HC Deb 31 January 1992 vol 202 cc1235-63

Order, for Second Reading read.

12.35 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

11 beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill's wholly legitimate purpose is to meet the undoubted moral right of disabled people to full citizenship and social equality. The Bill aims to confer long-awaited civil rights and freedoms on millions of people with physical, mental and sensory disabilities. As all hon. and right hon. Members know from their postbags, the outcome of this debate is anxiously awaited not only by our disabled constituents, but by all their organisations and by everyone who works with and among them. I myself have had a huge correspondence in support of the Bill. Let me quote briefly from just two letters.

First, Peter Large of the Disablement Income Group, whose distinguished work for disabled people is well known to this House, describes the Bill as the essential foundation on which campaigns of education and persuasion can be mounted and true good will, as opposed to 'do-gooding', can be enabled to flourish. He says as well: In the absence of such legislation people with disabilities will never be enabled fully to enjoy their rightful place in society. Peter Large is uniquely well placed to make these comments, as his letter reminds us. It says: The Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People, which you set up as the then Minister in 1979 and I had the honour to Chair, reported in 1982 the need for legislation to combat unreasonable discrimination. We have thus already waited 10 years for this legislation, losing 10 years hoping that education and persuasion and the voluntary application of goodwill would eventually transform disabled people's lives. We now know they will not. We were right to believe that campaigns to educate and persuade are too costly and ineffective in the absence of a legislative foundation of acceptable behaviour. Secondly, I want to quote from a letter of support from Sir John Wilson, chairman of The Impact Foundation, than whom very few people in any country can have given more distinguished service to blind people. A blind person himself, Sir John writes most hearteningly: Good luck for your Private Member's Bill on Anti-Discrimination next Friday. We will all be rooting for you! Today is not the first time this House has been asked to implement the report of the official inquiry I appointed Peter Large to chair in 1979. Nor is this the only time that disabled people whose daily experience is of unequal treatment and unjustified discrimination have looked to Parliament to set right the deep sense of injustice they feel.

The House may recall the ten-minute Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Mr. Ashley), and the two debates which took place on similar measures in 1983. I myself was present and spoke in those debates and well remember the bitter disappointment felt by supporters of the earlier Bills when their paths were blocked by what was seen then as Government antipathy.

Many years have elapsed since then, but, in my view, more than simply time has passed. I detect a very different climate both in this House and beyond for today's debate on my Bill. Far from time's passage weakening the case for this Bill, the argument is stronger now than ever before for extending our anti-discrimination legislation into this field. The social changes the Bill seeks are urgently necessary, widely supported and fully justified, but will not come about without a change in the law.

The recent change of climate was well exemplifed by the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) on the BBC Radio 4 programme "You and Yours" on 21 January. He summarised his current attitude to giving disabled people a legal remedy against unjustified discrimination as "benevolently neutral". Not very long ago the Government's attitude was widely seen as "malevolently hostile" by the organisations that represent disabled people. Naturally I welcome the change of climate, just as I rejoice in the fact that my Bill's co-sponsors are from all parties in this House. They demonstrate that increasingly now the argument is seen not so much as a clash between right and left, but as one between right and wrong.

Twenty-one years ago, when my Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill was passed, itself in part an anti-discrimination measure, the first of its kind in any country, Britain led the world in disability legislation. Today we lag behind. Other countries at first copied and have now overtaken us. Many have legislated to end unfair discrimination against disabled people, not least the United States. President Bush set the tone for the 1990s when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and told the American business community: You have in your hands the key to the success of this Act, for you can unlock a splendid resource of untapped human potential that, when freed, will enrich us all … Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down. There was not much benevolent neutrality about that statement. It was an act of political leadership that is widely admired by disabled people across the world. They look to this House today to give the same kind of leadership. Our commitment is shown to be doubly needed by a recent survey by the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People. It found that 6 per cent. of British employers were unwilling to employ any disabled person "under any circumstances" at a time when employable disabled people are six times more likely than non-disabled people to be turned down for a job.

That is not only outrageous, but a challenge to this House, which legislated nearly 50 years ago to require firms with 20 or more employees to give 3 per cent. of jobs to disabled people. We must not duck that challenge today.

Unless words have lost their meaning, when the Minister says he is "benevolently neutral" towards my Bill he must mean that, with me, he would most strongly deprecate any attempt to frustrate a Second Reading today. He especially will know that any such attempt would provoke intense exasperation and indeed fury among disabled people and their organisations.

The case for the Bill has two sides—it has a moral one, which begs the question, "What sort of society do we want to create?" And it has a pragmatic one, namely "What do we have to do to make that society?"

I shall deal with the moral arguments briefly, since no one has yet attempted seriously to contradict them. Let me recall some deservedly famous words of Martin Luther King when he dismissed the case for relying only on education and persuasion to end racial prejudice: Morality cannot be legislated, but behavioiur can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless. It is an affront to civilised values, in a country claiming to respect human rights, for citizens with a present or past disability to suffer prejudice, exclusion and both demeaning and unjustified treatment for no other reason than their disability. It is shameful that to the restrictions their disability imposes is added the gratuitous extra handicap that attidudinal and physical barriers create. Let no one in this House imagine that such discrimination is a thing of the past.

Who can justify, to quote one of the many examples given by Lord Snowdon, in a fine speech in another place, the shameful treatment of a young policewoman, injured, ironically, while displaying conspicuous bravery in the course of her duties, who was turned away from a charity event because, and only because, she was in a wheelchair.

What about the conduct of taxi drivers who refuse to carry blind people, as now happens every day, if they have guide dogs? Or the practice of employers who never shortlist any job applicant who discloses a disability? Research by the Spastics Society in 1986 and 1990 found that non-disabled candidates were 1–5 times more likely to be offered a job interview than a disabled candidate.

Again, what about the conduct of an employer who imposes unnecessary conditions for a job, such as possessing a driving licence, which adversely affects disabled people more than non-disabled people? Or the case of a successful candidate for a senior civilian post with a police authority who, because of her disability, but with no justification on grounds of special risk, was refused entry to its pension scheme?

If anyone still doubts that hurtful discrimination exists, they need look no further than the Government Benches for a clear endorsement of what I am describing. In this House on 28 March last year, the right hon. Member for Chelsea said that he had, no doubt that some employers' recruitment practices discriminate unfairly against people with disabilities.[Official Report, 28 March 1991; Vol. 188, c. 1148.] Later last year, the Secretary of State for Health told a Conferation of British Industry conference on employment and mental health that: People who suffer mental illness can find themselves discriminated against. Ancient prejudices are still to be found in the 20th century workplace. Only last week, again in his Radio 4 interview, the right hon. Member for Chelsea said: There exists too much prejudice against disabled people in this country—indeed in most countries in the world—and that leads to unjustified discrimination. I could go on, but need not do so in view of the wide cross-party agreement now about the unfairness which disabled people meet in Britain today.

There is, however, another element to the unfair discrimination which disabled people experience. It is not confined simply to where their disability is irrelevant, but extends to where it is chosen as the reason to justify different treatment. Too often people find that, because of their disability, society expects them to shoulder an unequal and unfair burden compared with someone without it. Far from having equal access to potential employment, public services, transport, housing and recreational facilities, disabled people are often doubly handicapped by total lack of access.

This is not to say that expensive and sophisticated means are always required to accommodate their needs, since frequently any necessary changes will be straightforward and insignificant in terms both of cost and inconvenience. When I talk to people whose daily lives are restricted in this way, who find their desire for self-determination and independent living needlessly denied, it is not hard to see why they regard society's refusal to remove barriers as unjustified discrimination, more especially where equal access can be accomplished at reasonable expense. Nor is it hard to imagine why people with disabilities now demand the means legally to enforce their right to access and freedom from segregation and exclusion.

As well as arguments on principle, there are pragmatic reasons why we should be legislating for change. In a democratic society, law must inevitably be one of the means for creating the sort of community we want to see and it has a major part to play here as in other policy areas.

Hon. Members have claimed before, and may do so again today, that legal recourse is not needed, that education and exhortation will suffice. Just two days ago, employers were invited by the Prime Minister, when he launched the employers agenda on disability, to change outmoded ways of treating disabled job-seekers or employees which are discriminatory, although the agenda itself apparently made no mention even of the word "discrimination".

