of evidence will build up to show positively the extent of discrimination and the nature and form that it takes. The evidence will be carefully monitored and analysed and could form the basis of more positive action in future.
I have dwelt at length on the difficult problems that the Bill could cause, but I must disabuse those who think that the Government are adopting a negative attitude. The reverse is true. We do not believe that there is any evidence of widespread discrimination against disabled people based upon prejudice or malice. When disabled people suffer restriction it is often unintentional and results from ignorance about their needs and abilities. The more positive solution is to concentrate not so much on preventing discrimination but on promoting integration. That is the key to Government policy. It underlies our care in the community initiative, our policy to make joint financing arrangements more flexible, our pound-for-pound initiative to get mentally handicapped children out of hospital, and the extra money that we give to enable mentally handicapped people still requiring NHS care to have a more domestic non-institutional environment. It is reflected in the improvements that we have been able to make in social security benefits for disabled people. Expenditure has risen in real terms by 5 per cent. since we took office.
The Government's housing policy is to give disabled people the greatest possible independence in living in their own homes. This is reflected in the improved grants that we have offered to people to adapt their homes and the encouraging increase in activity in local authority adaptations work.
We have placed the Education Act 1981 on the statute book. This promotes many of the recommendations of CORAD and will improve the educational opportunities of disabled children, thus enhancing their chances of greater integration into the community in later life.
In transport, we have stressed constantly the vital importance of mobility to disabled people, and we continue to promote flexible transport schemes with special emphasis on door-to-door transport.
In employment, despite the effects of the recession, we are committed to maintaining the services provided by the Manpower Services Commission to help disabled people train for work. We are encouraging employers through the fit for work scheme to value and utilise the abilities of 1276 disabled people, and we are now working actively on a code of practice aimed at improving the employment prospects of disabled people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter stressed especially the importance of access. Accessibility to facilities in our communities is one of the most basic requirements for disabled people in their efforts to lead as full a life as possible. It is a major issue in the discrimination debate, and CORAD found a lack of access to be the main concern of respondents to its questionnaire. The Government are conscious of this, and that is why my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction, following our consultations, announced in the House this week his intention to incorporate in building regulations the requirement that new buildings should make provision for the needs of disabled people. This proposal, which will be the subject of consultation, will strengthen considerably the provisions already contained in the Disabled Persons Act 1981. I am grateful for the welcome given to it by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter, which was echoed around the Chamber when he referred to it.
We believe that further improvements can be made in this area. CORAD saw the need for a national focal point on access matters, and I agree. I intend to consult interested bodies on the proposal to establish an English access committee. I see it as being a non-statutory body with several valuable functions: to promote and support the activities of existing local access groups, to encourage the establishment of new groups and the designation of local authority access officers, to provide information and help on existing legislation affecting access and to advise the Government on major access problems that persist. Obviously the details of the committee will depend upon the outcome of consultations, but I envisage it comprising members with expertise from the voluntary, statutory and private sectors and being placed in an existing organisation with experience of access matters affecting disabled people. Judging by the experience with a similar committee in Scotland, I believe that it will make a significant contribution to increasing public knowledge of the barriers that exist to the freedom of movement of disabled people and to overcoming those barriers.
Hon. Members will need to make up their own minds about the desirability of pursuing the course proposed in the Bill. My responsibility today—
§ Mr. Wigley
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it within the rules of the House for a Minister who is supposed to be guarding the interests of disabled people to run a filibuster on a Bill that is aimed at safeguarding those interests?
§ Mr. Rossi
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) made that accusation. I am about to conclude. If I had not been interrupted so often and had not been so generous in giving way to interventions I would have finished sooner. I am trying to assist the House on a serious and important matter. I hope that the hon. Member for Caernarvon does not criticise me for trying to point out the problems and advantages in the Bill.
My responsibility has been to ask the House to consider carefully whether the weight of evidence justifies such a 1277 Bill—in other words, whether there is such general and far-reaching discrimination against the disabled as to require the intervention of the legislator, the establishment of regulatory apparatus and all the accompanying problems of implementing the law in such a complex and sensitive area.
I see it as my responsibility to remind the House of the costs of such a law and to set those costs against spending priorities in other services that benefit the disabled. The Government's policy suggests that there is another way. It has no truck with discrimination, but concentrates on the promotion and integration of disabled people. That approach acknowledges that serious problems still exist and that, while public awareness of the problem is increasing, there is still much to be done through education and persuasion so that people may be judged by their abilities rather than by their disabilities.
I believe that our approach builds on the fundamental goals of the IYDP, which were to promote integration and participation. That has been, and will continue to be, the cornerstone of Government policy.
§ Mr. David Ennals (Norwich, North)
I shall be brief, but I am extremely angry because the Minister took nearly an hour with a nit-picking speech, part of which had nothing to do with the Bill. Even the parts that were related to the Bill involved issues that were more suitable for discussion in Committee.
I was a Minister when my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) introduced his private Member's Bill that became the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. Many of his proposals were not acceptable to the Government, who felt that they would have to be tidied up in Committee. However, the Government recognised that the Bill was a major measure to give a fair deal to disabled people and we told my right hon. Friend "Difficult problems are involved, here are some new ideas, take the Bill into Committee, and make sense of it." That Bill became the foundation of so much that has been done for the benefit of disabled people.
Why is the Minister for Social Security not prepared even to let the Bill go into Committee? If I serve on the Committee, I shall seek to change a number of provisions. I have four or five amendments clearly in mind, but my main concern is the purpose of the Bill.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House know that, in spite of everything that has been done through the provision of additional benefits, help in the home and a 5 per cent. increase in benefits over the past four years, there is massive discrimination against disabled people.
Let me give the House an example. I was in court yesterday with a blind lady from my constituency. The barrister for the other side said "This lady is disabled and her recollections and judgment may be somewhat impaired." Many people adopt the attitude that because a person is blind, has only one leg or suffers another form of disability, he is less than the rest of humanity. In many cases disabled people are something more than the rest of us. Look at my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). Look at what he has overcome, and he has done it by his own guts and determination. Many disabled people have done the same. Because they have one disability they become stronger in 1278 another way. However, there are certain things that they cannot fight—when it comes to jobs, insurance Policies, and all forms of services.
