HL Deb 04 November 1992 vol 539 cc1516-34

9.10 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 6 [Provision of goods and services to qualified person with a disability]:

Lord Monson moved the amendment:

Page 5, line 35, at end insert: ("(4) For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this section shall render it unlawful for a person or body to decline to provide goods, facilities or services to a person whose behaviour is such as to cause alarm or distress to a majority of customers or employees at the place where such goods, facilities or services are provided.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the fact that the Bill is being moved fully two and three-quarters of an hour later than the Government Whips' Office estimated as recently as two days ago is a pity, but as it is clearly a consequence of a large number of people having made a last minute rush to join in a most interesting economic debate, one can hardly complain.

The amendment is a further attempt to deal with one potential problem inherent in the Bill as it stands. In our praiseworthy zeal to make things easier in many spheres of life for the disabled minority, it would surely be wrong to dismiss as being of little or no importance the interests and well-being of the majority on those luckily rare yet inevitable occasions when the two objectives are on a collision course.

The amendment is an attempt to achieve a fair and democratic balance between the well-being of the minority and that of the majority on those unfortunate but rare occasions. I must stress first that the amendment relates to specific individuals and not groups. In other words, a manager or proprietor of premises would not be allowed to refuse a group booking on the grounds that on past precedent one or two of the group may be likely to cause alarm and distress to a majority of the customers or staff. The booking would have to be accepted, and only when somebody behaved in an anti-social manner persis-tently would they be asked to leave or possibly go into a back room until the rest of the party were ready to leave.

The next safeguard built into the amendment is that the action of the manager or proprietor is limited to events which cause either alarm or distress. The word "alarm" is self-explanatory. It is a better word than "fear", which is a little too melodramatic, though of course they mean much the same thing. The word "distress" is also indicative of a fairly strong emotion. I specifically did not include what might be described as mild unease, mild embarrassment or mild annoyance. Distress is different. It is something that ruins one's entire evening or day.

Let me give some examples. Indecent exposure would trigger both alarm and distress in nearly all women. There may be a few psychiatric nurses who could shrug it off but nearly all women would be alarmed and distressed by such behaviour. It would not alarm men but it would distress a good many of them, particularly if they were accompanied by their wives, girl friends or sisters. Verbal violence both alarms and distresses people, especially when uttered by people who are obviously not in full control of themselves. There is always the expectation at the back of one's mind that verbal violence will lead suddenly to physical violence.

Leaving aside the question of alarm and concentrating on distress, let me return to my Report stage example of a piano recital where the talented but understandably nervous soloist is making her debut. Suppose there are 300 people in the audience of whom 297 are impeccably behaved, but the remaining three are not. The first of those is a young child, much too young to enjoy that kind of music but who has been dragged along by his parent or guardian who is dying to hear the music and can mentally shut his or her ears to the cries of the child.

The second is an adult of sound mind, as lawyers would say, but who is extremely drunk. The third is also an adult, in body at any rate, who is totally sober but who has a mental age of the child I mentioned in my first example. All these are obviously going to create some sort of disturbance during the perfor-mance, thereby causing great distress not only to the audience but most of all to the poor pianist.

As the law stands at present, all three, and naturally those who are accompanying them, could quite legally be requested to leave by the managers of the concert hall before the performance starts. However, were the Bill to be passed unamended only the first two plus those looking after them could legally be asked to leave. That deserves rectification.

There is one final safeguard built into the amendment to ensure fairness and equity. That is the requirement that the, behaviour is such as to cause alarm or distress to a majority of customers or employees". In other words, it would not be good enough if two or three unusually sensitive or squeamish people were distressed. However, if the majority were greatly distressed, that would indicate that the behaviour was such that it could not reasonably be tolerated. I am reinforced in my belief that that is right by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals: I am sorry that he is not here tonight. He remarked: Is it not right that the views of the majority as opposed to the views of the minority should carry".—[Official Report,27/10/92; col.1017.] Judging by the cheers of most, if by no means all, of his colleagues, the Labour Party in this House broadly takes that view. The noble Lord was referring to the unavoidable clash of views and interests between a minority of habitual smokers whose income is insufficient to allow them to travel by British Rail and who are as a result compelled to travel by long-distance coach—and who are now being forbidden to smoke even right at the rear of the coach on very long journeys—and the majority of those travelling by coach, who are non-smokers.

The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, was fully entitled to take the view that the distress of the smokers—and it is a distress to heavy smokers, which I am not—was outweighed without question by the distress of the non-smokers if they were forced to share a coach and therefore that the views of the latter should prevail.