While I would not claim that this or any other Bill can be a panacea that alone will change practices and make society more accessible, I am sure that it will do more to aid the process of education and persuasion than anything else that has happened so far. Education is often neither a cheap option nor an effective one, and attempts to persuade which are not founded in fundamental rights set by the law will, in my view, end in failure.

I need only remind the House of the single and simple issue of compulsory seat belt use. It was claimed year after year that public education would suffice. But after more than£7 million had been spent on advertising a message that drivers still declined to hear, Ministers had to concede that legislation was needed even to make drivers change behaviour that endangered their own lives. To succeed, any educational process requires a sound and rational base. This was one of the reasons for legislating on sex and race discrimination, and the point applies with the same force now to disability. Law which highlights the incidence of inequality faced by disabled people in our society, and ensures that its worst signs are removed, offers such a base.

I think that is why the Employment Select Committee, in its report on employment and disability of December 1990, called on the Government to examine the case for equal opportunities law in the field of employment. It took the view, quite rightly, that no amount of voluntary codes of good practice, or public relations exercises like the lamentable "Two Ticks" scheme, would be sufficient to make many employers recognise the need for justified change to which they were resistant.

There are practical social gains that will result from this Bill for people other than its direct beneficiaries. The greater integration of disabled people into the mainstream of our national life—as workers, consumers or taxpayers—will add to the wealth by reducing their dependence on benefits and increasing the economic contribution that they can make. This is no academic point.

As the Americans with Disabilities Bill was passing through Congress, it was the realisation of this effect which secured the support of the telecommunications industry for the major changes proposed. The companies in question saw that making their systems more accessible would produce new subscribers.

I referred earlier to the climate for this debate having changed. The 1990s opened with renewed and increasing interest from many quarters in the creation of more and better rights for the individual citizen. That was partly stimulated by what other countries had achieved in terms of citizens' rights.

Sceptics who once argued that legislation like this could not be drafted or, when introduced, would fail, now have to reckon with the fact that America is not by any means the only country to have law that deals with unjustified discrimination against disabled people. Moreover, if it is argued that America's new law will not be fully operational for many years, at least the clock has started ticking there; and the sooner we make a start here, the sooner we shall have social justice for our disabled people.

In any case, the Minister's public comments on the United States legislation, on the BBC and elsewhere, have mistakenly ignored the fact that there was already state law in 46 states, much of it going back years, not to mention the Federal Rehabilitation Act 1973 and the changes which gave a personal right to enforce this in 1978.

The European Commission is interesting itself in this issue. For example, a recent draft directive is concentrating the minds of EC Transport Ministers on the need for domestic laws to redress the discrimination experienced by disabled people and workers on public transport systems as they travel to and from work. To my mind, the tide has long since turned on those who argue that law has no part to play in achieving justice for disabled people and, as many disability organisations now say, the question that we in the United Kingdom face is not whether we shall come to realise this but whether we shall be the last country to do so.

I must now very briefly explain the effects of the more important provisions of the Bill, which applies throughout the United Kingdom. The prohibition of discrimination is achieved by defining in general terms and more specifically the circumstances in which unequal treatment experienced by disabled people will in future be unlawful. It establishes the means by which this will be judged where there is a dispute and creates a disablement commission, modelled on the existing commissions on sex and race, which is intended to contribute to the Bill's effective enforcement. By virtue of its definition on disability, the Bill confers rights also on those treated unfairly because of a past recovered disability or one which is reputed to impair them—for example, a recovered mental patient—whatever may be its actual effect. The rights created by the Bill are not extended to all persons who have a disability, but only to those who are "qualified" as defined by the Bill. This distinction is important since the Bill recognises that some decisions to treat persons differently are fair and proper. Someone with a disability may be unable, for example, to meet an essential requirement for undertaking a job or obtaining a service. The Bill's aim is to limit the occasions when unequal treatment may lawfully occur only to these situations. In relation to employment, a person will be "qualified" when able to perform the essential functions of the job, taking account of any adaptations or alterations to the employer's workplace or organisation which it would be reasonable to introduce. The same approach is taken in relation to the provision of goods and services. A disabled person is qualified under the Bill if able to meet the essential eligibility requirements for receiving them, bearing in mind reasonable changes which could be made to accommodate the effects of their disability. In addition to possible modifications to an organisation or to its physical facilities, the provision of assistance, such as by interpreters, will fall within the scope of reasonable changes which may be envisaged.

The Bill's general definition of discrimination is a familiar one in this field of law. It encompasses not only less favourable treatment of a person with a disability, but also the imposition of apparently neutral conditions or requirements which have a disproportionate and adverse effect for disabled people and which is unfair. Given that the Bill creates duties to ensure reasonable access to employment and to services, a failure or refusal to comply with a duty may be described as a third type of discrimination formulated in the Bill.

In the part dealing with employment, very detailed clauses describe the coverage of the new protections and give particular examples of what will constitute unequal treatment in the workplace. Of course the Bill recognises, as we all must, that deciding to treat a person differently is sometimes going to be justified. To help determine what changes it will be reasonable to require an employer to make so as to accommodate a person's disability, the Bill provides for five factors to be considered, relating to the cost of the adaptations and the nature, scale and financial resources of the employer's concern. This is an important feature of the Bill. Extra costs needed to ensure compliance with its provisions should not be allowed to jeopardise the financial viability of businesses affected. I am confident that the Bill as drafted cannot have this effect.

A similar approach is taken in regard to the provision of goods and services. A general duty to ensure freedom from discrimination and the right to all reasonable access is applied to the provision of public services. Twelve types of service are listed, ranging from public buildings and spaces, through housing, education and transport to the provision of trade or professional services. The new obligations will not require any change that is technically impracticable or unsafe and, again, the test of what is reasonable will be determined by what is achievable without "undue hardship" being caused to the person or body needing to change. To allow time for the planning and introduction of modifications and adaptations, the Secretary of State is given powers to grant specific exemptions from compliance for up to five years to those who will be affected by the new requirements.

As the Bill makes new rights and obligations, their effective enforcement must be provided for. It achieves this in two ways. First, it confirms the right of the individual citizen, aggrieved by discrimination, to bring a civil claim in his or her local court seeking compensation and/or a mandatory order. Secondly, the disablement commission it creates is invested with powers and duties to enable it both to conciliate, where there is a complaint of discrimination, and to take enforcement action if this is necessary.

Hon. Members may recall that one of the objections voiced in the past to legislating in this field is the complexity and difficulty of the laws that would be needed in order to do the job. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill leaves little scope for that particular argument to resurface. I believe that all the essential rights and duties are fully and effectively described. I have to acknowledge that any draft Bill will be far from perfect. Improvements may be suggested today or at some later date, and I and my co-sponsors of all parties will be glad to receive comments on the Bill. We shall look constructively at any and all amendments that may be proposed.

The Bill is widely supported in the House and by people of all parties, and of none, throughout the country. In particular, it is supported by all the organisations that represent disabled people. For all their help in the work of preparing the Bill, I most warmly thank Peter Mitchell, Ian Bynoe, Pat Healy and others who, while they cannot be named, provided skills of parliamentary draftsmanship as good as any available to the Minister. I speak with some experience of bringing Government legislation to the House.

The Spastics Society recently published a most striking photograph of two baby girls, with the caption: One of them has cerebral palsy, the other will grow up with full human rights. That is what my Bill is all about, and I commend it to the House.

1.2 pm

Sir John Farr (Harborough)

It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who is widely respected for his work in the area of disability. Twenty-two years ago he pioneered the present effective disability legislation, and he has always worked unceasingly in the House on behalf of the disabled. Indeed, his work is recognised not only in this country and in both Houses of Parliament, but in the English speaking world and—as he is too modest to mention—by Commonwealth Governments. He is a pioneer in his area and we salute him for his work.

My intention is to get the Bill on to the statute book, and that can be best achieved by saying as little as possible, as quickly as possible. The Bill has 13 clauses and one schedule, and the right hon. Gentleman dealt with it ably and explicity; there is no time to make any sensible comments, so we shall do that in Committee. I welcome the Bill and, in particular, I welcome the provision for a disablement commission.