In all the items in the report, including education, pension schemes, insurance, transport, provision of goods, facilities and services, and membership of clubs we know that there is discrimination—as we knew years ago that there was discrimination against people on the ground of colour, as we knew years ago that there was discrimination against people on the ground of their sex. This House decided then that discrimination against people was not only morally wrong, but that simply seeking to educate the public was not enough. Legislation is not a replacement for education; it is an addition to education. I am sure that no hon. Member, whatever his views, would say that we as a House of Commons were wrong to introduce legislation to ensure that people, regardless of colour and creed, have a right to be treated with equality. No hon. Member would say that people should be denied the right to equality on the ground of sex. We knew that we were right to do that.
It was shameful of the Minister to encourage the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) to go down a route and then to try to chop his head off, and to encourage his own hon. Friends to see that the Bill does not get a Second Reading. There will always be difficulties, even if we get the Bill perfect.
§ Mr. Ennals
No, I shall not give way. I shall be brief. We know that there are great difficulties with legislation of this nature. Let me go back to the report.
I regret the hon. Gentleman's attitude to the CORAD report, the committee, and Peter Large, its chairman. In my view, they did a fine and responsible job and produced a recommendation that deserves to go into Committee. All we can do today is to put the Bill into Committee. If any hon. Members decide, by their actions and speeches today, to deny the House the right to have a Second Reading, put the Bill into Committee, and then to vote against it, let them do so, but if they deny the Bill the opportunity of serious, clause-by-clause discussion and amendment, they may be sure that disabled people in the country will not forgive them. The lead would have been given today by the spokesman on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. It is because of the Minister's disgraceful speech today that I am angry and furious, and why I have not gone into the detail of the Bill as I had wished to do.
§ 1.3 pm
§ Mrs. Sheila Faith (Belper)
I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), first, on winning a place in the ballot for private Members' Bills, something that I have never managed to do and, secondly, on having chosen this subject. Even if some of us had doubts about the advisability of the Bill, like the International Year of Disabled People in 1981, it makes us consider the problems of our fellow citizens. We should remember that one in 10 people in this country are disabled. A high proportion of those people are elderly, and even if we are flint-hearted we should remember that it is in our own self-interest, because many of us will he disabled in later life.
We all meet people in our constituencies, who come to us with their problems, many of whom feel that they are 1279 being discriminated against. Often we are able to help them, and to refer the problems to the appropriate body or Minister. As my hon. Friend the Minister said, he deals with them very kindly. During the next year or 18 months, many of us will be knocking on doors, asking people to vote for us. We all know of the sad cases that we often find behind those doors and of the way in which, with immense bravery, they cope with their difficulties. I am very glad that the Government are concentrating on keeping such people in the community and out of institutions, because I know how much it means to them.
As well as being grateful to the right hon. Member for Western Isles, we are all very grateful to all the organisations who work for the handicapped and for spastics, such as MENCAP, MIND, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation and CORAD. Under the chairmanship of Mr. Peter Large, CORAD sponsored the Bill. We owe them all our gratitude. Those organisations do much to change attitudes, but there are many misconceptions about the disabled and they are misjudged in many ways. We know that they are treated as if they are different. Although many severely disabled people have the highest possible intelligence, they are often treated as subnormal. We know of many instances of that.
We must try to change attitudes and we hope that attitudes are changing, but I wonder whether good relations between the able and the disabled can be achieved by law. I do not want the House to build up false hopes. We should do so if we were to say that damaging and hurtful discrimination could be removed at a stroke. The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), who has done so much for the disabled, said that we could transform their lives, but unfortunately it is not quite as easy as that.
Of course it is important for employers to follow a code of practice, and I am glad that the Government are to work on that. It is important that they should employ as many disabled people as possible. Most employers realise that the disabled are reliable and conscientious and have very good attendance records. However, legislation and quotas have not so far been proved effective. Of course we do not want discrimination. We want all new buildings to provide good access, and as many old buildings as possible, particularly schools, universities and polytechnics, to be converted. We want equal opportunities and we want disabled people to live as normal lives as possible.
However, it would cause bad feeling and resentment if an employer felt that he had to employ someone against his will. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary spoke about the burdens that might be placed on industry. We have received representations from the Association of Independent Businesses. At a time when we rely on small businesses to create jobs and provide the resources for hospitals, schools and further help for the disabled, it seems wrong to place new burdens on them. Those small firms have said that they cannot afford expensive alterations. The new commission that might have to be set up to investigate such discrimination would be another expensive quango and a heavy burden on those industries, which would have to pay more taxes. In addition, more burdensome paper work would have to be done. Opposition Members say that the Equal Opportunities Commission could carry out the quango's work, but I think that the EOC has said that the matter is not within its terms 1280 of reference. As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) pointed out, it is highly questionable.
Of course, none of us is satisfied with the amount of attention given to the disabled. The benefits are a welfare jungle, and I hope that the Select Committee will consider welfare benefits soon, and try to sort them out. However, the Government have increased benefits by 5 per cent. in real terms over the life of this Parliament. In addition, it was a Conservative Government who introduced the attendance allowance, a most important benefit that is now paid to 300,000 people. The personal social services are important to the disabled, who rely heavily on home helps, meals on wheels and day centres, and expenditure on them has increased by 5 per cent. over this Government's lifetime. The voluntary sector, which carries out more than half of these personal social services has had its grants increased.
Help has been given in employment. The Manpower Services Commission provides a grant of up to £6,000 to help towards the adaptation of employers' premises to enable them to employ a disabled person—for example, a switchboard can be adapted to accommodate a blind operator.
The MSC recognises that disabled people can come on to the labour market older than most, and have opened the youth training scheme to those above the normal age of 16 or 17. Similarly, young people can stay longer on this scheme. This form of positive discrimination for the disabled is one that we all welcome.
I am glad that the Government are now doing more about prevention. We welcome the fact that the seat belt law has become operative recently. This should prevent many new cases of disablement. I know that the Government are encouraging young women to have whooping cough injections. Every year 400 children are born with congenital abnormalities because the mothers have not had the injections in good time.
I hope that the Government will continue to encourage the Health Education Council to discourage smoking. This is particularly important for pregnant women. It is sad that at a time when smoking is being reduced more women are taking up the habit. It is particularly dangerous for pregnant women. I should like to see more general practitioners advising young women to improve the condition of their health before they become pregnant, to stop smoking and to ensure that they eat the correct foods.
