§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
Provision for the disabled is no new issue to your Lordships. The House has a proud record of insisting through amendments to proposed legislation that adequate facilities are made available better to integrate disabled people into the mainstream of our economic and social life. The Bill before us today is somewhat different. It is not concerned with a particular area of policy or provision; it is concerned with establishing the basic civil right of disabled people to be treated no less favourably on grounds of their disability than able-bodied people in the areas essential to a full and independent life.
The Bill is not about charity and paternalism; it is about rights. It is now increasingly accepted and recognised that disability is not so much a medical problem or a problem for the individual but rather it concerns the relationship between someone with a disability and his or her environment. By viewing disability as a social issue in that way we are able to focus on the real problem, which is the way that society structures its institutions and the environment.
There is nothing novel in legislation to outlaw discrimination. Many other countries have such legislation relating to disability. In this country we have legislation against sex discrimination and race discrimination. The Bill before us today is constructed on similar lines and would, I suggest, present few problems in implementation because we are now becoming increasingly familiar with applying the concepts of direct, indirect and institutional discrimination—concepts which are embodied in the Bill.
When anti-discrimination legislation was first introduced there was little understanding of those concepts. But we have learnt much in the intervening quarter of a century since the first race relations Act was passed. Those—and at that time there were many —who felt that such legislation was not appropriate for dealing with the problems of disabled people are now having to think again. Indeed, many organisations, including major companies and institutions which are actively pursuing an equal opportunities policy, already include the area of disability in their programmes. I sit on such an equal opportunities committee in the University of Bradford. Perhaps here the Minister—whose right honourable colleague in another place is on record as saying that he is 1474 benevolently neutral to the Bill but prefers the route of persuasion—might be tempted to ask: if attitudes are changing, why choose legislation?
There are a number of reasons for that choice. First, attitudes are not changing quickly enough. There is still an unacceptable level of widespread discrimination against the 6.5 million disabled people in the country. Much of that discrimination is unintentional and unrecognised as such by those responsible. The evidence is familiar to us all. I do not want to dwell for long on that aspect today but perhaps I may remind your Lordships of a few points.
On employment, disabled people are three times more likely to be out of work than non-disabled people. When they leave a job, they face longer periods of unemployment. Only 13 per cent. of disabled people are in professional or managerial positions, compared with 21 per cent. of the general population. Disabled people's earnings are also lower —approximately half the average wage, £100 per week compared with something like £250 per week.
On the environment, disabled people have to face inaccessible homes, transport and services generally. Over 4 million people have mobility-related problems and yet there are only 80,000 accessible homes in the country. As we are aware, most buses, taxis and trains are inaccessible or largely inaccessible to the disabled.
On leisure, not only are many restaurants, pubs, theatres, galleries, cinemas and sports halls inaccessible to disabled people; all can openly deny disabled people the right to enjoy such facilities, as was reported in the press recently when a person in a wheel chair who from time to time made noises because of her disability was asked to leave a concert hall. Many disabled people are not allowed to enter places of leisure without a minder and some are not admitted at all.
On education, despite the Education Act 1981 which provided for children to be educated, if possible, in mainstream schools, the decrease in the number of children being educated in special schools has been less than 1 per cent. in the intervening 11 years. Many local authorities have increased the number of pupils placed in special schools. In all those areas the evidence is overwhelming.
Secondly, even in organisations which have an equal opportunities policy, should that policy be infringed a disabled person has no right of legal redress. Thus, a disabled person when discriminated against is at a disadvantage compared with non-disabled persons who have been discriminated against because they have legal redress. The Bill would enable us to focus more sharply upon the growing understanding of the concepts of discrimination and on the barriers faced by disabled people.
I shall interpose a remark which would have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, who wanted to speak in the debate but who was unable to do so because of its timing. He left a note for me just before the debate began saying that through his activities as a patron of SENSE—an organisation which helps deaf-blind people—he came across a case of a deaf-blind man in his thirties who was dumb to the degree that he delivered his speech in a monotone 1475 and relied heavily upon hand communications. He went into his bank to renew his bank card, whereupon he was told, "You won't need that. You can't get out to buy things for yourself". That was odd, because until then he had been doing so for some time. He immediately left the bank and went to a nearby rival bank. That rival bank provided him not just with an account and a bank card but a member of its staff trained in hand language could communicate with deaf-blind people. The noble Lord's colleague was then able to obtain financial advice from the bank, and he was reassured that at least one bank recognised that he had a brain that functioned and a mind that was not disabled. Banks and other institutions can lose credibility and possibly customers if they behave in that way.
The third reason for accepting the Bill is that legislation establishes a benchmark by which standards can be judged. It protects those who on their own initiative seek to eliminate discrimination in their organisations; it protects them against those who might seek to exploit the weak position of disabled people in other organisations; in other words, it provides the level playing field about which we hear so much in other contexts.
Fourthly, legislation would not mean that there was no role for education and persuasion. On the contrary, they would have an enhanced role. Standards established by law are in themselves educational. Moreover, a main function of the proposed disablement commission is to expose discrimination and to provide guidance on good practice.
The Bill is divided into five parts and has one schedule. Part I provides the essential definitions which determine who is covered by the new provisions of the Bill. Part II makes detailed provisions in the field of employment, providing disabled persons who are otherwise qualified with new rights to equal treatment in relation to every state of the recruitment, promotion and dismissal process. Here I emphasise the words, "who are otherwise qualified". It does not, for example, expect, shall we say, that a blind person should be given the job of driving a public service vehicle. If the person is qualified in other ways, equal treatment will be his entitlement.
Part II also creates a new right for the disabled to require an employer to make reasonable accommodation for that disability by adapting or modifying the workplace or conditions under which the person will work. Again, the operative words are "reasonable accommodation". No one, for example, would expect an employer to bankrupt himself merely to accommodate a disabled person. The requirements have to be reasonable and must be justified by the employer as reasonable.
Part III covers the provision of a wide range of goods, facilities and services. It also requires businesses, organisations and bodies which provide those services to make reasonable accommodation for the disabilities of the person wanting to use the services. The example given by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, is apposite here.
1476 Part IV establishes the means by which the new personal civil rights are enforced: by proceedings for injunction and damages through the county courts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the sheriff courts in Scotland.
Part V of the Bill is concerned with various miscellaneous provisions. The schedule is concerned with the detailed provisions for establishing the disablement commission which would be responsible for helping the disabled to identify discrimination, to investigate cases of discrimination and to provide codes of practice in order to promote equality and good policies.