When we debated this matter at Report stage my noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth), who I believed grasped what I was trying to achieve and, I sense, to some extent sympathised with the objective if not the wording of my amendment, suggested that it was unnecessary and that nothing in the Bill would prevent a manager or provider of an establishment from requesting someone to leave if he or she was behaving in the ways I have described. Would that that were so.

I have read the Bill again and again very thoroughly. I would like to believe that she is right but I find it very hard to do so. There are exceptions contained in a code of practice, but the latter does not have the force of law. Moreover, groups are referred to, not specific individuals. Somebody may be theoretically quite all right when in a group but may individually behave uncharacteristically and unacceptably to a majority. I feel that the owner, proprietor or manager of a building might fall foul of the law if he were to ask such a person to leave.

It would be quite inappropriate at Third Reading to press this amendment (which is perhaps technically imperfect for one reason or another) to a Division unless of course the House as a whole or the Government wish me to do so. Failing that I shall certainly beg leave to withdraw it. However, it is vital that the problem is aired so that the other place in Committee is given the full arguments setting out both sides of the case to enable it to consider the problem in great detail. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Renton

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Monson, whose sincerity in this matter is abundantly clear, I do not consider that his amendment is necessary. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, agrees with me that an amendment which begins with the words, For the avoidance of doubt", is one which should prima facie be rejected for this reason: the words of a Bill should always be so clear that we do not need subsections for the removal of doubt. In this particular case, I do not consider that we do so, because if we look at Clauses 6 and 7, which are pretty widely drawn, we find that Clause 6(3) reads: This section does not apply where compliance with it in relation to a … person with a disability would be impracticable or unsafe". I do not need to read the rest of that subsection. Then we find that Clause 7(1) states: In determining for the purposes of section 6 above the reasonableness of any modification to rules, policies or practices … regard shall be had to whether such actions could be undertaken without undue hardship". In my opinion, but I am open to challenge, those two provisions, which are already in the Bill, are pretty widely drawn and would cover most of the contingencies which the noble Lord, Lord Monson, has mentioned in support of his amendment. However, there is one contingency which I think that he has overlooked: that the refusal of goods or services to a disabled person is more likely to give rise to behaviour which would cause alarm or distress than if we let the matter be dealt with within the terms of the Bill as it stands. I am afraid that this new subsection would encourage refusal and would therefore cause alarm or distress which might not otherwise be caused. That is yet another reason for not accepting the amendment. I hope that in view of those thoughts your Lordships will decide that the amendment should not be accepted.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has spoken most persuasively on this amendment and I agree with what he has said wholeheartedly. Like the noble Lord, I wish to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Monson, on the very moderate way in which he moved the amendment. I am sure that we understand why he has done so. I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said about provisions beginning with the words, For the avoidance of doubt". The amendment might almost be said to be "for the introduction of confusion" for the reasons which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has already adduced about Clauses 6 and 7. To those reasons I should add subsection (2) of Clause 1 on interpretation, which states: A person discriminates against another person on the ground of disability in any circumstances relevant for the purposes of any provision of this Act". The subsection to be inserted by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, which states in so many words that it is only for the purpose of Clause 6 goes against the implicit meaning of Clause 1(2). It would certainly make for difficulties of interpretation if both the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, and Clause 1(2) were to rest in the Bill. Therefore, I would add those reasons to those of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, for asking the House not to accept the amendment. I hope that, having made his point as an extension of his remarks on Report, the noble Lord, Lord Monson, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I echo what my noble friend Lord Henderson of Brompton said about the moderate way in which my noble friend Lord Monson introduced this amendment. I very much hope that my noble friend will not press the amendment and I trust he will be persuaded that it is unnecessary. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, has given such a clear and learned response that my noble friend Lord Monson may already be persuaded, but since I was involved in the discussion of my noble friend's amendment at Report stage perhaps I may also say a word or two to try to reassure him further.

Yesterday I talked to a lawyer who is one of those who drafted the Bill. This was after he had looked at my noble friend's amendment. Yet another reassur-ance lies in the part of Clause 1(1) which is the first whole paragraph on page 2 of the Bill. It refers to the "qualified person with a disability" and the "essential eligibility requirements". The lawyer said that the structure of the legislation and the definition of those entitled to the new rights are designed to restrict the reasons that can be used to exclude or segregate people with disabilities only to those occasions where without such restrictions the service or facility would be totally undermined, which is very much what my noble friend was asking for. Thus what are or are not regarded as the essential eligibility requirements for participation will determine in each case how far a service provider must go to accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities and the consequences which their participation may have for the users of the facilities or programme.

