HC Deb 24 January 1995 vol 253 cc147-239

Order for Second Reading read.

Madam Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.49 pm
The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. William Hague)

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

The Government give a high priority to helping disabled people to live with dignity and independence. During the past 15 years, much has been done to further that aim. The new access to work programme has enabled a wider range of disabled people to obtain and keep employment, by helping them to overcome barriers at work. The introduction of access requirements to the building regulations has had a substantial effect on social, recreational and employment possibilities for disabled people. The number of disabled children educated in mainstream schools has increased steadily, great progress has been made towards an accessible transport network, and spending on benefits for the long-term sick and disabled has more than trebled in real terms.

Despite what has been achieved, the Government recognise that discrimination still occurs. Disabled people are still liable to be afforded less favourable treatment throughout a whole range of activities—whether when applying for a job, or trying to get a table in a restaurant. For example, a few years ago, Scope conducted an interesting experiment, in which job advertisements were responded to with two curriculum vitae, which were identical in every way, except that one revealed a disability. The study concluded that an able-bodied applicant was much more likely to receive a positive response to an application.

The Government have always made it clear that they are committed to ending the irrationality with which disabled people are all too often treated and regarded. It is utterly wrong that disabled people are restricted, or excluded from some aspects of life. We all must come to terms with including people with a disability in our work, travel, study and leisure—all the more so because our ageing population will bring with it an increasing number of people with some kind of disability.

Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

The Minister quoted the case of someone being discriminated against when applying for a job and thus clearly gave the House the impression that such discrimination was not acceptable to the Government. If it is not, and he nods, why should the Bill make it acceptable for companies employing fewer than 20 people?

Mr. Hague

The provisions in the Bill will cover 83 per cent. of employees who work in firms employing 20 or more people. There are reasons why we want to exempt smaller firms from the employment requirements and I will come to those.

The Bill is the most tangible evidence yet of the Government's commitment to disabled people. It establishes Britain as leading the way in Europe. In time, it will bring about the dramatic changes to which I shall refer. It will involve millions of people in taking positive action, its implications for what individuals and businesses must do are more far-reaching than existing sex and race legislation, and its effects will be felt across the board, in all aspects of life. It will give disabled people a right not to be discriminated against in employment, and a right of access to goods, facilities, financial services and the transport infrastructure.

As our White Paper made clear, however, our proposals go much wider than the areas in which legislation is necessary. The accompanying measures, on transport and education, and the consultation on domestic dwellings complete the most comprehensive package to deal with such matters proposed by any Government.

Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

The Minister mentioned accompanying measures to deal with education. In an answer to me last Tuesday, the Prime Minister said that the Bill applied to education, yet one clause deliberately excludes 12 areas—mainly on the basis of the funding authority involved—so it is difficult to know which educational institutions will be covered by the provisions. Will the Minister confirm that those are not covered and clarify whether they will be covered by some other provision?

Mr. Hague

As the hon. Member knows from the White Paper and from my statement to the House on 24 November 1994, the Government are proposing a number of education measures that are separate from the scope of the Bill. As he should also know, its employment provisions will apply to educational institutions, so the Prime Minister was right to say that aspects of the Bill apply to education, just as he was right to say that aspects of it apply to transport.

Part I defines disability for the purpose of the new law. Opposition Members have implied in their reasoned amendment that we have defined the concept of disability too narrowly. But a wider definition that stretched the concept of disability too far would lack credibility and be open to abuse. Our definition is the right one, because employers and service providers will understand it, and it will therefore make the Act operable.

Part II concerns the employment right. The new employment right is broadly on the lines of present anti-discrimination provision for women and ethnic minorities, but with the additional requirement on employers to make reasonable adjustments to overcome any practical constraints imposed by a person's disability. The right covers all aspects of employment: when disabled people apply for work or take up employment and when people become disabled during their working lives. It will replace the outdated and unworkable quota scheme. Like that scheme, it will cover a broad range of physical and mental disabilities.

The Bill provides for codes of practice to be issued, which will help employers in deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable in a particular case. They will need to take account of the cost of the adjustment and its usefulness in overcoming the practical effect of the disability. Most disabled people who want to work need no or only very modest help.

The new right will apply to employers with 20 or more employees—a point made by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley)—and include 83 per cent. of all employees.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

The Minister said earlier that most disabled people who want to work need no or very little help. On what authority does he say that?

Mr. Hague

I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would be eager to agree with me. I say it on the basis of experience in the United States, where employers found that "reasonable accommodation", which is their equivalent of our term "reasonable adjustment", cost nothing in 43 per cent. of cases because it involved just moving the office furniture around or doing something sensible and practical like introducing different working hours. A large proportion of other adjustments cost very little. So I am entirely justified in saying that—

Mr. Tom Clarke


Mr. Hague

I must get on with my speech, but if the hon. Gentleman needs further elaboration, let him ask.

Mr. Clarke

I promise the Minister that I shall be as generous and give way to him at least twice.

Given that the Minister has just said that those measures cost nothing, which was an important statement on behalf of the Government, why are the Government being so mean?

Mr. Hague

It is most comforting to know that the hon. Gentleman will give way to me twice, but it is not comforting to see that he cannot reconcile the various statements that I have made on this matter. It can be simultaneously true that, while many adjustments cost nothing, some cost something. Some employers will have to pay a bill to finance a reasonable adjustment, and I see no inconsistency between those positions.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Hague

I must now make a little progress, but I shall try to give way to the hon. Gentleman a little later if he wishes. Many other hon. Members wish to speak in the debate.

The exemption for small firms reflects the Government's recognition that it may be more difficult and burdensome for smaller firms to get to grips with the new right. There will, however, be provision for the threshold of 20 employees to be changed by way of regulation and the Government will keep the level under review as experience is gained of the new right.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Hague

I shall give way first to my hon. Friend and then to the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson). I shall then make a good deal of progress with my speech.

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend spoke of the undesirability of imposing a burden on business. I do not want to be unreasonable, but should not we expect business men to behave as decently as other people? Does my hon. Friend recall that Oliver Twist's first cry on being born in the workhouse advertised to the inmates "the fact of a new burden having been imposed on the parish"? Does my hon. Friend sometimes feel, as I do, that we need a new Dickens to describe the absurdities and horrors of our complacencies?

Mr. Hague

My hon. Friend describes the position in an interesting and literary way. We can think of those matters as burdens but also as opportunities for employers and service providers, many of whom will find that including disabled people brings benefits. We must recognise, however, that there will be a cost implication for many employers and a cost to goods and service providers—in their case we expect it to run into hundreds of millions of pounds. We cannot wish away the fact that the Bill's provisions will represent an additional cost for many people.

Mr. Hanson

Does the Minister expect that his hon. Friends will table amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, the Equal Pay Act 1970 and the Race Relations Act 1976 to provide a 20-employees exemption? If he does not, why is he treating disabled people differently?

Mr. Hague

I cannot anticipate what amendments may be tabled to the Bill, let alone to previous Acts of Parliament. It is important to recognise that the Bill expects more cost and positive action on the part of employers than that expected of them to overcome other cases of discrimination. As I have already said, the Government have provided that the threshold of 20 employees may be changed through regulation. We shall keep the level of that restriction under review.

Part III contains the access provisions. Service providers will be required to change policies, practices and procedures that make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to make use of goods. They will also be required to provide auxiliary aids or services—such as induction loops—or remove physical barriers to help disabled people gain access to goods, facilities and services. Those requirements will lead to a huge leap forward in the accessibility of goods and services to disabled people. We have listened carefully to the representations made during our consultation exercise and we have responded.

We have consulted in particular on insurance. We have decided that a statutory provision needs to be made for the insurance industry. We are taking powers to prescribe that insurers may treat disabled people differently only where that is based on sound evidence. My officials, together with their colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry, are discussing with the Association of British Insurers and Lloyd's a statutory framework to end discrimination against disabled people.

The Bill is drafted in such a way that indirect as well as direct discrimination can be dealt with. We have adopted a definition of discrimination that leaves disabled people with practical solutions to the real problems that they face—however they are categorised. A situation where dogs were not admitted to a cafe, with the effect that blind people would be unable to enter it, would be a prima facie case of indirect discrimination against disabled people and would be unlawful.

The proposals amount to huge change. While recognising that that change will be welcome to disabled people, it must also be acknowledged that many in the business sector will be apprehensive. The business community is entitled to know as precisely as possible what is expected of it. The courtroom is not the place for such matters to be decided—it is up to the Government to make the information available. The Bill shows that the Government are prepared to face up to that responsibility, and it has been drafted to provide for maximum certainty.

One characteristic that sets the Government's Bill apart from alternatives which have been proposed is that it includes provisions that will allow the Government to tie down as precisely as possible what employers and service providers will have to do to comply with the law, as well as providing for maximum flexibility of approach.

The Bill will allow us to specify exactly what is meant by terms such as "auxiliary aid" and "reasonable alternative provision". We will be able to specify particular instances when it would, or would not, be reasonable for service providers or employers to take a particular course of action.

Crucially, we will also be able to make explicit precisely how much money a service provider needs to spend in any particular case on making his service more accessible. Under the Bill it will not be up to the courts to decide whether a business would be subjected to "undue hardship"—whatever that might mean, it is certainly a recipe for uncertainty and dispute.

As a consequence, we are able to tie down the cost of our proposals for access to services. The reason why the maximum cost of the Government's proposal can be estimated at around £1.3 billion is that, unlike other Bills that have been presented, it is not open-ended—it is not a blank cheque. Having consulted further, we will be able to set a limit which is appropriate to the needs for disabled people and realistic for business.

The need for certainty is why there will be a further round of consultation before the regulations under the Act are laid—to ensure that the detailed proposals are easily understood, affordable and fair.

We shall consult on the contents of the code of practice for employers, which will draw on the extensive experience of the Employment Service's placing, assessment and counselling teams in helping disabled people and their employers overcome any practical effects of their disabilities in a job. We shall consult on what it will be reasonable to expect those in each service sector to do to provide an accessible service. We shall also consult on the financial limit.

The employment right, a provision that replaces an existing requirement on employers, is likely to commence by spring 1996. Aspects of the access provisions, such as the prohibition on refusing to serve a disabled person, will also commence in 1996. We shall start as much as possible as soon as possible. However, the more stringent duties on service providers, such as the duty to make physical alterations, represent totally new departures. It is likely, therefore, that a phasing-in period of perhaps five to 10 years will be appropriate to ensure that businesses have sufficient time to gear up for their new responsibilities. That issue will also be the subject of consultation.

I know that we shall hear this afternoon about the exclusion of education and transport vehicles from the right of access. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) has already referred to it. Their exclusion has been a focus of criticism, yet it would be flying in the face of common sense not to accord special treatment in those areas.

The Education Act 1993 made provision for a biennial survey of the accessibility of schools—due to report this summer—which may help to identify areas where better access may be needed. In tandem with existing programmes of improvement, the Government will also bring forward proposals to encourage providers of education to devise imaginative, cost-effective projects aimed at increasing accessibility.

The potential interaction between proposals to include education in the Bill and the 1993 Act is unclear, but it would certainly cause severe difficulties for local education authorities. There would be conflicts between the responsibilities of the local authority as set out in the 1993 Act and the idea that adaptations should not cause the provider "undue hardship"—a stipulation that is very difficult to define in terms of schools and local education authorities. The provisions would undermine local authorities' planning role and increase overall costs.

The inclusion of education might have the effect of not allowing schools to teach children with special needs separately, preventing them from benefiting from supplementary help or from gradual inclusion into mainstream tuition. It would replace a carefully worked out system, which was established as a result of a great deal of consultation, with a set of provisions inappropriate to efficient education.

As for public transport vehicles, there is only one sensible way to require accessible vehicles, and that is on a replacement basis. To fix a timetable for the manufacturers of all types of transport to adhere to would be folly, and could lead to services being withdrawn. Instead, we shall require all new buses to be of a low-floor construction, to match new rolling stock that is already built to an accessible design, and the fully accessible designs of purpose-built taxis, which have been available since the mid-1980s.

It is obvious nonsense to suggest that excluding transport vehicles from the Bill denies disabled people access to transport. The Government's record on initiatives in that area is second to none. For example, all new licensed taxis in London are already wheelchair-accessible. By 1 January 2000, all taxis in London will be wheelchair-accessible. More than 60 other licensing authorities have mandated for all or part of their fleets to be wheelchair-accessible. Other improvements include the accessibility of the new light railway systems and the inter-city network, ranging over to the orange badge scheme and the contribution of Motability to the independent personal mobility of disabled people.

The key is that those people who argue for the inclusion of transport vehicles appear to have ruled out any thought that different treatment might be appropriate in certain areas. Most sensible people will think the "one size fits all" approach to be rigid and counter-productive.

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood)

Does the Minister accept that the argument that he just made is simply incorrect? Those who supported the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill have argued consistently that consultation on the codes of practice in that Bill would enable those issues to be explored in great detail, and the Minister is not here arguing for special treatment for transport. The case that he just made is not for special treatment for transport.

Mr. Hague

The hon. Gentleman recognises that I am not arguing for special treatment for transport, and I am pleased to have his recognition of that. I am saying that there are practical and sensible ways of bringing about radical change in the accessibility of our transport systems in this country—change that is already well under way—without legislation. The most flexible, sensible and practical way to do it is outside the scope of legislative requirements.

We have seen significant improvements in access provision across all transport areas, but the benefits of those developments have sometimes been lost because of inaccessible infrastructure. That has often been the weak link in what is otherwise becoming a more accessible service. Transport infrastructure is covered by the right of access to goods and services. The measure will help us in securing the fully accessible transport system which is our ultimate aim.

The Government's approach is the right one—it also presents the perfect opportunity for Parliament to discuss and frame legislation to ensure that disabled people get the Bill that they deserve. I believe that the Government's proposals are clear, in that they give people specific obligations and rights in a way that the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East would not. They are workable in that they provide for flexibility and practical solutions to distinct problems—the hon. Member's Bill does not. They are fair in that they end discrimination while considering the interests of others—the hon. Member's Bill does not. That is why I will be asking the House to support this Bill and not the one that he has presented to the House.

Part IV deals with the national disability council. The Opposition's amendment claims that the Bill provides only an ineffective enforcement procedure. I do not accept that argument and I think that the analogy with the existing commissions is flawed.

To a much greater extent than for women, or even ethnic minorities, the problems faced by disabled people in securing fair treatment in society are individualistic. Disabilities pose—or are wrongly perceived to impose—specific practical limitations on what a disabled person can do. Overcoming such problems requires practical, individually tailored solutions. I do not believe that it is an area where the bringing of class legal actions has substantial relevance.

Only a small minority of sex discrimination cases—fewer than 10 per cent.—which are resolved in the courts are supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission. As for the much-vaunted test cases, we believe that there is a better way of reviewing and keeping the law up to date without any of the horrific legal costs that such cases can accumulate. We recognise that the effects of the Disability Discrimination Bill, when enacted, will need to be sustained and reviewed to ensure that it is having the intended effect and that changes in society's attitude and behaviour towards disabled people need to be kept under review so that discrimination can be countered effectively, now and in future.

That is why we need the national disability council. It will work closely with existing organisations representing the interests of disabled people. Its primary duties will be to.advise the Government on measures relating to the elimination of discrimination and the drawing up of codes of practice to help with the interpretation of the Bill. The question of who should sit on the NDC has yet to he decided, but it will almost certainly include members of representative committees and organisations, business representatives, and disabled people themselves. Another reason why disabled people will be well protected under the legislation is that there will be, in the sector of service provision, somewhere for them to turn if they feel that they have been discriminated against—to go alongside the existing support network for employees.

The Bill makes provision for the establishment of an advice and support service to help disabled people secure their rights and to promote the settlement of disputes arising under the right of access to goods and services. We intend that the advice and support should be locally available so as to be of maximum benefit to disabled people and easier to use than the centralised service offered by existing commissions in other areas.

My Department will support the advisers with detailed guidance on the right of access. There will be procedures to help disabled people to set down the details of their complaint so as to make plain the precise legal provision that they think has been infringed. Their complaint would then be put forcefully to the trader accused of discrimination.

We have begun discussions with the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux on the possibility of helping citizens advice bureaux to be better able to advise and support disabled people and to provide the service that we have in mind. Those discussions will address such issues as the detailed nature of the services, the possible involvement of disability organisations in ensuring that staff are properly trained and can provide an effective service, the degree to which citizens advice bureaux are accessible to disabled people and how any deficiencies may be remedied.

However, in those cases where legal redress is sought, the county court's power to award an injunction will he extremely important for the purposes of the Bill. Although damages will be available, what disabled people want is an increasingly accessible environment and a change in people's attitudes. That is our objective in bringing forward the Bill and that is what it will provide. Our enforcement strategy is the right one in the circumstances.

Mr. Barnes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hague

I have already done so, but I will give way to the hon. Gentleman once more in acknowledgement of his involvement in these affairs.

Mr. Barnes

I have written to the Minister about the role of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service upon which he is now elaborating. The letter suggests that we are not very far down the path in the process and that all the ideas in the Government's legislation must be developed considerably and then finalised. Surely there is a difference between a private Member's Bill which tries to set up some structure or arrangement and Government legislation which should tell us exactly what their plans are.

Mr. Hague

I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are well down the track in developing our plans. I have been able to announce to the House today considerably more progress than I set out in my letter to him—I know that it was written yesterday, but I thought that it would be better to inform the House of Commons of our proposals rather than leak it to the hon. Gentleman by letter last night. That is why I have set out our plans to the whole House today.

We are well down the track in our discussions. We are taking the sometimes painstaking time and trouble to ensure that the system works and will provide a locally available source of advice and assistance for disabled people. I think that it is worth taking that time and trouble because the prize is considerable: if the service works, it will provide tangible help to large numbers of people.

Sir Donald Thompson (Calder Valley)

Is not my hon. Friend trying to make what is reasonable and normal become acceptable and commonplace?

Mr. Hague

Yes. I am trying to frame our legislation in such a way as to require people to do things differently and also to change attitudes in the country without creating a backlash against the objectives that we are trying to secure. That is why we have framed the legislation in that way.

I make special mention of two aspects of the Bill which I propose to amend in Committee to take account of representations made since the Bill was published. Firstly, the Bill applies to Great Britain, with power to extend its provisions to Northern Ireland by Order in Council. It has always been the Government's intention that those new rights should apply throughout the United Kingdom. We also want them to take effect in Northern Ireland from the same date as elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

We expect hon. Members from Northern Ireland to be able to take part in any discussion of the Bill's provisions. However, a number of hon. Members from Northern Ireland—including the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), who is in the Chamber now—have sought stronger assurances on those points. To avoid doubt, the Government have decided to extend the Bill to cover Northern Ireland from the outset. The necessary amendments, including any local provisions required, will be tabled in Committee.

Secondly, some hon. Members have said that the sale and letting of property should be covered specifically in the Bill. The Government agree in principle. We will need to consider the details of how the legislation might be framed, and I will address that matter during the Committee.

I believe that attitudes to disability and disabled people are changing. In the world of work, people are starting to appreciate that disabled people have strengths and weaknesses in the same way as everybody else, and that an individual's disabilities are not nearly as important as his or her abilities. In the service sector, people are beginning to realise that making services and facilities accessible to disabled people is pure good business sense.

The Bill shows that the Government are determined to play a major role in maintaining that transformation of attitudes. We are determined to tackle the frustrations which disabled people encounter in attempting to do the things that many of us take for granted, and we are determined to do so across the board.

We have listened to disabled people and their representatives and we have listened to employers. We have built on the Government's already impressive record of helping disabled people by producing a Bill which represents an historic advance for disabled people. It establishes a new right not to be discriminated against in the field of employment, it establishes a new right of access to goods and services, and it establishes a new national disability council. It is a Bill of which we can he proud, and I commend it to the House.

4.19 pm
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

I beg to move, To leave out from 'That' to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: That this House declines to give the Disability (Discrimination) Bill a Second Reading because it believes that the Bill is not an acceptable or enforceable measure to ensure civil rights for all disabled people because its employment provisions would extend to less than five per cent. of firms, because it fails to provide for a comprehensive definition of disability or for a Disability Rights Commission to work towards the elimination of discrimination, because it specifically excludes access to the means of public transport and because it fails to make unlawful discrimination in the sale and letting of premises. I begin by thanking Madam Speaker for her very clear statement on procedure at the beginning of the debate. Whatever the decision of the House today, Opposition Members look forward with confidence to 10 February when we shall support the Bill presented by my hon. Friend for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) because we realise that that is the only civil rights Bill before the House this Session.

The Bill that the Government have laid before the House today is not so much a measure to help disabled people as a measure to help Ministers get out of the hole that they dug themselves last year. Their Bill is, above all, a public relations exercise. They certainly need to improve their public image, but it will take a good deal of positive publicity and a much more positive Bill than this one to undo the damage done by the shambles that we witnessed last Session.

Since their obstruction in the House of disabled people's civil rights, the Government have spent £1 million on advertising, trying to project a more positive image, but as 6.5 million disabled people, their families and carers know, the image and the reality are very different. The Bill before us today shows that the Government have moved less far than they would pretend and nowhere near so far as disabled people want.

Last week, I heard the Minister claim, as he did again today, that he has brought about strong and wide-ranging legislation to deal with discrimination against disabled people. What we have before us, however, is neither strong nor wide ranging: it is weak and narrow and, worst of all, it actually introduces a new discrimination between different groups of disabled people, as the Minister confirmed today. It is a Bill of half measures and unenforceable concessions. The Minister said that his Bill represented a great stride forward for the Government in their approach to disability, but it is no such thing: at best, it is a great step sideways. Indeed, in terms of the employment of disabled people, it represents one step forward and two steps back.

As the Government have at least entered the debate, we should remember where they were when they began. In 1990, Her Majesty's Government told the World Health Organisation that they were not convinced that the goal of integration and equality can be particularly advanced by any all-embracing or generalised law proclaiming the rights of disabled people. In the same year, the Department of Employment—I understand that an Employment Minister is to reply to the debate—also expressed misgivings about the very idea of disabled people's rights when it said: disability, unlike race or sex, can be relevant to job performance". The same document stated: Anti-discrimination legislation is unlikely to be effective in achieving policy objectives and might be counter-productive by making a constructive approach by employers less likely. That was said against all the evidence of the American experience. It was not even an argument that persuaded President Bush who, unlike the Minister, seemed to see the benefits rather than what the Minister described today as the burdens involved. It is from such a backwoods of indifference or even hostility to the rights of disabled people that the Government have begun to emerge. It was not until January 1992, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) presented his Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, that the then Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott) told the House: We all know that there is still too much unjustified discrimination against disabled people."—[Official Report, 31 January 1992; Vol. 202, c. 1251.] Until that time, the Government were unwilling to recognise the problem. They have shifted their position because the pressure of public opinion has left them little choice.

The history of efforts made by Members of both Houses goes back many years. Lord Ashley presented a Bill while a Member of this House 14 years ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) also made several attempts. Lord Longford and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe made memorable contributions to winning a majority in Parliament for civil rights for disabled people.

Last year, the pressure finally grew too great even for the present Government to withstand, and the Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) dragged the Government kicking and screaming into the debate. Right hon. and hon. Members were lobbied extensively by their constituents, and thousands of people came to Westminster to lobby their elected representatives. My hon. Friend's Bill won overwhelming backing by organisations of and for disabled people, received its Second Reading by 231 votes to nil and returned from Committee even stronger than before.

Mr. Gordon McMaster (Paisley, South)

I was a teller when the Bill received its Second Reading and I recall that some Conservative Members who are here today to say that the principles behind that Bill were wrong nevertheless voted for its Second Reading.

Mr. Clarke

I share my hon. Friend's recollection. As he reminds the House, the true number in favour of the Bill was 235.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

I was present on that occasion and I recall that the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) said that he was prepared to emasculate the Bill—not his words, but I paraphrase his remarks—to remove the onerous conditions that it would apply to businesses.

Mr. Berry

That is cobblers.

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend, from a sedentary position, makes the right reply: the observation was, indeed, cobblers and unworthy of the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant).

After the Bill's Second Reading, the Government chose to frustrate the will of the House. The right hon. Member for Chelsea had his chance to prove that Government recognition of the need to act against discrimination was more than skin deep, but he did not take that chance because he was not allowed to do so. Since then, we have seen more of the same—a Government with no real commitment to or understanding of the issue giving ground reluctantly under pressure from all parts of the House and the country

The Government were under such enormous pressure that last July Ministers offered to open formal consultations. Whatever they were told by those whom they consulted, the Government were clearly intent on preventing another civil rights Bill coming before the House if they possibly could. That is why we have this half-hearted Bill before us today, which still leaves disabled people as second-class citizens.

The fact that the Government have presented a Bill of their own, however inadequate, nevertheless represents a victory for civil rights campaigners and is a substantial climbdown from the positions taken by Ministers and certain Conservative Members in the past. Today we have evidence of the Government's profound embarrassment on this issue. They now grudgingly accept that anti-discrimination legislation can be effective in achieving policy objectives, that it does not make a constructive approach by employers less likely, and that it can advance the goal of equality for disabled people. But the Government's Bill does not embrace the demands that disabled people's organisations are making on behalf of millions of people—demands which are reflected in our reasoned amendment.

After the evasions of the past, the Minister said last week that it was time for the Government to make a statement on discrimination against disabled people, just as the Americans, with their Disabilities Act, have done in the United States. That is what the Minister claims that the Bill will do, but the statement made by this Bill falls a long way short of the far-reaching and comprehensive statement of principle that a majority in both Houses wanted.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

It is all about money.

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend, who makes an enormous contribution to disability issues, reminds us of the Tory argument of cost. He will be reassured to learn that I intend to return to that later.

