HC Deb 29 April 1994 vol 242 cc495-555 9.34 am
Sir John Hannam (Exeter)

I beg to move,

That, in the opinion of this House, Her Majesty's Ministers should provide sufficient time on the floor of the House before 27th May 1994 to allow all remaining stages of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill to be completed, and that sufficient time be provided before the end of the Session for the consideration of any Amendments to the Bill which may be made by the House of Lords. The motion asks hon. Members to approve a resolution calling on the Government to provide the necessary parliamentary time for an important private Member's Bill to proceed. There are many hon. Members who support the Bill, but are unable to be here today. There are also many hon. Members who are present and will participate in today's debate.

There is one right hon. and learned Member who I particularly wish was present today—the Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who is paying a visit to my constituency today. I was unable to persuade him to give up that trip to come here instead.

Last November, the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) came seventh in the ballot. Although that is not a prime position for parliamentary time, it was very much to the delight of the all-party disablement group and all the disability organisations outside that the hon. Gentleman took the opportunity to introduce a Bill that had previously passed through all its stages in the House of Lords, had been sponsored by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and had come to this House, only narrowly to fail to obtain a Second Reading.

The Bill introduces comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people, and seeks to outlaw discrimination on the ground of disability in every section of life—education, employment, training, banking, insurance, and access to buildings, houses and leisure and transport facilities.

Today's debate is not a debate on the Government's record in the subject. I am proud of the many advances achieved in recent years. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People knows of my admiration for the work he does for disabled people. The Government share our overall objective of removing discrimination, but we differ on the means and the paths of achieving it, which is why the Bill has been introduced.

Once the hon. Member for Kingswood announced his intention to promote the Bill, disabled people across the country began a vigourous and disciplined campaign in support. On 9 March, more than 2,000 disabled people, and their friends and relatives, lobbied the House and Members of Parliament asking them to vote for the Bill's Second Reading. Two days later, 231 hon. Members did just that, and no one voted against. With that unanimous vote the House expressed its opposition to discrimination against disabled people. The vote signalled to employers, service provides and disabled people that Parliament takes the issue seriously. We are determined to legislate to end discrimination.

My motion seeks to renew the commitment made on 11 March, and asks the Government not to let such a serious and well-supported commitment become a hostage to the restrictions of the parliamentary timetable. There is ample historical precedent for the Government allowing a private Member's Bill to progress. Rarely has there been a Bill more worthy of reordering parliamentary business.

I shall outline what happened to the Bill in Committee. Just before Easter, the Committee discussing the Bill sat for the first time and we moved a timetable motion expressing our willingness to sit mornings and evenings, Tuesdays and Wednesdays to give us sufficient time to look at the provisions of the Bill in detail, as the Prime Minister had requested on the Floor of the House.

It was with considerable disappointment therefore that members of the Committee greeted the Government's decision not to table any amendments in Committee, especially as that seemed to be contrary to the wishes that the Prime Minister had expressed in his statement on 8 March. However, sponsors and supporters of the Bill tabled amendments in Committee, listened to the concerns of opponents of the Bill and accepted the principle behind amendments suggested by others.

After three intense sittings of the Committee, we were all agreed that the Bill had been examined in detail and improved, and that it was now ready to return to the Floor of the House for its Report stage.

More than 20 amendments were discussed in Committee. Some extended the provisions of the Bill to telecommunication provision for people with sensory disabilities. The employment provision was extended to employers of fewer than 20 people. As 97 per cent. of the population are employed in small businesses and other such outfits, it was necessary to ensure that people would be covered against onerous responsibilities by the introduction of such phrases as "reasonable accommodation" and "undue hardship". We amended the Bill to ensure that that was the case.

The Bill was also extended to encompass domestic new buildings. For many years, we have been involved in a campaign for a reasonable standard of accessibility to be incorporated automatically into all new domestic buildings.

Other amendments dealt with the language of disability and the terms used. We changed, for example, the words "people with disabilities" to "disabled people". The disablement commission was changed to the Disability Rights Commission. Some amendments dealt with the workings and responsibilities of the commission. The commission was given duties instead of functions. A detailed procedure was set out in terms of consultation with Parliament before the Commission could issue its Codes of Practice. The principle of consulting employment organisations was accepted, which is an important point.

We all accept that employers are apprehensive about the Bill's cost implications. That is why we had meetings with the Employers Forum on Disability, and why we are setting up meetings with the Institute of Directors and the Confederation of British Industry.

On 22 April, the CBI wrote to ask for consultation. A letter that I received from Howard Davies, the director-general of the CBI, contained two important passages. He wrote: The first concern is that, while there is clearly a need for a new legislative framework"— a key phrase— to protect people with disabilities in employment, and possibly in other areas, to introduce such legislation without consulting employers and other groups that will be instrumental in ensuring that such legislation is effective is unlikely to produce the best solution. There are many factors that need to be taken into consideration, and which could be tackled in a consultation exercise. He then lists those factors, which we have discussed. He continues:

I also hope that you will be able to support the proposal that I am making to the Secretaries of State concerned with this area. I am suggesting that Government should acknowledge the need for action in the areas highlighted by the Bill and bring forward its own White Paper on the civil rights of people with disabilities. I hope that my comments also demonstrate that the CBI would want to make a positive and constructive contribution to that process. That is a significant letter. It suggests a White Paper and it shows that the biggest employer organisation in the country wants action on civil rights for disabled people.

Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)

Did the hon. Gentleman gain the impression that the CBI was seeking a White Paper as a substitute for the Bill, or to supplement and complement it?

Sir John Hannam

The CBI recognises that the Government have difficulties in accepting the Bill. That is a realistic appraisal. It wants to have consultations and is setting up meetings, but it is moving from basic stand-off hostility to the concept of legislation.

That letter clearly shows that the CBI recognises that there is a need for action in employment and other sectors. It is saying that the Government cannot just stand back; that they must move forward; and that, if the Bill is not acceptable to them, they must produce a White Paper that will show their intent. The CBI has taken a significant step.

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

Has the hon. Gentleman had any discussions with the Institute of Directors? Today, I received through the post, as possibly other hon. Members have, the May edition of "Disability Now" in which Lord Young, the president of the Institute of Directors, is highly critical of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Dr. Berry).

Sir John Hannam

We are having a dialogue and setting up a meeting with the Institute of Directors, which has expressed hostility to the Bill. It is probably the one organisation that has expressed the greatest hostility, representing the fears, which I mentioned earlier, of the business sector.

The business sector in the United States also had those fears when it went through the same process. We hope to set up discussions with the CBI and the Institute of Directors to start reassuring them and to explain that not only costs but benefits are involved. One has to be realistic and include costs and benefits in any analysis of the effects of the Bill.

In Committee, we extended the powers of the Secretary of State to exempt certain categories of covered entities. We proposed an amendment to allow for much longer phase-in periods for compliance with the requirements of the Bill. That is an important factor and will be of significant reassurance to the Institute of Directors, the CBI, businesses and the Federation of Small Businesses. That amendment is a reaction to, and should reassure the fears expressed over, the possible costs of immediate implementation of statutory legislation on adaptation to buildings and equipment.

The amendments showed that the promoters and supporters of the Bill had acted, in the absence of any amendments from the Government, as a respectable mouthpiece and channel for the concerns expressed outside.

Members of the all-party disablement group and the disability lobby have approached the Prime Minister, Secretaries of State and the organisations that oppose the Bill. We have offered to meet them and to discuss concerns about the legislation's effects. Meetings are now being arranged. Unlike most private Member's Bills, which emerge from Committee basically unamended, this one was improved in Committee. It is ready for and deserving of a full Report stage.

As I mentioned, the Institute of Directors, the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses have expressed their concerns about the Bill's provisions. The CBI has expressed rational and valid misgivings about its effect on businesses. Those echo the concerns that were expressed in the United States, where people were worried about the effect of the Americans with Disabilities Act on their businesses. Like the American legislation, our Bill safeguards business interests with clauses that include such terms as "reasonable accommodation" and "undue hardship", which are further backed up by the long phasing-in periods for the most inaccessible and expensive facilities.

This week, I received a letter from America from the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which has a membership of about 263,000 businesses. In that organisation, Jennifer Ley deals specifically with the effects of the American legislation. She writes: I must admit some shock at the temerity of your UK colleagues in the business community. As you will find in the US General Accounting Office Report, 'ADA, Initial Accessibility…business response (in America) has been very positive to the ADA. In as much as the BBB bureau system has as its members some 263,000 businesses I can tell that the response that we have received from businesses has been very positive. She goes on: I must also point out that the financial burdens your opponents quote are not quite accurate. In the case of new construction the requirements of the legislation in the United States

only increase the original price by 1 per cent. The buying power of 49 million people and the addition to the workforce are also factors they have neglected to mention. I must stress that the only people who need be afraid of this legislation are those who have not properly read the Bill, and those who wish to continue unfairly to discriminate against disabled people.

There are, of course, many misconceptions about the Bill, and I shall try to clarify some of them. There is a misconception that the Bill would require an employer to hire a disabled person even if he were not best suited to the job, but that is not true. The Bill is not a positive discrimination Bill, but would give disabled people the right to legal redress if they felt that they had been discriminated against unreasonably.

A further misconception is that all buildings would have to be made accessible immediately, whatever the cost involved and whatever the size of the building. Again, that is just not true. As I have already said, that would be prevented by the use of terms such as "reasonable accommodation" and "undue hardship", and long phase-in periods where appropriate.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

Does my hon. Friend feel that such provisions water down the Bill too much?

Sir John Hannam

No, they follow the pattern of the American experience where, after negotiations with all the representative bodies involved, a solution was reached which allowed a suitable phase-in period. In fact, that period was up to 20 years.

Let us consider transport systems for a moment. It would be ridiculous to expect our underground system to be adapted for disabled people within a week, six months or a year. It will take a very long time and will have to be carefully planned and phased in, all of which, now that the Bill has been amended, would come under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State.

We have not laid down a fixed period for implementation of the Bill's provisions. In America, a period of 20 years was laid down but, because of the concerns expressed, we have gone further and left it to the Secretary of State to work out the length of time that would be necessary for the changes to be made. I hope that that explains the reassurances given in the Bill. The Bill will not lose its effectiveness, because such legislation can change the climate overnight.

Another fear that has been expressed, and which is connected to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant), is that the Bill would bankrupt small businesses and create financial hardship among many commercial interests. Again, that is not true. In addition to the legal reassurances in the Bill, practical reassurance is available from the experience of business in the United States. As I said on Second Reading, there have been no business collapses as a result of the 1990 legislation in America.

The Institute of Directors claimed that it would be cheaper to provide disabled people with separate special facilities instead of improving access in general. I do not believe that the institute understands the basic concept of equality which underlies anti-discrimination legislation. It also severely underestimates the role that disabled people can play in the economy once workplaces become accessible to them.

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

One of the complaints made by the Institute of Directors in particular was that there had been no prior consultation with business organisations before the Bill was drafted, and that what was inevitably a difficult matter—the attempt to quantify the cost to business of such legislation—became even more important. What consultation is now taking place with businesses, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses or the Confederation of British Industry?

Sir John Hannam

At the Prime Minister's behest, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People consulted on anti-discrimination legislation. At the same time, meetings were taking place between the all-party disablement group and the Employers Forum on Disability to discuss the implications of the Bill. I should not like to go too far, but I think that we have been able to persuade members of the forum that there was a sound case for the presentation of this legislation. In this connection, I have quoted from a letter written by the director-general of the CBI, and we are now setting up meetings with the other two organisations that my hon. Friend mentioned.

Another misconception that has been peddled is that the Bill would require employers to pay equal wages to less productive employees, but that is not true. The Bill would cover only qualified individuals, by whom I mean disabled people who would otherwise fit the criteria for a vacancy, but who might need some accommodation of their disability in order for them to be able to carry out the essential functions of the job.

That notion is also embodied in the access to work provisions now coming from the Department of Employment. I hope that the provision will clear up any misconception that the Bill would require employers to open up positions of employment for all the wrong reasons.

I believe that I reflect the views of most hon. Members when I say that disabled people want to be able to pay their taxes, to go to work and to live reasonably, just like everyone else. It is as simple as that. I hope that I have cleared up some of the unfounded fears expressed by opponents of the Bill.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

Part IV deals with the provision of goods and services, and clause 6 contains a fairly long list of bodies and organisations that must provide facilities for the disabled. It will clearly involve a great deal of money. My hon. Friend mentioned a phase-in period of 20 years in the United States, but I can find no mention of a phase-in period in the Bill. As I understand it, organisations will be required to provide the necessary facilities overnight.

Sir John Hannam

If my hon. Friend reads the amendments that were made in Committee, he will realise that the reverse is the case. It is true that the unamended Bill laid down a five-year period for implementation, but the Committee considered that that was too short. We therefore made the phase-in period open-ended, at the discretion of the Secretary of State. We have allowed a longer period than that in the United States, because we took account of the fears that were being expressed.

However, some things can be done literally overnight, as I shall show later. In the United States, a vast raft of access was provided overnight by many employers who had always been able to do so but had never bothered because there had been no requirement that they should not discriminate against disabled people. The psychological factor can determine a sea change in attitude towards disabled people.

The Bill received an unopposed Second Reading, and was thoroughly examined in detail in Committee. It should now be allowed to pass through the rest of its stages, with both Houses being given the opportunity to express their views on an extremely important subject. We need the Government to show that they are serious, and the best way to do that would be for them to allow Government time for the remaining stages.

Disabled people have waited too long to the Bill for it to be killed by parliamentary procedure. We should not be doing ourselves any favours by hiding our concerns behind excuses of timetables and so on, especially when the Bill's sponsors have shown such willingness to discuss the concerns of others and, where reasonable, to meet them halfway.

I have received many letters from organisations representing disabled people and from disabled people themselves. I shall read from a couple to give some flavour of the feelings of many organisations and people outside. In a letter dated 21 April, the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People wrote: It would be very sad if Disabled People failed to gain full and equal rights due to parliamentary procedure, particularly when so many of you"— Members of Parliament— clearly support the Bill. A letter from the Royal National Institute for Deaf People states:

Much excitement has been generated throughout the deaf and hard of hearing communities at the degree of support the Bill has received from all sides of the House: And I know every one of the 7.5 million people who have some hearing loss throughout the UK would … wish you every success next week. There are many other letters from which I could quote for half an hour or an hour.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those organisations would be dismayed if sufficient time were not allowed for the Bill, especially in the light of rumours going around the Palace that the House will probably rise for the summer recess earlier than we have done for many years?

Sir John Hannam

I welcome that intervention. If I was making an objective analysis of the parliamentary programme, I would say that there was not a great deal of business to keep us here late into the summer. The Government therefore cannot use the argument that we have such a crowded timetable that time cannot be found.

The Government must consider granting the extra time, for several reasons. First, support for the Bill is overwhelming. All the national disability organisations—I have mentioned one or two—the House of Lords, the all-party disablement group and the majority of hon. Members, including a growing number of Conservative Back-Bench Members, have expressed their support for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation.

Secondly, the Prime Minister expressed a desire for the Bill to be examined in detail, and individual Secretaries of State have said that they are looking with interest at the Committee record; they have stated that in answers to parliamentary questions and in letters. The Prime Minister and Secretaries of State should be given the opportunity to discuss their position on the Bill on the Floor of the House during later stages.

Thirdly, when a Bill has such support and is the subject of such attention from the general public and from 6.5 million disabled people, it should be allowed to be voted on, and not left to fall foul of the parliamentary timetable.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

I fully agree with the argument that there is plenty of time in this parliamentary Session to get the Bill through. Last year, Parliament sat for only seven months out of 12, so there would have been time then. The chances are that we shall not sit much longer this year.

There is another way in which the Bill can complete its parliamentary progress. I have consulted my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). We use this debate as an opportunity for the Government to respond. Opposition Front-Bench Members would seriously consider granting half an Opposition day—our parliamentary time—if the Government would guarantee to give the other half and would give a guarantee to get the Bill through, as has been the case for many private Members' Bills in the past. If the Government responded to that, the Bill would get on the statute book.

Sir John Hannam

I am sure that ways have been found in the past, as the hon. Member says, in which to provide the time. There are all sorts of different ways, and I hope that we shall get some positive proposals from the Government once the House has passed the motion overwhelmingly today. That is the key first step.

We know that some hon. Members may have serious concerns about the drafting of the legislation. The sponsors and supporters of the Bill have expressed—indeed, we have acted on—a willingness to listen and to take on board those concerns whenever they complement the overall aim of eliminating discrimination against disabled people.

The current situation has been going on for too long. The Bill is the 13th attempt to introduce such legislation. Over past years, the subject has been taken up by individual Members who have received through their post bags and through surgery doors many examples of discrimination.

At the Prime Minister's behest, the all-party disablement group was involved with discussions with the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. After several months of discussions, the officers of the group decided that the Government's approach, which had the same objective of removing discrimination, but by means of education and persuasion alone, Department by Department, was insufficient as a strategy for ending discrimination against disabled people.

I now turn to the procedural aspects of the motion. I know that I am not exactly the flavour of the month with my Whips Office for choosing this opportunity to table a motion calling on them to find extra time for a private Member's Bill. I also know that they understand my motives for doing so, and my deep conviction that I must do everything possible to assist the cause of removing unfair discrimination.

Private Members' Bills and their procedure would confuse and intimidate anyone. It is to the credit of the hon. Member for Kingswood that he has been able to pilot the Bill so smoothly so far in its proceedings. It would baffle and anger even our greatest cynics if the Bill were to be left hanging in mid-air when so much work has been undertaken by so many people, inside and outside Parliament, to see it through its previous stages.