The question of what are the essential eligibility requirements is highly relative and they will be different for different activities. For example, for a concert—my noble friend mentioned a piano recital—an essential eligibility requirement may very well be an ability to keep quiet, whereas as for a football match it would not. These are the kind of points which could very well be addressed in a code of practice because, as I think my noble friend will appreciate, they will perhaps run to several pages and are not appropriate for primary legislation. I very much hope that my noble friend will feel further reassured and will be able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I have not spoken on this Bill before simply because I was not a Member of this House. However, I should like to make a brief intervention.

I have a special interest in the Bill because I introduced the first anti-discrimination Bill in another place some 10 years ago following the report of the committee on restriction against access for disabled people which was set up by Alfred Morris, the first Minister for Disabled People. I am very keen on this Bill because I know there is widespread discrimination against many disabled people. Every severely disabled person knows that from his daily experience. That statement cannot be challenged. Those who say that they cannot find evidence of discrimination simply do not understand disability. Discrimination is wide-spread. I am keen on the Bill because persuasion and education have failed just as they failed with seat belts. Legislation was required on seat belts just as it is required on discrimination against disabled people. I am keen on the Bill because disabled people need rights. They should not need to rely on exhortation. For those three reasons I am anxious that the Bill should pass through both this House and another place.

I hope that the House will not be persuaded that it is legitimate to discriminate against someone if his behaviour causes distress. The noble Lord, Lord Monson, put his case with moderation, but as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, that phrase is used by publicans to exclude disabled people from their pubs. It is used by people in seaside resorts to exclude people from those resorts. They say that their customers will be offended by disabled people being in their pub or being in their seaside resort. I hope that that argument will not be accepted. I hope that this evening we shall not hear the phrase "benevolent neutrality". There is no such thing. If one is neutral, one is not benevolent. One is not supporting the Bill. One is therefore hostile to the Bill. I hope that this evening we shall hear only from those who are for or against the Bill.

I wish to conclude by saying that tonight we should speak very clearly and uncompromisingly for new rights for disabled people. That is what the Bill gives to disabled people. We do not want sympathy or exhortation; we want new rights for disabled people. The Bill deserves every support.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Monson, moved the amendment he said that he thought it might be technically imperfect. I believe that he is probably correct. I have read it carefully and the words which struck me were, alarm or distress to a majority". He referred to the tricky situation at a concert. I am not sure how we find out what the majority feel. Does he mean a simple majority? Do we have an exhaustive ballot, or do we try proportional representation? Then, of course, it has to be either the customers or the employees. So, presumably, that means a majority of the customers could be happy and the majority of the employees unhappy or vice versa. That point needs to be cleared up if the subsection is to be introduced. The noble Lord then gave the very helpful explanation about "alarm" or "distress". Again, presumably the majority of the customers or the employees could be alarmed without being distressed or distressed without being alarmed. I found that extremely helpful.

When we discussed a similar amendment on Report, the noble Lord was critical about the wording of the Bill. He said: How on earth are any two people that is, just two people and not the majority going to be able to agree on 'undue hardship' or on what would 'unduly prejudice the operation' of a business. The lawyers would have a field day or a series of field days". [Official Report,15/7/92; col.295.] If the amendment was introduced into the Bill, I am sure that lawyers would certainly have a field day, or a series of them, in deciding what was and what was not a majority and what was "alarm" and what was "distress". To put it at its kindest, I believe that the amendment is less than helpful. It would lead to considerable confusion. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw it.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, it has been most interesting to hear what noble Lords have said about the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. I agree with all the views expressed; indeed, they have been expressed so well that I do not want to dwell too long on the subject. However, I should like to make two points. First, like the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and others, I believe that the amendment is unnecessary. Following the debate on Report, I too consulted lawyers involved in the area. I am advised that Clause 1(1) would cover the very point that the noble Lord is seeking to make where people may indulge in unsocial behaviour or behaviour which would lead to the disruption of a service or proceedings.

Clause 1(1) says that a, 'qualified person with a disability' means, in relation to the provision of goods, facilities or services covered by Part III of this Act, a person with a disability who… meets the essential eligibility requirements for the provision of goods, facilities or services". If a person's behaviour was so disruptive, then I think it could be held that he or she does not qualify under the Bill. That would certainly cover the three points made by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. Indeed, the first point he made about indecent exposure would, I believe, be covered by criminal law as well as by this legislation. The other two points would also come into that category.