I wish to draw the attention of the House to one real need, which I learned about in January this year from the borough of Oadby and Wigston, which is in my constituency. It relates to carers and the council tax. The borough is worried because, although it supports the concept of some form of exemption for carers in the community from the council tax, it feels that the contribution that carers make to the community is measurable in cash terms—that it is possible to assess the savings that are made in hospital and nursing home fees, for instance—although the carers themselves probably take on their responsibilities without regard for such implications.

It is felt that such people should receive some small recompense for their efforts. According to the latest information available to the borough, council tax discounts will be available to certain categories of occupier. Many other councils are equally concerned about this. The discount is expected to be 25 per cent., with a maximum of two persons per household, but the council intends to make representations—which I hope will be noted in the appropriate quarters—to the effect that carers should themselves attract a discount. I agree.

Let me give some examples. A man suffering from Alzheimer's disease is currently exempt from community charge; he is cared for at home by his wife. The latest information suggests that the council tax on their home will be subject to a 25 per cent. discount, as one of only two adults residing at the property was exempt from community charge. The new proposals would increase the discount to 50 per cent.—25 per cent. for each person, carer and previously exempt chargepayer.

A second example—one known to me personally—is the case of a severely physically disabled man who is not exempt from community charge. He is cared for at home by his daughter. Under the current plan, the council tax on their property will attract a 25 per cent. discount, as one of only two adults present in the household is a carer.

Oadby and Wigston council feels that the criteria for discount eligibility should not be restrictive. If they have to be at all restrictive, they should certainly not be as restrictive as those governing who receives the carer premium in benefit cases. We feel that the qualifications are ridiculously strict and unfair. In benefit cases, it is deemed that the carer should be in receipt of invalid care allowance—or would be, but for another benefit that he is already receiving. It is felt that such a criterion would be unduly restrictive for discount purposes, especially as a carer would have to be of working age to qualify for the allowance.

A suggested criterion is the fact that a person needs to spend a good deal of time looking after someone who receives attendance or mobility allowance. I hope that, having given the matter some thought, my right hon. Friend will agree that a more human interpretation of the existing regulations is necessary, for the problems affecting carers are widespread.

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe on introducing the Bill. I respect him for what he has struggled to achieve. Every time that he pushes the door open, he finds that further doors are closed on him. All hon. Members wish him every success.

1.9 pm

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

The Bill is the sixth attempt to place anti-discrimination legislation on the statute book since the report of the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People—CORAD—10 years ago. I hope that it will be more successful than previous ones, because disabled people are desperate and determined to have legislation. It is a long time since Harold Macmillan coined the phrase, "Now we can appreciate the wind of change", but there is now a wind of change among disabled people in Britain. They are determined to have legislation, and the sooner that is accepted and recognised by the Government the better.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) used the phase "benevolent neutrality". I hope that we shall hear no nonsense about benevolent neutrality, because it is a euphemism for sitting smiling on the fence when we want active support and participation.

I was delighted that the hon. Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) paid tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe. This is a splendid Bill, on which my right hon. Friend has done much work. It is finely drawn, and he made a comprehensive and eloquent speech. I have heard none better and it deserves the support of both sides of the House.

I hope that there will not be any bickering about the main thrust of the Bill. I echo my right hon. Friend's compliments to Peter Mitchell, Pat Healy and others who helped with its drafting. His fine speech deserves the warm support of both sides of the House and the active support of the Minister.

The essence of the Bill is the creation of new legislative rights rather than charity and patronage. I see no sense in insisting on disabled people pleading for rights that are taken for granted by able-bodied people. The crux of the problem of disablement is not medical but relationships with other people. That is why statutory rights are crucial; without them, disabled people, especially severely disabled people, are disadvantaged.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe clearly said that the Bill provides the nuts and bolts of legislation to protect disabled people. But it does far more than that: it encapsulates in legislation the ideals, aspirations and visions of disabled people throughout the ages. They have not been articulated. We must accept those visions, because they are what disabled people want in their everyday lives.

The Bill helps to provide equal opportunity for disabled people. It gives them a chance to do what they want, rather than what other people think they want. It gives them a chance to do things their way, rather than the way in which other people think they should do them. It gives them a chance to express their individuality, rather than be patronised. It gives them a chance of fulfilling their potential. That is its noble aim. It is in tune with the march of times— its time has come. When it reaches the statute book—under this Government or, more probably, under the incoming Labour Government—disabled people will have full rights of citizenship enshrined in law. They will be able to take their place in society without discrimination and with the same rights as everyone else.

1.14 pm
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

As always, it is a great pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and to hear him support the measure. In passing, I thought that I heard an additional clause being added to the Bill—the rehabilitation of Harold Macmillan through his "winds of change" speech. Perhaps we could encourage that idea among the Opposition.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) in congratulating the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on his good fortune in coming high enough in the ballot to be able to introduce the measure and on his wisdom in selecting it to be debated in the House and then, I hope, in detail in Committee and in another place.

It is not too long—in fact, it is a week—since we discussed another private Member's Bill. That involved traffic calming and one of its aims was to try to reduce the number of people who suffer disabilities as a result of road accidents. About that time there was a lobby in Westminster Hall of people supporting this Bill, many of whom had suffered from the uncalmed traffic of our inner-city streets. Therefore, on recent Fridays we have been considering a seamless robe of legislation. I shall not mention the National Lottery Bill, but that might even be connected.

About 18 months ago I had the good fortune to have a Friday to myself and I chose to debate the subject of people with disabilities. On that occasion the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe was kind enough to support me and to point out that it was the first time in, I think, 10 years that a Back Bencher had initiated such a debate. Many of the right hon. Gentleman's proposals in this Bill flow from the points that I and other hon. Members made during that debate. That is why I have come especially today to support his measure.

I accept that there will be difficulties with the wording of the measure and I fear that there will probably be lengthy though positive and forward-looking discussions in Committee to decide how the Bill can be worded in a practical way to help people with disabilities.

I am especially pleased that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People is with us, as he was on the previous occasion. He, the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, who is the chairman of the all-party committee, have a national and international reputation for supporting people with disabilities. The debate crosses party boundaries and the Floor of the House, as happens when we welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend has been able to introduce and those which the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe has sought and is seeking to introduce.

I mention another international figure whose reputation has perhaps suffered recently, not least in some recent films. I am talking of President Kennedy and of his great inaugural speech—"Ask not what we can do for them". There is something of that sentiment in this measure. However, it is not a question of what we can do for people with disabilities but of what they can do for themselves if we remove some of the obstacles to progress and achievement. That was the theme of my debate and I believe that it is the theme of the Bill.

We represent people of all abilities and disabilities. Above all, we represent those who are less able to come here to represent themselves. Therefore, it is right that we should do what we can for them on occasions such as this.

No doubt there will be considerable debate on the wording, and discussion about how one can legislate against discrimination. It is not an easy question to answer, and I know that the right hon. Gentleman would not pretend that it is. I believe that he seeks to establish in some sort of legislative framework the concept that, all other things being equal, people who have a disability should not be obstructed and prevented from having the same opportunities as other people—whether at a place of work, in a place of entertainment, in their homes, or while using transport.

That is a difficult concept to embody in law. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People will have some thoughts on the subject. We do not seek to do anything absurd. We do not seek to legislate so that people with visual difficulties drive buses, nor to put people whose disabilities would make the handling of certain types of machinery dangerous to themselves or to others into inappropriate situations. We are simply trying to find a form of legal jargon whereby, other things being equal, people with disabilities do not face the obstacle of discrimination.

Those of us who represent inner cities probably see a great many of the obstacles that are placed in the path of people with disabilities. On one of my "Can I help you?" visits in my constituency, I vividly remember finding, quite by chance, a lady in a wheelchair living in the upper of two one-up-one-down flats. Because of her condition she was especially heavy, and because the staircase was so narrow it was difficult for anyone to help her to get downstairs, so most of her life was spent upstairs in a wheelchair, totally dependent on other people bringing in groceries, and providing any sort of company. Having discovered her by chance, I was able to help to resolve the problem, but too many such people in inner cities are in inadequate accommodation. Even if they can get to the front door, it is often not wide enough for a wheelchair, or there is a step down instead of a ramp.

Many people need a little help just to get up in the morning—perhaps because their fingers cannot cope with zips, or they cannot put on their shoes and socks. They need the support of society to enable them to get up, to go out, and to achieve.

