HL Deb 15 June 1992 vol 538 cc79-108

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

This is the second occasion that this Bill has been before your Lordships' House. On 21st February of this year it was given an unopposed Second Reading and received support from all parts of the House, although the Government's approach was ambivalently neutral. Because of the interruption of the general election, the Bill could not proceed. I do not wish to repeat all the arguments made on that occasion but I wish to remind your Lordships of some of the salient features.

When the Bill was introduced in another place on the initiative of my right honourable friend Mr. Alfred Morris, it had all-party sponsorship. It is no longer a controversial matter. Voluntary and charitable organisations throughout the country which cater for the needs of disabled people have concluded that they need a civil rights Bill to establish the right of disabled people, within the constraints of their disability, to live a normal life with all the opportunities that their own individual abilities offer and without the added burden of discrimination against them.

As the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, said on the debate on the Royal Address: Of course, the more palatable and effortless solution is to concentrate on education and persuasion to change attitudes and the problems that are faced by many disabled people. In 1976, when I had the honour of chairing a working party on integration, I believed that that would work, hut, sadly. I have now come to the conclusion that, although certain aspects have improved since then, and above all since the International Year of Disabled People in 1981, not nearly enough progress has been made for the benefit of disabled people and for giving them their due. I now believe that legislation is the only answer".—[Official Report, 12/5/92; col. 270.] Not only is that view shared by the voluntary organisations but they are now putting rights—that is, legislation—as their first priority.

It has been estimated that there are some 6.5 million disabled people in this country, although that figure could be added to significantly depending on how one determines what is disabled. For example, the Royal National Institute for the Deaf claims that there are some 7.5 million adults who have some hearing loss of some description. In any event, this problem affects a much larger number of people. We are talking about families of disabled people as well as the disabled themselves.

During the International Year of Disabled People in 1981, the BBC commissioned a Gallup survey from which it emerged that 29 per cent.—almost one third—of the total population of the country was seriously affected to some extent, either personally or through family ties. That is a large chunk of our population.

Among children alone, the OPCS reports that an estimated 360,000 children are disabled, the vast majority of whom, as with adults, live in private establishments and not in institutions. For families to cope with disability is difficult enough, even in a loving and devoted family environment. To compound that problem with discrimination against a person simply because of disability of some kind is not acceptable in a civilised society. Therefore, this Bill, as I said on 21st February last, is not about charity, paternalism or even the provision of services—it is about rights. It is about the relationship of individuals with a disability and the environment in which they live. It is about the way in which society structures its institutions and procedures to take account of those disabilities.

Much of the institutional discrimination against disabled people that takes place occurs in the public sector. My attention has been drawn to a recent and topical example. Research conducted by the Spastics Society into the 1992 general election—to be published some time this month—claims that only 12 per cent. of polling stations were accessible to disabled people. Another example is given to me by Deaf Accord, which says that there are 4,000 hearing aid wearers in this country but most public buildings do not have induction loops. Those are the kind of institutional discriminations of which we wish to be rid.

The Bill is the same as that introduced in February. It has five parts and a schedule. Part I is concerned with definitions. Part II makes provisions in the field of employment, including the requirement for an employer to make reasonable adaptations. Part III covers rights in the provision of goods, facilities and services, including access, and the requirement again to make reasonable adaptations. Part IV is concerned with enforcement provisions and Part V is short, dealing with miscellaneous provisions. The schedule provides for the establishment of a disablement commission, which has both an enforcement and an educative role.

During the previous debate on the Bill some noble Lords had minor criticisms of its drafting. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, asked why industrial tribunals were not being made available in areas of employment. I am glad to say that I shall be bringing forward an amendment to that effect in Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, who is again responding to the debate this evening, had reservations regarding interpretations and asked how "reasonableness" would be defined. I hope to table an amendment to change "reasonableness" to "justifiable". That is similar wording to that included in the sex and race discrimination legislation and is a term which the courts are accustomed to interpreting. Incidentally, it is also an amendment which was suggested by his honourable friend in another place on 31st January 1992 at col. 1253 of Hansard. There are one or two other amendments that I hope to table.

I should perhaps explain to the House that in the interests of expediting the Bill it was thought better to introduce it as already printed and to return with amendments at Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, said in February that if the Bill proceeded to Committee it would need substantial amendment. However, he did not say in what respect. If he still feels that that is so, I hope he will indicate which areas, in his opinion, are in need of amendment so that we can proceed to accommodate them at Committee stage.

In February the Minister said: Legislation cannot abolish prejudice and ignorance".— [official Report, 21/2/92: col. 1494]. Of course it cannot, and nobody claims that it can. What it can do is establish acceptable standards from which deviation can be judged. Those standards are part of the educative process which the Bill will encourage. The Bill concerns rights for disabled people and remedies and redress where those rights are denied. It concerns the amendment of our institutions to accommodate those rights and the establishment of the proper attitudes and environment whereby disabled people can live their lives to the full as individual human beings with all the dignity that that implies. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Baroness Lockwood.)

7.43 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, upon the way in which she presented the Bill and upon her perseverence. The noble Baroness gave us a clear exposition and confirmed that it is exactly the same Bill as she introduced into the House shortly before dissolution.

I am glad to follow the noble Baroness because this is another bid to legislate on discrimination. The noble Baroness described the Bill but I may be able to help the House with some background and mention earlier excursions that have been made into this field. It is perhaps suitable for me to do that because I presented the first Bill in Parliament which would have established a disablement commission. That was in 1968 in another place. I presented also the last similar Bill to pass through all the stages in this House. That was in 1984.

Others too have made valiant attempts to produce schemes which are both workable and acceptable to governments. My Bills were simple and inexpensive. They would have set up a disablement commission to consider situations and cases and to pronounce and recommend. It may be helpful for me briefly to remind your Lordships of the sequence of events.

In 1968 I was able to introduce my first Bill because I was successful in the ballot in another place. The Second Reading took place in March 1969. I had plenty of time because I had been a leader in the ballot.

I was a Private Member though in the Shadow Cabinet at the time. A Division was forced by the Government Whips and the Bill was lost by only four votes. A year later the right honourable gentleman Mr. Alf Morris came first in the ballot and, with the help of the Government, presented what became the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. I was a sponsor of that Bill at his invitation. After the June 1970 general election I became a Secretary of State responsible for putting that Act into effect.

The 1970 Act was a milestone. It enabled local authorities to carry out various functions to assist disabled people. It dealt with access to buildings and transport as well as other matters. It did not attempt to deal with the subject of discrimination.

In 1983 in another place the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amendment) Bill was presented by the honourable gentleman Mr. Wareing. That did not make progress in another place and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, introduced it as the No. 2 Bill in your Lordships' House. It did not find favour here. Also in 1983 I presented my Disabled Persons Bill. That was an updated version of my 1968 Bill. It would again have established a commission. During its stages I accepted amendments and it completed its passage through the House of Lords in 1984. No time was made available in another place. That does not happen unless the Government are prepared to arrange it. They were not disposed to do so for that Bill in 1984.

We see the same situation today. Unless the Government smile with favour upon this Bill and provide time for it in another place after its passage here, it cannot become law. Governments and many parliamentarians are wary of passing laws which will create new offences, especially ones which are difficult to prove. That has been a difficulty with some of the attempts to deal with discrimination. My Bills relied only on a commission and its findings. That may be criticised as being weak and providing no teeth. I accept that. But I believed it was better than nothing.

I come now to a move of a different kind in 1985. That was an approach by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton. With his knowledge and great parliamentary experience he proposed that a disability council be established by Royal Charter. That proposal avoided creating new offences and would not need any legislation at all. We debated his Motion on 20th February 1985 and it received general support. However, again the government of the day was not convinced by the arguments.