My second point is a most important one. I believe that it is very dangerous to insert the amendment in such legislation. I say that because the legislation is intended to give the same rights to disabled people as are enjoyed by other people. To include the words suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, would belittle that right. It would detract from the right that we are giving to disabled people. It would suggest that the providers of goods, facilities or services were the people to determine whether a disabled person qualified, whereas whoever determines whether a disabled person has qualified must be an independent body. Under the terms of the Bill, that would be the county court. The noble Lord said that he would not press the amendment. I hope that in the light of what has been said he will not press it.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has taken part in this interesting debate. That was the object of the exercise, because I hope that it will be studied in another place when the Bill goes there. No one is more scrupulous about drafting than the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and few people are better qualified in the law. I do not believe that his example of Clause 6(3) is apposite because it refers solely to what is impracticable or unsafe. I do not believe that any of the examples I mentioned fall into that category, although I suppose if a person were extremely violent he might be "unsafe".

The noble Lord hits the target, however, with Clause 7(2) and the phrase "without undue hardship". That is an important point. I am considerably reassured by that. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) for having taken such trouble with her researches. They have been most useful. Clause 1(2) (a) is also reassuring in that discrimination occurs only if someone treats a person with a disability less favourably than he would treat a person who does not have such a disability.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, rather contradicted herself. She said that the intention of the Bill is that people with disabilities should have the same rights as others, but she appears to be asking for extra rights. Although someone without a disability could be expelled from a concert for making a noise, she seems to be suggesting that someone with a disability should have the additional right of not being expelled from the concert.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. I am sorry if I did not express myself clearly. I say that in those circumstances a disabled person would be treated in the same way as an able bodied person.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving that explanation. I clearly misunderstood the import of what she was saying. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Henderson of Brompton who is also scrupulous in the matter of drafting. I did not want to start with the phrase, For the avoidance of doubt", but it seemed a good way of explaining what was intended.

The noble Lord, Lord Carter, disagreed with my use of the word "majority" and poked fun at the way the majority would be ascertained. It is purely common sense. If most people are offended, it is fairly indicative of something not being right. As I pointed out, his noble friend Lord Ennals made just such a use of the word "majority" in his intervention eight days ago. If it is not right for me to use the word, it cannot have been right for him to use it, but let us leave it at that.

What has been interesting is that the debate seems to have shown a slight division among the Bill's supporters. There are those who broadly support my objectives but believe that my method of going about it is unnecessary: I hope that they are right. Then there were one or two noble Lords who did not even support the objectives of the amendment—but there is probably no point going into that now.

I said at the outset that I would certainly beg leave to withdraw the amendment unless there was an indication of support either from the Government or from the House. As that was not forthcoming, I shall withdraw it; but it is right that what we have said tonight should go on the record and be studied in another place when the Bill goes there.

With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

9.40 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill do now pass.

The Second Reading of the Bill took place on 15th June. It was subsequent to a Second Reading debate on a similar Bill which took place on 21st February but the Bill fell because of the General Election. However, that is not its whole history. It had been introduced earlier in another place by my right honourable friend Alf Morris and it fell on procedural grounds. But again that is not the whole history. According to Dr. Colin Barnes of Leeds University, one of the few academic researchers in this field, over the past 10 years there have been 10 unsuccessful attempts to introduce anti-discrimination legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, indicated to me that he could not be in his place this evening. Noble Lords will recall that at Second Reading he spoke of the numerous attempts he had made to introduce legislation for the disabled, starting in 1968. I believe I am right in saying that since 1968 all those attempts have had all-party support. This House has followed the same tradition. I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have supported the Bill. Some have already spoken this evening, others could not be present tonight for various reasons. I know that their good wishes are with us this evening and they all regret that they cannot be here. Some, like the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, have come to the conclusion, reluctantly, that persuasion is not enough; legislation is necessary. I think that that is the conclusion of most of your Lordships.

All the speeches, from whatever part of the House, have been supportive of the Bill, with two exceptions. Tonight for the second time we have heard the noble Lord, Lord Monson. Whatever we may have thought of them, his amendments have at least given us the opportunity to re-examine and check some of the details of the Bill. Unlike the noble Lord, I would not say that among the supporters of the Bill there is a discrepancy.

The second exception has been the Minister who put the Government's position that anti-discrimination legislation in this field is unnecessary and that persuasion is a better route. In support of that, the Government have not opposed but have been neutral in varying degrees throughout the proceedings.

Now that the Bill has reached its final stages in this House, I hope that the Government will reconsider their position before it arrives in another place. There is every reason for them to do so. While accepting that adverse discrimination against the disabled exists, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, stated on numerous occasions that nevertheless it was decreasing. I wonder on what evidence he bases that statement.

All the voluntary organisations working in the field have sent noble Lords masses of cases of discrimina-tion. Those organisations that operate an advice or counselling service are inundated with requests for help. Dr. Colin Barnes investigated the evidence and, in his report entitled Disabled People in Britain and Discrimination: A Case for Anti-Discrimination Legislation, he itemises much of the evidence. His report was published as a book in. December 1991.

