HL Deb 12 April 1984 vol 450 cc1308-14

1.29 p.m.

Read a third time.

An amendment (privilege) made.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I should like to say a few words at this point. First, may I thank all those who have participated during the various stages of the Bill in your Lordships' House. The suggestions which many of your Lordships made during those debates have led to changes, all of which I regard as improvements to the Bill. This Bill makes simple arrangements to investigate cases of alleged discrimination against disabled people and arrangements for a Commission to report to Parliament on these matters. It does not seek to operate through the law courts—there are many who see difficulties in that, including, as I understand it, the Government. There are practical difficulties and that is also my view. I foresee that if one tried to do this by introducing law and bringing people before the courts, it would probably be the wrong people who would find themselves in the dock, and if there were genuine culprits who ought to be brought to book they would find it fairly easy to escape, because of the difficulties of proof and also the ease with which other explanations could be put forward.

The Bill aims at the minimum of public expenditure. The Commission is small. It was even smaller in the original version of my Bill and I was persuaded to increase the numbers slightly. I would suggest that the main issue raised by my Bill is whether there should be any additions to the arrangements which already exist within Government departments for investigating allegations of discrimination. I think I can say that all who know me well will grant that I have for many years opposed the setting up of new official or semi-official bodies unless there really was a reason for them. In my view there must be very strong grounds for establishing new bodies of this kind. May I remind some of your Lordships whom I see here who were with me in another place that I was the chief opponent of a ministry—a Government department— when it was set up in 1964: the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources. My campaign was one of inquiry and questions. That ministry lasted for two years only. It disappeared, and except for people such as myself who were concerned with it at the time it has probably been forgotten. I have a record of trying to ensure that new bodies are not set up simply to give the impression that something is being done.

I therefore fully understand the criticism of the Bill that it would establish a new body, the Disablement Commission. I must make it clear that there is a good reason for some new independent body of this kind, however small and limited in resources. We understand from statements made by the Government, both in your Lordships' House and outside it, that it is the intention that complaints should be dealt with by Government departments. I believe that there is, or it is intended that there should be, a unit within the Department of Health and Social Security for this purpose. If that is so I am sure that that unit will do its best to try to be scrupulously fair in examining cases that are brought to it. There is, however, a serious drawback to that proposal which we should not ignore: many of the complaints of discrimination are against Government departments or offices.

This may be surprising. Those of us who have been involved nationally in matters connected with disability, such as the International year of Disabled People, or parliamentary campaigns, have received a vast amount of correspondence of matters of discrimination. I am surprised by the proportion of that correspondence which applies to Government departments and to Government offices. My own impression at looking into many of these, cases, I quickly add, is that they are not very well founded complaints. Nonetheless, the allegations of discrimination against officials in Government are there and no doubt they will continue. Those who make such allegations will not have complete confidence if it is the Government departments themselves who are to be the sole judges in their own case or if there is to be one unit in the DHSS. The Government would then be the judge in its own case.

I would add that as the Government may not be prepared to accept such a new body, if there is to be an alternative it might be this: rather than to have to set up a new body like the Disablement Commission, a modified form of the proposed Commission could be provided by an existing voluntary body. I know that there are among your Lordships some who have ideas of this kind, particularly my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox. There is not time now to pursue that. Nonetheless, I am sure it would command more public confidence, especially among the disabled themselves, than some invisible unit within the machinery of Government. I have no doubt that this Bill can be further improved, but it is there, available for another place, should the Government agree that it is necessary to have some modest system independent of Government departments. This Bill has benefited from the valuable contributions made in your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Campbell ofCroy.)

1.37 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I want first to congratulate most sincerely the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for piloting his Bill through the House. When it had its First Reading I spoke briefly from the Dispatch Box and said that I warmly supported it, though I saw it as very much a second tier or a less favourable Bill than that which had been proceeded with by my noble friend Lord Longford. I greatly regret the decision of the Government, for I can take it as no other, to use their influence to ensure the defeat of that Bill so that it was not referred to another place. Therefore in my mind this Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, assumes much greater significance. I want warmly to welcome it.