There are ways, other than through this difficult legislation, for the Government to make available resources. At the beginning of this Parliament, the Select Committee on Social Services, of which I am privileged to be a member, completed a report on perinatal mortality. We proposed recommendations which, if carried out, may reduce by 5,000 the number of handicapped children born every year. The Government responded to that report in 1980. Their response was rather disappointing, as they did not impose standards on regional health authorities and did not provide any extra resources. However, we must bear in mind that the Government have spent 5 per cent. more on the National Health Service during their period in office. That of course is beneficial to all of us and to the disabled.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
The hon. Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith) must bear in mind that we are here to discuss not what the Government have spent but to discuss discrimination—
§ Mr. Leadbitter
The hon. Lady must not be impatient. She has spoken for a long time. Will the hon. Lady bear in mind that the whole nation elects Members of Parliament to come to the House of Commons? We represent the people. Will she now say to the people of this country that their elected Assembly with a vast amount of experience of these matters—much more than some officials in the Department—has no right to go upstairs to consider the Bill, line by line and constructively amend it, so that discrimination can be dealt with? Will she say that she will not support that point of view?
§ Mrs. Faith
I am making the point that the Government could spend the money more wisely by trying to avoid further handicap. The Select Committee will follow up the matter of preventing handicap. We will have further meetings. We shall receive reports from regional health authorities to see how they are progressing. That is important to prevent further disability.
It has been an important debate and I thank the right hon. Member for Western Isles for initiating it. I reiterate that the Government should concentrate on preventing handicap. We should all try to make life as easy as possible for the handicapped, giving them suitable housing, better access facilities wherever possible, and the maximum possible financial benefits.
§ Mrs. Faith
It is important that there should be better understanding of the problems of the disabled. I hope that we will all put our minds to that, but I shall not be voting for the Bill in the Lobby today.
§ Mr. Mike Thomas (Newcastle upon Tyne, East)
This debate, especially the contributions of speakers on both Front Benches, has been redolent of some of the worst aspects of the functioning of the House of Commons as at present constituted. The patronising and complacent speech of the Minister was designed purely to disguise the fact that he proposed to speak for long enough to sabotage the Bill without having to take the opprobrium for doing so. That is not a reasonable approach to the problems of the disabled, and I should have regarded him more highly had he come to the House and told the truth. On the one hand, he is faced with some recalcitrant Conservative Back Bench Members, with whom he may or may not disagree, who repudiate any anti-discriminatory legislation and who would prefer no such legislation, whether for blacks, other ethnic minorities or women, let alone the 1282 disabled. On the other hand, he is faced with the truth, which is not dishonourable—although he might have been honest enough to mention it—that there are some severe practical problems in trying to protect the disabled and positively to arrange that they are not put in a worse position than others. Because of the view that he and those like him take of public expenditure, he is forced to wish those problems on to the private sector, but he finds that they are unacceptable to his supporters in the private sector if they must bear the entire cost. It is entirely right that they should not have to bear the entire cost.
The speech of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) was far more acceptable. However, it was also deficient because it failed to recognise that we do not have unlimited public funds, and that almost everything about which we are talking in this debate is dependent on someone spending money to put matters right.
§ Mr. Thomas
Although it may not be much, it is still money. The definition of "much" is variable depending on where we sit in the House.
It cannot be true, as the Minister tried to say at the beginning of his speech, that many of the disabled do not feel that they are an identifiable group that suffers from unfairness and hostility. It is clear that many disabled people feel that way. Nor is it true that the best efforts of education and persuasion have changed the position dramatically in recent years. I pay every compliment to those who were involved in the International Year of Disabled People, but even its most ardent proponents would admit that its effects were extremely limited. I disagree with the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), who said that it produced great changes in attitudes throughout the nation and the world. That overstates the position. It made a marginal and peripheral, although no doubt worthwhile, improvement.
The prevailing attitude that has run through such matters for centuries is that the disabled should expect to suffer as a result of their disability. That is the common attitude in our nation and people do not seem to believe that we should do everything to make sure that the disabled do not suffer at all. The example that was mentioned today is the blind bus driver. However, few establishments in Britain would regard it as a matter of course to provide a reader for a blind person in a clerical job so that there is no question of his disability affecting his capacity to do the job.
We should also consider the broader framework of "charity" and "gratitude". One need only visit the average outpatients department in any hospital to know that some people who work in the National Health Service still believe that it is a privilege to be treated in an outpatients department, although one may have paid for it through taxes. Some Health Service workers seem to believe that a patient is lucky to be treated there at all. That feeling spreads through to our attitude towards the disabled, and the inherent expectation of many people that the disabled should be grateful for what is done for them.
I believe that if any disabled person is disadvantaged, whether in education, housing or employment and that disadvantage is not put right, he should be profoundly indignant and should not be expected to be grateful if it is put right.
1283 I do not dispute that the Bill, as drafted, is not the most perfect legal instrument that I have seen during my relatively short parliamentary career. There are obvious defects but that is no reason why it should not be given a Second Reading and the opportunity of discussion in Committee. It should be given that opportunity, regardless of its exact wording, because I believe we must bite the bullet and make a major shift towards rights for the disabled. We need to make that shift and Parliament must take the lead.
I believe that support for the Bill shows that there is that feeling, and the disgraceful thing about the Minister's speech was that it showed the polar opposite frame of mind of himself and the Government. The Government view would be rather more acceptable, although only just, if massive new resources were forthcoming and the problems were to be tackled. We know that they are not. Most of the measures which have been taken are designed to avoid expenditure. The attitude that is being displayed is designed and predicated on the assumption of no further expenditure and of not wanting to commit funds to put these matters right.
We must be frank and straightforward and say that there is a need for funds but we must not be like the Labour party, which is prepared to make a virtually open-ended commitment without saying clearly to the nation what is to be spent and that hard choices are involved. The hon. Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith) read out a list of pressure groups dealing with the disabled. One can bet one's sweet life that they have all been through the office of one or other of the Labour spokesmen on health and social security and have all been promised that all that they would like to have in an ideal world will be provided on the magical and, I believe, highly theoretical day when the next Labour Government take office.