In 1976 a working party on integrating the disabled, under the distinguished chairmanship of the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, said:Integration for the disabled means a thousand things. It means the absence of segregation. It means social acceptance. It means being able to be treated like everyone else. It means the right to work, to go to cinemas, to enjoy outdoor sport, to have a family life and a social life and a love life, to contribute materially to the community, to have the usual choices of association, involvement and activity, to go on holiday to the usual places, to be educated up to university level with one's unhandicapped peers, to travel without fuss on public transport.That is exactly what the Bill today is all about. I commend the Bill to your Lordships.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Baroness Lockwood.)
§ 1.22 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, the House will be indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for the cogent and sincere way in which she moved the Second Reading of the Bill. It is the brainchild of the right honourable gentleman, the Member for Wythenshawe, Mr. Alf Morris. I have had the pleasure of knowing him for years in another capacity, as the chairman of the Anzac Parliamentary Group. When he was Minister for the Disabled in the last Labour Government, the right honourable gentleman did a great deal for the disabled. I believe that the Bill has no chance of reaching the statute book at this stage and there are undoubtedly shortcomings, as in any Private Member's Bill. However, I think that the Government should give it serious thought.
I am a member of the all-party Parliamentary Disablement Group. Although I must say that I go to meetings rather infrequently because of other commitments, I have attended some meetings. I was present at one attended by my right honourable friend the Minister and I know that he has the disabled of the country very much in mind.
There is no doubt that we are all likely to be disabled at some time in our lives, whatever the stratum of society from which we come. Therefore, this subject needs the consideration of the whole country. In another place, the Bill received support from all sides of the House. Unhappily, it was talked out. Although it is the convention not to criticise the other place in this House, I thought it was an appalling decision, whatever views there may have been on the matter.
I happen to live in an area of Surrey where there are a number of institutions for the disabled, including the 1477 Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Victoria Homes for the disabled. Our local theatre in Leatherhead, the Thorndike Theatre, has excellent facilities for the disabled, but West End theatres are among the worst. It must be said that it is not the fault of any government. In times gone by, architects seemed almost to take the view that there was no such thing as disabled people. The problem is the financial constraints, whether they come from central or local government or from charities. It is difficult to finance facilities for making old buildings, such as some of our theatres, practical for disabled people. It is a crying shame that, merely because a person is disabled, perhaps having served his or her country, he or she cannot enjoy the pleasant things of life such as the theatre or a concert. This should not happen simply because a building is not adapted for disabled people.
A few years ago I went on a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation to Australia. We looked at the Opera House in Sydney, a relatively new building, architecturally perhaps controversial although the outside is quite imaginative. One of the first questions I asked the young public relations manager taking us round inside was: "Judy, what facilities are there for the disabled?" There was a long silence because my understanding is that there was just one lift in this new theatre. That is in a country like Australia which, with New Zealand, has done a great deal for the disabled.
The Bill is wide ranging. An important clause is Clause 6, which enumerates the organisations that, as I understand it, should make mandatory provision for the disabled. I believe that much of the clause is extremely sound, particularly as regards hotels. In some hotels, bedroom facilities are not found below the fourth floor. This is particularly true in Scandinavia. It happens that my wife suffers from arthritis. She also has a heart flutter and finds it difficult to go above two floors, particularly as she was trapped in a lift during the last war: hell's angels will not get her into a lift now. There are people who are far more disabled than that and I hope that the Government will take the matter on board.
On the other side of the coin there are organisations such as the Royal British Legion, and, as county president of the Surrey branch, I must declare an interest. At Maidstone the organisation provides employment in its workshops, and I believe that Remploy has quite a large factory in Wales and employs a number of disabled people. There are also the Star and Garter Homes at Richmond, of which my late uncle was president for some years.
The real problem with this and any other Bill is enforcement. The Government take the view that the voluntary sector can and should do much. I do not believe that people would quarrel with that, but we are in an age where people are living longer, an age of violence in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. People can become disabled. We must face this fact. The Bill has no chance of being passed in this Session, and may need amendment, some provisions may lead to enormous legal problems. Nevertheless I hope that this Government or any government that may come in 1478 after the election will not say, "This is just another Bill". At the moment the Government are—to use that marvellous expression—benevolently neutral. I do not quarrel with that view at this stage because there are problems of enforcement. However, the aim of the Bill is extremely worth while and all governments should recognise that.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, there could have been no one more suitable to introduce this Bill today than the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood. I can well recall that when I was chairman of the Occupational Pensions Board I went to see the noble Baroness when she was appointed to take charge of the newly—created Equal Opportunities Commission to discuss with her discrimination against women in the pensions world. That issue is still unresolved and I can only hope that, whatever the fate of this Bill, the proposition it puts forward will achieve a rather speedier solution.
As a background to the Bill it is worth recalling, as the noble Baroness pointed out, that it is calculated that there are something over 6 million people in this country with some degree of physical or mental disability. The merit of this Bill, modelled as it is on existing legislation dealing with discrimination on grounds of sex or race, and taking account of experience gained under existing legislation, is that it would for the first time give disabled people a remedy if they are discriminated against in employment, housing, transport, leisure facilities and other areas.
When a comparable Bill was discussed in another place, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People made it clear—anyone who knows him would expect this—that he was perfectly well aware that there was too much unjustified discrimination against disabled people and that this could have a cruel impact on their quality of life as well as being wasteful of ability and talent. However, the Minister remained benevolently neutral on the Bill, perhaps a shade more neutral than benevolent. He argued in effect that legislation was premature and that more time should be given to education and persuasion. He also suggested that the organisations concerned with the disabled were not united in thinking that legislation was called for. I am bound to say that is not altogether my impression.
Some 13 organisations concerned with the disabled got together and launched a manifesto last summer which pleaded for legislation. My postbag suggests that there is a wide measure of agreement among, at any rate, the great majority of organisations concerned, in favour of legislation on the lines of the present Bill. There is indeed a strong feeling that the time has come for something positive to be done and that it has become evident that it is not sufficient to rest on education and persuasion. Something has been achieved certainly but it is not nearly enough.
I wish to use as an example some research done for the Spastics Society which bears on the provisions about employment in Part II of the Bill. In 1986 the society carried out a study which showed beyond dispute that disabled people faced discrimination at 1479 the point of initial application for a job. When this study was repeated in 1990 the results were almost identical to those of the first study. There was no evidence that in the years between the attitude of employers had changed.