Today the Law Society's employment law committee has published its report entitled Disability, Discrimination and Employment. That is an interesting report. The Law Society makes a number of points among its conclusions. I shall quote three of them. The Law Society states: education and voluntary approaches to improving matters are insufficient on their own". The society further states: anti-discrimination legislation, similar to existing laws banning discrimination on grounds of sex and race, could be effective". It also states: The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill could form the basis for the new law, but the matter is too significant for the Private Member's procedure—a Government Bill is needed". In its press release on the report, the Law Society also states: The Committee believes that this is the first time a group of solicitors, experts in their field, have considered the legal feasibility of an anti-discrimination law to help people with disabilities at work". That is a not inconsiderable conclusion, coming from the legal profession. It cannot be swept aside as unimportant. I hope the Government will take careful note of that report. I agree with the conclusion of the Law Society that the matter is too significant for the Private Member's procedure and that government support or a government Bill is needed. My right honourable friend in another place, Mr. Alf Morris, also holds that view. In a press release today my right honourable friend welcomed the Law Society's report. He said: If the Government is prepared to adopt the civil rights Bill … and help to facilitate its passage through the House of Commons, I shall be more than content. There will be an opportunity for the Government to do this when the Bill returns to the Commons". I sincerely hope the Government will follow that course. If they were to do so, it would give great heart and encouragement to those people in our community who suffer from a disability of some kind or another. It would also give great heart and encouragement to the organisations which have so gallantly campaigned on behalf of those people. Of course an anti-discrimination Bill of itself would not immediately end discrimination. No one is claiming that. However, it would be the most powerful weapon against discrimination that Parliament could provide. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr said—this again is quoted in the Law Society's report— Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless". It is in that spirit that I move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Lockwood.)

Lord Renton

My Lords, I rise to support the Motion that the Bill do now pass. In doing so I think we should congratulate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, for having got the Bill thus far and for the way in which she has played a part in our discussions on it. This is really a Bill of very moderate purpose and of very limited aims. It deals in a practical and reasonable way with only two kinds of discrimination against disabled people: first, discrimination with regard to employment and, secondly, discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

I find it strange as well as wrong that such forms of discrimination are still not unlawful. I therefore suggest that the Bill is long overdue. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, said this evening, he made attempts some 10 years ago in another place to put such a Bill on the statute book. It is extraordinary and not very creditable that there has been such opposition, or nonfeasance, ever since then when other attempts have been made. I hope that at last when the Bill reaches another place the Government will at least provide time for its discussion. The Government have power to do so in another place.

Better still, as the noble Baroness suggested, the Government could take on the Bill themselves and make it a Government Bill. After all the thought given to the matter in your Lordships' House I do not believe that many hours of discussion would be necessary in another place. There is plenty of time in this Session for the Bill to receive Royal Assent. I certainly hope that it will do so.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, I am delighted to support the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, that this Bill should now pass. I join with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in congratulating her on the admirable way in which she has piloted the Bill through its various stages in this House.

In Committee I welcomed two amendments in particular. One had the effect of bringing the Bill into line with those on race and sex discrimination in obliging an alleged discriminator to show that the failure of a disabled person to comply with a requirement was unjustifiable rather than merely unreasonable. The other amendment made an industrial tribunal rather than a court the forum in which allegedly unjustifiable discrimination in employment matters would be judged. In the light of that amendment the Bill now accords with what is normal practice in the employment field.

I am glad that we have had this further opportunity to demonstrate that the Bill has the support of noble Lords in all parts of the House. I am particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has been able to contribute to the debate from the wealth of his experience.

Finally, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in expressing the hope that the Bill will now be given time, preferably by the Government themselves, and will find the support it deserves in another place.

Lord Monson

My Lords, all of us applaud the general objectives of the Bill. Where we differ is on the means to those ends. On the one hand there is the libertarian point of view which prefers education and persuasion, using coercion only rarely, if ever. On the other hand there is the liberal as opposed to the libertarian point of view or, more accurately, the American liberal point of view which has crept across the Atlantic over the past three decades. That has little patience with education and persuasion and leaps swiftly to coercion, in the use of the civil and criminal law. Both points of view are equally respectable and sincerely held. I shall not pursue that point further this evening.

However, there is one aspect of the Bill which makes it quite different from all previous legislation dealing with discrimination, whether it be race, sex or religion in Northern Ireland: namely cost. By abolishing ladies only compartments on trains and ladies only waiting rooms—a silly thing to do, in my opinion, but then I am a libertarian—British Rail actually gained financially from equal opportunities legislation. Race relations and religious discrimination legislation in Northern Ireland was largely neutral in its financial effect upon industry and commerce.