We all know that procedure can be used to stop unpopular or contentious Bills progressing through the private Member's Bill channels, yet this Bill is neither contentious nor unpopular. Even those with concerns about the details of the Bill support its underlying aim of ridding society of unfair discrimination against disabled people. As we have already seen, the Bill has the support not only of the majority of the House of Commons, but of the majority of the House of Lords.

The history of private Members' Bills suggests that Bills that receive an uncontested Second Reading progress through the remaining stages even if the Government have to give extra time for them to do so. In the 1979–80 Session, the Representation of the People Bill achieved an unopposed Second Reading with 42 minutes of debate. It passed through its Committee stage when it was approved with no discussion by a Committee of the whole House. The Bill's Report and Third Reading stages were taken on the nod on the fifth day.

Two of the most contentious post-war private Members' Bills, the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill and the Abortion Bill of 1967, provide ample evidence of Bills that could not have been enacted within the time allotted to private Members' Bills. Indeed, the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Bill had an extra day provided by the Government to allow it to complete its Report stage.

As one political commentator writes: All the classic private Members' legislation of the 1960s obtained Government time, and none of the Bills involved would have received Royal Assent without the additional time. Leo Abse's Sexual Offences Bill was introduced as a ten-minute Bill in the 1966–67 Session. It had an unopposed Second Reading, and he persuaded the Government to give the Bill Government time in Committee. On Report, the Bill again ran out of time, so the Government agreed to provide an extra Friday. After that extra day, the Bill still had not finished its Report stage, so the Government offered more time on a Monday. The House sat from 10 pm until 5.50 am the following morning. Hon. Members would be willing to do the same to get this legislation through.

The very important Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970—the "Alf Morris Act" promoted by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe—was given extra time by the Government so that it could complete its parliamentary progress.

We are not asking for the impossible or even for the original. Between 1951 and 1985, 64 private Members' Bills were given Government time, of which 33 were granted extra time by Conservative Governments. Library records show that, between 1979 and 1986, four private Members' balloted Bills were given Government time. All those Bills show that, where there is a parliamentary will, there is a parliamentary way.

I am not asking the Government to create a precedent. I have looked at the Library's books and records on the matter. The final paragraph of the Library's book on Government and private Members' Bills makes interesting reading. It says:

In conclusion. The pattern which emerges is clear. The Government is crucially involved in the private members' bills legislative process. In fact, it is the key actor. Most importantly, it is evident that most successful back-bench Bills are now Government Bills in all but name. None of this means that the Government is totally omnipotent. As we shall see later, the MPs and interest groups involved with promoting private members' business have some ways of fighting back—but they are very limited. That is a good analysis of the situation that we face.

There is no reason why private Members' Bills should not occupy Government time if the Government are willing, or parliamentary time if Parliament approves. If the Government do not give the Bill adequate time, disabled people and the general public will know that the Bill did not succeed because the Government opposed it.

What is worse is that they will know that the Government did not openly oppose it. They will know that the Government would not give each Member of Parliament the opportunity to vote on an issue that affects, on average, 10,000 of his or her constituents. They would know that, instead, the Government used parliamentary procedures to block the Bill, when they could just as easily have used parliamentary procedures to help it through.

As joint chairman of the all-party disablement group and one of the sponsors of the Bill, I urge all hon. Members to support the motion which calls for adequate time to be given to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill so that it can complete its remaining stages. Let us take this opportunity to put paid, once and for all, to the shameful exclusion of disabled people from our society.

10.9 am

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on his good luck in the ballot and, of course, on his excellent choice of motion.

I was serving with other members of the Standing Committee who were considering the Bill at its last sitting when it was announced that the hon. Member had come top in the ballot for private Member's motions. I can assure the House that the enthusiasm and the excitement of hon. Members in that Committee was probably rivalled only by the enthusiasm and excitement for that result in the Government Whips Office. It was cheered warmly by all members of the Committee, who saw it as an opportunity, as the hon. Member for Exeter has said, of furthering a laudable Bill.

Why is the motion necessary? The history of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill clearly shows why we need to ask the Government for sufficient time to complete its remaining stages. It is extremely important to say that, when I was lucky in the ballot for private Members' Bills early in this Session and I chose to pick up the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, it was not a new idea. It was not a new Bill. The case for comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation to protect disabled people had been around for a very long time, and the details of the Bill proposed at Second Reading had been available for all interested parties for well over two years.

In addition to paying tribute to the hon. Member for Exeter and all right hon. and hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee, for whom the House ought to express its gratitude, I especially pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). It would be extraordinary if I did not do so, because, as the first Minister for Disabled People, he commissioned a committee of inquiry early in 1979 to examine the issue.

However, consideration of the matter goes back further than 1979, because disabled people and their organisations were campaigning for the precise provisions in the Bill in the early 1970s. But, in early 1979, my right hon. Friend set up a committee on restrictions against disabled people and, as we all know, that committee reported to the Government in 1982. Its report was available 12 years ago for all who wished to consult it.

Three of the recommendations in that report are three of the essential pillars in the Bill before the House: first, there should be legislation to make discrimination on the ground of disability illegal: secondly, the law should cover all areas where discrimination occurs: thirdly, there should be a regulatory body or a commission with powers to investigate, conciliate and, if necessary, take legal action on individual complaints of discrimination.

The basic principles of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill have been a matter for public debate for at least 12 years. Consultation on the present form of the Bill, as I shall say again in a moment, is welcome, and along with my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter—sorry. I am sorry if I have got the hon. Member for Exeter into even more trouble with his Whips by referring to him as an hon. Friend. However, I must say that I regard him as both a friend and as honourable.

Of course, as the hon. Member for Exeter said, we have met various organisations, and we have given an unqualified commitment to meet any organisations which have a legitimate interest in the Bill, but the proposals have been on the table for 12 years. Over that time, any organisation could have asked to see the Minister, the Secretary of State, the all-party disablement group, or anybody concerned with the Bill. Indeed, many of those organisations have done that.

So let us be clear about consultation. It is right and proper that we should consult as much as we can before Report, and that is happening, but there have also been many years during which that consultation could and did take place. The Bill is not new, and the provisions are not new.

Mr. Rowlands

In the light of what my hon. Friend and others have said, does that not mean that the argument of lack of consultation cannot possibly be used as an alibi to impede the progress of the Bill? Surely the Bill is absolutely justifiable. It has had a great deal of consultation, it has had 10 years of thorough preparation and therefore should be carried forward.

Mr. Berry

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have tried to consult. For goodness' sake, a private Member's Bill which concerns a matter that has been in the public domain for 12 years is before the House. There have been extensive debates and discussions—between the all-party disablement group and the Minister, between the all-party disablement group and the Prime Minister, and between the all-party disablement group and anybody who wanted to talk about such issues. I have attended meeting after meeting where the matters have been discussed.

It is absurd to say to a humble Member who happens to have been lucky in the ballot that he should have consulted even more. Those who support the Bill are doing as much as they can. If there has not been adequate consultation over the years, I do not feel that I must accept all the responsibility for that.

Given that history, and the fact that, three days before the Second Reading on 8 March, the Prime Minister said: I hope that the Bill will go into Committee for detailed examination of its provisions".—[Official Report, 8 March 1994; Vol. 239, c. 147.], many assumed—I think that it was reasonable to assume —that objections to the principles of the Bill had been withdrawn. After all, on each and every previous occasion, the Government had blocked the Bill at that stage, so it was reasonable to assume, as many hon. Members did, that the Government no longer objected to the principles of Bill, but wanted to examine the details. Whether that was as a result of a genuine conversion, as I hope, or whether it was the result of the superb lobbying by disabled people and their organisations, which I am sure contributed to our awareness of the issues, or whether it was a bit of both, I do not really mind.

For the first time ever, there was not a single objection to the Second Reading of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. Strictly, it was carried by 231 votes to nil, but I must acknowledge the four Tellers, who were doing their job. If they had not been doing that job, I know that they would have voted in favour of the Bill as well, so 235 Members supported the Bill on 11 March and not a single Member was opposed to the basic idea and the well-known principles of the Bill, or went through the Lobby to vote no. Not one hon. Member said no.

As the Bill went into Committee, in response to another parliamentary question on 12 April, the Prime Minister said: What we need to do in Committee and thereafter is to look at the practical implications of the Bill and that will be done."—[Official Report, 12 April 1994; Vol. 241, c. 15.] In Committee, what did we do? As the hon. Member for Exeter said, first, I moved a sittings motion to indicate that we ought to be prepared to meet on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, mornings and afternoons, for however long it took for the detailed examination, as requested and promised by the Prime Minister, to take place. We even decided not to sit one morning because the Minister was unable to attend, and we felt that it was right that our deliberations did not continue without the benefit of his contribution.

In Committee on 12 April the Minister said: I am not arguing that the Bill is not necessary."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 12 April 1994; c. 60.] I know that that is a double negative, but many of us read Private Eye and we know that, when one says that one is not arguing that the Bill is not necessary, in Private Eye-speak that means that one probably thinks that it is a really good idea.

We were encouraged by that and, as the hon. Member for Exeter also said, no Government amendments were tabled. Given the Prime Minister's desire for the "detailed examination", that seemed a little strange, but supporters of the Bill indicated that the door was always open for Government amendments. I even borrowed a phrase from my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and said that the door was just about falling off its hinges. We were begging for Government amendments to deal with any concerns that the Government might have, but none was forthcoming.

We were not discouraged. The supporters of the Bill tabled between 20 and 30 amendments that were designed specifically to address the concerns raised by the Government and by representatives of several organisations. I repeat the point made by the hon. Member for Exeter: that organisations have requested meetings with us, and that some meetings have been arranged. Other organisations have requested meetings and, again, meetings will be arranged.

The argument has moved considerably. No one argues now that education and persuasion are sufficient. That argument was not advanced on Second Reading and it did not crop up in Committee. It is no longer argued that legislation cannot work. Again, that argument was not advanced on Second Reading or in Committee. After all, if anyone believed that, what would be the future of sex discrimination and race relations legislation?

Before we examined the Bill in Committee, the Government had two genuine concerns about the Bill. First, there was the possibility that the Disability Rights Commission might have a policy-making function. The Government, quite legitimately, would not wish that function to be delegated. Secondly, they were concerned about costs. I believe that those were the only two remaining obstacles to the Bill.

So what did we do? We moved an amendment to ensure that codes of practice recommended by the Disability Rights Commission should be introduced through the Secretary of State, subject to parliamentary approval. As a democrat, I believe that to be the right approach. I also believe that the amendment undermined an objection that the Government had to the original Bill. We have made it clear that codes of practice will be a matter for the House to approve or not.

As the hon. Member for Exeter said, we moved an amendment that had the effect of phasing in the Bill's provisions. Again, that will ultimately be subject to parliamentary approval. Costs will be incurred by the Treasury when hon. Members decide that that is right. No one else will make that decision. As a democrat, I think that that is right. I hope, however, as I know most people do, that the Bill's provisions will be implemented quickly. There is no reason for delay.

We have taken head on the Government's objection about costs. As I have said, costs will be incurred when Parliament decides that that is appropriate. I do not know what else we could have done in Committee to take on board the two remaining objections that the Government had to the Bill. Of the 20 or 30 amendments tabled, the Minister voted against only one. That amendment happened to relate to codes of practice being subject to parliamentary approval. I remain mystified that that was the one amendment he voted against, but in the spirit of good will I shall not press that further.

The key point is that the Minister did not oppose any of the clauses. As I have said, he opposed only one amendment. To borrow a phrase that he used in Committee extensively, I do not want to quibble about that. I think that the right hon. Gentleman was generally extremely helpful. When responding to an amendment to clause 1, he used the words: Although I would not advise anyone to vote against the amendment". Later, he said: My doubts about the amendment are not acute."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 12 April 1994, c. 46–50.] During the debate on clause 3, he said: I have no objection whatsoever to the amendments". At a later stage, he said:

That discussion has served us well."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 30 March 1994, c.10–20.] On clause 4, when we discussed discrimination in employment—a crucial part of the Bill—the Minister said that he had "tremendous sympathy" with what the sponsors were trying to achieve, and that he did not want their hopes to be destroyed because of reservations that he had expressed. At an earlier stage, he said: I do not want to delay the passing of clause 4."— That obviously warmed the hearts of all Labour Members in Committee. Now I am in trouble with my Whips.

Another important part of the Bill related to the provision of good services and facilities. Clause 6 was the key remaining provision. When discussing the clause, the Minister said: I have a great deal of sympathy with the points made."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 12 April 1994, c. 70–90.] When we moved on to clause 9 on enforcement, he said: I do not want to delay the Committee in dealing with the clause … I do not oppose it. When it came to new clause 3 and the definition of disability—I know that definitions have occupied some hon. Members' minds for a long time—the Minister said: I compliment the authors of the new clause". The prinicipal author sits on my right, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe. He continued: I praise them for having produced it at such short notice."—[Official Report, Standing Committee C, 13 April 1994, c, 110–112.] The right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that members of the Committee were busy producing amendments, even at short notice, and even ones that were praiseworthy.

In summary, on Second Reading there was an overwhelming vote in favour of the principles set out in the Bill. No one voted against it.

Mr. Fabricant

Will the hon. Gentleman reconfirm for the benefit of the House and for the record that the Bill is not a positive discriminatory measure? The effect of the Bill is simply to ask for equal rights. I wish to declare a personal interest. I have a researcher—I have already discussed this matter with him—who is severely disabled. The greatest insult would have been to employ him because he was disabled. I employed him because he was bloody good at his job, if I may say so. I should like the hon. Gentleman to confirm what I have put to him.

Mr. Berry

The answer is that the hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. The Bill is all about securing for disabled people a statutory right against unfair discrimination. It is about rights. It is about ensuring that disabled people have the same rights as everybody else—no more but no less. The hon. Gentleman is therefore correct. No doubt that is why on Second Reading there was an overwhelming vote in support of the Bill.

The Prime Minister, rightly in my view, felt it necessary to promise detailed examination in Committee. I believe that that examination took place. I hope very much, notwithstanding my comments a few moments ago, or perhaps because of them, that the Minister will confirm that we discussed every clause and amendments to them. As supporters of the Bill, we went out of our way to table amendments to address the concerns that the Government had raised. Surely all must be well for Report. Unfortunately, as the hon. Member for Exeter has implied, all is not necessarily well for Report, and that is why we need the motion.

I have already referred to the Government Whips Office. The hon. Member for Exeter has said that he is not exactly flavour of the month with the Government Whips Office. What is going on? Could it be that public statements to the effect, "We look forward to the Bill going into Committee and being subjected to detailed examination," run slightly counter to what is being said in private? There is no doubt that that is the position.

I was engaged in a debate on the radio last Friday. Another hon. Member was involved who is not in his place, so I cannot name him. He asserted what many hon. Members have said to me: "Of course, the Bill will be talked out on Report." We all know that there is some deviousness about. In public, opposition to the Bill in terms of votes or hostile amendments in Committee is frankly difficult to find. However, we are told in private that the Bill will be talked out.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

As the hon. Gentleman has devoted such a great deal of his time to this subject, in order to allay one of the principal possible objections to the Bill from employers' organisations, can he tell us what the likely cost on employers, and on the country as a whole, is likely to be? If we are to consider the Bill genuinely in the House, we must have some idea of those costs.

Mr. Berry

I cannot give an estimate of the costs. The Government have been seeking information from various companies and I had hoped that, before this stage, they would have published the results of their rather extensive research.

However, the key point about costs is that the Bill specifically ensures that, if any provision would cause undue hardship to an enterprise, firm or business, that provision would effectively be waived. Undue hardship specifically relates to the cost of adaptations that might be necessary. A whole clause is devoted to the definition of reasonableness in that context. I hope that the hon. Member will agree that that is the best that can be done, and that it is perfectly adequate.

I have suggested that what is being said publicly about the Government's position on the Bill is somewhat different from what is being said privately. I have two comments about that. First, I believe that the Bill is far too important to be treated in that way. This is not a game. Politics is not a game: it is a serious business. It is right and proper that disabled people and their organisations should know exactly where people stand on the issue. This is not an issue in respect of which politicians of any party should be playing games.

Secondly, I believe that the tactics which some fear the Government might use to talk out the Bill on Report will further bring Parliament into disrepute. At a time when public opinion of politicians in this country is, if not at an all-time low, at a pretty low level, such behaviour would only confirm the view that some politicians simply cannot be trusted.

In South Africa this week, discrimination on the grounds of race is beginning to come to an end. I am sure that many decent people have had tears of joy in their eyes and have felt admiration for the political activists who have brought that about. Why is it that this week, in this country, we cannot start to remove discrimination against disabled people at least to ensure that their case will be properly considered? Why cannot we shed a few tears of joy at the ending of discrimination against disabled people in this country? When will we be able to stop feeling anger towards those who still try to block this Bill?

The Bill, or something very like it, will of course eventually reach the statute book. No member of the Committee has any doubt about that. As I have said before, in years to come we will look back and wonder how on earth it could have taken so long for this measure to come about.

Why should disabled people accept any further delay? I do not believe that they should. I therefore support the motion and enthusiastically urge all hon. Members to do the same.

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

It may be convenient if I intervene at an early stage in the debate, although I know that many hon. Members wish to contribute to it in due course.

I have every sympathy with the concluding remarks, in particular, of the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), who was the main sponsor of the Bill. I acknowledge that we are addressing a deeply serious issue today and that we will be addressing it again next Friday. We discussed it on Second Reading and in Committee with considerable seriousness. The issue affects the lives of millions of our fellow citizens and it affects society as a whole because of its potential impact on the quality of life of many disabled people and the way in which society addresses their needs and abilities.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on his exceedingly good fortune in drawing first place in the ballot for private Members' motions. He has provided us with another opportunity to discuss this very important issue which, it would be fair to acknowledge, has increasingly commanded the attention and concern of hon. Members and of the public at large as the years have passed since a Bill of this type was first introduced.