The Minister referred in the other place to initiatives by the Employers Forum on Disability, but one can perhaps be forgiven for having a shade of doubt as to how far and how quickly those initiatives will affect attitudes. I appreciate that there is a quota system for all but the small firms for the employment of the disabled. However, even the Department of Employment, skilled as it is in seeing a golden lining to every fresh announcement of increased unemployment, would be hard put to demonstrate that the quota system is actually working. That there is scope for greater employment, for example, of the mentally handicapped, has been shown by the experience of Mencap's Pathway Employment Scheme which has placed in full-time open employment over 2,000 people who previously had no work opportunities.
It seems to me that employers looking at the Bill can take comfort from the careful provisions made in it to which the noble Baroness referred. Those provisions are designed to ensure that employers would not be obliged to make unreasonable changes to accommodation in order to make it possible for disabled people to be taken into employment. Incidentally, I share some of the doubts which have been expressed about whether the county court is the right forum for any application relating to employment, whatever may be applicable to the rest of the Bill. However, that is a point of comparative detail.
As well as problems with employment, there are problems of discrimination in all the other areas covered by the Bill. It is a matter of great regret to my noble friend Lord Rix that a previous commitment in the United States has kept him away from the debate today. If he were here, I expect he would have reminded us that he discovered that the BBC will not allow parties of mentally handicapped people into studio audiences because, so it is said, of fire regulations.
I wish to refer to transport as regards disabled people. Quite a lot has been achieved in this area, but the Minister in another place readily agreed that there was still a long way to go. There are still thousands of handicapped people who cannot use the buses or the long-distance coaches, but who would be able to do so if some changes of design and equipment were made. Highway authorities could well provide more dropped kerbs and more tactile and audible signs at crossing places.
Even British Rail, which I believe has been trying in this area, still has too many stations which are pretty well inaccessible to the physically disabled. Travelling in the guard's van with the baggage is still by no means an unusual experience for the wheelchair user. Examples of discrimination abound in the leisure facilities and other activities covered by the Bill. As the noble Baroness has explained, not only are various restaurants, pubs, cinemas and other places inaccessible for the physically disabled, but there is also 1480 nothing to stop the managements of such places from openly denying disabled people the opportunity to use and enjoy such facilities, and they do.
I was interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, mention the Sydney Opera House. I can bear out to the last comma everything he said about the total unsuitability of access there as regards disabled people. I would add that access is also unsuitable for able-bodied people. Coming closer to home, I cannot help remembering that when the new offices in Richmond Terrace were reconstructed at enormous expense to house, of all departments, the Department of Health, we discovered when we went there with my noble friend Lady Masham, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will recall, that no facilities of any kind had been provided as regards access for wheelchair users.
No one imagines that the problems of discrimination can be solved by legislation. No Act of Parliament will deter the thoughtless motorist who parks his car halfway on the pavement so that it is impossible to get by with a wheelchair. But legislation, backed by a disablement commission, can help to force employers and others to think about what they should be doing. It can bring to light hitherto unsuspected examples of indirect discrimination, as experience elsewhere has shown. It can give reassurance to the good employer, highway authority or restaurant owner that others will not get away with lower standards. The need for education, encouragement and increasing awareness would not be reduced, but it would be powerfully reinforced.
This Government have made it fashionable to promote charters on behalf of the citizen. This Bill would go a long way towards becoming a charter for the disabled. I hope that it will be given a Second Reading.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, has made a very powerful case in support of the Bill presented by my noble friend Lady Lockwood. I want to congratulate her not only on seizing this opportunity of parliamentary time but also on giving a very clear explanation of what the Bill provides. That means that we do not have to do so in our supporting speeches. She is an admirable advocate, with her experience of fighting against discrimination on the grounds of sex, as we were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. There is a similarity between the two cases and the Bill recognises that similarity.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, that it was deplorable that Alf Morris's Bill was talked out on 31st January 1992 in another place despite the fact that it was an all-party Bill. Alf Morris was an exceptional advocate for the Bill, with his 25 years' commitment to helping society to meet the needs of disabled people. I well remember—and if he were present he would also recall—that in 1969, when I was Minister of State for Health and Social Security, he was lucky in the ballot and came to me with his draft Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons' Bill, which turned out to be a landmark in the welfare of disabled 1481 people. He wanted to include everything in that Bill. If everything had been included it would have broken the bank. I had to tell him that there were certain conditions under which our Government could give him support. We did a deal: for every costly measure which I asked him to delete I gave him a new and important measure in the field of non-discrimination. The right honourable gentleman is a very amenable man but very tough, and on that basis we were able to come to a deal. If he reads the report of this debate, I can assure him that we shall facilitate his next attempt.
What is the situation now? In another place the Minister of State for Social Security and Disabled People claimed, as has been said, that he took a position of benevolent neutrality. I thought that that was a misnomer. He was very benevolent but it was benevolent opposition. He made it perfectly clear that he did not think it appropriate or that the time had come for a Bill dealing with these provisions. I cannot accept that the time has not come. If ever the time was right it is now.
The question is, is legislation needed? My noble friend Lady Lockwood has given many examples of discrimination. I was very interested in the recently published findings of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. I need not repeat any of the points which my noble friend made regarding that study.
In 1979, Alf Morris as Minister for the Disabled and I as Secretary of State for Social Services (proud to be in a sense his godfather) set up the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People with an old friend of many of us here, Peter Large, as its chairman. The committee reported in 1982 that there was a need for legislation. That plea was rejected by the then Secretary of State for Social Services. It was rather like the position regarding the Black Report: I set up a committee which reported its recommendations to a successor Secretary of State which were rejected. That is one of the sad aspects of our democratic system in which we move from government to government. However, perhaps we can reverse the situation.
In support of the Bill Mr. Large has written:We have thus already waited 10 years for this legislation, losing 10 years hoping that education and persuasion and the voluntary application of goodwill would eventually transform disabled people's lives. We now know they will not. We were right to believe that campaigns to educate and persuade are too costly and ineffective in the absence of a legislative foundation of acceptable behaviour.He did not argue the case against education and promotion; he said that without the backing of legislation education and promotion are greatly undermined.
I was delighted to see that Sir John Wilson, chairman of the Impact Foundation, of which I am proud to be a council member, sent Alf Morris the message:Good luck for your Private Members' Bill on Anti-Discrimination next Friday. We will all be rooting for you!".I am certain that he will have sent the same message to my noble friend who brings forward the Bill.
