HC Deb 26 February 1993 vol 219 cc1128-93 9.36 am
Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

I beg to move, That this House believes that anti-discrimination legislation is necessary to ensure equality of opportunity for people with disabilities; and calls for the early enactment of specific provisions relating to public transport and other public and private services, employment and housing. Any hon. Member who is lucky enough to come first in the ballot must then decide on his subject. For me, that presented no problem. The motion clearly demonstrates my interest in and commitment to the civil rights of disabled people. We discuss many important issues in the House many such issues are under discussion at the moment—but I feel that they do not always directly affect our constituents. Not one hon. Member can say, "Thankfully, disablement is not an issue in my constituency."

Many hon. Members of all parties have spent the whole of their parliamentary careers campaigning for the rights of the disabled. Regardless of the party to which they belong or the region of the country that they represent, they have been united in campaigning for the rights of disabled people in this country. We know who they are —many of them are present today—and I pay the warmest tribute to them, as do disabled people throughout the country.

The following early-day motions dealing with the subject stand on the Order Paper: 330, entitled "Civil Rights (Disabled Persons)"; 615, entitled "Caring Costs Campaign"; 1161, entitled "Disability Living Allowance for Children under 5"; 1317, entitled "Disabled Facilities Grant". There are many others. Those early-day motions, which have all-party sponsorship and support, clearly emphasise hon. Members' commitment to the issue. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was introduced in the other place by Baroness Lockwood. Today, in this House, the same Bill stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). All hon. Members and many people in the country know his record as a campaigner and fighter for the rights of the disabled, and I pay the warmest tribute to him.

I and, I am sure, all hon. Members, readily accept that there has been progress, with changes being made to the law and legislation introduced. All that must be welcomed, but we must never accept that we are doing enough. We are not doing enough and we never have done enough. That is why motions in my name and in the names of two other hon. Members have been tabled for debate in the House today.

In many debates we often hear about recent economic achievements. I am prepared to say that there are some people who have done well recently. How would we equate the financial progress that some people in the community have made with that which disabled people have made, be it in personal financial terms or in the development of services or facilities for the benefit of disabled people? I suggest that there is a wide gulf between those two aspects of development.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the first 10 years of the Thatcher Government the richest 1 per cent. in Britain had tax cuts of £26.2 billion? Some of that money should have gone to the disabled. Does he agree that the Government should do one thing today—at half-past two they should tell the Whips not to shout "Object" to the Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris)? In that event, we would solve not all but many of the problems of the disabled. I believe that the Government Whips should desist from shouting "Object" and stopping the Bill by almost a secret method.

Mr. Cox

I agree with the comments of my hon. Friend, especially the last part of them. I shall come to those comments later. Hon. Members will be aware of the proposals in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. I am sure that they are also aware that the Bill was fully discussed in the other place, many speeches were made and it was passed in the other place. I put it to the House that if one Chamber passes a Bill after a long and detailed discussion, surely the other Chamber—this Chamber—needs to take serious account, in its discussion, of what our parliamentary colleagues in the other Chamber have decided. I hope that we will get clear evidence that that will happen in this debate.

I have received some 600 letters from people all over the United Kingdom supporting this motion, but, above all, supporting the Bill to which I have referred. Many of the letters were sad and many were painful to read, leaving a feeling of injustice, a lack of hope and, sadly, often abuse.

I have received many letters of support from organisations which work with the disabled. I shall name a few of them because I think that a tribute should be paid to them for the work that they do not only for disabled people but equally for Members of Parliament in informing us of the issues. The organisations that have written to me include the Disability Alliance, Deaf Accord, the Greater London Association for the Disabled, the National Association for Mental Health, voluntary organisations for anti-discrimination legislation, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, the National League of the Blind and Disabled, the Spastics Society and the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People. I have received correspondence from other organisations.

The list of organisations that I have read out clearly shows the enormous interest in the debate and the Bill that is on the Order Paper today. That interest shows that the people who look after the disabled look in turn to us, as the law makers, to introduce legislation to help the disabled and their families.

I said—and I readily concede this—that progress has been made. However, it is clear from many letters that I have received that a great deal still needs to be done. In the next few moments I propose to refer to some of the comments that have been made to me.

In a letter dated 11 February 1993, the Greater London Association of Disabled People said: "GLAD—

that is the organisation— has carried out extensive research on the difficulties disabled people experience when using public transport. Our research report 'All Change' showed that in 1986 there were over 465,000 people"— we are talking solely about the Greater London area— unable to use public transport as a result of being disabled. GLAD sees this as a form of discrimination because if appropriate facilities were provided 80 per cent. of these people would be able to use buses and trains. I am sure that other hon. Members representing any part of the United Kingdom could make comments similar to those which I have made about the Greater London area. Can we say from the experiences that we have in our constituencies daily that there has been any great improvement since 1986?

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

May I, representing some of the people of Northern Ireland, encourage the hon. Gentleman to proceed down the road that he is travelling? There are more disabled people in Northern Ireland than unemployed-17.4 per cent. of the population are disabled. That is 20 per cent. higher than the figure in Great Britain. Is not it significant that it was the American Senate that gave us the lead in this matter? Will the hon. Gentleman join me in expressing hope that the Prime Minister will bring back from America good news on the matter?

Mr. Cox

The point which the hon. Gentleman makes is relevant. When the Prime Minister comes to the House next week—as one expects that he will—we hope that he will make a statement. Depending on what happens in the debate today, he may well be asked about his commitment. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) has made an important point, as he always does in such debates. I pay him the warmest tribute for his work not only in respect of disablement but for other associations in the House.

In a letter written to me dated 24 February, Deaf Accord said: Deaf people are often refused jobs because of their deafness. Such discrimination is the result of employers' ignorance as to deaf people's capabilities, but without legislation we do not believe that the situation will change … There are 4 million hearing aid wearers in the UK, but most public buildings do not have induction loops …Deaf Accord hopes very much that Parliament will respond to the overwhelming desire by deaf and disabled people to have their needs met in terms of equality of rights. Without such legislation"— this is a relevant comment from a respected organisation—

initiatives such as the Citizens Charter mean very little to millions of people. The National League of the Blind and Disabled, in a letter of 22 February said: For many years, especially since 1981, 'The International Year for Disabled People', disabled people have campaigned vigorously for the introduction of anti discrimination legislation so as to give them the same opportunities and choice as every other citizen in the United Kingdom. The British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, in a letter to me dated 19 February, referring to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, said: I cannot express to you how strongly disabled people feel about the need for this legislation. Those of us who are disabled members of society often experience open discrimination in our lives. We are particularly indebted to you in that, by giving support to the EDM"— I referred to early-day motion 330— you too are aware of this. Almost 300 Members of Parliament have signed that motion.

I have received two other letters. The first is from the Spastics Society, dated 22 February. It reads: More than 60 per cent. of disabled people between the ages of 16 and 64 are neither in work or training. (1992 `Wasted Opportunities' The Spastics Society) …Disabled people are 6 times more likely to be refused a job interview even if their qualifications and work experience are the same as a non-disabled applicant (1990 'Equal Chance or No Chance' the Spastics Society)". My last quotation is from MIND. In a letter to me dated 25 February, it said: Unjustifiable discrimination affects people with mental health problems, as well as those with visually apparent disabilities …All disabled people face discrimination when it comes to employment but with mental health problems the `disability' is always seen as relevant to the job. Education and persuasion has not worked …There are precedents for introducing civil rights legislation for disabled people all over the world. As the hon. Member for Belfast, South intimated a few moments ago, America has had such legislation since 1973. I have given just some of the many views and comments expressed to me by organisations which work day by day with disabled people in Britain.

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

I am delighted with the thoughts that the hon. Gentleman is expressing this morning. I am a slightly disabled person and I find it difficult to go down stairs without bannisters. I always look for a bannister. So I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying.

I attended a meeting recently at which the Spinal Injuries Association presented a racegoer's guide for disabled people. The man who introduced it at Sandown said, "As usual, my wheelchair tipped over getting here because there are no facilities even at Sandown." He told another story about when he went to the races at Lingfield. Because there was no facility for him to cross the railway line, he had to go to the end of the line and all the way back. So there cannot be anyone in the House who does not believe there is a need for legislation to protect disabled people.

We have legislation on race, which I think is a waste of time. We have legislation on sex, which I think is a waste of time—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

Order. The disability obviously does not extend to the tongue.

Mr. Cox

Despite the last comment, Madam Deputy Speaker, the House will accept that the points made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) are relevant to the debate. I thank him for his intervention.

Taking up the point made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, this Parliament of ours cannot hold its head with much pride. I saw disabled people coming in today. I am sure that they are now in the Strangers Gallery listening to the debate. It will not have been a very easy journey for them to the mother of Parliaments. Let us consider how long it took us to achieve improvements for entry to the Grand Committee Room where people go to attend many types of public meeting. I hope that the powers that be in the House will follow up the need to ensure that our constituents can come and see us whenever they want. We know that such a move would have all-party support.

The organisations that have written to me have said that progress has been made, which we all welcome, but we still have much more to do. My motion calls for legislation. That is undoubtedly the next step we must take. I hope that every Member will take note of one of the comments made by MIND in its letter to me. It is not my comment but that of MIND. It said: Education and persuasion has not worked. All the organisations that work for and with disabled people call for legislation. Can they all be wrong? Can any hon. Member say that, we do not need to take notice of those organisations or that they are uninformed and out of touch? No one can say that, because we know how in touch and informed those organisations are. That is why today's debate is so important, on the day when the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is on the Order Paper.

The Bill outlines what is needed—legal rights in law. My motion calls attention to the civil rights of disabled people. It says that anti-discrimination legislation is necessary. Who can object to defining disability in law, introducing a code of practice and clearly explaining what discrimination means to a disabled person? Who can object to establishing a disability commissioner to whom disabled people can present their case against the discrimination that they have experienced?

Would it be wrong for Parliament to support such proposals? Surely not when the other House of this Parliament has done so, in giving the Bill to which I have referred a Third Reading on 4 November last year. Surely the House has a duty to take note of what the other House says about legislation as crucial as that referred to in my motion. That is why my motion and the motions tabled by two other hon. Members are so important.

The views of disabled people, of the organisations that work with them and of the other House of Parliament have all been clearly expressed. I hope that we will start the final stage of a process that millions of people want.

On 17 February this year, The Sun newspaper said: We don't want sympathy—just equal rights…Disabled people have enough problems to overcome without being treated as second-class citizens. The Sun is often referred to in this House and it often touches the pulse of public opinion. It certainly did so on that occasion, and I thank the newspaper for its total support in the campaigns on which it has embarked in support of rights for the disabled.

The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People knows a great deal about the subject, and we have known each other a long time; I have the greatest respect for him as a Minister. He knows that millions of people will follow this debate and he knows what they are expecting. I beg him not to ignore their views. The Government can win overwhelming support in the House and in the country by supporting the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, sponsored by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe, so that it gets a Second Reading and goes into Committee, following identical progress made in another place. That is the test for the House, for the Minister and for the Government.

I beg the Minister not to destroy the opportunity to demonstrate the Government's commitment—as hundreds of Members have shown their commitment—to the rights and dignity of disabled people who live in our communities.

10.1 am

Sir John Hannam (Exeter)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on promoting this extremely valuable debate and on his excellent speech, which covered the main issues in the campaign for anti-discrimination legislation, which I totally support.

When President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, he said: Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down. That Act gave civil rights protection to disabled people in the United States, yet for far too many of the 6–5 million disabled people in the United Kingdom that wall of exclusion remains as formidable as ever, despite the Government's excellent record in improving financial support for disabled people. All hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Tooting, recognise the progress that has been made.

Since I first became involved in the all-party disablement group in 1970, the range of allowances and help for disabled people has increased dramatically and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the dedication of his work while holding his present office. It would perhaps embarrass him if I were to dare to think that he would like to support anti-discrimination legislation today, but, like many of his predecessors in that office, he has had to move a step at a time within the limitations laid down by the Treasury, which always perceives potential spending explosions in the removal of barriers to employment, education, transport and access to buildings.

I am proud to join Opposition Members and my hon. Friends in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for all that he has done, and I am sure will continue to do, to help to push back the frontiers of discrimination against disabled people.

As the House will understand when I explore some of the various sectors of provision, and as the hon. Member for Tooting so forcefully said, the barriers remain despite our efforts at exhortation and education through all the different Departments. The barriers are still as formidable as ever.

There are more than 6.5 million disabled people in Britain, which is more than 10 per cent. of our population, yet they are denied basic rights that the rest of the population take for granted. Disabled people have no right to legal redress when they experience discrimination every day of every year.

The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, sponsored by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), would make it illegal for disability to be used as a reason for denying equal treatment in employment, housing, education, leisure facilities, transport and other public and private services. It will provide redress for people who have been discriminated against simply because they are disabled.

If hon. Members doubt whether such discrimination exists, I advise them to take part in the next disability awareness day organised in their constituency. On that day one becomes for a while a disabled person in a shopping centre. One chooses to become blind, by wearing a mask for an hour or so, or to become deaf by wearing ear muffs, or to sit in a wheelchair and push oneself around and one is sent off to try to do some basic shopping, make a telephone call or cash a cheque. I can assure hon. Members that it does not take long to discover what are the barriers and how difficult it is to carry out simple, normal everyday functions.

Sometimes the barriers are accidental and sometimes they are intentional. An example of direct discrimination is when a disabled person is denied entry to a cinema or other public place simply because he or she is disabled. Indirect discrimination exists when only minor or simple adaptations to buildings or premises stand in the way of a newly disabled person retaining his or her job.

Research has shown that, despite legislation to encourage integrated education, the number of children in special schools in 1989 was hardly lower than in 1977. Since we introduced integration in education in the Education Act 1981, 15 local education authorities have increased the number of pupils placed in special schools —some by more than 25 per cent.

More than one third of disabled children under 16 and more than 80 per cent. of disabled students have to accept segregated special facilities. Less than one in five colleges of further and higher education has a policy on the admission of disabled students. The Education Bill certainly reflects the Government's desire that disability should not be a bar to access to education and I welcome the personal interest shown by Education Ministers in getting the legislative provisions in the Bill right for children with special needs. The gaps will, however, remain until the onus of responsibility is switched to the provider, with legal redress for any disabled person who is barred, for one reason or another, by unfair discrimination.

The evironment is another crucial area, as disabled people face inaccessible homes, transport, offices and services. More than 4 million disabled people have mobility-related problems and 1 per cent. of the population use wheelchairs. The National Wheelchair Housing Association has calculated that there is a shortfall of 330,000 wheelchair-accessible houses. As the hon. Member for Tooting said, we do not have to go far from the Chamber to come face to face with areas of this place that are totally inaccessible to people in wheelchairs—for example, the rooms off Westminster hall.

We need to get mobility housing moving again. The number of starts has dropped from 4,733 in 1980 to only 543 in 1989. Even if we are unable to keep up the progress with the number of wheelchair-accessible housing starts, we should aim to get all new housing built to mobility standards. The extra costs at the time of building are minimal, but the benefits provided by wider doorways and other improvements are of value not only to disabled people but to the elderly and mothers with children—in fact, everyone benefits from better ease of movement in their homes.

The same principle must apply to transport, because most buses, taxis and trains are inaccessible to disabled people. British Rail is trying to improve its services for disabled passengers, but stations and current practice still discriminate against them. Travelling in the guard's van with the baggage is more the rule than the exception for wheelchair users. Very few stations have top-class access and facilities for disabled travellers. Steps, heavy doors, inaccessible toilets and cobbled pedestrian areas in shopping centres with no vehicle access for orange badge holders all present great difficulties for routine shoppers and people trying to get to work.

Not only are many restaurants, pubs, theatres, galleries, cinemas and sports halls inaccessible to disabled people, but all can openly deny them the right to use and enjoy such facilities. It took 10 years of pressure from the all-party disablement group to allow guide dogs into the Strangers Gallery with their owners. Before the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) became a Member of the House, he always encountered difficulties when he came here to attend debates. It was following one of his visits that Lord Ashley and I visited the Gallery to find out where the obstacle lay to preventing guide dogs from entering the Gallery with their owners. We found that it was due to one attendant's fear of dogs. That was why it was impossible, for some 10 years, to get proper provision made to allow guide dogs into the Gallery.

If any hon. Member tries to get into a cinema in a wheelchair, he will soon see what happens: he will not be allowed in. Management can insist on advance notice or can limit the number of disabled visitors at any one time. Several concert halls insist that disabled people must be accompanied by a non-disabled person. Some do not allow disabled people in at all. I wonder what President Roosevelt would have had to say if he had attempted to visit one of those halls.

Disabled people face the greatest frustration when it comes to employment. They are three times as likely to be out of work as non-disabled people, they face barriers to professional or managerial positions and their earnings are approximately half the average weekly wage—approximately £100 a week compared with £220 plus a week.

Our employment legislation is baffling because it is all lip service and no teeth, with the 3 per cent. quota scheme brought in under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 basically impotent. The latest figures show that fewer than 5 per cent. of public sector organisations get anywhere near fulfilling that quota, yet the 1944 Act has been used to bring 10 prosecutions only. Dare I say it, but Government offices and Departments are probably at the bottom of the list of those who meet the quota, The Home Office quota of disabled employees is 0–4 per cent., the Department of the Environment employs the equivalent of 0–9 per cent. disabled people, and the Foreign Office employs just 0.3 per cent.

The argument has always been that anti-discrimination law is unworkable, that it will create a legal nightmare and give rise to huge extra costs. In November, that legal argument was shot out of the water by no less than the Law Society when its employment law committee produced a report, which concluded that a new law to protect people with disabilities from discrimination was needed. The lawyers call for new legislation on principles similar to those already set out in the laws prohibiting race and sex discrimination. Using their experience of existing anti-discrimination laws and considering in particular the recent Americans with Disabilities Act, the committee members concluded that legislation here could be effective.

The lawyers' principal conclusions, which are of note to us in today's debate, were, first, that existing means of solving the problems had failed and, secondly, that education and voluntary approaches designed to improve matters were insufficient on their own.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

I pay warm tribute to the hon. Gentleman for the work that he has done as joint chair of the all-party disablement group and for his work over many years for the disabled. This week I received a parliamentary answer from the Department of Employment that showed that, since 1985, no prosecution has been brought under the 1944 Act. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that central to any anti-discrimination legislation, which we all support, is the establishment of a disablement commission, because we must be able to enforce any new legislation?

Sir John Hannam

I accept that.

It is interesting to compare the changes that have been made to employment legislation for disabled people in other countries. In Germany, for example, the Government increased the employment quota to 6 per cent. and introduced financial sanctions against employers who did not reach that level. The money obtained from those sanctions was ploughed back into improving access and facilities for disabled workers in their place of employment. As a result, the Germans quickly approached a 5 per cent. quota of employment of disabled people. When one compares that with our achievements, it shows that a mixture of the carrot and stick would be the answer if we approched it with determination and vigour.