In practice, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter has tabled a motion which is a plea for extra time for the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Kingswood. My hon. Friend outlined the Bill's aims and the support that has been expressed by organisations of and for disabled people and the public at large for the passage of the Bill. He also drew attention to the increase in consultation with employers and other providers upon whom, inevitably, some costs would be bound to fall were any legislation of this type to be implemented.

Through his motion and by using a very proper procedural device, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter is seeking to provide more time for a private Member's Bill. In essence, he wants the normal business of the House to be changed to allow extra time for a private Member's Bill. Despite the fact that I was Parliamentary Private Secretary to a former Leader of the House, Standing Orders of the House are not my main homework and I would not claim to be a master of every technicality and procedure of the House. However, it is my understanding that the Standing Orders, which were amended in February 1990, specifically preclude in Standing Order 13A the use of a private Member's motion to determine the "precedence, arrangement or timing" of business or allocating time to any proceedings or amending or varying any Standing Order". My interpretation of that is that, whatever the outcome of our debate today, it cannot technically affect the progress or otherwise of the next stage of the Bill. It cannot affect the time that may be required for the Bill.

Mr. Skinner

We should place on the record the reason for that change in the Standing Orders. That change was made because, on at least two occasions, a Member came first in the ballot and decided to turn his day for a motion into a day for a Bill. While I have been a Member of this place, that practice started when the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) allowed Enoch Powell to take over his private Member's motion day to pursue his Bill to prevent embryo research. I took part in that debate and used a parliamentary device to stop it. The practice was next used in relation to abortion.

The Standing Orders were changed only to prevent someone who had a victory in the ballot on private Members' motions from turning that Friday or Monday into a day to pursue a Bill. The hon. Member for Exeter has used only a motion; he has not used a Bill. That is the distinction. He is not attempting to do what was done on the two previous occasions. He is calling on the House to give a general voice, acclamation and support for the continuance of the Bill. He is also calling on his Government to repeat what has happened on other occasions—as he said, 64 occasions in all, including 33 times by a Tory Government—when Governments have allowed time for parliamentary Bills to proceed. Clearly, the two things are not the same and I hope that the Minister understands that.

Mr. Scott

I do not wish to clash with the hon. Gentleman on this issue. There are many other issues where I would relish a clash with him, but I think I shall duck a clash on procedure. The advice that I received was that, technically, whatever the genesis was for the change to our procedures and Standing Orders, the Standing Orders as they presently exist preclude the use of the motion in such a way. We should recognise that that is the reality of it, whatever precedents may have occurred before that specific change in our procedures took place. Governments of either persuasion may have also used other ways to meet the demands of the House.

The advice on procedure that I have been given, about which I am confident, is that it would not be possible for my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter—I think that he acknowledges this point—to use the motion to provide automatically for extra time and that the passage of the motion today would not automatically provide for that.

Mr. Berry

Notwithstanding what the Minister has said, can he confirm that there is nothing in the Standing Orders to prevent the Government from accepting the spirit of the motion and providing the time that it calls for? Can he confirm that there is nothing whatever to prevent the Government from doing that?

Mr. Scott

Indeed, I understand that the matter was raised yesterday in a question to my right hon. Friend the Lord President by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) as reported at column 386 of the Official Report. Obviously, I can go no further than my right hon. Friend went on that occasion. However, I certainly can confirm that it would be within the Government's powers to do that, although the Standing Orders certainly preclude the passage of the motion today—that is the point that I am making—from automatically providing time or extra time for the Bill.

I shall turn to the issues. Effectively, this is a procedural motion. However, in my brief remarks, I shall touch on some aspects of the Bill and our approach to the general issues, as my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter and the hon. Member for Kingswood did. I hope that our discussion today will not trespass on the time that we shall spend on Report next Friday, because that stage in itself is an important step in our parliamentary procedure.

When I heard that my hon. Friend had come first in the ballot, it came as no surprise when I found out the subject that he had chosen for our discussions today. It is yet another example of his deep commitment to improving the lives of disabled people, which he has demonstrated on many occasions. I acknowledge the reasons and the thinking behind his choice of motion.

As I said, there is an established handling procedure and, however strongly any of us may feel about the issue, we cannot deviate from it. That is not to say that the Government are not listening with care and sympathy to those who are actively campaigning for the Bill and properly using every opportunity to ensure that it reaches the statute book and that the thinking behind it is widely understood in the country outside.

It has already been said that on Second Reading, on 11 March, I reaffirmed the undertaking given earlier by the Prime Minister that the Bill would be examined and discussed thoroughly in Committee. It has been acknowledged by my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Kingswood that we fulfilled that commitment in Committee. We thorougly examined and discussed the issues involved in eliminating discrimination against disabled people against a range of amendments and discussions of the clauses in the Bill.

It is fair to say that, whatever our specific interests, as members of the Committee we entered into the work with a shared recognition that discrimination exists, that it is wrong and that more steps need to be taken to tackle it. The differences that cropped up in Committee, as they have cropped up in other discussions on the matter, were about the steps that need to be taken to tackle that discrimination.

I am grateful to my hon. Friends and, indeed, to Labour Members for the consideration and objectivity that they brought to our discussions in Committee. The discussion was conducted in a calm and constructive way. That enabled us to identify a degree of common ground between the sponsors of the Bill and the Government. Although the good-natured atmosphere in Committee did not prevent us from touching on some sensitive areas of difference, there was considerable common ground. Some other complex issues that had been discussed earlier were touched on again in Committee. Once again, that was a healthy part of our procedure in Committee.

It is fair to say that concerns are still being expressed by employers in industry and elsewhere, and by providers of goods, services and facilities, about the potential costs of the Bill. We must recognise the consultation that is now taking place. I wish that that consultation had taken place earlier, but I am certainly pleased to see that the all-party group and the sponsors of the Bill are now discussing with employers and other providers the question of costs. I recognise the amendment that we made in Committee to ensure that the impact of costs will come into the hands of the Secretaries of State who are concerned with the specific issues in the elimination of discrimination.

There were some reservations about the technicalities of drafting, but I do not want to go into them now. However, I see some positive ground and acknowledgement that parts of the Bill may act as indicators for possible solutions to the elimination of discrimination against disabled people. I reiterate my strong commitment and that of the Government to the shared aims of the sponsors of the Bill. We recognise the weight of support that the Bill has attracted. We are responding in our thinking to those pressures and we will continue to do so.

I certainly reiterate what the Prime Minister said—the quote has been used frequently in our discussions. He said that we are seeking to see what common ground exists and what ways there are forward.

As I said, I am not here today to discuss in depth what happened in Committee, because that is properly the function of the debate on Report which will take place next Friday. Proper debate will take place then, but I reiterate that the Government remain committed to the elimination of discrimination. We have already made further progress since the end of the debate in Committee.

Only last week, the mobility unit of the Department of Transport and the passenger transport executive group published a new set of guidelines aimed at architects, transport operators and planners involved in the design of public transport terminals and interchanges. That means that areas such as bus and railway stations, including items such as accommodation and furniture, will be covered, whether we are creating new facilities or adapting old buildings and shops.

Those good practices are important if designers are to meet the needs of all passengers, including those with disability and particularly those with mobility needs. That is one small illustration of the progress that the Government are determined to continue to make in that important area. In housing, transport and services facilities, we will continue to press forward with that work.

In education, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education recently laid before Parliament a draft code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs. Some 30,000 copies of that code were sent out and more than 1,000 written responses were received, the vast majority of which welcomed the new initiative. The code is being redrafted, it has been welcomed by the all-party children and disablement groups, and it will be considered by the House shortly.

The House will have welcomed the announcement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment about the access to work scheme. We know the scope of that scheme and we know that widespread concerns were expressed about the need for employers to make contributions towards the cost of the implementation of that scheme.

My right hon. Friend, in taking account of the suggestion made by the all-party disablement group, has decided to introduce the scheme without seeking an employer contribution for a year, and then to review the position. I believe and hope that the House will agree that that is a positive response from the Government to representations which they have received.

Much better progress than was expected has been made in placing disabled people into jobs. The Employment Service had a target last year that 3 per cent. of all its placings of unemployed people should be disabled people, which would have led to 44,000 disabled people being placed in work by the specialist staff of the Department and through job clubs. I am pleased to say that it looks as though more than 50,000 people will be placed in such jobs, apart from the large number of disabled people who find jobs through the Employment Service's self-service system.

Changes have also been announced to the funding arrangements for the supported employment programme —what we used to call sheltered placements. Again, we must recognise that that is important progress. The Government are determined to continue with that progress, and we are determined also to look at the provisions of the Bill and to see what common ground can be established between the Government and the Bill's sponsors.

Today, we are dealing with a procedural motion, the implications of which I outlined at the beginning of my remarks. We will come to Report next week with an attitude which firmly reflects and reinforces the commitments made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and we will pursue the remaining stages of the Bill in that spirit. We will return to the issue next Friday, and the Government will continue to study and reflect on the comments which undoubtedly will be made in those discussions and, in due course, we will make clear to the House our conclusions about the further consideration of the matters.

10.52 am
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

May I first apologise to the Minister and to the House for briefly being absent at the beginning of his speech? Unlike the Committee stage, when we had excellent cross-party co-operation, there seems to have been a small hitch about when the Minister was to speak this morning.

The Bill has been endlessly debated and has been amended and perfected in a process of scrutiny which few measures in the history of Parliament have undergone. It has been repeatedly introduced by an indefatigable band of warriors, and supported by all-party groups. It passed all its stages in the other place in a previous incarnation, and it has now completed its passage through Committee in the House.

It is a tribute to the way in which a piece of legislation can be supported across party lines, and can be burnished, honed and improved. Having a fair amount of experience of the legislative process in the House, and particularly in Committee, I am sure that I speak for many other hon. Members on both sides when I say, would that all pieces of legislation could have such scrutiny and such a quality of detailed investigation.

We are talking about a finely honed piece of legislation. I have been involved in discussions on Bills where the Government have totally changed their mind about the Bill halfway through the Committee.

Mr. Keith Bradley (Manchester, Withington)

Not often enough.

Mr. Sheerman

As my hon. Friend says, perhaps not often enough.

We all know the problems of legislation that has been hurriedly introduced. Minds must be changed halfway through, and massive numbers of Government amendments must be introduced. There have been criticisms this week about the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill which have related to hasty legislation which has been implemented too quickly with insufficient thought.

One cannot say that about this Bill, which has been given more attention than any other Bill. So exhaustively has the Bill been debated and its virtues extolled and listed by those giving wide-ranging support from all parts of the House, it becomes—even for a politician—quite difficult to say something new about it; the arguments have been made so well.

On Second Reading, I drew the attention of the House to the remarks of Ernest Bevin on the Disabled Persons (Employment) Bill in 1943 and on the 1944 Act. I thought that the level of debate and the vision that he showed in the House at that time was an inspiration to us, 50 years later.

I do not intend to waste the time of the House by repeating what others have said most ably. I congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on providing the House with this opportunity. It is pushing on very nicely the progress of the Bill. With regard to what the Minister said about the debate in a week's time, and given that there are no deviations from the norm and we get a proper amount of time for Report, this will be seen as an important milestone in the progress of the Bill.

I want to do something unusual, and confront the reality of the situation of the Bill. I want to put the mind of the Government at rest on the problems that they seem to think surround the Bill. I hope that the House will bear with me while I look at some of the ideas of the Government and of the Conservative party. I will try to show to the House, and particularly to the Government and their supporters on the Back Benches who have not yet signed the early-day motion or publicly come out in support of the Bill, that there is nothing to be afraid of.

I want to confront the reality of the Bill. Whatever else is said today, a private Member's Bill—even one of the quality of that introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry)—must depend, as all hon. Members are aware, on a fair wind from the Government. It is a comment on the House that all of us are aware that a private Member's role, and his independence and ability to introduce legislation, has been seriously reduced over a long period by Governments of all political parties.

If we want to look for a villain in the piece, we should look to Asquith during the first world war. He chopped the amount of private Members' time in the House, and it has never been retrieved. During the second world war, all private Members' legislation was suspended and it was not until 1947–48 that 10 motions and 10 private Members' Fridays were reintroduced.

That is a poor contribution to a modern democracy from Back-Bench Members of Parliament. Wearing my Back-Bench hat, I say that we have put up with it for too long. A private Member has a scant chance of introducing legislation and of its succeeding. We are, as ever in the House, far too dependent on the Whips and on the normal channels for deciding what is to be debated in the House and what makes progress.

I say that in a parliamentary sense. For far too long, the country has been democratically short-changed by the amount of time and opportunity for the private Member to get his legislation and ideas pushed through the House and given a fair amount of time. I do not entirely blame this Government or previous Governments. If responsibility lies anywhere, it lies with private Members. We have been careless in the custody of our responsibilities. At some stage, private Members—Conservative Members and my hon. Friends—will have to get together and put that right. We shall have to bring pressure to improve the situation.

Mr. Fabricant

I have a hypothetical question for the hon. Gentleman. If there were ever a Labour Government in the future, would it change the position? Would the hon. Gentleman like to commit that possible future Labour Government to amending the practices of the House to allow extra time for private Members' motions and business?

Mr. Sheerman

I welcome that intervention from the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant). He will know that the Labour party does not have a bad record in government. I mentioned 1947 and 1948, when we reintroduced private Members' time. We have quite a record in terms of introducing Select Committees, and so on. The hon. Gentleman probably joins me in making the point that there has to be greater emphasis on the independent role of Members of Parliament. The stark situation today in the real world is that private Members' Bills do not normally succeed unless they are entirely non-controversial or they have a fair wind from the Government. That is the truth. Everyone in the House will recognise that. If the Bill does not get a fair wind from the Government, it will fail. There is no doubt about that.

I want briefly to examine why the Government should change their mind and support the Bill. In an intervention in the speech of the hon. Member for Exeter, I suggested that there were rumours that the House would rise early for the summer recess. So there is no excuse for not allowing time for the Bill to complete its passage.

People will be frustrated if the Bill is not given a fair wind. When our electors support a Bill, the frustration that they feel is not that a Bill comes to the House, is given a fair hearing and voted on. Their frustration is that a Bill is debated, but there is no opportunity once it comes back from Committee to the House for it to make progress on its merits. That is the frustration that the disabled lobby and people with disabilities will feel if the Bill fails to make progress because of time. We must have the Government with us.

I want to do a rather unusual thing. I want to examine the worries of Ministers' gurus and the ideologues in his party. I shall examine quickly three recent speeches—the Minister would say that they were very important speeches —made by three leading members of the Minister's party.

A fair analysis of the ideas of the modern Conservative party, certainly as expressed by its ideologues and leaders, would suggest not that there was anything wrong with the Bill but that it went along with the grain of political and ideological thinking in the Conservative party. I highlight the fact that, even given the philosophy of the modern high priests of the Tory party, the introduction of a piece of legislation such as the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill goes with the grain rather than against it.

Let us start with perhaps the least cerebral of the three thinkers—the Prime Minister. He made a speech which I believe was a serious attempt to restate his interpretation of modern Conservatism. He called the speech "Conservatism in the 1990s: Our Common Purpose". It was delivered, of all places, at the Carlton club on 3 February 1993. He said: When I became Leader of our Party, I spoke of 'carrying forward the Conservative tradition'. I spoke of Conservatism as 'a common sense view of life from a tolerant perspective'. I set out my aim to create a 'classless society'—and 'a nation at ease with itself'. A Britain in which effort is rewarded; and everyone has a stake in our country's future. A Britain where every youngster can aim high; every family can build for its own future. Dignity, security, independence, self-respect—these are the human aspirations we understand and we endorse. Conservatism in the 1990s has the ambition to bring them within the grasp of every citizen. If that is not a ringing endorsement of the Bill, nothing is. It is a ringing endorsement of what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood is trying to do in his Bill.

The Prime Minister continued: These are the instincts of a free people; an enterprising people; a generous people; a tolerant people. We believe in fostering freedom by giving people more power to choose for themselves. We believe in fostering tolerance by respecting the individual; by recognising every citizen's power to choose … we have four cardinal principles: the principles of choice, ownership, responsibility and opportunity for all. That is the most extensive quotation from the Prime Minister that I have ever made, but I make the point to Conservative Members. He continued: we have always worked to meet people's aspiration to own their own homes; to have greater opportunities for themselves and their children; to enjoy the respect that follows from the exercise of choice. This has always been a great Tory tradition—a continuous thread in our thinking. When Disraeli spoke of 'the elevation of the condition of the people' he made it clear, even then, that he meant all the people: 'all the numerous classes of the realm, classes alike and equal before the law'. If this was not exactly 'a classless society', it already expressed many of the aspirations of one: the equal treatment of all citizens by the state, and the chance of advancement for all. I am tempted to say that my case rests. Our case for the Bill rests because the Prime Minister and, I am sure, the hon. Member for Exeter will appreciate those quotations.

We have a Government and a Prime Minister in his most thoughtful mode giving the basis of what he sees as opportunities for all. We are talking today about opportunities for all disabled people.

I do not want to leave my quotations with the Prime Minister. Some Conservative Members do not listen only to the Prime Minister. Although some of them respect him as a Prime Minister, they do not respect him as a party philosopher, an ideologue or a great thinker about the future of Conservatism.

However, Conservative Members might listen to two other voices which I shall quote briefly. The first is the Secretary of State for Social Security, the right hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Lilley). [Laughter.] In some wings of the party, he is seen as an ideologue and guru. He gave an important speech to The Spectator annual lecture on Wednesday 30 March 1994. That is the right-wing journal, not the spectator sport publication.

