§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill is the one that was amended and piloted through another place with enormous political skill by Roger Berry. It outlaws unjustified discrimination against disabled people, giving them rights in employment, housing, education 364 and public transport. It requires reasonable accommodation to be made for disabled people in all those areas. By accommodation we mean provision. It makes unlawful direct or indirect discrimination in the provision of goods and services such as banking, insurance and recreation.
The Bill sets up a disability rights commission to pursue those objectives, to investigate complaints and to assist disabled people to enforce their rights.
The Bill was given powerful support by all the main disability organisations and members of the parliamentary all-party disablement group. In addition to Dr. Berry, to whom I have referred, they notably included Alfred Morris, who drew up the detailed Bill two years ago, Sir John Hannam, co-chairman of the group, Barry Sheerman and Alan Howarth.
It is with a sense of incredulity that one realises that in 1994 it is perfectly legal to discriminate in so many areas against Britain's 6.5 million disabled people. Stripping the term "discrimination" down to stark reality, it means this: employers saying, "No disabled people need apply"; landlords saying, "We don't want you living here"; seaside resorts saying, "No disabled wanted"; and pubs, clubs, cinemas, concert halls and even hotels banning disabled people. We applaud the ending of South Africa's apartheid system with its repugnant "No blacks allowed" notices and complacently accept our very own offensive system which permits "No disabled allowed" notices.
Our tolerance of the humiliation, embarrassment, indignity, sadness, isolation and often heartbreak of disabled people is our shame. The Bill is a legislative response to a cry of pain; one that has echoed from millions of people throughout the years.
As this House passed all the stages of a Bill to outlaw discrimination against disabled people two years ago, it might reasonably be asked why I am introducing this Bill today. The main reason is to prevent an unnecessary conflict between the Government and disabled people. The Government are rejecting a Bill which they do not seem to realise is not the one to which they took such exception. As a result they are fighting an imaginary battle and creating bitterness and frustration among disabled people who are now ready to fight—and, of course, many of us will support them.
It is extraordinary that as recently as last Thursday, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, normally co-operative and helpful, should talk of "potentially huge costs of implementation". He spoke of the assessment of costs as more than £17 billion even though he knew, and indeed told the House, that it was an estimate based on up to a five-year period for the implementation of the Bill. But there is no five-year period now in the Bill.
There is absolutely no point in referring to a cost assessment based on an implementation period no longer in the Bill. This kind of shadow boxing with no opponent in sight makes the Government look both aggressive and silly. They must check the contents of the Bill.
In the United States, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, there was a 20-year phasing-in period in some cases. The sponsors of this Bill have gone further and have left the Government free to work out 365 the length of time necessary for the changes to be made. Parliament would then decide, and nothing could be fairer than that.
The Government's cost estimates were heavily criticised but now they have been torpedoed by the amendments to the time period. For example, with a short time span, some trains and buses might have to be replaced solely for the purpose of giving access to disabled people. With a longer span, they can be replaced with better ones when they have come to the end of their natural life. The difference in cost is vast.
Everyone knows that releasing the energies and talents of millions of disabled people, taking them off social security benefits and allowing them to apply their abilities and skills to industry, commerce and small business will bring enormous financial benefits. So why are Ministers speaking only of a comprehensive cost assessment and refusing a cost benefit assessment? They must think we are easily misled.
If Ministers think that the sponsors of the Bill or indeed disabled people really want to impose an expensive law that would threaten the viability of employers, they must be even more remote from Members of this House and from disabled people than they appear to be already. Disabled people are reasonable people. If anything, they have been too patient and undemanding. Neither the Government nor the economy have anything to fear from the Bill. Employers will be in difficulty only if they fail to make reasonable accommodation. The Bill says specifically that there shall be no "undue hardship" on business or any other organisation. It also provides that the disability rights commission shall not have a policy-making function but that its codes of practice shall be introduced through the Secretary of State and subject to parliamentary approval.
I have stressed that the Bill is neither threatening nor obsessive because it is the Government's misguided views that have caused the sequence of events leading to its introduction today. The Government have repeatedly said "No" in one way or another for 12 years. After the report of the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People in 1982—and I pay tribute to its chairman, Sir Peter Large —I brought in the first Bill to outlaw unjustified discrimination. Since then, there have been 12 further attempts, all of which have failed. The issue has been fully discussed and carefully considered in another place, and it was scrupulously examined here when the splendid efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, resulted in the passage of a related Bill.
Other countries—Australia, New Zealand, France, Sweden, Canada and the United States of America— have already outlawed discrimination. Britain trails behind. We can, however, learn from the experience of those countries. Let us take, for example, the United States, the spiritual home of competitive enterprise. It would never tolerate the shackling or the burdening of business. That country's Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed by President Bush in 1990, is more ambitious and pervasive than our Act. Yet Robert Mather, a US attorney who oversees the implementation of the ADA, told me last week that the Act had helped 366 business and that, far from imposing heavy costs, had changed disabled people from tax users to tax payers,-giving them money to spend on goods and services, creating new markets and more jobs. There has undoubtedly been a benefit to the economy as well as to individuals.
The reasonable accommodations that have been made by employers in the United States to enable disabled people to work have not been onerous. The majority have cost less than 500 dollars. Senator Harkin, chair of the Senate sub-committee on disability policy, has written to tell me that early, exaggerated estimates, based on misunderstanding and irrational fears—I hope the Minister is listening—about litigation and unreason-able, costly requirements have proved to be unfounded. Nor has there been much litigation. I am told that the United States Department of Justice has participated in, or initiated, only 16 lawsuits since the Act was passed.
This year, 1994, 12 years after the initial report, the Government have indicated that they will begin talks "as soon as possible" on plans to help disabled people. Well, fancy that! Frankly, my fear is that this move is a belated, grudging response to pressure, and that the Government will attempt to fob off Parliament with minimal, piecemeal concessions. But attempts to deal with some issues and exclude others, such as transport and education, are bound to fail. Access to employment will be of little use if disabled people do not have adequate qualifications, or if they do not have public transport to get to work. Legislation must be comprehensive—which is what this Bill aims to be. Selective rights are of little value.
I have taken some trouble to explain the present situation regarding the Bill which should make it acceptable to the Government and to Parliament. However, I hope that no Minister will be under any illusion. This is a powerful Bill, one which is designed to lay the foundations of a new order for disabled people. It aims to transform the whole ethos of society in its relationships to disablement. It will consign to history the evil of discrimination, the arrogance of authority to exclude disabled people and the capacity of some to oppress them. It will open new vistas only dreamt of in the past by disabled people. It will confer the most basic rights of all—the rights to have the same respect, the same opportunity and the same freedom as anyone else. It will make disabled people equal in the eyes of the law. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time. —(Lord Ashley of Stoke.)
§ 9.34 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I am sure that we are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, for his very clear introduction of the Bill, and for giving us this early opportunity to assess the situation in which we find ourselves today. Some of us can recall debates on similar Bills in the past in both Houses. I must bear some responsibility, because two of those Bills were Private Member's Bills of mine. It is therefore appropriate for me to recall the circumstances.
Twenty-six years ago in another place I was successful in the annual ballot and introduced what was 367 the very first Private Member's Bill of this kind on disabled people. I have a copy of the Bill with me today in the short form that Bills took in those days. My seven supporting sponsors, from all parties, included a former Labour Cabinet Minister and a certain Mr. J. Ashley.