The Bill says that disabled people have the right to equal treatment in employment. Only a week ago, the Prime Minister—no less—told my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) that this was not a limited Bill because, as he put it, the Bill carries rights for disabled people when they are unfairly discriminated against in employment."—[Official Report, 17 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 581.] The Prime Minister could not have chosen a better example to show just why this is such a limited Bill, taking away with one hand while making limited concessions with the other.

The whole truth is that the Bill carries rights only for some disabled people when they are unfairly discriminated against in employment. If a disabled person happens to work for a small firm, that person gains no rights at all. If the job for which he or she applies is with a firm employing fewer than 20 people, the right to equal treatment simply does not apply. The Prime Minister highlighted employment because, we are told, that is the centrepiece of the Government's legislation. They have given this area pride of place, while relegating some others, such as education and transport, to the White Paper, and excluding others, such as discrimination by landlords, altogether.

I did not regard today's rather weak comment on the latter subject by the Minister as falling even into the category of the sort of mild concessions offered elsewhere.

Mr. Hague

I must ask the hon. Gentleman to accept that it was not a weak comment but an agreement by the Government to include sale and letting, if that was what he was referring to, in the Bill. They will be included.

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned education. Perhaps he can clear up any confusion which might arise from the Opposition amendment—it does not mention education—and confirm whether it is Labour party policy to include education in any right of access, and also tell us what assessment he has made of the public expenditure consequences of so doing.

Mr. Clarke

I find it astonishing that the present Minister, of all people, should refer to education when he did not even include it in his consultation document last July. Not once in our debates has he referred to the fact that fewer than one in 1,000 such teachers has access to schools. Nor has he referred to the fact that the Bill does nothing for further and higher education. Just to reassure the hon. Gentleman, I stress that I am happy to support the measures for education in the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood and I hope that, as a result of today's debate, the Minister, too, will find them acceptable.

Let us be absolutely clear: what the Government propose in employment will not outlaw discrimination. In relation to large companies, the proposals will merely change the legal rights that disabled people already have. I shall return to that point later. Meanwhile, the Government are saying for the first time that discrimination on the part of small firms is perfectly in order. That is not a great stride forward: it is not a stride forward at all, and it sends out all the wrong signals to employers. Instead of saying, "You must not discriminate against disabled people," the Government seem to be saying, "You should not discriminate so long as you can afford not to do so." In the words of the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation: Small employers will not be covered by the Act and will therefore be free to discriminate. A disabled job applicant or employee will not receive a guarantee of legal protection against discrimination under the Bill—none whatever. He or she will be told, "If you want legal protection, you must work for a large firm." If the job is provided by one of the 96 per cent. of firms that are exempt from the Bill, that is just too bad.

Mr. Hague

I thank the hon. Gentleman for fulfilling his promise to give way to me twice.Why does he think that the US Congress decided to exempt firms with fewer than 15 employees from the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Mr. Clarke

I think that the former Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, the right hon. Member for Chelsea, will have read at his leisure the excellent book written by Victoria Scott, entitled "Lessons from America". If he has now received the answer, I hope that in time the present Minister will receive it as well. If the Minister and his hon. Friends behind him have any doubt, I advise them to read the responses, which were also about implementation. If the Minister does not understand that now, I do not have much faith that he will understand it in Committee.

This goes to the heart of our objection to the main thrust of this thoroughly inadequate Bill. What disabled people want is a right to equal treatment, not mere concessions. But the Bill means that only concessions are on offer. The Government have conceded that there should be no discrimination by certain classes of employer, but they have not provided a right which applies equally to all disabled people. They are discriminating between one group of disabled people and another.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

The hon. Gentleman is making a big song and dance about firms with fewer than 20 employees, but they are already exempt from the quota arrangements, so there is no change in the position for them. The hon. Gentleman has missed the point altogether. A report produced by the Trades Union Congress last summer referred to its concern about the lack of job opportunities in the public sector. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that some Scottish district councils and Scottish health authorities do not employ any registered disabled people at all? The TUC pointed out that a further 100,000 people should he employed in the public sector to meet the quota.

Mr. Clarke

Of course I welcome the views of the TUC, and I very much regret that the Government do not. I also very much regret that they do not even take on board the views of the Confederation of British Industry, which described the Government's proposals as "out of harmony". Perhaps just as importantly, the Employers Forum on Disability—not, I believe, a body affiliated to the Labour party—said: There should be no exclusion from the Bill's provisions on grounds of an enterprise's size. It cannot be right for a disabled person to be discriminated against just because an enterprise has fewer than 20 employees. Just as small companies are covered by race and gender legislation, so they, too, should be included in this Bill. If the hon. Gentleman and the House have any doubts about the importance of that representation, I point out that among the numerous organisations represented by that august body are Barclays bank, the Benefits Agency, Boots, the British United Provident Association, the City of Westminster, the Inland Revenue, Reuters and many others.

Ms Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Are not small businesses the fastest-growing sector of industry today, with about 30 per cent. of employees being employed in small businesses? Does not exempting those businesses from the responsibility of employing disabled people therefore exclude a large section of industry?

Mr. Clarke

As is so often the case, my hon. Friend is right. Small firms employ 36 persons in every 100. That is one of the arguments that persuaded the Americans to set a timetable, and also one of the arguments which persuaded almost everybody who submitted views to the Minister to agree with my hon. Friend. It is interesting that not once in his speech did the Minister refer to any specific representation on that point from any organisation or professional body.

It is not even that the Bill is the result of several qualifications by employers. In response to the very consultation exercise that I have mentioned, the CBI told the Minister that the cut-offs and exclusions for small firms would be out of harmony with the general thrust of the proposed legislation. They are certainly out of harmony with the needs of disabled people. The Bill makes no positive provision for the vast majority of firms, which employ a third of the national labour force; it tells them simply to please themselves.

The failure to provide rights equally to all disabled people is the essential difference between the Bill and the kind of measure that we want to see. We want a civil rights Bill which is effective, enforceable and comprehensive. What we are offered is a piecemeal measure which will be effective only in certain areas, which is full of ifs, buts and maybes, and which will lack the clout to ensure that it is fully implemented in practice. In the words of the "Rights Now" campaign, which has worked so hard to achieve a real measure of civil rights for disabled people, the Bill is ineffective, unenforceable and piecemeal.

The kind of measure that we shall support when the opportunity arises will start from the principle that no one should suffer discrimination on the grounds of disability. That is what the House and the nation want to see. That is what Americans, Australians and Canadians already have, and that is the road down which Britain should go.

The Bill is fundamentally flawed because the statement of principle on which it is founded is that equal treatment should be provided only by those who can afford it. We had an example this very day at an industrial tribunal in Skipton this morning. A young man suffering from cerebral palsy was considered by his large employer, the Skipton building society, not to be communicating properly, so he was dismissed. In the opinion of the young man and his family, the company was guilty of constructive dismissal and they rightly took the matter to a tribunal. Sadly, the proceedings this morning were adjourned until next week until it is known whether the family can afford representation. What kind of equality in human rights is that?

The Government's basic premise is that disabled people do not have equal rights but instead should be grateful for whatever concessions the Government choose to offer.

Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome)

Has the hon. Gentleman just made a commitment to a future Labour Government introducing legislation along the lines of the private Member's Bill? If so, has he consulted his hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) about the cost implications?

Mr. Clarke

I have given way generously and I do not propose to do so again, unless it is to the Minister, to whom I am prepared to give way more than the twice that I promised.

I have had discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, East, although they were unnecessary because at the last Labour party conference, on live television, my hon. Friend confirmed that the next Labour Government will proudly present such a Bill.

People who suffer discrimination because of disability are, sadly, not confined to those with an actual disability. Prejudice, by definition, is not restricted to the precise legal and medical definition in the Bill. Too many of our citizens know that it is enough to have a history of medical problems to suffer discrimination, and many refuse to accept that that should be the case in a modern society, but that is not enough to benefit from the limited legal protection that the Bill provides, as we saw in the case that I mentioned earlier.

MIND, the National Association for Mental Health, tells us that in its experience discrimination on the basis of a history of a past mental illness is one of the most common instances of discrimination, but such discrimination will not be covered by the Bill. An employer, landlord or service provider may discriminate against people because they appear disabled or because of some condition that they have suffered from in the past, but the law will not act on the victim's behalf unless he or she can prove disability under the Bill.

Schedule 1, remarkably, runs to two and a half pages, seeking to define who is or is not disabled and who will or will not benefit from the limited protection against discrimination that the Bill is supposed to provide. So narrow is the Government's definition of disabled person that they even need to include in schedule 1 a paragraph asserting that people already registered as disabled will continue to be regarded as disabled under the new legislation—hardly a massive step forward. As the "Rights Now" campaign has pointed out, people with histories of mental illness will be able to claim legal protection against discrimination only if they can show that they have not recovered from that illness—hardly a comprehensive measure against discrimination.

In the same spirit of half-hearted concessions, the Minister continues to set his face against the creation of a disability rights commission. That is the over-arching and most critical weakness—and my heavens, there are many—in the Bill.

Employment again provides the best example. With regard to larger companies, the Prime Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East again last week, that the Bill gives disabled people the right to complain to an industrial tribunal when they feel that unlawful discrimination has occurred."—[Official Report, 17 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 581.] What the Prime Minister failed to mention was that the law at present requires large firms to provide a quota of places for disabled workers—a provision that the Bill will abolish.

We all know that the quota has been honoured more in the breach than in the observance.There is a case for enhancing and enforcing the quota as Scope, formerly the Spastics Society, recommends. To abolish the quota when introducing its intended replacement, before the new system has even been set up, is hardly a great stride forward for disabled people's rights. Indeed, it is a great step backwards. I have seen no evidence that any of the organisations representing the disabled or any of the professional associations welcome the abolition of the quota system in those circumstances.

Let us consider the new system at the heart of the Bill—the mechanisms that are supposed to render quotas unnecessary by ending discrimination against disabled workers employed by larger companies. As Scope said, one good thing about the quota was that the onus was on employers and the Government rather than on disabled people themselves. Under the new system, the onus will be on a disabled person to seek redress through an industrial tribunal. There will be no independent statutory body to back such a claim and no legal aid will be available to improve the chances of success.

In the case of employment discrimination by large firms, the Government's proposals will merely replace one ineffective system with another. The Government passed up the opportunity to bring about real change, not only by excluding smaller firms from their legislation, but by failing to back up the legislation with a body that has real powers. A comprehensive civil rights Bill must, by definition, have at its heart the means for disabled people to enforce their rights. The Bill before us lacks any such mechanism. It is not just an opportunity to create enforceable measures that has been missed: it is worse than that.

The Government's Bill is designed around the concept of an advisory council because the driving force behind the Government's measure is the spirit of mere concessions, not the assertion of civil rights that disabled persons are entitled to experience. If the Government wanted to give the full force of law to the rights of disabled people, they would wish to do so in a way that would be effective. If they want to throw a sop in the direction of disabled people's rights, they will be happy to create an advisory talking shop and other powerless structures, which is what they plan to do in the Bill. The Minister talks of bureaucracy even as he creates structures without power.

Disabled people must have the legal means to sustain the rights conferred on them by Parliament. It is not enough to say that this is the law and the courts will enforce it if one can afford to take the risk of raising litigation. The opportunity exists to give those rights the backing of a body with powers designed for that purpose, but the opportunity is not being taken by the Government in their Bill. The national disability council that the Minister proposes would not be such a body: it would be empowered to consult and to advise, but it will not be empowered to do any more than that. It is explicitly and specifically denied that power.

The Government have said that, under the Bill, the council's responsibility will be to investigate any complaint which may be the subject of proceedings. The Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission, by contrast, have precisely those powers. They have a remit to pursue people who break the law. That is a major disincentive to people who would discriminate—and that is how it should be. As the Government well know, from the point of view of an employer or service provider who would prefer to discriminate against a disabled job applicant or customer, the prospect of being challenged by a powerful and independent commission, acting with the full majesty of the law, is a good deal more intimidating than the prospect of being taken to court or to an industrial tribunal by one individual, assuming that the individual concerned can afford it.

The provision of investigative powers to a commission has further implications. The Commission for Racial Equality told the Minister: The Commission's investigative powers have enabled it not only to uncover incidents of discrimination, but also to highlight examples of 'good practice' in its promotional work and have informed the development of its Codes of Practice". A commission with powers to investigate discrimination is also in a much better position to fulfil the rest of its duties. An advisory council with no such powers is not directly engaged in implementation of the law. It therefore cannot be active in promoting the rights of disabled people, but must remain on the sidelines while implementing and interpreting the law is left to lawyers and those who can afford access to them.

The Minister offers locally accessible services of advice and conciliation, which are of course welcome, but conciliation has no force without a legal mandate behind it. A law without the means of enforcement is barely a law at all. It is merely a voluntary code of practice which can be broken with impunity.

The Government's Bill focuses on employment, but excludes one third of the work force from its provisions. It claims to outlaw discrimination, but lacks the independent and effective body which could enforce equal rights. Instead of a comprehensive approach, based on civil rights, it offers a piecemeal approach designed to head off more far-reaching change while making as few concessions as possible.

The Bill's faults do not end there. As the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation pointed out: The long title of the … Bill is drafted restrictively, so that it refers solely to employment and the provision of goods and service. This leaves out large areas of social life". On transport, the Government have chosen to concede to disabled people a right of access to premises, but they say that vehicles must be dealt with separately. A citizen therefore has the right to go to a station, but no right to get on the train. There is no good reason for such a split.A serious effort to prohibit discrimination in transport could readily include both vehicles and premises in the same measure, as the civil rights Bills that have come before the House have done, and as organisations such as Mencap argue should now be done. Of course, we should be flexible and allow access to be built in for vehicles at the replacement or renovation stage, but we should set a timetable for doing so and we should start from the premise that disabled people have the right to catch the train and not just to watch it leave the station.

In education, too, the Bill fails to deliver. It has nothing to say on that subject, and the Government's White Paper issued at the same time is not much better. The Government will provide a right of access to new schools and to extensions, but not to existing schools, as we know from the Education Act 1993. If the Government were busy building new schools, that might be more significant, but that is not happening and the vast majority of our children will continue to be taught in old school buildings, the majority of which do not even have toilets that are suitably adapted for disabled children to use.

The Bill has nothing to say about discrimination in the sale and letting of premises. Despite the Minister's statement, there is nothing in the Bill on that. We know, however, that such discrimination exists.

The Bill also has nothing to say about removing discrimination in the exercise of civic rights and in the fulfilment of civic duties, so nothing will be done about the appalling position whereby disabled citizens have to be carried into polling stations to vote for their elected representatives because the returning officer is not obliged to make polling stations accessible.

The Government make recommendations about changes to community care. It is a measure of their failure in that area that for the past nine years they have had an Act on the statute book—the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation Act 1986—which could have prevented the release of people into the community who then find that no community care is available. Half of the Act has not been implemented, and nothing in what is now proposed begins to deal with the real crisis that the Government's mishandling of care in the community has caused.

Supporters of the Government's measure have a good deal to say about cost, and some of them have done so today. That seems to be their chief concern. Last year, the Government produced a wholly spurious figure of £17 billion as the cost of implementing the civil rights Bill then before the House. Those figures were utterly discredited by the "Rights Now" campaign and others, who found numerous examples of double counting and gross overestimates. The Department of the Environment's contribution to that costing admitted that it was a "speculative guesstimate"; yet it accounted for more than half the supposed cost.

The Government have introduced a Bill of their own which allegedly goes more than halfway to ending discrimination, and which includes a compliance cost assessment of a mere £1.5 billion. The kindest description of that assessment might be "creative accountancy". It would be more useful to have a cost benefit analysis which balanced the cost of improvements against the wider economic benefits of involving disabled people fully on equal terms as employees, customers and citizens.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke

I will, but for the last time.

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman has spoken of community care, and about costs and benefits. Is he aware that discussions between the Rowntree Foundation and York city council have revealed that more than 60 per cent. of the council's budget for disabled facilities grants in 1993–94 could have been saved if the owner-occupied houses involved had been built to accessible lifetime home standards? Is that not one illustration of the fact that anti-discrimination legislation should be seen as an investment rather than a cost or a burden?

Mr. Clarke

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He has made a constructive contribution, and I am sure that he will continue to do so as he reflects on how he will vote in the Division.

A recent study by the "Rights Now" campaign calculated that the cost of under-employing disabled people was between £2.75 billion and £5 billion, taking into account the tax revenues forgone and the welfare benefits which, as the Americans and others have already found, could have been saved. Other enormous benefits would accrue from effective measures to improve access to goods and services, but nowhere does the Government's thinking reflect that.

It is difficult to take Government claims about cost too seriously. I recently asked the Minister for an account of expenditure under the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986—a measure that I know very well. Although the Act has been on the statute book for nine years, the Government are incapable of providing figures to show what it has cost. Patently unable to calculate the amount spent on an Act of Parliament, the Government still claim to have estimated accurately the cost of a proposed Bill. I believe that the onus of proof in regard to cost and benefits lies with those who oppose comprehensive civil rights, but the Government have adduced no convincing argument so far.

The Government's Bill is plainly a bad Bill. Its motivation is crystal clear: it is designed to block the passage of one infinitely better, as the Government have been doing for 13 years. Ministers should go away and try again; they should return to the House when they have endorsed the principle of civil rights for disabled people, and when they are ready to support a Bill that is enforceable, effective and comprehensive. Until they do, they will not have the support of Opposition Members, and they will not win the support of the 6.5 million disabled citizens who have waited for far too long.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

Order. Just under five hours are available for the debate, and no fewer than 20 right hon. and hon. Members hope to catch my eye, including those who will make the winding-up speeches. I hope that, if hon. Members who are fortunate enough to be called early bear that in mind, I shall be able to call most of those who wish to speak.

5.3 pm

Sir John Hannam (Exeter)

This is a momentous day for me, and, I believe, for disabled people. We are debating legislation that will actually reach the statute book—legislation presented by the Government, with a commitment to eliminate discrimination against disabled people.

The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) was wrong to imply that this Bill resulted purely from the activities and events of last July. It was 18 months ago, in the summer of 1993, that the Prime Minister set in motion the events that led to it. The House may recall that, following a meeting with leading members of the all-party disablement group, he asked the then Minister for Social Security and Disabled People to begin a series of discussions with members of the group to discuss steps that could be taken to remove discrimination.

Throughout the ensuing months—during the remainder of the summer, and into the beginning of last year—a series of meetings took place at which it became apparent that, while there was no disagreement about the principle that discrimination existed and should be removed, there was basic disagreement about how best to achieve that objective. The then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott), articulated—as he had to—the Government's view that progress could best be achieved on a Department-by-Department basis by means of education and exhortation: the piecemeal method, as we called it, which both main parties had used for some years.

Along with my colleagues in the all-party group—and, as it turned out later, a large majority of Members of Parliament—I believed strongly that a comprehensive anti-discrimination approach was necessary, and that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was the right vehicle for that approach. We and the Government were rather like two trains heading in the same direction but on parallel tracks, quite likely eventually to bypass our common objective. That was what concerned me at the time.

As one who admires his Government for the tremendous progress that they have achieved in helping disabled people to live with increasing independence, I vowed that I would do all that I could to ensure that the Government managed to introduce their own legislation in the current Parliament—or, failing that, that such legislation would be a manifesto commitment.

That is why today is a momentous day for me. Even during the dramatic events of last spring and summer when we were fighting to make progress with the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, I sensed that the battle within the Government over the principle was being won, and that we were on the verge of a breakthrough. That breakthrough came with the announcement of a full consultation period with the promise of legislation at the end, either by Government or in a private Member's Bill. I argued strongly against the latter course: we all know how difficult it is to get a Back Bencher's measure of such size and importance through all its parliamentary stages.

At last, however, the smoke screens were being blown away: arguments that comprehensive legislation was not necessary, that the costs were too high—the ridiculous figure of £17.5 billion was suggested at one stage—or that business organisations were against the idea. In fact, the Confederation of British Industry and the Employers Forum on Disability were in favour, as was the Law Society. The Bill is a marked advance on the consultation paper, and is accepted by all disability organisations as such. I am immensely thrilled: I believe that it represents a landmark for disabled people, and that it is positive legislation.

Before I deal with the Bill and the role of my hon. Friend the Minister in it, let me express my thanks and admiration for what was done by the previous incumbent, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea, who held his office for many years. Throughout the difficult period leading to last summer's confrontations, he never ceased to give full support to the cause of serving the interests of disabled people. Although, because of various events, he was not able to deliver the final legislative package, and although timing was not on his side, his heart was in the right place, and he never failed to offer constructive help and advice to the all-party disablement group.

I strongly support the Bill, and all the documents from the disability organisations suggest that they do as well. However, like most new Government Bills of this nature, it has its deficiencies, especially in comparison with the all-embracing provisions of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. The House must recognise those deficiencies, and we must try to improve the legislation. The disability organisations have made that clear in their representations to all hon. Members.

Mr. Berry

Which disability rights organisations support the Government's Bill in preference to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill?

Sir John Hannam

As we are dealing with Government legislation, and as representations from all the disability organisations sensibly concentrate on that legislation—as does the all-party group—it has not been a question of choosing one Bill or the other. To be fair to the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), however, all of the organisations have made clear the division between the two Bills and which Bill they prefer. I am concentrating my attention on the Bill that we are debating today. It is not a question of the House arguing the pros and cons of the two separate Bills. I have supported both Bills, and I shall continue to support the concepts of both.

Mr. Berry

The hon. Gentleman suggests that disabled people's organisations support the Disability Discrimination Bill. Is not it relevant to note that every organisation both of and for disabled people prefer the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill? Can the hon. Gentleman name a single organisation of or for disabled people which does not support the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill?

Sir John Hannam

A letter from the National Association of Citizen Advice Bureaux to Members states: The CAB service welcomes the introduction of measures to tackle discrimination against disabled people. For too long disabled people have had to rely on voluntary approaches. Legislation is desperately needed. However, it is disappointing that the need for legislation is recognised only in a limited number of areas. The CAB service hopes the Government will take the opportunity to introduce further measures on transport and education. That is the gist of what we are arguing about today. If the hon. Member for Kingswood can name any Government Bill in this area which has been totally satisfactory to the House in its initial stages, I would very much welcome hearing about it.

It is right for the House to concentrate on the Disability Discrimination Bill, and to make it more effective as it passes through its stages in the House. Many questions have been asked, the answers to which will—more than anything—determine whether we have got it right.

For example, will cinemas, restaurants or taxis be able in future to ban blind people or people in wheelchairs? The answer to that—if we are getting the legislation right—has to be no. Will buildings and meeting halls be able to ban certain groups, not because they lack access but because they are considered to be undesirable? The answer must be that they cannot under any circumstances be allowed to continue that policy. Will disabled people continue to be rejected from serving as magistrates or jurors, and will they find that they cannot vote in elections or attend county courts?

We have heard about the importance of the county court procedures in the provisions in the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned. The NACAB briefing points out that, in a survey that it carried out in 1993 of 22 representative schemes in county courts, only one bureau reported any provision for people who are visually impaired, only two were aware of any provision for deaf people, six said that there was no provision for wheelchair users and twelve bureaux reported no accessible toilets in the courts. We must make sure that courts are properly accessible and that they provide for disabled people.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Regarding tribunals, if, sadly, there is to be no legal aid, is it not important that some support and help is given to disabled people to enable them to communicate in those circumstances? Is not that particularly important for people with sight and hearing impairments?

Sir John Hannam

I agree, and I was heartened by the Minister's comment that, following the legislation, a series of regulations and a review of the codes of practice will be put into effect which will outline the intent behind the legislation.

Another important area is the fire and safety precautions. Disabled people are often excluded from buildings because of fire and safety precautions. There needs to be a full-scale review of health and safety legislation and codes of practice so that provision for disabled people is taken into account.

The fact that businesses would have to take reasonable steps to remove physical barriers and to provide auxiliary aids is good news, and it was welcomed by the Access Committee for England in its representations to us before the debate. The lack of a right of access to transport and vehicles and the exclusion of further higher education provision from the welcome new right of access to goods and services must be looked at again, especially when we debate clause 12.

The Minister has performed a Herculean task in translating the consultations with more than 1,000 different organisations into positive proposals and the White Paper promise which declares that the Government aim to set in hand a programme to review the effectiveness of legislation in meeting the needs of students with learning difficulties and disabilities. That could offer a splendid opportunity for a code of practice which would cover not just goods and services, but colleges of further education and institutes of higher education. Will my hon. Friend the Minister carry out a review such as is implied in the White Paper in time to put recommended amendments into the current legislation? That would be extremely helpful.

While on the subject of education, I agree that the disabled students allowance provides an effective package of support for students who are undertaking higher education courses for which a grant is available. Is not it time, however, to resolve the problem facing part-time students who are not eligible? Many disabled students have to be part-time students because of their disability, yet their equipment, personal support and study costs are basically pro rata the same as full-time students. Testing for the allowance results in the parents of disabled students being penalised to the extent of being required to contribute up to £5,800 before any allowance is payable, as compared with £2,065 for parents of non-disabled students.

Disabled people who take a second degree course and who took their first degree course prior to becoming disabled often find that, when taking the second course or retraining, they are not eligible for the disabled students allowance. I have raised those anomalies in the hope that the review that is promised in the White Paper will look into them, because the Government could remove a lot of discrimination which affects disabled students.

I come now to the employment proposals. An obvious area of concern and trepidation lies in the abolition of the quota which, for all its weaknesses, provides a measurement with which to work. I personally would rather have a strengthening of the quota alongside the new rights in the Bill, at least until we can be sure that the rights are working.

Incidentally, I was pleased to receive a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister today which followed on from a point that has been raised about the disablement register. My hon. Friend reassured those concerned that the register will be discontinued, and that the arrangements which are there for those on the register to be accepted for disability recognition purposes for the legislation are purely transitional.