The noble Lord asked a question in his few words about whether a new body was necessary and whether it could best be done by the Government. Of course the Government have an enormous part to play. I am certain that in many ways they are seeking to play it, not just in the DHSS but in other Government departments, whether it be employment, education or any other department. So many Government departments are involved in welfare, training, education and employment of people of one disability or another. Of course the Government have a role to play. But it is necessary to have another body such as that suggested in the Bill. I agree with the noble Lord that in view of the fact that the Government will inevitably be one of those against whom criticisms may be made, it is important that this body should be an independent body.

For a moment I should like to consider Clause 2 which defines the duty of the Commission. I am pleased that it has been set out in the way that it has, dealing not only with the disadvantaged but also with discrimination. I think that the commission could well look at both. The question of disadvantage is not necessarily the same as that of discrimination. One could say that there was not adequate access but that it was not in any sense an act of discrimination. One could say that there were inadequate facilities for training for disabled people but that this was not in any sense a deliberate act of discrimination. So one could say, with the services of local authorities for different types of disabled people, that they were not doing it in order to discriminate but because they had inadequate financial facilities or inadequate professional skills perhaps to deal particularly with small groups of disabled people. I think that it means that this commission—and I am glad that it has been broadened in terms of numbers from the original concept of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy—will be able to go into the question of the disadvantage.

Secondly, discrimination is linked but is extremely important. My own experience, before the Commission on Racial Equality was established and in the days when the Race Relations Board was looking at discrimination on grounds of race, was that in almost every case the force of the law was not necessary. I argued before that the force of law was advantageous but was not necessary and that in most cases conciliation could be achieved. It may be that conciliation would more often be achieved if the force of law were standing in the background. Nevertheless, I believe that most reasonable employers or most providers of service—be they local authorities or Government departments—once they had pointed out to them by an authoritative body such as this commission that there appeared to the commission to be acts of discrimination, would seek to put right what a responsible commission thought was wrong.

I think that, taking those two cases of disadvantage and discrimination, there is a very important field of work to be dealt with. It is no less important because, if there is that important field of work to be dealt with, it is right that the commission should report (as the Bill says) from time to time and that, as the commission think appropriate, they should report to the Secretary of State. I think, although it is not said, that it must be an annual report. It may be more frequent than an annual report, and I would hope that the commission would at least give consideration to the possibility that they might report on a particular aspect of disadvantage or on particular types of discrimination about which they felt that wider publicity and action by the Government could be helpful, whether in the field of work, of leisure opportunities, or of access or all the other things that make life more difficult for disabled people.

So it is in the mood of hoping that such a commission would interpret the definitions set out here in a very positive way and that they would feel free to bring to the attention of the public and the Secretary of State, since such reports will have to be published within a month, matters of particular concern, that I believe this Bill is a very important one. I hope that it will go further than your Lordships' House. Of course, the first point is to say that I hope your Lordships will pass it on its way to another place. That is my main plea. When it gets to another place, I hope that it will there be seen to be a Bill which deserves to be put on the statute book and that it will be seen eventually to be an important step forward in ensuring equal opportunities, fair opportunities and good services for the disabled people in our society.

Lord Banks

My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House but I should like to join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for having piloted this Bill as far as to this stage. I hope that the Bill will now pass. We on these Benches were supporters of the Bill promoted by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and we regretted that it did not secure the approval of this House. But we made clear on second reading that, if that Bill failed, we felt that the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, would provide a very useful function. That we still feel, and we hope that at some point in time the Government may be persuaded to find time for it elsewhere so that it can be passed into law.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, we on these Benches congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. I have one message to the noble Lord from the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, who apologises that she could not be here. She had to go abroad with her family. She has asked me to say she supports this Bill.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, at an earlier stage, I found myself saying that I wished the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, well. I repeat those remarks today. I wish him very well and every good luck.