Under that Bill a disablement commission would have been established to report to the Government and make recommendations. The measure was short, simple and inexpensive. After the Second Reading debate in March 1969, the Government forced a Division on the Bill with a Whip applied. My Bill was defeated by only four votes. That was a Labour Government and I was a Member of the Shadow Cabinet. The noble Lord spoke about the Government as aggressive and silly. I can assure noble Lords that the Government at that time was thought by people outside Parliament to have been very aggressive and silly for having, by vote, rejected that simple Bill.
At that time I was mainly concerned with the financial plight of the severely disabled—for example, those who from birth or early youth had been disabled. There was nothing available for them except National Assistance, later to be known as supplementary benefit. None of the allowances and benefits which came in later existed at that time. Only the war disabled and industrially injured received disability payments.
Two or three of us in the other place had started the parliamentary campaign in the mid-1960s. The organisation Disabled Income Group (DIG) was being formed at the same time outside Parliament. During 1966 and 1967 I had pressed for a national inquiry to estimate the numbers of severely disabled who were hidden in the community and supported by their families and voluntary organisations. The Government of that time, to their credit, at last had decided on an inquiry and had announced it in a parliamentary reply to me on 23rd October 1967—I give dates for anybody who wants to look up all these matters as I do not want to take too long. That report, when published about three years later, became well known as the Amelia Harris report. It was the first to provide the essential information that we sought.
That is the background to the first Bill of this kind. Following its demise, I and others continued our pressure. In reply to a Question of mine a few months later, the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson) said that the Government would "consider" the proposal for a commission to inquire into the problems of the disabled. There was a change of government a few months later.
The second of my Bills, which I introduced in your Lordships' House, was put forward in November 1983. It was the Disabled Persons Bill. Its Second Reading took place the following December. It went through all its stages in this House with some amendments to meet points which had been raised. It received its Third Reading in this House on 12th April 1984. No time was allotted for it in the other place, which is something that we have come to understand. In that Bill again there was to be a commission to examine the disadvantages experienced by disabled people and deliberate discrimination. It was intended that the commission 368 should make recommendations and report from time to time. It also was a short, simple and inexpensive measure.
With both my Private Member's Bills, I personally was not very hopeful that they would be acceptable to the governments of the day—first, a Labour Government and, secondly, a Conservative Government. My main object was to have the proposals discussed and to press the governments themselves to produce some legislation. Governments have the expertise and the resources to cover a very wide and complex subject, though Members and the voluntary organisations which assist them have done their best.
I declare an interest because I have been partially disabled for the past 49 years. I was 23 when I was wounded and 25 when I came out of hospital. I was still in a wheelchair and on crutches. In passing, I should mention that I benefited from some positive discrimination. Having been successful in the Foreign Office examination, I then had to overcome the hurdle of the medical test. I was, of course, still not able to walk. Because I was a healthy specimen in all other respects the chief medical examiner made the memorable observation, "As a diplomat you will not need to walk or stand"—
Lord Campbell of Croy
—and I was accepted. From that background I offer some thoughts on what is now the best way forward. I understand the general frustration. The Bill, in the same form as its last experience, will provide further opportunities for discussion in its various stages in this House. However, the Government made clear that they are not prepared to accept it in this form but will put forward their own proposals soon for consultation.
The principles of providing more opportunities, reducing obstacles and outlawing deliberate discrimination are supported by virtually everyone both inside and outside Parliament. The Government of the day agree, but find themselves in the dock, derided as apparently insensitive to the plight of disabled people. Previous governments have also been in the dock in the same way, as I indicated. We have seen the situation before with a Labour Government.
In the meantime, over the past 25 years, under governments of both political parties, much progress has been made in improving financial and special arrangements for disabled people. Those of us who have been working in the Parliamentary All-Party Disablement Group have been much involved in all that. Also, in the International Year of Disabled People in 1981, in which I had to play a leading part, great advances were made in making the general public aware of different kinds of disability and understanding what was needed.
The difficulty for governments seems to be legislation with such sweeping effects—not the technicalities of drafting; Private Members' Bills receive expert help on that—and not the sudden impact of sweeping measures. It has been made clear by the chief architects of the Bill and by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, again today, that a long period is to be expected 369 —much more than the five years sometimes suggested —for the Bill's implementation. That is important because there is a misconception among some of the disabled people in touch with me that enactment of the Bill would produce an immediate panacea. False hopes lead to dismay.
One difficulty is that the term "discrimination", in this context, means different things to different people. Definitions help but do not settle; for example, when debating in the 1960s and 1970s we had in mind intentional exclusion of disabled people. The owner of a restaurant or pub might arrange obstacles to keep out certain people who he thought would put off other customers. We were not aiming at an owner who, by chance, occupied a building built many years ago with difficult access. If improvements could be made they should be. We did not expect reconstruction at great expense.
To illustrate that in another way, when St. Paul's Cathedral was being built with all those steps, Sir Christopher Wren was not perpetrating discrimination against his disabled contemporaries. In more recent times, after the Chamber of the Commons was rebuilt between 1945 and 1950, its then Members and the Ministry of Works should not be accused of culpable discrimination because they were not thinking of wheelchairs. A guest of mine was the first person in a wheelchair able to reach the public gallery there in the mid-1960s, through the special removal of fixed objects by the Sergeant-at-Arms, who was most co-operative. Incidentally, that guest was Mrs. Du Boisson, the founder of DIG.
Particular forms of discrimination have been eliminated in the past 25 years by parliamentary pressure; for example, against deaf people driving. Absence of hearing used to disqualify from having a driving licence, though it was not relevant provided eyesight was in order. After that was changed deaf applicants continued to be refused to be considered as drivers in employment. Again, that was put right.
Within the term "discrimination" I was disquieted to learn that at least one disability organisation expects insurance to be part of this; and indeed it is mentioned in the Bill.
Insurance companies have to make assessments of risk, and charge premiums accordingly, as a result of long, wide and up-to-date experience. Sometimes the results are unexpected. For example, university students, from whom leaders of the future in all fields are expected to be found, are normally charged higher premiums for motor insurance than other people of the same age. When I first became a non-executive director of an insurance company I queried that. However, I was satisfied from the records and the figures, however illogical it might seem, that the policy was well founded.
In an interesting case, familiar to me because she is a relative, a student had to leave university because of mental illness. Immediately she left the university her motor premium was reduced by the insurance company. To have a mental disability was less risk than being an 370 ordinary student. That was the opposite of discrimination against disabled people and it is not what one would expect. But it is the assessment of risk. To interfere with assessments of risk in insurance would be a very serious step. I can foresee claims for compensation. Who would be responsible to pay them—Parliament; government?
The insurance industry, besides being involved in many people's pensions and financial affairs, is a major source of investment to industry and commerce. If governments started to rig risk assessments they might be tempted to do so for other causes too. I could give other reasons, with examples, why I had hoped that any comprehensive Bill, or series of Bills dealing with separate elements, would in the end come from the Government, as these are the kind of matters that really do need all the resources and the knowledge that are available to governments.
It may be pointed out that the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 was a Private Member's Bill. It was drafted by the Government and was modest in its aims—and was none the worse for that. I was a sponsor of the Bill in another place. The Government offered it to the right honourable gentleman Mr. Alf Morris, when he came first in the annual ballot in November 1969. Mr. Morris immediately came to see me and explained the situation. I gladly agreed to be a sponsor. In a number of fields that Bill was to enable local authorities to act to help the disabled, without imposing obligations or financial burdens. One provision started the Orange Badge scheme.