The employment law committee also concluded that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill could form a good basis for the new law that it had recommended. However, those lawyers felt that it was too significant a matter to be dealt with under the private Member's Bill procedure and that it should be dealt with by a Government Bill. When I recall what was achieved by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe when he successfully introduced the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 as a private Member's Bill, I believe that the same can be done again if necessary, if the will is there and the House and the Government are willing to accept the openings offered by the Bill.

I used to believe that the strenuous and worthy efforts of Government and Ministers to follow a path of education and exhortation with employers, architects and various other groups was the way to remove discrimination. When I look at what is happening in the world among disabled people, and when I look at the world as seen through the eyes of those people, I know in my heart that those efforts are not enough. More must be done. That is why I give my support to the campaign on behalf of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. I hope that it will go into Committee and will pass through the legislative processes of the House so that we introduce legislation similar to that introduced in America. That legislation has obviously benefited disabled people. If one goes into any office or department in the United States, one sees a far greater number of employed disabled people than one does in this country. That clearly identifies for me the success of anti-discrimination legislation, and I therefore support the campaign for it.

10.17 am
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I most warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on his choice of motion. We have been close parliamentary colleagues for 23 years and I have never known him to falter in conferring whatever luck he has had in private Member's ballots on people with genuine and pressing needs. His decision to make today's debate one about the urgent need to legislate on civil rights for Britain's 6.5 million disabled people will, I am sure, have won him respect and gratitude in all parts of the House and across the country.

My hon. Friend's motion calls for what the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, for which I am seeking a Second Reading later today, provides in full measure. So we are in total harmony. My hon. Friend's motion and my Bill fit like mortise and tenon.

I put it to the House that fully assured civil rights must now be seen as the defining principle of all enlightened policy making on disability. For without full civil rights, the handicapping effects of disability are made even harder to bear by social handicaps for which there is no moral justification. That is why today there is no more important issue for disabled people and those who work to improve their status and well-being than that of civil rights. They insist that this is not an idea whose time has come, but one whose time came when the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People—CORAD—reported to the Government in 1982.

I appointed that committee of inquiry, as the then Minister early in 1979, because of the force of the evidence put to me by disabled people and their organisations about the hurtful effects of unfair discrimination against them. By then the need to go further than education and persuasion if disabled people were to achieve full social equality was already widely accepted. CORAD's report convinced many more people by its unanswerable case for legislation.

Even so, for more than 10 years one Minister after another has refused to implement the report. Criticisms of their inaction have grown stronger, year by year, vindicated by the impact of the CORAD report abroad, where it was read more widely and with more sympathy than in Whitehall. When President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, he had the courage and intelligence to tell American employers that there are benefits as well as costs in ending unfair discrimination against disabled people. He said: 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". The American statute, which is wholly consistent with the CORAD report, and often seen as its most important product, is one of many that now give legal protection to disabled people across the world. If it is argued that the American statute will not be fully operational for some years, at least the clock has started ticking there, and the sooner we make a start here, the sooner we shall achieve full citizenship and social equality for disabled people.

As of now, the shameful wall of exclusion"— which, as the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) reminded us, is George Bush's phrase—is still as high and formidable as ever in Britain. We could have led the way, as we did in becoming the first country in the world to legislate in 1970 on access to the built environment, but instead of being a world leader we now lag far behind many other countries in terms of protecting the civil rights of disabled people. The tide, however, has turned on those who argue that law has no part to play in achieving full social equality for disabled people, and the question today is not whether British Ministers will go with the tide but whether they will be the last in the developed world to do so.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)

I support the right hon. Gentleman, as I have before. Does he accept that the tide has already turned? The Education Bill now being considered in the House contains civil rights, backed by law, for children with special education needs. The principle has been established and acknowledged. Therefore, I hope that we can progress from that in the way that the right hon. Gentleman suggests.

Mr. Morris

I accept that there has been progress and that further progress is being made. As I shall seek to explain in more detail, the organisations of and for disabled people are not, however, seeking only piecemeal reform. They want comprehensive reform. I welcome every initiative to nudge things forward for disabled people in terms of civil rights. But today we have an opportunity to achieve comprehensive reform that will help all disabled people.

One argument used by Ministers against legislative attempts to implement the CORAD report since 1982 was that they were defectively drafted. They said also that education and persuasion, rather than legislation, was still their preferred way forward. In the case of my own Bill —as the hon. Member for Exeter said, the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill—which was given a Third Reading in another place on 4 November last, the Government could not realistically argue that it was defective, so they sat on the fence. Although I suspect, like the hon. Member for Exeter that the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Scott) is a furtive supporter of the measure, the right hon. Member described his attitude as one of "benevolent neutrality", while a Government supporter, Mr. Robert Hayward, "talked out" the Bill when I first moved its Second Reading in this House on 31 January 1992. Five days later the former Member for Kingswood made a personal statement to the House in which he said: on being asked…whether I was talking out the Bill, I replied: 'I am not going to talk it out; I am going to make my views known.'—(Official Report, 31 January 1992; Vol. 202, c. 1259.] I now recognise that the effect of my words was to mislead hon. Members and that Members were entitled to assume I intended to resume my seat before 2.30 pm. I deeply regret having misled hon. Members in that way. I offer my unreserved apologies to you, Mr. Speaker, and to fellow hon. Members."—{Official Report, 5 February 1992: Vol. 203, c. 287.] Nevertheless, the Bill was blocked in this House and disabled people all over Britain felt cheated by what happened. I am of course, most grateful to my noble Friend Lady Lockwood for having introduced my Bill with skill and success in another place, where it completed all its stages and was given a Third Reading on 4 November. Now it is back in this House and there will be a further opportunity, later today, for it to receive a Second Reading.

As the Law Society says, in its valuable recent report on discrimination against disabled people in the field of employment, the Bill is wholly viable for its purpose. I want to make it clear again today, however, that the Bill's all-party supporters are entirely open to any constructive suggestions for improving its provisions. The Bill makes it illegal for employers and service providers to discriminate unfairly against disabled people. It covers all people with physical, mental and sensory disabilities, and—as the hon. Member for Exeter said—it applies to jobs, housing, education and training, leisure faciilities, transport and access to buildings.

The Bill's sponsors, when I first presented it to this House, were drawn from every party, large and small. They included the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel), the hon. Members for Exeter, for Moray (Mrs. Ewing), for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Shepherd). Their very names demonstrate that the argument now is not so much a clash between right and left, but one between right and wrong. If still further proof were needed that this is not a party issue it can be found in an admirable speech in another place on 4 November by Lord Renton, formerly Sir David Renton and the Prime Minister's predecessor as Member of Parliament for Huntingdon, when he appealed to the Government to find time in this House for the Bill. He said: "It is extraordinary"—

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I must remind the right hon. Gentleman of the tradition that there should be no such direct quotations. I am sure that he will be equal to paraphrasing the passage very nicely.

Mr. Morris

I do appreciate and accept that point, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Lord Renton said that he regarded it as extraordinary and not very creditable that there had been such opposition or nonfeasance in the past. He said that when the Bill returned to the House, the Government should at least provide time for its discussion. He also added that it would be better still if Ministers could take on the Bill themselves and make it a Government Bill. Much to their honour, other Conservative peers gave the Bill their backing, just as many Conservative Members have also given it strong and consistent support.

All Members of whatever party know from their postbags that enactment of the Bill is anxiously awaited not only by their constituents who are disabled, but by all the organisations that work with and for them. I myself have had a huge correspondence in support of the Bill, from people of all parties and of none, and I want briefly to quote some of the letters sent to me by disabled people. Peter Large, whose distinguished work for disabled people all of us acknowledge, describes the Bill as providing: the essential foundation on which campaigns of education and persuasion can be mounted and true goodwill as opposed to 'do-gooding' can 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 qualified to make these comments. I appointed him to chair CORAD in 1979 and he says now: 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. I want also to quote from a letter sent to me by Sir John Wilson, than whom very few people in any country can have given more distinguished service to blind people. A blind person himself, Sir John wrote simply: Good luck for your Bill on anti-discrimination. We'll all be rooting for you on Friday". Richard Wood, the executive director of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, who is also very highly respected for his work with and for disabled people, wrote: I cannot express how strongly we feel about the need for this legislation. He went on to say that it is not piecemeal, but comprehensive reform that disabled people want to see.

In this regard I want to recall again the words of Martin Luther King, when he dismissed piecemeal reform and reliance on education and persuasion to end racial prejudice. He said: Morality cannot be legislated but behaviour can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless". We must all insist that it is an affront to civilised values, in a country claiming to respect human rights, for a citizen with a past or present disability to suffer prejudice, exclusion and both demeaning and hurtful discrimination for no other reason than her or his disability. It is an utter disgrace that to the restrictions that disability imposes there are added the gratuitous extra handicaps that attitudinal and physical barriers create. Let no one imagine that such discrimination is a thing of the past.

Dr. Julia Schofield, a woman doctor, who has spent most of her life helping fellow blind people, was recently awarded the MBE. When she arrived at Buckingham palace for the investiture, she was ordered to leave her guide dog, Amber, outside. She said afterwards that she felt demeaned and that her day was one tinged with sadness. She said: Inflexible bureaucracy has marred this special day for me and harmed the cause of the blind". She described Amber as her "independence and confidence" and said: A guide dog isn't a pet. Mine is a valued part of my life. We need each other at all times". A young policewoman was turned away from a charity event because she is confined to a wheelchair. Ironically, she became disabled while displaying conspicuous bravery in tackling a gunman.

Look also at the blatant unfairness among employers who say that they will never shortlist disabled job applicants. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting was eminently right to place strong emphasis on the inexcusable attitude of some employers.

Wendy Lovatt, 21 years old, who was made severely deaf by meningitis after a serious road accident when she was seven, earned a brilliant degree at Manchester university. The only job she has had since graduating was a temporary one in a shop during the Christmas period. Her hearing aid enables her to use to a telephone and work normally, but again and again Wendy has been rejected by accountancy firms in favour of other applicants whose qualifications are inferior to her own.

To mention you are disabled, she tells me, makes it virtually certain that you will not even be interviewed. Is it any wonder that unemployment is three times higher among disabled than non-disabled job seekers? That statistic alone shouts the word "discrimination".

Again, who can justify the treatment of a successful candidate for a senior civilian post with a police authority who, because of her disability, but with no justification on the ground of special risk, was refused entry to its pension scheme? I speak with some experience as chairman of the managing trustees of the parliamentary contributory pension scheme.

If anyone still doubts that hurtful discrimination exists, he need look no further than a statement by the right hon. Member for Chelsea for a clear endorsement of what I am describing. He said that he had no doubt that some employers' recruitment practices discriminate unfairly against people with disabilities. The right hon. Gentleman also said: there exists too much prejudice against disabled people in this country and that leads to unjustified discrimination. The right hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) then Secretary of State for Health, told a CBI 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. Nowhere is prejudice and discrimination more deeply entrenched than in employment practices. In the queue for jobs, disabled people are the tail-enders in the longest queue in Britain today. Yet for them unemployment is a double handicap and leads to double despair. They seek not sympathy but social fairness; not the dependence of state benefits but the dignity and independence of becoming taxpayers; not expressions of compassion but practical concern for their right to become full citizens in a society about which one highly skilled disabled person wrote to me recently: It would be an exaggeration to describe my present status as that even of a second-class citizen". All of us know that the 3 per cent. quota scheme is now a dismal failure. More than three quarters of employers subject to its requirements do not meet the quota. There have been no prosecutions of defaulting employers since 1979. Large numbers of employable disabled people aged 16 to 64—perhaps as many as 1.2 million—are excluded from official unemployment statistics. Although they are very much out of work, they are hidden by the Government's figures. At present only 1 per cent. of the work force is registered as disabled; yet, according to official surveys, well over 3 per cent. are registrable.

For their part, Ministers take the same view of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 as they do of my Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. They prefer education and persuasion to legal requirements, but the more repetitively they state their view, the more tragically unemployment grows among employable disabled people. That is not, however, the clinching argument against the Government's preferred way forward. If education and persuasion alone can achieve equal opportunities for disabled people, why is the Government's own record as an employer so poor? They are huge employers and if education and persuasion are better than legal requirements, why have they neither educated nor persuaded themselves to employ more disabled people? How persuasive is the advocate who cannot persuade himself? That is the clinching argument against what has been the Government's preferred view of the way forward.

In 1991, the Department of the Environment had 0.9 per cent. of its employees who were registered as disabled; in 1989 the figure was 1 per cent. The Department of Health employed 0.7 per cent. registered disabled, the same figure as for 1989. The Home Office employed 0.4 per cent. in 1991 compared with 0.3 per cent. in 1989; and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office employed 0.3 per cent. in 1991 compared with 0.5 per cent. in 1989. With figures like that to explain, Ministers are being told, not only by disabled people but by many employers, that it is not what they say that impresses those whom they lecture about education and persuasion, but what they do. I must make it clear that my figures about the record of Government Departments came from the Cabinet Office in December.

None of the sponsors of my Bill has ever claimed that it can be a magic wand to remove all discrimination over night. We know that we cannot right the wrongs of centuries in a moment of time but we insist that attempts to educate and persuade that are not founded in fundamental rights set by law will end in failure. To succeed, any educational process requires a sound and rational base. That was one of the reasons for legislating on sex and race discrimination, and it applies with the same force now to disability. That is why the Employment Select Committee in its report on employment and disability of December 1990, commended the case for equal opportunities law to the Government. The Select Committee argued, quite rightly, that no amount of voluntary codes of good practice, or public relations exercises like the lamentable "two ticks" scheme, can be sufficient to make employers recognise the need for justified change to which they are resistant.

Practical social gains will result from enacting civil rights legislation, other than for its direct beneficiaries. The greater integration of disabled people into the mainstream of our national life—as workers, consumers and taxpayers—adds to wealth by reducing their dependence on benefits and increasing the economic contribution that they can make. This is no academic point. When the Americans with Disabilities Act was passing through Congress, the realisation of that effect secured the support of more and more of its former critics. They began to talk not only of its possible cost, but of its undoubted economic and social value.

There will no doubt be references in the House today to the costs of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill [Lords], but, of course, the Bill cannot become law without direct Government involvement in quantifying and determining its costs. What disabled people ask is why those who speak only about the costs of legislating never seem to reflect on the costs to them of leaving the law as it stands. How do commentators who preoccupy themselves with costing legislation quantify the economic loss to the country of unemployment on the present grievous scale among disabled people seeking work'? By common consent, they are among the least fortunate and most distressed of all the victims of the jobs famine.

Employers and others who now so hurtfully discriminate against disabled people argue that they are doing nothing illegal, but where does that leave young Wendy Lovatt and other disabled people who yearn for an opportunity to show that they have abilities as well as disabilities? What they say is that if the injustice they have to endure is allowed by existing law, then the law must be changed. In other words, if the law permits palpable wrong, there is manifest need for new law. Again, if piecemeal or ad hoc reform is suggested as an alternative to the Bill, disabled people will want to know how and within what time scale it will remedy the suffering that they endure. Their most earnest wish is that the House should take the further opportunity that we have today to support the Bill, and I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to accept Lord Renton's eloquent plea by giving the Bill their backing.

The Bill's passage through another place was an important milestone. Never before has a Bill to end discrimination against disabled people been approved by either House of Parliament. The Law Society's support is also most heartening, as is that of so many Conservative Members for the early-day motion sponsored so successfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Dr. Berry). Our purpose is solely and simply to secure for 6.5 million British people the rights that everyone else takes for granted.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

I have been listening to the right hon. Gentleman with great attention, interest and sympathy. Before he finishes, may I let him and the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) know, as they have both taken such a keen interest in transport for disabled people, that London Transport has come up with a new bus that is specially adapted for disabled people? I hope that it will be just right for them. I shall unveil the first next month. Let us hope that that will be a move forward for disabled people travelling in London.

Mr. Morris

I very much welcome that important initiative for disabled Londoners. I rejoice in the launch to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. Right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will, I am sure, want to send congratulations on, and all good wishes for, the success of that important initiative.

Our purpose today is simply and solely to secure for 6.5 million British people the rights that everyone else takes for granted. If the concept of citizens' rights means anything, it must mean that disabled people can now no longer be denied full social equality.

I am reminded again of that striking and very moving photograph of two baby girls, widely displayed by the Spastics Society, with the caption: One of them has cerebral palsy, the other will grow up with full human rights". That is what the motion and the Civil Rights Bill are all about.

10.47 am
Mr. Malcolm Moss (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on coming top in the ballot and on introducing such an important motion. I add to that congratulations to my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) and for Blackpool (Mr. Elletson). The latter was sitting next to me, but, when he realised that I was about to speak, went off to get a cup of coffee.

Disabled people are an enormous cohort in our society and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) said, 6 million to 7 million people are deemed to have some form of disability. That is approaching 10 per cent. of our population. No society or Government could ignore a group as large as that, with specific and identifiable needs. Some 2.5 million of that total are disabled people of working age and that represents a large problem. During the International Year for Disabled People in 1981, the BBC commissioned a Gallup survey, which showed that around one third of the population was seriously affected in one way or another, either personally or as a result of family connections with disability in some shape or form.

Today, we refocus on the problems of disabled people and more specifically on their civil rights. There have been many debates over the past few years, both in the House and in the other place, on these very topics. I noted that a private Member's motion on disabled people was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who I am delighted to see in his place this morning. I have no doubt that he will make his usual important contribution. In March 1991, an Adjournment debate on these matters was initiated by the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson). The Second Reading of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill took place in January 1992. The Bill was introduced by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshaw (Mr. Morris), who is renowned as one of the most important Members in terms of supporting the disabled.

The same Bill was introduced by Baroness Lockwood in the other place in February 1992. It fell because of the general election, but it was reintroduced and obtained its Second Reading in June that year. The Bill now stands on today's Order Paper. Our attention was drawn to that fact by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who made his usual sort of intervention, got his usual sound bite on the record and then disappeared for his coffee.

It is not only the involvement of Members in the problems of disabled people that is important. The interest that is shown by Members is clear from the good attendance in the Chamber this morning. We should be very much concerned, however, with the aspirations of disabled people. They wish to lead as normal a life as possible. Naturally, they want a fulfilled life. They want to live independently. They hate being labelled as disabled or handicapped because that denotes some sort of inferiority or second-rateness. They wish to be free to choose what they want. They do not wish to be dictated to by Members, by the Government or by public authorities on what is best for them.

Disabled people want the right to a job. They want to be allowed to undertake productive work that gives them fulfilment and yields a tangible result. They reject sympathy and condescension. They certainly resent being patronised. They need the dignity that we enjoy from our employment and our lives and they wish to achieve it by determining their own destiny.