In any case, I would like an effective monitoring system of the employment of disabled people to be put in place, as well as a rethink—others have called for that—on the exclusion figure for firms employing fewer than 20 people. I was again reassured to hear my hon. Friend state that the figure can be changed by regulation as we see how it is working. I do not see the logic of that figure. It is larger than in other countries with similar legislation, and it will certainly exclude about 90 per cent. of firms in Devon, where we have small businesses predominately.

Mr. Fabricant

Does my hon. Friend agree that there does need to be a figure, whether it is 20, 80 or eight? There is no point in forcing companies to introduce facilities for the disabled if, in doing so, they are driven out of business. [Interruption.]

Sir John Hannam

That matter was fully considered last year. It was a matter of getting the right figure. [Interruption] I think that that was all that my hon. Friend was arguing about.

I agree that the object of the legislation and the discussions which will take place is to try to arrive at a satisfactory figure. The Americans went through the same process and found that, by setting their own terms, they were able to achieve a massive removal of obstacles to employment without great cost. We must look now at how the measure will work. If it is merely a question of protecting small businesses from unreasonable expense and bureaucracy, surely the Bill contains a safeguard. It uses the term "reasonable adjustment", which would protect businesses from excessive demands on their resources. A protection is built into the Bill and we should consider the figure carefully as the Bill progresses.

As I understand the Bill, small employers will be required to employ a disabled person only if he or she is the best candidate. If any alteration to the workplace can be readily achieved, they will also be able to seek support from the access to work scheme, which I commend. A small firm can refuse to consider a disabled candidate, even if employing that person would not cause the firm to incur costs.

We could be sanctioning overt discrimination and excluding disabled people from any commercial or industrial enterprise that is beginning to get under way—something that the hon. Member for Monklands, West mentioned. Most new jobs are created when new firms are in their early stages. Both the Confederation of British Industry and the Employers Forum on Disability question the 20-employee threshold, as do all organisations for the disabled. I hope that we can reconsider the issue, especially as two fifths of all disabled people work in small firms.

My final suggestion is on enforcement systems. My hon. Friend the Minister dealt at some length with his reasons for the national disability council and the local tribunal system. I understand the pressures on him to avoid setting up an expensive and bureaucratic enforcement system. As the Bill proceeds, however, I hope that he will reconsider the matter. Given the restrictions on legal aid for industrial tribunals and the need for more than just an advisory organisation, we may conclude that something stronger will be necessary to underpin the pillars of this legislation.

In his down-to-earth manner, my hon. Friend the Minister has achieved tremendous progress by drawing agreement from the various Departments and consulting widely with more than 1,000 disability and other interests. I congratulate him, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, who has been backing his efforts to the hilt. Parliament now faces a push-me-pull-you, Dr. Dolittle situation, with two proposed disability anti-discrimination measures. No one can have fought harder than I for the private Member's Bill last year, but now the Government have tabled a Bill that, as the CBI states, marks the start of a new era for the rights of disabled people"— something that we can put on the statute book. I will support the Second Reading of this long-fought-for legislation and I hope that the House will also give it its full support.

5.22 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

It was fascinating to hear the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) talk about the Government's opposing factions on this issue. I am sure that he will recall the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott), to whom he has paid tribute today, telling him and me, over and over again, that this is a seamless Government. That explains why my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), in an excellent speech, said today that the former Minister was very clearly acting for the Government as a whole when he fell under very strong criticism in this House in the last Session.

For reasons that will be well understood in all parts of the House, I want briefly now to put this debate into historical perspective. It was as long ago as 1979, as the first Minister for Disabled People, that I appointed a committee of inquiry into unfair discrimination against disabled people—chaired by Sir Peter Large—which began the national debate of which today's proceedings are the latest phase.

The committee reported in 1982 to Sir Hugh Rossi, one of my early successors as Minister, in favour of making it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of disability. Since the committee reported, every attempt to give effect to its recommendations, from both sides of the House, has been met by the Government with prevarication, dissimulation and systematic obstruction. They have had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to a grudging acceptance that legislation is today an imperative necessity. Almost by common consent, it is also scandalously long overdue.

The Government's treatment of the issue ever since the committee of inquiry report has been disgraceful. That is not only my view but that of many Conservative Members as well. In 30 years here, I have witnessed only four personal statements of unreserved apology by Members for misleading the House. The first was from a Member of Parliament who, in the mid-1970s, misled the House over his role in the Poulson scandal. All of the remaining three, including one from the then Minister himself, were for misleading the House in debates on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, starting with the personal statement that Robert Hayward, then the Member for Kingswood, had to make for seriously misleading the House very soon after I drafted and first promoted the Bill in 1991.

As the House knows, that Bill was ably sponsored by my hon. Friend, the new Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), when he subsequently won a high place in the private Members' Bill ballot in 1993; and it is being sponsored again now, with both considerable skill and total commitment, by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes).

The Government quite dishonestly gave the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill a price tag of £17 billion-—a totally bogus, indeed preposterous figure. By misrepresenting the Bill as requiring all existing buildings to be made fully accessible, they added £6 billion to the cost of compliance and by saying, just as perversely, that it required full access to public transport within five years, they added another £5 billion. Many other examples are available of their blatant disregard for easily ascertainable facts in order to inflate the cost of the Bill. Yet they breathed not a word about the estimate by Touche Ross of a loss to Britain's travel industry, due solely to lack of access and facilities for disabled people, of many billions of pounds. Nor did they say a word about all the other benefits of ending the exclusion of disabled people from so much of the economic and social life of this country.

In his statement on 24 November last, and again today, the Minister heaped praise on the Government for proposing what he called an "historic advance" for disabled people. As a more seasoned practitioner, I most strongly counsel him against any further resort to that grandiose claim. In truth, the Government have blocked, for over 13 years now, what would have been a really historic advance, long craved by the disabled people of this country. They want not this Bill but what the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill offers: not second-class rights for second-class citizens but full civil rights and equal citizenship. As the Minister must know, they and their organisations see this Bill's proposals as a travesty of those in the Bill that I drafted, in close consultation with them, more than four years ago.

The extent of the travesty is spelt out with striking clarity in a detailed comparison of the two Bills in the excellent submission from Scope—formerly the Spastics Society—for today's debate. Does the Minister question that comparison? If he has not yet seen it, I commend him to read it with all urgency. Let him also ponder Scope's admirably concise description of his proposals, in saying: We are looking here at a Bill of ifs, buts and maybes". Is it really thought worthy of Britain's disabled people to offer them a Bill so described by so universally well regarded and authoritative a voice from the disability movement?

The Minister says that he recognises that disabled people want an end not only .to discrimination but to condescension and patronising attitudes towards them. But is it not both condescending and patronising for any of us here to decide what they should want and what they deserve? How can we possibly tell them, without being at once condescending and patronising, that they deserve less than what non-disabled people already enjoy as of right? My answer to that question, ever since the 1970s, has been that unfair discrimination against disabled people is morally wrong and that what is morally wrong ought not to be legally permissible in this country. In fact, it was my answer to that question which led me to appoint the committee of inquiry into discrimination against disabled people 16 years ago.

I spoke about the Government's grossly distorted estimate of the cost of complying with the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. To take the most charitable view of their conduct, their distortion suggests that they are not very good at compliance cost assessments. That calls seriously into question their assessment of the cost of this inadequate Bill. But what no one here or anywhere else can question is the fact that the Government have already arranged to recoup from disabled people much more than the Minister's costing of the Disability Discrimination Bill. As proof, I need only cite the effect on disabled people of the Government's drastic cuts in invalidity benefit.

As the House knows, that benefit will be replaced on 13 April by a new incapacity benefit, which pays less, is taxable and more difficult to claim. The Government now spend £8 billion on invalidity benefit, which is to be cut by no less than £2 billion even though, in the same period, every other major item in the social security budget, except unemployment benefit, is set to increase. Many disabled people on invalidity benefit now face a cut in income from about £77 to £46 a week. That puts into context the Government's so-called "extra spending" on this Bill.

I turn now to some of the specific points about the Bill of particular concern to disabled people and those who work with and for them. They complain bitterly, as the Minister must know, of his substitution of the National Disability Council—or "talking shop", as they see it—for the Disability Rights Commission for which the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill provides.

The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation states: The Government's Bill cannot avoid comparison with the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, or with equivalent laws addressing race and sex discrimination. Measured against these standards it falls short on three vital counts: it is neither comprehensive, effective, nor enforceable". With other major disability organisations, it condemns the fact that small employers—who employ an estimated one in three of this country's work force—will not be covered by the Bill and will remain, as we have heard this afternoon, free to discriminate. How can the Minister justify that when the CBI, the leading organisation representing British industry, opposes the exclusion? Let me remind him again of the report of the Employers Forum on Disability, which states: It cannot be right for a disabled person to be discriminated against just because an enterprise has fewer than 20 employees". There is widespread condemnation also of the Bill's failure to cover education and the means of transport. Their exclusion is not only condemned by disabled people but ridiculed by employers who insist that discrimination, not least in the employment field, cannot be solved in isolation. As one big employer with more experience of running a major enterprise than any Minister in the present Government put it to me: To end discrimination in the labour market, you mustn't only protect disabled people there but also achieve full equality of access for them to transport and training, among many other facilities and services". In that employer's view, "piecemeal change" in this policy area is an attempt to divide the indivisible and a total waste of both parliamentary time and taxpayers' money.

I also want to quote here the Royal National Institute for the Blind on the Government's failure to produce an enforceable Bill. It said: Too much legislation has fallen into disrepute through not being enforced effectively, if at all. Parts of the 1944 Disabled Persons Act and the 1986 Disabled Persons Act are notable examples". The RNIB explains clearly why it wants no more time-wasting in protecting disabled people from unfair and unmerited discrimination, which it identifies as a major factor in determining that only 17 per cent. of blind people and only 31 per cent. of partially sighted people of working age are actually in work". Those figures shout of unfair discrimination against blind people.

Yet the most withering of all the criticisms I have seen of the Bill is that it will actually increase discrimination against disabled people. The abolition of the 3 per cent. quota, with no more adequate substitute, is widely cited as justifying that charge, as is the Government's complete failure to understand how disability discrimination operates". They are the words of "Rights Now"—among whose affiliates is the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People—which also attacks the Bill's pointlessly complicated and over-restrictive definition of discrimination". Its submission to the House goes on: The Bill contains a host of defences and potential justifications for discriminatory treatment which are not present in the legislation on sex and race. The accumulated effect of these loopholes will render it almost impossible for a disabled person to challenge discrimination. "Rights Now" wants the enactment of the comprehensively all-party Bill which the Government have been obstructing since I first promoted it in 1991—nothing more and nothing less. Britain's 6.5 million disabled people have already been made to wait far too long for its enactment and the bounden duty of this House today is to make 1995 the year of full civil rights for them. Without those rights, they are doubly disabled. The handicapping effects of their disabilities are made even harder to bear by gratuitous social handicaps for which there is no justification whatsoever. "Rights Now" wants the reasoned amendment to the Government's Bill to be approved this evening and the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill to succeed on 10 February.

As I have argued, disabled people want not second-class rights for second-class citizens but the same rights as everyone else and equal citizenship. On both sides of the House, let us now make that happen.

5.37 pm
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me a short time to speak this evening. I promise that I shall not take long, because the subject is important to so many hon. Members.

First, I declare three interests. I have been invited and have taken on the chairmanship of the International Year of Tolerance. Our committee has decided that our key theme will be tolerance of difference, especially tolerance of disability. It seems to us that the least tolerated group in society these days is people whose motor functions or other impairments cause them significant long-term difficulties. I hope that we may be allowed to debate that matter later in the year to see how we have progressed.

I also declare an interest in that I chair an organisation called ADAPT, which was begun by the Carnegie trust. It stands for Access for Disabled people to Arts Premises Today. In our three or four years of existence, we have mobilised and enabled the expenditure of £3 million worth of funding, virtually all private, with some support from the Department of Heritage. That work has given me great insight.

I also chair a new organisation, Blind in Business, which was formed by some young men who suffer from significant sight impairment and who found it tough to enter the world of work. The House will therefore appreciate that my real interests in the Bill relate to access, particularly access for people with physical difficulties, the world of work and tolerance.

I should also like to put on record the fact that I introduced the Access to Employees' Records Bill—which did not reach the statute book—because I believe that it is lack of information which causes personnel officers to make errors concerning people at work.

Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green)

I was interested that the hon. Lady mentioned access, because one of my constituents was denied access to the Tate gallery because she is a wheelchair user and there were already six people using wheelchairs in the gallery. My constituent was left feeling extremely humiliated. Does the hon. Lady agree that it is not the Government's Bill but that proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) which will most succeed in meeting my constituent's needs and the needs of many other people with disabilities?

Miss Nicholson

I believe that ADAPT will be most successful in meeting that lady's needs as fast as possible, with the support of the Department of National Heritage. For example, one of ADAPT's first targets was the Royal Albert hall, which, when we first started work with the chief executive, provided just six places for disabled people out of 6,000 seats. After considerable persuasion, the management capitulated magnificently and undertook to redesign the hall. It recently won one of our awards both for that superb adaptation and for its future plans.

I cannot resist telling colleagues that, for the past three years, the awards given by ADAPT have been funded by British Gas. The withdrawal of that modest sum of money coincided exactly with the hyper pay rise given to its chairman and chief executive. I wrote a letter to British Gas on that very note and perhaps we will once again receive that modest sum for more ADAPT awards.

I am delighted to learn of the constituent of the hon. Member for Homsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), and I shall get hold of the Tate gallery immediately and do something about it.

Private initiative, as ADAPT has proved, has been enormously successful. Half the board of ADAPT is made up of people with physical disabilities and the other half by people who make decisions that affect those who go to the theatre, the cinema, art galleries and public libraries. When we started work we were told that we were attempting an impossible task and that, if it were possible, it should be done by the Government anyway. We were told that we should not even start to try.

Several critical articles appeared in the press, and we were subject to severe recriminations from others involved in work with disabled people. We were told that the work could not be done; that the Government should have done the work and, if we commenced, that the Government should provide the total funding.

Our reply was, "That's life. We are going to start anyway." The fact that ADAPT has found £3 million at a time when not much free money is floating around is no, mean achievement. That mixture of maximum private effort and minimum Government involvement means that tasks involving cultural change are completed faster. That is at the heart of today's Bill.

In terms of the world of work, I should like to pay a warm tribute to the work of the late Ron Leighton, who, was a Member of the House. I was extremely fortunate to, be a member of the Select Committee on Employment when he agreed to consider the question of employment for disabled people. He was a wonderful Chairman of that Committee, because when I put that idea to him he took it up and made it go forward with a will. We produced a report on the subject five years ago and I am glad to note that many of our recommendations form part of the Disability Discrimination Bill. For that reason I pay a warm tribute to Ron Leighton.

I also pay a strong tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott), the former Minister for Disabled People. I believe that his work provides an historical record of the way in which our society approaches more positively the problems of disabled people. He carried out remarkable work for many years. I also commend particularly Geoffrey Lord, who was the secretary of the Carnegie Trust for many years, and who is now the honorary director of ADAPT. He initiated the work on access for disabled people to arts premises and public libraries.

It is a great pity that this vital Bill is being treated in such a traditionally adversarial manner. It, above all legislation, would benefit from a harmonious approach. It will impact upon the lives of millions of people who are citizens of the United Kingdom today and many, many millions more who have yet to be born. When it comes to disability, co-operation is infinitely more fruitful than adversarialism.

I believe that the Bill and other associated legislation, which has been introduced by other hon. Members on both sides of the House and for which I have a high regard, affects a much vaster section of the population than has been recognised in the debate so far.

The phrase "the disabled should live with dignity and independence" has become a common one. It is an excellent phrase, because we all wish to live with dignity and some of us prefer independence. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that that phrase should now be extended, because I believe that disabled people, in common with everyone else, want freedom, in particular freedom of choice and freedom of movement.

In the past, it was physically impossible for those with disability to achieve such freedom, but new scientific and engineering advances now make infinitely greater freedoms—far greater than anything previously possible in the history of mankind—possible for people with physical impairment. Perhaps the Government's greatest gift to those with physical disabilities is to offer those freedoms through judicious expenditure and legislation, by the carrot and stick approach and by energising private citizens and companies to achieve that goal.

Real freedom rests not just on economic freedom, but on a cultural disregard for difference. I hate the word "disabled" because it immediately sets up cultural barriers which we then have to work so hard to dismantle and pull down. But I do not for a moment take cultural disregard to mean acceptance of the plea of ignorance.

I was struck by a strong and upsetting example of such ignorance at a recent Ministry—I will not say which one—which launched a scheme for disabled. It took place in a grade 1 listed building. As chairman of ADAPT, I am familiar with such buildings, because we are always told that they are impossible to adapt properly. I think that Pugin would have been proud of us; it is astonishing what one can do if one has the will and even a modest sum of money. Determination is the key.

When I got to the first floor of that grade 1 starred listed building where the Ministry was hosting the so-called "excellent" initiative for disabled people, I was concerned to discover, as I had anticipated, that there was no lift, while half a dozen people in non-electric wheelchairs were at the bottom of the stairs. I sought out the senior civil servant and asked him what could be done. I pointed out that the initiative was supposed to be for the disabled people and drew attention to the poor people at the bottom of the stairs.

He was a good person and replied, I believe through ignorance, that there were at least three methods of getting the people in the wheelchairs up the stairs. When I asked him what they were, he said that they could be carried up the stairs, to which I replied, "Oh. Thank you very much". Secondly, he said that it might be possible for those disabled people to walk up the stairs, to which I replied, "Really?" I am afraid that I then left the Ministry. That was an example not of cultural disregard but of ignorance. That is a blight on all our social attitudes to people who are different, which we must examine carefully and rigorously.

I mean by "cultural disregard" acceptance of difference in the tolerance of normality in our society. We should strive for that, if only because the effects of difficulty of personal movement, for example, are widespread in all sections of our society. In ADAPT, we find that it is just as tough for young mums to get into the theatre with pushchairs and babies as it is for elderly people with zimmer frames and the wheelchaired able-bodied.

I did some research on sight and hearing in the House of Commons Library recently, and the Library staff gave me figures showing that about 26 million people in Britain wear spectacles. One could say that, 100 years ago, before all those excellent spectacles were available, all those 26 million people would have been, in today's terminology, "disabled" because they would not have been able to see well enough.

The Library staff investigated hearing for me—a vastly under-researched subject. They extrapolated some figures and gave me the normal cautions about extrapolation of statistics, but, on best guesstimates from the House of Commons Library, 23 million people have a hearing loss significant enough to warrant a hearing aid.

I feel that the fine, upstanding, generally Anglo-Saxon male in the advertisements is not the norm in terms of physical ability for any of us, except for perhaps a short period in the lives of exceptionally healthy men, and that most people have some type of problem. Nowadays, many problems may be solved by science—with glasses, hearing aids, or electric wheelchairs—but let us not lose sight of the fact that people with physical difficulties are far more widespread throughout society than we may imagine.

Therefore, I suggest that we should not always listen only to membership organisations that represent people with a specific disability. Some time ago, one of the organisations for the blind told me that not more than about one blind person in 10 belonged to any of the registered blind societies that we know of. I do not know if that figure was correct, but I believe that, here in Parliament, naturally, we hear the views from membership organisations to the exclusion of the great number of people—the greater number of people, I think—who do not belong to those organisations. The difficulty of definition to the Minister, therefore, is vast. How should we proceed, when we are speaking about such an enormous tranche of our population?

I vastly admire the munificent provisions for the disabled which the Government have made in health and social security, which are so numerous that I shall not name them. However, I believe that, outside that social and health provision, people seek as a priority access to the places that people with normal motor functions have access to easily, including Parliament. One of the most difficult places in which to hold a meeting of people with wheelchairs is this very building.

Those people seek access facilities so that they can be normal like everyone else, and they seek fairness at work, especially in the gateway to obtaining work, which is the job application scrutiny procedure. That is why I am very happy indeed with so much of the focus of the present piece of legislation on accessibility and on work.

In the spirit of harmony, I shall mention three thoughts that the Minister will perhaps do me the kindness of taking away and considering.

First, although the advisory body that the Minister proposes will be very helpful, surely we should work towards a more difficult goal—the establishment of an organisation for equal opportunity for all our citizens. If a woman came to me who was disabled and non-white, where would I send her—to three different organisations? That is an extraordinary thought. It is ludicrous. Surely we should have one organisation offering equal opportunity for all our citizens. I would back that with advisory outreaches for people with special needs, such as people with disabilities.

I ask the Minister to consider that difficult topic. I appreciate its sensitivities because the two organisations that already exist would believe that they were being downgraded. However, the disabled are far larger in numbers than any of us can necessarily recognise in the context of any legislation, and fairness for all our citizens should surely be our goal.

I would therefore reject the Minister's proposals if he was suggesting the creation of another organisation similar to the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality, because I do not want that structure to become entrenched. I would prefer one organisation for any problem of that type.

Secondly, on the very difficult question of legislation affecting companies, I am unhappy that there is a numerical limit on fair treatment. I believe that we are discussing imposing a social need on companies, and that, if we wish to progress down that path, a social fund to right company discrimination should be created. That means that we need a long-term plan, to be implemented as the country can afford it. Would the Minister care to consider a longer-term plan for disabled matters at work, irrespective of numbers employed in a company, while accepting that it cannot be carried out immediately?

Thirdly, the Minister's task is the more difficult because the outreach of his work affects all Departments. I ask him to consider tasking the Government to take on a new voluntary commitment—it need not be statutory, but I am sure that it would be carried out in our system of benign legislation—that all Bills that this place passes should be put through the mesh of his Department's basic needs for people with disabilities before final assent.

I shall give a simple example of what I mean. In ADAPT, we have felt strongly that one of the most important matters affecting disabled people and access to the arts is the way in which organisations that are appointed to distribute the profits from the national lottery may carry out their work. Although the lottery is outside the terms of the Bill, we believe that, taken together, the Bill and the national lottery represent the biggest single opportunity to advance the cause of disabled people's rights that we have ever had in the United Kingdom.

As those two functions are so inter-related, we want the people who are responsible for making decisions about grant applications for the arts, heritage and general charities to ensure that moneys will be given only when it can be demonstrated that disabled people will share in the improved facilities. That is the type of suggestion that the Minister could take up if he had a commitment, in general terms, from the Government that all legislation should be put through the mesh of his Department to consider how it could affect disabled people for the better. My suggestion would not cost the state a penny more, and what a difference it would make, not only in actuality but in cultural attitude.

It would always be difficult for any Minister for Disabled People to bring forward a Bill that would satisfy everyone, but I beg the House to approach the Bill in the spirit of harmony and tolerance. The Minister and his predecessor have done a fine job. I want the legislation to succeed; it is the best first building block for the future that the Minister could have brought to this place.

5.58 pm
Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

I wish I could say that it gives me great pleasure to speak in the debate, but I am afraid that it does not. I find myself in the awkward position of not wanting to bury the Bill but not wanting to praise it. It is typically badly drafted, and can be open to a great deal of secondary legislation. Moreover, it is timid, and it certainly does not go far enough. However, I suppose that it is something, and something is better than nothing.

At least the Bill is a Government Bill. At times last year, other hon. Members and I gave up the idea of the Government proposing legislation, especially after the disgraceful tactics that were used by some hon. Members to get rid of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. Now the Government appear to accept the need for civil rights legislation to be enshrined in law to a certain extent—but only to a certain extent. They seem to accept that legal protection against discrimination is needed, but again, only to a certain extent.

Such legal protection would allow disabled people to take their rightful place in society. It seems amazing that, in this day and age, we should be talking about anyone's rightful place in society, but that issue lies at the heart of today's debate, just as it was at the heart of last year' s debate and of other legislation on civil rights for disabled people that was brought before the House.

Disabled people want to be given equal treatment to other members of society, not different treatment. That is not much to ask and it is the least that they can expect. The fact that the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to present even this meagre Bill might lead one to assume that disabled people were asking for something outlandish, not basic human rights.

If one gives the Bill even a cursory glance, one sees that the Government are still not totally committed. That is why I shall support the reasoned amendment. Over the past few days, I have been worried and in two minds as to whether to support the reasoned amendment. I thought that it might be seen as gesture politics and might split the consensus that built up last year during the passage of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. I believe that it may do that, and I am sorry. Having read the reasoned amendment, I can see nothing in it to dispute. I wish that the Government had taken it on board and gone further, but they have not. The reasoned amendment will be a shot across the Government's bows and, for that reason, I shall support it.

I contacted a number of disabled people's organisations and a number of disabled people before I took my decision at the weekend. Every one of them wanted me to support the reasoned amendment—that was the bottom line. When I heard disabled people and disabled people's organisations asking me to support the amendment, who was I to say that I could not? After all, the Bill is for disabled people, who have a right to a voice in the debate. They do not have a voice here today, but we can express their opinion.

I shall now discuss the Bill in detail. I believe that its definition of disabled people will leave out various individuals, such as those suffering from the HIV virus. It could possibly exclude some multiple sclerosis sufferers and those suffering from myalgic encephalomyelitis or epilepsy. I do not know why the Government did not take on board the definition in the American legislation for disabled people which speaks of people who are discriminated against by reason of bodily or mental condition. That would be far more satisfactory and I do not know why the Government resisted it. I know that the Minister said that he had not made up his mind on that, and I sincerely hope that he will listen to the arguments and take action to close the loopholes in the definition.

Even if the Government had got the definition right, which would have taken us forward, as other hon. Members have said, there remains a problem relating to employment. Firms employing fewer than 20 people will not be covered by the Bill, despite the fact that the Bill states that reasonable adjustment will have to be made. Even the Confederation of British Industry has stated that it cannot see why the Bill contained that qualification. If the CBI, which has always supported the Government, believes that, I do not know why the Government have not taken that approach.

Many small firms in my constituency and across the country employ many people—not as many as large companies, but still a large number. Such firms are often more accessible to disabled people because they are situated in their locality. The 20-employee rule will lead to discrimination on a massive scale.