The right hon. Gentleman's speech was entitled—a somewhat hackneyed title—"Conservative Ideas and Ideals Will Continue to Triumph". That was quite as stirring as the Prime Minister's title. He said: The intellectual tide which dominated the 80s is still flowing powerfully in our direction. Ideas of choice and competition, less government rather than more, self-reliance rather than dependency—still ring true with most people's experience and chime with their values. Speaking of his long-term review of social security, he said that the Government's aim was also to reform the Social Security system on Conservative principles to make it a better system. That means, first encouraging personal responsibility. Second, we must try to reduce disincentives—to work, save, and provide for one's own family. That is why we introduced Family Credit. And why I am introducing a disregard for child care costs to help parents return to work. Third, we must focus help on those in need…we should redouble our efforts to reduce other people's dependency—on government in general and local government in particular. It is interesting to note that the right hon. Gentleman concluded his speech with a quote from Churchill. He said: 'Trust the people'. Winston Churchill's own words express the thought better than I or anyone else could manage: 'Let the people use their good common sense, multiply the choices which are open to them at every difficult phase in their lives. Make freedom spring from its source in their hearts and then indeed you will have a country which with wise government may be made to play a great part in the world.' I am sure that Conservative Members would agree that that is yet another endorsement of the Bill. It has been offered from one of their own Secretaries of State or, in common parlance, it is straight from right hon. Gentleman's box.

I want to finish with a quote from the real high priest of the Conservative party and I know that you will enjoy it, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Last Friday, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Portillo), made a speech to the North-East Fife Conservative Association. He said: I have no doubt at all the philosophy that shapes Conservative policy is closest to the beliefs of the majority of the British people. We understand that it is our first duty to govern for the nation as a whole, not for partisan interests, to take decisions which will be judged wise in the long term, not just popular in the short term, to pursue the difficult virtues of thrift and providence rather than the easy option of satisfying every immediate demand. One of the most marked features of the Bill is that it is not the result of yesterday's latest campaign. It is the result of one of the longest running political campaigns. Twelve attempts have been made to introduce such a Bill and this is the 13th. It is the culmination of years and years of effort by tens of thousands of people and hundreds of organisations. Those people do not represent a few siren voices.

I know that Conservative Members are obsessed with the notion of a few people. It brings to mind the popular expression of Burke about the crickets chirping under the leaves—there may have been many cows in the field, but all that could be heard were those half a dozen crickets. Conservative ideologues are keen to argue that we should listen to the quiet majority. It is interesting to recall that a year ago the Prime Minister described it as the "silent majority", but the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has changed that term to the "quiet majority". They mean the same thing.

The fear is that a few people get the attention of the media and railroad through the House bad legislation, which imposes enormous duties and responsibilities on business and the community. It is thought that such legislation is very expensive, fouls up the economy and generally does a disservice to the country. I understand that obsession, although I do not agree with it. Conservative Members could hardly claim that the campaign for civil rights for disabled people comes in that category.

The campaign for those rights is run by the quiet majority. Those people have gone unheard for years. They have not had the chance to articulate their rights and demands or fulfil their ability to be full citizens. They are the very people to whom the Conservative Government should listen, especially if there is any truth behind the speeches of the ideologues, philosophers and gurus from whom I have quoted.

The Bill to which we are urging the Government to devote time and consideration is absolutely in the grain of those thinkers. I will not delay the House with any more quotations, although I could go on.

Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)

Do go on.

Mr. Sheerman

I have quoted those Conservative gurus to show that there is nothing to be afraid of but fear itself.

Conservative Members may argue that the Bill would be expensive to implement. They may argue that it would impose many regulations when another Bill, which has just finished its Committee stage, is designed to deregulate. They are worried that the Bill that we are discussing would centralise. The fact is, however, that the Bill would free that quiet majority, that enormous number of people.

A recent poll revealed that 75 per cent. of the population know someone with a disability well. That is equivalent to far more people than the usual quoted figure of 10,000 people with a disability in each constituency. It also covers the carers and families. We are talking not just about 6.25 million people with disabilities, but about the majority of the people who are touched by disability.

We are talking about the quiet majority. If Conservative Members are serious about the beliefs that have underpinned the Conservative party for the past 150 years, they must accept that the Bill is in tune with them. The Bill will do no harm to, or interfere with, people's ability to make a living; nor will it impose too many regulations. On the contrary, it will free a potential in our country that will aid the very process that Conservative Members believe to govern their party.

In the past few weeks, I have witnessed some interesting changes in parliamentary language. I have been here for 14 years and suddenly all sorts of things can be said that were judged unparliamentary when I first entered the House. I should like to conclude by breaking a minor rule, which the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire got away with earlier. He said that he chose his researcher, who has a severe disability, because he was a bloody good researcher. We support the Bill and we believe that Conservative Members should support it because it is a bloody good Bill.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is the word "bloody" considered to be parliamentary language?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

There are no words listed in "Erskine May" as inappropriate. It is for the judgment of the Chair. I thought that in the particular context in which that word was originally used it was appropriate. I do not applaud the fact that it was reused later by another hon. Member and would suggest that it is not repeated.

11.18 am
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

I whole-heartedly support the principle behind the Bill because no one who is kind hearted and humane would want to discriminate against the disabled. I therefore pay my respects to the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), for his dedication to the Bill, and to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who is the original author of it.

Why are we in politics if not because we want to help those less able than ourselves? I am always very grateful that the good Lord provider has given me good health thus far and I value that greatly. I would not want to be one of the long-term sick or disabled.

I am sure that the 6.5 million disabled people in the country will welcome the Bill. However, we are discussing a Bill that will have long-term implications for most people in the country, and therefore it is wise that we should consider it in detail and see whether there are any worries that should be tackled. Three questions need to be answered when we consider the Bill. What facilities and help are already available to the disabled and what is the Government's record in the sector? What are the implications of the Bill for the rest of the community? Does the Bill sensibly achieve the help for the disabled that it purports to achieve, or does it contain flaws? I shall explore those issues in more detail.

What help is already available? What do the Government already provide for the long-term sick and disabled? I suppose that one should start with the usual amount that is spent—that figure, which is always trotted out, of £16.5 billion. It is a huge figure and difficult to comprehend, except that it is up by 225 per cent. in real terms on the same period in 1979.

The Government have an excellent record of helping long-term sick and disabled people over the past 15 years. I do not want to go through the long list that I have here. Among other things, we set up extra help for special needs in education. We set up the Disablement Advisory Service. We introduced sheltered placement schemes. We have already altered the building regulations to take into account services required for the disabled.

In 1988, we required all grant-maintained schools to have facilities for children with special educational needs. We introduced the independent living fund, which enabled a large number of people to live independently. From 1989, all new licensed taxis were required to have wheelchairs so that they were accessible to disabled people. We introduced the mobility allowance, which was extended to the deaf, blind and amputees.

In the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, we imposed a duty on all local education authorities and the Further Education Funding Council to have regard to people with learning difficulties. We introduced the disability and orange badge schemes and introduced the disability and working allowances, which, among other things, extended help to 300,000 less severely disabled people and later provided a major stepping stone into employment. In 1993, we introduced the independent living fund to allow 18,000 people to live a more normal—a more independent—life.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

Would the hon. Gentleman care to tell the House by how much in real terms individual disablement benefits have increased since 1979?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I do not have that figure off the top of my head, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are spending, as I said, about £16.5 billion on disabled people, which is up 225 per cent. in real terms on 1979. Although I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the figure in the form that he requires, the measures that I have outlined, and a few more that I will mention, prove that the Government are already sympathetic and understanding to the needs of long-term sick and disabled people.

Mr. Hendry

Can my hon. Friend confirm that, although the individual sums paid to people with disabilities have not increased dramatically, the massive increase in spending is accounted for because the Government have greatly widened the eligibility factors? We are thereby able to help many more people than was the case 15 years ago and that, in itself, is a desirable and laudable objective.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I welcome that thoughtful intervention, and my hon. Friend is right. Some of the figures that I have given show the wide spectrum of help that is available to a large number of people. It is not only the Department of Social Security that helps disabled people. As I have said, considerable help is available from the Department for Education and the Departments of Employment and of Transport, among others. Many Government Departments and agencies have a role to play in helping long-term sick and disabled people.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

To help the hon. Gentleman, whereas salaries and wages have increased in real terms by much more than 20 per cent. in the past 15 years, the real value of individual disablement benefits has increased by only 1 per cent. The words "widening gap" have been used to describe the difference in expenditure now and 15 years ago, but the real widening gap—indeed, the yawning gap—is that created by what has happened to other people and what has happened to disabled people with regard to individual incomes. Much of the increase in public spending that the hon. Gentleman referred to is caused by demographic change and by more people being entitled to benefits than before.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

The right hon. Gentleman used the words, "a yawning gap". I am not sure that I would quite concur with him on that phrase. I am sure that he would also agree with me that the needs of long-term sick and disabled people are now much better understood than they were hitherto and that it has been possible to target what resources the state is able to give them in a much more focused way. The independent living fund is an example of that, enabling 18,000 people to live a more reasonable, a more independent, life.

I am sure that the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe would agree that two things above all are necessary to give self-esteem to disabled people. The first is to be able to live independently without needing too much help from other people, and the second is to be employed. Therefore, as should be borne in mind when I discuss the part of the Bill that is concerned with employment, all of us would wish every disabled person wherever possible to be able to find a job because it gives him that self-esteem and that life fulfilment which everyone on all sides of the House wants.

To conclude my description of the help provided by the Government, the Education Bill will provide further help and the training and enterprise councils already have a duty to provide help for the disabled, and provide considerable help. The Department of Transport sponsored a trial scheme—the London dial-a-ride—and provided funds for two trials for low-floor wheelchairs on the buses in London and North Tyneside. As I shall discuss later, the Bill makes provision for providing wheelchair lifts on all public transport.

What are the implications of the Bill on the rest of the community? I intervened deliberately in the speech of the hon. Member for Kingswood because I wanted to explore those implications with him. Although we all applaud the aims of the Bill, if we are to consider it and sensibly to consider possible objections by employers' organisations, we have a duty to provide them with an idea of the costs that will be imposed on them. We live in an increasingly competitive age and it is no good providing jobs for disabled people, or anyone else, only to impose such high costs on any business that eventually it is unable to compete in the rest of the world and goes out of business. We want long-term sustainability of businesses so that we can provide the maximum amount of employment.

Although I have no objection to the principle of the Bill —as I said, I applaud it—we have to examine every aspect of the Bill carefully with employers' organisations, employees' organisations and trade unions. I take on board what has already been said this morning about the wide range of consultation, but, as a result of what I have read, I think that before the Bill reaches the statute book a great deal more consultation needs to take place.

Mr. Berry

Will the hon. Gentleman tell Members of the House how much consultation there was with businesses a couple of years ago when the Government increased interest rates to such an extent that billions of pounds of extra costs were imposed on British industry? Is that the type of consultation that the hon. Member has in mind?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I regret that intervention because I thought that the debate had been of high quality until now. The hon. Gentleman knows well that the Government have to run a fiscal policy for the long-term benefit of the country. Whatever the rights or wrongs of imposing increased interest rates, it was obviously deemed necessary by the Government of the day to increase interest rates in the short term so that we could put the economy of the country on a sound footing. That is why we are now able to have an economy that has almost the lowest inflation, the lowest interest rates and the lowest unit wage costs in the European Community. Indeed, that is why we have the only economy in the European Community that is growing this year. It is why we have an economy in which unemployment has dropped by more than 200,000 in the past year alone. Clearly, the Government set the right fiscal framework for the country's economy, which has done a great deal of good for businesses.

As I explained earlier in my speech—if the hon. Member for Kingswood had been listening instead of intervening, he would have heard—the Bill is a long-term measure that will affect businesses. It is incumbent on the hon. Gentleman, when considering the Bill's detail, to ensure that it is right and strikes a sensible balance between the needs of the disabled and the needs of businesses. They have to keep their costs low and be able to compete with the rest of the world, as that enables them to employ even more staff—not only disabled people, but others. That is a difficult balance to strike and a difficult equation, but we need to ensure that we get it right.

The Bill sets up the Disability Rights Commission—the regulatory organisation that will police the provisions. Of course, the Bill must contain some method of policing—I do not object to that. We must consider the detail of the Bill. Paragraph 20 of the schedule deals with the powers of general investigation of the commission. I have no objection to the power of investigation into a business when it is suspected that an offence has been committed. However, a general power of investigation when there is no particular reason to suspect that an employer has committed an offence ranks alongside the sort of general powers that Her Majesty's Customs and Excise currently have and the powers that we are about to give, under the Finance Bill, to the Inland Revenue. Businesses and individuals find such authoritarian powers offensive. I wonder whether it is necessary to include such a general power to request information when there is no suspicion of contravention of the Bill's provisions.

Mr. Austin-Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that the Race Relations Act 1976 gave the Commission on Racial Equality the power to carry out formal investigations even when no complaint of racial discrimination had been made? Where those formal investigations have been carried out, even where there has been no suggestion of discrimination, employers have recognised that often their procedures and practices may have discriminated indirectly. Those employers have found the formal investigations helpful in developing equal opportunity policies. Does not the hon. Gentleman feel that that would be equally true in relation to discrimination on the grounds of disability?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about the parallel with the race relations legislation, but two wrongs do not necessarily make a right. There is a growing tendency to pass legislation giving organisations unnecessarily authoritarian powers. Agricultural measures give officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the power to enter farms without notifying the landowner or tenant. Such power should not be given to organisations to interfere, as they do increasingly, in the lives of individuals or businesses. We are a democracy and should rely on the fact that one is innocent until proved guilty. Perhaps the Bill's promoter would look at the schedule's wording. I am all in favour of policing powers and a commission with policing powers, but could not we phrase the description of that power to ensure that there must be a reasonable suspicion that an offence has been committed before the commission investigates?

Mr. Sheerman

Will the hon. Gentleman think about the use of the phrase "authoritarian powers"? My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich (Mr. Austin-Walker) mentioned the community relations powers—the Equal Opportunities Commission has similar powers. Their powers are not authoritarian, but are usually implemented on a happy and co-operative basis. They allow an investigation of policies on, for example, recruitment and promotion. A general report is made and most companies, local authorities or whoever is being investigated make the necessary changes and approach the investigations in a co-operative and positive way. The powers are not authoritarian, and do not work as if being implemented in a police state. I think that the hon. Gentleman is raising spectres that do not exist.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I am grateful for that interesting intervention. I am in favour of the commission conducting investigations on a voluntary basis, which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, but paragraph 20 contains virtually no qualification of that power. It is not reasonable to require information from any commercial organisation without the business or the employer being suspected of having committed an offence. I do not want to dwell on that detailed issue as it is not one of the main thrusts of the Bill, but it is nevertheless important.

While I welcome the principle that employers should not discriminate against disabled people, I believe that we must look at the details of the provision. I should like the Bill's promoter to look carefully at the clause dealing with how a business is run and the consideration that must be given to the needs of the disabled people employed in that business.

If one disabled person were employed, would that mean that the entire ethos of the business would have to be altered to accommodate that one person? If so, how could the business compete in an increasingly competitive world in which the European Community has, over the past 10 years, seen its share of world trade reduced? Those are details that need to be considered carefully before we enact the Bill. Clause 4 (2)(c) mentions the criteria or methods of administration that have an adverse effect on a person's opportunities". Perhaps the hon. Member for Kingswood will explain how that provision will work in practice. I am genuinely interested.

Mr. Berry

If the hon. Gentleman supports the motion, the time will be made available for him and other hon. Members to raise just such issues on Report. If attempts are made to talk the Bill out on Report, the hon. Gentleman may never receive answers to his questions.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

In response to that intervention I must make clear the purpose of my speech. We are discussing a motion that asks for more time to debate the Bill. In considering whether to give more or less time to the Bill we must discuss its merits. I am not talking out the Bill today; I am merely mentioning one or two reservations that I have so that, before Report, other hon. Members can consider those reservations and table sensible amendments —I may want to do so. By flagging up my reservations and difficulties today, I give all hon. Members plenty of time to think about some of the Bill's weaknesses. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that we all welcome and applaud the Bill's aims and aspirations, but any Bill has the ability to be improved. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take and consider some of my reservations in the genuine spirit in which I opened my speech.

The Bill proposes a commission of between eight and 15 members. It provides for a quorum of at least five, which, with a commission of only eight, is a high hurdle to have to overcome. I ask the hon. Member for Kingswood to consider that and perhaps to be a little more prescriptive. A commission of between eight and 15 allows enormous discretion. With a commission of 15 people, a quorum of five might be realistic. The commission must be properly represented, and I am sure the promoter will want to consider that. The Bill provides for the commission to have a member from England, from Wales, from Scotland and from Northern Ireland, which is a laudable aim, but one or two other bodies might be represented on the commission —for example, Save the Children, which has a large membership.

As a chartered surveyor, I am interested in clause 8, which proposes alterations to the building regulations to ensure that all new extensions and buildings take into account the needs of disabled people. Again, that is a laudable aim, but it would impose a huge cost on the construction industry when the vast majority of extensions and new houses will not be occupied by disabled people. The hon. Member for Kingswood needs to consider that aspect carefully. If there is a reasonable prospect of a building or extension being occupied by a disabled person, of course we would all want that person's needs to be considered, but a blanket provision for new extensions and buildings would impose a completely unnecessary cost on the construction industry, which would ultimately feed through to everybody.

Part IV covers a large number of organisations that will have to modify their buildings—hotels, schools, cinemas, ports, airports, clubs, sports grounds, council offices, telephone boxes and access to lawyers—to cater for the needs of disabled people, and all public liability and employers' insurance policies will have to take into account the increased costs caused by liabilities from disabled people.