There is a great deal of support for the Bill among organisations for the disabled, as the noble Lord, Lord Allen, said. A recent survey by the British 1482 Council of Organisations of Disabled People, which consists of representatives of the many organisations representing disabled people, found that 6 per cent. of British employers were unwilling to employ any disabled people under any circumstances at a time when employable disabled people are six times more likely than non-disabled people to be turned down for a job. Even though there is legislation which is supposed to deal with quotas it applies only to certain categories of firms. There is a great deal of discrimination.
I should like to pay tribute to the enormous amount of work which the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, has done for disabled people. It would have been splendid if he had been able to speak in the debate but he is not in his place today. The noble Earl made an important speech in your Lordships' House in which he referred to the shameful treatment of a young policewoman injured, ironically, while displaying conspicuous bravery in the course of her duties who was turned away from a charity event because, and only because, she was in a wheelchair.
What about the conduct of taxi drivers who refuse to carry blind people if they have guide dogs with them, as now happens from time to time? What about the practice of employers who never research any job applicant who discloses a disability? The research by the Spastics Society referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Allen, showed that non-disabled candidates were 1.5 times more likely to be offered a job than disabled candidates.
Does legislation help? I believe that it does. Of course legislation is not the only answer. It is only part of the answer. One can look at the experience in education, public awareness, good practice guidelines and the concept of equal opportunities employers and equal opportunities housing agencies. That is all extremely good but it is not enough. It must be backed by legislative power.
One could say that in relation to many other areas. For example, we have debated many times whether the poll tax is good or bad, but if there had been no requirement for people to pay the poll tax it would not be a question of a few million people not paying; nobody in the world would have paid. There had to be legislative backing. Racial discrimination is another example. As a Back-Bencher new to Parliament in 1965 I was involved in promoting the first race relations law which was carried. I was a Minister in the Home Office in 1967 when we passed the second Act on race relations. It has made an impact. It does not mean that there is no discrimination but it has meant that it is known to be illegal and the law has had an effect, in the same way as legislation against sex discrimination has had an effect.
I could give another example of seat-belts, in which I had a particular interest. As a Back-Bencher it was my amendment to a transport Bill which finally made seat-belts compulsory. That was after years and millions of pounds had been spent trying to persuade the public that they ought to wear seat-belts. People said that it was a restriction of their freedom. Of course it was. If my noble friend's Bill is carried that will be a restriction on freedom—on the human 1483 freedom to be prejudiced to discriminate against disabled people. Certainly people knew that that is what society felt should be done. Hundreds of lives have been saved as a result of seat-belt legislation. Another example is drink-driving. When my noble friend Lady Castle, was Minister of Transport, she introduced the breath test. She and I, and no doubt most of us, would now go further and make breath tests mandatory.
There is a great deal of evidence that legislation does not solve problems. Legislation backed up by education, promotion and publicity is needed. I do not want to go into the details of the proposed legislation: my noble friend did that very ably. The Bill could be improved in Committee and, as has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, it seems likely that it will not be carried through before the general election. Earlier in the day the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that he did not know the date of the election. It is about time that the Prime Minister told us the date so that we can all go ahead with planning our lives. The only man who knows it is the Prime Minister. Why should he not share that knowledge with the rest of the nation? We all have an interest in it.
The Bill will pave the way for what happens after the election. I have no doubt that at some stage the Prime Minister will get around to fixing the date of the election. After the election we shall see what the situation is. I am certain that eventually the Bill will become law.
I was very touched with the quotation made by Alf Morris in another place when he moved the Second Reading of his Bill. He cited a Spastics Society advertisement which showed a picture of two babies and he quoted the caption: "One of them has cerebral palsy, the other will grow up with full human rights". He said that that was the purpose of the Bill. That is the purpose of my noble friend's Bill.
§ 1.52 p.m.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, on her clear and comprehensive explanation of the Bill. I agree with my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale that, with her wide experience she was the ideal person to introduce it. She speaks not just from the relatively narrow perspective of disability. She sets the Bill in the context of society and discrimination as a whole. As the noble Baroness said, it is a society which is now more at home with the concept of equal opportunities. She wound up with powerful words from the Snowdon Report, and I am delighted that the noble Earl is with us today.
There has been a shift in attitude on the part of the Government toward legislating on this issue. On 31st January at the abortive Second Reading of Alf Morris's Bill in another place, the Minister for disabled people, said that he wished to encourage education and raise awareness. He added—and this is where I find the shift in attitude:In the longer term, I do not rule out a return to the legislative approach if the approach that I am commending to the House does not work".—[Official Report, Commons, 31/1/92; col. 1256.]1484 I shall not give instances of discrimination or argue the need, because others have already done so. I shall just give one or two reasons why I think legislation would be helpful and why we should not be afraid of it. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, spoke of CORAD (the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People) which was set up by Alf Morris under the chairmanship of Peter Large. Its main recommendation was for legislation to make discrimination on the grounds of disability illegal. The scope and nature of the proposed legislation was basically as is now set out in the Bill before us. CORAD realised that neither legislation nor education alone would solve the problem of discrimination; both are needed.
I should like to highlight three points from CORAD's report in favour of legislation. First, education campaigns on their own are expensive and rarely very successful. In 1979 two national campaigns to make people wear seat belts cost £1.8 million. Both campaigns failed, in the absence of legislation. Secondly, while legislation will not make people love each other, it can make them behave properly toward each other and that in turn can influence attitudes for good. Thirdly, legislation would ensure that any cost or effort involved in treating the disabled properly is spread more evenly. Without legislation, those lacking in goodwill would gain an advantage over those who put themselves out to help disabled people. I echo what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, to the effect that legislation provides a benchmark for good behaviour.
We must recognise that people with disabilities are not naturally more litigious than anyone else. The purpose of the Bill is not to take everyone to court. Indeed, it could be agreed that, if a complaint gets that far, it is a lost case so far as concerns human relations and a just society. Experience from abroad—for example, South Australia, New South Wales and the United States—shows the law as a background against which settlements and adjustments can be agreed and education and persuasion can flourish. In fact, New South Wales has had legislation for some time, but I am fairly sure that the Sydney Opera House was built before the legislation was introduced.