We know that everyone cannot win and have prizes, but we can make a substantial improvement in the lot of the disabled and the way in which discrimination affects them by some carefully organised direct expenditure. I shall give a simple example. The lack of proper income support ensures that disabled people are discriminated against at work. For the £200 million of expenditure to which we are committed, one could make an improvement in the benefit system for the disabled that would make a major difference to discrimination in employment. It is a relatively small sum in this context. We do not know that we can make a general commitment to disability income because we do not know what expenditure would be involved.
If we are to do something serious about discrimination, segregation and isolation in education it will involve increased resources for teaching staff, buildings and so on. Small employers are right to be concerned about the effect that anti-discrimination legislation might have on them. They are precisely the people who cannot afford to make provision out of their own budgets. It is not reasonable to expect small employers to implement the Bill. It involves them in too much expenditure. Unless the Government are prepared to provide the resources, the small employer becomes the least promising rather than, as he could be, the most promising source of employment for many disabled people. To get rid of discrimination will involve carefully organised public spending.
The same argument applies to access where improvements still need to be made. Lack of access is used 1284 too often as an excuse to discriminate against disabled people. This is an area where the Bill could help. It has to be made clear that we are concerned with giving people choices. The principle that should concern hon. Members—this is what makes the Minister's speech so reprehensible—is that of trying to offer at every stage to every disabled person the same amount of choice and opportunity that is available to those who are not disabled.
I believe, as does my party and the Liberal party, that one approach is to tackle the issue of discrimination. I have felt proud, seeing disabled people in the United States demanding their rights. It is about time that we moved down that road here. The Bill will today, I believe, be talked out. The blame should be placed firmly where it belongs, on the Conservative Benches and particularly on the Minister. I would have had more time for the hon. Gentleman if he had had the honesty to make a real argument against the Bill rather than indulging in the sleight of hand of a 55-minute speech.
§ Mr. Albert McQuarrie (Aberdeenshire, East)
I welcome the fact that the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) has brought the Bill before the House. The right hon. Gentleman was unfortunate last year with a Bill that did not obtain a Second Reading. Our discussions today justify the claims that have been made, especially from the Opposition Benches, that the Bill should go to a Committee where parts of it which, as the Minister rightly stated, have not been correctly drafted could be put right.
Much has been made in the debate of the CORAD report. I wish to refer especially to the conclusions in chapter 7. Chapter 7(4) states:Our fundamental and most controversial recommendation is that there should be anti-discrimination legislation, and we hope that positive moves to implement such legislation will be made in the near future. We do not believe that an educational campaign would be successful in its absence.Hon. Members have such a Bill before them today. It provides that discrimination of an unjustifiable nature against disabled people should be illegal. The main terms of the measure are to ensure that unjustifiable discrimination against disabled people should be made illegal.
The Bill also seeks to set up a regulatory commission. I regret, in this respect, that I must disagree with the right hon. Member for Western Isles. I do not believe that such a commission is necessary. It means establishing another quango. As a Government, we have endeavoured to reduce quangos, not increase them. However, if the Bill receives a Second Reading, as I believe it should, I hope that some other means can be found for controlling any illegal discrimination without the necessity of introducing another quango.
There are at least four avenues for the investigation of discrimination against the disabled. Access officers have been, or will be, appointed in many areas. Social workers find cases of discrimination against the disabled. Departmental investigation officers are also in contact with the disabled. All those possibilities already exist. If all those matters could be discussed in Committee I am sure that we could find a satisfactory solution to the problem of investigating unjustifiable discrimination against the disabled without adding further burdens to the country's finances.
1285 The United Kingdom Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People was set up in January 1979 by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) under the Labour Government. Following the findings and recommendations of the silver jubilee committee on improving aids for the disabled, the Conservative Government decided that CORAD should continue to examine the achitectural and social barriers resulting in discrimination against disabled people and to report to Ministers, which it did in February 1982. To ensure that disabled people in Scotland would not be disadvantaged, the Scottish Office had an observer on CORAD and the Scottish Council on Disability sent a representative.
CORAD produced 42 recommendations and seven paragraphs of conclusions, which were made available to a wide variety of organisations concerned with the disabled, and many of the recommendations have already been implemented on a voluntary basis. The question before us today is whether such matters should continue to be dealt with on a voluntary basis or whether legislation is needed. The right hon. Member for Western Isles has introduced a Bill to make discrimination illegal. As he will be aware, sections 36 and 37 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1981 contain provisions to safeguard the interests of disabled persons, but do not deal with discrimination as such. The Disabled Persons Act 1981 makes substantial provision for the safety and welfare of the disabled, but does not apply to Scotland, so the right hon. Gentleman's Bill might bring Scotland into line with England and Wales with regard to safeguards for the disabled as well as dealing with discrimination.
Neither the CORAD report nor the Bill refers to any specific problems of discrimination against the disabled in Scotland, but that does not mean that we should be complacent. It is right that the House should be concerned about all matters affecting people with any form of disability. I believe that the right hon. Gentlman's motives are sincere in introducing the Bill. We have Acts of Parliament to deal with other forms of discrimination and the activities of the Equal Opportunities Commission cover the entire United Kingdom. As I have said, if the EOC feels that it would not be within its remit to investigate complaints of discrimination against the disabled, there are at least four other bodies of people which could undertake that task. I am sure that if the Bill goes into Committee, as I hope that it will, that problem will be satisfactorily resolved. We must maintain consistent standards about attitudes to discrimination against the disabled. If the right hon. Member for Western Isles feels that the Bill will close any loopholes that exist in the present legislation, he is to be commended for using his luck in the ballot to introduce the Bill.
Much has been said about access being one of the biggest problems that affect the disabled. Although some of the recommendations in the CORAD report have been carried out, there is still a great deal to be done. One of the worst features is the failure of many local authorities to provide access points at main road junctions. All that is required is the removal of a few kerbstones from the footpaths and the formation of a sloping section on to the main carriageway so that disabled persons in wheelchairs can pass safely from one side of the road to the other 1286 without the wheelchair tipping over. It is standard practice in America and should be a legal obligation on all local authorities.