As drafted, the Bill applied only to England and Wales. I moved amendments at the appropriate stage, drafted by the Government, during its passage in the other place to extend parts of it to Scotland. Two years later, when I was Secretary of State for Scotland, I made further amendments to complete that extension. I am almost as unhappy when Scotland is overlooked as when disabled people are overlooked. When the general election was announced in May 1970 the Conservative Opposition co-operated to ensure that the Bill was enacted and did not fall, like other uncompleted Bills, upon dissolution. The 1970 Act was a milestone but it was also a government drafted and assisted Private Member's Bill on straightforward subjects and without complications. That is not like today's Bill.
An example which we should all, including the Government, be following closely is the Americans with their Disabilities Act—ADA—passed four years ago. This is based on reaching "reasonable accommodations" and aims to avoid time-wasting and expensive litigation in the courts. A commission mediates where needed. The intention is that changes and adaptations be made which are not excessive burdens on owners, employers and businesses. If it is applied with good sense, as I hope, and found to work, it will be a helpful guide for us.
A very significant part of the new American system is that their tax laws have been amended to introduce tax concessions for costs of compliance with ADA. Again, that is an area in Britain where the Government have to be involved. Tax concessions certainly would accelerate changes and adaptations and I would myself be in favour of them.
371 Any legislation must take into account the many different forms of disability. At one extreme there is someone completely paralysed, except for one finger, and unable to speak. Depending on circumstances, a lot can be done to improve his life. At the other extreme is someone whose disability is only the loss of one finger. There are many categories and combinations in between and it is difficult to generalise.
It has been inappropriate, in relation to this Bill, to brandish the figure of 6.5 million disabled. That is one-eighth of the population of the United Kingdom. I deplore the misleading impression it gives. It includes every small disability; and about three-quarters are elderly who were able-bodied during their working lives. The man and woman in the street knows very well that one-eighth of the people in their areas are not in wheelchairs, or similar situations of handicap. The wheelchair figure is, in fact, available from government sources and RADAR. We know that about 500,000 are in long-term disabled condition in wheelchairs, including the elderly. That is one-thirteenth of 6.5 million, though there are, of course, others with serious handicaps—probably another 500,000. It is a disservice to the cause of disabled people to associate the figure with this Bill especially when only about 1.3 per cent. of the working population are registering for the 3 per cent. quota scheme for employment.
As with previous Bills of this kind, I support its purposes. I have been asked by my noble friend Lord Renton, who cannot be here this evening, to say that he does also, but that he has amendments to propose at later stages. Because the Bill attempts to cover so much ground, and can be interpreted in different ways, I recognise that there are difficulties for a government. I would prefer government measures. I hope that we can hear more about the Government's proposals today. It is a sad paradox that the government of the day should be made to look the villain in the piece, when a great deal has in practice been done during the past 14 years to improve the daily life and independence of disabled people.
I suggest to my friends in all parts of the House, who have campaigned with me over the years, that we must be realistic. We must assess what it is possible to achieve, and damp down exaggerated expectations outside Parliament. Steady progress should be our aim.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, the hour is late and there are many noble Lords wishing to speak. I shall therefore be concise. At a time when there is too much unnecessary, lengthy and indigestible legislation, I am glad to have the chance to voice my support for this necessary and readily digestible measure and my support for that indefatigable, unremitting campaigner for the disabled, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke.
I would like briefly to explain my credentials for doing so because I believe that they are even older than those of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who has just made such a compelling speech. For a decade from 1963 I was myself a campaigner for legislation to forbid discrimination on grounds of colour, race, religion or gender. For two years between 1974 and 372 1976, I was privileged to work for my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead at the Home Office as special adviser on what became the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Race Relations Act 1976—comprehensive legislation with effective remedies.
I well recall that when I was campaigning for effective race relations legislation in the 1960s one of the most steadfast and courageous supporters on the Conservative Opposition Benches was a young man by the name of Nicholas Scott, with whom I worked closely. There were very few Conservatives in those far off days in favour of anti-discrimination legislation of any kind. I should like to pay tribute to Mr. Scott for what he then did. He is of course now the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, with the miserable job of voicing support for effective measures to tackle discrimination on grounds of physical or mental disability while at the same time having to stifle in another place this very Bill, using what I can only describe as unacceptable tactics. If I may say so, his daughter, who has worked so skilfully and bravely for this measure, is a chip off the young block—that is, off the young Mr. Scott of 30 years ago. I hope that she and her colleagues will soon be rewarded with the enactment of legislation along the lines of this Bill, even though I suspect that they may have to wait until a change of government after the next election for something concrete and effective.
The arguments in favour of this kind of legislation were memorably expressed a quarter of a century ago by the Race Relations Board in its first annual report under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Bonham-Carter. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships of the five arguments that it summarised in favour of the legislation. They are as valid today as they were in 1967. The board stated:That can be applied as much to legislation forbidding discrimination against disabled people as to legislation against racial discrimination, sex discrimination or religious discrimination. Each involves the use of the civil law to create a tort of unjustifiable discrimination and to provide effective legal remedies for victims.
- "1. A law is an unequivocal declaration of public policy.
- 2. A law gives support to those who do not wish to discriminate, but who feel compelled to do so by social pressure.
- 3. A law gives protection and redress to minority groups.
- 4. A law thus provides for the peaceful and orderly adjustment of grievances and the release of tensions.
- 5. A law reduces prejudice by discouraging the behaviour in which prejudice finds expression".
The problems of unfair discrimination against disabled people are a serious source of real injustice and indignity and a waste of personal talent and skill. The injustice is just as grave. Women do not chose their gender; members of ethnic minorities do not chose their ethnicity. The same applies to people with a mental or physical disability. Where the disability is not relevant to the job or the benefit in question and is therefore not a justifiable ground for unequal treatment, it is wrong that a person should be in a position to discriminate freely without any legal sanctions. It is unacceptable that people who are discriminated against have no effective remedy. Such discrimination is unacceptable 373 not only in employment but in housing and in the provision of goods, services and facilities or in any other such benefit.
As I read it, the Bill would not require any unacceptable reverse discrimination but simply equality of opportunity and treatment without unjustifiable discrimination. Those concepts are well understood as a result of decades of experience of our existing legislation. It is not only simple justice that cries out for the Bill; the importance of the Bill is reinforced by the international obligations imposed on the United Kingdom by the ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and by the European Convention on Human Rights. I would be grateful if the noble Viscount could deal specifically with that point in his reply. It is one that I raised briefly some weeks ago in this House.
Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights creates a powerful guarantee of equality of treatment without unfair discrimination. It has been given a powerful interpretation by the UN Human Rights Committee as a free-standing guarantee. Article 2 of the covenant provides:Where not already provided for by existing legislative or other measures, each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take the necessary steps … to adopt such legislative or other measures as may be necessary to give effect to the rights recognized in the present Covenant".The third paragraph of Article 2 states:Each State Party … undertakes … to ensure that any person whose rights of freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy".The United Kingdom, through the Government, will be obliged to explain in its next periodic report to the Human Rights Committee in August why it has not legislated on the lines of this Bill. I am confident that the debate in the House will be drawn to the attention of the Human Rights Committee and that the Government will face difficult questions on the subject from the committee in its public session next spring. In my view, simple justice and international human rights law require the Government to introduce effective measures to deal with this serious social mischief that afflicts an extremely vulnerable minority. We hope to hear something positive and concrete about the Government's intentions when the Minister speaks in reply to the debate. Surely we can expect something more tangible and real than a promise of yet further consultation or criticism of the drafting of the Bill.