I believe that the Bill before us would provide a firm foundation for cost-effective campaigns of education and persuasion, about which the noble Lord, Lord Allen, spoke most persuasively. The masterly explanation of the Bill by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, stressed the importance of safeguarding the definition of the qualified person and also the test of reasonableness. The Minister raised objections at Second Reading in the other place on the matter of the county courts and wondered whether the test should be of reasonableness or justifiable discrimination. I am sure that we could discuss those points at a Committee stage; it would be extremely useful.
Your Lordships have recently been bombarded with amendments and debates about people with disabilities, children with special educational needs and students with learning difficulties. On the Further and Higher Education Bill the Government were extremely helpful in accepting and bringing forward amendments which they recognised as sensible or 1485 necessary. I hope that, if this Bill is enacted, many of those smaller amendments of a prodding or reminding nature would no longer be necessary and noble Lords would feel less besieged by disability issues.
CORAD reported its findings in February 1982, which is exactly 10 years ago. How well have education and persuasion succeeded over those 10 years? The noble Baroness ended by quoting from the Snowdon Report and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, ended by quoting from the Spastics Society. I should like to return to the Second Reading on 31st January 1992 in the other place and quote more words from the Minister for disabled people. He said:We all know that there is still too much unjustified discrimination against disabled people. We know that that is wrong and often has a cruel impact on the quality of life of disabled people. It is also remarkably stupid, because the wealth of ability and talent that disabled people have to offer —a variety of enterprise in society—is significant, and it is a waste of those talents if they suffer unjustifiable discrimination".—[Official Report, Commons, 31/1/92; col. 1251.]We should give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ 1.58 p.m.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, on these Benches we warmly welcome the Bill although we fully realise the difficulties that it faces in becoming a reality on the statute book. In particular, we welcome the philosophy behind the Bill. The Liberal Democrats have a detailed package of proposed legislation—should they ever be in a position to introduce it—to deal with disability generally. A number of the subjects dealt with by the noble Baroness's Bill are part of the package that we would put forward, to which we would add adequate income for disabled people and the proper implementation of the 1986 disability Act.
So far as the disabled are concerned, the subject of discrimination is quite a difficult one. There is no doubt that discrimination exists. My own father was for 40 years quite visibly disabled as a result of polio. He said that throughout his life he had never come across any active discrimination as such, although he did encounter lack of imagination from time to time.
For someone who is visibly handicapped—someone who, like my father, loses the use of his legs and walks with sticks —there is often considerable help from individuals from the most surprising quarters. I remember that in the 1950s he caught one of his sticks in a moving escalator on the London Underground. Much to his dismay, he was approached by a group of fairly forbidding young people who at that time were described as Teddy Boys. He was most astonished when they lifted him bodily from his position of embarrassment and took him to another place, with great concern for his future welfare. He was most impressed by that incident and others during his life.
I believe that other noble Lords have mentioned deafness. Where disability is not so visible or marked, it is necessary for employers in particular to ensure that their younger employees are made aware of such disabilities. Perhaps through lack of time, lack of imagination or lack of education they may not be aware that someone who is deaf or blind has particular difficulties.
1486 The noble Baroness conveyed to us the story of the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh. It is interesting because it tells us much about banks and their employees. I should like to know the name of the bank which reacted so positively after the bank that was so deficient. It would not want my overdraft; but if I were in a position to do so I should like to transfer my business to that bank. It was an example of a young man, probably under the pressure of a new job, whose immediate reaction when faced with someone who was both blind and deaf was, "You won't have need for the use of a bank card". That shows lack of imagination on his part but also lack of training and foresight on the part of the employer. It was a valuable example of the kind of corporate action that is needed.
The noble Baroness discussed the various aspects of the Bill most thoroughly and clearly. I do not wish to repeat them. From my observation and experience, there are certain skills in employment which disabled people have which are superior to those of people who are not disabled. I do not consider just piano tuners —an obvious example—but physiotherapists. Physiotherapists have an enormous ability to use their hands. They are often blind. I heard of a case some time ago—I hope that it does not prevail today; other noble Lords will know the answer better than I do —when it was difficult for physiotherapists to go into hospitals to apply their skills, which were much needed, because hospitals would not allow guide dogs into the premises. I hope that that situation does not prevail today. If it does, it is an aspect that needs attending to under the noble Baroness's Bill.
The questions of leisure and access to recreation and the arts are most important. Recently I was asked to go to a presentation by an organisation for the blind relating to transport. I found myself seated between two elderly ladies who had been blind from birth. I have an interest in the cinema and the theatre. To my surprise both said that they liked going to the cinema and theatre equally. That may surprise some people. With the cinema being a visual medium one might consider it of no interest to blind people; but that is not so. Noble Lords have referred to the fact that many cinema managers do not show the care and imagination needed. Perhaps it is because cinemas were not built in the first place with the access required for people in wheelchairs. But the excuse about the fire risk which the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, referred to is trotted out as a reason for not allowing disabled people to enter a cinema, whether they are blind, have lost the use of legs or have other disabilities.
Although I do not go to race courses these days for many different reasons, I notice that the facilities for disabled people have very much improved. The management has to be congratulated on that. I see the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, nods; I know that he has an interest in that sport. Such improvement is encouraging. I hope that it is not the bookmakers who have arranged those improved facilities. Nevertheless it is heartening to consider that many disabled people now have the possibility of a day out and are able to see an excellent sport at close quarters.
One also has to consider art galleries and theatres. Indeed, new book shops need more thought in 1487 planning. I noticed that the refurbishment of a well-known bookshop in the West End has been undertaken with obvious thought for the disabled. That again is heartening.
It appears that much is being done for the disabled, but that does not mean that we do not require the noble Baroness's Bill. I am sorry that it is unlikely to reach the statute book. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, that if the fashion for charters continues—although I hope that it does not—as a charter for the disabled the Bill would be absolutely ideal.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for moving so well the Second Reading of this important Bill. As is the convention, I make it clear that although I speak from the Dispatch Box I speak from a personal view. However, my party supports the principle of anti-discrimination on disability legislation.
In debating the need for the Bill, we should consider what we mean by discrimination and how it comes about. In looking through the dictionaries in your Lordships' Library I was interested to read the examples that they gave of discrimination. There is not a single mention of discrimination on the ground of disability—it is always on the ground of race, sex or colour—although, as we know, there are more than 6 million disabled people.