In contrast, apart from encouraging a few minor improvements such as those my noble friend Lady Masham quite rightly pressed for—adjusting the height of telephones, and of knobs and buttons in garages, which is very much needed but does not require a lengthy piece of legislation because any self-respecting owner of a business will happily do it voluntarily if only the problem is pointed out to him—very large financial burdens will be imposed upon industry and commerce by legislation like this. For example, I know of one Labour-controlled council that is insisting that all of a large fleet of fairly newly acquired taxis should be scrapped and replaced by ones capable of carrying wheelchairs, even though perhaps only 1 per cent. of customers may wish to avail themselves of that facility. There is no point in labouring it but I think that is something the other place will want to look at. It probably explains why the Government are taking the libertarian rather than the liberal line on the Bill.

My final point is that titles, words and descriptions should be used with great care. The concept of rights should not be trivialised. Rights are basic and fundamental. Freedom of religion and speech, freedom from arbitrary arrest and freedom to vote in national and local elections is universally acknow-ledged and there is no dispute about it. Admirable though the objectives of this Bill are, they are not rights in the universally-accepted sense, but desirable objectives.

I give an example. Some homosexuals maintain not only that they should be allowed to lead their private lives in dignity and immune from the attentions of the law—a proposition with which I am sure all of us would agree—but that employers should be forced to employ them whether or not they wish to do so and that that is a basic right which should be extended to them. Similarly, are old people who are not physically disabled in the conventional sense but may have great difficulty in getting upstairs going to ask that rights be granted to them so that every public building in the country more than one storey high should be adapted so that a lift is installed and they do not have to walk up one, two or three storeys? If one begins to extend the concept of basic rights to all those things the list is endless.

I do not object to any of the contents of the Bill at this moment but to the Title. I hope that the sponsors will consider altering the Short Title in the other place, which I believe is technically possible, to something like the Disabled Persons (Improved Amenities) Bill for two reasons. First, it would be more accurate, and secondly, it would help to dampen down any urgent demands to spread legislation of this kind across all sorts of other fields.

10 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I should also like to congratulate the noble Baroness on bringing the Bill to a successful conclusion in this House. I think she has been the ideal Member of the House to be in charge of the Bill. It goes to another place in good form.

I should explain why I am speaking at Third Reading not previously having taken part in the Bill except for a word on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Monson. My inertia was due to the fact that, although I am as keen as anyone that there should be legislation on the statute book against discrimination, I had an idea that it would be profitable to refer the whole subject to a Select Committee of this House or possibly both Houses of Parliament.

At the request of an organisation which is dedicated to the purposes of the Bill—the VOADL, Voluntary Organisations for Anti-Discrimination Legislation—I made an attempt to have the subject referred to a Select Committee in this House. I said to the noble Viscount, Lord Whitelaw, who was then the Leader of the House, that the issue was one which would not go away and that this was perhaps one of the best ways of taking it forward and obtaining some kind of uniformity of view as to the best way of proceeding. For all I know, we might have accommodated the views of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, to his satisfaction if we had proceeded in that way.

Unfortunately, as so often happens in these matters, a much more glamorous proposal was introduced by much more powerful people than myself; namely, the Select Committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment, which took its place. So that event never happened. But it is at the back of my mind. I should like to say that if no time is found for this Bill in another place, either the Bill will be introduced again and again or it might prove a suitable subject for a Select Committee. Then we might even be able to convert the Government to the necessity for a Bill and it could perhaps go through under their aegis.

I have been proved wrong in my view that it was necessary for the Bill to go to a Select Committee because what we have here—the Alf Morris Bill as improved in this House under the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood—seems to be a viable Bill, which could reasonably be converted into an Act with minimal attention from another place, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said. I very much hope that that will be the case and that eventually some measure to implement the ideas of Mr. Jack Ashley (as he then was) over 10 years ago will reach the statute book.

Therefore I am happy to endorse the Bill. As I said, I hope that time will be found in another place. As one looks at the debates on Second Reading, as I recently have, one does not get much hope from the utterance of the Minister. He was so far from being benevolently neutral as the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, said, that he was not even neutral. Indeed, I would say—I do not think he would contradict it—that he was hostile or almost hostile and gave no hope of any kind of life after the Bill leaves this House.

