HC Deb 20 February 1995 vol 255 cc6-7
5. Mr. Spring

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps he is taking to reduce discrimination against disabled people.

11. Mr. Congdon

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what recent representations he has received on the measures the Government are taking to help disabled people.

Mr. Hague

The Government's plans for ending discrimination against disabled people were set out in the White Paper on 12 January. They involve new initiatives in education and transport, in addition to the proposals in the Disability Discrimination Bill for new rights in employment and access to goods and services. These plans have been widely welcomed.

Mr. Spring

Does my hon. Friend agree that, apart from moral considerations, there are powerful commercial reasons to encourage businesses to provide access for disabled people? Does my hon. Friend agree that legislative proposals for businesses should be sensible and well judged and not based on wishful and woolly thinking?

Mr. Hague

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Proposals must be clear, flexible and fair—as they are in the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill—and they must lead to genuine practical improvements, such as the recently agreed improvements to access at Bury St. Edmunds post office in my hon. Friend's constituency, in which he and many other people were involved and scored quite a success.

Mr. Congdon

I congratulate my hon. Friend on having the determination to get a Bill to eliminate discrimination on to the statute book. In proceeding with that Bill, will he give serious consideration to whether it might need strengthening to ensure that health and safety considerations do not cut across the legitimate aim of ensuring that disabled people have access to, for example, places of entertainment such as cinemas?

Mr. Hague

I thank my hon. Friend for his support. He was right to draw attention to that issue. We are determined to ensure that the requirements to provide physical and other forms of access actually mean something and work in practice. As the Bill progresses through the House and the other place, those matters will have to be discussed.

Mr. Barnes

Two Bills are before the House on discrimination against disabled people—the Government Bill, which was supported by 27 votes on a three-line Whip, and my private Member's Bill, which, on a free vote, was carried by 175 votes. My Bill has the support of hon. Members from 10 political parties in the House, including the two Conservative parties, unlike the Government's Bill, which is supported mainly on a three-line Whip by Conservatives. In those circumstances, should not the House have an opportunity to determine between the two Bills or to discover whether there is, alternatively, a move towards the principles contained in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill?

Mr. Hague

Let us put the hon. Gentleman right. His Bill was supported in the House by 175 hon. Members, the Government's Bill was supported by 307 hon. Members. If it comes to a choice between them, I do not fancy his chances much. The Government's Bill is clear, flexible, fair and in the interests of disabled people. The hon. Gentleman's Bill is confusing, unfair, inflexible and not in the interests of disabled people.

Mr. Corbett

Does not every single organisation of and for disabled people much prefer the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) to the Government's puny measure? Will the Minister therefore accept the need for a disability rights commission to ensure that people with disabilities enjoy the same rights as the rest of us?

Mr. Hague

Disabled people throughout the country want workable legislation that brings about a change in the law and, at the same time, a change in attitudes. That is what the Government's Bill will achieve and that is one reason why we wish to tackle the issue of enforcement by having not a commission but a locally available advice and support network to which disabled people can turn. That will be the sound, practical way to deal with those problems.