Again, that is a laudable aim, but the lack of a realistic transitional period to allow that huge number of bodies to adapt their premises to deal with the needs of disabled people will impose a great cost on those bodies, which will be reflected in higher prices and will feed through to the general level of taxation. The hon. Member for Kingswood shakes his head, but that is the wording of the Bill. Nobody objects to such alterations, but the hon. Member must offer some realistic costings and a realistic timetable to the organisations and local authorities that would have to implement paragraphs (a) to (n) of clause 6(2).

The hon. Gentleman now points at the Minister. Perhaps the Government should make such costings, but somebody must do so before the Bill is enacted. I should add, in fairness, that clause 9 contains appropriate caveats to deal with the viability of the business and nature and costs of the actions in question. Nevertheless, it is incumbent on the promoter of the Bill to offer an estimate of costs because, for example, a body responsible for local authority buildings or schools must have some idea of the timetable proposed for new buildings, old buildings and buildings in the pipeline. These serious questions must be addressed because they involve much public money.

Clause 16 applies the Bill to all Crown servants and properties. I have already said that the Bill has huge implications for the public purse. All buildings in the public sector will have to be altered to take the needs of disabled people into account. I should not be surprised if, under the clause, some lifts in this place would have to be ripped out and replaced to make them wide enough to take a wheelchair. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with that, and I am not necessarily criticising it, but we need to have an idea of the cost and of the timetable for such alterations.

Mr. Berry

As we have specifically said that the timetable for those changes should not be set out in the Bill but should be for the Secretary of State, subject to parliamentary approval, to determine, how on earth does the hon. Gentleman think that we can respond to his specific comments? What is the alternative other than having the timetable in the hands of the Secretary of State and subject to parliamentary approval? Does not that timetable then determine the cost and is that not why no hon. Member can say specifically what the cost would be? That is not set in concrete in the Bill.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but I repeat—I cannot repeat often enough—that we all applaud the aims and aspirations of the Bill but if I, as a responsible Member of Parliament representing almost 90,000 constituents, am to be asked to vote for the Bill, the hon. Member for Kingswood must give some idea of its costs. I cannot responsibly vote for a Bill until I have been given guidance on the increase in the general level of taxation and in corporation tax to pay for those burdens on business. One must be given an idea of the costings. The Bill represents an open-ended cheque book.

Mr. Berry

It does not.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

It does. I am sorry to disagree with the hon. Member. I know that he does not like the tenor of my remarks, but many of the Bill's provisions, and therefore the costs that will be imposed on employers, are open ended, partly because it gives a great deal of discretion to the Secretary of State. Until we have an idea of how the Secretary of State is likely to use that discretion in practice, I cannot see how we can know what costs will be imposed on businesses.

Mr. Austin-Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that much of the opposition of small businesses and transport undertakings in the United States to the American legislation was based precisely on those grounds, yet experience in the United States disproves and discounts all those fears?

Mr. Clifton-Brown

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. The Americans may become less competitive compared with emerging parts of the world. That is all very well as long as we accept the costs that the Bill would impose on businesses and the community at large and its probable implications for employment and our constituents understand that income tax would have to go up by several pence in the pound.

As I said, we applaud the aims of the Bill but, before we put it on the statute book, it is our responsibility to ascertain the costs involved. It may well be that the Secretary of State should provide details of the costs but, certainly, someone needs to do so, and rapidly, if, as the hon. Member for Kingswood wishes, it is to be passed before the summer. In any event, someone has a great deal of work to do.

It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to keep shaking his head—I know that he dislikes the tenor of my speech—but he must co-operate with the Secretary of State because he knows the Bill's background, having been involved in its drafting. Before Report, it is incumbent on the hon. Gentleman to consult the Secretary of State to ensure that the House is provided with the information that it requires.

On behalf of my disabled constituents, I welcome the thrust of the Bill. It is right that we find out where discrimination against disabled people occurs. I cannot stress too highly the fact that I am grateful to have so far enjoyed good health. I meet disabled constituents and I am sympathetic to their needs. I am always prepared to help them obtain every benefit that the Government provide; and, as I have already explained, the Government provide a wide range of such benefits.

Some of the Bill's aims are extremely laudable, but I hope that the hon. Member for Kingswood will take into account some of my remarks and will provide the information that the House requires. I also hope that he will examine some of the Bill's weaknesses. I do not have time this morning to deal with all of them but I should be delighted to go through them in detail with the hon. Gentleman to see whether I can spot more loopholes and to discover whether some of my fears could be allayed by the tabling of appropriate amendments on Report. The Bill that ends up on the statute book needs to be effective and needs to achieve the aims for which we all strive on behalf of our disabled constituents, of whom there are an average of 10,000 in a typical constituency.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's efforts in trying to achieve legislation whose aim is to oppose discrimination against disabled people.

11.52 pm
Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

I welcome the motion and am pleased to support it on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. We are keen to extend the rights of all citizens and enshrine them in law in a way that, unfortunately, the Government's toothless charters are unable to do. Disabled people do not want only charters; they want and deserve civil rights, and they want them enshrined in law. That is something that only the House can do, yet the House epitomises the very discrimination that the Bill aims to outlaw.

How many Members of Parliament are disabled? There are more than 6 million disabled people in Britain, accounting for more than 10 per cent. of the population. Obviously, 10 per cent. of Members of Parliament are not disabled, and it is hard to believe that disabled people's under-representation here, as in so many walks of life, does not have a great deal to do with the institutionalised discrimination that disabled people suffer.

Being under-represented means that the disabled people of Britain can do no more than depend on us to guard their interests. It is a responsibility which I feel keenly, and which I hope to honour. I only wish that the Government were able to feel that responsibility in the same way. I know that many Conservative Back Benchers do, and I wish that the Government would follow their lead.

If the Government had been able to feel that responsibility, we should not be here this morning, debating this excellent motion tabled by the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam), which calls on the Government to give the Bill Government time.

Report and Third Reading have been allotted second place on Friday 6 May. As we all know, that gives the Government every opportunity to talk out a Bill which we know only too well they oppose in principle. The Government were perfectly happy to do the same thing last Friday, when they chose to talk out the Energy Conservation Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). Among other things, that Bill would have provided money for the insulation of the homes of the elderly and the disabled to cushion them against the iniquitous imposition of value added tax on fuel. This Bill is also far too important to be treated in that way.

I deplore the Government's instincts which seem to be to sabotage Bills that they do not support. Whether or not they support this Bill, I ask them to consider whether it is proper not to dedicate sufficient time to it. As I said, the disabled people of Britain are relying on us to look after their interests.

People who are disabled are so called not only because they are confined to a wheelchair or are blind; what disables them is the fact that they cannot get access to buildings, that written material is not available in braille, that work is denied them because the workplace cannot accommodate a particular disability, or that an employer is prejudiced against disabled people. The list is endless, and its existence is an indictment of us all. It amounts to discrimination that would be wholly unacceptable if it were targeted against women or ethnic minorities.

If a group of black people was told by the owners of a holiday camp that they could not book a holiday at his establishment because they would upset other guests, there would, quite rightly, be a national outcry and a prosecution. However, it is allowed if the group consists of people with cerebral palsy. Indeed, it recently happened.

If a woman were refused a job because the employer could not be bothered to install changing facilities suitable for her, there would also be a national outcry and a prosecution, but if the applicant were in a wheelchair or had controlled epilepsy, that employer would be within his or her rights to put the application straight into the bin without a second thought. That has also happened.

The Government have faced private Members' Bills seeking civil rights for disabled people several times in recent years. Such Bills have had cross-party support. The last time this Bill was debated, it received support from members of all parties and a total of 231 hon. Members voted in favour. Not one hon. Member voted against it, but, whenever such a Bill has come before the House, the Government have taken effective steps to block it and have argued that legislation in this context would create too much red tape and would be too expensive. They seem incredible reasons for resisting the claim of more than 6 million people, who are seeking only the rights enjoyed by the rest of the population.

In the country at large, people understand that everyone is part of society, and that, if any members of that society are grossly disadvantaged, the whole of society suffers. If the Government can justify their arguments against giving disabled people rights that most of the rest of us take for granted, let them make their case in a proper debate, and let the House and the country judge their efforts.

If the Government do not give sufficient time for the Bill to complete all its stages, there is only one conclusion that the country can draw—that the Government are frightened, that their arguments could not convince the House, and that they would scandalise the country.

The Bill will be implemented if the House is allowed to vote on the issue. I am certain that right hon. and hon. Members could not in all conscience vote against a Bill whose whole purpose is to make it possible for disabled people to take their rightful place in society from which they are at present in so many ways excluded.

The Government should have the courage to prove me wrong. All I ask is that they should accept that the Bill is extremely important, not only to disabled people, who are directly affected, but to the moral health of the nation. Today and every day, until the Bill is enacted, disabled people will be discriminated against in a way that should be utterly unacceptable. I urge all hon. Members to support the Bill.

12 noon

Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)

I recognise and understand the reasons why my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) tabled the motion. Having taken a private Member's Bill, fortunately successfully, through the House a few years ago, I recognise that any successful attempt needs adequate parliamentary time. I believe that such a sensitive and important issue should be properly debated in the House and that proper time should be given to it.

I recognise that it is within the power and remit of individual Members of Parliament to talk out a Bill. I have just been talking in the Tea Room with an hon. Member who, single-handedly, talked out a Bill that we all thought was a good thing at the time. I hope that, if this Bill is not successful, the Government will draw up, following the kind of consultation that I shall mention later, their own proposals effectively to outlaw discrimination against people with disabilities.

Although I have reservations about the Bill—my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton-Brown) spoke about many aspects that cause me to pause—I believe that there is a need to ensure that the rights of disabled people are underpinned by legislation. I say that not only because I am secretary of the parliamentary human rights group, but because I see so many practical ways in which disabled people are discriminated against.

I also believe that, by strengthening the rights of a particular, possibly vulnerable, group in society, one underpins the rights of everyone in that society. On those grounds, I hope that the Government will take a constructive view, irrespective of the Bill's fate.

Equally, I recognise that the present position, although perhaps not as dire as some make out, is not acceptable. On 11 March, a number of constituents came to the House to talk to me. I was frankly horrified by what they told me about the ways in which disabled people, especially wheelchair-bound disabled people—although not exclusively such people—were denied access to places that the vast majority of the rest of us would regard as a God-given right. I refer to places such as cinemas, public halls, from which, as the hon. Member for Exeter said on Second Reading, subnormal people were banned, and restaurants. Such behaviour is totally unacceptable, irrespective of the exclusions from employment which, sadly, so many disabled people have to suffer.

I mention in this regard the totally reprehensible activities of Hereford and Worcester county council, which is now controlled by a coalition of Labour and Liberal Democrats. The council has decided recently, not as a cost-cutting measure as it claims in public—in private, the council admits differently—to take away the "wages" of disabled people who attend a social education centre in my constituency.

For many years, they have been used to receiving such wages as a reward for their work, and to get them used to getting back into the wider world of employment. That is cutting off one's nose to spite one's face with a vengeance. It is entirely vindictive. I take this opportunity of a public platform to urge the county council to ensure that its actions match its rhetoric in favour of disabled people by reinstating those appalling cuts.

I remind the House of the wise words of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) on Second Reading. This matter is not purely one of human rights; it is one way to alleviate natural hardships. It is not wrong to say that, although the vast majority of disabled people are as cheerful as anyone in the House, they inevitably suffer as a result of their disabilities.

My hon. Friend said that disabled people were resilient in the extreme. He then said that they accepted their responsibilities as disabled persons every minute of every day of every week of every year. Parliament should try to construct a framework that allows disabled people to overcome the difficulties and to fulfil those responsibilities themselves rather than have other people do it for them.

There is nothing worse for any disabled person—this happens too often socially—than to be condescended to, and to be talked to as though he or she had mental problems because he or she is in a wheelchair. Sadly, however well-meaning, too many people do that.

The need for legislation has been clearly made out, but I am not sure that the Bill is the appropriate way to legislate. I have been slightly struck by the somewhat Jesuitical tone of the debate. When someone raises a perfectly valid objection to the Bill, it is said that one has a down on the disabled, that one does not want to help them, and that one does not want any legislation for them. Such political correctness is not conducive to the rational debate that is needed to ensure that any legislation is effective, is not counter-productive and helps disabled people in the way that we desire.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does my hon. Friend accept that, in taking our job as Members of Parliament seriously, we have a duty to point out the flaws in legislation? That does not mean that we are in favour of discrimination for the disabled. We are just doing our duty as Members of Parliament.

Mr. Coombs

I agree. Although I cannot remember the exact words, I refer my hon. Friend to the words of Edmund Burke. He said that we owe our constituents our judgment as much as the judgment of their interests, and that we should betray them if we acted otherwise. My hon. Friend has made a valuable point.

Mr. Fabricant

Will not my hon. Friend concede that, while pointing out the costs or disbenefits of any legislation, one should also point out the benefits? Just as there may be costs, albeit staggered over an indefinite period, as a result of the Bill, there will also be benefits. A substantial proportion of the 6.25 million disabled people will be able to come off state benefit and to start earning money, while doing a useful job which will help their self-esteem. Heaven forbid, they may even pay Inland Revenue taxation into the nation's coffers.

Mr. Coombs

I agree with my hon. Friend. I never said that rational debate should preclude balanced debate. It is very important that that point is made. Equally, however, we are entitled to ask whether the legislation will target precisely the people that we think ought to be targeted.

Something that is slightly difficult to question in a somewhat politically correct, intellectual climate is the definition of "disabled". It seems slightly curious that, when every other level of health indicator in the country, including life expectancy and infant mortality, indicates that the general health of the population is rising, those people who are eligible to be regarded as disabled also goes on rising.

Although we talk of 6.5 million people and 10,000 people for every constituency, I would need to look slightly askance at that. It is significant that, over the past 15 years, the number of disabled people who have been helped with care and mobility needs by the Government has risen from 360,000 to no less than 2 million.

Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

While recognising that the health of the nation is improving, we also have to consider the statistics that show that many people, especially young people, who become disabled, often through motor cycle or car accidents, were fit and healthy until that moment of impact. Obviously, there has been a huge increase in those numbers, because, with medical technology and care, many people survive today who, perhaps even a decade ago, would not have survived in the community.

Mr. Coombs

That is a reasonable point. On the other hand, my motor cycle action group tell me that accident statistics are also falling, so the number of people involved in an accident in the first place is also being reduced.

Sir John Hannam

On that point, would my hon. Friend accept that most of the increases in the number of disabled people receiving benefits have come about because of the identification of people with handicaps? Until recent years, many disabled people in our society were completely hidden and not identifiable. It is because of successive Acts of Parliament—notably the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act promoted back in 1969-70 by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris)—that identification of disabled people has resulted in them receiving benefits.

Mr. Coombs

I accept that; obviously, in a more sophisticated society, that will be an inevitable process. However, it is very important that we only identify as disabled those who are—I know it is a moveable feast—genuinely disabled. One thing that has caused some concern among my constituents is the orange badge scheme, which for too many people, moved away from what was originally intended, was more widely spread and, possibly, was abused by some people. I do not think that that does the cause of disabled people generally any good whatever.

Mr. Alfred Morris

As the author of the orange badge scheme, may I tell the hon. Gentleman that there are penalties available to us for any abuse of the scheme? Originally, there was a gross under-reckoning of the number of people who would be entitled to that kind of mobility help. We could tell that because the Department of Transport did not ever believe that more than a million people could legitimately claim an orange badge.

However, I ask the hon. Gentleman not to devalue the importance of the scheme, which can make all the difference between getting off the pavement and on to the road for severely disabled people. I know that he is not intending to do that, but I hope that he will emphasise to local authorities and others that there are penalties available to deal with abuse.

Mr. Coombs

Of course I would not want to devalue a scheme which many in my constituency value and have found very useful. The point that I am making is that we must ensure that our resources are accurately targeted, and that we do not undermine the work that we are trying to do for the disabled by allowing people to take advantage of the scheme. I am not saying that that is happening in a wide context, but it should be borne in mind.

It is also important, when one has a rational discussion, to try to analyse the fate of disabled people over the past few years and decide whether legislation is likely to improve that outlook. I happen to believe that discrimination anywhere in the world is best eliminated ultimately by changes in attitude, which may or may not be prompted by changes in legislation as much as by anything else.

One of the reasons, I think, why, fortunately, for the vast majority of the population—although not in certain parts of London—racial discrimination is on the decline is that people are seeing how futile it is, and are gradually recognising the enormous contribution that ethnic minorities have to offer society. I recognise that, as Martin Luther King said,

Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless. Therefore, I also understand that anybody who is minded to act in a grossly discriminatory way against disabled people may well pause if legislation is available. That is why I am agreeing on the need for legislation, but it is the kind of legislation proposed with which I may have some argument.

One does not want to put the record over the past 15 years in political terms, as it is not necessarily the record of the Government. There are so many other organisations involved in looking after the disabled that to do so would be wrong, but it has been a record of a gradual improvement in services available for the disabled. Indeed, on Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter talked about "dramatically improved financial support" for the disabled. Certainly, in terms of the taxpayer, a threefold increase in real terms over the past 15 years in the amount of money spent on the long-term sick and disabled speaks for itself.

Recent initiatives, such as the disability living allowance and, especially, the invalid care allowance, which helps 200,000 carers who look after people with disabilities, are important. I was pleased to hear the Minister talk of the success of the Employment Service in getting disabled people into the kind of jobs that we want to see them in and where they ought to be. PACTs—placing, assessment and counselling teams—in the Employment Service have had an important role to play in that area.