I hope that more progress will be made in assessing the needs of people with disabilities, especially physical disabilities. So often in the past—or rather, in comparatively recent years—there have been long delays in the adaptation of someone's house, or the decision on the need for a particular type of wheelchair, while therapists are called in and assessments are passed through social services. People may have to go some distance to the place where wheelchairs are tried out. That can cost money and can make life difficult.

I know that we shall have the opportunity to discuss this another day, but there is also the question whether we can increasingly provide, as of right, powered rather than manual wheelchairs, instead of having to rely on charitable organisations and others to provide them. Progress on all those matters would help. We can begin to look at the needs, and hence the rights.

As one walks about, one becomes aware of people's right not to be obstructed in the street. There may be a problem with the legal standing of the parking space outside someone's home—all too often, such spaces are advisory and not legally binding, so that disabled people cannot park outside their homes. Obstructions may be caused by thoughtless, rather than malicious, people parking their vehicles on pavements. Visually handicapped people may trip over such obstacles—or, indeed, over pavement furniture. People may, without realising it, park across pavement ramps, so that people in wheelchairs who have been out shopping cannot get back on to the pavement in order to get back into their homes. There may be a problem of people parking on bus stops so that the buses cannot park flush to the pavements for people to get on to them.

We may need to encourage the right to more types of public transport, especially buses. In the previous debate, I referred to Omni buses—which was reported as omnibuses, which was not what I had in mind. Such buses kneel down so that wheelchairs can get on board. Such services could be improved and I hope that the Bill will help in that. I hope that the Bill will also help with the rights to a reliable service from taxicard users. There are also the rights for dial-a-ride users to have a bigger say in the service provided by that organisation.

The Bill rightly concentrates on employment and then on the provision of services. The definition of a qualified person with a disability in both parts of the Bill is good and worthy of consideration.

The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe talked about quotas. I have previously advocated the stricter enforcement of quotas. Since then, I have talked to more people who have said, "Be careful. Don't forget that an awful lot of people with a disability do not want to be labelled as such and may not come forward to claim their place in the queue for the quotas." Quotas may not be the whole answer, although I am sure that they are part of it.

Access to employment in every sense is important, whether it is the availability of the job or the availability of the entrance to the building where the job is. The Bill should help with that. The Bill will also help with promotion. There are too many places, including civil service Departments, in which if one has a particular type of disability, one cannot work above a certain floor because of, for example, fire regulations. The regulations should not be changed in terms of public safety, but the opportunities should be changed so that people who are promoted do not have to work above such a floor. It is a straightforward question of attitude rejigging.

Training is clearly important and we need to work with the training and enterprise council system to ensure that adequate training comes through. Above all, we need to educate the public and employers to have the patience to enable someone with a particular disability, such as a learning difficulty, to get into a job and then to establish him or herself there. All too often, patience runs out and then the job runs out for the individual.

The Bill also refers to education. One of the great desires of my life is that people should have the opportunity for education to continue throughout their lives, from the nursery through to adult education for the retired. I want more such education and I want to ensure that people with disabilities can also benefit from increasing opportunities. It is not merely a matter of the child's access to the school or of the special school for the special need. It is also a matter of thinking about the parents who want to come to support the child in school. Parents may have a disability and all too often they are excluded from coming to support their children.

I refer, merely in headings, for the need to provide opportunities in the arts. There is also the question of people with mental illness coming into the community. My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough rightly referred to carers. The rights of people with disabilities are connected to the provisions for the carers who help them. All that is important.

The Bill will go further to assist people with disabilities. Above all, it will help to educate the able-bodied and the able-minded to look after the interests to a greater extent of the people who need our help as desperately as those whom the Bill is intended to support.

1.28 pm
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

I too am very glad to support the Bill and to congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on his good fortune in coming high in the ballot and on introducing such a worthwhile Bill. As the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) mentioned, there have been several attempts over a number of years to get such legislation on to the statute book. My goodness, the time is ripe. I hope that the Minister will be more forthcoming and more positive than he has been on some television programmes recently in commenting on the Bill.

Of course we could nit-pick and find forms of words in the Bill that may require improvement, but the question is whether we are behind the principle. That principle is one that has already been enshrined in statute in respect of racial and sex discrimination. I have not heard the Minister or his colleagues advocating that we should do away with that legislation so presumably—despite the difficulties experienced in passing it—the right hon. Gentleman accepts that it has been worth while and that it is doing a good job. The same must surely be the case with the present Bill.

If there is such a thing as discrimination against disabled people—I do not think that the Minister would dissent from the assertion that there is—and if there is a problem, on what possible basis can we shy away from enacting legislation parallel to that passed to deal with racial and sex discrimination? None of us pretends that passing legislation is a panacea, but at least legislation lays down ground rules, sets standards and reminds people what a civilised society expects of them. That should be as true of disability as it is of the other issues.

All of us are aware of examples of discrimination against disabled people. The recent publication "Disabled People in Britain and Discrimination—A Case for Anti-Discrimination Legislation", funded and supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, underlines the needs. Despite legislation to encourage integrated schools, in 1989 the number of children in special schools was only marginally down on the 1977 figure—from 1.41 per cent. to 1.35 per cent. That means that relatively little progress has been made.

The work also showed that disabled people are three times more likely to be out of work and unemployed for longer periods than non-disabled people—and that is according to figures published by the Government themselves. When disabled people do find jobs, they are usually more poorly paid. Some 63 per cent. of disabled people earn less than £200 a week, compared with 35 per cent. of non-disabled people. We have heard examples today of how the benefits system itself is working against disabled people. Moreover, although we have more than 4 million people with disabilities and motor-related impairments, only some 80,000 houses have been adapted and made accessible to disabled people.

In all those areas, there are examples of discrimination. Some may not be deliberate. Some may be accidents, arising from the fact that people simply have not thought at the right time. But some—in the world of employment —may arise from a positive prejudice out of which people have not been educated. The passage of the Bill would up the argument and make employers think twice before ruling out disabled people purely on the basis of prejudice.

Last week, a good example of the existence of day-to-day discrimination came to my attention. We had a launch meeting of the excellent work undertaken by Mencap in its study of the leisure needs of profoundly and multiply disabled people. I was fortunate enough to chair that launch, and we heard speakers such as Lord Rix whom we welcome to the other place and congratulate on his role in the work for disabled people.

Three young profoundly deaf disabled people came down from Manchester for the launch. They had intended to travel down together on the train. Unfortunately, however, British Rail could accommodate only one of the wheelchairs and had facilities for only one at a time so they had to travel on three separate trains. We hear much about the Government's proposed citizens charter. But all the citizens charters in the world, and everything that we say here, will not get that sort of thing put right. We need more than that, and that is why we need the Bill.

I urge the Minister to respond positively. I urge him to say that whatever difficulties may arise with the wording, they can be dealt with in Committee and in another place. If parts of the Bill need to be redrafted, let us consider that positively and not use it as a reason for not making progress. If a general election is called before the Bill reaches the statute book and if the Minister's Government are returned, I urge him to say that they will be predisposed to finding a way to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book.

Pious hopes for good practice are not enough. It behoves us to pass legislation in this area of discrimination, as in other areas. This Bill is the opportunity and I urge the House not to let that opportunity pass.

1.34 pm
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on introducing the Bill. I am here to support the Bill today because there is a Scottish Bill on the Order Paper later. I do not apologise for that; it is my principal reason for not being in Scotland on a Friday.

I was reminded by people who were visiting Parliament to lobby on behalf of the disabled that I had spent some time in a wheelchair. I had forgotten about that because one tends to forget past difficulties. I had the misfortune to hit the ground rather hard in one of Her Majesty's flying machines. I spent some months in hospital and many months in a wheelchair as a result.

Being a Member of this place is one of the few jobs in which there is no discrimination against disability. The only requirement is to become elected. I fought the election at which I was elected to this place from a wheelchair and I became aware of the problems facing people who must go around in wheelchairs. It was most vividly demonstrated at the count when one must mount the platform at the local town hall to hear the announcement. There were no facilities to allow someone in a wheelchair to mount the platform. I had go get out of my wheelchair against the advice of the RAF doctors who had been looking after me. They had made it clear that I should not do that. However, I had to get out of my wheelchair to be in place for the count. As the count was successful, I was happy to do that. That experience clearly showed me that there are problems.