The best reason for legislation of this kind was summed up some years ago by Archbishop William Temple. I apologise for using this example a second time in this House but it appears to me to be apt in the context of the Bill. He said that when he travelled on the Underground he always intended to buy a railway ticket but the fact that there was a ticket collector at the other end just clinched it. I am sure that in relation to this Bill the Government intend there to be no discrimination against the disabled but enacting it would just clinch it.
§ 10.2 p.m.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
My Lords, I give my wholehearted support to the Bill comprehensively introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke. It is most appropriate that he should introduce it and that he should be followed by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Cray. The description by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, of the early history of attempted legislation for disabled people I found fascinating. I well remember taking part in discussion of his Bill in this House in 1983.I shall try not to repeat my two Second Reading speeches of two years ago when very similar Bills were introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, one of which the noble Baroness steered so skilfully through the House.
My noble friend Lady Masham is extremely sorry not to be here today to support the Bill. She has gone home, since her husband, her noble kinsman Lord Swinton, has had to go back into hospital. I hope that he will make a full and speedy recovery.
Discrimination exists, and all of us want to stop it. That is not at issue. Indeed, the best quotes acknowledging and deploring discrimination have come from the Minister for disabled people, Nicholas Scott. The question is how to stop discrimination. The Government still advocate education and persuasion and carefully targeted legislation. Many of the measures are very welcome and necessary: for example, the Education Act 1993 and its code of practice, the building regulations, and so on. But carefully targeted legislation inevitably leaves gaps for people to fall into. I am convinced, as are ever-increasing numbers of people, disabled or otherwise, that comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation is necessary to provide a seamless backcloth to carefully targeted legislation, to set a standard of behaviour towards people with disabilities, to induce the persistent offender to comply when education and persuasion fail, and to give a fairer deal to providers as well as consumers. To explain that I should like to quote from Sir Peter Large's address on 30th September 1992 when he received the Harding Award:In my opinion, one of the most telling arguments in favour of anti-discrimination legislation is that of 'the level playing field'. If a cost or effort is required to treat disabled people properly, as is and will be the case in many instances, it would be fairer for everyone to shoulder the burden. In the absence of legislation, those of ill will gain advantage over those who put themselves out to help disabled people".But is this the right Bill for the job? I believe that it is and that worries are based on misunderstandings about the costs involved and on what is meant by discrimination. I gather that the decision to stop the Bill at Report stage in another place was taken two days after the compliance cost assessment was published. That is a great pity because the assessment is seriously flawed. I am sure that other noble Lords will go into the details but I should like to give a couple of rather daft examples.
First, while it is asserted that it is unclear whether the Bill would permit lower pay for lower productivity, nevertheless it is estimated that £63 million will be needed to subsidise pay in the private sector and £16.3 million will be needed in the public sector. In fact, the 375 Bill does not require equal pay for unequal productivity. Secondly, no less than £568.8 million is said to be required to replace all current telephone boxes to make them wheelchair accessible. I hardly think that it would qualify as "reasonable" to expect those measures.
The assessment takes no account of the benefits gained by legislation. In an article in the Sunday Times on 12th June 1994, Alf Morris wrote of the estimate by Touche Ross of the loss in business of £22 billion to Britain's travel industry due solely to lack of access to disabled people.
I turn now to unreasonable discrimination, which the Bill seeks to ban and to which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred. Let us take employment. An employer would be discriminating against a disabled person if he failed to make reasonable accommodation for the known physical or mental limitations of a qualified person with a disability and refused him employment on the grounds of the disability. The reasonable accommodation includes providing access to premises. But "reasonable" is tested against factors which include the cost of making available the accommodation, the nature of the workplace, the overall financial resources of the employer and whatever grants may be available.
In relation to the provision of goods, facilities and services, there would be discrimination if the provider refused to modify rules, policies or practices where it was practicable and safe to do so and where provision was refused on the grounds of disability. The reasonableness of any modification would depend on whether it involved undue hardship and again the latter would be tested against such factors as the cost and the overall financial resources of the provider of the goods, facilities or services.
Perhaps I may give a short example of how the Bill would help disabled people. A silver waiter with epilepsy was employed aboard a large cruise liner. His form of epilepsy was completely controlled by drugs and he had had no attacks day or night for well over five years. He held a driving licence. One day at sea his so-called friends threw his pills overboard as a joke. He had an epileptic attack and was eventually fired. He had improperly stated on his application form that he did not have epilepsy and the company had a policy not to employ anyone with epilepsy. If the company had not had that policy, the man could have obtained replacement pills from a well-stocked pharmacy on board the liner. In that case, modification would have involved ending the policy of not employing people with epilepsy and reasonable accommodation would have consisted of making sure that the pharmacy aboard ship kept the requisite pills.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, mentioned the assessment of risk. As I understand it, under the Bill it would not be that one should not consider risk when making an assessment but that one should merely make sure that it is a realistic assessment of the risk involved and not based on any misconception of the disability.
Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)
Yes, but I think that there are misconceptions.
376 The Bill will not solve all the problems but it would set the standards for proper behaviour towards people with disabilities and ensure a fairer deal for those who complied with that standard.
In reply to a Starred Question in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, the Minister said:While the Government support the aims of the Bill, we do not support it as drafted".—[Official Report, 16/6/94; col. 1811.]The Minister for disabled people has said that the Bill is poorly drafted. I do not believe that that was ever said in relation to the two similar Bills introduced to the House two years ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood. When the noble Viscount replies, I hope that he will expand upon that and give some examples. I have given the Minister notice of that question because I believe it would be extremely helpful to know where the Government see difficulties in relation to the drafting. I hope that we can then make positive progress towards making the Bill a workable measure which is acceptable to the Government and enabling people with disabilities to live and operate effectively, untrammelled by barriers which need not, or should not, exist.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Ashley for giving the House the chance to take this important Bill through all its stages—a chance that we know was denied to another place by the Government's manipulation of parliamentary procedure. As is the convention with a Private Member's Bill, when I speak from this Dispatch Box I give my personal view. However, I should say that the Bill in its aims and objectives reflects the policy of the Labour Party. We made it clear that if we had won the last election a Bill of this nature, or one very much like it, would have been introduced during the course of this Parliament.
I am not the first speaker to say that we have been here before. The arguments may not be new, but they become ever stronger with the passage of time. Enough has been said about what went on in another place recently. However, I must make one comment which relates to a very surprising remark made by the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, only last week in response to a supplementary question by my noble friend Lady Hollis (at col. 1813 of Hansard on 16th June). The noble Viscount said that he did not agree with my noble friend that the activities in the other place had "shamed the parliamentary process". If a personal apology by the Minister concerned and an unprecedented rebuke by the Speaker in the other place to the Back-Bencher who wrecked the Bill at the behest of the Government do not reflect a shaming of the parliamentary process, I do not know what does.
I believe that we have now reached a very important point in the development of the Government's thinking and attitude on the matter. Perhaps I may refer to the Second Reading of a Bill that was introduced by my noble friend Lady Lockwood on 15th June 1992. The argument by the Minister concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, was that,we in the Government did not think that this Bill, or rather its identical twin and predessessor"—377 the one introduced earlier that year—was necessary".He went on to say that,that Bill was not necessary and was not necessarily the right way forward at that time. That is still our view".Thereafter, in answer to a right reverend Prelate who had asked whether we should follow,the educational line or the line of legislation",the Minister said:I beg to dispute his conclusions. Our view is that education is the better line".—[Official Report, 15/6792; cols. 102–3.]That was two years ago when education and persuasion were the suggested policy of the Government, not legislation. The "in" words at that time, as noble Lords will remember, were "benevolent neutrality".