Those are tall orders and they present a great challenge to both disabled people and society as a whole. My experience with disabled people began about 10 years ago when I was mayor of a small town in my constituency, Wisbech, and I was introduced for the first time to the voluntary sector. It was a revelation. I pay tribute to the many thousands, if not millions, of people who day by day devote their time and energy to the disabled. It is sad that many people do not realise how much work goes on behind the scenes. So much work is unrecognised, but tremendous help is being given to make the lives of the disabled people more acceptable.

I pay tribute to the many organisations in my constituency that are engaged in helping the disabled, including the Fenland Association for Community Transport, the local physically handicapped and able bodied enterprise, the St. Raphael club, the talking newsletter, the Alzheimer's Disease Society and many others.

Later, having been mayor of Wisbech, I became the chairman of the local social services committee of Cambridgeshire county council. I was introduced for the first time to the public sector involvement in caring for disabled people and in providing social services across the board. The local committee was an extremely useful organisation because it regularly brought together the public, the private and the voluntary sectors. That process involved carers and the cared for, including disabled people. It gave them a say in the range and quality of the services on offer. There were regular inspections of establishments and the committee received reports. I found it a vital liaison between the providers and their customers. I advocate that sort of local organisation as a model of best practice and I have no doubt that it has been adopted elsewhere. In Cambridgeshire, I found it an extremely important experience.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which was introduced by the right hon. Member for Wythenshaw, has been extremely important. My own experience brought this home to me when, about two years ago, a wheelchair-bound young lady, Miss Helen Brown, who resides at the Octavia health centre at Wisbech, wrote to tell me that she found it extremely difficult to get into the town centre to do her shopping and other normal things. She challenged me to push her into town and back. I take note of the recommendation of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter that when we next have a disability awareness day we should become involved. I had my experience of involvement, as I have said, two years ago.

Most carers are probably women and probably most of them weigh about 10 stone. Most wheelchairs seem never to go in the direction in which one wishes to send them. I am no 10-stone weakling but a 14-stone—overweightex—rugby player. Even so, I found it extremely difficult to negotiate the footpaths into town from the Octavia health centre. As a result of that experience and the determination of the wheelchair-bound young lady, we caused the council to make the necessary changes en route so that in future those being pushed in wheelchairs would not have negotiate a nasty pavement edge every few hundred yards.

My experience brought to light the problems that arise with pedestrianisation. Most of us welcome the process of releasing our town centres to the pedestrian so that he or she can shop properly, but it causes immense problems for disabled people, especially those who need to get their cars close to a shop and those who rely on wheelchairs. There are several problems in my constituency in this regard. It is important that local authorities, especially planning authorities, take into account the needs of the disabled when they are considering pedestrianisation. There are far more people who need to get close to shops than is generally recognised.

It is clear from our personal experiences and our postbags that there are disadvantages for disabled people in almost every area of daily life. They are to be found in housing, education and training, transport and employment. The disabled experience difficulty in gaining access to buildings as well as to leisure and arts facilities and public services. The hon. Member for Tooting said that the consequences of the problems faced by disabled people embrace every Member of this place and that is true. Not a week passes without our receiving correspondence on the matter.

What is the Government's record? Have they responded to the problems? Since 1979, total spending on benefits, both for disabled people and those who care for them, has increased from £3 billion to about £15 billion in the last financial year. That is an increase of about £9.9 billion, or 300 per cent. in real terms. It would be churlish to suggest that that is not a commendable record. Next year, an extra £300 million will be made available. There will be two new benefits—the disability living allowance and the disability working allowance. The DLA will give extra help for the first time to about 250,000 less severely disabled people. Some problems have arisen, as we all know from our postbags, because of the volume of the claims that are being made. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister has taken this problem on board. We now have a special streamlined service to ensure that claims are processed as quickly as possible.

The Government have an influence on employment, leisure and living in the community. There has been talk this morning about the 3 per cent. quota for employers. Many people think that the system is extremely flawed. It deals only with the recruitment of disabled people. In other words, it does not promote effective employment policies. It also depends on people registering as disabled, which in many cases conflicts with their self-image. They would not prefer to see themselves as individuals, not as some kind of stereotype.

Many people would agree with the Public Accounts Committee's comment that the quota scheme is "ineffective, outdated and unenforceable". The problem is that, although it is imperfect, to abolish it would probably weaken the position of the disabled by sending the wrong signals to employers. I urge the House and the Government to examine every alternative before that legislation is thrown out or replaced.

Over the years, the Employment Service has been tasked with examining more carefully the needs of the disabled and I am pleased to report that it is now exceeding its target of placing disabled people in jobs. All Employment Service training schemes and others to help people back into work are available to the disabled. Financial help is available to employers to help with special difficulties and applications under that heading are increasing all the time.

As to leisure, the two main considerations are access to arts facilities—particularly theatres—and sports. In the Second Reading debate on 15 June 1992, Lord Rix spoke of the problems of access to London theatres and arts functions generally. The ADAPT fund, started in 1989 and run jointly by the Government and the Carnegie Trust, provides resources to help arts establishments, including theatres, to make their premises more accessible to those with disabilities. Although that fund exists, an enormous amount of work remains to be done in London theatres alone.

In 1991–92, the Sports Council spent £1 million promoting sport for people with disabilities—money extremely well spent. That was brought home to me when I watched the paralympics last year, which were a revelation in more ways than one. I refer not only to the standards achieved by the disabled people, but the tremendous joy of fulfilment that the participants experienced from participating in sport at that high level. That was an example to us all of what can be done with determination and with facilities provided through Government funding. That event was massively helpful in bridging the perceived gap between the disabled and their needs and the general public. The more money that can go into sport and be used to involve the disabled in that mainstream human activity, the better.

As to living in the community, the Community Care (Residential Accommodation) Act 1992 comes into effect in April. The total community care transition grant for the next financial year will be ring-fenced at £565 million—an enormous sum. There was lengthy debate in the Chamber about whether the fund should be ring-fenced and I am delighted that the Government ultimately saw fit to ensure that.

The independent living fund will be replaced by two successor bodies. One will maintain cash payments to all existing beneficiaries and the other, for those aged 16 to 65, will help the most severely disabled to live independently in the community. That arrangement will provide services at the same cost of residential home or nursery home care and councils have been allocated an extra £26 million for that purpose.

The motion in the name of the hon. Member for Tooting and the Bill both relate to discrimination, which is difficult to define because no relevant legislation or monitoring body exists. There is certainly evidence of disadvantage, to which I have already alluded. There are two types of discrimination. Evidence of the positive form is, unfortunately, mainly anecdotal, but obviously there is and will continue to be discrimination—particularly against those seeking employment. Passive discrimination can be the unthinking actions that we all take without giving any consideration to the needs of the disabled. Because we do not give them enough thought, we effectively bar them from participating or using facilities. I have in mind access to buildings, transport and educational facilities.

The Bill deals not only with those matters but homes in on anti-discrimination employment legislation. A plus point is that any such measure would send a positive message to employers. The problem is that disability can be relevant to job performance and it could be problematical to a prospective employer, who needs to fit the talents of the interviewee with the job, to bear in mind any legislation pertaining to the disabled.

Such legislation is also difficult to draft, because the definition is so uncertain. If uncertainty exists, employers may be more reluctant to hire disabled people and the relationships that we have tried to foster between employers and the disabled over the years could be damaged—and produce a result contrary to that which we envisaged.

The commission that would have to be established would be expensive. The Equal Opportunities Commission established in 1990 cost £4.6 million and it is expected that a commission to protect the civil rights of the disabled would cost more.

I am sure that most right hon. and hon. Members present in the Chamber are extremely supportive of the purpose behind both the motion and the Bill that was originally introduced by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe. The nub of the question is whether we go for gradual and piecemeal reform, much of which has already been achieved, as against comprehensive and overarching legislation. Although I sympathise with the Bill's sentiments, it has serious and wide-ranging cost implications for employers, the transport industry and the construction and property industries. For example, the cost of installing a lift in an underground station would be £750,000. If one replicated that expense across the whole London Underground network, the capital cost would be in the region of £500 million. Perhaps the Bill seeks to achieve too much at a single stroke. It has experienced difficulty up to now in that regard and we will have to wait until my hon. Friend the Minister speaks before we know whether attitudes have changed in respect of attracting Treasury support.

Mr. Bowis

I would not want the House to be confused. My hon. Friend is right that costs will be incurred in adapting underground stations for use by the disabled. We must weigh up that cost, but I hope that we will accept it as right, proper and necessary. That is why those of us who represent London constituencies constantly press London Underground and British Rail to do more. As to employment, I trust that my hon. Friend does not believe that the Bill would do anything absurd. It aims to ensure that, other things being equal—a phrase used time and again when the Bill last came before us—there should be no discrimination against a person simply on the ground of his disability.

Mr. Moss

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and entirely agree with his remarks. I certainly did not misunderstand that point. The problem is that it would be extremely difficult to make that case hold in law, were the Bill to get on to the statute book.

11.9 am

Ms. Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

I express my support and that of my party for the motion and for the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. I thank the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) for enabling us to debate this important issue; it is only a pity that we are not debating the Second Reading of the Bill.

The first attempt to improve the position of people with disabilities in this country was made in 1968. Unfortunately, it was unsuccessful, but it led to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which gave local authorities various functions to assist disabled people and made particular reference to transport and access to buildings.

More than 20 years later, many people with disabilities still have great difficulty in gaining access to all buildings. The one that we are in at the moment is a prime example which has already been given by many hon. Members. Some 63 per cent. of disabled people in London rely on public transport, but can often use the services provided only with much difficulty. A further 29 per cent. are unable to use public transport. People with disabilities need the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. More than that, they have the right to expect their Parliament to respond to their demands and enshrine their rights in law.

My party would go beyond that and would say that all British people should have their rights enshrined in a Bill of Rights. We are talking not about an insignificant but vocal minority of the population who are clamouring for special treatment, but about a large section of the population who should be heard and, even more important, listened to.

A Gallup poll published during the International Year of Disabled People in 1981 showed that 29 per cent. of the population were affected by disability, either directly or by family ties. The precise number of people with disabilities in this country is hard to determine accurately, but it is thought to be about 6.5 million. The Royal National Institute for the Deaf estimates that about 7.5 million people have some form of hearing loss. That is not an insiginficant minority. Furthermore, it is clear that those people are not asking for special treatment but are demanding the same rights as the rest of us enjoy. For example, a survey in the south-east showed that 40 per cent. of employers thought that disabled people were unsuitable for employment. This is clearly unacceptable and a law must be introduced to protect disabled people's rights.

The response that is often made is that legislation will not change people's attitudes. My reply is that surely some things in society are unacceptable and hon. Members should say so. One of those things is discrimination in any form, but in particular against people with disabilities. I grew up in a home for people with disabilities which was run by my mother and encountered discrimination daily. One of my best friends was four or five years older than me. She and I used to go all over the place together and people spoke to me but never to her. That was one form of discrimination. If we had a civil rights or anti-discrimination Bill, it would at least give a signal to the country that people with disabilities are human beings and have the same rights as everybody else. That was one of the things that inspired me to go into politics.

Enshrining those rights in law will help people to think about the issue of disability and discrimination. Many members of the public and employers may be unaware of the level of discrimination that is experienced by people with disabilities. Many points that may seem obvious to us taking part in this debate may not be thought about by other people. An example of that was access to polling stations at the general election. I am sure that no one intended to prevent people with disabilities from voting, but none the less it was reported that only 12 per cent. of polling stations at the last election were accessible to all and as a consequence some disabled people were unable to vote. I hope that that will be considered before the local elections in May.

Mr. McMaster

The Government provide a 50 per cent. grant to make polling stations accessible by providing temporary ramps. Why not offer the option of a permanent ramp, if that is more suitable, thereby giving schools, churches and many other community buildings permanent access?

Ms. Lynne

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That is exactly the point that I was trying to make. It is a disgrace that buildings are not accessible on a regular basis so that people have a right to use them and do not have to say, "I have a disabled person with me. May we have a ramp?" Again, that discriminates against disabled people.

Another fine example comes from the Government. The Railways Bill makes no provision for groups representing people with disabilities. Most notably, the disabled persons transport advisory committee was not properly consulted about the services that were to be provided. If education and exhortation are so effective, why have they not reached the Department of Transport?

The case for a comprehensive civil rights Bill for people with disabilities is overwhelming. No doubt hon. Members will have received much briefing material on this issue and many will have seen some of the statistics, which highlight why the Bill is so important. As the hon. Member for Tooting and many others have said, there continues to be massive employment discrimination against people with disabilities. They are six times more likely to be refused a job interview and two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than the overall population. No doubt, discrimination in employment is a major reason why two thirds of people with disability live below the poverty line.

Why has there been an almost 100 per cent. increase in homelessness among physically disabled people? We should not think of all disabled people as having mobility problems or being in a wheelchair. Wheelchair users account for only 5 per cent. of disabled people. We should not assume that other people with disabilities do not meet discrimination. The Royal National Institute for the Blind has catalogued examples of discrimination, including a partially sighted person who was asked to leave a gallery when she used an magnifiying glass to view a work. A blind man was barred from a conference because he was not accompanied. A deaf and blind man was denied use of leisure facilities if he was unaccompanied. Much has to be done and the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is a significant step forward. It will give people with disabilities the confidence that they have Parliament and the law behind them in their struggle for equality.

I urge all hon. Members to support the motion and, most important, if it is carried, to allow the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill to have a formal Second Reading later this afternoon so that we may proceed with the debate in Committee.

11.18 am
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (Colchester, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on introducing this debate. The subject benefits greatly from a public airing, whatever our views on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. I endorse many of the comments made and I contribute to the debate in that spirit. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne). She, like other speakers in the debate, produced moving and sincere examples of unacceptable discrimination against disabled people. I join her in deploring those.

I am reticent about speaking in the debate. I am white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, healthy, white and male and I may be educated—although others might have a different opinion about that. All that makes me a little reticent about speaking for those who are so much less fortunate than I am, especially as I shall not take up the cry of the many and respected disability lobby groups which are pressing for general legislation in the area.

I am wary of a general legislative solution, although I do not rule it out completely. I doubt whether the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which was presented to the House for Second Reading on 31 January 1992, would have had my support, although I remain open minded.

I start from the position held by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. He said on Second Reading: 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."—[Official Report, 31 January 1992; Vol. 202, c. 1251.] The main reason for legislation is to change attitudes. Only by changing attitudes shall we achieve the non-discriminatory society that we all seek. Legislation on its own cannot create equality. We have learnt that from the introduction of non-discriminatory legislation in other areas.

Another argument against the case for legislation is the huge and disproportionate cost that may result from the implementation process. There is no way in which we can ensure that the public and private sectors allocate resources to the objectives of the Bill in the most effective way.

The costs involved in, for example, converting all public transport to satisfy the requirements of such legislation could far outweigh the benefits. It would cost about £500 million to put lifts into every tube station in London and that money could be used to provide free transport by taxi for disabled people in London. That might be a better use of resources and the remaining money could be used elsewhere.

There is a danger that general legislation will simply create an orgy for the lawyers, no doubt funded by the already burgeoning legal aid bill. I became more wary when my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) drew attention to the fact that the Law Society was in favour of non-discrimination legislation. To paraphrase the words of Mandy Rice-Davies, "It would say that, wouldn't it?" The lawyers are the people likely to benefit financially from all the litigation that would be likely to ensue. I remain open minded on the subject, but I am doubtful about the efficiency of such legislation.

The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill would also impose an additional burden on business through the proposed regulations. I had the privilege and luck to present my own private Member's motion on small businesses earlier this Session. One of our great concerns is that small, medium and large businesses increasingly bear the huge cost of legislation that has laudable aims, but which imposes costs of implementation that run far beyond the benefit.

I give the example of nursery schools. We introduced regulations for nursery schools and town hall officials rushed round trying to force expensive improvements on village hall enterprises which would simply have put them out of business. I am glad to say that the rottweiler of the Department of Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Corportate Affairs, who is responsible for deregulation, managed to get a handle on that and to get the regulations revised so that the enforcement was more reasonable. That highlights the danger of the big bang approach.

I shall not go through the details of the Bill and explain how they might cause public authorities and private businesses to spend disproportionate amounts. I am sure that the House is familiar with those dangers. I simply draw the attention of the House to the rules about accessibility for shops, hotels, restaurants, banks and other public buildings. Laudable as those aims are, the deluge of requirements on already strained public and private enterprises at a time of recession could be extremely damaging for jobs and might eventually be damaging for the prospects of disabled people.

Mr. Harry Derbyshire (Barnes, North-East)

I have details of a specific area of discrimination in the hon. Gentleman's constituency which has been documented in a report on the general election produced by the Spastics Society, entitled "Polls Apart". It was discovered that there was a lack of accessibility in polling stations in Colchester, North. Would the hon. Gentleman be in favour of legislation that sought to tackle that problem? Such legislation would not have the problems that the hon. Gentleman has listed. It is difficult for disabled people to exercise their right to vote in general elections.

Mr. Jenkin

I note the point that the hon. Gentleman draws to my attention and I should be interested to find out further details. The matter has not been drawn to my attention until now. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that we have a system of postal voting. All the parties in my constituency, including my own, and the local authority went to great trouble to ensure that disabled people received a postal vote.

Mr. Barnes

That is not good enough.

Mr. Jenkin

I realise that the hon. Gentleman does not think that that is good enough. However, he should consider how much it would cost to put a ramp into every polling station in every constituency. Would that honestly be the best way to spend money when there are so many other demands and so many other ways in which we can help disabled people and which disabled people might choose for themselves?

I favour the step-by-step approach adopted by the Government. It can target the limited resources of both the state and private enterprise so that they can be used more effectively. In employment, the Government ensure that all their employment training schemes are open to those with disabilities. The entry criteria are often skewed in favour of disabled people.

We were the first country in Europe to produce a code of good practice for employers which gave them guidance on the best way in which to seek to achieve the 3 per cent. target. We have recently introduced PACTS—placing and assessment counselling teams—to advise individuals and employers. In 1991–92, the teams helped more than 85,000 disabled people into employment. There are special grants available to employers to help them with the difficulties involved in employing particular disabled people.

We are committed to the idea that education should not be a barrier for disabled people, but should provide further opportunities for them so that they can participate in society to the full. The Further Education Funding Council and local education authorities have specific duties to have regard to the requirements of students with learning disabilities. In the Education Bill, the special needs category has been updated and strengthened compared with the Education (Schools) Act 1991. About 2 per cent. of children are categorised as having special needs and we send some of them to special schools. I pay tribute to Kingswood Hoe and other special schools in my constituency, which do a marvellous job under difficult circumstances. The Education Bill will increase the right of parents to choose their children's school. Moreover, if the LEA refuses a statement to a parent who has exercised his right to ask for one, that parent will have the right of appeal to a new special educational needs tribunal.