The other day, the Prime Minister seemed to think that the issue of transport was included in the Bill, but I am sure that the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People and the Secretary of State are well aware that that subject is not included in the legislation because the Minister himself has said that he will introduce appropriate provisions. What sort of measures will he introduce, and when will he introduce them? The Bill refers to accessibility to bus and railway stations, but not to vehicles. It seems incredible that disabled people will arrive at railway stations and bus terminals and be unable to get on the buses or trains.

Last year, I conducted a survey of new train operators. We rang all of them and asked what facilities they had available for wheelchairs and electric buggies. Only one of the new train operators could take electric buggies. The rest had limited spaces for wheelchairs and most of them stated that two wheelchairs could not travel in the same carriage. The majority of the operators could take only one wheelchair per train. My survey related to newer stock—with reduced spaces—not older stock. It is therefore clear that something must be done about that problem.

Another problem raised was that of unstaffed stations. A disabled person may arrive at a station, which is fine, but if there are no staff on hand, it becomes extremely difficult for that person. It will become even more difficult if the privatisation process goes ahead, especially with through ticketing. If a disabled person turns up at a station and wants a through ticket, he will be told that he cannot get one and will have to go to a shop or other outlet to purchase a through ticket. That problem must be given careful consideration—the Bill's failure to tackle it is a grave omission.

Another grave omission from the Bill is that of education. In a written reply, the Secretary of State for Education said that new schools would have to be accessible from September onwards. He did not know the date from which other schools would have to be accessible—it is more likely to be 100 years than 10 years. That is why I should have liked the Bill to contain the phrase "within a practicable period". I am not saying that there should be a defined time scale, but if the Government had stipulated that access should be given within a practical period, we would know that they were bearing the subject in mind.

One of the Bill's worst aspects involves enforcement. I know that the Minister has explained why he wants to set up the national disability council—that is fine as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Why should ethnic minorities and women be represented by proper commissions with teeth, while disabled people are not? I do not think that the Minister has given a proper explanation to the House and I hope that he will take the opportunity to do so later. Disabled people will be at the mercy of the legal system and will not be entitled to legal aid. If disabled people are discriminated against, they will be unable to fight their case successfully—a commission could have taken their case up for them.

The Bill contains numerous deficiencies, but I acknowledge that it is a welcome step in the right direction. However, the Government must not award themselves laurels and then be allowed to rest on them. Disabled people should congratulate themselves on having pushed the Government so far. The Minister said that it was a feeble Bill because he wanted to take people with him. He has said that in the past, but it is an insult to the British people, who do not believe that it should be a feeble Bill and cannot see why disabled people should be discriminated against. The Minister may laugh, but at a meeting of the all-party disablement group he said that it was a feeble Bill because he wanted to take people with him.

The Minister also said that the Bill constituted an historic advance. It is not an historic advance, but a small advance. An historic advance would be made if legislation on civil rights for disabled persons were introduced. The Bill wastes the potential of disabled people. It should involve disabled people's basic human rights. If the Government could accept that, there would be no further arguments. That is why I shall vote for the reasoned amendment.

We need proper legislation on civil rights for disabled people, who deserve no less. Disabled people want to be treated as equal citizens, not second-class citizens.

6.8 pm

Mr. David Congdon (Croydon, North-East)

Over the past year or so, we have had a number of debates on this important issue, during which there have been, rightly, a number of impassioned pleas for disability legislation. I make no apology for supporting such legislation in principle, but I make it absolutely clear at the outset that I give the Government's Bill my unreserved blessing. I believe that it is a big step forward and I shall expand on the reasons later in my speech.

It is a great pity that the Labour party has tabled a reasoned amendment which declines to give the Government's Bill a Second Reading. If we were persuaded by the Opposition parties' arguments to vote for the amendment and against the Bill's Second Reading, the Bill would fall and we would be back to square one, facing the perils of private Members' Bills and the difficulties that we encountered last Session.

In view of the genuine attempt to build a broad coalition across the Chamber in support of the legislation proposed by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), I was disappointed by the speech of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke): it was churlish and did nothing to persuade me to vote with the Opposition parties.

I agree—as I hope other hon. Members do—with the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who said that discrimination is morally wrong. Of course it is; that is why we are having this debate and why we had earlier debates. All hon. Members want to make progress in this area and put a significant measure on the statute book.

I had the pleasure of serving on the Standing Committee that considered the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill last Session. I wished to serve on that Committee because I supported—and still support—the underlying principles of that legislation. However, having read widely on the subject, I recognised that there were concerns as to whether that legislation was affordable and workable. I hoped that the Government would move amendments in Committee to make that Bill acceptable and to put it on the statute book last Session.

I was very disappointed—I shall resist the temptation to say more than that—that the Bill did not make progress on Report. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott) was put in a very difficult position. He has always been committed to the principles of such legislation and I pay a warm tribute to his work over the years in looking after the needs of the disabled.

It is fair to say that, until a few months ago, few of us believed that the Government would introduce their own Bill. Before the summer recess, we were given the impression that, although the Government were engaged in consultation, there were likely to be separate private Members' Bills dealing with different aspects of this important subject. I was very pleased when the Queen's Speech made it clear that the Government intended to introduce legislation on this subject.

Unlike a private Member's Bill, Government legislation stands a real chance of making it to the statute book. That is a key reason for supporting the Government's Bill tonight. We can all engage in gesture politics and say, "We will not accept this; we will go for broke and the civil rights legislation." Hon. Members can make a lot of headlines and receive a lot of credit from voluntary and lobby groups by doing that, but at the end of the day, there is no legislation on the statute book. I would rather put legislation in place and, if it does not work, I will knock loudly on the door and press my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Government to strengthen it.

I pay tribute tonight to my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, who spoke on behalf of the Government. I was impressed by his determination to make progress on this issue after the summer recess and by his presentation to the all-party disablement group. I thank him for trying to put this important Bill on the statute book.

I wish to compare the Government's legislation with the private Member's Bill from last Session. Many people in disability lobby groups are disappointed that the Government have decided not to introduce a full-blown civil rights Bill. Those groups are also concerned about the establishment of a national disability council rather than a commission. I can understand their concern, but I believe that we should give the national disability council the benefit of the doubt.

I do not want to get into a fierce debate about it tonight, but I do not believe that the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality have been sure-fire successes. In the early days, they created much resentment—the last thing we want to do is to create resentment in disability matters.

I was impressed by the Minister's arguments in his speech to the all-party disablement group when he talked about using the legislation to change attitudes. I stress that it is a sign of failure when one has to resort to the courts to resolve difficulties. I hope that the Bill will lead to a change in attitude and performance by employers and others.

We have heard a lot about employment rights this evening. I have no doubt that too many employers engage in discriminatory practices—they might not even recognise that they are discriminatory and come up with all sorts of excuses for not employing someone. Therefore, I welcome the right to non-discrimination in employment proposed in the Bill.

I share some of the reservations that have been expressed about the Bill's exemption of small employers. However, the Bill provides powers to change the figure through regulations. I hope that the figure in the Bill will be lowered if it is demonstrated that smaller employers are discriminating against disabled people. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) reminded us that 40 per cent. of disabled people are employed by small companies—an important point to bear in mind.

I turn to access to goods' and services by disabled people. I must admit that I thought that the changes to the building regulations which were introduced a few years ago would lead to greater change. I am glad, therefore, that the Bill provides rights of access for disabled people. It is difficult for them to gain access to too many shops, restaurants and public buildings.

Of course it is important to ensure that the costs of adapting buildings for disabled access are within reasonable bounds, and the Bill goes a long way towards keeping those costs at manageable levels. I am very pleased that the compliance cost assessment was published before today's debate—I shall not comment on the previous compliance cost assessment for the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Kingswood.

This legislation attempts to put sensible bands on those costs, and I was disappointed by the somewhat hostile reaction to that provision in a recent leader in The Daily Telegraph. Based on 750,000 businesses using cost limits of £500 or £1,500 per business, the compliance cost assessment showed a likely maximum cost of between £375 million and £1,125 million. The figures could be far less than that because buildings can be adapted fairly easily.

The measure which makes it illegal to refuse to serve disabled people is particularly important. However, I flag one concern on which the Minister could perhaps comment in his winding-up speech—clause 14(3), which relates to circumstances in which less favourable treatment of disabled people is justified.

One of the conditions under which discrimination can be justified is if there is a danger to health or safety. I am no lawyer—that could be an advantage or a disadvantage in today's debate—but I am worried about the classic situation which I have raised in previous debates when someone wants access to a cinema where there is room but the manager says, "I am allowed only one or two disabled people in wheelchairs because it might lead to difficulties in the event of a fire." We need to address that, too often it could be used as an excuse to deny disabled people access, and we must avoid that.

In the White Paper, the Government rightly make great play of the Education Act 1993 with the extra powers which it gives parents and, we hope, results in better access to schools for pupils with disabilities. I had assumed that the earlier Education Act 1981, which was the hallmark Act in terms of education for children with special needs, would have done just that and that there would not be many schools today from which young people were excluded because of a particular disability. I certainly urge the Government to look at that aspect very closely. If the biennial review which is included in the Bill for examining schools and their degree of access shows access that is not being achieved, they must introduce further measures.

It cannot be right to deny youngsters the opportunity to go to a suitable school simply because no one will put in a ramp or a lift. Lifts are slightly more difficult than other pieces of equipment to install, but some schools—particularly primary schools—do not need them. An imaginative approach and the will to open up schools to youngsters with disabilities are needed. Too often, physical access is used as an excuse, and a disabled youngster ends up going to a special school. I commend to the Government the earlier report produced by the Spastics Society in conjunction with Coopers and Lybrand which suggested that 75 per cent. of schools could be adapted at a relatively small cost. I urge Ministers to think again on that matter.

I very much welcome the Bill. As I said earlier, a few months ago I did not believe that the Government would introduce such a Bill and I welcome their determination to get it on the statute book. I hope that it will be scrutinised carefully in Committee to make sure that any alleged loopholes are plugged. It is a major step forward and it is a pity that it was not recognised as such by the hon. Member for Monklands, West.

6.22 pm
Mr. Edward O'Hara (Knowsley, South)

The hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) referred to his difficulty in voting for the reasoned amendment, despite his many reservations about the Bill. I remind him that he would have no such difficulties if he came back to the Chamber on 10 February in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), who is proposing precisely the legislation that it appears from his speech he requires.

I shall confine my remarks to two age groups in which I take a particular interest, as well as a general interest in the disabled—the young and the old. I shall discuss them in reverse order. In a number of respects, the Bill fails to protect them in matters that touch importantly on their rights and their quality of life.

I refer first to the older members of society. I see in the Bill opportunities lost to make inroads into agism, which is another cause of discrimination in society. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) told us that there are 6.5 million disabled people in Britain, 63 per cent. of whom are over 60. In other words, the majority of disabled people are over 60 and they all have the right to live their lives to the full without discrimination. They also have the right to work. One might ask, "Are they still seeking work at that age?" Certainly, any man over 60 is entitled still to be seeking work. If the pension age is to be equalised at 65, many women may also need to work, given the changing patterns of work and concern for their pensions in old age.

There is less concern generally about the disabilities of older people. People tend to express more concern about disability in the young; they simply accept disability in older people as the natural process of aging. Thus, the Bill is open to criticism in that the definition of disability that it offers is too narrow. It refers to long-term impairment that restricts a person's ability to carry out day-to-day activities, but the aged are disabled by their very age, which affects, for example, employers' perceptions of them.

The protection of the Bill should, therefore, extend to those who are perceived to be disabled, although they are not physically or mentally disabled. For example, when an employer makes a judgment that an older person is disabled from carrying out the requirements of a job merely by reason of age, that employer is making presumptions about older people.

The concept of reasonableness referred to in clause 5 is of great concern to those who have an interest in the rights of older people. Reasonableness on the part of an employer when judging whether a person is fit to do a job is too vague and subjective, particularly with reference to older people.

Also with reference to employment, clause 7, to which a number of hon. Members have referred, and which exempts businesses with fewer than 20 employees, works to the detriment of older people. Those are precisely the businesses, often locally based, in which older people commonly seek employment.

The Minister mentioned that 83 per cent. of disabled people are covered by the Bill. I very much doubt whether 83 per cent. of older people are covered by the Bill.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe told us that two fifths of all disabled people are known to work in businesses employing 20 people or fewer. One may deduce that that applies to at least two fifths of disabled older people, and I would guess rather more. Therefore, as a number of hon. Members have said, the exemption in clause 7 should be narrowed, removed altogether, or replaced.

On access in general, I also refer to the exclusions from transport and education, which are clearly in the Bill. Both are extremely important to older people, but I shall concentrate on transport. The Minister's gradualist approach ignores an important consequence of Government public transport policies. Perhaps Conservative Members do not use buses, but if they visit any conurbation such as Merseyside, they will see clapped-out buses dashing around competing for business. Most are inaccessible to the disabled.

As a consequence of privatisation, buses are in use longer and not replaced so frequently. They remain in service, with all their inaccessibility to older disabled people in particular. Incidentally, the British bus production industry has been decimated as a by-product of Government policy. Many older disabled people will be dead before they see the benefits of the Government's gradualist approach to public transport accessibility.

There is a wide variation among local education authorities as to the number of pupils aged five to 15 who are referred to segregated special schools. Figures for January 1992 from Barnardo's show that in Barnsley and Cornwall, one pupil in 200 was referred to a segregated special school, whereas the figure for Lambeth, Hackney and East Sussex was five times higher. That is a prima facie case of discrimination based on residence. Does that matter? Yes. I concede that segregated special education should be available by choice, but disabled children should also have the choice to be educated in mainstream schools.

The hon. Member for Croydon, North-East referred to the Education Act 1981, which is engraved in my memory because I was an education chairman at the time. That legislation was introduced with the mantra, "within current resources". It never was resourced, and that has been much of the problem with special education provision ever since.

Children who are denied mainstream education are deprived of experiences that would help them to live a fulfilling life and play a full part in society. Research suggests that deprivation affects their self-concept. They are certainly deprived opportunities of socialisation. They must frequently travel long distances to attend special schools, which further prevents them participating properly in their own communities.

That denial also affects society in general—non-disabled people. Many hon. Members present know the story of the individual who looked down pityingly on a disabled person in a wheelchair and said, "Man, you've got problems." The disabled person looked up and said, "No, but I think you have." The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) referred to cultural disregard. Some people have a problem accepting the existence, role, rights and abilities of disabled people. I remind the House of my earlier remarks about perceptions of the older disabled.

In respect of exclusions affecting special education, the Bill works against the spirit of the legislation stated by the Minister, of altering society's perception of disability. He referred to the Education Act 1993, but the provisions that he cited have insufficient bite to justify the Bill's omissions. It should contain targets and timetables for local education authorities to make incremental improvements to existing education premises and their facilities for the disabled.

There may be difficulties, but faith can move mountains sometimes. Sadly, there were many cases of thalidomide children on Merseyside. The much-maligned Liverpool city council managed to adapt a mainstream comprehensive school on the city's inner ring road, to cater for all those thalidomide children. Impressive achievements can be made with will and determination.

The Bill's major weakness is the proposed national disability council. It will be advisory and will be charged to produce codes of practice, to consult and to provide costings—but it will have no powers. That is unlike the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality, which presumably it is supposed to mirror. That is illogical.

In the play by Euripides, Hippolytus gave the ultimate excuse for hypocrisy: My tongue has sworn, but my heart is unsworn. I hasten to emphasise that I do not accuse the Minister of duplicity. I accept his sincerity, in stating his commitment to changing social attitudes through the Bill. I commend him for that aspiration, but I shall turn my quotation from Euripides on its head. Although the Minister's heart may thus be sworn, his tongue does not speak with sufficient strength to underpin his sincerity. There is insufficient force and detail in the Bill to do that. For that reason, I shall certainly enter the Lobby to support the reasoned amendment. I look forward also to returning to the Chamber on 10 February to support my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East.

6.38 pm
Mr. Mark Robinson (Somerton and Frome)

I was grateful for the little lesson in the classics from the hon. Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara), and I am glad of the opportunity to speak in support of the Bill. I have long had an interest in the subject, as honorary president of Mencap in Frome and as honorary vice-president of Action Aid for the Disabled in my former constituency of Newport, West. I follow also the activities of the all-party group, so I was pleased to hear strong support for the Bill from my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) earlier this afternoon. It served to underline my view that this legislation is a positive step forward for disabled people. Indeed, had it been on offer more than 12 months ago, I believe that it would have been welcomed by the Labour party—although its members might not care to admit that today.

I find it extremely disappointing to note that the Opposition seek to oppose the Bill's Second Reading by means of a reasoned amendment. That amendment would not just deny the Bill a Second Reading, but it would do so on grounds that are good debating points for Committee but rather short of substance when it comes to opposing the entire legislation.

For all the emotion that emerged in the debate on the private Member's Bill last year, there has been steady progress in recent years in advancing the rights of, and opportunities, help and benefits for disabled people. Education has played an important part in that process. There has been great progress in the way in which public services, architectural designs and a range of other activities are provided for disabled people, in the community and in the workplace. I think that, confronted with the achievements of the past two decades, people 20 years ago would have been dubious about the possibilities of making so much progress.

This Bill carries the process forward. As the Minister said, it should not be seen as an isolated measure; it is part of a package outlined in the recent White Paper. There is much to be said for introducing legislation such as this in a properly staged and managed way. It makes sense to secure progress in a structured manner. After all, it is not just a question of forcing the public and businesses by means of legislation to uphold certain standards of conduct. It is also a question of educating people, so that the proper treatment of disabled people gains ever wider acceptance in the community—that is happening already.

Hence there is a case for concentrating on larger employers with the resources to deal effectively with such legislation. The United States Congress, after considerable thought, decided to exempt companies with 15 or fewer employees. I believe that we were wise to follow a similar path, at least for the time being. We can always return to the issue if the need arises.

Mr. Berry

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the relevant clause would allow the figure to be increased as well? It has been suggested that it might come down from 20, but it might also go up.

Mr. Robinson

There is always the opportunity for the Government to change their mind. The figure might change in Committee: who knows? The important thing is to establish the principle, which is what the Bill rightly does.

A new law can easily be brought into disrepute if it is quickly found to be unenforceable. We must therefore ensure that this legislation is practical, sensible and readily accepted in the workplace.

It is also wise to provide a measure of flexibility if the responsibilities demanded by the Bill are to be properly implemented. When I visit new buildings or projects in my constituency, one of my first questions is always, "What facilities have you got here for disabled people?" I am rarely disappointed; usually a lot of thought goes into ensuring that the facilities in public buildings, voluntary sector buildings and businesses are appropriate to the needs of disabled people. Of course, people will always have different definitions of what should be provided, but in the main progress is positive.

The comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) about the desire for access expressed by disabled people struck a chord with me. Arriving at a public place or in the workplace and being forced into a stressful entry always entails a degree of humiliation. As one of my constituents said at the well-attended Mencap annual general meeting in Frome last Friday night, disabled people feel demeaned and second rate when they are denied. That applies across the board—to access, to attitudes and to the constant fear of being talked down to or patronised.

A great deal of what happens to disabled people is demeaning but could not possibly be put right by any discrimination legislation. We must not be misled into thinking that passing legislation will provide all the solutions, and we must not allow it to turn into an excuse for not doing more. There must be a concerted drive, beyond this or any other legislation, to educate people about the disabled, demonstrating to them that disability does not disqualify a person from leading a perfectly normal life. That sort of education goes well beyond legislation. It extends to attitudes at work, in schools and in public offices.

Some time ago I was delighted to visit a project under way at St. Arthur's school in Wincanton in my constituency. The project is known as the Monday club—[Laughter.] I thought that hon. Members might find that strange. I certainly raised my eyebrows when I was told I was to meet the Monday club without knowing exactly what that would entail. In any case, in that project students work with disabled people for one hour a week. The reaction among the teenagers was highly encouraging. When I spoke to them individually, they all admitted that their attitudes to disabled people had been altered by their experience with the project. Such work in schools is immensely valuable in the process of changing attitudes right across the spectrum.

I give a warm welcome to the Bill. I am certain that it will emerge from Committee further improved. That is why I hope, once it has got through its ritual denunciation, that the Labour party will work constructively with the Bill once Opposition Members have had their pound of flesh in the Division Lobby tonight.

6.47 pm
Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)

There are 500,000 disabled people in Wales, for whom this legislation is very important indeed. No doubt they, like many hon. Members, would like it to go quite a bit further. If the legislation moved in the direction of the provisions of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which we shall have the chance to consider in a couple of weeks' time, it would be relevant not just to disabled people but to countless thousands of others for whom the facilities to be provided are of direct significance.

I am glad to speak in this debate. I should be even more pleased if the Government had adopted the anti-discrimination legislative approach incorporated in a number of Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bills which I have sponsored in recent years. The Bill does not meet the objectives spelt out by the Government in their consultation paper, on page 9 of which we read: The Government accepts that measures to end discrimination must be comprehensive. Regrettably, the Bill is not comprehensive, although it is a step in the right direction. Paragraph 1.9 on the same page states: The Government is introducing wide-ranging anti-discrimination legislation". But this Bill is fairly narrow. That is not to say that the parts of it which bite are not worth having, but it would have been far better if it had adopted the general approach of the other Bills that have been introduced on the same subject.

We need comprehensive legislation. The principle of non-discrimination should be inviolate. Either we believe in discrimination or we do not. If we do not, we should legislate against it. If we believe that it is applicable in law in some areas, it should be applicable in all areas. Discrimination should not be allowed or tolerated in any circumstances. It is just not good enough to say, for example, that it will be outlawed for 83 per cent. of employees, but allowed for the remaining 17 per cent.

The position of companies employing fewer than 20 workers is unsatisfactory. As I understand it, the legislation in Australia and New Zealand has no such exclusions. Some hon. Members argued the American case, and one can equally argue the experience there. If a worker in a company employing 20 people has his or her rights with regard to disability safeguarded, what happens if suddenly there is a redundancy in the company and it then employs fewer than 20 people? Does that person lose his or her basic human rights, as recognised in the Bill, by virtue of the fact that there has been a redundancy? That seems totally unsatisfactory and unacceptable.

A letter from the Employers Forum on Disability—I dare say that other hon. Members have also received a copy—tells us: There should be no exclusion from the Bill's provisions on grounds of an enterprise's size. It cannot be right for a disabled person to be discriminated against just because an enterprise has fewer than 20 employees. That is something that we should take good note of.

In rural areas, such as the constituency that I represent, the vast majority of companies have fewer than 20 employees. That means that disabled people will have fewer civil rights in rural areas of Wales, Scotland or, indeed, England than in urban areas. That cannot be right. It cannot be conceptually right and it should not be the way in which we make progress on these matters.

I will deal now with some of the other problems of the Bill. On definitions, clause 5(4) contains the words "unsuitable for the employment". No definition is given of "suitable" or "unsuitable". It is totally open-ended.

Clause 5(1)(b), refers to an employer. It means that there can be an exclusion if it is reasonable, in all the circumstances of the case, for him to hold that opinion. That is a terribly subjective provision and cannot be a reasonable basis on which to make law.

I am also concerned about the position of those who may have long-term disabilities, perhaps HIV. Schedule 1 on page 27 of the Bill states that if a person has a progressive condition but does not have an impairment which has a substantial adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, he shall be taken to have such an impairment if that is the expected effect of that condition. In other words, if the expected effect of a condition in the fulness of time is disabling, that can be considered as a reason to exempt that person from the provisions of the Bill.

Again, that cannot be right. Steps should be taken to ensure that people who are currently—and will be for the foreseeable future—capable of undertaking work should not be discriminated against because of some long-term effects. After all, we all get older and eventually become less able than we were when we were younger.

For some people, the situation is even more serious. The Alzheimer's Disease Society states: In its presents form the definition excludes from protection against discrimination, those people who can be identified by predictive genetic testing as being at risk of becoming disabled due to genetic causes. Therefore, if science moves forward and more people can be predicted to have the potential of being disabled in 10, 20 or 30 years' time, they will fall outside the purview of the proposed legislation. Again, that cannot be right. We are told by the Genetic Interest Group in a letter from its director, Alastair Kent: Our concern is that the Bill as it stands unfairly discriminates against people who have a genetic disorder but who are at present healthy—in other words, people who are pre-symptomatic for a genetic disorder. I am sure that the Government have not thought through the implications adequately. If the Bill proceeds to Committee, I hope that they will look carefully at the implications and at conditions which may not currently exist but which can be predicted, because if people choose to predict them they can be used as a basis for discrimination.

On goods and services, the time scale of 15 years is too long. Questions need to be raised about the financial limits indicated in the Bill. Will the services include insurance services, particularly for those with learning difficulties? Will they include the needs of deaf people, for example, telephone systems, entryphones and emergency systems? Will services be included for blind people such as information in Braille? Will they include services to help with the difficulties that blind people experience with their guide dogs, for example, in taxis or restaurants?

I believe that all those areas must be clarified, because without general anti-discrimination legislation it becomes questionable as to whether loopholes might be created. I am concerned that a loophole might be created with regard to certain health and safety considerations and whether it will be a let-out for people who should be applying the legislation.

I deal now with education, to which a number of hon. Members have referred. It should most certainly be within the purview of the Bill. If the Education Act 1993 meets the objectives of anti-discrimination, there is no problem in having it built into the Bill. If it does not, it most certainly should be written into the Bill to ensure that people who need that safeguard are not left out, that they do not fall between two stools. No child should be denied access to mainstream education. I believe that it is discrimination if that access is denied. As I understand it, the disability allowance would not be available for disabled part-time students. To that extent, discrimination is built into the Bill if it does not take on board the position of those students.