What causes able-bodied people and society in general to discriminate against people with disabilities? There are many reasons. Some are psychological, the deep-seated fear of that which appears not to be normal or is unknown. That fear goes back through history. The Old Testament Book of Leviticus reiterates the physical and mental perfection that is necessary for all aspects of religious ritual. During the Middle Ages disability was associated with evil and witchcraft. Physical or mental impairment was deemed to be the punishment of a parent's wrongdoing. Visits to Bedlam were a common form of amusement. Even today one can see on television some performers who try to exploit disabilities in order to raise laughs.
In terms of culture there is the attitude of society as a whole. There is economic discrimination in employment. As regards income, we know that disabled people are poorer than the able-bodied because that has been shown by the OPCS and the surveys carried out by the Disablement Income Group. Education rests on the concept of a special need outside the mainstream of education. Indeed, often expectations are so low that one feels that special education is aimed at producing a generation of telephonists, audio typists and lift attendants. Disabled people are more likely to be out of work and for longer periods, and if they have employment it is usually work of low pay and of low status. However, this is neither the place nor the time for a detailed discussion of the whole area of benefits for disability.
We believe, as do many people, that the only social and just means for providing benefits for disabled people is a combination of a disability cost allowance 1488 and a disability income allowance. That will be a long battle but I am sure that eventually the justice of the argument will prevail. It is a long-term target of the next Labour Government to shift the balance of benefits towards the ultimate objective of a comprehensive disability cost and income allowance. It will take longer than the lifetime of one Parliament to achieve that.
The whole attitude of society towards people with disabilities is that they are unable to take charge of their own lives. That is seen as being a job for able-bodied professionals. There have been references to discrimination in leisure and in social activities. There has been widespread discrimination in terms of access and attitude. In my experience, some restaurants will not allow in guide dogs, saying that it will affect the other customers. Theatres, cinemas and, it seems, the BBC will not allow in wheelchairs because of the risk of fire. A seaside resort banned a group of mentally handicapped people because it was felt that they would upset other visitors.
There is an interesting example of the muddled and patronising attitude professionals can so easily adopt.The Disability Handbook, an excellent publication, deals with the care needs and mobility requirements likely to arise from various disabilities and chronic illnesses. It is produced by The Benefits Agency Medical Services and is written by six doctors. In Chapter 2, which deals with the presentation of disability, the paragraph headed "Underrepresentation of disability" states:Many carers, particularly those looking after people with severe learning disability, work extremely hard to make the disabled person appear as independent as possible. For example, they may work for months or even years to teach the person how to go to the local shop on their own. This independence is an illusion—any deviation from the 'norm' will expose the true extent of the continuing care and supervision being exercised in the background. These people only appear to function because of the highly structured environment which has been created for them.Under the heading "Overrepresentation of disability" the handbook states:This occurs less frequently than underrepresentation. However, there are still situations where disability may appear to be in excess of that expected … In the long run, this can be detrimental to the disabled person by preventing them from achieving whatever independence they might manage.That is an example of the muddled and patronising attitude which can occur even among professionals.
There is a legion of examples of attitude. For instance, a television presenter praised a disabled lad for his bravery because, as he said, "He is not even in a wheelchair". The presenter thereby automatically devalued every other child with the same condition who is in a wheelchair. A headline in the Sun newspaper used the word "spastic" as a term of insult. A recent disgraceful advertisement in the Guardian showed Britannia in a wheelchair in order to illustrate an economy in decline. There is the use of able-bodied actors and actresses to portray people with disabilities while so many disabled actors and actresses can easily play the parts. Such examples are legion. They show conclusively that education and persuasion are not enough. Therefore, a Bill such as that which we are considering is long overdue.
1489 Unemployment, low income, dependence on benefits, a hostile physical environment and ingrained social attitudes conspire together to discriminate against people with disabilities. There must be positive discrimination in favour of people with disabilities to redress the balance. That needs the backing of legislation to enshrine the essential move from consideration of individual needs to active promotion of individual social rights. A combination of charity and the social services is not enough.
The Bill has been extremely well explained by my noble friend Lady Lockwood. It is a good start on what is likely to be a long road. There is no need for me to go through the Bill in detail.
The first Motion that I ever moved in your Lordships' House was to draw attention to the needs and problems of people with disabilities. In that debate I coined the phrase "the disabled divide" to describe the great gulf in expectation and achievement between people with disabilities and the able-bodied. If enacted this Bill will go a long way towards bridging that divide or, in the words of President Bush when he signed the American Disabilities Act in 1990:Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.
§ 2.14 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I join with other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Baroness on introducing the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill which has allowed us to have what all your Lordships would agree has been an extremely useful debate on a wide range of fundamental issues which affect people with disabilities. I thank the noble Baroness for emphasising the very proud record which we have in this House in this sphere.
Establishing the means to overcome the barriers which people with disabilities still face in their everyday lives is an extremely important subject which crosses party political boundaries. I begin by quoting from a speech made by my right honourable friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People in another place on 31st January. I apologise to the House for repeating the quotation because the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), has already quoted the same passage which I wish to quote. However, it is useful to convey how we feel on these matters. My right honourable friend said:There is much common ground between the parties in the House. We all know that there is still too much unjustified discrimination against disabled people. We know that that is wrong and often has a cruel impact on the quality of life of disabled people. It is also remarkably stupid, because the wealth of ability and talent that disabled people have to offer —a variety of enterprise in society—is significant, and it is a waste of those talents if they suffer unjustifiable discrimination.At the risk of being criticised for borrowing too much of the speech of my right honourable friend perhaps I may quote another short passage because I do not believe that I could express the point better myself. My right honourable friend went on to say:There is no difference of opinion in the House about the ends that we seek: the integration of disabled people, their independence and their participation in a range of activities … 1490 recreation and sport. Above all, we want them to have control over their own lives".—[Official Report, Commons, 31/1/92; cols. 1251 and 1256].I associate myself wholeheartedly with those sentiments.
We do not deny that discrimination still exists. At the same time I believe that the situation has improved over the past few years. I am convinced that it will continue to improve because we are all committed to seeing that it does. This Government will continue to work to achieve the objectives so succinctly described by my right honourable friend.
Mention has been made of the Bill introduced in another place by Mr. Alf Morris; several noble Lords referred to its fate. I do not believe that the procedures of another place are a matter for this House but I should point out that in another place the Bill had nearly two hours of debate. Even had it received a Second Reading when it was introduced, with the general election approaching it could not have completed its passage through Parliament. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, knows that I do not know when the election will be, as I said earlier in response to the noble Lord, Lord Carter.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, if the election were to be in June or July, surely there would be enough time for the Bill to complete its passage.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I was going on to say that I believe all noble Lords would agree that the Bill would have needed substantial amendment in both Houses. It would have received quite long Committee and Report stages and Third Reading. It is unlikely that time would have been found to get a Bill through, whatever the timing of the election. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, knows when the election will be but, as I said earlier, I have not the first idea of the date.