Prior to becoming a Member of Parliament I was a chief executive of a stores group. We had a definite and positive policy of employing disabled people. As everyone is aware, there is legislation requiring employers to employ a percentage of disabled people.

We had a positive policy which was largely of my initiation. However, we rarely achieved the required numbers for different reasons. We were unable to offer the kind of jobs that disabled people could do. Also, many disabled people do not wish to be registered as such. We employed people whom we knew would qualify as registered disabled which would have helped our figures and statistics. However, those people did not wish to be registered as such.

As I have said, I am in favour of the Bill. I recognise that, as with all Bills, Government and draftsmen will always tell us what is wrong with them. Having introduced several private Members' Bills of my own, I understand the difficulties. However, that does not change the principle. As an enlightened humane society, we should be considering ways of removing obstacles.

I remind the House that I was still confined to a wheelchair on the day that I arrived in the House. I understand the problems that that can present. I was back in hospital for many months after the election. When I was finally released and came to this place, I had to carry around a metal support. That presented problems as well.

Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford)

The Bill brings to mind the fact that most of the House is completely inaccessible to someone in a wheelchair. It is virtually impossible for me to employ a secretary, for example, who is in a wheelchair because of all the stairs in the House and the absence of wheelchair-available lifts. We should start by putting our own house in order.

Mr. Walker

My hon. Friend has saved me from making the very point to which I was leading. We should set an example, but we frequently do not, and that has been demonstrated by the way in which we employed our secretaries and various other people. One must know whether one can get a wheelchair into a lift in this building. One had to carry out considerable research to find out which lifts to use. My wife was the expert, I am pleased to say—she found out for me. There is a great need for people to be made aware of the problems.

I am a great believer in lobbying. Our democracy would fail to function if people did not lobby. However, one must be very careful when one lobbies. The other day, I was desperately trying to give television and radio performances—I think that that is the best way to describe them; others might say "appearances"—on problems relating to Scottish constitutional matters. As I was charging in and out of the building, as we all must do from time to time, I found to my horror that my way was barred by a row of wheelchairs. People were determined that I would not get in. I asked, "Don't you realise that I'm on your side and that I can be of good to you only if I am in there?" Anyone who lobbies must not assume that all Members of Parliament are necessarily hostile to their views. Also, they must recognise that Members of Parliament can express their views only if they are actually in Parliament. That was an example of mistaken lobbying, and I hope that that has been drawn to their attention.

It is always difficult to find legislative words to put into practice what is positive discrimination. There is always the possibility of discriminating against others, but that should not inhibit one from attempting to legislate. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on their distinguished record in the House and elsewhere in supporting the cause of the disabled.

1.42 pm
Mr. David Bellotti (Eastbourne)

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on choosing this subject for his Bill. It is important and long overdue. At the heart of trying to get rid of discrimination in society lies the desire of the majority of us, if not all hon. Members, to achieve equal opportunity for every member of society. I shall limit my comments to two or three minutes, because we need to come to a conclusion on the discussion.

It is shame on the Government that they have not seen fit to implement sections 1, 2 and 3 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986, which would have given representation and opportunities for advocacy to all disabled people. It is to the shame and discredit of the Government that they have not taken a firmer line with companies and local authorities that have gone no way toward the quota of 3 per cent. employment of disabled people. It is also to the shame and discredit of the Government that, in their own training programmes —for example, employment training and youth training —in the past three years we have seen successive reductions in the number of people with disabilities enjoying participation. If they doubt that-they appear to doubt it—they should look at the answers to my questions on that subject last year.

The Bill will bring about the reversal of all that the Government have sought to do, because the Government have not implemented help for disabled people for many years. They have not given the problem the priority that they should have given it.

The Bill is not just about access to buildings, although that is important. It is about access to participation in our society. It involves equal access to pensions, health care, entertainments and the whole range of services and activities which people without disability enjoy. The Bill is not just about parking vehicles; it is about full participation.

There was reference earlier to the council tax. I regret that the Government have not done more for disabled people and their carers. Government support was lacking when they had the opportunity to press the House to help those with disabilities and their carers.

The Bill is about rights; it is not about concessions or what we do for other people. It is about how we enable all people to participate fully in our society. That aim is demonstrated in the make-up of the disablement commission referred to at the back of the Bill. It is proposed that at least three quarters of the people who serve on that commission should have a disability. Only those people with a disability understand what it is like. The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe has shown that he fully understands what society needs to help disabled people play their full part.

I have not spoken for long and I hope that other hon. Members will follow that pattern to ensure that the Bill makes progress today. It is long overdue.

1.45 pm
The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott)

I shall make my intervention now, but I do not seek to bring the debate to a close as I know that other hon. Members wish to contribute. I have listened to the six right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken today.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Sir J. Farr) I say that the Local Government Finance Bill is before the House, and representatives of the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation have made representations to the Department of the Environment, which is currently considering them. We shall look forward to what emerges from that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) will understand that the assessment of the needs of disabled people and the provisions for community care from April 1993 will depend very much on individual assessments of the needs of disabled and elderly people and the production of packages of care to meet those needs.

I listened to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr Ashley), the hon. Members for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), for Eastbourne (Mr. Bellotti) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) and heard the strength of feeling on the subject. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on finding a slot to enable us to discuss the Bill today. There has been all-party support for the Bill in today's discussions and sponsorship of the Bill crosses party lines. The House has a long and splendid tradition of cross-party interest in disabled people are meeting their needs. The all-party disablement group plays a notable part in keeping up pressure on whoever holds my post. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and the staff of the all-party group for the dedicated assiduity with which they pursue the promotion of the interests of disabled people in our society. It is four and a half years since I returned from Ireland to take up my present responsibilities and it has been an immense privilege to be able to spend so much of my time and effort on behalf of disabled people. I believe that we have made progress.

There is much common ground between the parties in the House. We all know that there is still too much unjustified discrimination against disabled people. We know that that is wrong and often has a cruel impact on the quality of life of disabled people. It is also remarkably stupid, because the wealth of ability and talent that disabled people have to offer—a variety of enterprise in society—is significant, and it is a waste of those talents if they suffer unjustifiable discrimination.

I hope that I carry the whole House with me when I say that we need to reduce, if we cannot totally eliminate, such unfair discrimination, that we wish to develop approaches in society to raise awareness and educate employers and others about meeting the needs of disabled people so that we can avoid the prejudice that leads to discrimination against disabled people, and that we want disabled people to achieve the independence and integration in the whole of society that they demand and enable them to assert control over their own lives.

I have been particularly impressed by the gathering pace during the time I have had my present responsibilities and the determination of disabled people to control their own lives and no longer just quietly to accept what they are told is good for them. They are anxious to say, "This is what we want. It is your duty to give it to us." Our final aim—again, I believe that I carry the whole House with me—must be to enable those who can and wish to work to do so.

The past few years have seen considerable and fundamental improvements in the situation facing disabled people. I do not deny that a great deal remains to be done. I have noticed attitudes towards disabled people changing, as well as changes in the attitude of disabled people towards their situation. Disabled people do not just want sympathy. They do not want to be patronised or to be looked-after people or people who are told what is good for them. Nor, if my postbag is anything to go by, do they believe that any solution that is worth having to their problems will be like waving a magic wand so that all those problems are solved at once.

Nor is there by any means unanimity in the disabled community, let alone among others in society, that legislation is necessarily the right way at this time to carry that work forward. That, in essence, is the point on which the House must decide today—whether to opt for the legislative route now or, at least for a while longer, continue with the other approach, without ruling out legislation if the alternative is shown to be inadequate.

As I say, I have listened to the strength of argument in the debate and will continue to listen to further contributions. I remain unrepentantly and benevolently neutral in my attitude and, if the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent South calls that sitting on the fence, then in essence it probably is, for there are arguments both ways.

I am influenced, too, to some extent by the fact of the prospective life left to this Parliament. I shall come shortly to some of the deficiencies in the drafting of the Bill. I appreciate that a good long Committee stage might sort out some of those difficulties, but somehow I doubt whether we shall have an opportunity to do that, though that is not within my control.