The Minister wrote a letter to Mr. Peter Large on 25 May, in which he says:The access recommendations are clearly matters for the Government.In other words, there should be legislation to ensure that these facilities for the disabled are carried out. He continues:many others dealing with such subjects as insurance, British Standards, cinemas and theatres, participation in disability organisation, broadcasting and local authority arrangements are not our direct concern, although in many cases I would support the spirit behind the recommendations.Some recommendations impinge more directly on areas of Government responsibility and I will concentrate on these. With regard to education, the Government supports the concept of integration and the Education Act 1981 for England and Wales, and the corresponding legislation for Scotland should do much to promote this for a child. For a child to be denied admission to the school of choice simply because of relatively minor access problems would be a negation of what the Acts are intended to achieve and the type of situation that the parents' rights of appeal are designed to prevent. As regard further education, the Government's own White Papers on 'Special Needs in Education' and 'Special Educational Needs in Scotland' published in August 1980 urged that there should be a greater choice provided for those leaving school who are handicapped and also urged greater co-operation between the various agencies involved, including the voluntary ones. A review by central and local government officials of aspects of the further education law in England and Wales which would, inter alia, affect disabled young people was published last year and the Government will be announcing decisions on these in due course.Those two paragraphs prove, even in the Minister's words, that there is a possibility of unfair discrimination against the disabled.
There is also the problem of access to shops, toilets, underground tube stations, cinemas and other public places. Too much of the provision of access is voluntary and great credit should be given to the Scottish Council on Disability and CORAD because it is these bodies which have helped to get greater aid for the disabled. There is greater need for legislation to ensure that the disabled are not discriminated against in respect of entry into these places.
The Secretary of State for Scotland and his ministerial colleagues have persistently supported the call for improved access for the disabled, and for a change in the attitudes that prevent fairness for the disabled in the community. As my hon. Friend the Minister has stated, a consultation document has been published in Wales in connection with that.
My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for home affairs in the Scottish Office has laid in the Library of the House a consultation document that proposes the introduction of building standards on access. The document is intended to be seen as a step forward in ensuring adequate access to public buildings for the disabled. That is a matter that can be discussed within the concept of the Bill. I understand that similar documents will produce the same results in England and Wales. Substantial financial support was provided in 1979, 1980 and 1981 through the activities of the Scottish Commission on Access for Disabled People. Its work was sustained by the Scottish Council on disability by grants provided under section 10 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1972.
The Bill is short but there will be much that will commend itself for discussion in Committee. There are a 1287 number of drafting details that make it difficult to accept in its present form. As my hon. Friend the Minister has said, discrimination is difficult to prove when we come to consider what is unjustified and what is not. Plaintiffs will find themselves in difficulty. I note that the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson), who is well experienced in court procedures, is in his place. The proving of discrimination is another issue that can be considered in Committee.
I am sure that there are occasions when disabled persons do not find employment because of a certain disability. In my constituency there are many disabled people and many of them could say that they are discriminated against when seeking employment because they are not treated like other applicants. I am not suggesting that all employers treat them in that way.
My hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith) said that the MSC can and does provide finances of up to £6,000 for alterations in factories. If a blind operator can work at a switchboard, the MSC can provide finances to cover the cost of the conversion. That is a Government-sponsored department, with Government money. However, it does not bring a responsibility upon an employer to carry out his duties. The laws that require employers to carry a certain percentage of disabled workers if they employ more than 250 people are not being implemented. We do not know what inspections are made. We are not aware, however, of the number of firms that have been prosecuted in the past year for not taking up the quota.
Employers realise that there are certain reasons why a disabled person cannot undertake the duties of a job as effectively as a person with no disability. However, it is our job to protect the disabled and permit them to lead as normal a life as possible. I never cease to admire the care and attention that is given to the disabled and the grateful thanks that the disabled express for the devotion that is extended to them.
Some right hon. and hon. Members may say that the Bill is unnecessary. They may argue that the Equal Opportunities Commission adopts such a consistent attitude in caring for the disabled and in watching out for discrimination against them that they, the disabled, are well enough served by the present arrangements. It has been made clear that the commission is not interested in looking after the interests of the disabled and protecting them from unjustified discrimination. It seems that it wants to wash its hands of them completely.
It seems that the right hon. Member for Western Isles would like to make the present arrangements more accountable in law. In that respect he has been wise to bring the Bill before the House. We must judge for ourselves whether giving the Bill a Second Reading and adjusting it later will provide safeguards for disabled people who look to us to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. The Bill should receive a fair hearing since it affects an important section of the population.
Many Acts protect disabled people, but it is our duty to close any loopholes, particularly when they affect disabled people.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
An important question arises from the debate. Are we doing disabled people any kindness by allowing them to think that we shall introduce 1288 a constructive law in their favour and by allowing the Bill to drag on week after week in Committee when we know that the practical objections to the Bill are such that it will fall in the end? Is that an act of kindness?
§ Mr. McQuarrie
My hon. and learned Friend has not followed the debate. He has not attended the debate long enough to recognise that the Bill does not require long discussion in Committee. It is a small Bill. The Committee stage on the Diseases of Fish Bill is almost complete after only two sittings. This Bill should not take any longer because only a few alterations are necessary.
Disabled people look not for sympathy, but for justice. They want to be treated, as far as possible, like any other human beings. Whenever we see a disabled person trying to gain access to a building, we should think "There but for the grace of God go I.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
I hope that my voice will be loud enough for the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) to hear so that she does not think that I am discriminating against her. I assume that the hon. Lady is on her way to Birmingham. At least I hope that my voice is loud enough for the Hansard reporter to hear. I do not intend to speak for long because it is clear that the Government want to talk the Bill out. The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) is here to keep the debate going until 2.30
I have a personal note to add to the general experiences described today. The hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, East (Mr. McQuarrie) ended his speech by saying "There but for the grace of God go I." The grace of God has not blessed me. In the last three years I have suffered from a progressive and incurable disease which means that the thigh muscles in my legs will waste. I shall not be able to walk upstairs with ease and will not be able to walk far away from a motor car. The result is that the pattern of my life will change.
Over the last three years, I have discovered that whereas I was just as patronising as most of the speeches that we have heard today about the difficulties of the disabled, suddenly I have become the subject of the same kind of patronising air.
I have an office in Norman Shaw, North. Hon. Members who think that that is a short walk from here have no idea of the difficulty of walking up the stairs from the underground to the Embankment and then up the stairs of Norman Shaw, North only to get to the ground floor. The alternative is to go round the back and up in a lift. On one occasion I was waiting for the lift when a member of the Liberal party who has an office next to mine passed and commented, "Lazy, lazy." I can only tell the House that in an unwonted and uncharitable wave of feeling the thought crossed my mind that I might like to do some permanent damage to his neck.