I always entertain hope. I hope that the Minister may have changed his mind since the Second Reading and will be able to tell the House so. In any case, perhaps he will be so kind as to remind the Prime Minister that he was once the minister for disabled people, at which time he was—as I am sure he still is—very well disposed and sympathetic towards disabled people. I ask him to use his influence to find time for the Bill in another place. Perhaps he will reminisce and be mindful of his role when he was in that junior capacity in an earlier government. I ask him to remember that a Private Member's Bill of this kind which has support from all sides of both Houses should be given time in the other place and not either be talked out or have its neck wrung in one of the many ways which Whips can use to exert their dark arts. With that in mind, and with the absolute assurance that I can give noble Lords that the Bill is not the last that the Government will hear of this subject, which will reappear in future sessions of Parliament, I hope that he will avoid any prolonged agony and will impress on his friends in another place that the Bill should be given a fair hearing there.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I wish to make this brief point. If opponents of the Bill want to place objections against it, they can find a thousand excuses to oppose it. The Bill is only against unjustifiable discrimination. When the committee on restrictions against disabled people met, it used the classical phrase,"We are not advocating blind bus drivers or deaf piano tuners; we are only against unjustifiable discrimination".

When I put forward my Bill in another place, I proposed that "unjustifiable discrimination" should be outlawed. The opponents of the Bill asked how one would define "unjustifiable". That was used as the reason to vote against the Bill. The same thing has occurred in this place. People have asked,"How do you define unjustifiable?". Therefore if one wishes to oppose the Bill one can do so quite easily. It is a matter of will and attitude.

The same arguments against a Bill were put forward in the United States. Year after year they were overcome. The United States Government have accepted a Bill. It is now an Act on the statute book. Such legislation should be an Act on our statute book. I know that the Minister sympathises with the Bill but he has a brief which he has to keep to. However, I hope that he will use his influence to assist with the Bill at the proper time, if not today. I hope that the Bill will be supported.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, perhaps I may join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, on her calm, competent and good-humoured handling of the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said in June, none of us disagrees with the much quoted words of the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People on 31st January, which I shall pré cis vigorously. He stated that there is still too much unjustified discrimination, which is wrong, stupid and a waste of talent. As the Minister said on 15th June at col.102 of the Official Report: We are … 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". The Government favour education and persuasion, as has already been said. They also are now in favour of selective legislation carefully targeted. However, it is well nigh impossible to foresee all the ways in which people may discriminate, be it wilfully or inadvertently. Targeted legislation tends to be a response to a problem or situation which has already arisen. If one has a backdrop of general anti-discrimination legislation, behaviour is guided by the existing law and action can be taken to avoid a situation or to sort out a problem.

I have become increasingly convinced, as have many others, since CORAD reported in 1982, that anti-discrimination law is necessary. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said, my noble friend Lord Snowdon now reluctantly believes that legislation is the only answer. The noble Baroness also referred to the report by the Law Society's employment committee which has come out in favour of anti-discrimination legislation.

Many noble Lords have spoken during the passage of the Bill about the strong feelings among organisations and individual people with disabilities that the time has come for positive action. Once again the person who put it best was the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. We now have a new quotation. On 31st January at cols.1251 to 1252 of the Official Report, Commons, Mr. Nicholas Scott said: I have been particularly impressed by the gathering pace during the time I have had my present responsibilities and the determination of disabled people to control their own lives and no longer just quietly to accept what they are told is good for them. They are anxious to say, 'This is what we want. It is your duty to give it to us'. I urge the Government to listen. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, has on many occasions listened and come back with many positive solutions. I urge the Government to listen to the voice of disabled people to ensure that the Bill is given time and consideration in another place or, as other noble Lords have already suggested, to make it a government Bill.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Lockwood for the way in which she introduced the Bill and for steering it so ably through the House. There is always a temptation at this stage to repeat one's Second Reading speech. I do not propose to do that; I shall be brief.

This is a good Bill which has received substantial support from both inside and outside the House. We improved it in Committee and on Report and we can all agree that the issues have been thoroughly explored. I do not apologise for repeating that since 1982 when my noble friend Lord Ashley first introduced legislation, this is the eleventh attempt to put legislation on the statute book. However, the Government still refuse to accept the need for legislation. The trouble is that the Government will never tell us what they will accept. We believe that the argument for legislation is strong. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), quoted what was said on 15th June by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, at col.102 of Hansard.I too shall quote from that same column. The Minister said: 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".—(Official Report,15/6/92; col.102.) The trouble is that Ministers repeat that a Bill is not necessary but they will not tell us what is necessary. The phrase "benevolent neutrality"—whatever that means—has been repeated many times. In fact, we know that the Government are opposed to the Bill and have made it clear that they will not find time for it in another place. We must hope that sufficient Members in another place can change the Government's mind. I forecast that the campaign will not stop. As was said by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, we will not go away. I am confident that eventually there will be an Act on the statute book.