It will have been useful to have had this considerable in-depth discussion of the issues. I appreciate that it will come as a disappointment to many, inside and outside the House, to hear that I cannot go further today. I respect people such as Peter Large, John Wilson, Lord Rix and Lord Snowdon, all good friends of mine, who have been pressing on me the case for this legislation. I have no doubt that I may also be upsetting a young four-legged lady named Quella, who I understand may also be present during the debate.

I hope that in reaching a decision, the House will be prepared to bear in mind a number of factors outside those put forward by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and others in the debate. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman, Peter Mitchell and others who have worked on the Bill. I recognise that any faults it has might be suitable for amendment in Committee, but I put two points now to the right hon. Gentleman, because, if I am right in my assessment of the situation, this will not be the last time that the House discusses these matters.

First, I am surprised that the county court is envisaged as the appropriate forum for employment matters. I should have thought that such work would be more useful for an industrial tribunal to undertake, rather than a county court. Even if we involved a court, I am not sure that the county court would be the right place. The powers of the High Court to grant remedies are more powerful than those of county courts. I hope that that matter can be taken into account.

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I took a close interest in both the race relations and sex discrimination legislation when they went through the House. It strikes me that in his Bill the requirement on an alleged discriminator to show that a requirement is reasonable is a less stringent test than that which exists in the sex and race discrimination legislation, where it must be shown to be justifiable. The right hon. Gentleman will be well aware that recent case law shows a strict interpretation of that justifiable requirement.

Mr. Alfred Morris

May I emphasise that we are open to all suggestions for improving the Bill? The essential point is that disabled people should have legal recourse if they are unfairly or unjustifiably discriminated against. It is that principle which is important.

Mr. Scott

I understand that. If we eventually decide to follow the legislative route, I am anxious not to create a bean feast for lawyers or a legal nightmare—the two are probably one and the same—but to ensure that the legislation is clear and easily understood.

It is often thought that Britain compares unfavourably with other European Community member states, countries across the Atlantic and elsewhere in its treatment of disabled people. In recent months I have visited France more than once and Germany. I am impressed by some steps taken there, but, generally, I have the impression that they are envious of many of our provisions for disabled people, not least for them to live independently. Although we can learn lessons from Scandinavian countries, Germany, France and, no doubt, the United States to improve our provision, I am certainly not convinced that we are lagging behind them in terms of general provision for disabled people.

Last November when I addressed the first meeting of Council of Europe Ministers for Disabled People and listened to the speeches in Paris, it was clear that our European partners were envious of much of our provision. Sweden, although not an EC country, is often mentioned in this regard. It is interesting that even before the change of Government, Sweden had chosen not antidiscrimination legislation, but to tackle the problems as we have been trying to do: by identifying particular problems facing disabled people and finding the resources to overcome them. For example, Sweden talks about the accessibility of transport to disabled people. The approach there is to provide special transport, not to integrate them into the provision of transport across the board.

It is acknowledged that it is early days for the Americans with Disability Act. The President made a proud declaration when he signed the Bill. I well understand that and I do not underestimate the importance of declaratory legislation in changing attitudes. Certainly I have that factor in mind in considering an approach to this Bill and, no doubt, subsequent initiatives in this area. The employment provisions of that legislation do not come into effect until July. Another reason for postponing a decision today is to see how those provisions work in the United States before coming to a clear conclusion about them. What is clear is that the federal Government of the United States are putting no federal resources towards implementing their Act. America has a much more litigious society than Britain, so perhaps the federal Government will take other action to ensure that the Act is implemented in due course.

The right hon. Gentleman said that we were behind a number of other countries in our anti-discriminatory legislation. I accept that we have not introduced legislation similar to that in several other countries, but I do not believe that we are behind in our overall provision for disabled people. We have a good record on what I would call—although not in any derogatory sense—piecemeal legislation for disabled people in our society. The most recent improvement in the building regulations has been a big step in ensuring that people with wheelchairs or sensory impairments have access to public buildings. We have also introduced legislation dealing with transport, community care, education and social security benefits, and we have greatly encouraged employers to move forward in this important area.

As the Government take action in those separate areas, they combine to raise awareness in the community about the issues of disability. There will be a particular opportunity to do that in the coming weeks when we launch the two new disability benefits—the disability living allowance and the disability working allowance. The widespread advertising campaigns in the press, on television and through the BBC select system will inevitably raise awareness of the needs of disabled people, not just among the disabled community, but in society in general. That will be a tremendous impetus to our progress in meeting the needs of the disabled.

I do not want to spend a great deal of time talking about the two new benefits, but those concerned with disability issues have welcomed a number of their features—not least the move away from medical examination to self-assessment. The widespread promotion of the new benefits and the introduction of the benefits inquiry line, and so on, have also been welcomed. The two new benefits are in addition to the steady incremental progress that has been made over the past 10 years in meeting the needs of disabled people through the benefits system.

Other initiatives, such as the national provision of a telephone exchange for the deaf, have made significant improvements for the deaf and the hard of hearing in the community. On employment, there are training and special schemes, such as sheltered employment and sheltered placements, which also make a significant contribution towards enabling disabled people to get into employment. The new disability symbol, which was adopted by the Department of Employment in 1990, and is now increasingly used by employers as a sign of their commitment to meeting the employment needs of disabled people, is another step in the right direction.

I mentioned building regulations, which currently apply to commercial and public buildings. I am delighted to note that my colleagues in the Department of Employment have announced their intention to consider the accessibility of domestic buildings. In my view—and it is a personal, not a Government, view at the moment—we should ensure that all new houses are built so that they are properly accessible to disabled people. That would be a minimal cost compared with the cost of adaptation at some later stage.

We have a long way to go with transport—buses, trains and tubes. However, anyone who considers the matter fairly and with an open mind will recognise that we are making substantial progress. Taxis in London are becoming more accessible—4,000 are wheelchair acces-sible—and another 60 local authorities are following London's lead in insisting that all new taxis are wheelchair accessible.

It is easy to understate our progress in a number of different areas People may complain that we have progressed on a piecemeal basis rather than waving a magic wand and imagining that everything would be all right when certain legislation reached the statute book—

Mr. Ashley

I am surprised at the line that the Minister is taking. Why cannot such progress be an addition to, rather than a substitute for, the granting of new legislative rights for disabled people?

Mr. Scott

I tried to explain that earlier, when I mentioned the doubts that are felt. There is a lack of unanimity within the disabled community, as well as outside. I was struck by the latest initiative launched the other night by the Employers Forum on Disability, in the presence of the Prime Minister. A number of employers start out with the utmost good will, firmly committed to employing disabled people, but the forum seemed to feel —employers representing more than I million people were present—that legislating was not the best way in which to encourage their employment. I do not wish to rule out legislation, but I feel that, for the time being, it is best simply to continue to encourage, educate and increase awareness.

Mr. Arbuthnot

My right hon. Friend mentioned taxis. Many taxi drivers live in my constituency, and they consider the cost of the new taxis—over £20,000—prohibitive. A couple of days ago, a newspaper report suggested that the new taxis might no longer be required. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern about the matter?

Mr. Scott

I am responsible for disabled people rather than taxi drivers. I was delighted to learn that, in London and 60 other areas, all new taxis must be wheelchair-accessible, and that London Regional Transport is considering the introduction of "low-level entry" buses. I did not know that taxi drivers were worried, but I put the interests of disabled people first, and I am very pleased with the progress that has been made.

Further progress is in sight: attitudes are changing. The other night, the employers' forum presented a 10-point plan. I shall not go into the details, but I urge hon. Members to read the agenda carefully. It could give a substantial boost to the employment of disabled people.

Companies that sign up for the plan will commit themselves to making the employment of disabled people an integral part of all their equal opportunities policies and practices. The agenda mentions the need to target recruiting staff, and to ensure that they are aware of the potential of disabled people and can bring that knowledge to bear on the selection process. Companies must see that, once employed, disabled people are not simply forgotten, but are considered for promotion; they must ensure that those who become disabled when already working for a company are not dismissed, but are given the proper training and rehabilitation to enable them to return to work. Companies must recognise and respond to disabled people—not just as employees, but as customers, suppliers, shareholders and members of the community as a whole.