No one who does not suffer disability understands the position of the disabled. When I was in hospital for tests just before Christmas and I saw the nature of the acute disability of many people there, I recognised that I was blessed with the mildness of my disability as against theirs. But I began to understand the nature of what I had been talking about over the years.
In 1974–75, when I was a Minister in the Home Office and we were discussing the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Race Relations Act, it was suggested 1289 that we should have one commission to deal with all discrimination, including disability. At that time, I took the view that it was probably not necessary to have a commission for the disabled. I am not sure now that that is the case. I take the view that was expressed by one hon. Member that it is essential for the disabled to have the right to enforce the legislation that is passed in their favour and that they should not depend simply upon the largesse of local authorities or the Government, because they will never get full rights until they have the power to press them in the courts. For that reason, I accept the principle of the Bill.
Today, a lady came to the House on crutches to hear this debate, and she was refused admission. She was refused admission under the rules of the House. It cannot be right that someone on crutches should not have access to the Strangers Gallery if that is what she wants. It seems to me that that demonstrates the reason for the Bill, and the kind of technical difference that the Minister tried to raise about the Bill is nonsense.
The same arguments were used against the Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act. The idea was that it ought to be done by education, that the introduction of a concept of law would give rise to some kind of reaction amongst discriminators, that it was impossible to prove what discrimination was, that "unreasonable" was too indefinable a term, and that innocent discrimination could not be made unlawful.
All those factors were overcome in the two Acts and, although neither has been as effective as I had hoped, they have been a good deal more effective in getting rights for blacks and for women than anything that could have been done by education alone. That is the case for legislating in this instance.
The Minister tried to help to talk out the Bill. He and the Conservative Members who support him may have done the greatest possible favour to the disabled. We have made two significant advances today. The first is the fact that the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) introduced the Bill and began the discussion of the proposition. The second is that the Government will nakedly try to stifle debate and, by doing so, will kindle an enthusiasm for change and a reaction from the disabled against the Government's squalid manoeuvring which will force such a Bill on to the statute book. That is the main virtue of the long speeches from the Government Benches.
§ Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)
The hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon) made a moving speech. I do not say that in a patronising way, because I share his shame at the fact that people on crutches were not allowed into the House to hear the debate. It is a disgrace, and our rules must be made more flexible.
I have noticed people in wheelchairs listening to our discussion and a number of deaf people in the Strangers Gallery have had the debate interpreted into sign language. That is to be welcomed.
§ Mr. McQuarrie
Does my hon. Friend recall that on a number of occasions when we have had three-line Whips hon. Members have come into the House on crutches? If it is possible for them to do so, surely it should have been possible for the lady on crutches to be taken by lift to one of the special Galleries in the Chamber.
§ Mr. Greenway
I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not criticise servants of the House, who do their job honourably, but if our rules are so rigid they are ridiculous and must be changed. Hon. Members have moved about the House on crutches and we must not allow discrimination against the disabled.
In the past year or two there has been someone on the platform at the annual conferences of both major parties to interpret proceedings in sign language for television audiences. That is a recognition of the need to communicate with everybody, whether orally or in other ways.
There is much to be said for the hon. Member for York's call for the establishment of a commission for the disabled. I am in constant contact with disabled people. Indeed, I had to leave the debate shortly to return a call from a disabled constituent who rang to say that he had attempted to get some work done in his house and had been treated in a mean, disgraceful and rude manner by the person whom he phoned. My constituent cried in frustration at not being able to handle the situation better, and I understand his feelings.
As potentially a keen supporter of the Bill, I ask the promoter to explain why the 3 per cent. quota provision has not been enforced. That quota will stand alongside this measure, which seeks a much wider enforcement of the law. If we have not achieved it in one area, shall we achieve it in the other? I should like to think so, but I hope that the promoter will give us some strong and convincing arguments for that. It would help us intellectually and socially if a strong marker were put down to refute the argument.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), who introduced the Bill. Something needs to be done. Things cannot be left as they are. I do not have wide expertise on disability, but all my life I have taken a great interest in the mentally handicapped, who need to be helped in a specially sensitive manner. I am on the Council of Riding for the Disabled, and all of us who help in this regard try to bring a sense of normality and equality of opportunity for disabled people in this dangerous sport.
In my last school, which had over 2,000 children, we had a partial hearing unit for 53 children. It was geared to giving equal treatment to a disabled section of the community in that school. I think that we succeeded. I do not want it thought that I am blowing my own trumpet, but I recently rode 30 miles, the length of Exmoor, on a racehorse to raise £1,200 for disabled children, although the mere fact of doing so tended to single out that group. However, I feel that what I did was right.
Every hon. Member can think of individual cases that have caused deep frustration for disabled people. I think of a young man in my constituency who has one leg about six inches shorter than the other, and who has the greatest difficulty in walking. He has struggled for many months to try to get a disablement travel allowance. I have backed him all the way, but although he has had one medical after another, he has been refused a disablement travel allowance. He is expected to get on to buses and other public transport, although he finds it impossible. He can get on to a bus if he is given a lift up, but he cannot manage on his own. I do not see how we can break through the sphere of law that covers his case. The Department of Health and Social Security has been fair and honest and in no way guilty of maladministration in refusing the travel allowance, but that does not help his case.
1291 Would the Bill help if it were enacted? I hope so. If the sponsor can convince me of that, I shall be pleased. Or would it add one more level of appeal for a person to go through, only to face yet more frustration? That must be the test of a good Act of Parliament, and I hope that this Bill could become a good and useful Act
Education has been mentioned from time to time in the debate. I am fortunate to have in my constituency a school for disabled children. It is alongside an ordinary school, where the two groups of children intermingle with perfect ease and where there is no difficulty of access. That seems to be an outstanding implementation of the Education Bill 1981.
I have had the pleasure of seeing children from the school for the disabled section, now in the ordinary school, swimming with ordinary children, playing games with them, learning with them and leading full and normal lives. One of them, James Gilham, has the ambition to be a PE teacher of disabled children. It is this country's misfortune that there is no course that he can attend that will lead to a teaching qualification for disabled children. Consequently, we shall have to raise money—we shall take pleasure in doing so, and I shall join in—for him to go to America to attend a suitable course.