In transport, it is good to see that, gradually, British Rail, the taxi service and the buses are all waking up to the idea that provision must be made for people who are disabled, especially those in wheelchairs. I pay tribute in my constituency to Dial-A-Ride, which does a first-class job. I know that there has been a significant increase in the Government grant to Dial-A-Ride in London over the past 15 years. However, my local service does a first-class job in ensuring that disabled people are mobile, where otherwise they would not be. I understand that Dial-A-Ride in my area has two minibuses to do that important work, although—again, a little advertisement—it is short of drivers, and I am sure that any volunteers would be gratefully received.

There has been a huge upsurge in investment through the health service. I shall not go into that, except to say that the number of occupational therapists has risen exponentially by about 76 per cent. The number of speech and language therapists, although far too thin on the ground—I have an especial problem in my constituency—has also risen by about 57 per cent. in 15 years. Other approaches to disability, such as the Steiner method and conductive education, in which I have an especial interest, have received Government support over the past few years in an imaginative way.

Also, in my constituency and elsewhere, there has been an upsurge in the work of voluntary organisations, such as Open Sesame and Citizens Advocacy and, in co-ordinating the activities of voluntary organisations, DIAL, the disabled information line in my constituency, has been important in guiding people and as a gateway to solving problems.

I have gone into that at some length because the general provision for disabled people in Britain has dramatically improved over the past 15 years, and that ought to be recognised when dealing with such legislation.

On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) acknowledged that one of the counter arguments is that the Bill might be too costly or unworkable in practice. Cost is, of course, important. On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter quoted a Dr. Stephen Duckworth, who is disabled and who has done much work on behalf of the disabled. Dr. Duckworth acknowledges that concerns over litigation, bureaucracy and unquantifiable costs for business and taxpayers are important and cannot be shrugged off.

If we are to rely upon business to implement many of the measures that will make the proposed legislation workable and practicable, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that anyone who introduces a Bill of this sort has the support of business as far as that is possible.

We talked earlier about prior consultation, and I recognise what the hon. Member for Kingswood said about the difficulty of engaging in it. I know from my own experience that it is difficult to consult when we do not know where we shall find ourselves following the ballot for private Members' Bills.

It is crucial, however, that, before legislation is introduced and implemented, an appropriate cost-benefit analysis of the sort mentioned in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) be undertaken by the Government or some outside organisation. I hope that the Government will get on with that work as quickly as possible. Without that sort of study it is difficult to analyse the financial consequences of the Bill.

I recognise that there is a power of exemption for the building and facilities measures that are set out in the Bill, and that the concepts of undue hardship and reasonableness are introduced. I am slightly concerned that, because there is a relationship to the financial resources of those who are required to implement these measures, there may be an element of inconsistency, and therefore arbitrariness. It is possible that there will be discrimination against shops, for example, that are required to make their premises available to disabled people.

In about two months' time—I have done this in the past—I shall be involved in a walkabout in the three major towns in my constituency with Open Sesame, which basically is a group that works for the disabled. We take someone round the towns who is in a wheelchair and observe the sort of problems that he or she faces—with pavements, for example, or access to shops. Another example is access to a bank counter.

If some shops are required by virtue of their financial standing to carry out improvements for the disabled, and next door to them is a shopkeeper who is not required so to do—he may be a one-man band—that might well introduce arbitrariness. That will not be healthy, and it is something that should be considered.

Sir John Hannam

May I remind my hon. Friend of the American experience? When businesses realised that there was a potential but untapped new business sector of 49 million disabled people—there are 6.5 million in this country—and when business men saw the shop down the road adapted, or the hotel, to accommodate the new potential business, they jolly soon followed suit. They thought that it was a sound investment to make.

Mr. Coombs

That may be a benign effect of the Bill. Whether that effect will become immediately apparent is another matter. We should be aware of inconsistencies that could result if we were not to consider these matters in some detail.

Mr. Fabricant

My hon. Friend talked earlier of the county council that has control in his constituency. He said that it had not been that helpful towards the disabled. Does he agree that, when local shops—that was his example—or county councils provide facilities for the disabled, they are properly thought out?

With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I shall briefly give an example of a facility that was made available by Staffordshire county council. At great expense to the council tax payer, it provided a ramp leading up and into county hall. It also provided electrically operated glass doors, which would open automatically to enable disabled people to gain access to the premises. Unfortunately, the doors opened outwards, not inwards. They would hit the wheelchair and shoot the disabled person back down the ramp. The initial installation cost a fortune, and its correction cost almost as much again.

Mr. Coombs

That example shows how careful we must be to ensure that appropriate adaptations are made for disabled people. That means that there must be co-ordination between private and public bodies.

I have grave doubts about whether it is necessary to have a Disability Rights Commission. The hair on my head tends to stand up when I read the powers that are proposed for the commission. Clause 3(2)(b) refers to powers of general investigation to determine whether compliance is adequate when set against the requirements of the Bill.

I do not know what the likely financial cost will be of helping people to take their cases to court or industrial tribunals. I am appalled by the idea—it is argued that the Bill does not have any element of positive discrimination—that a necessary qualification for membership of the commission should be positively discriminatory in itself. I refer to the requirement that three quarters of the members of the commission should themselves be disabled. The idea that those who are not disabled cannot have some empathy —obviously there must be some disabled people on the commission—with the problems of disabled people is possibly insulting.

I understand that, in the United States, the rights of disabled people, if they are overturned, as it were, by legislation, are pursued by individual Government Departments. That seems to be not a bad approach, so long as there is access to the courts and employment tribunals. I do not believe that the commission is necessary. We were talking earlier about being Jesuitical; the potential of the DRC, as it no doubt will become known in this age of acronyms, is horrendous.

Paragraphs (a) and (c) of clause 2 have been drawn extremely wide in terms of discrimination. I am concerned that employers may so construct their recruitment procedures to make it more rather than less difficult to get jobs, precisely because they are terrified of being accused of prejudice—when disabled people come forward for jobs alongside able-bodied people—if for good reasons they choose able-bodied applicants rather than disabled ones. There may well be a fall in the number of places available for disabled people, rather than the reverse which the Bill expects.

Again on employment rights, clause 4(4) refers to making "reasonable accommodation" for disabled people. Clause 4(4)(a) refers to making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and useable by persons with disabilities"— and we would all agree with that. Clause 4(4)(b) refers to

job restructuring, instituting part-time or modified work schedules". The DRC, or employment tribunals which look at the matter in a particularly perverse way, may not interpret that type of job restructuring as applying just to disabled people. It may well be necessary for a factory manager to make substantial changes to the work scheduling of his whole company to accommodate the needs of only one or two disabled people.

If that were to happen, it would massively increase costs for industry, would be very disruptive and would ultimately be detrimental to the economic growth which is absolutely vital to ensure that we have resources available for disabled people in the first place. The Bill's sponsors should discuss that point in detail with representatives of industry, and in particular with organisations such as the Engineering Employers Federation.

I make my final point not as a chartered surveyor, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury did, but as someone who has been involved in the building trade for 22 years. I am very concerned about clause 8, which refers to new constructions and the need to design and construct new buildings, extensions … in such a manner that they are readily accessible to, and useable by, disabled people". In one sense—peace and motherhood—we cannot disagree with that. However, how far will that be taken?

I am aware that there is a test of reasonableness, but the DRC or particularly unsympathetic building inspectors may say, "Given that you are Wimpey or Tarmac and a relatively large company with the necessary resources, why shouldn't you make every house on the site readymade for a disabled person to move into?" Those adaptations would involve considerable cost and would necessitate wider doors, wheelchair access to stairs and so on. I believe that such a demand would be retrograde. It would raise construction costs considerably, and would therefore be counter-productive in the long term for disabled people.

Although there is no doubt that there is a need for legislation to protect the interests of disabled people and to ensure that the quite abhorrent practice of discriminating against them unnecessarily is outlawed in this country, I am not convinced that the Bill is the right way to achieve it.

Most of all, I impress on the sponsors and the Government that, as my former boss, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), used to say when he was taking Bills through the House, "The devil is in the detail." Unless we consider the costs and benefits in detail, unless we consult the people who will be required to implement the measures, we may well end up with legislation which is not only unworkable and very costly, but which does not do what we want it to do, which is to end discrimination against disabled people.

12.32 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The House will not be surprised to learn that I most warmly welcome this debate and as warmly congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) both on his good fortune in the ballot and on his unhesitating choice of motion. This is not by any means the first time that we have sung from the same hymn sheet. For more than 20 years now, we have acted in the closest rapport in seeking to make life better for Britain's 6.5 million people with disabilities and their families.

Never in all that time has the hon. Member for Exeter faltered in conferring on disabled people whatever luck he has had in ballots for private Members' Bills and motions. Without exception, the organisations of and for disabled people are also most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for this opportunity to emphasise again to the Government the very urgent need now to enact a Bill which Stephen Bradshaw, the director of the Spinal Injuries Association, who also chairs Voluntary Organisations for Anti-Discrimination Legislation—VOADL—describes as the most important legislation this century on disabled people's rights.

It will be recalled that when I first drafted and asked the House to give the Bill a Second Reading on 31 January 1992, the Government's attitude was said to be one of "benevolent neutrality". I quote the words of the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People in an interview he gave the BBC "You and Yours" programme the day before the debate. With only one exception, all who spoke in the debate gave the Bill's principles their support. The exception was the former Member for Kingswood, who talked the Bill out, having first said that he would not do so. He subsequently made a personal statement of "unreserved apologies" to Mr. Speaker Weatherill and the House as a whole for misleading us in his speech on the Bill.

Nevertheless, the Bill's chance of enactment had been destroyed and disabled people all over Britain felt cheated by what had happened. My noble Friend Lady Lockwood later introduced the Bill for me in the House of Lords where it completed all its stages. Its provisions were also endorsed by this House when it approved a motion that was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on 26 February 1993.

To keep up the momentum created by the approval of that motion, versions of the Bill specifically to benefit disabled people in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were then introduced by my hon. Friends the Members for Paisley, South (Mr. McMaster) and for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), and by the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth). All three Bills had overwhelming all-party support. Some 90 per cent. of Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament wanted the benefits of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill for the disabled people they represent from the only Parliament that can legislate for them.

In the case of Northern Ireland—a parliamentary first if ever there was one—all 17 of its Members of Parliament backed the Bill; but their Bill, like those for Scotland and Wales, was blocked by Government Whips entirely without debate. As the Minister knows, the intervention of the Whips to block legislation about which he had said he was "benevolently neutral" provoked expressions not only of anguish but of despair from disabled people all over Britain. They were in despair not least because it now appeared that even the support of a majority in this House and the Bill's successful passage through the House of Lords, where not a single vote was cast against it at any stage, meant nothing to the minority in this House who were determined to use any and every procedural ploy to block the Bill. The treatment of the Bill at Second Reading on 31 January 1992, and the antics of Government Whips Friday after Friday, were described by one of the most respected disabled people in Britain as "a nauseating farce" and as

a disgrace to parliamentary democracy". Then came some good news when my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) won a high place in this Session's ballot for private Members' Bills. It was my hon. Friend whose early-day motion had demonstrated that there is a clear parliamentary majority for the Bill in this House and I had no hesitation in asking him to promote the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill in this Session. There could not have been a better choice and I am most grateful to him for having secured both a Second Reading for the Bill and a successful conclusion to its Committee stage, during which every opportunity was given to Ministers —and everyone else with an interest in its provisions—to table any amendments they wanted to see made.

My hon. Friend has shown himself strong in regard to principle and flexible about detail. In addition to accepting amendments to the Bill proposed in Committee, he will be tabling amendments of his own at Report to meet every constructive point raised with him upstairs.

Among the amendments to the Bill accepted in Committee, none was more important than those about giving deaf and hard of hearing people equal access to technical communications. That is something the rest of us take for granted, as a civil right, but a deaf person cannot get the same ease of access to the public telephone system as a hearing person.

Equal access to justice for deaf and hard of hearing people was also dealt with by amending the Bill in Committee. Such access must no longer be a privilege for hearing people only. It is a civil right, but as of now deaf people could face a police interview without adequate communication support and could quite easily be exposed to gross miscarriages of justice.

There was no dissent from that in Committee and, if the Bill achieves nothing else, its enactment will be more than justified by what it can achieve for deaf and hard of hearing people. Tim Sargeant of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and Jane Oberman of Deaf Accord worked long and hard to inform parliamentary opinion of the importance of the amendments approved in Committee and we should all be most grateful to them.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said in Committee, and repeated today, his door was not only wide open to suggestions for amending the Bill there, but was virtually off its hinges. No promoter of a Bill could possibly have been more reasonable and responsive in his approach to suggestions for improving its provisions. My hon. Friend has been, and is now, as ready to discuss reservations about the Bill raised by the Institute of Directors as he is to listen to any other organisation or individual with an interest in the Bill.

The institute is said still to be concerned about some of the Bill's provisions, but I cannot believe that company directors in this country are less capable of coping with civil rights legislation for disabled people than their counterparts in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, France and Sweden. Employers in all those countries are already implementing legislation with the same purpose and, in many cases, the same provisions as those of this Bill.

There is no evidence of whingeing among them, and indeed the response of employers in the United States has proved wholly worthy of the challenge made to them by President Bush when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. He said: You can now unlock a splendid resource of untapped human potential that will enrich us all". That there remains a huge untapped human potential here in Britain is utterly beyond dispute. Nor is it wholly the fault of employers in the private sector, although official studies show that employers there are six times more likely to turn down a disabled person for an interview even if her or his qualifications are identical to those of a non-disabled applicant. That statistic shouts the word "discrimination" and many thousands of employers openly state that, whatever the qualifications of disabled job seekers, they will never interview them.

What of the public sector? A recent report shows that 100,000 more disabled people would obtain jobs if public sector employers were to achieve the 3 per cent. employment quota established by the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1994. Only 0.7 per cent. of employees in the public sector are disabled people and, in many Departments of state, the percentage is very much lower. The Home Office employs only 0.3 per cent., or one tenth, of the 3 per cent. quota; while, according to the latest figures I have seen, not one disabled person is employed at 10 Downing street.

I most strongly appeal to employers in the public and private sectors alike to recognise the abilities of disabled people and what they have to contribute to industry and society. They seek not the dependence of social security benefits, but the dignity of becoming taxpayers. They crave the right to be judged on their merits and the freedom to compete on fair terms with everyone else. They do not want privilege, but simply to be treated like other people when it comes to jobs, enjoying their leisure and living their lives as they want to do.

They do not argue for blind bus drivers or deaf piano tuners; nor do they believe that all acts of discrimination can be ended overnight. It is unfair discrimination that they want to see eliminated and they accept that it will take time for this Bill to achieve its full purpose. They point out, as does the chief executive of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People in his letter to all Members of Parliament earlier this week, that the Bill as now drafted provides for full consultation with employers before regulations are made by the Secretary of State and that it protects individual employers against regulations that would inflict "undue hardship" or that fails in any particular case "the test of reasonableness" provided for in the Bill.

I have had, of course, a national correspondence about this Bill ever since moving its Second Reading on 31 January 1992 and could quote cases galore of blatantly unfair discrimination against disabled people. All of them underline the importance of this motion. I shall refer here, however, to only three such cases.

The first is that of a physically disabled young man with a brilliant degree who was told by his employer that, because he was disabled, he would be paid less than other new employees for doing exactly the same work. The second case is that of a woman appointed to a senior civilian post with a major police authority who, because of her disability but with no justification on grounds of special risk, was refused entry to its pension scheme. My third case is that of a young graduate who became hearing-impaired by meningitis after a serious road accident when she was seven. Specialising in accountancy, she won the top degree of her year at Manchester university when she was 21, but the only job she had for more than two years afterwards was a temporary one at the check-out counter in a local store during the Christmas period. Her hearing aid enables her to use a telephone and to work normally, but she was rejected again and again by accountancy firms in favour of other applicants, some of them her contemporaries at university, whose qualifications were much inferior to her own. She told me in a letter: To mention you are disabled makes it virtually certain that you will not even be interviewed for a job". How can any employer, or anyone else, possibly sanction that kind of discrimination against a disabled young woman who simply wants the same opportunities as everyone else to earn her own living?

Speaking in September 1991, shortly before I published the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, the Prime Minister said: I believe deeply that all men and women should be able to go as far as talent, ambition and effort can take them. There should be no barriers … I want a society that encourages each and everyone to fulfil his or her potential to the utmost. How, then, can he possibly justify the tactics of obstruction that have been used against the Bill, more particularly by Whips acting officially as members of his Government? Has he seen The Sun's description of his Government's tactics as "chicanery" and the very strong support for the Bill elsewhere in the press? Ought he not now either to withdraw what he said in September 1991 or stop obstructing this Bill? If he meant what he said then, he must surely welcome today's motion and hasten the Bill's progress to the statute book.

The right hon. Gentleman must also accept the justice of what Lord Renton, his predecessor as Conservative Member of Parliament for Huntingdon and a distinguished lawyer, told the House of Lords when speaking in the Third Reading debate on the Bill there on 4 November 1992. I do not quote the noble Lord in direct speech, of course, Madam Deputy Speaker, but what he said was that he found it extraordinary and not very creditable that legislation to outlaw discrimination against disabled people had not already been enacted. He went on to say that, after all the thought given to the Bill in the House of Lords, he did not believe many hours of discussion would be necessary in the Commons. Yet the principles of the Bill have now been debated for more than 15 hours on the Floor of this House and its details for very many hours more in Committee. Are not Lord Renton's words the most compelling case of all for approving the motion today and enacting the Bill without further delay?

At an hour-long meeting with the Prime Minister, he told me that cost was the first of three reasons for his reservations about the Bill. While he readily accepted that unfair discrimination against disabled people was "a very real problem", he said that any action to tackle it must be "without cost implications". In other words, we can afford civil rights for everyone else in this country, but not for disabled people. They and their organisations find this deeply offensive. They point out that there was no mention of any cost factor in the Prime Minister's declaration of his belief in equal opportunities for all in September 1991. That declaration was as unambiguous as it was widely circulated.