Lord Renton

My Lords, having opposed the Bill introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I would not wish it to be thought that any silence on my part with regard to this Bill meant that I was in disagreement with it. I think that this Bill can serve a very useful purpose. It would not cost much to implement it and it does not have what I find to be the disadvantages in the Bill introduced by the noble Earl.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I will not congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, on his handling of the Bill or wish it a safe passage because when I did that to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, last week the whole thing promptly sank like the "Titanic". I will just thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for accepting so many amendments, and in many cases improving upon them. I think that it is a better and tidier Bill. I made no secret of the fact that I preferred the noble Earl's Bill because I do believe that making discrimination unlawful would speed the educative process and assist the commission to do its job. It is interesting that CORAD's last recommendation—in Chapter 5, paragraphs 61 to 65—was that, until anti-discrimination through legislation is introduced, an office should be set up to investigate individual cases of alleged discrimination.

I do not really know why the Government are against this Bill. I see the noble Baroness poised on the edge of her seat. Perhaps she is going to tell us that she has mellowed in her attitude towards this Bill, particu-larly in view of what other noble Lords have said, and especially the noble Lord, Lord Renton. Looking at what the Minister said on 6th March at the Committee stage (at column 223 of the Official Report for that day)—and I am paraphrasing to save time—he said that the main objections were that the commission would be expensive to establish and run; and, secondly, that it would duplicate the work already being done in both the statutory and the voluntary sectors, one of the most obvious examples being that of access.

As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has said, this small, modest commission could not be very expensive. There are fewer people in it than in relation to the noble Earl's Bill; and it is narrower in scope. Furthermore, it would not in fact duplicate the work done by the English Access Committee, for instance. The CORAD report mentions the work of the English Access Committee in relation to that of an office to investigate discrimination. I think it is important that we should remember that it was the CORAD report which suggested the setting up of the English Access Committee. They obviously must know what they are talking about as to the two roles being distinct.

In Chapter 5, paragraph 64, it says—and, again, I am paraphrasing—that the two would have quite different roles. The access committee would be a pressure group with architectural and planning expertise, and the office to investigate discrimination should be seen to be objective and should include legal experts. I feel that the commission would provide a much more satisfactory means of investigating discrimination than the Minister pursuing individual complaints brought to his notice.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, made the point (very forcibly, I thought) about complaints of alleged discrimination often being made against Government departments. Disabled people can complain to the Minister for the Disabled only through an MP or through a voluntary organisation. With the commission, they would complain directly. They would know it was an independent body, and, furthermore, that it was doing only this one job and was not trying to satisfy a whole lot of other needs at the same time. I think that that is a rather important argument against using the existing voluntary body to do this. They would know that disabled people themselves were on the commission and I think they would have confidence in the commission and would bring their problems to it. We could then begin to estimate the size and, accordingly, the problem. I therefore very much hope that the Government will not ignore this small and modest Bill.

Baroness Lane-Fox

My Lords, I give my good wishes to this Bill. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy has worked carefully and most knowledgably, and I think deserves our thanks for it. He has been working away towards it for quite a long time.

May I refer to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, that the defeat of the Bill of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, was a Government affair, because I must assure him with complete confidence that that was not the case? In conclusion, I really wish this Bill very well indeed and my congratulations go to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, may I also support the passing of this Bill and at the same time ask the Government to make certain that it has plenty of time to get through all its stages in another place?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I should like to extend to the House the apologies of my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, who unfortunately cannot be here to attend this Third Reading. The change of represent-ation of the Government Front Bench does not indicate any mellowing. We recognise the admirable and positive intentions behind the Bill and have followed it with very great interest. We share the same aim of eliminating unjustified discrimination against disabled people, but my noble friend is well aware that at all stages we have made it clear that the Government will not provide sustenance for it in any way at any further stages, and I will not repeat any reasons for so doing except to reiterate that the new commission would cost money.

Whilst rejecting many of the remarks made today by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy on providing the House with the opportunity to debate this subject. No doubt speeches made by your Lordships during the passage of this Bill will provide valuable information for the various existing channels, including the newly established access committee, which exists to deal with complaints and examine people's problems.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.