That young man is a remarkable character and has just taken part in a 10,000m race in his chair. He plays soccer and basketball from his chair, and there is nothing that he does not try to do. However, he has a totally unequal chance in life if his friends have to set to and raise money to send him to America to obtain a qualification which is needed in this country. There is very little qualified PE teaching for disabled children. Sports for the disabled are developing quickly and excitingly with the paraplegic Olympic game and so on. The number of disabled children who want to be games players on equal terms, where appropriate, has increased enormously and should be encouraged. Their own special areas of play and competitive sport must be fostered, because sport gives pleasure, fulfilment and self-dignity both to disabled children and adults.
§ Mr. Skinner
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it within the rules of the House for one of the Tory Whips to go and tell one of his Tory friends to get up at the appropriate time to kill this Bill, which—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bernard Weatherill)
Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot possibly know what is said on the other side of the Chamber.
§ Mr. Skinner
I know what is being said. The Government Whip is setting up one of his hon. Friends to talk out the Bill.
§ Mr. Greenway
I particularly commend my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Transport on their marvellous response to representations from me about the construction work on the A40, Western avenue, which goes through my constituency. A footbridge was being established near the Hoover factory so that a six-lane highway could be crossed. It was proposed that the bridge should have steps on either side. However, various 1292 disabled people in my constituency came to see me and pointed out that the lights at Hoover had been taken away and that they would not be able to cross the bridge without terrible hassle and without being lifted up and over and so on. Having made representations to the Department of Transport, I can report that the footbridge is being constructed quite differently. There will be no steps, but there will be a gradient of one in ten on either side of the flat bridge. Therefore, those in chairs will be able, quite reasonably and comfortably, to negotiate the footbridge. That is greatly to the Government's credit and represents a major step forward. I have pleasure in mentioning it.
I should like further to refer to education and the CORAD report, which has been mentioned so often today. In chapter 6, the summary of recommendations, recommendation 5 states:Wherever possible disabled children should be educated in ordinary schools with their non-disabled peers.No one in the House would disagree with that. I should like the right hon. Member for Western Isles to consider again the possible position that teachers may face. Clause 1 of the Bill states:Unjustifiable discrimination by one person against another, whether intended or not, on the grounds of that other person's disablement in any activity to which this Act relates shall be unlawful.That is an important point for a teacher.
I have had a child with bad hearing and other disabilities in a class. One cannot always pick it up. He might be at the back of the class but not learning, and if that is subsequently noticed the child can be moved to the front. But if a teacher fails to do that, he would be guilty of unlawful discrimination under the Bill as it stands. It is imperative to cover a teacher in those circumstances. Indeed, it could occur in so many other circumstances in further and higher education. Unintended discrimination occurs all the time. I ask the right hon. Member for Western Isles to take up that point, which I know will be of central concern to the teaching profession, although every member of the teaching profession would bend over backwards to do the best possible for every child, whether disabled or not. I know that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)
The clock is turning tremendously fast. The time has come for the challenge.
This 38-line Bill deals with the simple but nevertheless important problem of discrimination. The whole of this morning has been spent by the Minister and Conservative Members not only wasting time—
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I have been here for more than three hours. I can tell the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) that his speech and that of the Minister were not only a waste of the time but covered points that could have been dealt with in Standing Committee.
§ Mr. Leadbitter
Therefore, I ask the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who is ready to follow me, whether he will engage in talking the Bill out, a practice we have seen in the past.
The Opposition support the Bill. We are united. We want it to go into Standing Committee. The people have elected us to deal with such measures. We have the necessary expertise and legal advice, but will the Tory party try to stop us examining something that is important to one tenth of the nation. Will the hon. and learned Member for Burton, if he is called to speak, be as brief as me?
§ Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South)
I realise that time is pressing and I do not wish to detain the House. In principle I support the Bill, but it has one or two grave shortcomings that I hope can be rectified in Committee. The Bill would have been more helpful had it been an all-party measure. I am also concerned that it is so wide-ranging.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Gentleman. He said that it was not an all-party measure. I had the support of two hon. Members of the Conservative party originally, but they dropped out for reasons of their own. A third hon. Member was willing to support the Bill if he saw it but I could not get it to him in time. However, I did attempt to introduce the Bill as an all-party measure.
§ Mr. Thorne
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman made such an attempt, because it is important to try to have all-party support. I am sorry that he was unsuccessful. In a Bill in which I am involved we have been at great pains to include Members of all parties for that purpose.
Several provisions in the Bill must be put right in Committee, because the Bill gives wide-ranging powers. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman would not wish to have powers as wide as they are at present drafted. If he did, that would have a grossly adverse effect because it could lead to increased litigation where no litigation was necessary.
There are great differences between the physically and the mentally handicapped that have not been sufficiently demonstrated in the Bill. It would be very difficult to prove in the courts that a mentally handicapped person was incapable of taking a job. It would also have an adverse effect upon the physically handicapped whom we are all anxious to help.
I readily acknowledge that the 3 per cent. employment quota scheme is honoured more by avoidance than by observance. However, that ignores the fact that most people who are entitled to a card showing that they are disabled fail to notify prospective employers of the card because they fear that it will affect their employment prospects. I deplore the fact that employers do not accept the 3 per cent. quota, which is both fair and reasonable. If the quota system is to be implemented properly, we must give more encouragement to employers to ensure that they give the necessary priority to handicapped people. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to see whether it would be possible to relieve employers of the national insurance surcharge on disabled employees. That would positively encourage employers to find out which of their staff are disabled in order to take advantage of a financial saving. 1294 There is of course no better way to encourage employers. I ask the right hon. Member for Western Isles to consider my points in Committee. If they cannot be dealt with there, then I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to consider it as a separate issue, because it is one of very great importance to the disabled and all of us.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Many of us came to the House today to support this Bill because it is an important measure. It gives the disabled the opportunity to have a better crack of the whip than they have had previously. But, because of the shortage of time and because of our wish to consider the Bill in Committee, I relinquish my right to speak at length today. I support the Bill and I call on Tory Members to do the same so that we can get on to the Division and send the Bill to Committee.
§ Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)
I wish that the Bill had not been introduced. I mean no personal criticism of the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), who introduced the Bill, and for whom I have nothing but the highest regard.
But I resent being put in the false position of having to oppose a Bill for the disabled. As that well-known exponent of the arts of graceful conversation and manners, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), said only a moment or two ago from a sedentary position "You are rotten to the core. We will let the people in Burton know."