I have been reminding your Lordships about the attempts which have been made since 1967 to strengthen the law against discrimination and to set up a commission. But it would be a mistake to think that little progress was made in those 25 years. In the mid-1960s some of us who were Members of another place started campaigning for recognition of those categories of disabled people who were at that time completely ignored. War disability and industrial injury were at that time covered by schemes, but little else. People severely disabled from birth or early youth who were never able to work or register for employment did not qualify for benefits other than national assistance where families were badly off. They were not in the national insurance system, never having been available for work.

A Statement was made in October 1967 by the Government in reply to a Question of mine in another place announcing the first OPCS survey, which reported around two years later. It provided numbers of adults, disabled and in their homes in Britain, by a method of sampling. It was the first assessment of its kind and its findings made a considerable impression in the country.

In the meantime I had won another ballot, this time for Motions. I must point out to your Lordships that I was incredibly lucky in those days in another place in winning ballots. On that occasion I chose what was then a new and an unusual subject—"the disabled and chronic sick." I have with me a letter from Megan du Boisson, the founder of DIG, the Disabled Income Group, dated December 1968, encouraging my presentation of the Disablement Commission Bill which I have described.

DIG was formed to represent the forgotten people. Mrs du Boisson was herself a housewife in a wheelchair, one of the categories then not recognised for allowances or benefits. The 1970 Act, which I have already mentioned, led to much increased public awareness and to the introduction of allowances and benefits during subsequent years.

Many of us have remained concerned about discrimination. How can it best be reduced and eliminated? There have been some limited successes which I should mention; for example, with deafness, driving licences and jobs as drivers. Because it would be entirely wrong—indeed, criminal—to allow a blind person to drive, some firms would not accept that someone who was deaf was safe to drive. Several cases were taken up and, with government help, deafness has now become accepted for jobs involving driving.

Some of us in Parliament have been trying to find actual cases of discrimination. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, and I tried to find cases. That was not easy. About seven years ago I received, as did others, some documented cases from a well-known national voluntary organisation. Delighted, I telephoned to the director with some questions on one or two of the cases, saying how useful they would be. At last we had some real evidence!

He telephoned a day or two later and asked to see me privately. When he did see me he confessed that he had just discovered that they were not real cases but had been invented by a research officer although presented as factual. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and I were able to discover which other Parliamentarians had been sent details of these cases. We warned them and told them what the true situation was. We could have been raising, as real, cases which were invented and bogus. That was a misguided way to try to help the cause, but fortunately we discovered the situation in time.

I should now like to say a word about mental disability and discrimination, which is included in the Bill. I believe that mental handicap need not be too difficult if properly handled. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will have something to say about it, as he is probably the greatest living expert on the subject. Mental illness is another matter which needs careful handling. Mentally ill people are sometimes discriminated against for personal services such as insurance and banking. That need not happen and a disablement commission is a good way—probably the best—to advise the industries concerned and improve the situation.

As regards jobs, employment can be difficult in some cases. A sufferer who seems outwardly completely normal may in practice be unemployable. From many years of close contact with mentally ill people, I have to say that and give an example. From time to time such a person may hear voices telling him or her to do crazy things which he or she then does. I t is very difficult to employ somebody in that situation. Expert advice from psychiatrists may be needed before employment can be given.

References are sometimes made to American legislation. To avoid confusion one must recognise that the main anti-discrimination provisions in the United States are directed to access. That is a very important subject. In the United Kingdom we have been making progress. But we do not call that anti-discrimination. That United States legislation, if it had gone through this Parliament, would probably have borne the title "Access to Premises Act" and not have referred to anti-discrimination.

This is an ambitious Bill. It ventures into areas in which past governments have seen objections. I hope that the Government will find ways round them where this Bill is concerned. I hope too that the Bill will find favour. I am glad to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, will be ready to amend the Bill if that appears to be necessary to obtain its passage. From what I have said, the House will understand that I would like to see an independent disablement commission brought into being and certainly that part of the Bill has my full support.

7.55 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, in expressing thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for introducing this Bill once again into this House and for doing so with such clarity. I join with the noble Lord, in urging the Government to indicate support for it and give proper time for its consideration.

It seemed right that a Member of your Lordships' House from the episcopal Benches should speak in this debate, not least because the Christian Churches worldwide have in recent decades made much of their concern for those who are relatively powerless in society. When I ask local congregations who they believe are relatively powerless, the most common answer is the disabled. Our attitudes towards those with disability need to undergo a profound change; above all there has to be the recognition that they are people, individuals, like ourselves. They are people with disability but people with talents and potential. They are people who need our response and interaction with them.

Some Members of your Lordships' House may have seen last night's programme called "The Heart of the Matter" which made the point in a striking and vivid way. It depicted the work of one person attempting to help those with profound learning disability. The heart of the matter in this programme was the aim to be in touch with the real person behind the disability and perhaps even to help in the formation of that real person. We all need to interact with other people; to belong and to have a share in the life which is available in society now. It is that provision of a proper share in life which is the purpose of this Bill.

I suppose that there will be general agreement about the change in attitudes which is necessary. The famous programme "Does he take sugar?" highlights the absurdity of attitudes which overlook people who have disability and the failure to treat them as individuals. The issue here is not over whether a change of attitudes is right; it is whether such attitudes should be changed by education, by legislation or possibly by both. There are those who argue that legislation is inappropriate and that what is needed is a change of heart brought about by a heightening awareness and by enabling people to see the absurdity of their views and actions and often unconscious attitudes—in a word, by education.

Such evidence as I have in this field, as in many others, suggests that education on its own is ineffective especially in the short term. It does not bring about real change. Good words are easy; actions to match words are costly, sometimes in financial terms. I therefore support the need for legislation. It is required to redress wrongs. That point was well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood.

It would be a very good exercise for those of us who regard ourselves as relatively able to spend a day constrained, as many disabled are, and to experience the frustrations of not being able to travel freely and of not being able to have easy access. I am also aware that as I grow older I am more likely to become one of those with disability. To think ourselves into the situation of those with disability enables us to begin to feel the wrongs that are being done to others. A consequence of those wrongs is the failure to harness talent and ability and to accept that which those with disability have to offer to the rest of us. There is so much that they have to give and so much that we have to learn from them.

This legislation provides much that can be done to redress a wrong and to enable those with a disability to give to the rest of us what they have to give. It is intended to provide an equal opportunity. That is all that is being asked for; not a special preference but an equal opportunity for people with a disability. I believe that the Bill merits the support of your Lordships' House and of the Government.

8 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, we have heard three powerful speeches in favour of the Bill. I should first congratulate my noble friend Lady Lockwood for speaking again on this subject. She made what I thought was an immaculate case in our debate on 21st February. I followed her then and I agreed with her. Although she put it in different terms, her case today was equally convincing.

I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, gave a history of how things have developed since 1965. I was involved at some stages both in another place and in this House. Until about 15 years ago it was my view that legislation would not necessarily be right. I supported it in seeking equality of the sexes and improved race relations. I think, however, that I took the view that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon expressed—that education was the thing. But education, as the right reverend Prelate was absolutely right to say, on its own is not enough.

In our last debate on this subject, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, claimed to be a benevolent neutral. In fact, he opposed the Bill. He was benevolent—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will remember that on that occasion I did not oppose the Bill. I said that I could not offer the Government's support. There is a considerable difference between the two concepts.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, perhaps there is a certain subtle difference between not opposing something and being benevolently neutral. Frankly, I do not see it. The noble Lord, speaking on behalf of the Government, said that he thought that the Bill was not an appropriate measure to be passed. I hope that he may now be a little more benevolent and that the Government will wish to support the Bill.

The real argument is not just about whether there is discrimination or about whether this is a field in which Parliament should consider acting against discrimination. In my view, the disablement organisations are quite clear about what they want. Although I shall not list them, organisation after organisation —those broadly representative of disabled people and separate organisations —are convinced that the time has come for legislation. If the Minister is to persist in his own version of benevolent neutrality, I hope that he will explain why the Government know best. Successive governments have always thought that Whitehall knows best, but I believe that people themselves, with their own disabilities and problems, and those working with them, have a feeling for what is needed.