I should like to contrast the latter with the remarks made by Mr. Nicholas Scott, the Minister for Disabled People, who was interviewed on the "Link" programme shown only last Sunday on television. I shall quote from the transcript of that programme because I believe it to be significant. When interviewed, Mr. Scott said:I would expect that by towards the end of this year we'd be in a position to see the results of the consultative process becoming clear and the Government making up its mind then about the way forward, possibly, probably I would say, involving legislation of one sort or another".In response the interviewer, Mr. Kevin Mulhern, asked:And so, provided there isn't an election earlier than people think, and we run the full length of this Parliament, there could be some form of legislation in the lifetime of the current Parliament?".Mr. Scott replied:I'd be very surprised if we didn't have such legislation in the lifetime of this Parliament, if it runs anything like its full course".Therefore, can the Minister say whether the Government now accept what many of us have been arguing for years; namely, that education and persuasion are not enough and legislation is necessary if disabled people are to have the same rights as the rest of society? If that is the case and the Government accept the need for legislation, can the Minister tell us what is wrong with the Bill now before the House? Why are the Government so opposed to this Bill if the Minister concerned has already admitted on television—and, indeed, in another place—that there is now a need for legislation? That is a change of heart by the Government which is welcome. Therefore, can the Minister clearly explain to the House what is wrong with the current Bill?
Other speakers will no doubt deal with other aspects of the Bill. However, I should like just to say a few words about the absurd figure of £17 billion which was quoted by the Government, and to which reference has already been made, as being the possible cost of implementing the Bill. An excellent analysis has been carried out by RADAR, the details of which I shall not go into, which completely exposes the fallacies which lie behind that figure of £17 billion. I will say this. It debases the argument and insults disabled people to produce a completely fallacious figure, reveal it on the day before Report stage in another place and then rely on that figure as the main argument for rejecting the Bill. Whose figure was the £17 billion anyway? Did the 378 Government actually do the detailed calculations, or did they rely on estimates and assumptions produced by the CBI and the Institute of Directors?
The American experience with the American Disabilities Act —the ADA—is now becoming clearer. It is interesting to note what has happened there. Mr. Robert Mather has already been referred to. He is a lawyer in the Justice Department in America and he is himself disabled. In the "Link" television programme that I referred to earlier he said in relation to businesses in America and in response to a question about the effect of the Bill on cost:Most of the businesses have recognised that they do have to take actions and those actions have not resulted in burdens or undue hardships and, after having several years experience with the ADA we have found that with the proper information that companies have been able to … partake in their responsibilities. And they have found that actually the ADA is pro-business".Mention of the ADA raises an interesting point. As I understand it, American companies operating in this country will have to meet the requirements of the ADA. If they do not, they will be discriminating against their disabled employees by preventing them accepting a move to their English operation in the course of their career. They will have to provide the access, and the other provisions in the ADA, if they are to bring their employees over to work in their English operation. It will be a supreme irony, and a fitting commentary on the Government's attitude, if McDonald's and Coca-Cola happily do what the Government resolutely refuse to do.
We know that discrimination against disability has its roots in our social culture but finds its expression in the economic and physical disadvantage which is experienced by disabled people. A complex mixture of religious, psychological, cultural and educational factors provide the seedbed for discrimination. We all know that even in today's rather more enlightened society there are still many instances of insensitivity and downright ignorance. This Bill may not be perfect but it is certainly better than the vacuum that now exists. As has been said many times, if the Government are not satisfied with the drafting it can be amended. I repeat the request made by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth)—we have heard this a number of times—what is wrong with the drafting? Will the Minister please tell us so that we can seek amendments to meet the weaknesses that the Government say they have discovered?
The Bill is flexible. It gives the Government the power, through codes of practice and regulations, to control the pace and extent of the changes which are needed. However, we know that the Government are opposed to the Bill. They have produced spurious figures to justify their opposition. The Government have made a fool of themselves in another place by the manner of their opposition, and they have succeeded in uniting disabled people in their detestation of the Government's actions. But this House has the opportunity now to take the Bill through its various stages and in so doing expose the manifest weakness of the Government's case against it.
The first Motion that I ever moved in your Lordships' House was to draw attention to the needs and problems of people with disabilities. In that debate I coined the 379 phrase the "disabled divide" to describe the gulf which exists in expectation and achievement between people with disabilities and the rest of society. It really is time that we began to bridge that divide and this Bill is an excellent start for that process.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Baroness Seccombe
My Lords, the fact that so many noble Lords on both sides of the House have spoken, or intend to speak, in the debate today is yet further evidence, if such evidence be needed, of the strong views held on this important issue. Indeed many in this House have devoted much of their working lives to assisting disabled people, including the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, who has moved this Bill and who has spoken so eloquently and movingly today.
I am sure that everyone in your Lordships' House shares the same feelings on this issue. We all want disabled people to be able to share as far as possible in the every-day activities that we all enjoy. Most of us have only to look back a comparatively few years to remind ourselves of the limits and constraints which disabled people had to endure. We should pay tribute to the International Year of Disabled People in 1981 which highlighted the problems faced by many people with disabilities.
In this country the work of assisting disabled people in their every-day lives through the introduction of practical, focused measures has continued over many months and years. I am sure that many people will recognise that few have done more to assist that work than my right honourable friend the Minister for Disabled People.
The Bill which we discuss today should be considered in the context of the ongoing work to reduce discrimination against disabled people and to help them participate fully in every-day life. The launch only this month of the Action for Work initiative is typical of the way in which disabled people have been helped through a series of measures, each one building on that which preceded it. Through the scheme, organised under the auspices of the Department of Employment, unemployed, employed and self-employed people with disabilities are able to apply for assistance of up to £21,000 over five years—practical help which will enable them to enter or to remain in employment. The scheme is flexible enough to provide for the many and varied requirements of the disabled people themselves.
Similarly, over the past decade or so steps have been taken in a wide range of areas promoting the needs of people with disabilities in fields such as community care, education, transport, telecommunications, social security and access to many buildings.
However, clearly further work needs to be done, and on that we all agree. Most of us also agree that all the work cannot be done at once. The promoters of the Private Member's Bill on the civil rights of disabled people have themselves claimed that their proposals could be phased in over a number of years.
Given that degree of consensus on the way forward, I hope that the House will also agree that any measures which it helps to place on the statute book should be considered carefully and fully and should take into 380 account the views held quite legitimately by a wide range of organisations which have an interest in legislation in this area.
Therefore, I welcome the Government's plans to consult widely within the next six months on a range of measures to combat discrimination in important areas such as employment, access to goods and services and the impact of building regulations.
We can look forward to the future with enthusiasm and confidence. Much can be learned from consultation so that the most helpful suggestions can be incorporated. I believe that employers understand the obligations they share with all of us to assist disabled people in their every-day lives. Surely measures which have the support of the whole House and a wide cross-section of organisations outside the House are far more likely to have the positive impact which we all seek.
I urge the promoters and sponsors of the Bill to acknowledge that their aim of reducing and eventually eliminating discrimination against disabled people has the full and genuine support of all sides of the House. I also urge all those with an interest in this area to use the opportunity of the forthcoming consultation process to put their views across. In that way they can have a permanent and beneficial effect on the lives of many thousands of disabled people in this country.
§ 10.24 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth
My Lords, in adding to the thanks of others to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, for his initiative in bringing this Bill before your Lordships' House I express the hope that it will have the full support of your Lordships.