A number of hon. Members applied themselves to enforcement. The main difference between the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill and the Disability Discrimination Bill is that in the latter all that we have is access to the industrial tribunal system and some conciliation systems on a local level. No doubt those are very much to be welcomed, but the problem with industrial tribunals is that there is no legal aid.

That means that a well-off disabled person—I suppose that there are some—will have access to legal redress, while disabled people who are poor will be prevented from getting their rights. That cannot be right. If we are talking about principles of anti-discrimination legislation, the Government should look again at that question. It must be addressed or the Bill will be seen as a toothless charade and the Government will lose the opportunity to do something really worth while.

There are a number of other problems in the Bill as it stands. There are problems for those with learning difficulties. Clause 14(3)(a)(ii) says that the conditions are that the treatment is reasonable because the disabled person is incapable of entering into an enforceable agreement or of giving an informed consent". That is an extremely demeaning approach. Does a disabled person with learning difficulties lose his or her rights because he or she is incapable of giving an informed consent?

The whole approach in the past has been to ensure that there can be representation on behalf of those people to ensure that their wishes are taken on board. Exemption will take their rights away from them. That is nothing less than a specific discrimination against people with learning difficulties which has been built into the Bill. It surely cannot have been the Government's intention, but that is what we face, and Mencap feels strongly that that provision should be deleted.

There are other specific problems. Why are the voluntary organisations exempted, particularly when they may be the contractual suppliers of services to the public sector? In those circumstances, the rights of disabled people should be built into the legislation.

Schedule 1 requires registration, but in recent years there has been a move away from the stigma that goes with registration. To that extent, we are missing an opportunity. The Bill also refers to "clinically well-recognised illness". What on earth does that mean? If it cannot he defined, how will the courts be able to apply the law?

I hope that the Government will approach the Bill's Committee stage with an open mind to accepting drastic amendments. I hope that the Bill will be amended to adopt lock, stock and barrel the provisions of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. However, it seems possible that the long title has been drawn in a way specifically to avoid that. That is why I shall be voting against the Bill today. If it is not amendable in that direction, there is a serious problem.

Massive parts of the civil rights approach need to be transplanted into the Bill to make it acceptable. The Government have come some considerable way in the past two years, under pressure from all sorts of directions, to recognising the need for legislation. I now implore them to make the Bill comprehensive, enforceable and unambiguous. Then, and only then, will it achieve its objective of anti-discrimination legislation.

7.1 pm

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) has a long and honourable record in the House of speaking for the disabled. I support his remarks on those groups who suffer from genetic disorders. I, too, have received such representations.

The hon. Gentleman described the Bill as a step in the right direction, but it is a great deal more than that. It is a massive move forward. It is a landmark Bill and this is an historic day. There has never been a day like this when the Government have put forward a Bill that will do so much for the disabled. The Opposition are mistaken in opposing it.

There has never been a Bill like it, certainly not in peacetime. The 1944 legislation was introduced during the war. The civil service exempted itself from that. I hope that it will not exempt itself from this Bill. I see that there are more civil servants in their Box today than there are Opposition Members on the Back Benches, which shows the complexity of the Bill.

The Government should be congratulated on introducing the Bill. I am sorry that the Opposition will seek to divide the House. They are mistaken to do so. They are churlish not to acknowledge the Government's tremendous record. In financial terms alone the Government's spending on the long-term disabled has trebled in real terms since 1979 to a current figure of £17 billion per annum.

The number of those who claim the various benefits, such as the invalid care allowance, has risen from 5,000 to 200,000. When the mobility allowance was introduced by the Labour Government in 1976, it was phased in over four years, during which time there were only 5,000 recipients; compare that with the 320,000 people who benefit today from the disability living allowance.

The Opposition are churlish in their approach. They seem to have committed themselves to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which would cost many billions of pounds. I do not know whether they have come forward with an actual cost, but the Government's sensible and wise Bill has been costed at a modest figure which can be accepted.

I am surprised that the Opposition spend so much time attacking the provision exempting small firms with fewer than 20 employees. That has always been so with the quota. When Labour was in power it made no attempt to alter it. There is a perfectly logical reason. Some firms may employ disabled people in proportion to their size, but small firms cannot employ half a person.

The Employers Forum on Disability says that 60 per cent. of small firms of 10 people or fewer already employ a disabled person, so that is not where the problem is. The problem is much more with larger organisations, particularly in the public sector. The TUC produced an interesting paper showing than an extra 100,000 people could be employed, and quoted 42 health authorities and local authorities which employed no registered disabled person.

The Bill is a triumph for the Government and a personal triumph for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister and his wife, Norma Major, have a great record of campaigning for the disabled, particularly for Mencap, in their constituency and now nationally. Mencap is one of the many organisations which have commended the Government on the Bill's objectives.

I congratulate the former Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott), and the present Minister for Social Security and Disabled People on their work in making the Bill possible. I also thank them for speaking to members of the Conservative disability group committee on what I think is a unique telephone conference hook-up. Members of that committee are based all over the country and cannot travel at all easily. Both my hon. Friends have helpfully participated in those unique hook-ups.

That committee was also well received when it visited Ministers to discuss the arrangements that their Departments make for the disabled. We have had a number of such visits, including to the Department of Transport, whose arrangements are outstanding. In particular, Anne Frye has an outstanding record in making provisions for the disabled in that Department.

In the Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth), the Minister of State, has made an outstanding contribution. Just a week ago a delegation visited the Department of the Environment to see my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones), the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, who has been responsible for an outstanding consultation paper which has just been published. Within the Department of Employment the placement, assessment and counselling teams, PAD's, have an excellent record in placing more and more disabled people in employment.

Mr. Barnes

I offer my services as promoter of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which I shall be introducing on 10 February, to the Conservative disability network which has had discussions with Ministers on the content of the Bill so that we may debate the alternative provisions contained in that comprehensive legislation.

Mr. Thurnham

One of the major deficiencies of that Bill was the lack of consultation with interested parties. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what people had said about the Bill he would know that it is impractical. For instance, the proposals on small firms are impractical. The Labour party always seems to favour a bureaucratic solution. It was Mr. Leo McKinstry, a former Labour councillor and adviser to two Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, who, only the other day, among a number of interesting points that he made, said: That's what Labour is good at: creating bureaucracy. That is exactly what the hon. Gentleman's Bill would end up doing. It would also be a lawyer's beanfeast.

One of the Government's most commendable actions is that of setting an example. I should like the code of practice for civil service employment to be extended much more widely throughout the public sector. Organisations such as the BBC fall far short of what can be done in the public sector. It employs only 0.3 per cent. under the old quota arrangements. Most hon. Members would agree that the BBC could set an example and employ more than its quota.

I ask Ministers to extend the civil service code to the public sector, where a great deal more can be done. The Trades Union Congress paper was especially interesting in that respect. I recommend hon. Members to consider how an additional 100,000 jobs could be created in the public sector. That is where the deficiencies exist. They do not lie with small firms, many of which are employing more than their quota.

I have had discussions with Department of Employment officials in my constituency. They say that, when they try to place someone with disabilities in a job, they do not at first go to the town hall or health authority; they go to private employers, who they know have a record of doing what they can to employ disabled people. The Government should set an example not just in the civil service, but throughout the public sector because there is no doubt that a great deal more can be done, with 12 local authorities and 30 health authorities not employing any registered disabled people. Those organisations will say, "Ah, we employ disabled people who are not registered," but that applies across the board. There is something wrong if they are not already employing people who are registered disabled.

It is more than 12 years since my wife and I adopted Stephen, who is severely mentally and physically handicapped. During those 12 years, we have noticed a great improvement in the general facilities and equipment which are available. In so many ways, access is a great deal easier, pavement kerbs have been dropped, and one can go so much more readily into hotels and restaurants. Of course, he enjoys going on holiday and travelling a great deal. Sun Rise Medical is just one of many firms that produce far better wheelchairs than were available years ago. From personal experience, I can say that attitudes and conditions have much improved.

The Bill is exactly the right way forward for the country to gain a much more ready acceptance of our aims. It will avoid the backlash and negative reaction that could have resulted from some of the Opposition's proposals. I ask the Opposition to think again before dividing the House this evening on such an excellent Bill; it should be commended by every hon. Member.

7.11 pm
Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West)

I should like to start by saying how much I agreed with everything said by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). He has pinched about half my speech—you might say mercifully, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and that will shorten the proceedings somewhat.

The Bill should be entitled "Disability Discrimination (Exceptions) Bill" because it is far more remarkable for the areas of personal and civil activity that it excludes from its coverage than for those that it includes. It is in the nature of that exclusion that the real trouble with the Bill lies.

After so many years of struggle over the issue of civil rights for disabled persons and, in particular, after the disgraceful talking out last year of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), it is tempting to accept the Government's Bill at least as a gesture towards public opinion. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, it may need extension and improvement, but it is a start in the right direction. As it stands, however, it will be an immense obstacle to progress. In the words of one outstanding campaigner, Rachel Hurst: This Bill will set hack the cause of disabled people by 20 years. It is important that the Bill is fundamentally amended and that the many Conservative Members who support disabled persons' campaigns realise why it should be amended to incorporate much of the purpose of my hon. Friend's private Member's Bill.

I refer for brevity to the explanatory and financial memorandum at the start of the Bill. We are told in the first paragraph: The Bill introduces a right for disabled people not to be discriminated against when applying for employment or when employed". That is simply not so. The second paragraph states: The Bill also introduces a right of access for disabled people to goods, facilities and services, which will require service providers to adapt their policies and so forth. That is simply not so. In both cases, greater accuracy would be served if the word "some" were inserted; the Bill would then read: "a right for some disabled people not to be discriminated against in employment matters", and "a right of access for disabled people to some goods, facilities and services".

The exemptions in the Bill amount to the exclusion of about 96 per cent. of businesses in the United Kingdom from the parameters of the legislation. There is some dispute about the figures and about the proportion of the work force involved, but a substantial proportion of the work force is left out of the Bill's provisions.

As has been pointed out, the Government's policy has been consistently to encourage the growth of the small business sector as a proportion of our economy. The Bill sets the smaller end of that sector, businesses with 20 or fewer employees, on one side. There is not even talk of phasing in. The under-20 sector, if I can call it that, makes no contribution in the Bill.

The Bill makes specific the figure of 20 and we have had some brief exchanges about that. I think that the Minister was trying to imply that it could be increased by order, but of course it could also be decreased. The exceptions in the Bill include huge swathes of civil and social activity, most notably all existing education provisions—as far as I can tell—and all means of transport. Numerous smaller exceptions exist which, added together, further debilitate the Bill.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon mentioned a number of those exceptions, but, in addition, clause 14(3)(b) contains a qualification to the excellent clause 12(1)(a). Clause 14 states: a provider of services is justified in treating a disabled person less favourably if that treatment is necessary in order for the provider of services to be able to provide the service to other members of the public. That caveat could be ruthlessly exploited in terms of, for example, queues that were holding up a service in a particular place.

Clause 14(4) makes it clear that the regulations will exclude insurance services. I noted that the Minister said that the Government were talking with the insurance and financial services sector to try to do something about that, but the clause specifically seems to presage the exclusion of insurance services from coverage by the Bill. That is one of the elements of discrimination that is most frequently cited by disabled people and their organisations. The Leonard Cheshire Foundation document, which I assume all hon. Members have received, has numerous examples of strong complaints about that.

Clause 28(3) excludes from the Bill any act done for the purpose of safeguarding national security. That could cover a multitude of sins. On top of such specific exceptions, the Bill contains dozens of references, hints, nudges and indicators of how the regulations will further undermine what purports to be the intention of the Bill.

What the Minister announced on television as a revolution in favour of disabled people proves, on examination, to be a squeak of good will, strangulated by the Treasury and by the fear of incommoding businesses and public services. I do not underestimate those sectors; they obviously must be taken into account. With appropriate phasing and funding, the revolution could be achieved. Employers are by no means universally hostile. Last autumn, Mr. Robin Gilbert, the Confederation of British Industry director of employment affairs, said: we need a new and effective framework of law in this area which opens up opportunities for people with disabilities so that they can make a fuller contribution in the workplace and as consumers". He is not the only business person to have the breadth of vision to understand that a significant shift of access to employment for disabled people will ultimately pay for itself in national terms, as well as achieve its main purpose of enhancing the lives of up to 6.5 million of our fellow citizens.

Earlier, I mentioned education and transport. It seems clear that, in the mind set of perhaps a majority of people, disabled people are odd, discomfiting or somehow insufficient, a view that much of this Bill and all of the private Member's Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood seek to tackle. That mind set is formed in youth at school, or at least it is not corrected at school.

There can be little doubt that anyone is disabled by virtue of exclusion from a school or college because of, for example, mobility difficulties. The exclusion in clause 12 of virtually all education services from the Bill's provisions is astonishing, contrasting starkly with the treatment of the same sector in the private Member's Bill presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood. The second half of clause 12 of the Government Bill is totally exclusive, whereas clause 12 of my hon. Friend's Bill was totally inclusive. That, I feel, symbolises the difference between the two Bills.

The Minister claimed that the policy of "mainstreaming" in schools pursued by Government and local authorities—and by many schools themselves—was addressing the problem, and there is no doubt that much good work and many better intentions have emerged. Colleges in particular, largely impelled by the need to secure student fees from almost every possible source, have done a great deal to improve access.

I remember with horror having to lift a wheelchair user and his wheelchair—with the help of three of my students—up four flights of stone stairs to gain access to certain classrooms in the college at which I then taught. Much begging-bowl work had to be done with local businesses and others to get a lift put in; but such problems are slowly improving. The hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) spoke extremely well about the need for access provision for, in particular, part-time students, so I shall not rehearse those arguments again.

Under section 21 of the Education Act 1993, local education authorities are obliged to survey schools for such purposes on behalf of the Department for Education. In my own LEA, Lancashire, the vast majority of schools are not adapted for disabled access. Over the past few years just over 100 have been so adapted—out of a total of just over 700—but in almost all cases that has been done to cater for the needs of individual statemented pupils with specific difficulties. Although every effort is made in the process, it cannot be guaranteed that the adaptation will suit a subsequent student with a different special need.

The severe constraints on LEA spending in recent years have made progress in that direction very problematic; this year's swingeing cuts are making it impossible. Lancashire, for example, has had a total cumulative shortfall of £75 million in its education standard spending assessment over the past three years, and simply cannot sustain a realistic adaptation programme. It is all very well to plan full access for new schools, but—like other authorities—Lancashire has hundreds of Victorian schools with flights of stone steps and inaccessible toilets. At the present rate at which my LEA is allowed to replace those schools, replacing them will take just over 800 years—although I do not suppose that that will bother any of us.

Many—probably most—schools remain at least partly inaccessible to disabled people. Of course that cannot be corrected overnight, but a framework in law that would ensure its correction over a finite period should be enshrined in any legislation. It should, for example, be possible to ensure that all school premises that are entirely on the ground floor are made wholly accessible in quite a short time, and SSAs, credit approvals and grants should allow LEAs and other authorities to achieve that.

Schools and colleges that are multi-storey or have scattered campuses should be set a more generous target, with phased funding. Until that is achieved, or at least projected, for many parents of young people with disabilities choice of school, or even preference, will remain a cruel myth—and I have not even mentioned the continuing revenue consequences of what we are discussing.

The example of my constituent Nicky Crane is a case in point. Nicky is a multiply disabled 12-year-old whose parents insisted that he be "mainstreamed" in his primary school. An heroic effort by Tarleton county primary school enabled him to achieve that, and to be astonishingly well integrated in the school. During the search for a secondary school place, Nicky stayed for an extra year at the primary school. The nearby high school is multi-storey, and the Cranes' demand for a place there for their son put both the school and the LEA in terrible difficulties. I know that it is not the Minister's function to deal with the details; I am simply trying to describe the huge problems caused to people such as the Cranes by disability discrimination.

The costs of the boy's proper care and teaching, in terms of capital spend and the on-going revenue implications, were enormous, and the situation has now reached deadlock. Naturally the parents dug in their heels, and in the interim the boy's progress has been halted or even reversed. I am talking not of an urban area but of a rural area where provision is scattered, and there is no other reasonable choice of secondary school. I strongly endorse what the hon. Member for Caernarfon said about the special difficulties that the Bill poses for rural areas.

If such bitter, even tragic, struggles are not eventually to be scattered across the country, we shall need a framework of law involving realistic proposals for funding and timing. It is not acceptable for disabled students to be seen simply as a financial problem. Attitudes to disabled people that are revealed in discriminatory employment practices and automatic exclusion from some services have much of their origin in attitudes learnt in childhood; the Bill should try to tackle that, but it does not.

The means of access to vehicles is also excluded from clause 12(5)(b). The Minister may know of the number of trains that are currently inaccessible to most physically disabled people. One side of a station close to where I live, Burscough Bridge, is currently inaccessible to people with mobility difficulties; unfortunately, the waiting room and ticket office are sited on that side. Clause 12(3), which deals with infrastructure, might well cure the problem, which is welcome, but a second problem remains: the platforms at Burscough Bridge are several feet lower than the steps on to the trains.

It is a moot point whether that problem comes under "access to ‖ place" or access to the use of any means of transport", but no doubt that can be examined in Committee. I do, however, have a wonderful photograph of my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson)—who, although he is not the tallest of men, is physically fit and active—trying to step on to a train at Burscough Bridge. He has one foot on the step of the train, and it is above the level of his waist. I have seen elderly people sitting on the carriage floor swinging their legs down to try to reach the platform. Nothing in the Bill tries to tackle that problem, which exists throughout the country.

I have tried to illustrate with examples some of the problems experienced by disabled people in my constituency—problems that I have observed for myself. The Bill specifically rules out solutions to those problems. Despite its "curate's egg" nature, it is a massive con trick that will not fool those who are most desperate for proper and inclusive legislation. Its language is reassuring and accommodating, and the Minister has presented it with charm; but the actuality of what it sets out to achieve is pathetic. It could constitute a monumental barrier to essential progress in the achievement of civil rights for disabled persons—and, indeed, its timing suggests that it is intended to constitute such a barrier.

7.29 pm
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Mid-Staffordshire)

The hon. Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) said that the Disability Discrimination Bill was a con trick, while the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke)—who opened the debate for the Opposition—said that it was weak and narrow. I believe, however, that the Bill is both broad and practical.

I support the Bill for three reasons. First, it continues the strides made by the Government on behalf of the disabled. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) said, it is a landmark Bill and, as a consequence, it should not be belittled. Secondly, the Bill is fully in line with what I believe conservatism is all about—helping those who are less able to help themselves, but rewarding ability. The Bill enhances opportunities and rewards merit, and the two are not mutually exclusive. Thirdly, the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) said, is a practical measure to get legislation passed for the disabled.

I have been concerned that a myth has been growing during the debate about the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill which was promoted by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry). In no way do I deprecate anything that the hon. Gentleman has done on this subject, and I commend the motives of the actions which he has taken in the Chamber during the past few months. Following on from a discussion that the hon. Gentleman and I had in the Chamber today, I would like to quote what the hon. Gentleman said on 29 April during a debate on a motion proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) to allow more time to debate the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. I shall quote three extracts from the hon. Gentleman's speech which put the matter into perspective.

He said: As supporters of the Bill, we went out of our way to table amendments to address the concerns that the Government had raised". All that was right and proper. He later said: 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. Again, that is fair and reasonable. Later still, the hon. Gentleman said: As we have specifically said … 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".—[0fficial Report, 29 April 1994; Vol. 242, c. 510–527] My point is that we should get the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill into perspective. Some of the arguments made by Opposition Members might make one think that it is an all-embracing Bill, yet some of the criticisms which hon. Members make about the Disability Discrimination Bill also relate to matters enshrined in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.

Mr. Barnes

The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is wide-ranging and comprehensive, but it is obvious that all the rights contained in it cannot be put into practical application overnight. Therefore, it contains provisions for a commission to operate a dynamic role over time to extend and develop the measures. The Bill is not restrictive and limited in the way in which the Disability Discrimination Bill, which the hon. Gentleman supports, is.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman clearly did not hear what I just quoted. There were many let-out clauses in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, and many of the issues were completely unenforceable.

Some hon. Members have spoken about clause 7, which deals with the exemption for firms with 20 employees or fewer. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Robinson) said that clause 7 could be discussed in Committee. I believe that that is so. The question whether the criterion is the number of people employed or the turnover of a company should also be discussed.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) said that Australian and New Zealand legislation specifies no limit whereby firms might be exempt, and hon. Members may recall that the United States has a limit of 15 employees. I would remind the House, however, that the legislation in Australia and New Zealand is substantially weaker than that proposed by the Government today. I believe that this Government, and all Governments, have a duty of care to ensure that the safety net for those who are unable to help themselves is of a fine enough mesh that no one slips through. I believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East said, that it is indeed a landmark Bill.

I would have preferred the Bill to be retitled Opportunities for the Disabled Bill, rather than what I would call the politically correct Disability Discrimination Bill. The civil rights lobby fails to recognise that positive discrimination—however well-meaning—is wrong. People want to be employed because of their ability, rather than because of their disability. [Interruption.] I suspect that hon. Members agree with that, and the hon. Member for Kingswood is showing assent.

In a debate on this subject last year, I made the point that I have a researcher who suffers from a disability. I make the point again that he would want to be employed because of his capability, and not because of his disability. Positive discrimination, or the politically correct term "affirmative action", merely promotes resentment among the work force and, far from changing prejudices, reinforces them. Political correctness has worked against my researcher. He now works for a lobbying company since being employed by me.

Mr. Berry

The hon. Gentleman should choose his words carefully.

Mr. Fabricant

I am choosing my words carefully—for my researcher's sake and not for mine. For fear of the media, the lobbying company told my researcher that he could not keep his House of Commons pass.[Interruption.] As a consequence, he is now unable to use the parking facilities for the disabled here. When I met him—[Laughter.] I am amazed that hon. Members find this funny. When I met him yesterday in Central Lobby, he was exhausted because of his enforced walk on sticks. I believe that that makes a mockery of the so-called anti-sleaze campaign being waged by the Opposition.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

I do not make light of the difficulties with which the hon. Gentleman's researcher must cope. The point that I am making, and which the hon. Gentleman ought to be aware of, is that—as far as I know—lobbying companies do not issue passes for this place, and at no time should they do so.

Mr. Fabricant

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood me. I issued the pass because he was my researcher. However, the lobbying company—his employer—was featured on a television programme on Sunday called "On The Record." He himself was not featured.

Mr. Pickthall

Who is this person's employer—the hon. Gentleman or the lobbying company?

Mr. Fabricant

The researcher works for the lobbying company, but in his spare time he also works for me. [Interruption.] That is right and proper. I have no connections with the lobbying company whatsoever, and the researcher does no work for me that is relevant to his lobbying company. There is no problem or conflict of interest whatsoever.

When the lobbying company was approached by the BBC, it ordered him—wrongly, in my view—either to give up the pass that I had issued him or to give up his job. That was absolutely wrong. He still works for me in his spare time, but he has lost his pass. That is political correctness working against disabled people. It is McCarthyism.

Mr. Barnes

The hon. Gentleman is making a case for the Bill.

Mr. Fabricant

It is indeed a case for this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Civil Rights Bill."]

I accept that an advisory body in the shape of a national council for the disabled could be a good thing, but I have some reservations. It must be made clear that the council will not become yet another costly and unwieldy organisation that spends its time meddling in our day-to-day affairs. In an era of deregulation, it is good that the Government are not imposing unfair burdens on businesses and that is why I welcome clause 7.

Sadly, ensuring that disabled people are not denied opportunities open to others cannot happen overnight. As hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, a change of attitude is necessary. It will come about, not through the passing of politically correct measures that impose impossible burdens on business, but by creating a climate of persuasion, through education in schools and at the workplace. The hon. Member for Kingswood recognised that when he produced his Bill, as I pointed out when I quoted some Hansard extrats from earlier this year.

The practical measures proposed in the Bill should do much to continue to change attitudes towards the disabled and to enable them to live still more valued and creative lives in our community. For that reason, I commend this constructive Bill to the House.

7.40 pm
Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood)

I welcome this debate and the fact that the Government now recognise the strength of feeling in support of equal rights for disabled people.

What has happened, since the Government killed off the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill last year, to bring forth, first, a ministerial statement, then a consultation document, a change of Minister and a White Paper and now, the Bill? The Government realised the strength of feeling in support of equal rights for disabled people, and the credit for that must go to all the people and organisations that raised public awareness on the issue. I pay special tribute to the "Rights Now" campaign and the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People.

I welcome the Government's recognition of the gross injustice of discrimination against disabled people and the need to do something about it. I also welcome their recognition of the fact that education and persuasion on their own are not sufficient to deal with the issue, and their agreement that legislation is workable and necessary. I do not welcome the Bill, however, and I am not being churlish—an accusation that was levelled at some of my colleagues.

There are massive differences between the Government's Bill and the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. Essentially, the problems with the Government's Bill are that it is not comprehensive and will not be effective or enforceable. Reference was made to the position of the all-party disablement group. It is true that the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam), with whom I have worked closely on the issue for some years as one of the co-chairs of that group, expressed support for the Government's Bill. I must place on record, however, that the view of the all-party disablement group, of which I now happen to be secretary, is more accurately reflected in our submission on the Government's consultation document. The overwhelming majority of members of that group, of all political parties—I stress that—supported the civil rights approach.

Many hon. Members have dealt with the first problem, so I shall be brief. The Bill is certainly not comprehensive; it fails to deal with discrimination in a number of respects and provides for exemptions. Hon. Members have mentioned education and transport because, last Tuesday, the Prime Minister said that they were covered by the Bill. The Minister's device of saying that when the Prime Minister referred to education and transport, he merely meant that the employment provisions of the Bill would apply to those sectors, was ingenious, but it did not fool anyone because the Prime Minister's full answer to the question can be read in Hansard. He dealt with the employment provisions before he identified education and transport as sectors in which the Bill dealt with discrimination.