In transport, improvements have been made to the orange badge parking scheme to enable more disabled people to park their vehicles close to important facilities and services. We are also allowing increased parking times on yellow lines. Badges are now available for drivers with severe upper limb disabilities as well as those who have difficulty walking.

British Rail is committed to providing disabled access to all Inter-City services and BR has its own guidelines on the refurbishment of its stations. By the year 2000, all London taxis will be suitable for use by disabled people. Already, nine out of 10 new buses have recommended features for disabled persons. The Department of Transport is encouraging low-floor buses.

The new building regulations, which came into force in 1992, provide that disabled people should have full access to all floors of new public buildings. Provision is also made for those with sensory impairments. The Department of the Environment is considering whether to extend those requirements to non-domestic buildings undergoing alterations and possibly also to new housing.

In the national health service, £1.1 billion per annum is spent on the disabled and long-term sick. The number of occupational therapists in the national health service has increased by 76 per cent. to nearly 6,000 since 1982. The number of local authority occupational therapists has increased by 146 per cent. to more than 1,700. The number of physiotherapists in the health service is up by 28 per cent. and the number of speech and language therapists is up 57 per cent.

In addition to everything that I have mentioned is all the financial help that is given to disabled people. Total Government spending on benefits for the long-term sick and disabled has trebled since 1978–79—an increase of £9.9 billion in real terms. More than 2 million people are in receipt of disablement benefits of one kind or another, compared with only 360,000 in 1978–79. An additional £300 million is expected to be made available during 1993–94 as we introduce the two new benefits—the disability living allowance and the disability working allowance. The invalid care allowance has also been improved. Premiums are paid on income support and we are, of course, extending the independent living fund.

I wish to end my remarks on a note of caution. Out of a total Department of Social Security budget of £74 billion, which is rising inexorably—to around £90 billion within three years, according to a speech by the Secretary of State—we spend £14–9 billion a year on the disabled. That is three times more than we were spending in 1978–79. That must be set against the background of a public sector borrowing requirement that will rise to perhaps £50 billion in the next year.

I am pleased that the Department is putting in work on the fraud issue. The Government are extending the funding of fraud work by £10 million and that is expected to produce a return of £100 million. It is hoped that the total fraud identified and stopped will increase to nearly £1 billion-worth each year. That is surely a good use of resources because it means that we shall have more money to spend in other areas.

We must ensure, however, that the resources that we devote to the cause of the disabled are used to the best of possible effect. We should not be afraid of asking questions about the whole system by which we deliver those resources. The Department of Social Security spends £3.5 billion merely running itself. Is there no scope for increased efficiency? The average employee costs £41,000 a year, compared with only £33,000 in the Inland Revenue. What is so different about the handling of problems in the DSS and the Inland Revenue? What makes the employee costs of the DSS so much more expensive? When the system attempts to reform itself by simplifying the benefits structure, as with the introduction of the disability living allowance and the disability working allowance, the management system proves unable to cope and incapable of adapting to change in the way in which Ministers intended it to—as we all know from our constituency mail bags—leaving people vulnerable and without the money that they need. Moreover the so-called simplified system involves a form consisting of 40 pages and specifying 11 grades of assessment. That is not in the least bit conducive to efficient administration.

Mr. Alfred Morris

The hon. Gentleman has presented a fairly rosy picture of how well disabled people have been doing. He has looked back to the 1970s and examined what has happened since. Will he accept from me that what disabled people say is that, whereas average earnings have increased by more than 20 per cent. since 1979, disability benefits have increased by only 1 per cent? For disabled people and their organisations, that is the centrally important fact. Much of the increased expenditure has come from the increase in the number of beneficiaries of allowances that go back to the 1970s. That is what they argue to me and I am sure that it is what they will say to the hon. Gentleman. I ask him to pay careful attention to what disabled people themselves are saying.

Mr. Jenkin

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, which gives me the opportunity to emphasise that I do, indeed, listen to disabled people. I am in touch with the Colchester Society for the Mentally Handicapped. I have received its petition about the Bill and have discussed these matters with it. I do not, however, think that we can escape from the problem, to which I am drawing the attention of the House, that there are finite resources. The corollary of what the right hon. Gentleman says may be that we are spreading the resources too widely and too thinly and that we need to concentrate them on areas of greatest need.

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

My hon. Friend has touched on two or three matters that are important to him and certainly to the Department, although they may fall outside the main theme of our debate. I do not want to go over the reasons for our early problems with the implementation of DLA, except to say that we have now largely dealt with those problems and a proper service is being delivered.

There is a real difference between the activities of the Department of Social Security and the Inland Revenue. The Inland Revenue is based largely on well-established and clear-cut rules. Much of the administration of social security benefit depends on adjudication officers, reviewing officers and appeals officers, who use their discretion in determining the benefits to which disabled, elderly and needy people are entitled under the system. That is bound to be a more expensive system than one running on strict legislative lines.

My hon. Friend mentioned the length of the DLA form. I understand why some people find that form daunting. I can only say that it is the price that we pay for the prize of self-assessment. Until now, access to disability benefits has depended on medical examinations which have often been intrusive and offensive to those claiming the benefits. The move to a system whereby disabled people themselves can assess the impact of their disability on their lives and the quality of their lives is a great prize, but has inevitably required us to ask for more information from the disabled customer than we have asked for hitherto.

Mr. Jenkin

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I hope that he does not mind my asking questions in a spirit of genuine inquiry and to further the debate.

In the longer term, I believe that we need to look again at the whole system and to consider how to free resources not only to reduce the national debt but to maintain and improve provision for those in real need—not least for the disabled, who need state help to give them their dignity, their rights and their place as full members of society.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton)

The line of my hon. Friend's argument in terms of releasing resources does not take into account the purpose of the Bill, which is that, in terms of employment opportunities for people with disabilities, there is a specific log jam. The amount of resources that the state spends on keeping people who are extremely able and who have tremendous talents to offer sitting at home day after day and year after year would be available to others if only we could persuade them of the opportunity that they would offer in the workplace. I ask my hon. Friend to take that into account when he puts the economic argument.

Mr. Jenkin

I entirely accept my hon. Friend's point. I emphasise that the Bill, which is the subject indirectly of the motion, covers a wide area. If specific employment measures were put in place, it would be better to deal with the issue on a piecemeal basis rather than create general rights which may not necessarily be enforceable except at disproportionate cost.

I was finishing my point about the whole system of social services as it relates to disabled people. The consequences of the shortage of resources may mean that we need to examine specific parts of the system that do not relate to disabled people and parts of the system in which the present public provision can be substituted by methods of private provision. But that is another debate for another time.

I wish to end by quoting the words of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. On 31 January he said: 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 out society, 'Recognise and utilise that potential on behalf of your enterprises, whatever they may be'."—[Official Report, 31 January 1992; Vol. 202, c. 1256.] Perhaps that is the best epitaph and the best response to the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning).

11.42 pm
Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) for winning the ballot and choosing this important private Member's motion. He has done the House and the country a great service this morning.

I am grateful that I am following the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin). As he developed his speech, I watched the Minister—for whom many of us have some respect—become more and more uncomfortable. That was the sort of support which the hon. Member for Colchester, North could have done without.

The whole of the hon. Gentleman's speech reminded me of someone who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing. He started by telling us that he was reticent in speaking in support of disabled people because he was an Anglo-Saxon white white—I think he was white twice—male and educated. He should not have been reticent at all because he did not support disabled people and what the 6.5 million disabled people in the United Kingdom are saying.

The hon. Gentleman argued that legislation would not end discrimination. I have not heard any Labour Member argue that legislation would end discrimination. The hon. Member for Colchester, North did not go on to explain how no legislation would end discrimination and that is the issue which is before us today.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am grateful that I have caught your eye in the debate because I want to participate in it. I believe that I have perhaps a valuable contribution to make and I think that I have some of the skills that allow me to make that valuable contribution. I have the right to make that contribution, not only because of your courtesy in calling me but because all of us in the House are equal.

One can imagine how it would have felt to arrive at the door this morning and be told by the Doorkeeper, "We know that you are able to participate and we know that you want to participate, but you will not be allowed to participate. You will not have any rights to make a contribution." That is exactly what disabled people are told daily in all spheres of their lives. Doors are closed in their faces both metaphorically and literally in many ways —metaphorically when employers do not short-list disabled people simply because they are disabled, and literally when pubs and restaurants turn disabled people away simply because they are disabled.

Many people have championed this cause for much longer than I have, not the least of them being my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and many noble Lords. Our friends Lord Ashley and Lord Rix are among those who have done a great service.

I think that some Conservative Members have misunderstood the Bill. It is about unjustifiable discrimination. There is no doubt that there is discrimination and that it is unjustifiable. I am not speaking simply on behalf of one political party, although that is the view of the Labour party. The all-party disablement group of which I am secretary widely holds that view. We have also heard views expressed well this morning by Conservative Members.

This is the last point in the triangle of discrimination which must be dealt with. We have equal opportunities legislation and race relations legislation, but we still do not have legislation to outlaw discrimination against disabled people and give them some rights. In 1989 Lord Strathclyde said: The Government prefers to rely on securing a voluntary commitment of employers through providing information, advice and, where necessary, practical and financial help". I am often told that I look like Lord Strathclyde. I hope that I do not sound like him if that is the sort of nonsense which he talks in the other place.

There is no doubt that we need anti-discrimination legislation. The Government's policy depends solely on education to change attitudes. As has been said, centuries of education have not yet reached some Government Departments. It is clear that education has not worked and that it will not work.

No one who supports anti-discrimination legislation is kidding himself that, if such legislation were implemented, discrimination would disappear overnight. However, if such legislation were implemented, attitudes would change for the better over a period. What is just as important is that such legislation would be enforceable.

The Government's line is that anti-discrimination legislation would take away the good will that disabled people enjoy. What good will? Why should disabled people have to depend on good will? The Bill is about rights. It is fundamental and deserves the support of all hon. Members.

Disabled people do not ask for good will, sympathy, paternalism or philanthropic gestures from on high: they ask for rights and we should listen to them. There is discrimination in many fields, and employment has been referred to many times this morning. The 1988 report of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys showed that 31 per cent. of disabled adults were in employment while 69 per cent. of able-bodied people, the general population, were in employment.

Discrimination against disabled people is worse than that in terms of employment. As we have heard, disabled people are less likely to be short-listed for a job, interviewed or given the job even when they are often the best candidates. If they get the jobs, they are more likely to be lower paid because those are the sorts of jobs which employers offer them.

I refer to the first report of the Select Committee on Employment for the 1990–91 Session which recommended that anti-discrimination legislation was the right way forward. The Committee called on the Government to explore urgently the possibility of equal opportunity legislation for the employment of people with disabilities and report to Parliament on the potential effect and costs in the labour market. To the best of my knowledge, that has still not been done. It needs to be done urgently. It could be done by simply allowing the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill to go through this afternoon and move on into Committee.

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that although that may be a nice point—using the phrase in the old-fashioned sense—we are debating a motion. The Bill is further down the Order Paper.

Mr. McMaster

I certainly accept that, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was concentrating on stopping discrimination against disabled people and making the point that the Bill would help. I shall put myself back on the tracks now.

Discrimination happens in many ways, not least in the provision of access. We all have anecdotes about injustices suffered by disabled people. They may turn up at a restaurant and be told, "It is not for people like you." They may find that guide dogs are refused entry to public places. People in wheelchairs are refused entry to some buildings. They are physically unable to enter other buildings because the buildings are not adapted.

Disabled people are also denied access to facilities such as training. If disabled people are to find work, they must have proper access to training. For deaf people, that could mean the provision of interpreters or scribes. Blind people may need braille services. Such provision is necessary.

We have heard about discrimination in transport provision. Access is bad. Sometimes when it is difficult for a disabled person to get on to a train because of steps, he or she suffers the indignity of being manhandled on to the train. I do not apologise for supporting legislation that would help to deal with such problems. There is a rumour abroad that the Government are planning targeted legislation to outlaw discrimination against disabled people in employment matters. But disabled people have to get to work. They cannot do so unless proper transport links are provided.

There is also discrimination in housing. When people become disabled after being able bodied they may have to move away from the Community in which they have lived all their lives because all the disabled and special needs housing is elsewhere. Some housing authorities believe that they know best and tell disabled people which house will suit them best. We all know of people who become disabled, having adapted their house when they were able bodied, and find that their house is no longer suitable or that they need further major adaptations.

I remind all hon. Members that disability for the most able bodied among us is only an accident away and any of us could face the problems that I describe at any time. The most fundamental right, which is enshrined in the Bill that the motion supports, is the right of disabled people to be full and equal citizens. They should have the right to be treated with dignity. They should have the right to be as independent as they possibly can and to be as dependent as necessary on the services that they require. That cannot be achieved without anti-discrimination legislation.

We have heard the argument that anti-discrimination legislation would be difficult to draft. Those arguments have been effectively destroyed this morning. Other countries have achieved such legislation. America has the Americans with Disability Act 1990. We could improve on the Bill. If drafting is a problem, let us allow the Bill to go into Committee where we can improve it and perhaps make it perfect or more perfect.

We need not only to legislate but to enforce. The 1944 Act was an important piece of legislation. It introduced the 3 per cent. quota. It is a law which is more honoured in the breach than in the adherence. Only 24 per cent. of employers achieve the quota. Most Government Departments do not achieve it. Many achieve less than 1 per cent. I understand that the Prime Minister's office achieves 0 per cent.—not one disabled person is employed there. We have the spectacle of the Department of Employment awarding local authorities and other employers which achieve a quota of 1 per cent. The Department responsible for enforcing a law awards people for breaking that law by two thirds.

Sections of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 remain to be implemented. The Government have made it clear that they do not intend to implement them at least for some time. They intend to watch what happens with community care. That is foolish because the remaining sections of the Act would have been invaluable in implementing the community care arrangements that will be put in place in April.

It has already been said that most of the available evidence on discrimination is anecdotal. In preparation for this morning's debate I looked into that. The House of Commons Library has provided me with some information. A research note states: The extent to which disabled people are discriminated against in the community is difficult to assess, other than through anecdotal evidence"— so it is true that the only evidence available is anecdotal— since there is no legislation outlawing such discrimination, such as there is for race and sex discrimination. So the reason why only anecdotal evidence exists is that there is no legislation. The note continues: Further, there is no body appointed by the Government to work towards the elimination of discrimination a nd to monitor cases of discrimination, as do the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission"— and as would the disablement commission proposed in the Bill. If we want to get our hands on the evidence that hon. Members have said does not exist, the way to do so is to create a disablement commission so that it can do that job.

If anyone is in any doubt about why we need a disablement commission, I bring to their attention an article written by Richard Ingrams in the Observer on Sunday 21 February. It said: One of the more amusing"— mark that word— stories to come out of the crazy city of New York concerns the attempt by the authorities there to provide public urinals for the citizens …After much lobbying from activists the mayor eventually drew up plans for a number of urinals to be erected throughout the city. Then the powerful disabled lobby intervened, protesting that the loos were too small to admit wheelchairs. It now looks as if the New Yorkers will not get their urinals after all. The story illustrates the tyranny wielded by American campaigners for the disabled. And there are signs that the same kind of thing is starting to happen here. So it seems that disabled people in New York are blamed for people being unable to relieve themselves in public urinals there.

I drew a different conclusion from the story. Later in the article, Richard Ingrams suggests: It is surely obvious, however much one sympathises, that disabled people (by which is generally meant people in wheelchairs) cannot enjoy the same freedom of movement and opportunity as the rest of us". He uses the story about the loos to support his argument. One could arrive at his conclusion that the tyranny of disabled people stopped the loos being built. Or one could conclude that the loos should have been made more suitable for disabled people. Such discrimination is not exclusive to America. It happens here all the time.

There is a groundswell of opinion in favour of the legislation. I am aware that many other hon. Members wish to speak and I want them to do so because the groundswell of opinion is fast reaching the House of Commons. I have much more that I could say, due largely to the excellence of the briefings from the officers of the all-party disablement group and from Victoria Scott, our researcher, but I shall conclude my remarks. I urge the Government not to object to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill later today. I was here when a similar Bill was talked out and I shall take careful note of anyone who objects and along with other hon. Members, I shall ensure that other people know who they are.

I advise any Conservative Member planning to use the word, "Object", to telephone Bristol and ask the fellow who talked out the last Bill on the subject exactly what happened. I am not glad that that Bill was talked out, but I am glad that he lost his seat because he has been replaced by an excellent Member of Parliament who has supported the disabled.

If the House does not support anti-discrimination legislation today we shall be disappointed, but I assure the House that its day will come.

12 noon

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate and, with other hon. Members, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) for giving us the chance to air this important subject.

The crux of the matter seems to be whether there is a need for legislation. I say unequivocally that there is. We are trying to give disabled people civil rights and opportunities consistent with those of other citizens and to establish a mechanism, through a commission, to deal with discrimination. The background to the debate is that people have questioned whether discrimination exists and, if it does, to what extent it impedes the day-to-day activities and opportunities of disabled people.

If I may paraphrase the speech by Lord Henley, the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, in a Second Reading debate in the Lords, when he expressed certain sympathy with the underlying aims of people who wish to put on the statute book legislation to deal with discrimination, he said that the crux of the matter was the manner in which that was achieved. He expressed a preference for education and, although education is welcomed and should be an on-going part of the life of everyone who is trying to get across the need and realities of disabled people, frankly it is not enough.

I also pay tribute to the Government's record, as they have tried to improve the quality of life for people with disabilities in a range of measures, and especially through the benefits system. However, we must question whether that is enough. Will education fill the gap? No, it will not.

If we simply rely on educating the public and employers, or anyone who could have an active role in enhancing the opportunities and rights of people with disabilities, it will be a very long-term exercise. That will take too long and I want to speed up the process. I want us to be proactive and to try to bring about the equality for which hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed a preference.

Anecdotal evidence about discrimination has been mentioned and how it applies and influences people's thinking. There is sufficient evidence in certain areas, especially in the media, to show that discrimination still exists. Discrimination within the media has a strong influence because it reaches so many people, and I shall give the House two examples. I do not intend to name on the Floor of the House the two publications concerned because I took the matter up directly with their editors, who have apologised and assured me that it will not happen again, so I believe that it would be unfair to name them. However, it is important to share with the House what I consider to be a monstrous example of discrimination in the media.

A cartoon appeared in the colour supplement of a national Sunday broadsheet in October last year. In the background, one could see a notice which said: Welcome to the double-arm amputees therapy group. The cartoon depicted standing underneath the notice three double-arm amputees and a tearful lady with arms and with a handkerchief, saying, "I want a hug". The facial expressions of the amputees show bewilderment because they are unable to offer her the solace that she seeks from their therapy group. One could comment on the pure bad taste of such a cartoon, but, frankly, if there were anti-discrimination legislation the cartoon could not have been printed.