My concern is not so much with the detail of the legislation before us as with the need for legislation to protect the rights of more than six million people who are recognised as disabled in terms of the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, reminded your Lordships' House yesterday that there is not one of us who does not suffer from some kind of disability even though it may not limit any of our major life activities. I make the point not to demean those who are, properly speaking, disabled or to trivialise the debate. It underlines the fact that the human race consists of a wonderful variety of people with a rich mixture of differing gifts and abilities. Some people have patently more than others, sometimes infuriatingly and unfairly so. But none lacks altogether, and none is so disabled as to have nothing to contribute, always uniquely, to the whole.
A healthy and vibrant community recognises that and seeks to encourage every single member to play his or her part, no matter how small or diminished that may be. Moreover, most of us know instinctively the truth of what the major religions teach: that each and every one of us is of equal value before God regardless of nationality, gender, race, religion or abilities.
It is a sad reflection on this country therefore, that after centuries of Christian civilisation, and after many previous attempts to legislate, those who are disabled are three times more likely to be unemployed than others; that wholly suitable housing for disabled people is in short supply; and that most of Britain's transport 381 and public buildings still present the disabled with major problems of access. That means that people with disabilities begin from and live with enormous disadvantages and have to make a double effort if they are to catch up with the rest of us. For them there is not yet a level playing field. Their disadvantage is reinforced by the attitude of others who treat them as less than fully human. That may be an understandable attitude caused by a common dread of being disabled oneself. Yet if people are to be helped to overcome such anxiety, then every means must be used, including legislation, to do away with the negative discrimination which affects the disabled and which others fear in respect of their own disability.
Thus, the whole of our society is impoverished for as long as even one group, and this group in particular, suffers from unjust disadvantages. Let us remember John Donne's lines about the death of one man being a diminishment of us all. In rectifying the situation, therefore, we shall enrich not only the disabled but the able bodied as well.
We recognise and appreciate the Herculean labours of many people and of organisations as well as governments who through the years have worked to better the lot of people with disadvantages. We salute countless relatives, friends and carers who have, often sacrificially, looked after disabled people. There will always be the need for their love and their efforts. But in recent times, and especially perhaps since World War II, we have increasingly recognised the necessity for a greater partnership and collaboration between those in need and those who wish to help. It is no longer acceptable to regard those with disabilities as objects of pity, charity and paternalism; and that not only because the one who is disadvantaged has the right to be treated as fully human but also because of a wrong kind of dominance which can be exercised by the benefactor. Somewhere C. S. Lewis illustrates that when he remarks, "She was a do-gooder and you could tell her victims by their haunted looks".
It is all too easy for us to seek to boost our own ego and to meet our own need for a role by making others dependent upon our goodness. So we may warm to the scriptural words that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but we often fail to recognise that it is actually quite difficult for most people, including ourselves, to receive for fear of being demeaned and beholden. So, in the story of the foot washing in the New Testament, the Apostle Peter naturally protests at being the object of his own Master's charity.
Yet a healthy relationship between people involves the humility to receive as well as the generosity to give —and disabled people have so much to give when they are allowed and encouraged to do so. For them, the problem is not medical or the problem of an individual so much as one of relationships with others and with their environment.
But why legislate? Why not leave it to the steady growth of good will and progressive recognition of the needs of the disabled in this country? Will not continuing education and propaganda be a better way than the complexities of legislation and the costs of its 382 implementation? Unfortunately, as has already been pointed out, the educational process is both difficult and slow. It is too slow for the many, many disabled people who could still face tens of years of continuing discrimination without the law to undergird the good will of this nation—a good will which is undoubted and widespread.
So I believe that this is a good time to take advantage of that public support and to appeal to Her Majesty's Government to enact legislation which is every bit as significant for the development of a just society as the civil rights legislation relating to women and ethnic minorities.
I know that cost, yet again, is given as a reason for opposing it, but not only is the American experience since 1990 that their legislation is cost effective, as we have already heard, but, much more importantly, we are concerned with justice for millions of people in this land. The happiness and fulfilment of a human being cannot properly be measured in terms of pounds and pennies.
So I hope that the Government's declared commitment to,eliminating discrimination against disabled peoplewill mean more than the consultation process announced by Nicholas Scott, welcome though that will be; and that those who are disabled will have a charter of rights, in these days of charters, and so some redress against being treated unjustly. A positive reply from the noble Viscount this evening would go a long way towards allaying the widespread anger which followed the insulting and underhand way in which the Bill was recently talked out in another place.
The Churches are ready to play their part and since 1987 Church Action on Disability has been seeking to inform, educate and persuade people of the need for action and changes in attitudes. Obviously, there is some way to go and, alas, the experience of a disabled worshipper reflects the failings, I suggest, not only of the Church but also of the state. She writes:I went to a Taizé-style service tonight and sitting there in the silence a picture came to me. It was of Christ crucified lying as the ramp to get me into church while the PCC discussed, unseeing in the background, whether they could afford it".I beg to support the Bill.
§ 10.34 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, it is very appropriate that my noble friend Lord Ashley should introduce this Bill in this House this evening. My noble friend has long been a leading figure in the all-party parliamentary group for the disabled. We are very grateful to him.
Many people are establishing their credentials. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has indicated his long record on behalf of disabled people in concert with others in another place. My right honourable friend, Alf Morris, MP, who was earlier sitting on the steps of the Throne, is rightly proud of his 1970 disabled persons Act.
My own credentials are that for eight years I administered an Act similar in content to this Bill which dealt with sex discrimination. As has been indicated in the debate, I also piloted a similar Bill through this 383 House two years ago. At that time I received the support of the majority of your Lordships. I am sure that this evening that same support will be given to my noble friend. This House has not only a deep sympathy for people who suffer from some disability; it also has a deep understanding of their needs.
On the previous occasion we debated a disabled persons Bill in 1992, the Government pleaded benevolent neutrality. That stance is not available to them this evening after the behaviour of their Minister in another place and after the exchange at Question Time in this House last week.
The Government claim that their approach is through legislation targeted at specific problems. By providing for a phased-in, progressive approach, this Bill covers that same approach. What the Bill does, however—and this is the most important factor—is give disabled people the right to measure the treatment they receive by the treatment that a non-disabled person would receive in the same circumstances. It defines the areas in which those comparisons can be made, and it gives the disabled person a right to seek redress through tribunals or courts.
However, the Bill enters a caveat, and one for which the Government should be grateful. It is the caveat of "reasonableness", which means that if it would be out of all proportion with the end result to expect a modification to rules, practices, policies or physical barriers to take place, then that test of reasonableness would override the case.
The Government claim that it would cost more than £17 billion to implement the Bill. Many noble Lords have dealt with that problem. If that is the true measure of the real discrimination against disabled people, then the sooner we begin to remedy that discrimination the better. But, of course, as has been said, it will not cost that amount.
We must ask: what will it cost the Government to pursue their alternative policy to equality? They are rather coy about that, and the Minister refused to give any information last week when the matter was raised. One suspects that it is in the area where separate legislation, or amending legislation, would be required that the real costs are to be found. By their own admission the Government are indicating that in the long run such expenditure will be necessary.
Why do we need a civil rights Bill for disabled persons? It is needed, I suggest, for the following reasons. First, disabled people, like the rest of us, should have the right to contribute fully to the community, whether at work or at play, in the light of their abilities, and to enjoy the benefits of such a contribution.
Secondly, discrimination is often hidden in our procedures and provisions. It is necessary to be able to establish how arrangements, which on the surface appear to be fair all round, can impact adversely on disabled people. Thirdly, discrimination is often carried out thoughtlessly, without regard to the needs and the abilities of disabled people; or, worse still, it is based on ignorance and prejudice, leading to cruel harassment, as the report Unequal Opportunities, published earlier this year by the CAB, demonstrated. Fourthly, it provides a 384 level playing field for those employers and organisations making the necessary changes to their arrangements in order to employ or to serve those with a disability. In this very competitive society, disabled people must not be sidelined while others race- to meet targets. Competition must not override the needs of disabled people.