Clause 12 excludes education and means of transport. I never carelessly charge that the House has been misled and, naturally, if the Prime Minister had implied anything contrary to clause 12, he would have been incorrect. Clause 12 excludes education, the means of transport and some other areas.

I am pleased that the Minister said that exclusions relating to the renting and purchasing of property will be reconsidered, but clause 12 excludes other things, including civic rights, and contains a general provision to enable whatever exclusions the Minister might want. The Bill is not comprehensive if it provides for exclusions.

The employment provisions also show that the Bill is not comprehensive; on the contrary, it is discriminatory. Companies that employ fewer than 20 employees are to be let out. Why? I cannot understand it, nor can the Confederation of British Industry or those who responded to the Government's consultation document.

The red book that I have here—a red book that I find more interesting than the other one to which reference is often made—contains important information about what those consulted on the Government's measures said. In answer to the question, "Should small firms be excluded?" 84 per cent. of consultees said no. That percentage was exceeded only by the percentage of employers who said no—91 per cent. Frankly, I cannot comprehend why the Minister chooses to ignore that response.

Clause 7 deals with exemptions for small businesses and subsection (2) states: The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (1)"— which refers to 20 employees— by substituting, for the number of employees for the time being referred to there, a larger or smaller number. I hoped that the assumption was that the Minister wanted to apply the measures to all firms and that we might start at 20 employees and work down, but the Bill allows him to start at 20 and work up. It is bad enough that one third of employees are to be excluded, but the Minister is giving himself the power to exclude the majority.

The Bill defines a disabled person as someone who has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his"— or her— ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The Government are saying that discrimination is okay and acceptable if impairment is not substantial, and it is fine if it is based on short-term impairment. Discrimination on the basis of past, perceived or expected impairment is also acceptable. I do not believe that that is so, and that is why the definition of disablement needs to be amended for the purposes of the Bill. It should not be lawful to discriminate against someone who has a previous history of mental illness, or is HIV positive and perceived, or expected, to be impaired.

Enforceability is a key issue because the new rights—however limited—will be effective only if they are enforceable. Rights that cannot be enforced are frequently worse than no rights at all, simply because they obscure the true nature of discrimination—one gets the impression that measures are being taken to deal with discrimination, which we all recognise exists, but the situation is not significantly improved if one cannot enforce them and it could be made worse.

Mr. Fabricant

I take the hon. Gentleman's point. If he uses that to argue in favour of his original Bill, rather than this Government Bill, however, does he not accept my earlier quotations, in which I proved that his Bill contained so many opt-outs that it suffered the same deficiencies—his term, not mine, as that is what he implies they are?

Mr. Berry

Of course I agree with the quotation which the hon. Gentleman cited earlier, because I uttered the words in the first place.

One of the fundamental differences between the Government's Bill and the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is the fact that the national disability council proposed in the Government's Bill is no substitute for the disability rights commission because it will not have similar powers to investigate and enforce to those of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Campaign for Racial Equality. Under the Government's proposals, disabled people will find it extremely difficult to enforce their rights. Legal aid is not available for tribunals and is pretty difficult to get for anything else.

On enforcement, we must ask why disabled people are treated fundamentally differently from people who suffer discrimination on grounds of gender and race. The Government say, "Well, it is too bad. In any case, we are not happy about the Equal Opportunities Commission or the Campaign for Racial Equality." The White Paper says that the purpose of the national disability council is to advise the Government on the progress being made to tackle discrimination against disabled people and to advise the Government on measures to reduce or eliminate discrimination". I should have thought that the Government had received all the advice that they need. Organisations of disabled people and many others have been offering advice for years and years. They want the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. If the Government want advice on what disabled people want, they should listen to the "Rights Now" campaign, which represents every major organisation for disabled people—some 50 organisations, which I do not have time to list. They should listen also to the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, which represents another 100 or so organisations and 300,000 individuals. It is understandable why those groups feel that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is the correct approach.

When the Government consulted on their proposals last summer, a number of us asked why they did not consult on the civil rights Bill as well. They refused to do so. Nevertheless, the responses to their consultation document—the red book—show overwhelming support for the civil rights Bill. Of those who mentioned the civil rights Bill, 98 per cent. supported it. Why would the Government want to set up a national disability council to tell them what they already know—that what disabled people want is proper anti-discrimination legislation?

Support for that civil rights approach has come from every organisation of and for disabled people, the 98 per cent. of those who refer to civil rights legislation in the Government's consultation exercise, the all-party disablement group and a clear majority of Members of Parliament. I remind hon. Members that not a single vote was cast last year against the civil rights Bill. Not only did it pass Second Reading by 231 votes to nil, but at no stage on Second Reading or in Committee was a vote cast against a single clause. We all know how the Bill was blocked. It was not because we lost the votes or the arguments.

Hon. Members must determine their position on the Government's proposals and the reasoned amendment. I hope that they will support the amendment in the names of my right hon. and hon. Friends and support the Second Reading of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill sponsored by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) on 10 February. By their actions today and on 10 February, hon. Members can help bring about civil rights for disabled people. If not, we shall demonstrate that, collectively, we are part of the problem.

7.53 pm
Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

I welcome the Government's frank recognition that discrimination against disabled people in our society is extensive, utterly unacceptable and demeaning to us all and that the Government should act to eliminate it.

To exclude people with impairments and disable them from playing the full part that they might is to disable our society and ourselves. It diminishes, or should diminish, our self-respect, for we are members—limbs—one of another in our body politic. By discriminating, we maim our humanity, with incalculable consequences. We also rob ourselves of our economic potential with consequences that are, at least approximately, calculable, although they should be calculated on a proper cost-benefit analysis rather than a one-sided, solely negative compliance cost basis.

Our public debate and the Government's view have developed a long way in the past year or so. The credit for that must go, above all, to the disabled people who have carried the banner of the "Rights Now" campaign. They, with other committed supporters—it gives me pleasure to mention the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), whose speech I follow—have insisted that, in Parliament and Government, we should face our responsibilities.

I also acknowledge that my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott) needed no persuasion on that. His task, on which he was determined, was to persuade others. Since my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People succeeded him in office, he has acted with alacrity and skill to gain acceptance in the Government of much that needs to be done.

I welcome, therefore, the determination that the White Paper and Bill express to end unjustifiable discrimination in employment and the provision of goods and services, as well as to monitor and ensure that good advice is available to the Government. If the Bill, even as it stands, becomes law, disabled people's prospects will be significantly improved. I hope, however, that in its passage through Parliament, it will be amended to carry us further forward.

My hon. Friend states in the White Paper the Government's "one central objective" as being the elimination of discrimination against disabled people". That is exactly as it should be; but the Bill fails to meet that objective in a range of important ways—notably, by offering too little on education, transport, and civic rights and duties.

I welcome the enlargement of the Bill's scope to include the sale and letting of property, which my hon. Friend the Minister announced this afternoon. What we need, however, is a resounding new clause at the head of the Bill to establish a general duty not to discriminate unjustifiably against disabled people in any sphere whatever.

We must improve the definitions in the Bill. The Government have made a morass in schedule 1, where they set out on the impossible task of specifying the meaning of disability. Rather than attempt to enumerate or describe the conditions and contingencies that amount to impairment, my hon. Friend should have accepted the broad definition used in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which draws on the hard-won experience of other countries, notably the United States of America, which are ahead of us in this matter.

My right hon. and hon. Friends used to intimate, as an objection to anti-discrimination legislation, that it would provide a field day for lawyers. Schedule 1, by using expressions such as "clinically well-recognised illness" and circumstances in which … an effect which would otherwise be a long-term effect is to be treated as not being such an effect", will be a positive paradise for lawyers and, by the same token, infernal for disabled people.

I am particularly concerned that the definitions in the Bill will not protect from discrimination people who have a history or reputation of mental illness and people who are HIV positive.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the concern, which was powerfully expressed by the Huntington's Disease Association, a body with which I have had some involvement over the years, the Alzheimer's Disease Society and the Genetic Interest Group, representing more than 100 charities, that paragraph 7(2) of schedule 1 specifically excludes from protection against discrimination people who do not yet show symptoms of a disease but are likely to do so in time because of genetic factors? The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) touched on that subject.

Does my hon. Friend the Minister recognise that that provision will discriminate appallingly against people who have to expect eventually to suffer from a terrible disease such as Huntington's and whose life is difficult enough without being exposed to discrimination in the labour market? Does he realise that that provision will powerfully discourage people from undergoing predictive tests? If those tests produce the feared result, people will at least be able to receive the appropriate medical treatment and plan their lives in the light of the knowledge that the tests provide.

I very much regret that, at this stage, my right hon. Friends do not propose to bring businesses employing fewer than 20 people within the requirement not to discriminate. The concept of reasonableness in the Bill provides the necessary safeguards. It simply cannot be right that people's basic rights as citizens and members of our society should depend on who happens to employ them. It is unimaginable that we would say to an employer who wanted to operate a racist recruitment policy, "Okay, since it is only a small business, you can indulge your prejudice," and that we should enshrine that in law. We should insist no less on basic decency where disabled people's employment is concerned.

I note that it is provided that the threshold of 20 may be changed by regulation. If the Department of Trade and Industry were to pluck up its courage, perhaps we might match the Americans at 15. That, too, would not be good enough. We should straight away match the Australians, and I believe the New Zealanders, who do not allow discrimination in employment in businesses of any size.

I am willing, of course, to contemplate reasonable phasing-in periods. The access-to-work scheme, properly funded by the Government, should also be permanent. We must, however, be determined on this matter of a threshold, because it is in smaller businesses—the most rapidly growing sector, as the hon. Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms Gordon) observed—that discrimination is most often found. It is simply wrong to establish in the law of the land that unreasonable, unjustified discrimination may be condoned anywhere.

It seems that the Government find it peculiarly difficult to reconcile themselves to establishing a disability rights commission with the role and powers to match those of the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission. It really is time that those bodies were redeemed from the demonology of my right hon. Friends' imaginings. They do important good—not by means of for ever meddling and bullying, as certain folklore tells us, but because, by their very existence and by virtue of powers which they rarely use but hold in reserve, they guard against discrimination. A national disability council, such as the Government propose, with powers to advise and draw up codes of practice, but with no powers to investigate and enforce, will be quite insufficient.

All too often, disabled people, whose means are most often less than those of the generality of our fellow citizens, will not be able of themselves to sustain the legal rights created for them in the Bill. There will be no legal aid to assist them in taking cases to industrial tribunals. If this proposed law against discrimination is not to be hollow, it is imperative that a disability rights commission is created with power truly to champion disabled people, individually and in class actions, which, notwithstanding my hon. Friend the Minister's view, could be of great value.

Everyone wants to proceed by good will and conciliation, but we cannot sufficiently depend on that. Powers of enforcement would need to be used only occasionally, but their latent existence is indispensable if we are to overcome prejudice.

My last contention is that the Bill should incorporate provisions to amend the National Assistance Act 1948 to remove the bar to local authority social services departments making cash payments to disabled people, so that, if they wish to do so, they can manage their own budgets for personal and domestic care. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has agreed in principle to remove that obstacle to independent living, but, presumably for reasons of bureaucratic demarcation, the Bill does not so provide.

I recognise, of course, that the detail of a model scheme needs to be worked out carefully, but good progress has already been made. At the request of a number of us, members of the Association of Directors of Social Services submitted a scheme to my right hon. Friend last summer. Disabled people should not have to wait for that provision another year. We should use the legislative opportunity of this Bill to remove the block in primary legislation and the details can be established in secondary legislation or by whatever other means is appropriate.

I shall not support the reasoned amendment and I shall vote for the Bill on Second Reading. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is the model of legislation that I wanted the Government to adopt. It provides the clear-cut affirmation of values and the comprehensive principle that we should assert. However, I accept absolutely the good faith and good will of my hon. Friend the Minister. The Bill contains much that is good and important. We should use it, in a spirit of cross-party co-operation, as a platform on which to build. I will certainly seek to have it amended to improve its definitions and its scope and to incorporate the necessary powers of enforcement.

If the Bill were defeated tonight by Conservative Members supporting the reasoned amendment declining to give the Bill a Second Reading, and if the Government were then, regrettably, not to support the private Member's Bill, there would be no legislative advance for disabled people. Without in any way abandoning our ideals, let us be practical and constructive.

8.5 pm

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate and to follow the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth). In a previous incarnation as a Government Whip he helped me when I piloted my Bill, now known as the Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, through the House. I welcome the balanced approach that he demonstrated tonight.

I welcome the Disability Discrimination Bill. It is gratifying to see that the Government have attained a degree of enlightenment over the plight of the disabled, albeit as a direct result of democratic pressure within the Chamber and from outside. I hasten also to say that despite the fevered imagination of some that a deal has been done with the Ulster Unionists to extend the scope of the Bill to Northern Ireland, that has not happened. I welcome, however, the Minister's announcement to do just that.

The hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) rebuked hon. Members for their adversarial approach to the Bill. The reality is that it is the job of the Opposition parties to test Government proposals and to push them. Because of the legislative method that has been adopted for Northern Ireland over the years—we have had no opportunity to explore, test or amend Bills—some bad legislation has, unfortunately, been introduced. If such an adversarial approach was not taken to the Disability Discrimination Bill, it, too, would run the risk of being bad legislation.

Mr. Barnes

The Government's last-minute concession to extend the scope of the Bill, once it is in Committee, to Northern Ireland may have something to do with the pressure openly exerted by hon. Members who represent Northern Ireland, because four of those hon. Members, who represent different political parties and between whom there are often considerable disagreements, have sponsored my Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. It commands the support of three other political parties of Northern Ireland.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I accept that. If hon. Members remember my intervention during business questions and on other occasions, they will recall that that pressure was exerted openly. Perhaps I am in a unique position tonight because I represent the commonality of political interests in Northern Ireland.

The House will be aware that, for many years, I have been at the forefront of the campaign for disability rights. As the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) has said, I am a co-sponsor of his Bill, which will be discussed by the House soon. That Bill would solve most of the discriminatory problems faced by the disabled, but the Disability Discrimination Bill will not do that. Given my professional background, I might ask,"Who doth hinder the union of the two?", because we might do better to unite those Bills if we are truly concerned about the interests of those with disabilities.

The call for comprehensive legislation on the issue is clear. I am not usually known as a supporter of quangos, but I call in support of my position the Government's own human rights watchdog in Northern Ireland—the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights. Among the recommendations in its recent comprehensive report on disability, the committee comments on the preparation for the Bill. It has done much research in it, some of which is unique. The committee says: the Commission has become convinced that the proposals in the government consultation paper do not represent an adequate response to the issues revealed by the research. In effect they do not meet the concerns identified by the research team in respect of, for example, education, employment and mobility. The rights predicated in the paper seem unenforceable in practice—since legal aid would not be available and there is no provision for an effective enforcement agency. There we have it—an honest opinion by, I believe, an independent Government body.

The report commends the former Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill introduced in the previous Session by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), which is being introduced again by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East. I have received a similar message from people involved in disability action in Northern Ireland.

As I understand it, the Bill fails in several aspects. I acknowledge that it is complex in many ways. 1 was amused when the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) commented that there were more advisers in the Box than there were hon. Members on the Back Benches. He would have been more accurate if he had looked at those on the Conservative Back Benches at the time, because throughout the debate the Opposition have normally been running ahead of them and we are now just about equal.

Clause 7 states that the Bill will not apply to small businesses with fewer than 20 employees. That has been mentioned before, but it is doubly unfortunate in the Northern Ireland context, for I understand that about 90 per cent. of companies in Northern Ireland have fewer than 10 employees. That fact makes nonsense of the provisions in the Bill. It is not the size of a firm or, for that matter, the turnover of the firm, that matters, but the fact that someone who is able to work in a specific post is disqualified from doing so—and sometimes not even interviewed for a post because he or she may have some disability.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) referred to the second issue to which I shall draw the House's attention—genetic testing. I am worried about genetic screening and access to that information. The narrow definition of disability will discriminate against those people who can be identified by predictive genetic testing as being at risk of becoming disabled as a result of genetic causes.

I understand that the Minister of State, Department of Employment, who will reply to the debate, may have some anxieties, as I have, at another level about genetic testing, but it appears to me that the information from such tests, were it to be made available, might also be used to discriminate against a person applying for insurance cover, for example. Legislation that takes into account the rapid developments in genetic engineering must be included in the Bill.

One of the objections to the earlier Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was its cost, the estimates of which escalated beyond human comprehension. Many of the objections revolved around transport costs—the costs of new coaches, buses and so on. I understand that one of the figures quoted was that an increase of about 25 per cent. on the usual cost of a bus would be required if we were to provide an integrated transport system by road for people with disability—and age can also be a disability if one wishes to hop on a bus.

The issue is interesting. I spoke today to a Northern Ireland coach company, Robert Wright and Son of Ballymena, and I can give the House at least some good news. That company is in the process of finalising its plans and announcing that it will manufacture other low access coaches, which can carry as many as 70 people at a cost of only about 5 per cent. in excess of current bus prices. I believe that there is a message there for the Department and others: that we should make urgent progress down the road in renewing our coaches at a level that is economically viable, and which will facilitate people with disabilities.

Other anxieties have been mentioned today. In the Bill and the accompanying paper, "Disability—on the Agenda", the Government have relied on good will and on what is "reasonable" to make the legislation work. Will the Minister accept that legislation ring-fenced with exceptions is no solution? That applies to the problems with education.

I understand, for example, that in the North Antrim area where, a few years ago, there had been an increase in the number of young people being integrated into normal education, they are now being siphoned off into special care schools because the problem of access has not been properly tackled. I believe that that is contrary to the education provision. It is certainly contrary to the intentions of those of us who have campaigned for the right of people with disabilities to be integrated into mainstream education.

Among Government Departments, the Department of Health has not been a star performer in employing people with disability under the quota system. It has been recognised that the quota system failed to have an effect on discrimination against disabled people. Surely that points to the need for a foolproof system of policing the proposals.

Although I welcome the step that has been taken along the road, there remains a long way to go. If anyone says, "We have been doing the best we can," I am always mindful of the colleague with whom I was an assistant minister as a young man. On one occasion, in the General Assembly, a convenor pleaded, "We have been doing the best we can," and Dr. Martin went to the rostrum and said, "Moderator, their best is not good enough." If this is the best that the Government can do, I hope that they will hasten to marry the two Bills together, even in Committee.

8.17 pm
Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People on introducing the Bill. It builds on substantial work that the Government have done for disabled people for a very long time, starting long before the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was even invented.

It is worth noting that spending on benefits for long-term sick and disabled people and their carers has increased to £17 billion in the past year; that is almost as much as we spend on national defence. Therefore, no one could say that there is not a whole-hearted and deep commitment by the Government to support the wishes of the disabled.

Although the Opposition, by and large, have been very grudging about the Bill, I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne), who described the Bill as a welcome step in the right direction". Coming from the hon. Lady, that is significant, because she and I have not always agreed, and we shall probably disagree about many issues for some time.

None the less, I welcome a lower tone, greater calm and, on the whole, a desire by many people to ensure that the Bill can be workable. I have spoken to many disabled people who freely tell me that the Government's Bill is a good Bill and an excellent start in the process to right many wrongs which have not been dealt with so far. As one disabled person said to me only yesterday, "It has great merits—there is no question of that."

The Bill strikes a balance between justifiable aims and what is possible in terms of provision. It is a courageous effort when we bear in mind the fact that the interests of disabled people have, in the past year, been clouded by highly charged emotion, aspirations and political activism that has tended to cause disarray and concern among disabled people. In Sutton, disabled people have been alarmed and unnecessarily frightened at the idea that we are not trying to help them.

It is significant that the Bill has been put together on the basis of extensive consultation. All told, more than 1,000 people or organisations have responded in writing. My hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People has received scores of interest groups and has travelled across the country to meet others. Above all, he has listened and taken careful note of the views of enablers—businesses, Government agencies and local government—in his efforts to improve provision for the disabled. He is, rightly, deeply conscious of the financial burden that such groups will bear. It was never realistic to expect them to finance to the tune of £17 billion the changes proposed in the private Member's Bill.

I voted for and supported the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill on Second Reading. But I did so because I supported the spirit of it. What had not been made clear at that time and only became clear afterwards was the burden of costing that outweighed the Bill's possible advantages. The Government's Bill is expected to limit the costs to about £1.5 billion, which will be phased in over 15 years. The cost to an average business could range from £500 to £1,500 over that period.

Mr. Alan Howarth

My hon. Friend has argued in favour of a lower tone and against political activism. Does she also agree that fair-minded analysis is important and that, as well as the cost that a measure may carry, we should also look carefully at its economic benefits?

Lady Olga Maitland

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. It is always important to look at both sides of the equation. I hope that, as the Bill progresses to its Committee stage, that will happen.

The greatest chance of success is to develop policies that encourage individual effort—going with the grain of the market rather than imposing untenable requirements. In my constituency, the Sutton alliance of disabled people—an energetic and articulate group—appreciates the consultations that have been held so far. I have worked closely with that group, which has given the Bill careful thought and come up with some useful ideas.

One proposal that the group could have made could be integrated at a later stage: easier access to information on where disabled people can go for support and advice. Only this evening a disabled Sutton constituent came to visit the Houses of Parliament. She had no idea whether she could park her car outside Members' Entrance. Only after extensive phone calls did she tumble to the idea of calling her Member of Parliament. We should work far harder to ensure that the disabled community understand where help can be obtained.

The Bill cannot hope to satisfy everyone—no Bill can ever do that. I am sorry that the Opposition were so grudging that they could not give the Government any credit. Why? I think that it was because the Bill does address the deep concerns of disabled people. The Bill recognises the distress, frustration and humiliation experienced by them. They should not have to tolerate being treated as third-rate citizens—as, at best, an inconvenience, or, at worst, imbeciles.

When it is clear that reliance on common decency fails, a statutory framework can undoubtedly help to remedy the wrongdoing. The Bill breaks new ground over and above the consultation document, and I shall mention three ways in which it does so.

First, our society is the poorer if able-minded but physically disabled people are unable to work because we are unimaginative about how to assimilate them into the working environment. By making it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a disabled person, we will make the employer think all the more carefully about the talents of that disabled applicant. Although the provision applies only to companies employing 20 or more people, we must remember that it will account for 82 per cent. of the businesses in this country, leaving just small and potentially vulnerable companies out of the equation.

I support the remarks made by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber that we should keep an open mind as to whether the 20-employee limit is appropriate. If it is not suitable, we should reduce it to a lower level and learn from the experiences of companies in Australia and New Zealand.

It is not unreasonable to expect companies to make reasonable adjustments to working conditions to facilitate disabled people. Such measures need not be draconian, and could incorporate flexible hours or merely moving a desk. As my hon. Friend the Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) explained so powerfully, we need more will—and where there is a will, there is always a way.

The second way in which the Bill breaks new ground involves the conciliation services. The crucial element in solving any dispute is to make full use of the locally based conciliation service—the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service—with the co-operation and support of the local citizens advice bureau. No one wants bureaucratic delays when confronted by a problem. People seek fast remedies and easily accessible advice and support—that aim is most effectively achieved through ACAS, whose personnel, as they are locally based, can see the employers or the providers of services immediately.

The experience of the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality shows that 90 per cent. of all disagreements are settled in that way. That is not to say that someone who is dissatisfied cannot go to an industrial tribunal—that has always been an employee's right. I support the comments made by hon. Members on both sides of the House that we should reflect on whether, when a disabled person is seeking redress in that way, he should be entitled to legal aid.

The third innovative measure in the Bill is its introduction of the national disability council—an important step. As it is, no other concerned group—ethnic minorities or those seeking redress for lack of equal opportunities—has a Minister directly answerable to it. It is significant that there is a Minister with responsibility for the disabled who provides ready access to all who need it.

Mr. Berry

I was not aware that the Bill proposed that the Minister should be answerable to disabled people. One might think that, if the Minister were answerable to them, he would introduce the Bill that disabled people want.

Lady Olga Maitland

I think that the hon. Gentleman is splitting hairs.

The Government are going one stage further by establishing the national disability council—which will act as the Minister's eyes and ears. The council will closely monitor progress on the Bill—spotting where measures need tightening up and making recommendations to the Minister. Nobody should fall between two stools, without a substantial and authoritative organisation to which he can refer.

Quite rightly, at least half the council's members will be people with disabilities, or the parents or guardians of people with disabilities. With an input from a group of people who, to date, have demonstrated their ability to articulate their concerns, I have no doubt that the council will be effective, but it might be helpful were the council also to include representatives from recognised organisations for the disabled such as the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation and the Spinal Injuries Association.

Finally, I turn to the question of disabled access. Common sense must prevail; we must be reasonable about access demands on public buildings and places of employment. I welcome the focus on improved access for disabled people at railway stations. It is certainly good news for commuters in my constituency who have a choice of nine railway stations, all of which have access problems. By seeking reasonable changes there is more chance of immediate redress. For example, a restaurant could be required to designate a table with sufficient space for disabled people. A tiny corner shop would be within the law if it installed a bell outside which disabled people could ring in order to be served.

The Bill will make it illegal to refuse to serve disabled customers. Making it easier for disabled people to shop can only be good for retailers who will benefit from the increased custom. That has been the experience in Sutton, where there are extensive high street facilities for the disabled, including wheelchair access.

I commend the determination of the Government in promoting the Bill and I particularly congratulate the Prime Minister on taking such a personal interest in it. We must ensure that the Bill promotes action which is practical, workable, enforceable and fair for all. I reject the Opposition amendment and I will have great pleasure in supporting the Government in the Division Lobby.

8.30 pm
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)

When I reintroduce the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill on 10 February, I shall have the chance to make a substantial speech on this subject. On that occasion I hope to gain support for the Bill in order to secure its Second Reading. I wish to direct my remarks tonight to the current legislation and I shall advocate my own measure on 10 February.