I am on record as having an interest in a group of people who come under the heading of disabled—people with learning difficulties or mental handicap. Perhaps that is the most difficult area because discrimination against such people is not always perceived by the general public. Often it is not apparent on first sight that a person has a difficulty. None the less, prejudice exists and such people experience the pain of discrimination.

A disgraceful one-page article about young people who suffer from autism appeared in a bi-monthly magazine for people with interest in a particular area of transport. I shall go no further as I do not want to name the magazine. The article sent up the condition, and the editor had apparently only just discovered that people with autism take a particular interest in certain types of transport, and began by saying that the information for the article came from a lecture given by an eminent doctor on the subject, and said: One member of the staff is literally on the floor in hysterics—he has just discovered what he has been suffering from for years". The article goes on to say that perhaps "we can all claim" a reduction in the poll tax as "confirmed mental defectives". The mocking article ends with a pseudo help-line number of about 12 digits and an invitation to phone Auntie Nora if people think that they are suffering from the condition.

One of the most worrying aspects of that disgraceful article is that it was almost certainly read by people who are suffering from autism.

Mr. Dicks

I appreciate my hon. Friend's argument, but will she please bear in mind that disabled people are all different? My colleagues take the mickey out of me and I like it. I would rather have that than people feeling sorry for me. Will she bear that in mind when discussing such articles?

Mrs. Browning

As my hon. Friend has challenged me, I hope that the House will not mind if I give some personal detail. I am the mother of a young man who suffers from the condition, and when I read that article I wept, so I hope that my hon. Friend will understand my concern that people with the condition, which is a life-long handicap, may read that rather jokey article which says that they are suffering from a "terminal illness"—a pun on the word terminal. I assure my hon. Friend that the pun would not have been within the rationale of people suffering from the condition.

When I spoke to the editor of the magazine and asked whether he would have written a similar article about race, he said no. If people suffering from autism had had legislative protection, that editor would not have printed that article without consulting lawyers. He would have been told that he was infringing statutory legislation and, therefore, the article would not have been printed.

Such articles represent painful discrimination, bad taste and certainly do nothing positive for people with disabilities; they can only do damage. They put into the public arena the idea that such discrimination is somehow okay and acceptable. If we are to educate people in terms of employment practice and social policy, such articles do nothing to help that process.

Mr. Jenkin

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her moving and powerful speech and the case she is making for civil liberties legislation for people with disabilities. Does she agree, however, that it does not put an individual beyond the pale of civilisation simply to question the efficacy of general legislation and the cost involved? Perhaps she will take the opportunity to distance herself from the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster), who seemed to exemplify the tyranny of certain lobby groups and how their lobbying can be misused.

Mrs. Browning

My hon. Friend kindly accepted my intervention on the subject of costs and the economic factors involved in introducing such legislation. I shall deal with that matter later when I consider training and workplace opportunities. I fully support the need for legislation, but most people would accept that a certain amount of pragmatism must be exercised. No one is suggesting that every public or private building should spend thousands of pounds to improve access to people with disabilities. We must view any change in a practical manner, but we must try to move forward because at the moment there is a sense of frustration as a result of stagnation. People cannot see how we will progress fast enough to meet the needs of disabled people.

It has been suggested that employment rights should be enhanced to facilitate disabled people to join the mainstream in the workplace. Given my particular interest in learning difficulties, I would be the first to acknowledge that that often presents a problem to the potential employer. In America, which has been mentioned many times today, that problem has been met by the employers themselves who are actively seeking ways to facilitate the employment of people with learning difficulties. They are not waiting for state-imposed suggestions.

Hon. Members may be aware of the American "buddy" system whereby someone works alongside the person with learning difficulties while he settles in. That buddy also acts as a mediator between him and other employees who may initially find his behaviour a little strange. The buddy will help that person to enhance his communication skills.

One of the difficulties for people with disabilities is that the initial time at work can be most traumatic. It is so frustrating when one finds an employer who is prepared to employ a person with disabilities to see that initiative break down after a few weeks because certain problems were not anticipated. The Americans have overcome that difficulty with a positive attitude and we have a lot of good practice to learn from them. It is good to see that instead of new regulations being imposed on employers, those employers are acting as catalysts and looking at ways to make the initiative work. That is the healthiest approach.

I should like to draw to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) the economic arguments in favour of employing people with learning difficulties. In that connection, it is also important to consider the role of education and training. Reference has already been made to the Education Act 1981 and to the Education Bill before the House and the enhanced opportunities that it gives for statementing, integrated education and various other measures. I support totally such changes, but for what purpose? Is it right that we should take such active measures that give children with disabilities and their parents heightened expectations?

We are now providing more specialist education for such children to bring their natural talents and skills to the fore—my goodness, they have many to offer society. But after that, they hit the buffers. It is a good thing to bring more and more of those young people on, but we should at least consider what will happen to them when their education and training is finished. It would be a cruel trick to provide enhanced education and training programmes and to raise expectations only to realise that we have not moved any further in terms of providing employment opportunities. We must give that group of people the opportunity to take their place in the work force.

I cannot cite specific figures to demonstrate the economic savings, but we are aware of the amount of money that the Government spend on benefits. Surely it makes economic sense for people who are able to take their place in the work force on a full or part-time basis to be able to do so. In that way they can make a contribution, the same as anyone else. That is not only a civil right which any individual should enjoy, but it makes economic sense given the amount of money that the state now has to spend to support people with disabilities. Very often those people are isolated and lonely and that causes added anxieties and problems.

It is a tragedy for people with disabilities, and those close to them, when they are unable to fulfil their potential to work. But that also leads to those people suffering from other medical conditions, particularly of a psychological nature such as depression and a hundred and one other things. At the end of the day all those things cost the taxpayer money. It must make good sense to consider the economic argument in favour of providing work for people with disabilities, but we must also consider it in terms of the cost of not allowing them to work. In humanitarian terms alone, we can do more for such people, but in terms of the economic argument it must make sense to provide more employment opportunities for them.

Hon. Members have already mentioned the 3 per cent. target set for employers who employ more than 20 people. Many areas in the public sector, regretfully, do not get anywhere near that 3 per cent. target. It is interesting to note that district councils have a good record of meeting the quota, but the Department of Health and county councils do not have such a good record. I cannot understand why. Surely the Government could consider how we could improve good practice and share that good practice.

People who take on the challenge and make it work have a wealth of experience that could be shared with other potential employers, whether in the public or private sector. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North spoke of the burden on business. I know of many small businesses that employ fewer than 20 people who actively go out of their way to employ—I do not mean that they create artificial work—people with disabilities. I believe that information about how they overcome their practical problems and their approach to them should be shared. If people shared such information with their local chambers of commerce and were more vocal, it would lead to great improvements.

I support the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill because it will concentrate minds. As the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) said, the Bill will not change the world but it will raise the profile of people with disabilities. It will concentrate minds and it will lead to best practice in the public arena which others can emulate. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I welcome the Bill, which has my wholehearted support.

12.20 pm
Mr. Datydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning), whose personal testimony and persuasive arguments in the Chamber today will, I hope, be heard and heeded by Ministers. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) for introducing the debate and to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) for the fact that there is a Bill before the House, albeit not for debate.

It is significant that December 1992 marked the end of the decade for disabled people, launched by the United Nations. Late last year, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Boutros Boutros Ghali, said of the decade: When the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 1981 the International Year for Disabled Persons, few realised that this would herald a whole new era for those with disabilities. So successful was the Year that it has come to be regarded as a milestone in the long struggle of disabled people for equal rights. During 1981, the World Programme of Action concerning Disabled Persons was drawn up, based on the principles of human rights, self-determination and equalization of opportunities. The World Programme sets forth a new and challenging approach that can open the way to a future in which disabled people may participate fully in society. The Secretary-General continued: I wish to invite Governments …to renew their support for the World Programme of Action, which will in turn improve the quality of life for people with disabilities around the world. That gives us an appropriate context in which to ask the Minister what the United Kingdom Government are doing in response to the challenge of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Earlier, some of my colleagues had a meeting with the Minister and the Prime Minister. I was glad that there were signs that the Prime Minister acknowledged, at least in principle, the need to consider using anti-discrimination legislation. That would be a step forward. We hope that we shall achieve more than that today and that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill will be given its Second Reading—I realise that we cannot discuss that Bill in detail in this debate.

It is disappointing that more progress towards anti-discrimination legislation has not been made. There are 379,000 disabled people in Wales—twice the number of unemployed people in Wales—which puts the disability dimension into perspective. I have received representations from the Wales Council for the Disabled, which drew my attention to cases of which it is aware. It stated: Pubs, cafes and restaurants do refuse disabled people because 'they upset the other customers'. Offices are deliberately designed with floor areas just below Building Regulation criteria requiring full access. Theatres and cinemas have turned away disabled people because they are a `fire risk'. Howard John, the director of the Wales council for the Disabled, continued: While discrimination on the basis of gender and race has rightly been outlawed in Britain, there is no legislation to protect disabled people from the effects of public and institutional ignorance, fear and prejudice. Our experience shows that, however much we may wish, goodwill will never be enough. The rights of disabled people must be enshrined in policy and in law. That encapsulates the argument.

Only 12 months ago a Bill was blocked in the House, which was highly regrettable, and many hon. Members have drawn attention to that action. Although the rules that will be effective at 2.30 pm theoretically allow one hon. Member to shout "Object", I believe that as we shall have had a debate on the subject for five hours, the rationale of allowing one hon. Member to shout "Object" to stop a Bill is incorrect and should not be allowed. The fact that we have had a debate to air the matters should enable the motion to proceed and one hon. Member shouting "Object" should not constitute a reason to stop the Bill proceeding.

Although there may be difficulties with the Bill—I accept that there are some practical problems and I listened with care to the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin)—if it is allowed to proceed, amendments could be tabled in Committee. If some aspects of the Bill have high expenditure implications, they could be phased, with orders to introduce measures at different times.

The House has clearly shown its wish for the legislation to make progress. Early-day motion 330 has been signed by, I believe, 286 hon. Members. If we add the Opposition Front-Bench team, who do not sign early-day motions, we see that almost half the House has formally signified support for such legislation. If the number of names on the motion exceeded 325, how would the Government respond, in view of the traditions of giving a positive response in such circumstances?

A number of examples of discrimination have been given. The physical layout of the House and the electoral process—we all know examples of polling booths that make it impossible for the disabled to gain access—present problems. Employers often have a subconscious prejudice. They do not want to be deliberately nasty to disabled people, but their reasoning contains a subconscious element. At the back of their minds they wonder whether a disabled person might be a nuisance or an embarrassment or might cause an adverse reaction among customers, suppliers or fellow workers. So many such attitudes are based on ignorance and must be confronted. We need the framework of law, not for good employers who are already conscious of their responsibilities, and possibly not for the evil employers who will not be persuaded of their responsibilities even if laws are introduced, but to upgrade the argument so that there is an awareness equal to that which now exists in the context of race and sex.

I have examples from my constituency and my own experience in the world of employment. I know of young, disabled people who have undergone training, only to be told by fellow workers at the end of the course that, although up to the job, the disabled people will not even reach the shortlist. There is little doubt that such decisions are based on a prejudice against disabled people which closes opportunities to them.

Requirements exist in education, but they must be stepped up. So often, schools and colleges are without adequate facilities for disabled people. It is a disgrace that many local education authorities, universities and colleges have shown so much inertia. There are also many difficulties involving the integration into ordinary schools of disabled children and those with learning difficulties. Practices vary greatly in different parts of Britain.

There is also discrimination in the world of leisure. I am aware of a club in my constituency to which a father used to take a girl with learning difficulties. He was told not to take her as she might embarrass the others who came to the discos and other events. That is disgraceful, but such practices occur—I see that hon. Members are nodding their heads to show that they know of such incidents. Therefore, we must define in law the civilised standards that we should expect as a norm so that people have a measuring rod.

A case was highlighted in Cardiff in a report in the South Wales Echo of 11 February 1993.

The headline reads: Disabled Andrea is shown the door". The story goes as follows: Disabled council clerk Andrea Rowe was ushered out of a city centre cinema when staff saw her in a wheelchair. The 31-year-old spina bifida sufferer says she was 'totally humiliated' when asked to leave the MGM cinema in Cardifi's Queen street as she and a group of four friends queued to see Whitney Huston and Kevin Costner in 'The Bodyguard—. Speaking of the person who asked her to leave, Andrea said: He did not even speak to me—he told my friends. And when he was told to speak to me he said, 'I'm sorry, we don't have the handicapped in here.' When Andrea asked why she could not go to see the film like millions of other cinema goers throughout the couintry she was told, "It is our policy." That is why we need anti-discrimination legislation. How long must people like Andrea wait for a new law?

Legislation of this sort will not cost a great deal and there must be a monitoring system to keep an eye on its progress.

We have heard about housing and transport already. I agree that there are large cost implications for transport and the measures that we seek will have to be implemented over time—but the sooner we start, the sooner matters will be improved.

There is even discrimination in the benefits system. People with similar impairments receive vastly different amounts, for instance, according to their work records, age or marital status. An unemployed disabled person on a war pension can get up to four and a half times as much a week in benefits as someone with a similar impairment who has not worked or lived in the United Kingdom for the past 20 years. That is discrimination.

As for the NHS, Mencap has drawn our attention to the fact that disabled people with learning difficulties have been banned from giving blood by the blood transfusion system even though nothing in their conditions can justify that sort of discrimination.

An even worse form of discrimination is that against depression associated with mental illness. Often, people who have suffered from depression are stigmatised as having a mental illness and all the unnecessary connotations that go with it. That stigma opens a Pandora's box of prejudice against them and blocks their job opportunities—all for no reason at all.

Other countries have introduced anti-discrimination legislation. Why on earth cannot Britain follow the example of the civilised countries that have moved in this direction and found it helpful? We need legislation to establish civilised standards.

It is not a question of legislating to create the right attitudes; of course we need more than legislation for that. But we need legislation as the basis on which the right awareness can be built. We can then create an atmosphere in which prejudice is seen for what it is.

The legislation that will soon be commended to the House contains many provisions: the duties of a commission to eliminate discrimination, to carry out general investigation and to investigate specific complaints; the provision of assistance for people with disabilities so that they can obtain their rights; and the review of the working of the Act and published codes of practice. Those are all practical measures that can be introduced under the legislation.

The Government plead cost implications, but they must also consider the price that disabled people are paying because of the lack of this sort of legislation.

I conclude with a reference drawn to my attention by Deaf Accord, which says that it hopes that Parliament will respond to the overwhelming desire by deaf and disabled people to have their needs met in terms of equality of rights. Without such legislation initiatives such as the Citizens Charter mean very little to millions of people". I hope that that message will go back to the Prime Minister via the Minister of State. I hope that the Government will allow the legislation to make progress today. If for any reason they cannot do that, I hope that they themselves will introduce and find time for legislation very soon, so that these rights can be enshrined for the millions of people who need them.

12.33 pm
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester)

This is one of those occasions when the whole House is united on the need to do more to help disabled people. I share some of the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin). I was disappointed to hear the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) sound a note of political correctness for the first time in this debate. It reared its ugly head in his remarks about my hon. Friend, and he should regret them. Threats to those who disagree not about the objectives that we all share but about the tactics required to meet them are quite unacceptable.

The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), whose motion we are debating, rightly said that this issue touches every constituency, and I should like to begin by discussing the issues that confront the people of Worcester. I pay tribute to the city and county councils for their enlightened attitude to these matters. The county social services department works tirelessly for those with learning difficulties and provides excellent rehabilitation and education facilities. The city council is always quick to provide planning permission when it is necessary for the needs of local disabled people. Dropping kerbs for wheelchairs and appropriate road crossings are always forthcoming if asked for, and we welcome that.

However, the private sector has a rather less proud record. I fear that all too few of the shops, offices and factories in my constituency have doors and steps that are properly accessible to wheelchairs, and there are not enough toilet facilities for the disabled both in those places of work and shops. Out of the scores of bars and restaurants in the city of Worcester, only three provide large print or braille menus for those with visual handicaps.

Let me pay tribute to the Royal National Institute for the Blind's New College for the Blind, which is based in my constituency and to its principal, Rev. Bob Manthorp. For many years, it has had remarkable success with its pupils, and that proves that integration is not always the best way forward for people with disabilities. I have been constantly impressed by the success of those pupils and the approach that they take to their disabilities, which they bear with great courage and—here I think of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks)—with great good humour. I find that particularly moving.

We are often quick to blame the public services for their failure to provide adequate services, so I pay particular tribute to the West Mercia constabulary. My local police force recently won the "Fit for work" award because of its disability employment policies. It has seven blind switchboard operators in my constituency and has invested considerably in the machinery necessary to make it work.

I shall deal now with some of the specific problems of blind people. I agree strongly with the comments of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne) about the difficulties that disabled people experience in voting, particularly the physical problems of simply casting one's vote. I was one of the hon. Members who recently had the privilege of participating in the RN IB awareness exercise about the difficulty of voting with a visual handicap. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary should look carefully at that problem, and in particular at the size of print on ballot papers.

There are some I million blind or partially sighted people in the country, many of whom have serious mobility problems, so I welcome the extension of the disability living allowance, which has done much to enhance their civil rights. However, if one is registered blind, one gets a discount of £1.25 in the television licence, fee. That is an insultingly low figure, which I hope will be increased in the Government's review of the charter of the BBC.

The motion deals with financial assistance to, as well as the physical needs of, the disabled because financial assistance is a crucial part of the civil rights of disabled people. I welcome the growth that we have seen, under the Government, in the provision of funding for disabled people. Last week I was told, in answer to a parliamentary question: By the end of 1992–93, we expect expenditure on benefit for long-term sick and disabled people to have risen by more than 170 per cent. in real terms to £13.7 billion."—[Official Report, 15 February 1993; Vol. 219, c. 100] That is a remarkable record.

I know that there has been much controversy about the implementation of the disability living allowance and the unacceptable delays experienced in the early stages of its introduction. It is right that we should also pay tribute to the hard-working staff of the Benefits Agency, who are now putting superhuman efforts into addressing problems. Hardly a Saturday morning goes by without a telephone call to my home from a member of the staff sorting out a problem for one of my constituents. To have calls from a public servant on a Saturday morning is almost unprecedented, and I have had some moving success stories, thanks to the hard work of that agency in recent weeks.