As I have said already, we have considerable sympathy with the thinking behind the Bill. We shall give it serious thought, as my noble kinsman Lord Auckland asked us to do. However, we have always made it absolutely clear that we wish to see the elimination of discrimination. We have a good record of working towards that end both by influencing the way people think and by legislating in particular areas where that is necessary. I must say to the House, however, that despite everything that has been said today, and however much I wish to see the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities, I remain unconvinced that this Bill is the right measure to achieve that at this time.
Many acts of apparent discrimination against disabled people on the grounds of their disability arise through ignorance and thoughtlessness rather than ill will. Too often, prejudice and pre-conceived ideas about what a disabled person can or cannot do act as a barrier to employment or integration in other spheres of life. We must continue to improve awareness of ability and to remove the negative aspects of disability. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, quoted the example provided by the noble Lord, Lord Clifford, of the young man who was both deaf and blind being refused a bank card by one bank and having to go to another. The first bank lost a 1491 customer through its ignorance; the second bank certainly gained a customer through acting with sympathy and understanding. It may also have the luck of gaining the overdraft of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, should it wish to have it and should we discover its name. However, would legislation have made the first bank any more enlightened? I suspect not. Banks and other institutions will change their attitudes as they learn that it is in their interests as well as the interests of the disabled so to do.
We have improved opportunities in many areas for people with disabilities in this country in recent years and we shall continue to work to bring about the changes in attitudes and improved awareness among the general public which are an essential step in achieving full integration. We shall continue to introduce concrete measures, including specific, targeted legislation where necessary.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), for her comments concerning amendments which were accepted to the Further and Higher Education Bill. I cite also the package we produced in the Local Government Finance Bill for those who are disabled and the reliefs to be provided in that field.
In this country we have a good record on such measures. I am sure that the House will forgive me for not describing all of them in detail. Many points were put forward which require a certain amount of detailed response. But I am sure that noble Lords will accept that there is no need for me, for example, to respond on the question of the Sydney Opera House, for which I have no responsibility. However, perhaps I may briefly refer to the complaints made about the building in which the headquarters of both my department and the Department of Health are held —Richmond House. If there were problems for wheelchair access in the past, they have to some extent been eased, as I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, will confirm—she has been to my room to see me on occasions. I hope that we shall continue to move forward in the same way in other areas.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, the point was that when the building was designed in the first place, with all the expertise that went into it, and when the building was to house the two departments most concerned with disability, nobody thought to make it accessible to wheelchairs. The department then had to go to considerable expense to make it accessible.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, the noble Lord has the wrong end of the stick. As I understand it, it was not originally intended to house the Departments of Health and Social Security. But, as he said, that is not the point. Whatever department it was intended to move in, wheelchair access should have been considered.
However, I want to use the Richmond House scenario to illustrate an important point; that is, that the Government do introduce legislation in specific areas where it is needed. The building regulations of 1985 have now been replaced by new regulations laid in December, which come into force in June. Further consideration is being given to extending the 1492 regulations to include alterations of buildings already in use. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that point.
Obviously I will not be able to cover all the points on housing, education and leisure. But my understanding on the specific point of access to theatres, particularly West End theatres, is that it is being addressed. There are major problems with a great many theatres because they are in the main old buildings. But I understand, and some noble Lords will know, of the adapt fund that was set up in 1989, with funding from both the Government and the Carnegie Trust, which assists with the costs of making arts venues accessible. That relates not just to theatres but also art galleries. That is just another example of one small field in which there can be progress without legislation being necessary.
I want to talk about two areas where substantial progress has been made over the past few years which very clearly illustrates the progress that can be made without legislation. I am sure that most noble Lords will accept that the first and probably most important of these is employment. We do of course have one piece of employment legislation for disabled people; namely, the quota scheme which was mentioned by one noble Lord. It has been in place now for over 40 years, although we acknowledge that it does not work as well as originally intended, not least because the majority of people with a disability choose not to register as disabled. They do not wish to be singled out as in some way different. Quite rightly, they wish to be employed, trained and promoted on their merits.
The best employers are already publicly committed to this philosophy. I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Allen, who referred to the work of the Employers' Forum of Disability, an organisation of over 50 of the country's leading employers which are committed to good practice in the recruitment and employment of disabled people. Only last month, the employers' forum launched its Agenda for Disability setting out 10 points for action. The Prime Minister, the Minister for Disabled People and my noble friend Lord Ullswater attended the launch of this agenda. I know that they were certainly impressed by what the forum is trying to achieve through its agenda and in other ways.
The Department of Employment works closely with the forum and with many other organisations which can contribute to improving the employment prospects of people with disabilities. These voluntary efforts are also helped by the fact that all the department's employment and training schemes are open to unemployed people with disabilities, often with the entry criteria relaxed and with increased priority. In addition, the department operates a range of special schemes aimed at assisting disabled people to get or keep employment. This includes providing advice and practical help to individuals and to employers.
I acknowledge that some employers, sadly, discriminate against people with disabilities. We believe that progress in overcoming such discrimination in employment can be achieved most effectively by improving awareness of the abilities of disabled 1493 people and dispelling ignorance and prejudice. This will continue to be backed with practical help. The Department of Employment works with industry and many local statutory and voluntary organisations, as well as with individual disabled people, to promote and implement this approach.
The second area I should like briefly to touch on is transport. This is a problem which the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, stressed. She referred to the inaccessibility of many forms of public as well as private transport. Here too there is a blend of targeted legislation and co-operation between government, providers and users. There are still shortcomings in the accessibility of the public transport system. That is true of every country in the world. But over the past 10 years, the Department of Transport has worked with manufacturers and transport providers, as well as with organisations of and for disabled people, to introduce considerable improvements.
The key to success is, I believe, to use legislation selectively, and to target it carefully. The transport world provides a very clear example of the benefits of specific rather than general legislation. By focusing on technical standards and specific transport modes it is possible not only to ensure good standards for access but also, most important, common standards of access.
I am sure that the House will have noticed that all new London taxis are equipped to carry wheelchairs. By January 2000 all London taxis are required to be accessible. London is the first capital city in the world to require its taxis to be accessible. I am very pleased that over 60 towns and cities in the United Kingdom have introduced or are planning similar requirements.