Of Conservative Members who have spoken, I compliment the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) on his speech. Although there are serious tactical differences between us about how to vote tonight, his arguments are based solidly upon experience, upon a clear analysis of the situation and, above all, upon the correct principles. I could argue that he is rather naive in supporting the Government's position rather than the reasoned amendment, but I respect that judgment because I respect the person who made it.

I trust that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon will explain to the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), who has just spoken, why the Government's legislation is inadequate. Society does not want to see provision for bells outside shops, which will reinforce the idea that disabled people have special problems and should be treated differently. Disabled people should have easy access to all public buildings, as well as benefiting from the measures that are in the Bill that the hon. Lady supports.

I feel entirely justified in my decision to select the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill as a private Member's Bill. I could have had egg on my face, as the Queen's Speech foreshadowed that the Government intended to introduce their own Bill in this area. However, I based my judgment upon the fact that the Government were not likely to introduce adequate legislation. Although it is an advance for the Government to introduce any legislation at all in this area, I believed that the Government's measure would block off further advancement by disabled people rather than extend the opportunities that are demanded.

That is what has occurred. This Bill is entirely inadequate. The long titles of the two Bills describe the scope of each piece of legislation. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill will allow amendments to be made that will extend the boundaries of that legislation. That scope is not contained in the Government's Bill. In fact, such measures are specifically limited and blocked. In order to carry amendments to the Government Bill in Committee, hon. Members will have to make amendments to the long title of the Bill and change the nature of the legislation. In effect, we shall have to change chalk into cheese. We shall have to make fantastic alterations to the legislation. The council will have to he changed to a commission and the definition in the Bill will have to be based on entirely different principles.

The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is not my Bill; it is not a Bill to which any one person can lay claim. It has evolved from a movement in society. I am merely taking up the baton that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) carried last year. I have picked it up because I believe that the measure is right for this time.

I introduced a different measure two years ago dealing with electoral registration. That subject is very dear to my heart and it would have been easy to reintroduce it and carry on the campaign with which I have been involved. However, that argument is still developing; it needs to be extended and it needs to receive more publicity—its time will come. The time has come for extensive and comprehensive civil rights for disabled people. Such rights should not be constrained by the very limited and often contradictory measures in the Government's legislation.

When the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People introduced the Bill on behalf of the Government, I said that I would introduce the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill unless someone else picked it up before me. I was disappointed that the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) did not pick it up, given his experience in the area of disability. He has now said that the Government measure can be altered and advanced and that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is in some way counter-productive.

If the Opposition's reasoned amendment is not carried tonight and if progress is made with the Government Bill, the private Member's Bill that I propose to introduce on 10 February will put continuous pressure on the Government. It is the marker against which the Government Bill will be judged.

I recognise that this legislation represents a big step by the Government; they have crossed the Rubicon by contemplating and producing legislation about disablement. The problem is that it is a very small step for disabled people. It will not get them anywhere; it will barely take them past the Rubicon—in fact, the Bill's provisions may push them backwards.

Conservative Members are faced with a dilemma. Can the Government Bill be amended to operate in some meaningful way, or should the all-embracing measure of civil rights for disabled people be placed on the political agenda? They could then seek to offer amendments within the spirit of the legislation that is put forward.

The problems with the Government Bill have been described in considerable detail by Opposition Members. The most highly restrictive definition of disablement is set out in part I and schedule 1 of the Bill. The figures in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill relating to the numbers of people involved have never been disputed and were used in connection with cost assessment. It was a false assessment, but it was based on the same numbers of people.

It has always been estimated that 6.5 million people would be covered by the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. Can the Minister tell us how many people will be covered by the Disability Discrimination Bill as it stands?

We have heard about all the interest groups that are worried about being excluded. They have been quoted by hon. Members representing four political parties who have raised important issues. The Bill refers to those with substantial disabilities and those with long-term disabilities and states that the categories involved will be decided and explained in guidance issued by the Secretary of State. Do we trust the Secretary of State to provide the broadest possible definitions? We may finish up with an extremely limited measure.

I hope that, before we vote on the Bill, we shall be told what number the Government believe it will cover, compared with the 6.5 million covered by the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.

Mr. Alfred Morris

It is possible that the Minister could help us now by giving that figure, which it seems to me is a crucial figure, not just for the purposes of my hon. Friend's argument, but in terms of the whole debate about the Bill.

Mr. Barnes

The Minister certainly has plenty of assistance and it must be possible that the figures have been calculated somewhere within the civil service and that there could be at least a rough and ready addition to enlighten the House.

It is possible to argue that the definition in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is very wide and is in danger of becoming almost too wide. On the other hand, it has been argued that the definitions and provisions in the current Bill could lead to problems concerning litigation.

The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill needs almost no definition apart from the word "disabled". It provides that the argument that someone is disabled cannot be used by an employer, a provider of services or someone providing access to a building and that no one should be able to say, "No, you cannot come here or do this because you are disabled." Therefore, the word needs to be interpreted very broadly indeed.

People can be disabled in many ways and the eye of the beholder who is doing the discrimination needs to be taken into account. Some people are clearly disabled, such as those suffering from various chronic illnesses and those with mental impairments, and they are mentioned in one of the schedules to the Bill. The definition is so restricted, however, that what occurs is something of an obscenity—exceptions are included to further limit the definition.

Having defined certain people who are to be considered disabled, the Bill exempts certain circumstances. Restrictions on the scope of the Bill are then built into existing restrictions, reducing still further what it covers. The figures, therefore, do not need simply to say how many people would qualify under the definition; one has then to subtract the number exempted under clause 5, which lists the circumstances in which less favoured treatment is permitted.

Some of the language in the Bill is most unfortunate. It states that less favoured treatment is justified and details circumstances in which people can get away with unacceptable behaviour.

It has already been mentioned that, on the role of employers, the opinion of the employer appears to matter most. When a case goes to court or to an industrial tribunal, what is being judged is the opinion of the employer. If the opinion of the employer is genuinely that the case did not involve a category covered by the measure, the measure will not be able to be produced in law, even if services are available to help people who go to industrial tribunals, thereby facing the considerable financial difficulties that were discussed earlier.

A whole range of issues has been raised by hon. Members, including the Bill not applying to workplaces with fewer than 20 workers. Those companies are not necessarily financially strapped and unable to make provision for disabled people. In the new computer age, a small employer can often make considerable profits, but profitability is not a consideration. As has already been pointed out, the Minister can not only reduce the figure, but can increase the figure when pressures are applied by industry, and the legislation is no longer being discussed in the House and the subject is no longer of prime consideration.

We have had considerable discussion of the problems in transport and education. Subsections (5) and (6) of clause 12 explain all the sectors of education, under different funding regimes, to which the legislation will not apply. It is part of the list of exemptions. Surely we should know what in education is not covered by the exemptions. Are there forms of education—private or state—where the law will have to apply? Is there any reason why we are given a list of exemptions?

Clause 12(3)(f) says: the services of any profession or trade, or local or other public authority are covered by the Bill. Why does it not say "except education", thus ruling out the need for another half page? There must be something in education to which the measure applies, so may we have the details before we consider the Bill on Report as to what that something is? Otherwise, we shall be legislating blindly.

The Bill as it stands does not apply to Northern Ireland although we have been told that an adjustment will be made, and of course we believe that that will take place. In a meaningful contribution, the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) pointed out that the number of small firms operating in Northern Ireland is greater than anywhere else within the United Kingdom, so more people are being excluded in Northern Ireland. At least hon. Members representing Northern Ireland will now have the opportunity to table amendments and argue their case in Committee—if they are on that Committee—and on Report, to defend their interests and to join the rest of us in improving the Bill.

When I submitted the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, I took the precaution of seeking support from all parts of the House. In the rush, I did not manage to persuade a Conservative Member who took the Whip, but I do have the support of one who does not have the Whip. I have the support also of hon. Members from eight other political parties, including all four Northern Ireland parties. They are often at loggerheads in the House in respect of Northern Ireland issues, but are united on civil rights for disabled people.

I subsequently secured the approval of three other Northern Ireland political parties outside the House. I await responses from Sinn Fein and two Protestant parties more closely associated with paramilitary groups. There might be some embarrassment about them saying that they support civil rights for disabled people, because in the past, such groups have been associated with forms of militarism that created much disablement.

However, if one gets away from constitutional and border issues in Northern Ireland, it is amazing how much across-the-board support there is for worthwhile issues—and nothing could be more basic than my Bill. For example, there was unanimity—other than the small Conservative party that exists in Northern Ireland—in opposing the student loans system, from Democratic Unionists to Sinn Fein.

Last year, the Government talked out the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. This year, their tactic is that such a Bill would not work, or would cause considerable political damage. They have jumped ahead of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill and are seeking to persuade the public, by capturing some of its language, that they are following its principles.

The Government produced a White Paper that was available in the Vote Office at 12 o'clock a week last Thursday, and the Government Bill was given its First Reading at 4.15 pm the same day. How much consultation could be undertaken in four and a quarter hours on a Bill already in the Vote Office and waiting to be distributed? The White Paper was about news management. It was produced in the hope that the media would concentrate on its content rather than examine the Bill—and it needs examining.

One must question also the Government Bill's implementation. The beauty of a disability rights commission is that it would provide a mechanism to advance the rights conferred by the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. There will be various defences of reasonableness in different firms, so initial protection might not be as great as it could be. However, the commission would act in a dynamic fashion, so that the boundaries of discrimination would be pushed back further and further.

The council established by the Government Bill to advise the Secretary of State would in no way be equivalent to the commission, 75 per cent. of whose members would be disabled or associated with disabled organisations. The commission would submit codes of practice for the House to consider and to be transferred to the Secretary of State, but under the Government Bill, the House would have to consider codes of practice presented by the Secretary of State. The commission would be served by persons independent of the Department, who would present their considered opinions, on which the House could then decide. The House might even refer matters back to the commission if it did not seem to be moving in the right direction. That arrangement would help alert the House to what should be happening.

The commission would be the conciliating and service body for disabled people taking on the law. I do not trust a Secretary of State in a Conservative Government to do anything to advance the interests of disabled people. Despite the kind words said about the current Minister, who is quite a pleasant fellow, and about his predecessor, the Minister is controlled by the Secretary of State. The record of the current Secretary of State for Social Security does nothing for Opposition Members, and must strike the fear of God into some Conservative Members.

Instead of plodding ahead with the limiting and restrictive Government Bill, I hope that the House will support the reasoned amendment, which would replace it with the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne), who has just returned to her place, recently tabled two written questions. She asked whether the Secretary of State will produce a copy of the Disability Discrimination Bill using pictures and simple text to make it available to people with learning difficulties."—[Official Report,20 January 1995; Vol. 252, c. 754.] The Minister answered that the Department would put some stuff on audio cassette and that a simplified written version was available. That version is not for people with learning difficulties, and work must be done on that.

If the Bill is meant to apply, albeit inadequately, to people with learning difficulties, they should have some access to its content and the ability to make judgments, so that they may put pressure on their elected representatives to defend their interests.

Mr. Corbett

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Government acknowledge that, of the £1 million spent on advertising their efforts in this area, only £2,000 has been spent on producing material in Braille and on audio cassette? Does he agree that that speaks volumes about the nature of the Government's commitment?

Mr. Barnes

That just serves to illustrate my point.

The second question asked by the hon. Member for Rochdale concerned the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. She asked whether copies of the Bill using pictures and simple text would be provided for people with learning difficulties. The answer amounted to, "That's up to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East." The Government would offer no assistance.

Any hon. Member who is lucky in the ballot can draw £200 for legal advice when drafting his Bill. I ask the House to imagine how far £200 will go to procure legal advice. If the amount had been updated in line with inflation, it would now be worth more than £1,400. Meanwhile, hon. Members are given no real assistance to produce a text in the required form.

Luckily, however, there are people who are organised and who are doing the job. Simone Aspis, of the organisation People First, has produced a draft document on the Bill in just the form required. If People First, with its limited resources, can produce such a document, why cannot the Government? I am proud to see that ours is the first Bill that the organisation has ever produced in that way, although it has done other similar documents. The Government should think again about the assistance that should be given to hon. Members to introduce Bills connected with disability. People First could do with some more resources from public funds to carry out more work of that nature.

It is vital that we get the principles right, and that hon. Members on both sides of the House understand them. A Conservative Member said earlier that he was on the same wavelength as us even though he might vote differently—

Mr. Alfred Morris

My hon. Friend is on to a very important point about some severely disabled people. The early-day motion on this subject is widely supported; its message is that, unless we improve communication with severely disabled people, they are not just second-class citizens—they are non-people. As my hon. Friend will know, Simone Aspis has been instrumental in bringing this issue to the attention of Members on both sides of the House. Will my hon. Friend accept that there are people in all parts of the House who strongly endorse what he is saying now?

Mr. Barnes

It is indeed an important early-day motion, and Simone Aspis's organisation is important, too. Although I am not supposed to mention this, I might add that she has been the only person to stay in the Gallery throughout the debate today.

We shall return to the debate on 10 February. I hope that all Members present for this debate and voting tonight will he here again then. I hope that people outside will continue to apply pressure to their Members of Parliament, asking them to come along and support our Bill. It is not my Bill, but I have picked it up and I am running with it. This is my chance to get it passed; we must get it through on this occasion.

9.2 pm

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

I am pleased to speak in this debate after my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes). I face the disadvantage, speaking so late, that it will be difficult for me not to repeat much of what has been said—but I shall try to avoid doing so.

I want to concentrate on the definition of rights, the costs of the Bill and its enforcement. Like a number of other Conservative Members, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) suggested that Opposition Members are being churlish, in that we should recognise that the Bill is a step in the right direction. We might have acknowledged that had we not known for a long time that something much better was on offer. There is already a much better Bill that could take the place of this one.

I deal first with definition and who is covered. It has been said that the definition is inadequate, that it is narrower than it should be, and that it is a negative definition that leaves out people with a "history or reputation" of disability—the terms that are used in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. As an example, I refer to people with HIV and AIDS. Clearly, there will be people, particularly some employers, who will treat people who are HIV positive or who have AIDS as disabled. They will discriminate against them. The definition in the Bill may well cover some people—most probably people in the advanced stages of AIDS who may be suffering physical impairment. The irony is that such people are least likely to seek employment and benefit from the Bill's provisions.

It is much more likely that people with HIV will be discriminated against, because an employer will perceive it as a disability. The issue of perception is important. The way in which people are perceived impacts on the way in which they are treated. If an employer perceives a disability that he or she believes will increase costs or reduce efficiency, they are likely to act on that perception. The person who is discriminated against will have no remedy through the provisions of the Bill as it stands.

Reputation is important. The sort of provision that was covered in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, and which is covered in other countries, for example, the United States and Australia, protects the individual. The issue becomes not, for example, whether a person has HIV, but rather whether they are being discriminated against because an employer believes that that person has HIV. That is what happens. That person's HIV status does not even have to be proved or disclosed. It is the fact that they have been discriminated against that matters.

Mr. Alfred Morris

Why does my hon. Friend think that the Government have specifically excluded the people, the victims of discrimination, to whom he has referred?

Mr. Gerrard

What we are up against are the costs of a full definition and full civil rights—to which I was going to refer later—and what the Government believe, falsely, those costs would be. I will return to that point later.

In opening the debate, the Minister referred to discussions that the Government will have with the insurance industry. I very much hope that HIV will be raised, because clearly it is an area in which the insurance industry discriminates at present.

I have used HIV as an example, but I am sure that many other people will recognise that similar problems apply to many other conditions. Obvious examples are people with epilepsy, which may in some cases have a serious effect on their physical abilities, but which in other cases is quite trivial and has no relationship to that person's ability to do a particular job.

The matter of rights that are established has been frequently referred to and I do not want to repeat what has been said, with the exception of one point on employment—that the majority of employers will not be covered because of the limitation on the number of employees to 20.

In the US, the limit is 15, but the interesting point about its approach is that, under US legislation, the number starts at 25, with an automatic reduction to 15 after two years. In the US, the approach was quite clear from the beginning. The intention was to bring the number down. As a number of hon. Members said earlier this evening, many of us would prefer an approach that did not depend on a number. Many hon. Members have said that we should not exempt anybody. It would be useful if the Minister explained just how the Government intend to use the provision in the Bill that allows the number to be changed, because as it stands, it can be used to go either way—up or down. That is a significant difference from the approach that was taken in the US.

As has been said, we will have two classes of disabled employee; some who are protected and some who are not. The gaps in the definition and the failure to go for a full civil rights approach are due to costs. The Government talk about the cost of implementing the legislation from the point of view of compliance. That is one side of the equation. But nothing is said about the cost of not implementing sufficiently tough legislation.

The position on costs is summed up in the preamble to the American legislation, which says: The continuing existence of unfair and unnecessary discrimination and prejudice denies people with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an equal basis, and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous, and costs the United States billions of dollars in unnecessary expenses resulting from dependency and nonproductivity. In other words, there should be a rounded look at the whole economic picture.

Compare that with the British Government's attitude, looking at one side of the equation, setting a limit of 20 or more employees, and their failure to accept a full definition and full civil rights. They look at only one side of the cost equation.

I come now to enforcement which, in some ways, is the most disappointing part of the Bill. It is not as if we have not had experience in Britain and elsewhere of constructing legislation to deal with discrimination in order to ensure that people have rights that can be enforced. But the Bill provides a dreadfully weak enforcement mechanism. Individuals will be left to try to fight their way through the legal system alone without legal aid and with no real help.

Compare this Bill with other attempts to prevent discrimination. I am most familiar with race discrimination and the work of the Commission on Racial Equality. The CRE can help individuals to deal with their own cases, but it has other powers as well, such as the power to take investigative action independent of an individual's complaint, to establish good practice, to make findings against organisations, public and private, and to take class actions.

I do not pretend that there are not still problems with the way in which that system operates. The CRE does not fight enough industrial tribunal cases, and it can deal with only a few high-profile cases. But that approach and its successes are lessons from which we should learn. The lesson is clear: we need a disability rights commission which can help individuals to initiate cases and obtain legal aid where necessary.

We are told that an individual will be able to go to an industrial tribunal, but that is not easy. Industrial tribunals—perhaps we should consider this in a wider sense—have become the province of lawyers in a way that was never envisaged when they were first established. Now, large organisations brief QCs to defend them at an industrial tribunal. That is not the way that industrial tribunals were originally expected to work. There is no question but that it puts individuals, particularly individuals without an organisation behind them, at a significant disadvantage. Moreoever, the system is already overloaded, with long waits for hearings.

It is also particularly difficult now for individuals who feel that they have been discriminated against when applying for employment to work through the industrial tribunal system. They are least likely to have the support of an organisation such as a trade union. The key point is that help should be available. There is no point in providing a remedy and then ensuring that some people will not be able to use that remedy because no mechanism exists to help them to do so.

We need a commission with investigative powers to take general cases. It should not only monitor discrimination, but uncover it. None of us should be under any illusions that it will be easy to remove discrimination, both direct and indirect, against people with disabilities. The Bill and the Government's approach fail to recognise the full effects of indirect discrimination. From experience of racial discrimination, we know that institutionalised discrimination is the most difficult to tackle, especially on the basis of individual cases or claims. That is why one needs a commission that can investigate, and people who can take class actions. We should not rely all the time on one individual trying to fight his way through the system on his own.

It is far too easy for us to assume that, because of the number of people who are prepared perhaps to stand up publicly and to make aggressive, abusive or hostile remarks about disabled people, such deep-seated prejudice does not exist. It is clear that prejudice exists against people with HIV, and that is mot the only example that one could quote. The evidence still exists that there is systematic prejudice and discrimination.

There have been improvements in the past 15 years, but the majority of those improvements have occurred simply through disabled people and organisations for the disabled fighting for their rights. Discrimination will not disappear. Things will not improve just through persuasion. Certainly, we need education, but that on its own will not be enough; nor will legislation that is not enforced. That is the message that we receive from tackling other areas of discrimination and from other countries.

In the autumn, I was in Washington and I took the opportunity to visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. I specifically asked about its experiences in the past two years of implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act. Its view was that there had been some problems in getting started and that it was early days. Essentially, however, it had a very positive view of the Act's effect.

That Act is not enforced through vague rights that individuals are left to enforce on their own. It is enforced through duties on the commission, on the Attorney General, and on the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. That is a recognition of the power that Governments can have in using their economic spending to influence the private sector. I know that contract compliance is the last thing that would be popular with the Government, but that sort of approach has been recognised by Governments in other countries as being valuable and as making a difference.

If we are serious about anti-discrimination legislation, we are required to be serious about its enforcement. Yes, we have to change attitudes and challenge prejudices. One does not do everything through legislation; an educative process is needed. It is certain, however, that without adequate enforcement, the provisions will fail.

9.18 pm
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington)

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), who has consistently supported and worked strongly on behalf of people with disabilities. He was the 17th Back Bencher to make a speech in the debate today. I am glad that the Leader of the House is here, although I am not supposed to see that. It is a great shame that people with disabilities who need to use wheelchairs have no access to the Galleries of the House, and that they must sit on the outside of those Galleries. I hope that that matter can be quickly put right.

In a curious way, there has been consensus in the debate: even those who spoke in favour of the Bill went on to criticise some or all of the inadequacies highlighted by our reasoned amendment. I suppose that that was to be expected, but I hope that it will be taken on board by, in particular, the Minister—whose responsibilities are new to him—because there has not been unqualified support for what he and the Government propose.

I especially commend the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry)—who fought such a valiant and skilful battle in the last Session, in the face of Government skulduggery, to put his Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill on the statute book—and my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), who has now taken up the torch and will exhibit equal determination and tenacity in his efforts to do more to meet the demands of people with disabilities.

In the run-up to the Bill, the Minister and his officials told organisations of and for disabled people and their carers and families that, following the Government's consultation paper, all the issues were up for discussion. Some felt that, on that basis, there was no need for the Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood: if need be, parts of his Bill could be transferred to the Government measure in the form of amendments. They now know better.

The Government's words were an attempt to throw dust in the people's eyes after their shameful behaviour over the Bill presented in the last Session. The issues are not, and never were, "all up for discussion"; the best that was up for discussion was contained in the long title of the Government's Bill, which—as several speakers have pointed out today—was restrictively drawn.

The Bill is nowhere near comprehensive enough, and its limited scope rules out areas in which organisations of and for disabled people and their carers demand and deserve action. I may say to the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson)—and to others who, with less charm, chided us for tabling our reasoned amendment—that it is not our fault that there was no co-operation over the Government measure; the Opposition have co-operated for 13 years, and we still have no legislation guaranteeing civil rights for disabled people.

Had the Government wished to proceed on the basis of consultation, they could have consulted us—and every other party represented on either side of the House—to try to achieve the consensus of which the hon. Lady spoke. I acknowledge immediately that the 6.5 million people with disabilities outside the House, their families and their carers would have preferred us to proceed on that basis, but it was not the Opposition but the Government who chose not to make that possible.

The Bill is, of course, a timorous step forward, but we invite the House to deny it a Second Reading so that the Government can do better, perhaps by taking over the Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East. As has been said—none of this is new—the Bill is inadequate: its definition of disability is restrictive and exclusive, and it fails to tackle the vital question of access to education for people with learning difficulties.

It excludes firms with fewer than 20 employees from anti-discrimination protection, and provides no timetables for the removal of that phoney threshold. The Bill also does nothing to help people on to buses and trains, although the places from which they leave are covered. It is silent on any financial help to employers to take on people with disabilities, or to help speed access to buildings offering services. It lacks any real attempt to co-ordinate enforcement and to help spread good practice.

I wish to mention six good reasons why the House should not accept the Bill, but there are others which other hon. Members have mentioned.

Mr. Thurnham


Mr. Corbett

If the hon. Gentleman listens, he will understand the sense of what has been said from all around the Chamber today about the illogical and silly way in which the Government have tried to help people with disabilities.

I want to go through the' six reasons quickly. The British Council of Organisations of Disabled People—Jane Campbell of the council has been watching our proceedings all day—complained that the definition of disability is based on the medical model. That would exclude elderly disabled people who do not suffer from what the Bill labels "a disease", people with a disease such as multiple sclerosis who are not prevented from carrying on most tasks but who might—in employment—be considered unfit for work, and people with HIV who experience some of the most severe forms of discrimination.

I will give the House an example of the narrow and flawed thinking of the Government. Clause 14, about which Mencap is concerned, deals with the circumstances in which the Government say that it is all right to discriminate—for instance, under subsection (3), because a disabled person is incapable of entering into an enforceable agreement or of giving an informed consent".

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Miss Ann Widdecombe)

indicated assent

Mr. Corbett

The Minister agrees. If she will wait, she can comment when she winds up.

Mencap believes that that measure alone could deny about 250,000 people their right to equal access. Mencap cites the examples of people wanting to open a bank account, needing medical or dental treatment, wanting to make rental agreements or even wanting to take out council house tenancies. What is the intention there? Whom is the measure supposed to cover? Surely the people who meet the definition in the Bill are likely to be looked after already by the court of protection.

Miss Widdecombe


Mr. Corbett

I am glad to hear that. If they are protected, does not the measure simply widen the grounds on which it remains lawful to discriminate?

I remind Ministers that in any event the Law Commission is due to report in March on the whole issue of capacity and decision making. I would like the Minister today at least to undertake that she will consider the recommendations of the Law Commission as the Bill proceeds, and that she will consider tabling amendments here or in another place to implement those which impact on the Bill.