I do not entirely share the confidence of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State about the problem over the forms. I understand the need for self-assessment, but I have heard of too many cases when it has resulted in forms being badly filled in, resulting from inadequate offers of advice from the Benefits Agency. In one case, the mother of a child in my constituency is being denied DLA. The child suffers from leukaemia and she takes him to a regular clinic in the Birmingham children's hospital. All the other mothers and children get the benefit, but this child does not simply because the mother made a small and fully understandable mistake in filling in the forms. The form for DLA should be looked at carefully.

Mr. Scott

We shall be producing a new form for DLA in April, having consulted widely with the organisations of and for disabled people. I hope that my hon. Friend will find the new form an improvement.

Mr. Luff

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. It will be similarly welcomed by all my constituents and those of all other right hon. and hon. Members.

I do not deny for a moment—my earlier remarks have illustrated, I think, that I understand the problem clearly —that there is significant discrimination against disabled people. I am reluctant, however, to support omnibus legislation to address that discrimination. I am concerned that the Bill that is to be considered later today takes something of a blunderbuss approach. Instead, we need more precise rifle fire.

Much has been said about the experience of the United States and the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990. It seems from the evidence of some of my friends in the United States that there is the beginning of a backlash against that Act and against the disabled people it is designed to help. There is increasing evidence that litigation is the only real result of that legislation. Professor Kira, the professor of architecture at Cornell university, who has been a leading exponent of the needs of disabled people in terms of the built environment, has been expressing just such concerns about the 1990 Act.

Changing attitudes may be more difficult than producing legislation, but I believe that we should proceed without compulsion, which too easily breeds resentment.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

As I know the professor, both in this country and at Cornell—he will be in this country shortly—I ask the hon. Gentleman to tell us what particular features of the American legislation are causing a backlash. Most of the real impacts of the Act have barely started to take effect. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will give us some examples to nail down his assertion.

Mr. Luff

It is true that it is only recently that the Act has been fully implemented. I think that only this year was there some of the primary impact. I can only say that I have spoken to several of my friends. They are disabled and they have extensive contacts with similarly disabled people in the United States. They have expressed concern that there is a new sense of resentment almost towards the disabled in many areas of the United States.

I agree that these are early days, but I want to flag the concern that I have heard expressed by disabled people here on behalf of their disabled friends in the United States. The American legislation is not producing the advantages for which they looked. Instead, it is producing some serious disadvantages. I cannot refer to specific instances, but I can say that there is concern about the attitude that is being developed as a result of the implementation of the Act. I recognise that these are early days when it comes to saying what the final result will be, but it would be premature for the House to assume that the legislation proves the case for introducing similar legislation in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Dicks

The information given to me by friends in the United States is that the 1990 Act is being influenced and gradually overtaken by the AIDS lobby. That is one of the issues to which we should give careful consideration.

Mr. Luff

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention, which I note.

I do not oppose legislation per se. In many instances legislation is appropriate. Several hon. Members have referred to the Education Bill, which will provide examples of specifically targeted legislation. There may be a case for specific employment legislation. It would seem that it is acknowledged generally on both sides of the House that the quota system has not been a success. It may be that we should introduce more anti-discrimination-based employment legislation.

Several hon. Members have talked about the need of disabled people to gain access to houses, and that need is not confined to ladies and gentlemen in wheelchairs; mothers pushing prams would also benefit. It is clear that building regulations would have a major part to play. There would be a spin-off of advantages beyond the disabled. But do we need the paraphernalia of the Bill to achieve the advantages that we all want to see? For example, access to cinemas raises legitimate and proper concern, but I cannot help feeling that a slightly more enlightened view of the enforcement of health and safety rules by local fire brigades might be the way forward.

I take issue with my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) and the hon. Member for Rochdale when it comes to public transport, and especially British Rail. There is a great deal to be proud of in British Rail's approach. I pay tribute to the work of Mr. Bill Buchanan, who is himself disabled, who is an adviser to the British Railways Board on disability matters. The improvements that we have seen within the railway system owe a great deal to him.

No legislation imposes any duty on British Rail, yet it is the leading railway in the world when it comes to making provision for disabled people. One hundred per cent. of InterCity train carriages are now fully accessible to the disabled and their wheelchairs. There is also specific provision for the partially blind, which is also a small step forward—the provision of coloured grab handles on the outside of InterCity carriages which enable them more easily to see where they can board the train. Ninety per cent. of regional railway rolling stock is similarly adapted. There is a problem with Network South East—an intensely used commuter service—but all stock now entering service on British Rail is adapted to the needs of the disabled. I am told that there are more toilets for the disabled on British Rail trains than those of the rest of Europe put together.

Other improvements have been achieved without major legislation. In the arts, loops for the deaf are now the norm in theatres rather than the exception, and that was achieved by voluntary action. All that is happening without legislation because of changing attitudes.

Mr. Iain Duncan-Smith (Chingford)

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a target market that commercial operations may be missing? If they can understand the message that they can sell to another group of people, the logic of improving access and making changes is, for them, a commercial exercise.

Mr. Luff

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and makes a powerful point. One should not assume that, when organisations take measures to assist the disabled, they do so as an act of charity; it is often in their own enlightened self-interest.

I pay tribute to someone who has played a leading role in advancing the cause of the disabled—His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. After the International Year of the Disabled in 1981, of which the Prince of Wales was patron and Lord Snowdon was president, His Royal Highness formed the Prince of Wales advisory group on disablement whose extremely good work should not go unrecorded in this debate.

There is also the Prince of Wales's work with his school of architecture, in respect of enhanced provisions in new buildings, a charter with 75 employers that had the endorsement of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last year, and efforts involving medical students—particularly with the help and assistance of Lady Warnock, who is playing a special role in seeking to improve understanding among medical students of the needs of the disabled.

Later, we shall have an opportunity to consider whether the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill should receive a Second Reading. From what I have heard so far, I hope that it will not necessarily receive a Third Reading, but there is something to be said for allowing the Bill to progress to a Committee so that the issues can be debated in detail. That may then inform subsequent Government legislation in specific areas of legitimate concern.

I hope that no one misakes my reservations about giving the Bill a Second Reading, for they do not reflect any doubt about the need to help the disabled. It is just that I believe that education, changing attitudes and pragmatic legislation offer the best way forward.

12.47 pm
Dr. Roger Berry (Kingswood)

I am delighted to speak in support of the motion in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), and to congratulate him on raising the issue of civil rights for the disabled. However, I am saddened and a little appalled that, in 1993, we still have to debate the issue in the way that we do. Soon after I entered the House, I tabled early-day motion 330, which was co-sponsored on a cross-party basis: That this House believes that anti-discrimination legislation is necessary to ensure equality of opportunity for people with disabilities; and calls for the early introduction of a Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. I believe that each and every party represented in the House contributed a sponsor to that motion, which has the support also of the all-party disablement group. At the last count, the number of right hon. and hon. Members who had signed the motion totalled 288—the largest number of signatures lent to any of the 1,500 early-day motions tabled this Session. As a new Member of Parliament, my knowledge of the conventions of the House are limited, but I calculate that if one takes into account right hon. and hon. Members who, by tradition and convention, would not consider signing an early-day motion, mine has already achieved a majority. The motion and the sentiment behind it has genuine substantial cross-party support.

More important, the motion and the campaign for the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill has massive support outside the House, and we should do well to remember that. The hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) referred to the tyranny of lobby groups. I am aware of the actions of lobby groups, and I cannot be the only hon. Member who is proud to have been educated by their actions.

Mr. Duncan-Smith

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) is not present because he has to deal with a constituency matter, but it is only fair to put in context what he said following the comments by the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) about Members doing well to listen to lobby advice because of the security of their seats. That was the measure of what he considered to be his threat—not that they would not educate, help or assist. I hope that that puts the matter straight.

Dr. Berry

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments, which I note.

Many hon. Members have learnt much from the efforts of lobby groups. It is invidious to list organisations for fear of omitting important ones. Nevertheless, the activities in recent years of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, Mencap, the National Association for Mental Health, Arthritis Care, the Spastics Society and many others deserve the compliments of hon. Members. Their work in promoting the interests of disabled people should be a matter of record. I know of no organisation concerned with the welfare of disabled people that fails to support the Bill that we are discussing today.

I tabled the early-day motion for two reasons. The first and foremost reason is my long-standing belief that the law should be used to tackle discrimination against disabled people in the same way as it is used to try to tackle discrimination on grounds of race or gender.

My second reason is slightly more personal and it has been alluded to already today. On 31 January 1992, the House debated the Second Reading of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). I place on record my admiration for the work that he has done over many years. At 2.16 pm, my predecessor started to speak against the Bill. At 2.20 pm, he assured the House that he would not talk it out, but, unfortunately, at 2.30 pm he did so.

I do not mention that to score points. It is a matter of history and in one sense it does not matter any more, but it matters in the effect that it had on my constituents. There was anger beyond comprehension that their Member of Parliament had talked out the Bill. The chair of the Kingswood Council for the Disabled said: Perhaps he would like to come to our meeting and explain why he has done this to us. The Avon Coalition of Disabled People said: The reality is we experience discrimination everywhere we turn. On Friday Robert Hayward justified and condoned such discrimination. His actions will subject disabled people to continued denial of our human rights and civil liberties. I could go on with public statements by the regional director of South West MIND, from the Bristol Royal Society for the Blind, the Avon disability advice centre, the Spastics Society, West Region and Avon County group of Mencap societies. Organisations in my part of the country were angry that one of their Members of Parliament had talked the Bill out and were anxious to dissociate themselves from that action.

Mr. Bowis

I, too, regretted that the Bill was talked out that day. However, I point out to the hon. Gentleman that Robert Hayward had the courage then to apologise. He said that he had got it wrong. We should also remember that Robert Hayward served the House while suffering from multiple sclerosis. He was a person of great courage who coped with that disability while serving his constituents and we should recognise that.

Dr. Berry

Nevertheless, the point is that people in my area expressed great public anger when the Bill was talked out. One of the commitments that I made in the general election was to do all that I could as quickly as possible to give support to legislation to promote civil rights for disabled people. That has been a motivating force behind what I have done.

The one point that I want to make above all today is that the House must listen when it is told about the daily experiences of the 6.5 million disabled people in this country who have one or more physical, sensory or emotional disability. That number will grow, as we all know, and, unless something is done, so will the number of people who regularly face discrimination in all aspects of their lives.

Disabled people have to face employers who refuse to employ them even when they have the relevant qualifications and skills. They have to face cinema proprietors and managers who, astonishingly, ban disabled people on the ground that they, rather than the building in which the cinema is located, are a fire risk. A blind person who is fortunate enough to be invited to Buckingham palace will find that guide dogs are banned. We have all come across such discrimination and we must listen to what people say.

A few weeks ago, I asked the Prime Minister what action he intended to take on the matter. He said: For a year I was, of course, the Minister of State responsible for disability, and I am well aware of the Government's excellent record in increasing the benefits for disabled people and providing a much wider range of facilities for them."—[Official Report, 21 January 1993; Vol. 217, c. 496.] I did not get that impression from the Government when, three weeks ago, a Government Whip from a sedentary position talked out my private Member's Bill —the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amendment) Bill—which would have provided day services and respite services—[HON. MEMBERS: "Objected."] I should have said "objected". As a new Member of Parliament, I am always grateful for friendly advice from Conservative Members. I think that the Government would have talked out the Bill if they had had the opportunity. As it was, the Whip objected from a sedentary position to legislation that would have provided day services and respite services for disabled people and their carers. Again, that proposal had cross-party support. I do not get the impression that the Government are anxious really to promote the interests of disabled people as they show continued hostility to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.

Most people agree that it is nothing short of a scandal that disabled people are denied the opportunities that non-disabled people have. It is nonsense in the circumstances for the Prime Minister to dream about a society at ease with itself. On the contrary, we have a society that actively disables people; a society in which discrimination against disabled people is widespread and institutionalised.

There is, therefore, a long overdue need to outlaw discrimination in employment, in transport, in leisure facilities and in education and training. There is, above all, a long overdue need to be honest about what is going on. There is a long overdue need to ensure that the 6.5 million people who are disabled have the rights that everyone else has.

In essence, we need to consider only three questions. First, does discrimination against disabled people exist? Of course it does. We all agree on that.

Secondly, has the Government's preferred option of voluntary action delivered? Has it worked? I think that it is manifestly clear to us all that it has not.

Thirdly, and finally, will legislation assist? I repeat that if the law can be used to act against sexism and racism, there is no reason why it cannot be used against discrimination on the ground of disability. If such legislation can operate in other countries—the United States, Canada and Australia—it can certainly operate here.

If the Law Society, which has been maligned this morning, confirms that view, the Government must surely take the matter seriously. As we have already heard, on 4 November last year, the Law Society launched its report "Disability, Discrimination and Employment Law", which concluded: There is a need for the creation of a new statutory civil right to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace … the employment provisions appearing in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill indicate precisely the direction in which the law should move. I have been invited to attend a meeting of disabled people from the south-west of England and south Wales in Bristol tomorrow to discuss how to further the struggle for civil rights for disabled people. I very much want to be able to tell that meeting that progress was made today. I have no doubt that the view of that meeting and of disabled people throughout the country will be that it is an outrage that it is taking so long to secure basic civil rights. Equally, I have no doubt that the message to opponents of anti-discrimination legislation will be the same as mine: is it not about time that they ceased to be part of the problem and instead became part of the solution?

1.1 pm

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

It may be useful if I intervene to clarify the Government's position on the motion and the Bill to which it relates.

The hon. Member for Kingswood (Dr. Berry) emphasised strongly his view that the Government and the House should listen with great care to what we are told about the day-to-day experience of disabled people. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government do that and that much of the progress that we have made in providing for disabled people in recent years has been a direct result of representations, to which successive Ministers have listened, from organisations of and for disabled people. That is a practice which we intend to continue.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on his success in the ballot and on his opening speech. The hon. Gentleman's success and the early-day motion tabled by the hon. Member for Kingswood may not have kept me awake at night, but they have added substantially to my work load, which will no doubt be a cause of some satisfaction to both hon. Members.

I congratulate all the hon. Members who have spoken in a universally high-quality debate. Many hon. Members have spoken with direct personal experience of the impact of disability on themselves or their families or from direct constituency experience. The issue of disability affects every single constituency in the country and therefore every hon. Member, irrespective of party or region. If it is within the rules of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to draw attention to the fact that attendance in the Gallery has been higher than it usually is on a Friday. That, too, is a tribute to the interest of this important matter.

I pay tribute to the all-party disability group for its sustained efforts. Successive Ministers, from the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) to myself, have found it of immense benefit to receive the advice given to us and the pressure—sometimes welcome, sometimes not so welcome—placed on us by the dedicated members of that group.

The hon. Member for Tooting and at least one other hon. Member read out a list of some of the organisations of and for disabled people which play such an important part in these discussions and identify the way forward on disability.

My opposite number, the Minister for Disability in France, Michel Gillibert, regards the pattern of voluntary organisations in the United Kingdom as one of its absolute glories. He said that he wished he had the same advantage as I have in being able to seek the advice and support of those organisations. I might have said that sometimes it was a mixed blessing—nevertheless, it is a blessing.

I reiterate the point that was made about the importance of the role of the Prince of Wales in keeping a sustained interest in the subject and persuading many others to take it much more seriously than they have previously. The son of a former Member of Parliament is the secretary to His Royal Highness's group and he is in regular contact with the Government on a range of issues.

I shall make a few general points, move on to the Bill and then put on record some of the things that the Government are doing as an alternative to legislation. To come back to the point of the hon. Member for Kingswood, I do not think that anyone who has listened to the debate can doubt for a moment that there continues to be considerable discrimination against disabled people.

Although the Government's approach may not have solved the problem in its entirety—nor, incidentally, do I believe that the Bill would solve the problem in its entirety —I hope to be able to show that we have made substantial progress and have plans to make further substantial progress in the future.

We have listened to a number of graphic illustrations of discrimination against disabled people of one sort or another, including the sad story of Dr. Schofield arid Amber. I trust that my good friend Quellar has managed to gain access to the Gallery and is listening intently to the debate. Several other graphic examples of discrimination have been given.

Everyone who has done my job must be aware that discrimination exists. It exists and it is wrong. As I said previously, it is remarkably silly because it does not benefit society or those who discriminate against others. I shall explain and expand on that in a moment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) stressed the tremendous pool of skills and commitment among disabled people, much of which is not been taken advantage of by employers. There is a huge market with 6 million disabled people in the United Kingdom. Cinema and theatre owners and managers and a whole range of other people who sell services or goods ignore that huge market in a short sighted way. We know about the disabled people who were turned away from cinemas showing films such as "My Left Foot" and "Born on the Fourth of July". Both films involved disability issues, yet disabled people were unable to get into cinemas to see them. It is remarkably silly and short-sighted.

We know about the aspirations of disabled people to the maximum quality of life—to be able to live independently to the greatest extent posssible and to exercise control over their lives. Looking in, as it were, from the outside, it is easy to talk about disabled people as though they were a homogenous group. But they are parents, children, athletes, artists, craftsmen and employees. They are all the things that the rest of us are. Everything that applies to us applies equally to disabled people. We should all be clear about the common humanity of which I spoke when I last addressed the issue. As the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) said, for many of us, disability is but an accident away or perhaps a few years away with the inevitable onset of the impact of age on our quality of life.

I have been lucky recently to be closely in touch with sport and disabled people, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Moss) referred. Yesterday I attended the opening by Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales of a new Douglas Bader centre for sporting-based rehabilitation at the Roehampton hospital. Tremendous co-operation was involved in providing the wonderful facilities at that new centre and funds were raised by the Douglas Bader Foundation.

The day before the opening—this is of particular relevance to the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton—I attended the annual media awards of the British Sports Association for the Disabled. Those of us who follow such events closely are aware that, increasingly, sport for disabled people is covered along with mainstream sporting activities and is no longer tucked away on some odd page. That is a tremendous help in raising the general level of awareness of disability. Anyone who enjoyed the magic and the glory of the paralympics at Barcelona will never forget the experience.

The general points that I have made indicate the angle from which I approach the issue. I hope that they will not go amiss. But I now have to turn to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

Order. Before the right hon. Gentleman addresses the Bill, I remind him that we have before us a motion. It would not be appropriate to go through the Bill in depth, although, obviously, some allusions to it are entirely in order.

Mr. Scott

I have no intention of being so disorderly as that, but the motion refers to legislation and that is the issue which I wish to address.

I suppose that my head and my heart divide on the Bill. Of course, I should like to be able to say from the Dispatch Box that we should let the Bill go forward into Committee. But my head warns me and convinces me that that would not be right. I say that with reluctance and a degree of sadness. It would not be right to allow the Bill to go into Committee and be discussed because it would arouse expectations about the outcome of progress on any such legislation which might have to be dashed in due course.

Mr. Wigley

The Minister may be about to clarify the matter, but while he says that he cannot encourage legislation that has passed through another place, can he none the less confirm that the Government accept the principle that legislation has a role in anti-discrimination?

