HC Deb 23 January 1995 vol 253 cc11-2
18. Mr. Hawkins

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what measures the Government are taking to help disabled people.

Mr. Hague

On 12 January, the Government introduced the Disability Discrimination Bill, which will outlaw discrimination against disabled people in employment and in access to goods and services. It will create a National Disability Council, which will be a powerful voice on matters relating to discrimination.

We have also announced a series of measures to combat discrimination against disabled people in transport and in education.

Mr. Hawkins

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Will he join me in congratulating those organisations that worked so hard in consultation with the Government on their proposals, including Action for Better Access for the Disabled, which does valuable work in my constituency and in the surrounding area? Will he also confirm that the proposals contained in the Bill go much further than those contained in the consultation document?

Mr. Hague

Yes. I join my hon. Friend in congratulating those organisations—more than 1,000 of them—which responded to the Government's consultation document, which was published in July. Many of them asked us to do things which we have, in the light of those representations, decided to do—for example, to include financial services within the legal framework that we propose and to require alterations to be made to existing premises to end discrimination against disabled people.

Mr. Corbett

Does the Minister understand that the Bill is not mainly about services and benefits, important as they are, but about the civil rights of people with disabilities? Does he therefore agree that, although it is proposed to exclude firms with fewer than 20 employees from the need to implement the new employment rights, that threshold should be lowered over a defined period so that all job discrimination can be ended?

Mr. Hague

The hon. Gentleman must understand that 83 per cent. of employees work for firms with 20 or more employees, so the proposed new arrangements on employment law will cover the vast majority of the work force. Of course we must have regard to the difficulties that would confront small businesses in implementing complex new legislation. We must not get into a position whereby we drive small businesses out of business to help one part of the community; that is absolutely not the intention of the legislation. However, we shall cover the vast majority of the work force and make a lasting change in the way in which disabled people are treated.

Mr. Thurnham

Does my hon. Friend agree that, by proposing sensible, practical and fair measures, the Government's Bill will gain much wider acceptance than would be gained by proposals that have not been properly considered or consulted upon?

Mr. Hague

Yes. It is vital that we carry the whole country with us in ending discrimination against disabled people. It is not simply a matter of changing legislation and changing rules; it is also a question of changing attitudes and changing the psychology of millions of people throughout the country. That is why it is so important to carry people with us, as my hon. Friend says.