Perhaps the greatest hole in the Bill—I believe that it is of great significance, and many of my hon. Friends have also spoken about it—is its failure properly to tackle discrimination in education. Barnardo's says: The quality of education provision disabled children receive, will play a major part in their subsequent integration into adult life". The Bill simply ignores that. Important as trying to meet the needs of people with disabilities or special learning needs in the short term is, we must also try to help to prepare people with a range of disabilities for integration into adult life. Barnardo's adds something which we all know from constituency cases: The present system still discriminates against disabled people and young children because parents cannot choose a mainstream school on the same basis as other parents. In the city of Birmingham, only two secondary schools—one to the north and one to the south of the city—have the necessary facilities for young people with disabilities. I have a young constituent who has been well served by Great Barr primary school, which is situated just outside my constituency. The school was recently praised by the schools inspectorate for the quality of education it provides. They engaged in correspondence—I almost said a battle—lasting several months with Birmingham education department because they rightly insisted on a choice of secondary education for their daughter. Like all other parents, they were invited to state their preference, but the school they chose did not have the facilities to take the child. The upshot is that, to find a school that best suits and meets her needs, she has to be transported to the other side of the city.

Miss Emma Nicholson

The Opposition spokesman should not place 100 per cent. reliance on mainstream schooling for people with difficulties. I am a governor of the Mary Hare grammar school for the deaf—the only grammar school for the deaf in the United Kingdom—and what it offers is unbeatable anywhere.

Mr. Corbett

I take the hon. Lady's point and I did not mean to be dogmatic, but if parents want to choose mainstream education for children, they should have that right; they should not be turned down because the facilities do not exist. Many special schools do a magnificent job—some of those in the city of Birmingham are known to me and I try to be supportive of them.

One primary school in my constituency which copes with children with disabilities decided to pal up with a school a few miles up the road whose pupils are not disabled. For the past two years, pupils from the two schools have gone away together for a week to a camp in the countryside on the edge of Birmingham. The resulting learning and understanding, among both groups of children and the very committed and devoted teachers, is magnificent. That is exactly the sort of work that the Minister and his right hon. Friends at the Department of Education and Science should encourage.

Mr. O'Hara

Does my hon. Friend agree that children with disabilities should have the opportunity to profit from an education with mainstream pupils and to share their experiences if that is good for them? As the hon. Member for Torridge and Devon, West (Miss Nicholson) said, however, in many cases segregated provision is best, and both options should be available.

Mr. Corbett

Exactly, and the present Government of all Governments should not need any lectures from the Opposition about parental choice, because they said that they were introducing it. The Bill does nothing to improve parental choice for parents whose children have disabilities. Some promises were made—restated wishes from the Education Act 1993—but that is beside the point. Two out of every three primary schools and more than half the secondary schools in England and Wales have no suitably adapted lavatories. Moreover, I cannot be the only hon. Member with primary schools that still have outside toilets— or can I? [HoN. MEMBERS: "No."] Clearly, I am not.

The denial of mainstream education further isolates young people with disabilities because it shields those without them from the experience of being alongside children with different abilities. What is more, as Scope says, the White Paper simply restates the provisions of the 1993 Act for an accessibility audit; there is nothing new in that.

On work, the exclusion of firms with fewer than 20 employees and the absence of a phased removal of that threshold are unacceptable. The Government know that 96 out of every 100 firms employ fewer than 20 people. As the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) said, in rural areas small businesses are the main providers of job opportunities for everyone, including people with disabilities. The Government know that that sector offers the best growth in jobs and that six out of 10 companies with up to 10 staff already have one disabled person working for them. So what is the problem?

The Government also know that the Confederation of British Industry and the Employers Forum on Disability do not want a cut-off. Under the present Prime Minister—and, indeed, the previous one—have run around telling us that it is not their job to run business, so why in heaven's name do not they let business get on with the job that it says it wants to do? They are stopping business doing the job that it wants to do.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood said, 91 per cent. of the employers who responded to the Government's consultation paper rejected the idea of a cut-off point for firms with 20 or fewer employees.

Miss Widdecombe

The figure of 91 per cent. is accurate. Will the hon. Gentleman now confirm that the number of employers responding was 11?

Mr. Corbett


I will now show what can happen at work and describe the experience of a former press operator at the Leyland DAF plant at Washwood Heath in Birmingham. That man lost three fingers at work but was still regarded as a valued and productive employee. Then he was made redundant. He applied for a similar job with a small car component firm and was invited for interview. All went well until he mentioned that he had lost three fingers. From then on, the prospective employer did not want to know. That man could not be refused a job on grounds of his race or gender because that would be against the law, but the Bill would not stop him being refused a job on the ground of his disability. He said: I didn't think of myself as being disabled until I was discriminated against. How can the Government say—quite rightly—that they will not tolerate discrimination on grounds of race and gender but then tell 96 out of every 100 firms that it is all right to discriminate on grounds of disability?Lawyers will have a field day if the Bill reaches the statute book. If a disabled job applicant happens also to be gay or lesbian and from an ethnic community, the lawyers could keep the case running into thousands of pounds.

Mr. Alfred Morris

My hon. Friend referred earlier to Jane Campbell of the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, who is highly regarded in this House. How can the Government pretend to correct Jane on this issue? She is a severely disabled person and she knows the realities of disabled living. She knows what she is talking about in defining disability. How can they say that they know more than Jane?

Mr. Corbett

My right hon. Friend makes an exceptionally good point. I applaud the fact that the Government decided to carry out a consultation. The only trouble with consultation is that it implies that one will listen and, where one feels it right to do so, respond to what is said. All the evidence, even in the document that the Minister has now published, is that the Government have taken little notice of what people said because they do not like it.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right: the House should show some humility. The best people to tell us about discrimination against disabled people are those who suffer from that discrimination, who face it every day of the week and who come to anticipate it because of what happens in our society.

As other hon. Members have mentioned transport, I will omit that issue in view of the lack of time available.

The Bill is silent on financial encouragement for employers or owners of shops or other commercial properties to improve access. For example, the Royal National Institute for the Blind wants the national insurance contributions holiday for employers who take on the long-term jobless extended to employers who take on disabled people. Why not? What about tax relief on spending to assist the employment of disabled people? If people can apply for grants of up to £20,000 to improve their homes, why cannot some modest help be offered, perhaps on a pound-for-pound basis, to small retailers and others who need to make their premises accessible to disabled people?

Perhaps the biggest weakness of the Bill is the total absence of a proposal to set up an organisation with responsibility for enforcement, to develop case studies and practice, as well as to encourage and spread good practice. Virtually every organisation of the disabled and for the disabled that has commented on the Bill has made that point, but again, the Government have ignored it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East said, it is pretty rich for the Government to indulge in a consultation exercise, spend a million quid boasting about it and then spend just £2,000 on putting out versions on audio and in Braille. The very people from whom we desperately need to hear, so that we have a better chance of getting the legislation right, are effectively locked out of the debate.

I commend especially to the Minister for the Disabled the excellent booklet published by People First, which states: People with learning difficulties had found it impossible to understand and comment on the Government Disability Discrimination Bill because the summary ….was not written using pictures and simple text. I wish we could use video screens in the Chamber, but we have not come to that yet. I commend that booklet to the Minister. There would be no need to employ civil servants to produce the Government's own version, as I am sure that People First would make it available to the Minister, his Department and others at a reasonable cost.

We should have the humility to accept that the best people to talk about discrimination are those who know about it, meet it and are offended by it because they are denied the same rights as other citizens. The Government must understand that calls to end discrimination against people with disabilities are not about services and benefits, important as they are, but about civil rights—rights equal to those that the rest of us are able to claim and exercise.

To deny the Bill a Second Reading today will not rob disabled people of their rights because the Government can take over the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill after they help it to secure its Second Reading on 10 February.

9.41 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Miss Ann Widdecombe)

This has been a constructive and sensible debate, with many useful contributions from hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I echo the tributes that have been paid to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott) for the huge amount of work that he did to support the work to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities. I congratulate my hon. Friend the current Minister for Social Security and Disabled People on producing an excellent Bill and on the huge amount of work and consultation which went into it.

With one or two exceptions, the tone of the debate has been entirely reasoned. Many points were raised and, for that reason, I may not be able to respond to all of them tonight. I should like, first, to address the reasoned amendment.

To echo the wise words of my hon. Friends the Members for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Congdon) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), we have a choice: either we can accept a Bill which has been introduced by the Government and which, amended or otherwise, will reach the statute book, or we can reject it. If we do that, we will for ever after have to explain why, when we had the chance to get an anti-discrimination measure on the statute book—we will not be able to accept the Bill sponsored by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes)—we turned it down. That is the question that faces hon. Members tonight.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) said that she would vote for the reasoned amendment because there was nothing in it with which she could disagree, but she must remind herself that if she does that, the Disability Discrimination Bill will be rejected. That could easily result in no anti-discrimination measure being on the statute book. I am talking straightforward fact. If hon. Members who have been in the House for a long time, and who know the workings of the system, do not understand the logic of that, I am unable to assist hon. Members further.

Secondly, I believe that much of what is in the reasoned amendment either is inaccurate or refers to matters that are being addressed. For example, my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People said clearly that we shall now consider the possibility—and, if possible, enact legislation to that effect—of making it unlawful to discriminate in the sale and letting of premises.

It is also said in the reasoned amendment that the Bill is unacceptable because its employment provisions would extend to less than—

Mr. Tom Clarke

The hon. Lady has said that the reasoned amendment is inaccurate. She then referred to the Bill, but there is no reference in it whatever to premises in the way in which the Minister discussed them in his speech. Will she therefore withdraw what she said, because it is she who is being wholly inaccurate?

Miss Widdecombe

With respect, the hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said. I said that there is much in the reasoned amendment that either is inaccurate or refers to measures that have been addressed. When I spoke about measures that have been addressed, I meant the unlawful discrimination in the sale and letting of premises, which was discussed by my hon. Friend in his opening speech. [Interruption.] I shall proceed, because I assume that the reason that hon. Members have made so many arguments tonight is that they wish to hear answers. I suggest that we make some progress on that.

The reasoned amendment claims that our Bill is unacceptable because the employment provisions extend only to less than 5 per cent. of firms. Although, strictly, technically, statistically, that may be true, the reasoned amendment conjures up a wildly inaccurate picture of the vast majority of the work force not being covered, whereas the exact opposite is true; 83 per cent. of employees will be covered.

It does not follow that, just because a small firm is exempt, it will make a practice of discrimination. It simply means that we have recognised that there are burdens on businesses that it is not sensible to inflict on very small businesses. However, we have also said more than.once tonight that, although we have written into the Bill the dividing line of 20 employees, we are taking a power to amend that in the light of experience.

We were asked from the Opposition Benc [...] we could amend that to a larger number as well as a smaller number, but that is certainly not the intention of that power. There would have to be some mighty compelling evidence and some consultation as well. The idea is to find out, in time to come, whether experience shows that we could decrease that number, but we are starting with what we consider to be a reasonable number.

I am sorry to take issue again with the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), because he has quite a reputation on that issue and I honestly thought that he would have read the consultation document extremely thoroughly. I must take issue with him when he says that 91 per cent. of employers oppose an exemption. When it comes down to 11 employers, 10 of whom oppose an exemption, that does not describe the opinions of employers. He omitted to add that, of the employer associations that were actually consulted, six out of nine supported an exemption.

Mr. Berry

I was absolutely correct when I said that, of the employers who responded, 91 per cent. opposed an exemption. That was 10 out of 11 who offered an opinion. Will the hon. Lady admit that, of all the employers who were consulted and who responded, only one—the one that she has mentioned—actually wanted an exemption for small firms? I am grateful that she has strengthened the argument that I was trying to make.

Miss Widdecombe

Now will the hon. Gentleman please tell me how many of the remaining 10 employers were small ones? I think that he will probably be unable to do so.

I shall now proceed to make progress.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Will the Minister give way?

Miss Widdecombe

I shall not give way now. I intend to make progress. I have given way to the hon. Gentleman once and I have given way to the hon. Member for Kingswood; I shall give way on sensible points, but I want to make progress.

Much has been made of our decision to set up a.national disability council rather than a commission. There appears to be some received wisdom that, just because 20 years ago a Labour Government decided that the best way of monitoring and policing equal rights was to set up commissions, that was the only way it could be done. I invite hon. Members to compare the two very different tasks faced by commissions and the council.

The Equal Opportunities Commission represents 50 per cent. of the population and is largely engaged in class actions. The number of individual cases that it supports before tribunals amounts to a minority. The work entailed by the disability laws will largely involve individuals—no two of whom will be the same—coming before tribunals.

I noted the call from the Labour Front-Bench team earlier to introduce legal aid in tribunals. In his response to an intervention, the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) seemed to commit a future Labour Government—hypothetical, of course—to introducing legal aid. I hope that he has consulted the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer on the likely cost of that policy.

Mr. Clarke

I thank the Minister for giving way. I do not want there to be any misunderstanding about the next Government, but I want to be particularly clear about the present Government's view. In my speech, I mentioned a boy who suffers from cerebral palsy and who has taken a case of unfair dismissal to a tribunal. That tribunal has been suspended today because his family does not have the money for further representation. What advice would the Minister give that family tonight?

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

A good question—answer it.

Miss Widdecombe

I shall. I would say to that family—I am surprised that the hon. Member for Monklands, West has not already done so—that tribunals are specifically designed to be user-friendly, cheap and informal. The majority of successful cases before tribunals are those where there is no representation.

The Education Act 1993 and the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 set out extremely clear provisions for disabled pupils and students. We have already said many times during the debate that the Department for Education is carrying out an audit of accessibility to establish the current position on access within schools, but the majority of schoolchildren with special educational needs are already in mainstream schools and there has been a vast increase in the percentage of children with statements, right across the age range, who are now taught in mainstream schools. With due respect to the hon. Members who were concerned about the issue, the Government are ahead in their thinking and are already beginning to take action of the sort that we have been asked to follow.

Of course, education will be caught by the conditions imposed on employers in the Bill. Schools will have to observe non-discriminatory practices in employment, and vocational training—which is provided under the Employment and Training Act 1973—will be covered by the Bill. We are left with schools which are already subject to an audit and which have made remarkable progress in a fairly short time.

A further question which was raised about education referred to the fact that only new schools will be accessible under the legislation. However, it is worth pointing out that, each year, half the capital budget goes on new build, and schools will have to observe the rules. It is not reasonable to suggest that there is only a limited amount of new build and that nothing else will be covered.

I am grateful that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) intends to vote against the reasoned amendment, and his speech about his reasons for coming to that decision should stand as an example to those who may be thinking of taking a different course.

My hon. Friend asked about the importance of addressing the question of lack of disabled access to our courts. The Government place a high priority on ensuring that disabled people are able to access our courts. Much work has already been done in that area. For example, at least one court room in every new Crown and county court is equipped with an infra-red hearing system for people who have poor hearing. Courts will be subject to the new right of access and we will bring forward proposals for consultation on how that right will apply in this area.

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon that we make provision in our tribunals for hearing and sight-impaired individuals and for those with communication difficulties. Special arrangements are made to ensure that they are helped in that context.

Mr. Alan Howarth

Will my hon. Friend consider extending that support, for example, to assisting disabled people in preparing their cases before they come to the tribunals? Could that be associated with green form support?

Miss Widdecombe

Some legal aid is available to disabled people in preparing for tribunals, but I shall undertake to look further at what my hon. Friend has said.

The winding-up speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) departed in tone from much of the debate. He asked how the Government could be trusted with looking after the rights of people with disabilities. All he has to do is look at our record of caring for people with disabilities. I suggest that he look at the dozens of measures that we have implemented since 1979. I shall list some, in case Labour Members have forgotten them.

Do Labour Members recall how we look after not only the disabled but their carers? We extended the invalid care allowance to non-relatives in 1984. The Education (Special Educational Needs) Regulations 1983 placed further requirements on local authorities concerning assessment and statements for school children with special educational needs.

What about the introduction of the disablement advisory service in 1983–84? What about the introduction of the severe disablement allowance, the disability living allowance, the disability working allowance and the sheltered placement scheme? What about the provisions that we put in place for building regulations? What about the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 and the provisions in the Education Reform Act 1988? We have introduced all those measures, but the Opposition do not think that we can be trusted.

Do Labour Members have a record which compares to that? Of course they do not. Tonight, we have a choice: we can accept the Bill and move towards the most comprehensive proposal for safeguarding the rights of disabled people that has come forward in decades, or we can reject the Bill and return to the situation of last year, with a thoroughly unsatisfactory, very ambitious but very impractical substitute measure.

Mr. Berry

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Widdecombe

No, I am afraid that I will not give way at this point. The last time I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, he quoted 91 per cent. of 11 as a definitive explanation of the views of employers. I shall not give way to Opposition Members, and I hope that no one in the House will give way to the reasoned amendment. I hope that we shall now put on its journey towards the statute book a major measure which everybody out there who is disabled or who is caring for the disabled wants and hopes to see.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 280, Noes 307.

Division No. 47] [10.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cummings, John
Adams, Mrs Irene Cunliffe, Lawrence
Ainger, Nick Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr Jon
Allen, Graham Dalyell, Tam
Alton, David Darling, Alistair
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Davidson, Ian
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Armstrong, Hilary Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Denham, John
Ashton, Joe Dewar, Donald
Barnes, Harry Dixon, Don
Barron, Kevin Dobson, Frank
Battle, John Donohoe, Brian H
Bayley, Hugh Dowd, Jim
Beckett. Rt Hon Margaret Dunnachie, Jimmy
Beggs, Roy Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Berth, Rt Hon A J Eagle, Ms Angela
Bell, Stuart Eastham, Ken
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Enright, Derek
Bennett, Andrew F Etherington, Bill
Benton, Joe Evans, John (St Helens N)
Bermingham, Gerald Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Berry, Roger Fatchett, Derek
Betts, Clive Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Fisher, Mark
Blunkett, David Flynn, Paul
Boateng, Paul Forsythe, Clifford (S Antrim)
Boyes, Roland Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Bradley, Keith Foster, Don (Bath)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Fraser, John
Brown, Gordon (Dunfermline E) Fyfe, Maria
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Galbraith, Sam
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Galloway, George
Burden, Richard Gapes, Mike
Caborn, Richard George, Bruce
Callaghan, Jim Gerrard, Neil
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Godman, Dr Norman A
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Godsiff, Roger
Campbell-Savours, D N Golding, Mrs Llin
Canavan, Dennis Gordon, Mildred
Cann, Jamie Graham, Thomas
Carlie, Alexander (Montgomery) Grant, Bemie (Tottenham)
Chidgey, David Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Chisholm, Malcolm Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Church, Judith Grocott, Bruce
Clapham, Michael Gunnell, John
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Hain, Peter
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hall, Mike
Clelland, David Hanson, David
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hardy, Peter
Coffey, Ann Harman, Ms Harriet
Cohen, Harry: Harvey, Nick
Connarty, Michael Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Henderson, Doug
Corbett, Robin Heppell, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Corston, Jean Hinchliffe, David
Cousins, Jim Hodge, Margaret
Cox, Tom Hoey, Kate
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Mowlam, Marjorie
Home Robertson, John Mudie, George
Hood, Jimmy Mullin, Chris
Hoon, Geoffrey Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Howarth, George (Knowsley North) O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Hoyle, Doug O'Hara, Edward
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Olner, Bill
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) O'Neil, Martin
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Patchett, Terry
Hutton, John Pearson, Ian
Illsley, Eric Pickthall, Colin
Ingram, Adam Pike, Peter L
Jackson, Glenda (H'stead) Pope, Greg
Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H) Powel, Ray (Ogmore)
Jamieson, David Prentice, Bridget (Lew'm E)
Janner, Greville Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Prescott, Rt Hon John
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Mon) Primarolo, Dawn
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Purchase, Ken
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Radice, Giles
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Randall, Stuart
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Raynsford, Nick
Jowell, Tessa Redmond, Martin
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Reid, Dr John
Keen, Alan Rendel, David
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Kennedy, Jane (Lpool Brdgn) Roche, Mrs Barbara
Khabra, Piara S Rogers, Allan
Kilfoyle, Peter Rooker, Jeff
Kirkwood, Archy Rooney, Terry
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lewis, Terry Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Liddell, Mrs Helen Rowlands, Ted
Litherland, Robert Ruddock, Joan
Livingstone, Ken Salmond, Alex
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Sedgemore, Brian
Llwyd, Elfyn Sheerman, Barry
Loyden, Eddie Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lynne, Ms Liz Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McAllion, John Short, Clare
McAvoy, Thomas Simpson, Alan
McCartney, Ian Skinner, Dennis
Macdonald, Calum Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McFall, John Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McKelvey, William Smyth, The Reverend Martin
Mackinlay, Andrew Snape, Peter
Maclennan, Robert Soley, Clive
McMaster, Gordon Spearing, Nigel
McNamara, Kevin Spellar, John
MacShane, Denis Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
McWilliam, John Steinberg, Gerry
Madden, Max Stevenson, George
Maddock, Diana Stott, Roger
Mahon, Alice Strang, Dr. Gavin
Marek, Dr John Straw, Jack
Marshall, David (Shettlleston) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Martin, Michael J (Springburn) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Martlew, Eric Timms, Stephen
Maxton, John Tipping, Paddy
Meacher, Michael Turner, Dennis
Meale, Alan Tyler, Paul
Michael, Alun Vaz, Keith
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Wallace, James
Milburn, Alan Walley, Joan
Miller, Andrew Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Watson, Mike
Moonie, Dr Lewis Welsh, Andrew
Morgan, Rhodri Wicks, Malcolm
Morley, Elliot Wigley, Dafydd
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe) Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Wilson, Brian
Winnick, David Young, David (Bolton SE)
Wise, Audrey
Worthington, Tony Tellers for the Ayes:
Wray, Jimmy Mr. Stephen Byers and
Wright, Dr Tony Mr. Peter Mandelson.
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey) Deva, Nirj Joseph
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Delvin, Tim
Alexander, Richard Dicks, Terry
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Amess, David Dover, Den
Ancram, Michael Duncan, Alan
Arbuthnot, James Duncan Smith, Iain
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Dunn, Bob
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Durant, Sir Anthony
Ashby, David Dykes, Hugh
Atkins, Robert Eggar, Rt Hon Tim
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Elletson, Harold
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V) Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Baldry, Tony Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Bates, Michael Evennett, David
Batiste, Spencer Faber, David
Bellingham, Henry Fabricant, Michael
Bendall, Vivian Fenner, Dame Peggy
Beresford, Sir Paul Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fishburn, Dudley
Body, Sir Richard Forman, Nigel
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Forsyth, Rt Hon Michael (Stirling)
Booth, Hartley Forth, Eric
Boswell, Tim Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Bowis, John Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes French, Douglas
Brandreth, Gyles Fry, Sir Peter
Brazier, Julian Gale, Roger
Bright Sir Graham Gallie, Phil
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gardiner, Sir George
Brown, M (Brigg & Cl'thorpes) Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Browning, Mrs Angela Garnier, Edward
Bruce, Ian (Dorset) Gill, Christopher
Budgen, Nicholas Gillan, Cheryl
Burt, Alistair Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Butcher, John Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Butler, Peter Gorst, Sir John
Butterfill, John Greenway, Harry (Eating N)
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Carrington, Matthew Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Carttiss, Michael Grylls, Sir Michael
Cash, William Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hague, William
Chapman, Sydney Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Churchill, Mr Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Clappison, James Hampson, Dr Keith
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Hannam, Sir John
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Hargreaves, Andrew
Coe, Sebastian Harris, David
Colvin, Michael Haselhurst, Alan
Congdon, David Hawkins, Nick
Conway, Derek Hawksley, Warren
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hayes, Jerry
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Heald, Oliver
Cormack, Sir Patrick Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Couchman, James Heathcoat-Amory, David
Cran, James Hendry, Charles
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Hicks, Robert
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Day, Stephen Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Horam, John Paice, James
Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter Patnick, Sir Irvine
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Patten, Rt Hon John
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford) Pawsey, James
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk) Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Hughes, Robert G (Harrow W) Pickles, Eric
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W) Porter, Barry (Wirral S)
Hunt Sir John (Ravensbourne) Porter, David (Waveney)
Hunter, Andrew Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Powell, William (Corby)
Jack, Michael Rathbone, Tim
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Redwood, Rt Hon John
Jenkin, Bernard Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Jessel, Toby Richards, Rod
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Riddick, Graham
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff) Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Robathan, Andrew
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Key, Robert Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Knapman, Roger Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Knight, Greg (Derby N) Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Knox, Sir David Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Sackville, Tom
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Lamont Rt Hon Norman Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Lang, Rt Hon Ian Shaw, David (Dover)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Legg, Barry Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Leigh, Edward Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shersby, Michael
Lidington, David Sims, Roger
Lightbown, David Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lord, Michael Soames, Nicholas
Luff, Peter Speed, Sir Keith
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas Spencer, Sir Derek
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
MacKay, Andrew Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Maclean, David Spink, Dr Robert
McLoughin, Patrick Spring, Richard
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
Madel, Sir David Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Maitland, Lady Olga Steen, Anthony
Malone, Gerald Stephen, Michael
Mans, Keith Stern, Michael
Marlow, Tony Stewart, Allan
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Streeter, Gary
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Sweeney, Walter
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Sykes, John
Mates, Michael Tapsell, Sir Peter
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Merchant, Piers Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mills, Iain Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Temple-Morris, Peter
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Thomason, Roy
Moate, Sir Roger Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Monro, Sir Hector Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Thurnham, Peter
Moss, Malcolm Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Tracey, Richard
Nelson, Anthony Tredinnick, David
Neubert, Sir Michael Trend, Michael
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Trotter, Neville
Nicholls, Patrick Twinn, Dr Ian
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Viggers, Peter
Norris, Steve Walden, George
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Oppenheim, Phillip Waller, Gary
Ottaway, Richard Ward, John
Page, Richard Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Waterson, Nigel Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Watts, John Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Wells, Bowen Wolfson, Mark
Whitney, Ray Wood, Timothy
Whittingdale, John Yeo, Tim
Widdecombe, Ann Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Wilkinson, John Tellers for the Noes:
Willetts, David Mr. Timothy Kirkhope and
Wilshire, David Mr. Simon Burns.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 60 (Amendment on Second or Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).