Fifthly, to expose such discriminatory behaviour, individuals need a channel through which they can seek redress or compensation. Sixthly and lastly, there should be a body, such as the proposed disability rights commission, which could help both to enforce, the law and to establish norms and good practice in the way we carry out our business and the provision of services. We have achieved that through legislation in the fields of race discrimination and of sex discrimination. We need now to do it in the field of discrimination against disabled people.
§ 10.41 p.m.
§ Lord Hamilton of Dalzell
My Lords, I am chairman of Queen Elizabeth's Foundation for Disabled People, which is in the business of training disabled people for jobs and getting them employed. If I thought that the Bill would help in that object, I should be in favour of it. But I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, that I do not believe that it does.
The process of interviewing anyone for a job is an exercise in discrimination. We all have to practise discrimination in life, not only in this field. If I were to describe the noble Lord as lacking discrimination, he would rightly take it as an uncomplimentary remark. Discrimination is a deeply personal matter, and I am not sure that the law has a place in it. In practice, employers will continue to exercise discrimination in their employment of people. If they are prejudiced against employing people with disabilities—which, regrettably, many are—it is my belief that the Bill will not alter that attitude. What it will achieve is a change in the procedures adopted by employers, designed to steer clear of the penalties the Bill imposes.
The Queen Elizabeth's foundation has a high rate of employment of its students, currently running at around 50 per cent. That compares favourably with a rate of 25 per cent. for those training the able bodied. People with disabilities make very good employees in jobs for which they are suited and trained. One of the reasons, I believe, is that they are more strongly motivated than their able bodied fellows because they value more highly the opportunity to work and be financially independent than do the able bodied, who regard it as a right.
Why then, one might ask, are people prejudiced against employing the disabled? I believe that the answer lies to a great extent in the employment protection measures now in force. Those measures can place a considerable cost on employers when an employee has a bad record of absenteeism through sickness. It is not unnatural in a competitive market for jobs, where there is plenty of choice, for an employer to safeguard himself against that problem by employing an able-bodied candidate, however wrong he might be in making that decision.
385 I do not propose that we should forget about the problem and do nothing. But I would prefer the Government to start by examining the employment regulations to see what more can be done to make it easier for employers to employ people with disabilities rather than impose a law against discrimination which I believe would be largely ineffective. I was encouraged, coming in at the end of the last debate, to hear my noble friend Lord Henley say, it seemed, that he had the rights of unemployed people, who include many disabled, in mind in that respect.
I have a further reason for not liking the Bill. Much has been made of the enormous costs it would impose. I have no view on the size of the figure; I am not qualified to assess it. However, there will be a cost. My theory is that a statutory impost on businesses in the name of those with disabilities will discourage the substantial voluntary contributions which they make towards financing the works of my foundation and others in the field who are, I believe, achieving more for the employment and welfare of disabled people than will be achieved by the Bill.
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ Lord Rix
My Lords, first perhaps I may point out to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton of Dalzell, that the Bill is not concerned solely with employment; discrimination creeps insidiously into every walk of life of disabled people, and I trust that after he has heard the arguments put forward this evening he will perhaps change his mind.
It may be noticed that the events surrounding the career of this pheonix-like Bill in another place were characterised in the press as "Another Whitehall farce". I read that particular headline with a certain distaste. The Whitehall farce that I remember from my days in the other "other place", at the far end of Whitehall, was designed to be funny and to give people pleasure. I doubt that the way the equal treatment Bill has run into the buffers of another place was intended to be funny and I am sure that it gave very few people any pleasure.
However, that is over and done with. I do not want to waste your Lordships' time with further discussion on school rules and family differences. I want to take up the more serious contributions to the recent debate. Sooner or later—and I strongly suspect sooner (God help us if we have to wait for a further 26 years)—there will be an Act of Parliament according equal treatment to millions of disabled people—I shall not try and calculate the exact number—and double the number of disabled people if we include members of their families, who at present suffer inequality with them. In my view it must come from a government Bill. It is not enough for the Government to stand aside and let someone else's Bill get through. Something this important and with the extended history of this measure should have government financial backing, government time and government-guided implementation; nothing else will do.
Looking forward to that eventual Act of Parliament and to the further discussions that will precede it, I want to say things which may reflect my anger with some of 386 the opponents of the Bill but are designed to tackle their objections. Some of the things I want to say may not be wholly music to the ears of some of the Bill's supporters. I shared my thoughts with the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, and he did not take offence—I commit him no further than that.
First, it has been suggested that this Bill is a hot air balloon of political correctness; an attempt to give people who reject the label of disability a right, on the basis of that same label, to other people's money. That view is seen in the wilder flights of criticism and some of the wilder flights of imagination that have gone into the cost appraisal. On that view the Bill is about rebuilding or closing down the corner shop with two steps to negotiate and hardly space to walk between the crowded shelves because it does not admit a disabled person on a spinal carriage; or it is about pillorying the university maths department which denies an academic appointment to the candidate with severe learning disability.
With that view of the Bill goes the belief that once disabled people can assert rights—rights which in our society may be denied to people without disability—we can say goodbye to charity and compassion. People who argue in that fashion are not a little aided and abetted by those who say that charity or compassion are dirty words and outmoded concepts. Much as I hope that, if the day comes when I need to use a wheelchair, I shall be able to get into the village shop in my wheelchair rather than having to have someone bring my shopping out to me, I want the village shop to survive. I would not want the shop closed because I could not get into it.
To turn aside from what too easily becomes a debate about wheelchair access, there are some people with a learning disability who are not at their best in the confined space of a small shop. I am not asserting their right to demolish the display each time they visit.
So from my perspective there is such a thing as disablement which stems from physical or mental impairment and which will exist however much we reform society and reconstruct our physical environ-ment. My daughter has a learning disability—a mental handicap—and all the community care in the world will not change that. I am reminded of that fact when she starts vocalising very loudly at five o' clock on a Sunday morning on one of her weekend visits to our house.
Perhaps this Bill should mention fair treatment or equal treatment rather than civil rights, because it does not set out to mask real disability by expensive rights. It sets out to ensure that people who are already disabled are not additionally handicapped by the wholly unfair way we often treat them. We hear all too often of children and adults who can be seen to have a learning disability being excluded from public swimming pools on the grounds that they cannot swim—when in fact they can swim, and swim very well.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, made reference to insurance. At Mencap we actually had to establish our own insurance service because of the difficulty people with learning disability experienced in obtaining insurance cover. We have come across countless cases of insurance being refused because of underwriters' wholly erroneous assumptions that 387 disability automatically implies additional risk. Families wishing to take their children to Disneyland are refused travel insurance for their child with learning disability, and on, and on.
Because prejudice is real, and because real but wholly unnecessary barriers have been erected against disabled people, we need legislation which in the shorter term will change behaviour, in the longer term will change attitudes and in the very long term will change society and the physical environment. But because disability is real we shall always need charity and compassion—or, if your Lordships prefer the G.K. Chesterton word, "courtesy"—as part of the rich network of relationships between those who are more and those who are less disabled.