Mr. Scott

The hon. Gentleman was present at a meeting with the all-party disability group on Tuesday this week attended by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Social Security and myself. He will have heard the Prime Minister give me a remit to enter discussions with the group on whether and, if so, how legislation could play any part in seeking to reduce or eliminate discrimination against disabled people. I have accepted that remit with enthusiasm and I shall honour it in the full spirit in which the task was given to me.

Mr. Cox

I am pleased by the Minister's last comment, but disappointed to hear of his reluctance to allow the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill to go to Committee. Surely all hon. Members who have been in the House a while know that the difficulties can be explained to the general public in Committee. Sadly, many people will think that it is a dodge-out and if there are genuine reasons, will wonder why the Government do not want to try to explain them or discuss them openly in Committee.

Mr. Scott

We must consider the basic shape of any legislation. As the hon. Member for Tooting knows, we have legislated on various issues, such as facilities and services for disabled people. Legislation covering access and employment already exists. As issues come to the fore, there may be new directly targeted legislation. Beyond that, we must question whether anti-discriminatory legislation could be introduced without the over-arching pattern of the legislation that has passed through another place. Undoubtedly, expenses for the Government and other providers would be implicit in the passage of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill and we need to deal with such issues.

I am sceptical and my head warns me against the principle of such over-arching legislation. I am in favour of targeted legislation, even if it is wider than that passed to date. Those are the issues that I want to discuss and which incline me to be sceptical about the common sense of allowing the Bill to pass into legislation, since its fundamental shape is not acceptable to the Government.

The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which has passed through another place, is wide ranging and would imply considerable costs for employers, suppliers and the Government. The hon. Members for Tooting and for Kingswood said that the Government's approach has not worked. I cannot claim that it has had 100 per cent. success, but anyone who considers fairly what has happened under successive Governments during the past 20 years will recognise that real progress has been made.

I well understand the impatience of many hon. Members—the impatience of many disabled people is even more understandable—at the pace of progress, but there has undoubtedly been progress.

Having considered the matter carefully and facilitated the meeting between the all-party disablement group and the Prime Minister on Tuesday, the Government have concluded—not without some reluctance—that a general approach would create more problems than it would solve.

Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

In view of what my right hon. Friend has said, does he agree that if a Standing Committee dealt with the Bill for two or three Wednesdays, it would be a good opportunity for those issues and some of the difficulties to be thrashed out? As a sponsor of the Bill I agree that it has imperfections, but it seems to be eactly the sort of Bill that needs a dummy run in Committee. If the Government listened to the objections and thrashed out the issues they could return next Session with legislation which would perhaps have a better run than would otherwise be the case.

Mr. Scott

I accept that that would be one way forward, but if the Bill went into Committee it would be likely to arouse expectations outside the House—inside the House poeple realise what is happening—and result in disappointment. A better way forward would be for me to accept the remit from the Prime Minister and go to the drawing board with the all-party disablement group to have a fresh look at the concept of legislation and the breadth that it might or might not have. I understand why my hon. Friend might prefer an alternative approach, but, having agreed on our plan with the all-party disablement group earlier this week, I believe that that is the best way forward.

Some comparison has been made between the proposals in the Bill that passed through another place and existing legislation against discrimination on grounds of race and gender. I know that those analogies have been drawn in support of the Bill. I believe that there is a difference, however, between anti-discrimination legislation for people with disabilities and our long-standing legislation against discrimination on grounds of race or gender.

As has already been made clear, the category of people with disabilities embraces a considerable number of people with different needs and there are different sorts of discrimination against people who happen to have any particular one of a range of disabilities. Broadly, we can divide the disabled population into those who are sensorily, physically or mentally impaired in one way or another. Even those wide groups have different needs in terms of accessibility to employment, transport and buildings. When we are dealing with sex and race discrimination, however, we are talking about broad groups of people whose needs can be addressed broadly. Discrimination against disabled people is more complicated and it is therefore likely to need more complicated legislation, or even separate Bills—should we decide that legislation is right—to address the different problems that arise.

Dr. Berry

Does the Minister believe that the problem of alleged discrimination against disabled people is identifying that discrimination, or does he believe that the problem is identifying the action to respond to it? What is it about such legislation that makes it fundamentally different from discrimination on the grounds of race or gender?

Mr. Scott

It is perfectly possible for the Equal Opportunities Commission or the Race Relations Board to take a comprehensive view of the impact of discrimination upon those under their remit.

If we were to identify discrimination against people with disabilities in terms of access, we already have the disabled persons transport advisory committee, which draws up regulations to enable transport to be properly provided. The existing building regulations advisory committees deal with problems of access to buildings. We have a range of similar organisations that are much better able to deal with practices that turn out to discriminate against disabled people than would be an over-arching commission with a remit to look at every sector where discrimination occurs. I believe that the sector-by-sector approach is likely to provide a more expert and, in the long run, more effective approach than tackling discrimination with an over-arching commission, as recommended in the Bill that passed through the other place.

Mr. Alfred Morris

There is nothing in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill which conflicts with the Minister's proposition about the diversity of disabled people. All of us who were involved in the making of that Bill totally recognised that one cannot lump all disabled people together. How can we possibly reject the recommendations of a Select Committee of the House? To talk to people from all parties now leaves aside the very important point that there has been detailed discussion in a Select Committee. How can we ignore what the Law Society said? How can we ignore what was said by Lord Renton, who is a distinguished lawyer and an extremely long-serving Member of the House, as well as of the Conservative party?

Mr. Scott

I think that I have said before, both to the House and to the right hon. Gentleman, that my judgment is that it would be best for me to take the advice and expertise of the all-party disablement group, which has a tremendous body of knowledge. We can consider whether the over-arching principle makes sense or whether it would be better to tackle the problem sector by sector. That will have to remain a point of difference between the right hon. Gentleman and me.

I wonder whether the over-arching approach suggested in some quarters might simply turn out to be a legal bean feast for lawyers. The enthusiasm of the Law Society for it makes my eyebrows twitch a little. I have no hostility towards the Law Society, but the definitions in the Bill are extremely wide. The question of how to define a person with a disability has scope for tremendous argument. It is difficult to know whether concepts such as "reasonable accommodation" can be interpreted in an even-handed way across the board. A number of issues would be better treated using a sector-by-sector approach, without creating a vast new bureaucracy which I fear could flow from some of the suggestions made today.

I am conscious that other hon. Members wish to speak and we have just one hour left, so I shall merely say a few words about the Government's approach to the subject. We have been trying to work with business, industry, voluntary organisations and other levels of government to bring about changes in society's attitudes, promote equality, develop services and create an environment in which people with disabilities can fully participate in our national life. I believe that we have come a long way, but I do not disguise the fact that much remains to be done if we are to achieve our ends.

Spending on benefits for long-term sick and disabled people has trebled in this Government's lifetime. New benefits have been introduced and the scale and scope of provision for disabled people through the benefits system have improved. The Government have shown their commitment by providing extra resources for those new benefits.

There has, inevitably, today been much discussion of transport. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) urged us to make a start; we have done more than that and have gone a long way down the road, railway or canal—whichever analogy one wants to use. About 50 per cent. of buses are now covered by the DPTAC specification. We are trying to work in partnership with industry on a range of transport issues to ensure that the needs of disabled people are taken into account at the design stage. Only recently, I saw a taxi that had been designed by a British company and could be used in all European capital cities to meet the needs of disabled people. I hope that the designers will make progress with it.

Some 90 per cent. of new buses now contain the features recommended to help disabled people. All InterCity routes are wheelchair accessible and new rolling stock that is introduced will offer full access. I pay special tribute to Mr. Bill Buchanan, who chairs the committee that advises British Rail on accessibility. Of course, we face problems.

Mr. Harold Elletson (Blackpool, North)

While I am sure that we all welcome the improvements in InterCity services that guarantee accessibility to disabled passengers, that is not much good when InterCity services are withdrawn—as they have been from London to Blackpool. Will my right hon. Friend join me in pressing British Rail to restore those links, particularly for the benefit of disabled passengers, many of whom usually visit Blackpool on holiday every year, but will be unable to do so?

Mr. Scott

My hon. Friend has made his point and I doubt whether he needs my support to make his case. I am sure that he will be highly effective as he goes about achieving it, but I should be glad to have a word with him later.

All new licensed taxi cabs in London must now be wheelchair accessible and another 60 licensing authorities have adopted the same policy. All this has happened without the need for legislation; education, persuasion and awareness have brought it about.

I welcome the interest expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) in this aspect as it relates to buses—taxis tend to be expensive. The next stage must therefore be to develop fully accessible buses. There are to be trials in two areas later this year. London Transport will try out 68 vehicles in north and west London and Go-Ahead Northern-Coastline is to run vehicles in north Tyneside.

Access to buildings is immensely important, too. I will not go into detail except to express my strongly held view that the work carried forward by the building regulations advisory committee, which is looking into the design of new housing, should be given a fair wind. We all know how expensive it is to adapt a house once it has been built. The extra expense of building accessible houses from scratch is likely to turn out to be minimal.

Hon. Members have discussed loops. Part M of the new building regulations, which came into effect a few months ago, specifies the need for induction loops or infra-red hearing systems in booking and ticket offices, large reception areas, auditoriums and meeting rooms above a certain size. That shows that we have made a certain amount of progress.

I take the point about the Palace of Wesminster. We shall be discussing that. Some Members of the House and of the other place have suffered from disabilities and we are all conscious of the need for members of the public with disabilities to be given proper access to their Parliament. A consultant is looking at the pattern of provision in the Palace, with the idea of making recommendations.

As for access to employment, there has been a growing realisation of the inadequacies of the quota system to tackle the problem of employment of disabled people. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has this under review and I hope that we may hear from her in the not-too-distant future.

I know that I will have disappointed many in the House and elsewhere by our attitude to legislation. I am certainly not complacent about the Government's achievements. We have done well, but we can do better. Education and persuasion remain important parts of the way forward, but I reiterate my commitment, given to the all-party disability group earlier this week, to enter, with the Prime Minister's encouragement, into constructive discussion of any possible way forward that involves legislation.

1.33 pm
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I rise with some apprehension to speak in a debate which has, in a sense, been going on since long before I had responsibility for these matters. The debate illustrates a degree of expertise and commitment matched by no other subject that comes before the House for discussion, so I approach it with humility.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox); as ever, he appears to be as lucky at drawing the number one spot for debate as he is with horses. I also congratulate him on choosing for debate such an important subject.

However, the persistence and patience of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), in his efforts to focus our attention on this enormously important subject, cannot be praised too highly. His Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill has been much discussed today and remains, in the view of the Opposition, the one realistic hope for an early and dramatic improvement in the circumstances of disabled people.

The debate has been wide ranging. It has reminded me of a jolly good party, with all of us having a glass of whatever pleases us, coming almost to a crescendo, when in walks someone who is usually a reasonably welcome guest, but who announces that the bar is closed or that the festivities must end. We should be grateful that the Minister waited so long to make his contribution because, when he did, he dampened the atmosphere of the debate.

Being something of an historian, I want to go back and look at the reasons why we are discussing the subject today and why we do not already have a Bill setting in place civil rights for disabled persons. Many people might have thought that such a Bill would already be part of our legislation. The Opposition have long believed that civil rights for disabled people are extremely important. My right hon. Friend's Bill, which he has been trying to get through the House for a long time, is the one way forward. A disablement commission that would defend, protect and advance the interests of disabled people is the right route to follow.

Let me first examine the struggle for civil rights for disabled people and suggest some reasons why, in 1993, we still do not have effective anti-discrimination legislation. The case for it has been made, more eloquently than I can make it, by hon. Members on both sides of the House. They have quoted not only an enormous range of statistics but the heartfelt and most important personal experiences of people with disabilities, including friends, families and even colleagues.

I shall not bombard the House with statistics, but we have to go back a little way to look at what happened in the 1970s. After all, it was nearly 20 years ago, in 1975, that the Equal Opportunities Commission was established. The Commission for Racial Equality followed a little later, in 1977. Those legislative innovations were profoundly important milestones in the campaign against discrimination on the ground of race or sex. They do not deliver everything, and they are not an all-purpose panacea, but they are the bedrock and foundation of many advances in our society.

Logically, one might have expected a similar innovation in the rights of disabled people to follow pretty quickly. Unfortunately, a rather different atmosphere was created, partly as a result of the new Government in 1979, and partly because a change in philosophy permeated society throughout the 1980s. I expected the Minister to be the harbinger of good news; I hoped that the spirit of the 1980s was changing and that a thrust towards the acceptance of disability rights legislation would mark the beginning of the real thaw in Government attitudes. However, judging by the Minister's remarks, civil rights legislation for the disabled is not likely to come about quickly. As a disabled friend of mine said, it seems, sadly, that after sexism and racism, equal opportunities cease to exist. That seems to be the situation. That is the opinion of many disabled people in our society. They feel strongly that progress since the late 1970s has not been fast enough and that we have not moved forward far enough.

The case that I shall present contrasts with the position that was adopted during the 1970s and the 1980s. If we put disablement in context, we have not moved ahead as fast as we should have done because of the attitude adopted throughout the 1980s that community and society do not have a legitimate place. The example is slightly tired, but I revive the remarks—they are now infamous—of the former Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher. She said that society did not exist. She said that in an interview with a woman's magazine. She added: And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves". That was a summation of the feeling that prevailed in the 1980s.

I could not help thinking of Baroness Thatcher's remarks when I was on the other side of the river at the national theatre this week. Some of us were let off the leash, and it was a most enjoyable evening as we watched "An Inspector Calls". It was interesting to hear the remarks that J. B. Priestley gives to the father of the family for a crucial period of the play. The father is giving advice to his son and potential son-in-law. He says: I don't want to lecture you two young fellows again. But what so many of you don't seem to understand now, when things are so much easier, is that a man has to make his own way—has to look after himself—and his family too, of course, when he has one—and so long as he does that he won't come to too much harm. That is redolent of the attitude of Baroness Thatcher throughout the 1980s, which permeated the Government throughout that period. To put it in another way, people were saying, "Look after yourself and nobody else matters very much." The father in the Priestley play also says: But the way some of these cranks talk and write now, you'd think everybody has to look after everybody else, as if we were all mixed up together like bees in a hive—community and all that nonsense. The permeation of self interest is something with which we are all familiar. There is nothing new about it because it comes straight from 19th century liberals such as Herbert Spencer and those other intellectuals of laissez-faire liberalism. It is a highly individualistic view of society. Its highest motivation was to inspire men and women to opt for self interest first, and the philosophy was brilliantly encapsulated by J. B. Priestley very much later. I do not want to labour my experience at the theatre too much, but I shall return to Priestley. I have had the opportunity to educate some of the Whips, who do not often have a chance to go to exceptional places of culture.

Since 1979 we have had plenty of experience of people looking after themselves. Perhaps that explains the appalling situation in which many disabled people find themselves and the Government's reluctance to endorse a Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. There have, of course, been determined efforts by a noble band of campaigners. Somewhere in the House there should be a roll of honour for them. They stretch from Lord Ashley and his attempt in 1982 to get such a Bill on the statute book. There was Donald Stewart, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), Lords Longford and Campbell, John Hughes and, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe. They all campaigned in an extremely cold climate.

At the very time that they were campaigning in our cold climate, the temperature in the rest of the world was warming up—as the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) pointed out, with the International Year of the Disabled in 1981, and the launch of the decade for the disabled person in 1983. The British Government saw to it that such issues remained in a veritable permafrost. In those years, positive progress for the disabled was made in many parts of the world, but Britain stood still and has since been overtaken.

Now well into the 1990s, do we detect the possibility of a thaw? I prepared two versions of the central part of my speech. One responds positively and warmly to the Minister's conversion. I thought that we might have seen a Pauline conversion because on 30 January 1992, the Minister said that he was "benevolently neutral". Everyone knows that the country was then moving towards a general election and that there was little time for any new legislation, but most of us believed the Minister's statement that he was "benevolently neutral".

Some of us have supported the Minister since he first entered the House. We thought that we were protecting an endangered species. Sometimes we thought that his ministerial career was a bit precarious because he appeared to be on the side of the angels. Some of us on this side of the House nearly started a club to support his continuity of office. It is a good job that we did not, but I approach a serious point lightly.

This morning's debate has been rather sad, in that we have witnessed a struggle between the two modern Conservative parties. One is that represented by the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin)—and I told him before he left the Chamber that I would mention him in my remarks. That hon. Gentleman invited the House to compare him with a disabled person. We are seeing whether the modern Conservative party is that which I used to think of as a party of Chelsea and Tiverton, or is it the part of St. Albans and Colchester?

I fear that the Minister's remarks at the Dispatch Box a few moments ago confirmed that the party of St. Albans and Colchester rules. It is the party that says, "There will be no movement in this area." I refer to the Minister's remarks last year, when he spoke of his "benevolent neutrality". We were given a fascinating insight into the Government's reasons for not taking action last year. The Minister was eloquent and, using dramatic phrases that I will not repeat today, clearly emphasised the need for action. Using a clever and classic technique, for he is a great exponent of the doctrine of unripe time, he said that he was not against legislation on principle, but it was a question whether education and persuasion had been tried long enough. He still held out the hope that they would work and that legislation would not be needed just yet. "Give me a little bit longer," he said.

The right hon. Gentleman also said something worrying, and he said something today that will worry the disabled and those who lobby for them. He stated that there was no unanimity among the disabled or groups for the disabled. He said that there was no unanimity in the disabled community—an interesting phrase—and those who support it. I found that interesting. How often have hon. Members introduced legislation about which there is unanimity? Why should every last man Jack and Jill agree before we legislate to ensure equal opportunities for disabled people? Why do we need the unanimity rule for disabled people?

Interestingly, this morning the Minister changed his ground. He said: "Forget what I said last year. I have looked at it again and it will be far too heavy-handed. We should adopt the over-arching approach." What is the over-arching approach? What does that mean?

Mr. Scott

The hon. Gentleman's description is a parody of my speech. He was not present when the Prime Minister met the all-party disablement group, but a number of Labour Members were. They will recall the sympathetic and constructive discussion with the Prime Minister about discrimination against disabled people, at the end of which I was given a clear task to liaise constructively with the all-party disablement group. My basic instinct is to continue to tackle discrimination with a sector-by-sector approach, rather than one where the costs are unquantifiable and which is likely to lead to excessive bureaucracy and a beanfeast for the legal profession.

Mr. Sheerman

I am interested that the Minister thinks that my description of his speech was a parody. I was not invited to the meeting with the Prime Minister. The impression that I have formed this morning is not of a Minister who has gone to his Prime Minister and Secretary of State, made his case and won. I assume that what has happened, although the Minister cannot admit it, is that the Prime Minister and Secretary of State have told him to toe the line. He has been told to go back to the House of Commons and the all-party group.