The Government have made a considerable contribution in the Citizen's Charter towards asserting the belief that society owes people certain standards and that those standards are to be preserved by society. Disabled people should not be excluded from the concept of citizen's rights. Since its formation in 1981, the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People has insisted that disabled people are denied their basic human rights in British society. That is because disabled people encounter discrimination daily and do not have the same rights as non-disabled people. Parents of disabled children do, not have the right to send their children to local schools. Employers can discriminate openly against disabled workers. Disabled people do not have the same legal protection from discrimination as do women and black people.

Institutional discrimination is evident when the policies and activities of all kinds of organisations result in disabled people being denied the same treatment or equal access to goods and services as non-disabled people. Modern welfare services continually deny disabled people their basic rights by refusing them their entitlements, by constantly redefining or refusing to acknowledge their needs, or by providing services which infringe on their freedom or invade their privacy. That is true in so many fields that are important to human welfare.

Most modes of transport, such as buses, taxis and trains, are inaccessible to disabled people. Although 63 per cent. of disabled people in London use buses —but with difficulty—20 per cent. cannot use them at all. I know that British Rail is now making a considerable effort. Indeed, the Minister referred to that when he replied to our debate in February. We all recognise that steps are being taken. But people are still being discriminated against because they are disabled.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, referred to the mentally ill. I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Rix will refer to the mentally handicapped. I have a great interest in the mentally ill; I am president of MIND. I agree that certain people cannot be accepted for employment because of the nature of their condition. However, tens of thousands of people "disabled" because of a past mental illness may now be just as capable of meeting a challenge as someone who has never had a mental illness. It is wrong that people are required to say whether they have ever had a mental illness when they apply for a job. Many people have been denied the opportunity of equal employment because they have had a mental illness. Mental illness can be transitory. It can last for months or perhaps years, but after that many people are fully competent. They should not be discriminated against.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful for the chance to clarify the matter. Of course, I was not referring to people who have had a mental illness and who have recovered. I was saying that in this area the disability may not be obvious because sometimes people who are still suffering can seem completely all right. One must remember that it is a problem area.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I do not for a moment disagree with what the noble Lord said either in his speech or in that explanation.

Many aspects of pleasure in life are often denied disabled people. Disabled people sometimes find that pubs, restaurants, art galleries, theatres, concert halls, cinemas and sports stadia are physically inaccessible to them. I believe that if they are not able to gain access, they are being discriminated against. One of the best ways in which we can give a real push to the important question of access is to put the force of law behind it. All our experience points to that. My noble friend Lady Lockwood, with her knowledge of the issue of equality between the sexes and of whether there is discrimination against women, will know that the legislation that was passed to make such discrimination an offence was a great stimulus. I can confirm that also as a result of my experience of relations between minority groups and people of different races.

One of my sons, Paul Ennals, the education officer for the Royal National Institute for the Blind, has had many years' experience of working with both blind and deaf people. I should like to say a word or two on behalf of the deaf whose disability is not immediately obvious to able-bodied people. I shall not say, "Thank the good Lord", but let us thank whoever we should thank for the fact that my good friend Jack Ashley is to join us. If he were here now, he would argue his case far better than I can because he speaks from the experience of his deafness.

Discrimination is an everyday reality for many deaf people. First, without the right to a sign language interpreter most deaf people are denied equal access to information, to education and to training opportunities. Deaf people have no right to communication support on further and adult education courses. A training course that does not provide a sign language interpreter is inaccessible to a deaf person. The majority of deaf people are therefore confined to less skilled and lower paid jobs. That means that they are being discriminated against. Sometimes deaf people are refused jobs because of their deafness. Such discrimination is the result of employers' ignorance of deaf people's capabilities. But without legislation we do not believe that the situation will change. I hope that we will be able to convince the Government of our case.

My noble friend said when introducing the Bill that she is ready to accept amendments. During the Committee stage of the Bill we will all be open to looking at ways in which the Bill can he improved. But I hope that the arguments presented by noble Lords both in previous debates and today will convince the Government that we should act because disabled people know that it is in their interests. It is not for your Lordships' House, the Government or another place to say, "We know better." The people who know best are those who suffer discrimination because of the disability from which they suffer.

8.11 p.m.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, when this Bill was discussed a few months ago, before the dissolution of Parliament, I was abroad. I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, has brought it back. I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading as I cannot think of a better person to guide it through your Lordships' House than the noble Baroness, who has so much experience relating to equal opportunities and sex discrimination.

This legislation aims not to give disabled people preferential treatment. It is intended to give them access to the law to help them secure equal treatment. Even if this legislation is passed having been improved upon by your Lordships, most disabled people would agree that they will still be a long way behind because of their disabilities. This legislation will be an encouragement. For so long people with disabilities have had to battle against difficulties and attitudes. It is important that a person's abilities are looked upon and this is the greatest encouragement of all.

Since 1970 and the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, many needs have been highlighted. Opponents of anti-discrimination legislation say that what is needed to combat bad attitudes is education and persuasion, and that legislation will only serve to destroy good will towards disabled people. There have been some excellent campaigns to change attitudes. For example, many years ago the Disabled Living Foundation produced a pamphlet of someone sitting in a wheelchair at the bottom of a flight of steps leading up into a church. There are still many churches which do not have suitable access for people using wheelchairs even though in some cases making easy access would mean only a small adaptation. In my local church (or perhaps I should say my noble kinsman's local church, in Masham) the only easy access is at the time of a funeral when a ramp is put up. Usually there is no ramp. Perhaps my noble friend the Bishop of Ripon will do something about that as it is in his diocese.

One slogan during the International Year for Disabled People 1981 was "Can disabled people go where you go?" There are many people who would like to see more done to improve access. At one five-star hotel here in London my noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) and I attended a fund-raising dinner for a charity. When we left, the duty manager said that this well-known hotel was being refurbished. He told us that many of the staff felt that better access for disabled people should be provided. He asked us to help persuade the owners. Nothing has changed. A friend of mine recently visited Canada. He came back and enthusiastically told me that I should go there as everything was far better organised for wheelchair users.

Civil rights legislation would help keep people on their toes. It would make them more aware of what is needed. Unless something affects someone personally, the average person does not think about or understand the problems. Over the years I have come across some serious cases of discrimination. At Wakefield in Yorkshire there is a spinal unit at one of the hospitals for people who have had spinal injuries. One evening a well rehabilitated paraplegic was taking out two young patients. It was their first time out since becoming paralysed. The first venture out from behind the safety of the hospital walls is an important event. When they arrived at the pub they were told by the publican to sit in the back room. He said, "I don't let dogs in here, why should I let you lot in?" I was telephoned about this incident by the person who had taken the two young patients out from hospital. He was rightly upset.

Another case concerns a woman from Scarborough who had taken her daughter in a wheelchair to the cinema and had been told by one of the managers, "You can't take that thing in here", meaning the wheelchair. The poor woman was very distressed.

In Harrogate the social services department had an entrance step and it was inaccessible for anyone using a wheelchair who might need help. But the police station had a splendid ramp so that disabled people had full access. Parking in Harrogate is very difficult. There was a well-known traffic warden who victimised disabled people, dishing out parking tickets. We are thankful that he has gone.

Disabled people do not fit into neat categories. They are individuals with individual problems. In fact they must be an administrator's nightmare. Having been a very fit young person when I had my injury, I remember so well the carefree life of a person without a disability: being able to jump on a bus and visit people without thinking how many steps their house involved; being able to drive any vehicle without hand controls; going to the theatre or cinema without thinking about access; being able to reach a telephone or light switch. Suddenly as a person using a wheelchair one's life had to be organised to having to think ahead and often being dependent on others; such as getting petrol put into one's car; not being able to reach a motorway telephone halfway up a bank if one breaks down. There are many different aspects which must not be forgotten. Deaf and blind people have completely different needs from those with so-called learning difficulties. The needs of the mentally handicapped will be well covered by my noble friend Lord Rix.