To cover other transport needs, the London Regional Transport Act 1984, the Transport Act 1985 and the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 all involve specific duties to take account of the needs of disabled people. In other areas equally good progress has been made without legislative back-up. The noble Lord, Lord Allen, paid some tribute to British Rail. It has set a clear policy internally to provide for disabled passengers and, while progress must still be made in improving access on suburban and regional services, all new rolling stock is now designed to be accessible and all InterCity routes are already fully accessible with the very welcome additional feature on new rolling stock of a wheelchair accessible WC.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. I went out of my way to say that I thought British Rail was one of the organisations which has really been trying and has done quite a lot; but, good heavens, there is still a great deal to be done.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for those remarks. As I said, the noble Lord did pay some tribute to British Rail and I was trying to acknowledge that tribute.
The combination of education, co-operation and specific legislation is proving effective, and I emphasise that it is only specific legislation that will assist progress. I do not see how general civil rights 1494 legislation, even overseen by the kind of Disablement Commission envisaged by this Bill, could achieve those ends.
Legislation cannot abolish prejudice and ignorance despite the persuasiveness of the arguments produced here today. I continue to have reservations about the effectiveness of general anti-discrimination legislation of this kind.
Several noble Lords acknowledged that the Bill needs amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, specifically said that there were certain aspects that needed amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Allen, referred to the use of county courts and whether that was appropriate. This is obviously neither the time nor place for any such detailed consideration; but, for example right at the beginning of the Bill, I suggest that, fundamentally, the definition of disability is open to a range of interpretations. How would "reasonableness" and "undue hardship" be interpreted? Those are only some examples of specific difficulties which might arise in interpreting the Bill in practice. More generally, we have to ask ourselves whether it would be right to introduce a climate of litigation into the numerous areas of public and private life covered by this Bill, and whether that would benefit disabled people more than the approach I have outlined of combining education, co-operation, and specific legislation where it is needed.
I have listened very carefully to all the arguments which have been put forward during this debate. I note especially the strength of feeling that has been expressed here today. I acknowledge that many of the speakers have considerable knowledge and are extremely well-informed about disability, and some even have personal experience themselves. It is clearly right that we must consider very carefully all that has been said here today about the fundamental issues which are raised by this Bill.
As has been said on various occasions, we are benevolently neutral in our attitude to the Bill. We do not think that it is the right way forward at this time. Nevertheless, I have no intention of opposing Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, does he agree that the description of "benevolently opposed" is very much more appropriate than "benevolently neutral"? Quite clearly he is against the passing of this Bill. That is not neutral at all. His position is that he is opposed to it.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, it is up to my right honourable friend and myself to decide on the words we use. I consider that our attitude is one of benevolent neutrality. I have explained why there are problems in the approach as set out in the Bill, but I have said that we are very sympathetic to the aims behind the Bill and the ideas underlying it. We do not think that this Bill is necessarily the right way forward at this time.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords and the noble Baroness who spoke in support of the Bill. Apart from the Minister 1495 —and I shall come to him later—all other speeches have been fully in favour of the Bill. I have had a number of letters and apologies from other noble Lords who would have liked to have spoken in the debate today, but who unfortunately could not do so. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, would have liked to have made his maiden speech on the Bill, but he is abroad. The noble Baroness, Lady MacLeod, intended to speak, but I had a telephone call from her this morning to say that she is ill. All speakers have been in favour of the Bill and some very telling evidence was put forward in support of it.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, for his tribute to my honourable friend in another place for all the work that he has done in this area. The Bill is of course his Bill but has been transposed to this House. All the preliminary work was done by my honourable friend and by his team which includes the majority of the organisations working on behalf of disabled people. We should pay a sincere tribute to all the work that they do.
A number of noble Lords referred to one or two deficiencies in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Allen, was unsure whether or not the county courts were the right medium of redress for employment cases. If we had more time—the Minister indicated that there is unlikely to be sufficient time for the Bill to progress further—it would have been useful to have gone through the Committee stage and looked at the definitions and at the provisions contained in the Bill. With the experience of this House in improving legislation I am sure that we would have been able to make improvements even to this Bill. No one is pretending that the final word has been written or said on the Bill.
I turn now to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henley. He said in his opening remarks that he welcomed the debate because it had given us an opportunity to look at this problem in some detail. He quoted his honourable friend in another place who said that there was much common ground and that the ends that we seek are the same. The noble Lord then seemed to depart from the ends when it came to the means. He confirmed that he was as benevolently neutral as his honourable friend in another place and he said that the Government would give serious thought to the Bill but he was unconvinced that it was the right remedy. He went on to refer to what he saw as the alternative approach. It seemed to me that he was ruling out legislation. I am surprised, because the alternatives could still proceed. The Bill would not interfere with that process but would reinforce the approach that he was suggesting. I am very disappointed with his response.
The noble Lord dealt in some detail with the two areas of employment and transport. He referred to the 50 major companies that are involved in the Employers' Forum of Disability. The work that is being done in this field is very welcome indeed. However, the noble Lord mentioned 50 firms. The Financial Times quotes the top 500 firms, so a good many firms are not involved in this work. As I said in 1496 my introduction, legislation of this kind helps to provide a fair competitive field for those organisations and firms which are trying to eliminate discrimination.
As I indicated, although education and persuasion are excellent, they are slow. We have only to look at the whole of our culture and vocabulary. All of it is full of images which detract from our acceptance of the fact that there is discrimination against disabled people. For example, we talk about Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, an "idiot's guide", and "lame ducks". They are all derogatory to the people who have a disability. We use such expressions in our everyday speech. Unless we can really focus on those problems, we shall not be able quickly to eradicate discrimination against disabled people.
The Minister had some doubts about the definition of the word "discrimination" contained in the Bill. Well, all right, we could look at those definitions. However, I think that the definition of indirect discrimination, which has been so valuable in the field of race and sex discrimination in bringing to the fore those unrecognised forms of discrimination and which is contained in the Bill, would be absolutely vital to achieving complete eradication of discrimination in our society.
I hope that the Minister will, as he said, think seriously about the Bill. From what has been said, it sounds as if we may not progress much further before the general election. But I trust that this House will place on record its approval for such a Bill. It could then be picked up after the general election either by the government of the day or by Private Members in this House or in another place. If that were to happen, then our debate today will have made a very useful contribution to that process. I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading today.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.