Sir John Hannam

indicated dissent.

Mr. Sheerman

The hon. Gentleman may not like it, but I must tell the truth as I see it. I listened patiently to him. I understood the Minister to say this morning that there is no way forward. We have been given yet another fudge instead of allowing the Bill to be considered in Committee. The hon. Member for Exeter (Sir. J. Hannam), for whom I have much admiration and who is one of the supporters of the Bill, pleaded with the Minister, "Give us a few Wednesdays and the opportunity to get the Bill in Committee." My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe has guaranteed that the Bill is open to amendment because he realises that it has imperfections. He is willing to scrutinise it in Committee, where he will give the Minister every assistance to ensure that the Bill is right.

We are debating a very important Bill for disabled people. It is supported by almost 300 Members of Parliament, 23 of whom are Conservative Members. It is good to have some Conservative support, but we are thoroughly discontented and we cannot accept an all-party approach when the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People comes here and kicks disabled people in the teeth. [Interruption.] The Minister does not like my comment; I did not expect him to—[Interruption.] Some hon. Members do not like me bringing an element of abrasiveness to this debate.

The Opposition are appalled that the Minister, in his usual melliferous tones, has given us hard news to take to our constituents. We shall have to tell disabled people that there is no hope that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill will be passed, although it seeks to give ordinary disabled people the opportunity to show that they are not just disabled and that they are able in mind and in body in so many ways.

Disabled people have potential. Time and again, in employment, in access, in education and in training, they are not given the opportunity to show that they have talent. The reason why I am so angry and why I refuse to kowtow to a quiet, all-party agreement is that the Minister has sold out disabled people today—[Interruption.] Some hon. Members think that I am being too hard and they do not like it.

I have not held my present position for long, but I have already noticed that the Government have a great advantage. The Government take a strong line when they speak about the absence of community and about the absence of society. They refuse to help people as we urge them to. However, the Government have the great advantage of a Minister for Social Security and Disabled People who is charm itself at the Dispatch Box.

Everyone finds it difficult to cross swords with the Minister because he presents an unacceptable case eloquently and diplomatically. That is not good enough. He charmingly tells the House that he intends to block the Bill, and he speaks with an air of resignation and in tones of sorrow. That is not good enough. In some ways, it would be more acceptable to have the Secretary of State for Social Security here. He puts the Government's view far more aggressively, so we should understand exactly where the Government were coming from in their treatment of disabled people.

I understand that some hon. Members do not like the tone that I bring to the debate. We had high hopes this morning that we would make progress, and that a Whip would not shout "Object!" at 2.30 pm and thus block the opportunity to bring a ray of hope to disabled people.

In speeches inside and outside the House, the Minister has emphasised that he believes that there has been progress for disabled people. He almost always points to a change in benefits. We could have a long argument about how benefits have shaped and changed over the past 13 years. My analysis would be different from the Minister's. The Government have shaped and changed benefits rather than improved them. I take a longer view of benefits. Disabled people and those in the disability lobby believe that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill represents an alternative to the idea that disability is just about benefits.

Many disabled people tell me that they feel as though their whole world is hedged about by talk of benefits. They want to be released from that feeling. They need benefits for certain things, but ultimately they want an environment that allows them access to training, education, good jobs and good pay and in which benefits are not the only subject about which they talk to politicians. That is the difference between us. The Minister cannot understand—

Mr. Scott

With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman must have been pretty selective in his reading of my speeches. Each and every one of the issues to which he has referred is an issue which I have tackled during the six years for which I have been holding my present responsibilities.

Mr. Sheerman

I will certainly not withdraw. As I have explained, ordinary people who have a disability feel that the emphasis is always placed on their disability. We hoped for the opportunity to establish a bedrock of rights—a foundation on which to build. If disabled people felt that their rights had been infringed, they could voice their aggravation and hurt. If they felt that an injustice had been done—if they felt that they had been denied access to transport or education—they could take it to the commission in the hope of gaining satisfaction. Of course they would not always win, but they could move forward towards attaining rights in the fullest sense.

The strong language that I use is absolutely correct to describe the feeling that exists not just among the disability lobby but among ordinary disabled people. As the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne) said, disability affects 25 per cent., of families in one way or another. Today, those families will feel that they have been cheated, and they will have been cheated because the Minister has done the bidding of the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Social Security rather than standing his corner and standing up for the rights of disabled people in Britain.

2.2 pm

Mr. Terry Dicks (Hayes and Harlington)

Rarely have I heard such a disgusting and deplorable speech. The unique talent of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) is to misread the House every time he speaks —whether it be on law and order or on disability. The debate to which I have been listening since 9.30 am has been about caring and concern and about how best to proceed on the question of disability. The hon. Gentleman has done nothing to enhance the debate. I am a disabled person and I can say that if I belonged to a lobby, I should be ashamed to approach that man for any kindness or consideration.

I wish that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) or the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) were sitting on the Front Bench and that the dreadful man who made that speech was sitting elsewhere. I feel so angry about what he has done. He should be damn well ashamed of himself. He referred to a visit to the theatre and mentioned disabled people looking to themselves. If there is one thing that disabled people want to do it is to look to themselves—as best they can and as far as they can—and, in suggesting otherwise, the hon. Gentleman shows a complete lack of knowledge and understanding of the needs, wishes and, most important, the aspirations of disabled people. The sooner he goes out and finds out what it is all about, the better.

I shall now calm down, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On the issue of race and sex discrimination legislation, I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister that there is a significant difference, although I acknowledge that they are different categories. If anything, that should be a reason for taking action through legislation. Everyone has said that the quota system does not work. Many years ago, I worked at a labour exchange, where the disability officer had beside him a big pile of exemption vouchers and spent more time reaching for them than ringing up companies to ask why they were not employing their 3 per cent. quota of disabled people.

I get concerned when we talk about money because we subsidise the pleasure of going to the theatre through the royal opera house by about £30 to £35 a seat. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson) looks at me with her questioning eyes. If we can subsidise the pleasure of people going to the opera house by £30 to £35 a seat, why do we wonder about the Government spending money to introduce legislation to give disabled people the right of access? What is the good of subsidising the arty farty types, the great and the good, when we are sorry that we cannot find the money to introduce legislation to give disabled people the sort of access to the theatre which they might need?

Let me talk briefly about the Spinal Injuries Association to which I am loosely connected. I hope to become more involved with the association later. In an intervention that I made this morning—it seems like yesterday—I said that the latest idea of the Spinal Injuries Association is to introduce a disabled racegoers guide to tell them the best places to gain access and the places to be careful when trying to get in.

The man who was talking about the guide was in a wheelchair. He had a colleague with him who said, "I have arrived at Sandown Race course today and, as usual, the wheelchair has tipped over and I am flat on my face in the mud." He was brushing the mud off his clothes. He loves his racing, but having his wheelchair tip over is the reality that he faces regularly.

As I said earlier, the man was going to a race meeting at a course which had no access across the railway line. He had to go to the end of the journey, which was about another 45 minutes to an hour, to get off at a station at which they could take his wheelchair across the line. He had to get on another train to come back and get off on the right side of the track. That is absolutely wrong for disabled people. Why should not they enjoy racing and all the other sports? Like everybody else, they should be able to get on and off the train when necessary.

My right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned access to money. Gaining access to money through the various benefits is not the only thing that matters. It is the right to have one's views, wishes and abilities respected—limited though the abilities might be. My dispute with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) is that some disabled people laugh at their disabilities. They are not all deadly serious. They are not pushing for everything.

As I said, my disability is a small one. If I say the wrong thing, which I do most of the time, my colleagues threaten to kick my good leg away. That is not something to get upset about or react to. When I made an intervention this morning which was rather too long, Madam Deputy Speaker said that, obviously, my disability did not affect my tongue. I thought that that was quite funny and no insult was meant or taken. However, we must be careful not to think that all disabled people are so serious about life that they cannot see the funny side of their disability occasionally.

We need legislation that prevents discrimination against people. I simply wonder how many wheelchairs are in the Gallery. My guess is not many, given the steepness of the Gallery and the stairs. We have luxury offices at Derby Gate for some of my colleagues and, dare I say it, the Serjeant at Arms. We can provide those facilities for Members of Parliament, but we cannot give the public easy access to this place. It is a strange place.

To meet the costs that my right hon. Friend mentioned, why not do away with the Department of National Heritage immediately and all the savings that that would incur, including the subsidy to the arts of £600 million? That could go a long way. Indeed, we could make every station on the London Underground fit for disabled people if we took away the subsidy for the arts tomorrow.

I suggest discontinuing the prison building programme. In the past 11 years, we have spent £2 million on two prisons to provide leisure pursuits for prisoners. What a nice sum we could have to make some places accessible for disabled people. We give all the money and leisure facilities to the thugs and rogues of this world to help them out, yet we say that we are very sorry but it is difficult to find money for the disabled. I could go on, but I shall not.

Let me leave hon. Members with one thought in terms of Government spending. There is a move to increase spending on nursery schools and creches for working mothers. Those are needs which come from choice. Mothers choose to have children and they choose to go back to work early. Disability need does not come from choice. It comes because disabled people have no choice. That is another thing we must remember. The Government's policy of opposition to legislation is clear.

It is dictated by the Treasury; aimed at standing still; made without understanding; and not acceptable to disabled people. The first letter of each of those statements makes up the word "damn". Disabled people in Britain will remain damned to some extent unless and until we introduce legislation to give them the protection that they need.

I support the motion. I conclude by going back to the beginning of my speech. If I ever hear another speech about disabled people of the sort that I heard from the Opposition Front Bench, that will be the last time that I shall speak on the issue. It was the most appalling thing that I have ever heard.

2.9 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

The Minister said that he could not accept that the Bill should go into Committee because that would raise hopes that would be squashed. We should turn the argument round. Preventing the Bill from going into Committee will depress many people. Some of the avenues that they would otherwise seek to use may become less appropriate as a result of their considerable disillusion. There will be considerable hurt throughout the country.

All hon. Members have received representations from hosts of disabled organisations. A group came here yesterday from the Derbyshire Disabled Forum. The members of that group had all the problems of access to the building which have been highlighted. They had high hopes about what would occur today, but their hopes have been dashed. There will be deep anxiety about that.

I support the comprehensive measures that the Bill proposes. However, I hope that hon. Members will excuse me for talking about a limited and specific matter which could be regarded as a footnote to the debate. I hope that the Minister will examine the matter and discuss it with Ministers in the Home Office.

As Members of Parliament, we should be worried about access for the disabled to polling stations to exercise their right to vote. It has been said that disabled people can make use of postal and proxy vote facilities, but that misses the point. Disabled people wish, as far as humanly possible, to have open to them the methods of voting that are available to able-bodied people. Many people wish to use their right to vote at polling stations, as they have done throughout their lives and see other people do. They believe that it is the correct way to exercise their civic duty.

We should take effective action to give disabled people the opportunity to vote at polling stations. Action has been taken by the Home Office—circulars have been issued to returning officers and action has been taken to improve access to polling stations—but it is woefully inadequate.

The Spastics Society produced a report on arrangements made at the last general election. It examined 50 constituencies and more than half the polling stations in 26 of them–846 in total. It was said earlier that many of the details about disabled people came from anecdotal stories and information. The Spastics Society report is a piece of detailed research which illustrates the considerable problems experienced.

The hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) spoke earlier. In his constituency, 11 polling stations—more than half—were examined and only two were accessible according to the criteria used by the Spastics Society. Four had multiple access problems, while the rest had one or two serious problems, which should cause us considerable concern.

The conclusion to the Spastics Society report states: Disabled people were 'polls apart' from the rest of society in the 1992 General Election. Many voted separately, either by post or outside the polling station or on a table set aside within the polling station, or they didn't vote at all. People have a right to a secret ballot and to use the facilities contained in polling stations to exercise that right. Some disabled people cannot manage to get into polling stations and separate arrangements have to be made, which by no means meet the criteria for the operation of a secret ballot.

The report concludes: Disabled people's issues were 'polls apart', rarely taken up by the political parties or the media. Disabled people's involvement in the election campaign was 'polls apart', many felt ignored by politicians and disillusioned by the whole process. We have a responsibility in such matters.

The hon. Member for Colchester, North did not understand the problems that exist in his constituency, which are mentioned in the report. No survey took place in my constituency, which might have more serious problems, as some of the area is rural and it is therefore likely to be more difficult to find suitable facilities. We should all face up to the problem. If we bother about anything, it must be about getting our own house in order —getting the House of Commons in order to provide acccess for disabled people and getting the arrangements by which we arrive here in order.

The motion mentions the civil rights of disabled people and the need for anti-discrimination legislation dealing with access to public services, and one such service is clearly the right to vote. Today we have discussed the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill in great detail and a fortnight ago I introduced the Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill to the House, which dealt—in part II and schedule 2—with physical access to polling stations and the problems reported by the Spastics Society and other organisations.

Mr. Sheerman

Was not the hon. Member for Colchester, North (Mr. Jenkin) wrong, because disabled people want to be treated like any other citizens? They want to be able to come here as of right. They do not want special arrangements but the same access as every other citizen in our democracy. They also want to be able to go to the polling booth. The hon. Member for Colchester, North missed the point when he said that they were entitled to a postal vote, because they want the same rights as anyone else in a democracy and not different rights.

Mr. Barnes

That is correct. Disabled people should be able to have a choice. If they want a postal vote, they should be able to have one—as can able-bodied people if they are going to be away on holiday or if they feel that that is how they want to act. Do they wish to go to the polling station because they see it as a civic duty? Because many disabled people have had to fight with that disablement and against discrimination in society, they have a heightened sense of civic duty. If they gain appropriate employment, the employer usually gets a good bargain, because disabled people are dedicated to their jobs.

Ms. Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate)

My hon. Friend has drawn a precise analogy of what I regard to be the central flaw in the Minister's argument about the Bill. The Minister said that he rejected an over-arching concept of providing civil rights for disabled people and that he preferred to approach it in a compartmental way. Able people do not live in compartments; our lives interact, mix and melt. One of the difficulties that disabled people frequently raise with me is the way in which their lives do not meet their needs. Too often they are excluded from those blurred edges where able people constantly meet others as they conduct their lives in the public arena. The over-arching concept, which is intrinsic in the Bill that the Labour party would like to become law, would make that interaction possible for everyone.

Mr. Barnes

I agree with the over-arching concept and its essential nature. There will be a great sense of disappointment today that it has not been taken on board. Perhaps specific provisions should be introduced to meet specific problems in certain areas, just as I am pressing for specific provision now. The logic of acting on any specific provision, however, is that we can then tackle the whole range of problems that disabled people face.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Further to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms. Jackson), does my hon. Friend agree that what will puzzle and concern disabled people is the impression that has been given about an alternative to the Bill? I am sure that they will ask how and on what time scale that alternative will help them to combat the discrimination from which they suffer. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is the unresolved question that will be in the minds of disabled people after the debate?

Mr. Barnes

This is not the first time that we have debated the issue, because my right hon. Friend introduced a version of the Bill in an earlier Session. The Bill before us has come from another place and there has been time for the Government to take action and for some plans and proposals to be put forward. The Government are attempting to push the Bill aside with promises of various discussions taking place here and there. At the same time, many people feel a growing sense of disillusionment.

Although we have only a few minutes left, it would be valuable if the Minister had second thoughts and gave us the chance to get the Bill through the House after 2.30, so that it can go to Committee for further investigation. Short of that, if the Minister is not willing to consider the over-arching concept, other more limited measures exist. What will be done, for example, about access to polling stations?

Mr. McMaster

Is not it the case that the voices to which we should be really listening are those of the 6.5 million disabled people and their carers who have expressed their strong support for the Bill and their desire for it to be enacted quickly? No arguments that have come from the Government will satisfy those of us who support the Bill or those 6.5 million people.

Mr. Barnes

I was presented with a petition about those 6.5 million people yesterday by the Derbyshire Disabled Forum, which wanted me to pass it to the Prime Minister. It called on the Government to give the Bill fair weather and asked for prime ministerial support. At the very least, the Minister could have reflected that prime ministerial support, but he failed to do so. There is deep concern.

Many favourable comments are made about the Minister and about how he responds in humanitarian terms. However, there have been many problems during the many years that he has been doing his job. There were difficulties about the way in which the disability living allowance fund operated and the establishment of the Benefit Agency. He is now presenting us with a problem by saying that he will not allow the Bill to proceed.

Mr. Skinner

Is not the basic reason why the rotten, lousy Tory Government will not help the disabled that they believe in the philosophy of letting the tall poppies grow tall and of people standing on their own two feet? That means that people who are born disabled cannot compete with those who make it to the top. The Government are prepared to shed crocodile tears by the bucketful because they believe in the market force philosophy of allowing people to tread on anybody else's neck in order to get to the top. The idea of giving rights to minorities, including the disabled, cuts across the Government's philosophy. That is why 250,000 people are not being paid their disability living allowance. The Government blame that on a computer—why is it that the income tax computer always works on time, but the computer for paying out benefits has caused a delay of nine months in payment? That comparison spells out the hypocrisy of this rotten, lousy Government.

Mr. Barnes

Political theorists talk about the vigorous virtues and propound individualism, the family and the notion that everyone should be able to stand on their own two feet—a particularly poignant phrase when one is dealing with disablement. There are a number of disabled people who cannot do that, but who should be able to gain access to everything on the same basis as able-bodied people.

As time is running out, I shall not be able to expand in detail on the subject of access to polling stations and the Spastics Society's report, but I shall mention one of the five key problems that it outlined. It highlighted problems inside the polling stations, including the number of steps, poor lighting and slippery floors—which accounted for 22 per cent. of the problems. It said that there were narrow corridors and doors which people could not get through. Such problems must be taken seriously.

The Bill that I introduced was designed to improve electoral registration techniques, but such improvements are of little use to disabled people if, once they are included on the register, they cannot get into the polling stations to exercise their voting rights. The Minister should take that matter on board. He should carefully examine the report and the other matters raised by disabled organisations. He should hold discussions with the Minister of State, Home Office, with responsibility for electoral registration, the hon. Member for Fareham (Mr. Lloyd), so that we can perhaps nudge forward.

Although there are important issues before the House, civil rights for disabled people must be considered by the Government. They should have responded to the issues, but they have not. Therefore, we must try to gain something from today's debate—perhaps the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People would like to make a quick intervention now to say that he will at least meet the Minister of State, Home Office to discuss the possibility of making progress.

Mr. Scott

In the few seconds remaining, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I will take it up with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Barnes

I thank the Minister.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House believes that anti-discrimination legislation is necessary to ensure equality of opportunity for people with disabilities; and calls for the early enactment of specific provisions relating to public transport and other public and private services, employment and housing.