All the organisations involved with disability have stories to tell. They are now asking for legislation to help their members. At every conference I have attended lately the subject has been brought up. A few weeks ago, a young qualified architect who uses a wheelchair said that he had tried everything to gain employment. With his disability, he would be doubly qualified to advise on matters of access as well as on general matters.

I should like to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and the Minister to advise me, and update your Lordships, about employing people with a disability. I feel that there may be a need for some amendments to improve the situation. What provision is there for a disabled employee who, during the period of his or her employment, develops an illness or further disability relating to the primary disability which renders that person unable or fit to continue in his or her employment? For example, in that sort of case (where the disabled person has been employed for over two years) what, if any, provision would there be to help an employer meet his obligation to make redundancy payments?

If there is no understanding of that problem, which might arise if the disability is progressive, does the noble Baroness think that the fear of having to face those payments could be a disincentive for employers to take on disabled people when, although perfectly willing to do so, they may be afraid of the consequential financial obligations? If there is an obligation, perhaps some form of insurance cover could meet the problem. Of course, we want to encourage employment for disabled people; but we must look at some of the problems and worries of prospective employers. I look forward to hearing clarification on the matter.

The field of disability is wide and varied. One of the greatest problems is lack of knowledge of the real needs. As I drove down the M.1 today to attend your Lordships' House, I called in at a petrol station. As I tried to attract the attention of an attendant to give me some petrol, I noticed a bell with the wheelchair sign upon it. It had been placed by a window high up with a large step in front, making it totally out of reach for any person in a wheelchair or even for someone ambulant. I explained to the attendant that it needed to be reached by someone seated in a car as many people cannot get out without help. Those being the people who cannot put petrol in their cars. She told me that they had only just got the bell. What is the point of giving such aids and then making them totally unuseable? How can one ensure that clear guidance goes with such devices so that they do the job for which they were devised?

One of the greatest problems is the lack of knowledge. We need legislation going hand in hand with education and promotion so that the public can understand what is needed. I have had great pleasure in meeting many inspired and considerate people, but so often one comes up against unnecessary discrimination which causes frustration and bitterness. Better conditions, helped along by legislation, could mean an insurance for all those people—such as perhaps my noble friend the Bishop of Ripon—who will become disabled in the future, perhaps through old age, as well as the millions already in society. I should like to end with the Boy Scouts' motto: Let us be prepared".

8.24 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, the House is much obliged to the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, the second time around, for introducing this very important Bill. We are now in a situation where we have a long Session of Parliament ahead of us; namely, about 15 months. Therefore, there is plenty of time for the Government to give serious consideration to the Bill. It may need amendment in certain sections, but I believe that the spirit of the Bill is extremely important.

My wife and I happen to live in an area of Surrey where there are a great many people who are disabled —that is, both mentally and physically. We have half a dozen mental hospitals. We also have a very big blind school, the School of Stitchery and Lace for disabled young people and the Victoria Homes for the Disabled. Therefore, there is no shortage of provision in that part of Surrey. However, there are doubtless other parts of the country where concentrations of disabled people live; an example is the Chailey Homes. This is something which needs to be looked at carefully.

As an example of an enlightened state of affairs, our local Thorndike Theatre in Leatherhead (I was trustee during its construction) has very good facilities for the disabled. But how many West-End theatres are in the same position? There are also old buildings. At the time when they were built, disabled people were regarded as outcasts; in other words, if you were disabled, hard luck. These day, thank heavens, we are becoming more enlightened on the subject. It is important to remember that many people become disabled through service to their country. In the defence forces, in industry and in other forms of life it is very easy to become disabled.

One area which I think needs looking into is that of hotels. I have relations working in the hotel industry. The hotel in Scotland which my brother owns has very good facilities for the disabled. However, many hotels do not. I am thinking especially of conference hotels. My wife and I were in Glasgow over the weekend staying in a modern hotel on the banks of the Clyde. It is very well run. We were attending the annual conference of the Registered Nursing Home Association Ltd. Many people live in such homes. There were no bedrooms on the ground floor of the hotel. There were one or two lifts, but hardly of any adequate size.

There are conference hotels where, as I understand it, there are no bedrooms lower than the third floor. The first two floors are reserved for conference facilities. That is fair enough. However, disabled people attend conferences and they have every right to do so. They often contribute most convincingly to such conferences. As I said, it is an area which needs careful study. I believe strongly that the situation is covered in Clause 6 of the Bill. It is an area where I think the Government can help.

There are government grants in tourist areas to encourage tourism. Therefore, why can we not have grants for disabled people, especially in hotels where there are difficulties as regards facilities? One realises, as is outlined in Clause 7, that there are a number of problems with old buildings which were designed by architects who had no conception of what disablement really is. I believe that those are the areas which really need exploring. I say that because disabled people have an enormous amount to contribute to the community. Indeed, one has only to see the enormous courage that paraplegics display in their Olympic games. What an example they give to those of us who are able-bodied.

Therefore I hope that the Government will look on the Bill with benevolence. It may well be that amendments are needed; there are financial considerations to be looked into. The commission, as outlined in the schedule, may need some tidying up. For example, who will be serving on it? It is very important that the commission should be made up of those who have knowledge of disabled people rather than members who serve on it because they have nothing else to do—a situation in which, unhappily, some commissions find themselves. This is a very important commission and, if the Government look favourably on it, it is vital that it should be properly staffed.

I believe your Lordships' House, which has enormous experience of disablement, has done a very good job today in reintroducing the Bill. I hope that my noble friend and kinsman, who is a very humane person, will give close consideration to what has been said this evening.

8.31 p.m.

Lord Rix

My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I should like to thank and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for reintroducing the Bill and giving so many of us who are concerned that particular chance.

I must confess that in my previous life I was used to appearing to fuller houses than this at this time of night. In the profession the empty seats are known as Miss Wood and Miss Plush and I only hope that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, will not read the empty seats as a lack of compassion and understanding on behalf of your Lordships' House.

Your Lordships may well recall the story of a man recollecting how, when he was a small boy, his father taught him to swim in the canal. He said that being rather small and being thrown into what seemed a great deal of very cold water was something with which he could have coped. But he found being inside a sack with six large bricks somewhat daunting and a distinct handicap. This Bill will not make the water any warmer or less wet, or the person with a disability any bigger. But it could get rid of the sack and the bricks, and that I believe is worth doing.

On my arrival in this House I believed that there could be no issue less controversial than the one before us. I had hoped to make it the subject of my maiden speech but, alas, I was in America when the opportunity arose. However, I still hold that view and hope that justice will be done today and that the Bill will have an unopposed Second Reading. We can then progress from talking about prejudice to supporting rights—acknowledging that this legislation is the only way that the rights of people with disabilities will be ensured within our society.

As my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale, president of MENCAP, said on the occasion of the previous Second Reading, 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". —[Official Report, 21/2/92; col. 1478.] As we all know, this Bill outlaws unjustifiable discrimination against people on the basis of their disability. Put simply, it ensures that disabled people have the same right to legal redress in the courts as women and ethnic minorities now have under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1968. The Government are always very keen to suggest that the best way forward is by education and persuasion and argue that since legislation does not change attitudes it is not the best way forward. This, to say the least, is questionable. Legislation does not change attitudes but it does change behaviour. It sets a framework within which attitudes will be influenced (and I believe, changed) and does so much more effectively than anything else.

If the Government believe that their policy of persuasion and education is working perhaps they can explain that to a group of four mentally handicapped people who have a learning disability and who last year were about to move into a house purchased by the local health authority. Some local citizens—I shall not describe them any further than that—decided that they did not wish people with a mental handicap to live next door. They clubbed together and bought the house so as to deny access to those four people with a mental handicap or learning disability. That is a discrimination which would be totally outlawed by the passage of this Bill into an Act.

I declare my interest as the honorary chairman of MENCAP City Insurance Services Limited, which is experiencing widespread discrimination against people with a learning disability or mental handicap. There has been a significant resistance from major insurance companies to provide personal accident cover for people with a mental handicap. While parents, volunteer helpers and staff can easily be covered for personal accident, the majority of insurance companies refuse to cover people with a learning disability. To date, not one insurance company has produced a single piece of evidence as to why people with a mental handicap should be discriminated against in this respect.