The Bill is an important step in the right direction. The House, rightly, is giving careful consideration to its principles within the limited time that is available. I hope that it will help to view the Bill in the context of some of what I have said today. There is no difference of opinion in the House about the ends that we seek: the integration of disabled people, their independence and their participation in a range of activities, including employment, the securing of proper housing, recreation and sport. Above all, we want them to have control over their own lives.

Where we differ is whether we should proceed with the Bill or give the voluntary approach a further chance to prove that it can work. It is a fine balance, but I just favour the second approach. We want to encourage education and to raise awareness. I understand that some will be disappointed about that. In the longer term, I do not rule out a return to the legislative approach if the approach that I am commending to the House does not work.

Finally, may I say with all possible passion that disabled people are not a race apart from the rest of society. They are of us and we are of them, and we owe them a duty to ensure that unfair discrimination is reduced and eventually, we hope, eliminated. Our common humanity, whether we are able or disabled, should transcend the differences between us.

I say to people who are still blinkered to the potential contribution of disabled people to our society, "Recognise and utilise that potential on behalf of your enterprises, whatever they may be."

I should prefer to achieve the ends of the Bill by such awareness, enlightenment and what I call enlightened self-interest. If that is not possible, no doubt a future Parliament will wish to return to the matter again.

2.10 pm
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South)

Labour Members believe that the voluntary approach has been tried and found wanting. We believe that the time has come for legislation. We warmly welcome the Bill and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and the sponsors of the Bill on its introduction.

The "benevolent neutrality" of the Government amounts to the kiss of death. The Minister's speech has been the kiss of Caiaphas. It is not good enough to say that the Bill is welcome and at the same time indicate, by everything that is said and done in the Chamber, an intention to talk it out.

I shall be brief so that we can hear the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) and for Langbaurgh (Dr. Kumar), who, in their short time in the House, have championed the cause of disabled people here and in their constituencies.

It is right to support a Bill that enables and empowers those who suffer from disabilities. We believe—I am happy to give the weight of the Opposition Front Bench to the proposition—that those who suffer from disability and who experience handicap have an enormous contribution to make to the wealth and welfare of our country. We want to see the Bill on the statute book because it will break some of the chains that inhibit them from doing so—chains which are not of their making but which all too often result from our—able-bodied people's—attitudes and lack of experience of disability or handicap.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) said, we have a responsibility to recognise that the winds of change are blowing through this country. It is important to ensure that we open the House to that call for change. Disabled people have found that the voluntary approach is not working. All the disabled people who came to the House to lobby us told us that enough is enough and that they want us to act now. Labour will act. We expect the Government to give the Bill a fair wind. If they do not, we shall do so when we take office after the next election.

2.13 pm
Mr. John Browne (Winchester)

I rise briefly to congratulate the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on introducing the Bill. It is a good measure to bring before the House. I believe that it should be explored in Committee, where its disadvantages can be put more forcefully by the Government.

I am president of the Winchester group for the disabled. Not long ago, we had an awareness day when we had a fleet of wheelchairs and a circuit around Winchester. Any member of the public could sit in a wheelchair half way around the circuit and then change over and push. That exercise brought vividly to people's attention the fact that major physical obstacles still exist in terms of mobility even around a city as small as Winchester.

Clearly, there is a lot to be done. Much has been done but there is still much to do. The big question is whether we should legislate. On balance I agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. There is a great danger that legislation will create a discrimination which does not exist now—people may be more unwilling to take on invalided people.

In a village in a former part of my constituency—before the boundaries were changed—a firm employed a staff comprising 50 per cent. disabled people. Of course, it was run on a voluntary basis or, at least, its top management was. It ran into the problem of being a one-product company and during the big retrenchments of 1980, it very nearly went out of business because of an over concentration upon the subject of disablement. I have to thank the Government and especially the Ministry of Defence for keeping it in business.

If we were to legislate we could create risks which would work against the employment interests of disabled and severely disabled people. I believe that the Government have got it right, but I shall vote for the Bill to reach its Committee stage so that it can be examined further.

2.15 pm
Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

I have come prepared with much to say because I feel passionately about the issue of disability. However, I am beginning to get suspicious about what is happening. The Bill is about the dignity of disabled people—"dignity" is the most important word. If what I suspect is happening is in fact happening, it is not very dignified. I shall not waste the House's time.

That we should get the Bill to its next stage is far more important than anything that I have to say, but I tell Conservative hon. Members that if this Bill is important, this should be its day. If this is not its day, its day will come.

2.16 pm
Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)

I understand some of the comments that have been made about the need for legislation, but, like the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), I do not share the view that it is needed at this stage. Comments have been made about changes in legislation but also about changes in attitude.

I first came to the House in 1983 and soon afterwards I raised the question of lift operators in the House. I received a very condescending letter which said that the House had to continue to employ lift operators because it had to employ a reasonable number of disabled people. That letter displayed the attitude of people in this House—that such jobs were acceptable for disabled people. I do not and did not take that view. I almost went through the roof at that reaction.

Several hon. Members have commented on the accessibility of the House. Just over a year ago, I sponsored an HTV function for a telethon for severely handicapped people. The difficulties that we faced in getting individuals into and around the House were enormous, but we received the co-operation of all the staff. Every group—security staff, police, the Clerks, administrators and the cafeteria staff—went out of their way to provide us with assistance. However, having said that, I do not believe that we have made anywhere near as much progress as we should have in changing the attitudes within the House itself.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) said that when he first came to the House he was in a wheelchair. I do not know whether other hon. Members—

Several Hon. Members

indicated assent.

Mr. Hayward

I see that a number of hon. Members are noding and saying that some previously had wheelchairs. The general facilities for wheelchairs, blind people and so on in this building are appalling. An example has been set by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and others, including the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who has shown great determination over the years, and great authority on this issue. Such people have been able to push the barriers backwards.

May I cite the sort of difficulties—

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Langbaurgh)

I know that the hon. Gentleman is knowledgeable on the subject. Will he ensure speedy progress for the Bill, and not talk it out?

Mr. Hayward

I have already clearly given my views on the Bill, as has my right hon. Friend the Minister—[Interruption.] I intend to make my comments in terms of my own personal experiences—

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is the hon. Gentleman talking the Bill out?

Mr. Hayward

I am not going to talk it out; I am going to make my views known.

Comments have also been made by my right hon. Friend the Minister and others about the general views of people outside the House, to which I should respond. Several hon. Members have said that dramatic progress has been made with regard to people's attitudes. That is true, but I still despair of the public when I see how they fill parking bays and block access to parking spaces clearly designated as reserved for the disabled.

In my constituency the parking bays reserved for the disabled, behind the shops, are regularly filled by cars without the appropriate parking sticker. Downstairs from the Chamber, in Strangers Court, how many of the cars do not have a disabled person's parking sticker? How many supermarket parking bays are filled by cars without those stickers? Those are examples of people's attitudes. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) spoke of the parking problems in his constituency, whereby access for disabled people is blocked. People are thoughtless beyond belief at times.

The Bill deals primarily with employment, but covers other areas too. As a former personnel manager, I spent a long time trying to get people to accept not only the disabled, but women and people from the ethnic minorities. I am only too conscious of the changes now taking place in people's attitudes. Many hon. Members have referred to the efforts of the Prime Minister and others to change attitudes over employment. I believe that those efforts are working. The Government regulations on Department of Employment schemes and the like make it clear that there is a requirement to acknowledge that people with disabilities face problems, and that they should be catered for in the schemes.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Although the hon. Gentleman has to make his case, is he aware that the Bill is necessary for hundreds of thousands of disabled people in Britain? The Opposition want a guarantee that he will finish his speech well before half-past two, so that the Bill will have a proper passage in the last entrails of the Government. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not talk it out. If he does, hundreds of thousands of disabled people will suffer as a result of his intransigence.

Mr. Hayward

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has just come into the Chamber, after a debate —[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bolsover and several of his hon. Friends have just walked into the Chamber. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bolsover has not been present at any point in the debate.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

He is a better attender than the hon. Gentleman is.

Mr. Hayward

Am I to be allowed to make my comments, Mr. Deputy Speaker? The hon. Member for Bolsover was not present at the start of the debate at 12.33 pm.

Mr. Skinner

I am here now.