The Prime Minister's second criticism of the Bill when we met was that it does not sit comfortably with the Government's policy on deregulation". But nor does the legislation on gender and race, and that criticism is an implied threat to the continued existence of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality.

The third criticism put to me by the Prime Minister was that the Bill takes "too comprehensive" an approach to the problem. His preference was for "piecemeal change". But discrimination against disabled people cannot be solved ad hoc. As one employer told me recently: To end discrimination in the workplace, you must not only protect disabled people there but also achieve for them equality of access to training and transport among many other facilities and services. In the employer's view, "piecemeal change" would be an attempt to try to divide the indivisible and a total waste of time and money.

What is very sad is that Britain used to lead the world in legislating to make life better for disabled people. That is why, when I was the Minister in the late 1970s, I was invited to chair the World Planning Group to draft the "Charter for the 1980s" for disabled people worldwide. Now we lag behind many other countries. They have seen that today there is no more important issue for disabled people than that of civil rights; and, indeed, that fully assured civil rights are now the defining principle of all enlightened policy making on disability. They have demonstrated by the legislation that their Parliaments have enacted that what we are discussing in this debate is not an idea whose time has come, but one whose time came, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said, when the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People, CORAD, so ably chaired by Sir Peter Large, reported to the Government in favour of legislation to end unfair discrimination against disabled people in 1982, since when one Minister after another has refused to implement the report.

It was made very clear when I appointed CORAD in 1979 that it was the then Labour Government's firm intention to act on its report; but it is in other countries, not here in Britain, that the report has so far had its main effect. There, the report was read by Ministers who were prepared to act; but at least we can take some pride in the fact that it was in this country that the case for legally protecting disabled people against unfair discrimination was first fully documented in an official report.

The Government may wish to argue that for the House to approve this motion would be to act without precedent. But, as we have heard today, not least from the hon. Member for Exeter, that is not the case. In fact, time was found by the then Government, with full co-operation from the Conservative Opposition, for my Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill to reach the statute book on 29 May 1970. My Bill could not possibly have become law before the dissolution on that date without extra time being given by the Government for its final stages. That ought surely to be a good enough precedent for approving this motion, which is, after all, about a Bill which might be described as a lineal descendant of the 1970 Act.

What this motion is basically about is keeping faith with disabled people and restoring their faith, and that of all who work to help them, in this House of Commons. If they are sceptical about the parliamentary process, even sometimes now a little cynical, we need look no further for the cause than the treatment of the Bill that this motion seeks to enact by a minority in the House who have been opposed not only to its enactment, but sometimes even to discussing the Bill.

The tide, however, is rapidly turning against those who think that the law has no part to play in achieving social equality and full citizenship for disabled people. The question now is not whether Britain will go with the tide, but whether we shall be the last country in the developed world to do so.

I am reminded again today of the striking and very memorable photograph of two baby girls that was widely displayed by the Spastics Society with the movingly eloquent caption: One of them has cerebral palsy, the other will grow up with full human rights. The Spastics Society knows, like all supporters of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, that without full civil rights disabled people are doubly disabled. The handicapping effects of their disabilities are made even harder to bear by unnecessary social handicaps for which there is no moral justification; and what anyone in this House opposed to this motion must answer today is the question: "Why on earth should what is morally unjustified any longer be legally permissible in Britain?"

12.57 pm
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)

I add my voice in support of the motion before the House and congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on bringing forward the motion. I am happy to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), whose voice has often been heard arguing with persistence for those who need help.

Two things distinguish a democracy—the Parliament of that democracy as the sounding board and representative of the people, and the willingness of the Government to listen when there is a need in society. Everyone acknowledges that there is a need for the Bill. I have heard no one in the House argue against that, today or on Second Reading. We all know that there is a need. We all know also that a firm majority of Members of Parliament want the Bill to be enacted.

There will always be people who bring extraneous matters into debate and there will always be people who have doubts about the way in which legislation would be carried out. However, the need has been firmly established. We are not arguing that there has not been advance, but are we to tell people who are in need in that respect, "As some advance has been made in the past, we shall not go further and establish your full rights."?

Coming from Northern Ireland, I am surprised at the Government's attitude. In Northern Ireland, the Government were prepared to set up a commission and take action in law to try to get rid of discrimination in employment. There was a big debate in Northern Ireland about the way in which the Government set about doing that. Today, it has been established beyond all dispute that we need legislation and that a majority of Parliament wants the legislation to reach the statute book.

I want to stress what is happening in Northern Ireland—I am glad that the Bill states that it will apply to Northern Ireland. A former mayoress of the city of Belfast has a disabled child. She recently went to pay her rate bill and when she reached the door of the place where she had to pay she was told that she could not bring in her child in a wheelchair but would have to carry her child. When she entered the building, she was told that the rates office was up two flights of stairs on the second floor. She asked whether there was a lift and was told that there was not and that she would have to walk up the stairs. She replied, "But I know there is a lift", but was told that the lift was only for people who worked in the building. The woman had to carry her child up two flights of stairs in order to pay her rate bill.

Such procedures must be outlawed by legislation. People may feel that that is harsh, but we must be harsh. Today I have heard some arguments about the costs, but if we do not take action now, the costs will rise until they are almost prohibitive. The time for action is now.

I have wide experience of disabled people as I have carried out pastoral work for more than 48 years in the city of Belfast. Disabled people do not want the pity or the sympathy of the House; they do not even want protection. They just want their rights to be established. They have a right to certain facilities. Hon. Members in the House today must realise that, because those facilities are not available to disabled people, they are cut off from their families, family outings and the benefits that would accrue to them were they active family members and able to go to the places that the rest of their families visit.

The time has come for the Government to cease erecting barricades and barriers to the Bill and instead to give it a fair wind. As the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe said, we have had many hours of debate on the Bill—it is not undigested legislation; much of the Government's legislation is far less digested than the Bill—and it would be expedient for the House to proceed with it.

The Bill contains the opportunity for the Minister to undertake consultations across the board before he begins regulating. The Government must lift the barriers, give the Bill a fair wind and let disabled people, of whom there are 6.5 million, enjoy their rights. That is what they are arguing for, and they deserve to have those rights. Their rights should be established now and the Government should say that they will back the Bill.

1.4 pm

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting)

As the reaction of the Public Gallery just showed, the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) expressed the views of the people of this country. We could spend hours and hours saying, "We must look at the problem" and asking, "Has this been thought of?", but how does that sound to disabled people who, as the hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members have said, want to lead their own lives? That is what the House should seek to deal with.

I pay the warmest tribute to the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam), who has been in the House a long time and is held in the greatest respect by hon. Members, irrespective of party. He has always been committed and sincere and, to his credit, on an issue to which he is committed, he does not worry too much about the Whips. All people, especially disabled people, look to people like the hon. Member for Exeter for support.

Many other hon. Members, over many years, have been committed to the issue. One should never forget the continuing work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who was committed to the issue at a time when the House and public were not as receptive as they are now to his views. I should also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) for introducing the Bill.

Many references have been made to the Second Reading debate and the enormous vote of support that the Bill received then. No hon. Member voted against it. We know, therefore, the feelings of hon. Members, irrespective of their party, when on 11 March they went through the Aye Lobby to support the Bill.

We have a right to feel annoyed and angry that we are now having to debate whether there will be sufficient time for proper discussion of the Bill. We can feel angry and annoyed, but what of the hundreds of thousands of people who are disabled and who saw the debate and vote on 11 March, after years of opportunity, discussion and hope, as a clear sign that, at long last, the Government would introduce the sort of legislation that they have been seeking for so many years?

In the run-up to that debate, all hon. Members received hundreds of letters or cards from their constituents. I cannot believe that any hon. Member, including the Prime Minister, did not have an enormous postbag of letters from constituents begging him to be here and to vote in support of the Bill.

Did any Member say, "I have had a letter from a constituent and I am somewhat sympathetic, but I don't really think now is the time to pursue this. There's the cost and the inconvenience to business"? I bet that not one hon. Member wrote back to his or her constituent to say, "I am sorry. I am sympathetic to a degree, but I will not be supporting that Bill."

When the Bill went into Committee after the Second Reading vote, it should have been clear to the Minister that Parliament had spoken. The Government should have said that, providing there was clear evidence of progress in Committee, whatever time was needed would be made available.

I listened to the Minister's comments about procedure. I know all about procedure as I was a Government Whip for five years. I learnt how legislation is introduced, and the same system still operates. While I was the Government Whip for London Members of Parliament, I attended many meetings with the two Prime Ministers under whom I served, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan. We discussed many Bills and, if the Chief Whip said that one in particular was essential and that Government time had to be made available for it, the Prime Minister of the day always said that Parliament could have that time. We therefore know that the necessary time can be made available if the Government so wish.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood will pay attention to my next remark because it goes to the heart of the matter. The Minister referred to next Friday. He will be aware of the order of business for that day and of the fact that the Bill is second on the list. No one can predict how long the debate on the first Bill will last—it may last one or two hours. Let us consider the various things that could happen next Friday.

The Minister is in a position to tell us whether the Government intend to table amendments to the Bill before next Thursday. If they do, it will slow down, if not kill, any meaningful debate. I know that the Minister cannot comment on the next issue that I wish to raise but I see a Government Whip, the hon. Member for Stevenage (Mr. Wood), in his place, and he knows how the system works. Statements can be made at 11 am on Fridays. As I said, we do not know what time the Bill will come up for debate next week but let suppose that the first Bill is debated for an hour and that consideration of this Bill finally begins at 11.30 am. Can we be given an assurance that there will be no Government statement next Friday?

Mr. Fabricant

Although I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman, how can he expect an answer to that question? Whether there is a statement will depend on the events of the week.

Mr. Cox

I think that every hon. Member would accept that, if something of great importance were to happen, it is the Government's duty to make a statement at the earliest opportunity. However, the hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that the Government could say that they intended to slip in a statement although it could wait until the following week, thus reducing the time available for debate on the Bill. The hon. Gentleman knows, as the House knows, that a statement generally takes half an hour; it can take much longer. Those are the problems at which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood needs to look in the coming week.

Let us consider the reaction of disabled groups to the events in the House on 11 March. I have here a copy of the Spastics Society's spring 1994 publication. It has a photograph of people in wheelchairs against the background of the House of Commons and the headline, "Civil Rights Victory". That is how those people saw the vote here on 11 March. They saw it as victory, at long last, in their long campaign. Some 231 hon. Members voted in favour of the Bill and no one voted against. Against that background, one has to ask about the Government's real intentions towards the Bill. Is their real intention to ensure that there is adequate time for discussion?

On 26 February 1993, I introduced a debate in the House on this very subject in which we sought to ensure equality of opportunity for disabled people. I said then that no hon. Member could say that, thankfully, disablement was not a problem in his or her constituency. We have heard today that, on average, there are, sadly, 10,000 people in every constituency who suffer various forms of disability. What our constituents expect from us and most certainly from the Government is action—legislation—that will lead to the introduction and development of their civil rights.

We have heard today many examples of the injustices that, sadly, exist. During our debate on 26 February 1993, the Minister said: Education and persuasion remain important parts of the way forward".—[Official Report, 26 February 1993; Vol. 219, c. 1181.] Whatever our thoughts on education and persuasion as the way forward—I do not dispute for a minute that they have a role to play—we all know that what is required and what people, especially disabled people and their families, expect is legislation to give them their rights.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe have outlined the events of the past 12 years during which hon. Members on both sides have sought to carry through similar legislation. We know, sadly, what has happened repeatedly. The Government, sometimes from malice and sometimes, I am prepared to say, from genuine concern about the possible effects, have delayed the progress of legislation such as we are discussing today.

References have been made today to the Prime Minister. I am sure that many hon. Members visit groups of people and meet individuals who are, sadly, disabled. Such people in my constituency in south London say, "You know, Tom, when we hear the Prime Minister talking about the citizens charter and about what it means, where do we fit in? Do those charters mean anything to us, given our sad disabilities and the restrictions on the way in which we lead our lives?"

It would be interesting to know whether the Prime Minister was thinking about disabled people when we had that blaze of publicity not so long ago about charters. We do not hear too much about them now, but I am told, and I understand, that they are still part of Government policy. We hear all the talk about the Whips and, as I have said, I was a Whip, but if charters are still part of Government policy, I suggest that the Prime Minister of the Government who control the affairs of the country, as the person who can decide the allocation of time for any debate in the House, should insist that sufficient time is given to the Bill.

Indeed, at the beginning of the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) made what I thought was a very generous comment. He asked the Minister whether, if the Labour Opposition were prepared to give up half of one of their Supply days, the Government would provide another half day so that there would be a whole day allocated for further discussion of the Bill. We did not get very much response from the Minister. It is possible—I hope that I may say it without being unfair—that he is not in a position to make such comments. However, I hope that he pursues that suggestion, because it was obviously made with the approval of the Opposition Chief Whip. One will listen with interest to what will happen.

Let me make one or two further comments in reference to the House of Commons research paper 94/37, which was published on 28 February and which outlined the proposals of the Bill. All of us know, because we make great use of the research papers that the Library provides, that that paper outlines the principal objectives of the Bill on page 2. I shall not comment on them, but on page 11 the paper gives the names of 13 groups representing disabled people which were consulted and which put forward their ideas on the proposals contained in the Bill.

Those 13 groups cover a whole range of disabilities and, as we all know, have a great deal of contact with people throughout the United Kingdom. Every one of those groups was in total support of the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood introduced on March 11. To his credit, through today's debate, the hon. Member for Exeter is seeking to ensure that we have adequate time for full discussion of that Bill.

I agree that there must be full discussion of the Bill. Consultation is vital. I thought that we were given to understand that the Minister and his Department were actively involved in the Bill. If they are, I hope that we shall soon see the publication of the results of those consultations. It is not a political issue. I can be critical of the Government for what I see as a delay, but I genuinely believe that they have a commitment to legislation. So I shall not comment on the aspects of speeches that were made by two Conservative Members that I found questionable. I heard all the comments which expressed the sentiment of, "Yes, it is wonderful, but, but, but … " We have a right to expect the Government, and the Minister and his Department in particular, to be involved in consultation, to listen to what are no doubt the genuine fears of organisations and businesses, and then to explain to us how they have sought to reassure individuals and organisations that have had comments to make.

On about 20 April I received a letter from the Spastics Society of 19 April, headed: Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill". The letter may have been sent to many other people. The final paragraph says it all in setting out what the House and the Government should be seeking to do. The paragraph reads: Having come so far we cannot let the Bill be smothered and die due to the technicalities of Parliamentary Procedure. If this were to happen the 6.5 million disabled people in this country will understandably feel let down and ignored by the democratic process. I do not think that any hon. Member could better sum up the issue that is at stake. That paragraph sets out the test for the House today, but more so the test that we shall face next Friday. It is a test for the House but, above all, it is a test for the Government, and especially for the Prime Minister.

1.26 pm
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) for bringing forward such an excellent motion. My right hon. Friend the Minister of State has said that the effects of the motion are not technically enforceable, but I am sure that he and other right hon. and hon. Members will accept the spirit of the motion. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), who has been seeing the Bill through the House.

My natural inclination is to be a libertarian. That approach has been inculcated through my background in business over the past 10 or 12 years and through training at university in economics before that. Initially, I was rather opposed to the Bill as it was presented on Second Reading. That was not because I feel that there should be discrimination against the disabled. I said in an intervention that I happened to have a political researcher who is disabled. That person is employed not because he is disabled but because he is a good researcher.

I am not a great believer in conversions on the road to Damascus, but to a large degree I am converted in this instance because of the changes that have been made in Committee. It is worth emphasising what the Bill is now certainly not. First, it is not a Bill that is advocating positive discrimination. It is simply a Bill that argues, as it were, that there should be equal opportunity. As I would always argue for libertarianism for industry, I would also argue for libertarianism for our entire population, the able-bodied as well as the disabled.

I believe that the Bill will create a climate and a spirit in which businesses, local authorities and the Government will have to act to introduce legislation in future that is in line with this Bill if it becomes an Act. I hope that it will become an Act given the amendments that were made in Committee.

Although the Committee stage was open in its dealings and there was much co-operation on both sides of the Committee, the Government did not table any amendments. I hope that extra time will be found for the Bill. If there are any other areas on Report, in respect of which the Government believe that the Bill is not as we would wish it to be to the benefit not only of the disabled but of the community as a whole, including business, I hope that the Government will table suitable amendments.

Let us examine more closely the amendments that were made in Committee and why I support the Bill now when I previously did not. The main alteration has occurred in clause 10 under exemptions. Clause 10(1) states that the Secretary of State of the day may by regulations provide for the exemption, for a specified period,"— that is, a period which the Secretary of State specifies— of any person or body, or class of person or body, from any requirement of this Part of this Act specified in the regulations. Clause 10(2) states: Regulations under this section may specify different periods of exemption in relation to—

  1. (a) the provision of different goods, facilities or services;
  2. (b) different persons or bodies; or
  3. (c) different classes of persons or bodies."
That means that the Secretary of State can decide who may be exempt from the Bill and for what period they may be exempt.

Those are far-reaching powers. I am prepared to accept that any Secretary of State will be able to make the right judgment and to perform the balancing trick, which always has to be performed, between the requirements of one part of our community and those of another part of our community.

Let us not forget that if we were to force small businesses to introduce ramps, disabled toilets or whatever over a very short period—which would be reducing the Bill to absurdity and which is now not the case—that would not benefit the disabled. Those small businesses would simply go out of business and would not be able to serve the disabled or the able-bodied.