In a letter I received from the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, following my letter of protest after the failure of the Bill in the other place, he stated that he remained, unconvinced that generalised legislation of this kind is the best way to realise our common aims of integration and opportunity. I take issue with the view that this legislation is not specific. It is certainly not piecemeal and that is the point. It is all very well doing a bit here and a bit there to reduce certain problems, but it hardly deals with the reality of people's lives.

Life does not fall neatly into compartments, isolated from everything else. To get to work I need transport; to find a job in the first place I need education and training; to have a decent quality of life I need to have somewhere to live; to relax from work I need access to sports facilities, cinemas and, particularly for me, the theatre—and I mean access in the widest possible sense of the word. This legislation deals with life as it really is and confronts the whole complexity of the problems faced.

The Arts Council receives numerous examples of discrimination both from people who attend events and who wish to be employed in the arts. Indeed, I have recently chaired an Arts Council disabled people employment initiative for six days at Newcastle, Birmingham and London—sponsored, I hasten to add, by the Office of Arts and Libraries and by the Department of Employment as well as the Arts Council itself. Many hundreds of people with disabilities who wish to be employed in the arts, but who were unable to obtain employment, turned up to those conferences, or seminars. I have to tell the House that not a single voice was raised against anti-discrimination legislation being absolutely essential if there is to be any progress in that direction.

We heard this evening about the commercial West End theatres. They are notoriously bad for welcoming disabled people. Access is difficult, if not impossible (generally blamed on the fact that the theatre is a listed building) or on fire regulations—the oldest and corniest joke of all. Both are lackadaisical and feeble excuses, as pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, in his speech to your Lordships' House on 12th May.

Many theatres do not even provide infra-red facilities or induction loops for the hard of hearing. I trust that the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, will forgive me for correcting her when she quoted the figure from Deaf Accord of 4,000 people with hearing aids in this country. I checked the figure myself as I could not believe it. The correct figure is 4 million people with hearing aids in this country and there are hardly any loops of any kind available in public buildings. Your Lordships will also be only too well aware how hearing aids provided in the private sector are both over-priced and inefficient, generally ending up tucked away in a bottom drawer.

What about other disabilities? I was speaking only last Saturday to a blind man in Edinburgh, Neil Robinson, who happens to be my wife's cousin. He lost his sight as a student, only three or four years ago, through diabetes. He is totally mobile with the aid of his guide dog Ashley. He was recently denied a job as a researcher for a disability programme with BBC Scotland. One of the stated reasons for his rejection was his "difficulties in getting about". His main task would have been making enquiries on the telephone!

Finally, I refer to a letter written to the Guardian (but not yet published) by Paddy Masefield, who is a member of the Arts Council Monitoring Committee on Arts and Disability, of which I also happen to be chairman. I am sure noble Lords will forgive me for reading it out in full: As a middle aged male with M.E. who uses a wheelchair, I passed through Oxford Station last week. This station will be infamous to many disabled people, since, as a result of a reputed one million pound modernisation it still:-

  1. a) requires anyone in a wheelchair to be pushed the length of the platform, across the tracks and back up another platform if they are changing trains.
  2. b) sites a toilet for disabled people on one platform only, requiring the cross track procedure if you are on the opposite platform.
  3. c) makes it impossible to transfer to a taxi undercover, but instead requires a journey of one hundred yards exposed to the elements down a steep slope.
  4. d) provides insufficient staff to keep its travel contract with disabled people, so that I witnessed some months ago, a sight impaired traveller, frustrated by neglect, fall onto the tracks only minutes before a train passed over the spot.
To add real insult to the risk of real injury, the member of staff assigned to push me, saw fit to ask me how many years I had been in a wheel chair. I told him almost six. His reply was 'Good God! If I'd been a burden to people that long I would have shot myself by now!' What should I be angry with? One man's prejudice? Management's insensitivity? BR's inefficiency? Society's apathy? Or Government's refusal to bring forward disability legislation to make all such prejudice illegal? And who is to compensate me and my 6.8 million colleagues in the UK, for being daily disabled by such attitudes and practice? Who indeed?

It requires more than the Citizen's Charter to effect such a change. This rights Bill is about bringing the possibilities of an ordinary life with ordinary opportunities nearer to more people: to bridge the gap between possibility and reality. Is that too much to ask of a Government anxious to empower all our citizens?

I urge the Government to learn from experience and to work with us to ensure that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill has a safe and unencumbered passage.

8.41 p.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I find the speech of my noble friend Lord Rix almost impossible to follow. However, undeterred, I shall start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, on her clear and comprehensive explanation of the Bill. I, too, am very glad that the noble Baroness has undertaken to introduce it again, because it will benefit from her great experience in the field of anti-discrimination.

Rather than give examples of discrimination— others, especially my noble friend Lord Rix and my noble friend on the mobile Bench beside me have made a powerful case—I shall try once more to show why I believe that the Bill is necessary and why the Government should not be too worried about possible litigation. We are all agreed that discrimination exists. Perhaps the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People put it best in a debate in the other place on 31st January—I paraphrase to avoid too much of a sense of déjà entendu and I see that the Minister looks relieved—when he said at col. 1251 of Hansard that there was too much unjustified discrimination; it was wrong; it often had a cruel impact on the quality of life of disabled people; and it was remarkably stupid because it was a waste of talent.

What is in question is how we deal with unjustifiable discrimination. The Government, as the Minister said on 21st February, believe that the answer is to use legislation selectively, carefully targeted. Specific legislation is extremely valuable, as in the example of the transport world that the Minister gave. But does the Minister agree that one cannot anticipate all the ways in which people may discriminate, either wilfully or inadvertently? There may therefore be an element of fire-brigade activity about targeted legislation on its own. One waits for the conflagration before responding. With a backdrop of general anti-discrimination legislation, behaviour is guided by the existing law, and if someone oversteps the line, action can be taken to avoid the conflagration. As my noble friend Lord Rix said, life does not fall into neat compartments.

Again on 21st February, the Minister said that the Government favoured education and persuasion and were worried about introducing a climate of litigation in the Bill. The CORAD Report of 1982 stated clearly that education campaigns on their own are expensive and rarely successful. My noble friend Lady Masham clearly showed that to be the case in her speech. I appreciate that the Government now say that there is a need for targeted legislation as well.

CORAD made two other points in favour of general legislation which would help to encourage and persuade. First, while it will not make people love one another, legislation can make them behave properly towards one another, and that, in turn, can influence attitudes for good. Secondly, legislation would ensure that any cost or effort involved in treating disabled people properly is spread around more evenly.

Without legislation, those lacking in goodwill could gain an advantage over those who put themselves out to help so that the Bill would encourage a climate of co-operation.

We should recognise that disabled people are no more litigious than anyone else. The experience from Australia—New South Wales and South Australia—shows the law there to be a background against which settlements and adjustments can be agreed, and education and persuasion can flourish. In this country, we have long had experience of race relations and equal opportunities legislation; so it is not a new concept.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said, my noble friend Lord Snowdon has now concluded, sadly, that legislation is the only answer. We must recognise, as the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, said in February—and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals,mentioned this today—that there is among disabled people a mounting demand for anti-discrimination legislation. There was anger and much frustration when Alf Morris's Bill was talked out in the other place in January. There is a strong feeling that this legislation is long overdue.

On Second Reading of the Bill in February, I felt—I was not alone—that the Government's attitude was more negative than when Alf Morris introduced his Bill in the other place. I may be wrong—I hope so—it may just be the case of the Minister's rather more robust style. It would be helpful if, when he replies—robustly, I am sure—he will tell us whether the Government's attitude has hardened in any way. I should appreciate that.