Perhaps I may repeat only a few words that I used at the end of my Second Reading speech. The first Motion that I moved in your Lordships' House drew attention to the needs and problems of people with disabilities. In the debate I coined the phrase "the disabled divide" to describe the great gulf which exists in expectation and achievement between people with disabilities and those who are able-bodied. If enacted the Bill will go a long way towards bridging that divide.

This is a good Bill. I shall not repeat the arguments, which are unanswerable. Good arguments always win through in the end.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, perhaps I may echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, on her calm, competent and good humoured handling of the Bill through its various stages in this House. Perhaps I may also welcome personally the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, to these debates. I made no apology—nor did my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Social Security and Disabled People—for using the expression "benevolent neutrality". However, I assure the noble Lord that I shall not use it this evening. I also assure the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that I shall ensure that the matter is brought to the attention of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, a former distinguished Minister of State for Social Security. I am sure that he will be well aware of his former responsibilities and of the feelings of Members of this House.

It is four months since we last considered the Bill on Report. On that occasion, as on previous occasions, we in the Government said that we shared the aims of the Bill but we did not believe that it represented the right way forward at that time. That view has not changed, nor has the Government's resolve to continue to take appropriate action to reduce and to remove such discrimination. We believe, as do all noble Lords, that prejudice is nearly always caused by ignorance and that that can be fully overcome only by education, information and experience. But we also believe in combating discrimination in particular areas by introducing practical measures where it is clear that encouragement and persuasion are not working or are working too slowly.

We achieved that with targeted legislation aimed at freeing disabled people from particular restrictions which prevent them leading the life that they would choose. Perhaps I may give one or two examples. We have expanded the requirements to make accessible public buildings which most of us take for granted but which confront wheelchair users with insuperable obstacles. We have introduced a new benefit—the disabled working allowance—to remove the previous rigid distinction in the benefit system between ability and inability to work.

We brought in new regulations designed to improve the working of the orange badge scheme. We required all newly licensed taxis in London to be wheelchair accessible from 1989, and all taxis in the capital by January 2000. Local authorities in 60 or more other areas of the country have followed suit.

Only last Friday,30th October, the Education Bill was introduced in another place. My right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Education and for the Welsh Office announced, among other proposals, a package designed to improve the education and integration of pupils with special educational needs. The proposals include important new resources for those pupils with new parental rights and appeal procedures, and new requirements for schools. The proposals contained in the Education Bill are examples of good, practical measures we are taking to tackle discrimination—getting to the root of the problem of inequity of treatment.

Lord Renton

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend will allow me to intervene. Of course we rejoice in the examples he is giving, but none of them deals with discrimination in employment or with the provision of goods, facilities and services, as mentioned in the Bill.

Lord Henley

My Lords, this is a debate on Bill do now pass. I was trying to explain that we do not consider that the Bill is the right way forward at this time. However, as in the examples I have just given, certain pieces of targeted legislation can have effects in certain areas. I accept that it may not go as far as my noble friend wishes. However, we do not feel that it is the right time or place for the Bill.

Perhaps I may continue by saying that I am pleased to announce to the House that the Disability Unit, which supports my right honourable friend the Minister of State for Disabled People, is being transferred from the Department of Health to the Department of Social Security and expanded. The unit's new structure and additional personnel will enable it to strengthen its contacts with other departments and other disability organisations and collect more information. The move is a reflection of the importance we attach to the interests of people with disabilities, and we are committed to keeping them high on the agenda.

I conclude by saying that we will continue to build on those achievements; we will take legislative action as and where appropriate and continue to work to improve the awareness and appreciation of the needs and abilities of people with disabilities. We do not believe that the Bill before us today is the best way to achieve our aims, and with considerable regret we cannot therefore support it. However, I do not seek to oppose the Third Reading of the Bill.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for taking part in the debate. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Monson, at least in so far as he supports the general objectives of the Bill. The hour is late, otherwise I might be tempted even at this stage to take him up on one or two of the points he raised. However, I believe that I have said enough this evening.

I welcome the comments of the Minister regarding the targeted legislation. Of course that is helpful. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, said, that does not cover the same areas as the Bill attempts to cover. It does not extend to disabled people the general rights that are available to the rest of us. However, I welcome the fact that the Minister will bring the Bill to the attention of his right honourable friend in another place and, I hope, of the Prime Minister himself.

Should the Government not take up the Bill as their own or provide time for it, then the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and my noble friend Lord Carter are absolutely right in saying that the subject will not go away. We shall be back time and again until it becomes an Act of Parliament. But I hope that it will not be necessary for us to come back to it again in this House except in the sense of dealing with a Bill which has come from the other place with the full support of the Government. I hope that your Lordships will accept the Motion that the Bill do now pass.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.