Mr. Hendry

In a small retail community in which shops provide similar services, if the shopkeepers who are most aware of the needs of disabled people carry out the kind of work at an early stage to which my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) referred and possibly at significant cost, how does my hon. Friend square those costs with the fact that less responsible retail businesses, which decided to apply for an exemption on the grounds that they could not afford such work, would be in a better trading position than the shopkeepers who had carried out the letter of the law?

Mr. Fabricant

As ever, my hon. Friend raises a very valid point. However, under the Bill, individual trading bodies or shops would not have to apply for exemptions. Instead, the Secretary of State would specify classes of businesses that are exempt.

My hon. Friend raises another valid point: what about the business that goes to the expense of producing a ramp and other facilities for the disabled? I hope that such a business will get extra custom, and I hope that that extra custom will come from not only the disabled but the able-bodied, who will say that a specific shop or business is proving that it has a duty of care to the community which deserves reward. If that reward is custom, so be it. All things being equal, I know that I will always choose to buy goods in a shop that provides facilities for the disabled, rather than a shop that does not provide such facilities.

Another reason why I support the Bill is the sheer inevitability of this type of Bill becoming law. I shall be somewhat controversial and say that it is as inevitable as the age for homosexual consent reaching equality. I think that, through cowardice, we put off the inevitable a few months ago, and it will inevitably come back again. However, I do not wish to raise such controversial matters at this stage. This Bill is even more inevitable. For that reason, too, I support it.

Some hon. Members have asked why we should put off the inevitable, especially when it would be more expensive if we were not do it now but at a later date. It makes sense to do it now. All the arguments that I have heard from my hon. Friends and Opposition Members where doubts have been expressed have been covered in clause 10 which deals with exemptions. There are further points in the Bill which convince me that the Bill is worth pursuing and passing into law. As I said earlier, I invite the Minister to table amendments on Report if there are still areas that he is unhappy about.

I should like to clear up a few misconceptions about the Bill. As I said, it is not seeking positive discrimination—I am very much against that. It is simply asking for equal opportunities for the disabled, just as there are equal opportunities for the able bodied. I was amused and delighted by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) who, in a marvellous peroration, put forward the Conservative party philosophy with, dare I say it, such conviction that I almost felt the desire to invite him to join us on this side of the House. As he rightly said, it is Conservative party philosophy that we are one nation. He quoted Winston Churchill. I shall quote from another speech of Winston Churchill. [Interruption.] Would the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) like me to give way?

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North)

I have just walked in. I must not miss the hon. Gentleman's speech—it is wonderful.

Mr. Fabricant

Winston Churchill said that the Conservative party wishes to provide the opportunities for people to soar as high as they can possibly go but also to provide from the wealth created through private enterprise a safety net below which no one should fall. That philosophy is not exclusive to the Conservative party; I am sure that there are certain socialist modernisers who might also agree with that—if not all Opposition Members. I see some frowns opposite.

Basically, I see nothing in the Bill that is contrary to Conservative party philosophy. All my qualms and fears about the possible damage that it could do to businesses have been allayed by the fact that the Secretary of State of the day can make decisions with regard to what classes of business can be exempted and for how long.

Mr. Sheerman

I will probably take a long time to live down the hon. Gentleman's mention of my remarks. I was trying to make the point clear, because it was depressing to hear some of his colleagues still emphasising the benefit and dependency role of disability and disability legislation.

I want to hear the Minister and Conservative Members saying that the legislation liberates people to benefit both the private and public sectors. Whenever people are given the opportunity to use all their abilities, costs are reduced and wealth is created. That is the whole thrust of the Bill, and I think that there will be undisguised benefits in terms of costs. When the Minister looks into costs—as he is doing now—I hope that he will balance that against the physical modifications which too many people harp on about.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I mentioned that, before I was in business, I read economics at university. One does not need to study economics at university to know that it is always worth while to undertake a cost-benefit analysis. For every cost, there can also be certain benefits, and, as I made clear in an earlier intervention, there will have to be some benefits from a large proportion of the 6.25 million registered disabled people being able to leave social security and get into the jobs market.

They will contribute to the Exchequer and to the wealth of the nation and they will also, as has been pointed out, provide greater dignity for themselves by playing a more active role in the community. That is in no way to condemn those disabled people who would be unable to get a job because of the degree of their disability.

I shall also point out another misconception. We are not talking about extra money for the disabled for a job that they are unable to do. That is not what the Bill is about. It is not about putting people in jobs if they are not capable of doing them. As I understand it, if a disabled person is only able to work at two thirds of the productivity of an able-bodied person because of the degree of his disability, it is accepted in the Bill that that person would, if it was the employer's wish, get two thirds of the wages.

There is no question of positive discrimination. The Bill is very fair, both to employers and to the disabled. I talked about the inevitability of the Bill. It is inevitable not only because of its innate fairness and the rightness of having such a Bill, but because it has been done elsewhere. Not only has it been done elsewhere; it works elsewhere. It works in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France and Sweden.

It seems astonishing that anyone in the Chamber can say that a Bill of this nature is unworkable and would provide such great additional costs that the economy would collapse or be seriously damaged as a result. Where the Government are still unhappy, let us make further alterations. But that would require adequate time in this place for Report.

I do not believe that there is one Member of Parliament out of the 651 hon. Members who has not received letters from constituents about the matter. Incidentally, my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) said that it is difficult to believe that there are 10,000 disabled people in his or any constituency. I would not be surprised if it were perhaps not 10,000 but 9,000, 11,000, or some similar figure. The amount of disability in Britain is fairly high. It has been pointed out that one of the reasons for the amount of disability is better health care. People can survive certain types of injury that they could not have survived earlier.

In the past, disabled groups believed that institutional discrimination was the main problem. Anti-discrimination is the form of legislation which is most likely to tackle it.

The Bill may contain several loopholes. It may not be perfect. It may be only a first step, but, unless it is passed, we shall not establish a precedent in United Kingdom legislation. Just as there should not be sexual discrimination, racial discrimination or—now I shall really incur the wrath of the Whips—age discrimination, there should not be discrimination against the disabled. If I had my way, there would be anti-agist legislation, too.

Similarly, there must be legislation to protect the disabled and give them not greater but equal opportunities. Who in the House could deny that?

1.46 pm
Mr. Charles Hendry (High Peak)

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make a brief intervention in this important debate. I join my colleagues on both sides of the House in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) on the way in which he moved the motion. As ever, he did it with the generosity of spirit, common sense and dignity which has won him friends and respect throughout the House.

I also join my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) in saying how much I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman). He made perhaps the most compelling case of anyone for giving the Bill more time. If his speeches are to consist predominantly of quotations from the speeches of my hon. Friends, the Prime Minister and former Prime Ministers and members of the Cabinet, they will be valuable speeches. It is notable that he could not find a single speech from the Leader of the Opposition or a previous Labour Prime Minister that he wanted to quote. If he wants us to have more time for further debate on the issues so that he can bring to the attention of the House the extremely powerful and noteworthy comments of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that is a powerful emotion indeed.

Mr. Sheerman

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to all of my speech or been present for the Second Reading, he would know that on Second Reading I concentrated precisely on the tradition in the Labour party in favour of disability legislation. I tried to think intellectually and honestly of something different to say today and I lit on an examination of the philosophy of the governing party. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the two speeches, he will find that they contrast quite nicely.

Mr. Hendry

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point. I simply wanted to make the point that for those of us on the Conservative Benches it was a great pleasure to hear the articulate words of our colleagues coming from his mouth so clearly.

There is no doubt about the tremendous support and enthusiasm that the motion and the Bill enjoy among the public at large. That is clear from the meetings that I have had with people in my constituency who have disabilities, and from the letters that I have received. Therein, however, lies a dilemma for us. While the Bill is clearly a popular measure, introducing it is like offering a child a lollipop. Of course, the child says, "Yes, I want it." Then if one says to the child, "Now you have to pay for it", he may not want it after all. The costs associated with the Bill must be considered.

Hon. Members have referred to the fact that the Bill was debated extensively in Committee. Hon. Members on both sides of the House would accept, however, that, often, the nature of debate in Committee is not a true reflection of the issue behind the relevant legislation. I am not referring directly to this Bill, but to the Standing Committee on the Tobacco Advertising Bill, on which I served. During that Committee, it became clear that most of the amendments were being tabled by the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman. They were pushed to a vote, although he explained that he did not agree with them. Because of his actions, those of us who had deep reservations about the Bill were forced to curtail our speeches.

Although the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill has been discussed in Committee and amendments were not tabled on behalf of the Government, that should not be taken to mean that the Bill was discussed as fully as it should have been.

Repeated reference has been made to the fact that the campaign for the Bill has lasted for 12 years. Some of my colleagues have also drawn attention to some of the developments in that time. If we look objectively at the position of people with disabilities, it is clear that it has improved significantly over that time, although the rate of that improvement has not been as fast we would have wished.

I do not intend to rehearse the long list of developments and changes, but I should like to pick out a couple which give me the most satisfaction because I was involved in their development when I was an adviser at the Department of Social Security. The disability living allowance and the disability working allowance have made an important contribution towards enabling people with disabilities to lead more fulfilling lives. We can take great pride in that.

The way in which children with disabilities are taught has changed dramatically and represents an absolute breakthrough. I welcome whole-heartedly the fact that children with disabilities now go through the main education system wherever possible, rather than being hived off into special schools. There is a need for such schools for children with the most severe disabilities, but the fact that many other children with disabilities are integrated in the mainstream education system is a welcome development.

I also welcome the improvements in premises owned by the Government. On Wednesday, I opened a new jobcentre in Glossop in my constituency, which combines the former jobcentre with the unemployment benefit office. Anyone who knew the old building would agree that it was a most hostile environment not just for people claiming unemployment benefit, but particularly for people with disabilities. The barriers and glass screens made access difficult for disabled people. Although there were three means of access to the building—one for women, one for men and one for employers—there was no means of access for people with disabilities. The building has changed beyond recognition and that means that people with disabilities who are seeking work will now be aided back into work, or into work for the first time, in a much more user-friendly environment.

I accept that a great deal more needs to be done. I am certain that discrimination is still too widespread. I am aware that too many employers who know in advance that an applicant has disabilities are less likely to interview that person and will opt for someone who is able bodied. Such practice cannot continue to be accepted by a civilised society.

Progress to end discrimination is still too slow. I was particularly shocked by the figures produced by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who has done so much for the Bill, which revealed how Government Departments have failed to meet the voluntary target to have work forces of whom 3 per cent. are people with disabilities. The fact that one Department has reached just 0.3 per cent., or one tenth, of that target, must be addressed.

Many of us are concerned that the proposed legislation would mean that significant costs were incurred in converting buildings to make them easily accessible to people with disabilities, though I accept the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire that such conversions would enable more people to shop in retail outlets and therefore boost business. To many of them, it would also bring in a different type of business—for example, mothers with pushchairs, who at the moment cannot take their children into those shops.

It must be accepted that many of the businesses in our constituencies which are experiencing difficulties in a market which is beginning to pick up but in which the recovery is slow would find it difficult to undertake those conversion costs now or in the foreseeable future.

Let me consider a couple of towns in my constituency and relate that directly to the experience that I see about me in High Peak. Buxton would never have been built if one had been thinking about the needs of people with disabilities, because there are not many towns with more slopes and hills. New Mills, not far away, is not dissimilar in many ways. Buxton was developed due to the healing spa waters there, which attracted many people with disabilities to go there.

In Buxton, perhaps some of the earliest facilities in the country for disabled people are being refurbished—the Slopes. The Slopes were a series of slopes of different gradients where people who were recovering from debilitating illnesses could start to walk up increasingly steep gradients day by day. There they were able gradually to be returned to full health. As a result of money being committed by High Peak borough council, by the Government and by the European Union, those are being restored and they are a tremendous asset in the town.

The geography of Buxton means that the cost of ensuring that all the retail outlets were accessible to people with disabilities would be enormous. We have a huge number of retail outlets, public buildings and houses to which access can be gained only by climbing a significant number of steps.

We have a jewel of an opera house, the Buxton opera house, built almost 100 years ago. It desperately wants to do more to make itself accessible to people with disabilities, but, at the moment, that is not easy. There are narrow stairways, access is up little narrow streets and it would be difficult, and would cost a tremendous amount of money, for those conversions to be carried out. The opera house has led the way in signing stage plays and operas. It is one of the first opera houses in the country to sign opera. That is an indication of its desire for the facilities to be improved, but a tremendous cost will be involved in making access available in the near future to people with disabilities.

Mr. Fabricant

I am familiar with the Buxton opera house, which is an excellent opera house, and I have been to several performances there, including a performance of "The Magic Flute" a while ago, which was excellently done.

Does my hon. Friend agree, however, that the Bill has been amended—although I would not encourage opera houses or other places of entertainment to take that route—to enable the Secretary of State, should he so wish, to say that old buildings or buildings of a specific size or shape could be exempt for so many years from undertaking such work, especially if such work might jeopardise the existence of the opera house?

Mr. Hendry

That clause has significantly improved the Bill as it stands. We shall now enter a legal minefield about what constitutes a right to appeal against that. People may say that they cannot afford to do the work, when they may be able to do it. If two shops are next door to one other and one is granted an exemption but the other is not, although one may attract more business as a result, it has obviously had to put much money up front and, in the difficult economic trading climate, that may cause it further difficulties.

Last week, I met some people with disabilities in Chapel-en-le-Frith, a village in my constituency. There has been significant coverage in the local newspapers of the difficult trading circumstances in that village and in towns and villages nearby. We have a number of empty shops there and I am cautious about imposing further costs on those businesses—indeed, pressure of any type on those businesses—in addition to the costs that they must incur to survive the recession. I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire has just said. It must be accepted that inherent in the Bill are additional costs on companies and businesses. We must consider those factors.

A disabled constituent could not come to my surgery and felt that discrimination was being practised. Access to the Conservative association office is up a flight of stairs, so people with disabilities find it difficult to enter it. I offered to give my constituent a home visit so that, instead of a surgery slot of a quarter of an hour, I gave a one-and-a-half hour visit, which I thought had served my constituent's interests better than a visit to a surgery. What people with disabilities sometimes regard as discrimination can be used to ensure that their problems are listened to and answered.

Castleton caverns in my constituency are a series of internationally renowned underground caverns—I suppose that caverns are, by definition, underground. The nature of the caverns means that they are difficult to enter. If the caverns have to comply with the regulations, it will have to be on the understanding that, geographically, by their very nature, they may not be able to be used by people who require wheelchairs.

We must consider the transport provisions of the Bill. We all know that trains with slam doors cannot be converted for wheelchair use. There is a programme to improve them and replace them with more modern rolling stock, but that will take time. The Bill must contain an acceptance that changes will take a long time. I fully accept the assurances of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter that no physical date has been put on the changes.

The biggest danger is that we may raise a banner of hope for people with disabilities when we say that the issues will be tackled and the law now says so, then in 10, 20 or 30 years' time, disabled people find that the changes have not taken place because the legislation contained no time scale. Their sense of frustration and betrayal will become all the greater. Therefore, when we take action now, we must ensure that the provisions that we deliver are enforceable.

When we talk about the provision of taxis or the conversion of taxis for use by people with disabilities, we must be aware of the tremendous costs entailed. The taxis that are most readily usable by people with disabilities are black cabs, which cost £20,000-plus. There is one black cab in the borough of High Peak, and it is used by people with wheelchairs. If we require every taxi in High Peak to be converted to a black cab over a certain period, we shall put most of the cab drivers in Buxton and the rest of the borough out of business because they simply cannot justify or afford that investment.

Attitudes to disabled people in employment are changing. With each generation of new managers and people who have grown up with people with disabilities around them, we have become much more open minded and far less discriminatory in our attitudes towards people with disabilities. That means that opportunities for people with disabilities will improve.

There are tremendous examples in High Peak of companies that employ well above their quota level of disabled people. Otter Controls, a firm in Buxton which makes electronic equipment and electrical components, employs well above the level set in the voluntary code. If we simply say that 3 per cent. of a company's work force must be disabled people, companies that employ above that level will say that they have fulfilled their legal obligation and cannot justify to their shareholders taking on more people with disabilities. The best employers would scale back because the law simply required them to meet a floor level.

The voluntary agreement has not worked as well as it should have—in the public sector it has not worked nearly as well as it should have done. The Government could make a much clearer commitment to ensuring that those targets will be met within government. The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe gave a high figure of, I think, 100,000 jobs for disabled people that were being created by Government Departments. That is an important way forward and legislation is not necessarily required to achieve that goal.

It is clear from what my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter has said that employers are far less unhappy with the Bill's provisions than they would initially have been. That clearly opens up an opportunity for them to say, "Let's see how we can actively work together to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities." That would encourage individual employers to meet the targets that they have said that they are willing to meet.

Much more can be done under the voluntary code. If disability groups in our constituencies said to shops, "To make your shop accessible to somebody in a wheelchair, this is what you will need to do and this is a rough idea of what it will cost", I am sure that many shopkeepers would say, "That is not as much as I thought it would cost; I will do it." Shopkeepers probably never considered doing so before because nobody helped them to take that next step.

The needs of disabled people will be increasingly borne in mind by the House and the country. We must strengthen current legislation and the Bill undoubtedly does that. The legal complications, the grey areas and the aspects open for debate in court and elsewhere still give grounds for concern, but this debate and the one next week and the future progress of the Bill give us a chance to express our genuine concerns to ensure that people with disabilities play a full part in the life and work of this country.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, Her Majesty's Ministers should provide sufficient time on the floor of the House before 27 May 1994 to allow all remaining stages of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill to be completed, and that sufficient time be provided before the end of the Session for the consideration of any Amendments to the Bill which may be made by the House of Lords.

Back to