The Minister said that he would consider carefully all that was said on Second Reading in February. I hope that he has, and, ever the optimist, I hope that he may even feel a bit more benevolent towards the Bill now. I hope that we will give the Bill a Second Reading. Then at Committee stage we can try to resolve, for example, the test of reasonableness; the question of the county court, and so forth. Therefore we can achieve a workable Bill which will, as my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale said in February, go a long way towards becoming a charter for people with disabilities.

8.47 p.m.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, we are approaching the end of the debate. From these Benches, I should like to say how impressed I have been by the wealth of knowledge and personal experience which so many noble Lords have brought to bear on this subject. I too should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, on the admirable way in which she has reintroduced her Bill. It is good that the Bill has had the support, in principle, of members of all parties and of none in the House.

There can be no doubt that many employers continue to discriminate unreasonably against people with disabilities. The latest evidence that has come to my notice is from a study of 91 organisations in Sussex which was undertaken by a voluntary rehabilitation and training agency called PACT. The study showed that more than 40 per cent. of the employers surveyed saw disabled people as unsuitable employees.

The basic question we now have to answer is whether it is better that progress in combating discrimination on grounds of disability in employment and in the provision of services should continue to be sought only through education, exhortation and persuasion, or that, additionally, best practice in this field should be developed through further legislation.

Having balanced the arguments, I, and indeed my party, have reached the conclusion that the time has come for this further legislation. I put it like that because already there is, as noble Lords will be aware, a statutory requirement that under the so-called quota system at least 3 per cent. of the employees in an organisation employing 20 or more staff should be registered disabled people. I well recall from my own industrial experience that 40 years ago the system was more honoured in the breach than in the observance. It is clear that that is still the case.

In the debate last February, when the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, first introduced the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that the quota system did not work, largely because most people with a disability did not choose to register the fact. That is true. Indeed, because the requirements of the law do not work and the quota system therefore no longer fulfils its purpose, it can fairly be said that the law has been brought into disrepute. I do not, however, see that as a reason for repealing the existing law, such as it is, without replacement, but rather for introducing alternative appropriate legislation.

I suggest, moreover, that, if disabled people were now to be given positive rights on the lines proposed in the Bill, that might well have the beneficial effect of making such people more ready than they now are to be open about their disabilities.

In the earlier debate, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that, although the Government's attitude to the Bill was benevolently neutral and he would not oppose the Second Reading, he did not see how general civil rights legislation, even when overseen by the kind of disablement commission envisaged in the Bill, could assist progress. To that end, he preferred education and co-operation. He also favoured specific legislation. He gave examples of action that had already been taken in the field of transport and through building regulations.

In my view, there is no reason why these two contrasting approaches should not go hand in hand. It seems to me that, as with sex discrimination and race discrimination, the educational process would have a better chance of success if it were to be based on legislation of a practicable kind. That is surely the rationale of the Disability Act which is to take effect in the United States next month. I do not see why the same principle should not now be followed in this country.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), I believe that, although legislation will not of itself alter attitudes, it can produce marginal modifications in behaviour which may later lead to changes in attitude.

All we have to do tonight is to take a decision on the basic principle embodied in the Bill. There is no need to debate it in detail now: that can be left to the Committee stage. I was going to say that I would need to be persuaded that it is right that under the Bill a claim that an alleged discriminator has acted unlawfully should be brought before a county court. That is because, as noble Lords know, in the employment field the normal practice is for appellants to go before an industrial tribunal. However, I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, proposes to deal with the point by means of an amendment in Committee.

I was also going to say that I was a little surprised that an effect of Clause 1 appears to be that the alleged discriminator must show that a claimant has not complied with a requirement that is reasonable. That test is different from the one that applies in both sex and race discrimination legislation, where the criterion used is that the requirement should be justifiable. I am glad that, as I understand it, that point too is to be dealt with in Committee by an amendment to be moved by the noble Baroness.

With other noble Lords, I am most anxious that the Bill should eventually be enacted. But, if it is ultimately to find favour with the Government and their supporters in this House, and more particularly in another place, defects such as those I have just mentioned must be addressed. This House is clearly the best place in which to do that, because we may be assured that far from the Bill being talked out, as a similar Bill was at Second Reading in another place earlier this year, here it will be accepted in principle this evening. I take comfort from what I understood the noble Lord, Lord Henley, to say in that respect in a brief intervention earlier in the debate. From these Benches, I am glad to help speed the Bill on its way.

8.56 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, like other noble Lords I wish to thank my noble friend Lady Lockwood for reintroducing the Bill and for explaining it so well. As is the convention on these occasions, I should explain that I speak from this Dispatch Box with a personal view, although it is the policy of the Labour Party to support anti-discrimination legislation. If we had been elected in the April election, it was our intention to introduce such a Bill.

I suppose that throughout the debate there has been a sense of déjà vu because we have to some extent repeated the arguments we advanced on 21st February. However, repeating arguments does not reduce their importance. I hope that the Minister in his reply can be a little more forthcoming than he was in February when the Government's benevolent neutrality seemed to be more like not so benevolent opposition.

I was intrigued by the Minister's intervention earlier when my noble friend Lord Ennals was speaking. He said that it was not that he was opposed to the Bill, it was just that the Government did not support it. That is truly a connoisseur's distinction.

There have been 11 attempts since 1982, in this Houe and another place, to introduce antidiscrimination legislation; but all have been blocked in one way or another. There can be no argument that discrimination against disabled people exists. The debate turns on the best way to deal with that discrimination. Those of us who support the Bill—that is every speaker in today's debate except, I suspect, the Minister—are convinced that legislation is the right way to deal with the problem. It is up to those who oppose the Bill—I look hard at the Minister in saying this—to show why uniquely discrimination against disabled people should not be dealt with by legislation.

We know that discrimination against disability has its roots in our social culture, but finds its expression in economic and physical disadvantage. A complicated mixture of religious, psychological, cultural and educational factors provides the seedbed for discrimination and even in today's rather more enlightened society there are still instances of insensitivity or downright ignorance. They are based on traditional perceptions of impairment. We know that discrimination has certainly not disappeared, it has just been transformed into subtler and less obvious forms.

I mentioned educational factors. The mainstream education system was never intended to educate those with special educational needs. As we know, although there have been valiant attempts to redress the balance, in general terms special education is the poor relation of mainstream education in both social and educational terms. My biggest criticism of special education is the low expectations it engenders, the feeling that the system is aimed at producing a generation of telephonists, typists and lift attendants, if a disabled person can find work at all.

This is not the place to debate the arguments for integrated education against special education. There is now great anxiety that as the Education Reform Act 1988 comes fully on stream, the little progress which has been made could be reversed. We know that the budgetary pressures on schools are leading to more expensive, older, better-qualified teachers being made redundant, to be replaced by cheaper, younger teachers. I wonder how long it will be before the same budgetary pressures lead head teachers to wonder about the effect on their budget of trying to integrate a disabled child with the attendant higher than average cost levels. The Bill mentions education only in Clause 6(2) (f). Its passage into law would help to break down the barriers in our educational system by enforcing the realisation that the effects of a disability do not start at school-leaving age.

The Bill deals with employment, which is central to the argument. The discriminatory attitudes and institutional practices which discriminate against disabled people in employment are entrenched within the British labour market. I am delighted that the Bill gives so much attention to the problem. We know that disabled people are more likely to be out of work than the rest of the community and to be out of work for longer than other unemployed workers. When they do find work it is usually low paid, low status work with poor working conditions.

For disabled people employment policies which centre entirely on the supply side of the labour market just do not work. Voluntary policies of persuasion have not worked and will not work. We have to concentrate on the work place and the opportunities for work. That means a barrier-free environment, accessible work processes and positive discrimination in favour of the employment of disabled people.

I should like to give just one of many examples affecting employment. I have been briefed by Deaf Accord, which points out that discrimination is experienced by people who are hard of hearing who do not need an interpreter but may need special equipment such as an adapted telephone or induction loop. While they are entitled to equipment in the work place, many employers remain ignorant of the situation and hearing aid workers are often denied equality of opportunity. When I read that brief, I was struck by its strength because a member of my own family is blind and also suffers from severe hearing loss and relies on an induction loop both at home and at work. Now, as a family, when we go to public places, whether it is a theatre, a church or meeting place, we always ask if the public place has an induction loop system and if not why not.