§ Mr. Lawrence
That underlines the fact that I resent being placed in the position of having to oppose such a Bill. It is all very well for Opposition Members to sit there as some do from time to time and come in, go out, come back and just shout accusations of heartlessness as if we have a desire in some way to limit help to the disabled and as if they had a monopoly of feeling and wisdon when dealing with the disabled.
Surely we owe some responsibility to the people who sent us here not to put bad law on to the statute book just because that would be warm-hearted and a nice magnanimous gesture, or because we are frightened that if we do not we shall lose the votes or the support of the disabled.
Whether or not the hon. Member for Bolsover has any influence or effect upon the people in Burton, I resent having to justify my opposition to the Bill. They probably have not understood the implications of the Bill—still less have many of them read it, probably—but they have been told that it advances their rights in some practical way. I resent being put in the position of having to say on a public platform that that is simply not true.
I resent the fact that there are disabled in our society who have had their expectations raised and may have them dashed. I consider that that is a heartless and uncaring way in which to go about our legislation. If the Bill is given a Second Reading and falls in Committee after days or weeks of discussion, is that a sympathetic and decent way to approach the disabled in our society? Is it right to string 1295 them along in the expectation that Parliament will do something more constructive than has hitherto been done to help them, and then to find that the Bill bites the dust, as inevitably it must, because it is incapable of reaching the statute book without massive amendment?
Hon. Gentlemen know well that the predominant feeling in the minds of a large proportion of hon. Members who go into the Lobby will be "We have not read the Bill. We do not know whether the Bill is any good, and we do not know whether the Bill makes sense or nonsense or whether it is practical, but it will look good if we are seen going into the Lobby on behalf of the disabled". We have heard Opposition Members suggesting that it will be no bad thing to wrong foot Conservative Members who have their doubts about the Bill.
§ Mr. Ashley
I am sorry that this cynical speech is being made. A large number of sincere speeches were made on both sides of the House earlier. Can the hon. and learned Gentleman answer the important points that were made, or was he not present?
§ Mr. Lawrence
If I have time I shall certainly try to answer them. The right hon. Gentleman did not hear the form of words in which I expressed my last sentiment. I said that the large majority of hon. Members who go into the Lobby in support of the Bill will not have read it, will not know anything about it, will not have considered whether is is practicable, feasible or good, but will merely go into the Lobby because they do not want to be seen to be doing something that appears to be contrary to the interests of the disabled. That is the most cynical way of all to conduct legislation.
There have been a number of speeches of a very high standard today. One thing is clear. No person and no party has a monopoly of concern or desire to help to relieve the miseries of the disabled in our society. Almost all of us spend a great deal of our time as Members of Parliament raising money for charities for the disabled and doing whatever else we can to help them.
If all that the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) had done was to initiate a debate to highlight the obligation, which must be perpetually highlighted, that we who are able-bodied and minded owe it to the disabled to raise their standard of life and to remove the obstacles in the way of their happiness, I should have welcomed that. However, that is not what has been done.
§ Mr. Lawrence
No, I must get on as I have been challenged to give my reasons for objecting.
Concern for the disabled is not just a matter for platitudes—
§ Mr. Lawrence
Labour and Conservative Governments have done an enormous amount, within the confines of economic and practical possibilities, to try to improve the situation. I shall not take up unnecessary time labouring a point that has already been well made. To take just one example, however, spending five per cent. more in real terms on the disabled is no mean achievement, and 1296 to have brought down the rate of inflation to under five per cent., as the Government have, is itself of substantial assistance to the disabled.
Unfortunately, the desire, the determination and even the financial possibility of providing further help is not the end of the matter. Legislation must be workable and enforceable, not ill-considered and contrary to the accepted principles by which the House traditionally legislates. Judged in that light, how does the Bill measure up? In my judgment, although the Bill is undeniably well meaning, it is equally undeniably unworkable and in principle undesirable and contrary to good sense.
I shall not detain the House by explaining why the Bill is unworkable, save to say that a Bill that provides that some discrimination is justifiable raises a whole world of argument that will in due course be advanced in the courts. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) is well known for opposing anything that might put money into the pockets of lawyers who go on interminably in courts of law, but that would be the effect of the Bill. So little is defined in the Bill that these matters would inevitably be dragged relentlessly through the courts if the Bill became law. Hon. Members should therefore be greatly concerned that in fact they are printing money for lawyers and doing nothing to help the disabled.
There is also the question of the ambit of the Equal Opportunities Commission. Inequalities between the sexes are a different matter, because there is no job done by a man that cannot be done by a woman. The question of whether jobs in various categories can be performed by people with disabilities, however, involves a completely different area of discrimination with which the Equal Opportunities Commission is simply not able to deal—
§ Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 77, Noes 0.1297
|Division No. 65]||[2.29 pm|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Huckfield, Les|
|Atkinson, N. (H'gey,)||Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Janner, Hon Greville|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Johnson, James (Hull West)|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S)||Kilfedder, James A.|
|Canavan, Dennis||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||Leighton, Ronald|
|Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)||Lyon, Alexander (York)|
|Cryer, Bob||McCartney, Hugh|
|Cunliffe, Lawrence||Maclennan, Robert|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||McNally, Thomas|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, Stechf'd)||McQuarrie, Albert|
|Deakins, Eric||McWilliam, John|
|Dewar, Donald||Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton)|
|Dubs, Alfred||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)|
|Dunwoody, Hon Mrs G.||Mikardo, Ian|
|Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E)||Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)|
|English, Michael||Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Ennals, Rt Hon David||Morton, George|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Murphy, Christopher|
|Fitt, Gerard||Parker, John|
|Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Pitt, William Henry|
|Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)||Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)|
|Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald||Race, Reg|
|Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)||Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)|
|Graham, Ted||Richardson, Jo|
|Greenway, Harry||Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)|
|Hannam, John||Roper, John|
|Hardy, Peter||Sandelson, Neville|
|Skinner, Dennis||Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)|
|Smyth, Rev. W. M. (Belfast S)||Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)|
|Snape, Peter||Tilley, John|
|Spearing, Nigel||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Spellar, John Francis (B'ham)|
|Stallard, A. W.||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)||Mr. Gordon Wilson and|
|Strang, Gavin||Mr. Dafydd Wigley|
|Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|