Mr. Hayward

The hon. Gentleman was not present to hear the comments of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe. He has not been present at any earlier point in the debate. He now complains that I should take the opportunity to comment on a speech in which I have a keen interest. He has continued to talk during my comments and I do not intend to give way to him. I have made clear my view in relation to the need for legislation. On a number of occasions, in the Chamber and in Committee, I have made my position clear. If the hon. Member for Bolsover does not know now, he should read the record.

The hon. Member for Bolsover should be aware that seven years ago this month, I was diagnosed as having multiple sclerosis. I am, therefore, more conscious than most hon. Members of the problems faced by disabled people. It is on the basis of that experience that I have come to the conclusion that legislation would not be appropriate at this stage. I said that earlier and I repeat it for the benefit of the hon. Member for Bolsover, who has just walked in.

Legislation is not required at this stage and I believe that not only because of my own personal experience, but because of my experience as an employer. Reference has been made to the quota system and to the green card. The green card system has not worked over decades. Exemptions have been sought and employers have found ways round it, disregarded it and abused it. It was well-intentioned legislation. I now look for a change in attitude in society as a whole which should be achieved and should continue to be pressed for without legislation. In terms of the changes, for example, in relation to transport—

Mr. Ashley

The hon. Gentleman does not accept the Bill. Will he at least sit down and give it a chance to go to Committee?

Mr. Hayward

The Minister's comments in relation to the willingness of hon. Members of all parties to continue to press for changes in terms of improved employment, access in transport and benefit provision show the appropriate avenue to pursue. There are substantial deficiencies and difficulties associated with the Bill. It is important that we debate these issues on the Floor of the House, but, as my right hon. Friend has said, there are difficulties associated with the timing. We should recognise the position in relation to the election. My right hon. Friend's comments are right. We can consider the position and change it in terms of process and pressure. There is no need at this stage to introduce legislation.

The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe said that substantial limits and difficulties were faced in defining disability.

Mr. Wigley

Tory discrimination.

Mr. Hayward

That is not—

Mr. Alfred Morris

I beg to move, That the Question be now put.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I must inform the hon. Gentleman that I cannot accept his request. Mr. Hayward.

Mr. Hayward


Hon. Members

Sit down.

Mr. Hayward

During my speech, I have accepted interventions, both sedentary and from hon. Members on their feet—in particular, from the right hon. Members for Wythenshawe and for Stoke-on-Trent, South and from the hon. Member for Bolsover. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame; sit down."] I have tried to make a series of comments—[HON. MEMBERS: "Sit down."] I have tried— It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. Debate to be resumed on Friday 21 February.

Mr. Alfred Morris

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek your guidance? Does it not detract from the reputation of the House, and is it not demeaning of this House, for us to be refused the opportunity even to make a decision in principle about this important matter, when all hon. Members present, but one, have made it quite clear that they are prepared to allow the Bill to proceed to Committee? Is it not utterly disgraceful?

Several Hon. Members

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Let me deal with one point at a time. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) has made comments, which he is perfectly entitled to do, but he has not raised a point of order for the occupant of the Chair. It is the job of the occupant of the Chair at 2.30 pm on a Friday—and on other occasions—if the debate is still proceeding, to ask what day it is to be resumed. That is the normal procedure and it is the procedure that has been followed today.

Mr. John Browne

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Given that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) won a place in the ballot and was privileged to have his Bill discussed in the House, does not it seem ridiculous that the Bill can be talked out and prevented from entering Committee? Surely, any such action should be taken in Committee or on Report, and the Bill should be allowed a further airing.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You heard the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) say in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Dr. Kumar), that he would not talk the Bill out. That was a solemn undertaking given to this House of Commons on this day. You have seen the hon. Member for Kingswood break his word, act dishonourably and destroy the Bill. Does not that require some statement from the Chair?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I remind the House that we are following the normal procedures of the House, and that it is my duty, as the occupant of the Chair, to ensure that they are carried out.

Mr. Ashley

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister has misled the House. He said clearly that his attitude to the Bill was one of benevolent neutrality, yet the Government have organised the torpedoing of a Bill that is vital to disabled people. That is shocking and disgraceful, and the Minister should apologise to the House.

Mr. Wigley

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was quite clear—unless there was a conspiracy by the Conservative Whips—that only one hon. Member sought to delay the passage of the Bill, and that hon. Gentleman said he did not want to talk the Bill out. In those circumstances, did you not have discretion to put the Question? If you did not, and if those on the Government Front Bench knew that, is not it patently clear that, throughout the morning, there has been organised filibustering to enable the Bill to be talked out and the Conservative party to go into the election as the party which wants to perpetuate discrimination against disabled people? The people of these islands understand that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the House that we cannot continue the debate now. However, I will take points of order so long as they are genuine points of order.

Mr. Arbuthnot

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Some quite unjustified slurs have been made about my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward). My hon. Friend said that he intended not to talk the Bill out, but to make his points. He was prevented from doing that by constant barracking and interruptions from Opposition Members. The longest speech in the debate was made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). His speech was longer than that of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. It was also longer than the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) when he moved his Medicinal Products: Prescription by Nurses etc. Bill. Any suggestion that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill has been talked out by Conservative Members is political posturing and nonsense.

Mr. Skinner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will recall that the Opposition spokesman, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng) spoke for a couple of minutes. The Minister spoke for about 25 minutes. Other Opposition Members spoke for only a minute or so to allow the Bill to make progress. The Liberal Democrat representative stood up, supported the Bill, and sat down. It should have crossed your mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when the request for a closure was made, that you knew that the view of the House in general was that the Bill should be given its Second Reading. It is clear that Tory Members have talked the Bill out. It has been said over the years that the Tory party is the party of organised hypocrisy and it has proved that again today by attacking disabled people around Britain. However, the electorate will have the final say.

Mr. Bill Walker

Further to that point of order. Mr. Deputy Speaker. How can Conservative Members be protected from such unwarranted charges? I promised people in wheelchairs that I would speak in the debate today and that I would support the Bill. I did just that and I find it offensive when people who did not attend the debate make such charges.

Mr. McMaster

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shortened my speech although I had much to say. I cut my speech to a minute or less to ensure the swift passage of the Bill.

In the earlier debate on the Medicinal Products: Prescription by Nurses etc. Bill I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) and asked whether he would be brief so that we could reach the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill and I received that assurance. What has happened is a disgrace to the House and to the 6.5 million disabled people, their carers and families. I can tell everyone who participated in that disgraceful behaviour that I would rather live with a disability than with their consciences.

Dr. Kumar

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Hayward) said that he would not talk the Bill out. It has been said that some Opposition Members were not present for the whole debate. I have sat through the whole debate. I listened to the hon. Member for Kingswood and I sacrificed my speech so that the Bill could make progress. No one can deny that I sat through the whole debate. I am shocked. Six and half million people have watched the conduct of this Tory Government. The Government's days are numbered.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you consult the Procedure Committee because I and, I am sure, other hon. Members came to the House especially to vote for the Bill which I believe should go into Committee? There should be a 10-minute limit on speeches in private Member's time.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that you have been placed in an invidious position this afternoon. It is not just the past two hours which have been a problem. The fact is that the previous debate was timetabled by Tory Whips to finish precisely at 12.35 pm, leaving you with only one hour and 55 minutes for the next debate. Would you do what I have just done and look at the list of speakers for the two debates? You will find that in the first debate of four hours, there were 14 speakers. In the second debate on disabled people's civil rights, in one hour and 55 minutes there were 12 speakers.

Surely, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the traditions of debate mean that you have to decide whether to accept a closure motion if there has been sufficient debate. Traditionally, that has been a minimum of two hours. However, the second debate had almost the same number of speakers as the first debate. You would be well within your rights in the Chair to reconsider your decision, and, on the basis of the second debate having had an adequate number of speakers on both sides, now to accept the motion put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and, on behalf of my constituents and 6 million disabled people at least allow this worthy Bill to be considered in Committee.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I have allowed a good run on points of order because I realise that there are strong feelings on this matter on both sides of the House. However, I can only repeat that it is the job of the Chair to carry out the Standing Orders and the procedures of the House as they are at present. That has been done. If hon. Members feel that the procedure should be changed, of course they are perfectly free to put their points to the Select Committee on Procedure, which would be prepared to consider them.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland)


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We must make progress.