The great majority of disabled people and their families are disproportionately reliant for their income on the social security benefits system. They experience economic deprivation—in some cases severe—as a result. The facts are clear: the incomes of families with a disabled member are significantly lower than those of families without a disability. That results from a combination of higher unemployment, the extra cost of disability and the low level of benefits.

Time does not allow for debate of that issue. The Bill is not able to encompass the problem or incorporate solutions. However, if the Bill is passed into law, as I sincerely hope it will be, at least some of the employment factors resulting in the low incomes of disabled people will be addressed and reliance on social security benefits will be reduced. The arguments for a comprehensive disability income and a disability costs allowance are strong, if not stronger now than they have ever been. However, time does not allow deployment of the arguments now. The Bill does not deal directly with benefits; but, as I said, reducing discrimination would at least help to reduce the reliance of disabled people on the social security system.

There are many other areas of discrimination against disabled people; but again there is not time now to deal with them all. They are the health and social support services, housing, transport, the built environment, leisure facilities and social life, the influence of the media and, indeed, the effects on political life such as the sheer difficulty for a disabled person of physically getting to a polling station to vote.

On the subject of transport, I am told that at the new Liverpool Street station, which is a magnificent example of modern architecture, there is considerable difficulty for disabled people getting to the toilets. That is hearsay; but if it is true, it is extraordinary in view of the expenditure on the station.

As I pointed out when I concluded the February debate from this side of the House, the first Motion that I ever moved in your Lordships' House drew 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 which exists in expectation and achievement between people with disabilities and the able bodied. If enacted, the Bill will go a long way towards the bridging of that divide. In the words of President Bush when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990: Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.

9.4 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, something less than four months ago we had a very wide-ranging and, I believe, valuable debate on a number of issues fundamental to the needs of people with disabilities. If I may say so, continuing the analogy from the world of theatre used by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, it is much the same cast again this evening with, fortunately, one or two useful new performances which have added some freshness to the performance of the play.

I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, that I certainly do not read anything into the empty seats—or Benches—that we see around us. Other noble Lords with whom I have debated social security Bills at late hours will be well used to the relatively empty Benches in this Chamber at a relatively late time of night. At this point I shall move away from the analogies with the world of theatre because I should not like to be asked as a critic how long I think this performance should run.

As I said, some four months ago I made it clear that we in the Government did not think that this Bill, or rather its identical twin and predecessor, was necessary. To reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, I was, I hope, arguing exactly the same line as my right honourable friend the Minister of State, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. I hope that the noble Baroness will accept that. It may just be something to do with my attitude or other such problems which gave her a different impression. Certainly the Government's view has not changed.

At that time I argued that that Bill was not necessary and was not necessarily the right way forward at that time. That is still our view. I made it clear then and I should like to make it clear now that we are very sympathetic to the aims of the Bill and the ideas underlying it. Where we differ is on the means by which to achieve some very desirable ends. I think that all of us would agree—and my words on that previous occasion were quoted—that people with disabilities still face some considerable barriers in their everyday lives, the severity of which can vary very greatly depending on circumstances or the degree of their disability.

It is not necessary again to quote what my right honourable friend said in another place—I am most grateful that the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, did not do so—when he spoke of the common ground between all of us in the wrong that is done to various individuals and the stupidity and lack of foresight shown by those who wrongly (I stress the word "wrongly") discriminate against those disabled people who have, as my noble kinsman Lord Auckland put it, a wealth of talent and expertise to offer society. It is clearly unacceptable that people should be unjustifiably discriminated against on the basis of their disabilities.

There should be no doubt about the determination of Her Majesty's Government to continue to take appropriate action to reduce and remove such discrimination. What is in question is whether this Bill is the right vehicle. I should like to make it quite clear this evening that I do not intend to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. At the same time I should say just why we cannot lend our active support to it.

As I said, we do not deny that discrimination still exists but we believe that it is decreasing. I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and all other speakers in this debate can put forward particular and horrid cases of unjustified discrimination. But attitudes are changing. I believe that they are changing relatively fast and I hope to be able to demonstrate that further.

The right reverend Prelate posed the question: should we follow the educational line or the line of legislation? I beg to dispute his conclusions. Our view is that education is the better line. But there are occasions for focused measures which are more likely to be effective in achieving positive results as well as improving awareness and positive attitudes towards people with disabilities. Therefore there will be occasions when legislation is correct, as already happens in the fields of community care, education, transport, telecommunications, social security and access to new and existing non-domestic buildings. I hope to touch on just a few of those areas in the few words I have to say. I am sure that all noble Lords will understand if I do not cover every possible facet of unjustified discrimination.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, challenged me to say, if we did not like the Bill, how we could amend it to improve it. I hope I made it quite clear that we do not see the Bill as the right way forward at this moment. Therefore we do not believe it right for the Government to come forward with amendments at the Committee stage. The noble Baroness will understand that. She has probably seen the letter that my right honourable friend the Minister of State wrote to her colleague Mr. Alf Morris in another place, setting out why he felt our objections to the Bill were somewhat more fundamental than those that could be resolved merely by means of amendments at Committee stage. Nevertheless, we are agreed on the need to do what we can to alleviate the position of people with disabilities. As I said, I should like to touch on one or two of the particular problems that have been raised in the course of the debate.

This is not directly relevant to the Bill but because it is relevant to my department I should like to say a word or two on the Government's record of expenditure by the Department of Social Security on the long-term sick and disabled. Total expenditure on the long-term sick and disabled in 1992–93 will be some £13.7 billion. That is a very large sum of money indeed. It represents an increase in real terms of some £8.7 billion since 1978–79. That is a real terms increase of 170 per cent. Those figures illustrate our continued commitment and concern for people with disabilities. Again, I stress that we have seen the whole social security system for people with disabilities develop over the past few years, the most recent improvements being the introduction of the disability living allowance and disability working allowance, which came into force in April this year.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, raised questions—as did other noble Lords—about the Citizen's Charter. He said that disabled people should quite rightly not be excluded. They are not excluded from the Citizen's Charter. But one must look at the charters as a commitment by service providers to all consumers, setting standards of service or facilities against which performance can be measured. Therefore, by definition, they must encompass all groups—which includes people with disabilities—who must be seen as part of the greater whole. It would be against the philosophy of the charter initiative to introduce a provision which crosses a range of service providers and concentrates on the needs of a particular section of the community.

Perhaps I may make a few remarks about provisions within the employment field. To help disabled people find work, many of the Employment Department's mainstream services for unemployed clients have relaxed entry criteria for disabled people. Indeed, unemployed disabled people are given particular priority on five of the main employment and training schemes: Employment Training, the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, Employment Action, Jobclubs and the Job Interview Guarantee. In addition, last year over 100,000 people with disabilities were helped by the Employment Service's specialist disability schemes and services such as assessment, rehabilitation, special help schemes and the sheltered employment programme as well as the specialist job placing services. Expenditure on those specialist schemes and services last year was about £160 million and that does not include expenditure on the many disabled people helped through the mainstream employment and training programmes.

I turn now to the question of the quota raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester. As I stated on a previous occasion, we acknowledge that the quota is not working. I understand that colleagues in the Department of Employment who are seriously considering the future of the quota system have decided at present to make no changes but will keep the position under review. Certainly we shall bear in mind the arguments of the noble Lord and the experience of the American legislation. With regard to the Americans with Disabilities Act, to which reference has been made by a number of noble Lords, it is early days to see how all the provisions in that Act will work. Many of them have not yet come into effect. We shall keep a close eye on developments and take note of any lessons that can be learned.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, spoke about disincentives for employers to employ disabled people. Obviously we are aware that employers could be concerned about difficulties which may arise if they employ a disabled person. That is one of the many reasons for the wide-ranging advice and practical help that is available for employers and for individual disabled people. The job introduction scheme provides a grant to employers towards the cost of employing certain disabled people for a trial period, usually of about six weeks. Should a disability arise in employment, or worsen, there is considerable help for employers to assess a person's new capabilities, to rehabilitate him if necessary and to provide advice or equipment or adaptations to premises. We recognise that it may be necessary for an employer to dismiss an employee. Sadly, that must always be so if an employee can no longer do the job that he is asked to do. However, efforts have been made to find alternative jobs or to make other arrangements. If an employer acts fairly and reasonably he should not be subject to the threat of legal action. If the noble Baroness wishes to know more about the job introduction scheme, I shall be more than happy to write to her with further details.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, gave some examples of employers insisting on unnecessary qualifications for a job. Again, we fully agree that employers should not impose unnecessary restrictions on the kind of people they interview or employ. We wish continually to promote a sense of fairness, of treating people as individuals. We believe that increasing numbers of employers are recognising the importance of that for them and for the individual.

In the previous debate in February there was active criticism of the building known as Richmond House. It now houses the ministerial teams for the Department of Health and the Department of Social Security. I accept that the criticisms were valid: a building built by the Government—although at the time not intended for those departments (they were then one department)—as recently as 1985 should not have been built without access for disabled people. I refer hack to that because it was built in 1985, only seven years ago. I had the privilege of visiting Quarry House in Leeds only last week. It is the new headquarters building for the Benefits Agency of the Department of Social Security and the management executive of the National Health Service. It is a large office building comprising office space for about 2,000 people. Only seven years ago the Government—who should be at the forefront of such matters—were making such mistakes in the building of Richmond House. Admittedly those problems have been ironed out and various noble Lords, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), will know that access is available to Richmond House. Nevertheless, those mistakes should not have been made at the time. However, only seven years on I hope I can give the guarantee that there are no such problems with Quarry House.

Obviously, Quarry House is still a building site, but I have been given assurances that we are requiring more than the present building regulations stipulate in order to make the building available and—to use an expression on which I am not keen—"user friendly" for those with disabilities. I cite that case only in order to show that attitudes have changed during the past 15 years.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and my noble kinsman Lord Auckland, that access is of vital importance to disabled people, as is the question of transport. However, bearing in mind the time I would rather not deal with the issue of transport, it being a matter with which I dealt at length on a previous occasion. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, that considerable improvements have been made in the provision of transport. I accept that there is scope for more progress, which we hope to see.

Since our last debate on the subject, the revised Part M of the Building Regulations 1991 has come into effect. The regulations greatly extend the scope of the earlier 1985 regulations. In particular, they have been extended to apply to all floors of new non-domestic buildings, including those subject to major reconstruction, and to all floors of most extensions to existing buildings. Equally important is the fact that the new requirements now address some of the needs of people with hearing and sight impairments. I understand that colleagues in the Department of the Environment are considering how those requirements can be extended even further. Research is under way to see what measures might best be applied when existing non-domestic buildings are being altered.

Obviously, I understand the frustration which many disabled people feel when they cannot gain access to buildings which often were constructed many years ago. The Palace of Westminster is a good example. The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, gave a statistic which I cannot challenge or query and which for the moment I am therefore prepared to accept; that only 12 per cent. of polling stations were accessible to disabled people. Changes that we have made to postal voting go a considerable way towards ensuring that everyone can exercise their right to vote. However, I accept that that will not always be a totally satisfactory way of proceeding because many disabled people would like to cast their vote in principle. That is not a matter that worries Members of this House because on many occasions we are denied a vote.

There will always be problems with old buildings. It will be difficult to make all the necessary alterations in order to widen access, install lifts and so forth. However, I hope that by a policy of good practice rather than by legislation people will, where possible, improve access. It would not be right retrospectively to insist that owners and occupiers of buildings must make adjustments which might be over costly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, spoke of some of the bad practices currently in use and told the horrific story of an inaccessible bell at a petrol station. I understand that there is a British Standard code of practice on the design of buildings and I hope that such criteria will be taken into account. As a result of the introduction of Part M in the building regulations such incidents should not happen in future.

Obviously in the time available I have been able to touch on only a few of the developments which introduce a wide range of improvements for disabled people. The Government believe that the best way forward is to build on such achievements and continue to work to improve awareness and appreciation of the needs of disabled people and to continue to take legislative action where appropriate. We do not believe that the establishment of a disablement commission along the lines proposed by the Bill with wide-ranging powers is the right way forward. That might create considerable administrative and practical difficulties, not least as regards the duplication and overlap with the wide range of existing statutory advisory and enforcement organisations.

An additional tier in the form of a disablement commission may result in considerable confusion for everyone, not least for disabled people themselves.

The issues we have debated this evening rightly raise strong feelings. In this House we have a long and enviable record of examining draft legislation to look not only at what it seeks to achieve but also the ways in which it seeks to achieve it. I hope that I have made clear that we do not have reservations about the underlying aims of the Bill. The Government wish to see the elimination of unjustified discrimination on the grounds of disability. However, we do not believe that the Bill before us is the best way to achieve that elimination and it is with considerable regret that we cannot support the Bill. However, we do not seek to oppose its Second Reading.

9.26 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I am grateful to all nine noble Lords who have spoken so robustly in favour of the Bill. I regret that the Government still believe that the Bill is unnecessary and that they cannot give it active support.

However, I am glad that they will not oppose the Second Reading, as that will give us an opportunity for further discussion. I hope that in due course we may be able to convince the Government, as apparently all the organisations concerned with disabled people have been convinced, that legislation in this sphere is necessary.

We have had some excellent contributions to the debate. It is not quite the same cast as on the previous occasion. For example, we are extremely glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, is with us this evening. She spoke very movingly about her own experience. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate, whom we are also extremely glad to have with us because it is good to have Members of the episcopate Benches with us on these occasions, will make sure that in his diocese ramps will be provided for all occasions, and not just for funerals.

I was grateful also to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy; for his contribution. He spoke of my perseverance; but I believe we should pay tribute to and thank him for his perseverance. As he said, his first. Private Member's Bill was in 1968—a long time ago.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way and for her kind words. The reason that I am new in the cast this time is that I was in hospital for many weeks after an operation in December, followed by two others, connected with my disablement dating back to 1945. Therefore, I was unable to be present for the debate.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I understand that the noble Lord's absence on the previous occasion was unavoidable. Indeed, the noble Lord and I spoke about that beforehand. Nevertheless, we are extremely glad to have the noble Lord here this evening. Indeed, as I say, we pay tribute to his perseverance in the furtherance of this cause.

I am sorry that the Government have stuck to their previous attitude. It is rather interesting that the Minister should say that there is common ground; that the aims and objectives are the same, and that he completely agrees that there should be no unjustifiable discrimination. He accepts that it still exists and he believes that it should be ended. Yet the Government will not take the necessary step to outlaw it. In his excellent speech, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, made the point that the Bill would make unjustifiable discrimination against disabled people illegal. The thrust of what most of the other speakers said underlined the fact that unless we have legislation, that discrimination will continue.

I was not sure why the Minister was so unsympathetic to the idea of a commission. He said that it would be confusing and conflict with the other measures taking place. Two commissions presently exist for the purpose of assisting those who are discriminated against in the fields of sex and race. There is other legislation in those fields but the Commissions do not cut across and interfere. They take aboard the advantages that other legislation may provide and so too would a commission for disablement.

Again perhaps I can refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. He said that the Bill deals with life in its entirety and all its complexities. Yet the Minister in his response was once again dealing with the issues individually as though it was not a comprehensive barrier that faced disabled people.

That is the view of the Government at the moment. So be it. I hope that eventually we shall be able to change their mind, and it may be that there will have to be further attempts in another place to do that. In the meantime, I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading in order to enable us to proceed to further stages. I hope we can improve the Bill and are able to send it to the other place for their support, and also for government support at that stage. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at twenty-seven minutes before ten o'clock.