Secondly, there is the question of cost. I am speaking to a Bill which has a fairly open-ended timetable and which embodies the concept of reasonableness. The very large estimates of cost, as has already been said, seem to assume implementation within a fairly tightly defined timescale and pay rather limited regard to the concept of reasonableness. I have to say, speaking for Mencap, that a lot of the prejudicial behaviour directed unfairly against people with learning disabilities could be legislated against without it costing anyone a penny of either capital or revenue. Why should it be legitimate to deny someone a job dealing with the public or a holiday in a hotel because someone else decides they do not like that person's appearance? How would the Palace of Westminster function, and who would it lose, if any MP could raise the cry not "I spy strangers" but "I spy someone who looks different", that person then being excluded?
Where buildings or vehicles have to be modified or differently built, there may indeed be costs. I am aware that: detailed work is being done on the potential real costs of the Bill in its current form to set beside the rather more fanciful costs in the compliance cost assessment. For the moment, I want to make only two points. One is that for me the Bill is a matter of deciding what sort of society and environment we want and taking the first steps in that direction. You get from the objectionable to the desirable not by a single stride but through taking in succession the feasible, the unlikely and the not hitherto thought possible. Miracles take a little longer. How many of today's social and architectural conventions were once thought merely impossible, or the end of Western civilisation?
My other point is to draw to your Lordships' attention a recent publication Cross-Sector Benefits of Accessible Public Transport by Andrew Fowkes, Philip Oxley and Bryan Heiser. It was published with the support of that admirable body, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The title is perhaps not going to make this slender volume the year's most popular paperback, but the authors do, in some considerable detail, for transport what can also be done for buildings. That is, to show that once you have a realistic cost for change to help disabled people, you need to do a different set of sums to show the cost benefits of making things accessible. Public sector cost accounting still seems to be stuck too often in the rut of identifying costs without ever acknowledging offsetting benefits.
388 With some trepidation, I mention very briefly my last point. I am conscious that the government proposals for consultation on the way ahead include what in the Bill is called the Disability Rights Commission. I am also conscious that the commission idea has been as attractive to successive governments as raw steak is to a vegetarian. But quite why quangos or agencies should be better than government departments and private bodies better than quangos I am not entirely clear. However, the vision of a new and expensive body identifying problems where none exists and converting natural fairness into burdensome bureaucracy seems very real to some critics of the Bill.
I can only say that I am sure most of us want fairness without bureaucracy. At the same time we do not want justice to be done on paper but then left undone in practice because there is no means of enforcing it. But if someone can come up with a proposal for an ombudsman or a steering committee, or any other means of ensuring that fairness moves off the printed page and into people's daily lives, there might be other ways of achieving the same results.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He mentioned a commission. I can tell him that 26 years ago in my first Bill, and in later ones, government departments were very often the organisations which were being complained about by disabled people and therefore we felt that we needed some independent body.
§ Lord Rix
My Lords, I accept the noble Lord's statement with gratitude. I was only suggesting the possibility that there might be other ways of achieving the same ends if cost factors were all-embracing.
The precedents are not happy for claiming that I stand astounded at my own moderation. The last public figure so to claim had, as I recall, pocketed a cool million or so from Her then Majesty's Indian Empire. But I do hope that sweet reason will secure sweet success early next year, if not this year.
Your Lordships will recall that the Government's handling of this Bill was likened in the press to a Whitehall farce. So be it. For the original Whitehall farces I wanted a long run and an early return of my backers' investment. This Bill has already had a long run—far too long a run in my view. I eagerly await the final Act and can assure Ministers that the Government's investment will be well worth while and will soon show a profitable return—just like the good old days up the road.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, we are here discussing a Bill whose aim is to make sure that people who have a disability are impaired only by it in so far as it actually affects themselves and they are not dependent on getting through life on luck, being overly courageous or being brilliant. It is about giving them what is often called "a level playing field". That is all that this Bill is about.
I have read through the whole Bill. I never pretend to be a great legal expert and then ask the opinion of other people on it. The Bill may well have mistakes in its drafting—it almost certainly has—because as the 389 Government have shown us on numerous occasions anybody can make many mistakes in drafting. The Bill is about civil rights. Many other noble Lords have spoken about the fact that we have granted civil rights to all other groups in our society who have felt in the past that they have been persecuted. There are probably more to come.
But it was always mentioned beforehand with those groups that we do not need to legislate. It would impose costs and there would be a backlash. We cannot stop the way people think; but to a degree, through the use of law, we can control the way they act. That is what the Bill is about. Attitudes will change. By using the law you can stop somebody being aggressive to somebody else. That is what the Bill is about.
Turning to cost, all that I can say is that neither the Government nor the rest of us can get the figure right because we do not know the relevant parts of the equation. We do not know how many people with how many different types of disability will be affected and in what way.
We are talking primarily about the workplace. Anybody in our society who has money and purchasing power has access to what makes life palatable and reasonable for most of us. That is the way our society works. For good or ill, that is reality. The workplace is changing rapidly. Indeed, we have had several hours of debate today in which noble Lords have stated at considerable length that the workplace is changing very rapidly. In fact, it is changing more rapidly now than ever before and with a snowball effect due to the types of work that are now undertaken and the technology. That change will continue. The technology that is changing the way in which we work will also change what we can do to assist people with certain types of disability.
Effectively, any equation that we draw up today will be out of date within a very short time. We do not know the answer to the cost question - and even if we figure it out for today, it will change tomorrow. Therefore, when we consider the Bill, we are considering basically what it is that will give legal equality to a large group in our society. We do not know how big that group is or how much help is needed. What we are stating is that a major part of our society should be given the same basic rights to fulfil their potential as the rest of us.
We could talk about taking various approaches to the subject, about equality and about allowing all people the same right to fulfil themselves, but I have approached the question as a result of dealing with learning difficulties and disabilities in the education system. That is how I first came into contact with those with such problems. In that area, I have seen a great deal of manoeuvring and changes in policy based on cost. But the Government have recently produced a large code of practice that states one's entitlement in terms of education. If you can do that in one sphere, why not do it in this sphere through the mechanism of a Bill such as this, if not by this actual Bill?
§ 11.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, the concept of equal opportunities is now widely accepted as a hallmark of a good employer and good employment practice. I echo strongly the words of the noble Lord, Lord Addington. The Bill is about how people act. There will not be miracles overnight in terms of changed attitudes. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, said that legislation will not change things and argued that there is not a place for the Bill. The noble Lord should study the areas of racial and sex discrimination to see not only how the way that we act but also the way that we think have changed some years after those two Acts of Parliament went on the statute book. The world is not perfect. There is a long way to go. But racial minorities and women are yards ahead in terms of anti-discrimination measures than are people with disabilities.
In supporting the Bill, I shall address my remarks particularly to employment. To be in employment is to have a meal ticket in our society. The first time you meet people, they still ask, "What do you do?" The reality is that if we are to open up employment to people with disabilities in a fairer, more equal way, we also have to open up access to transport so that they can get to work. There must be better access in the workplace so that disabled people can actually get into work. It is interesting that the Government's present consultation process makes no reference to, and does not include, consultation on transport, which is a key factor to those with disabilities.
In 1989 the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys stated that 6.5 million people in Britain were disabled. This evening many speakers have talked about cost. We do not know what the cost will be. What we do know is that unemployment among people with disabilities is twice that of those who are able bodied. That of itself is a cost to the community in welfare support and benefits.
In 1990 a Department of Employment research paper entitled Employing People with Disabilities found that employers drafted job requirements in a way that unnecessarily excluded people with disabilities. That was certainly my experience in industry. For example, 65 per cent. of employers questioned thought that the ability to climb stairs was vital to work in management. I knew of many managers who arrived at the office in the morning, sat at their desks and never left them during the whole day. Seventy-two per cent. of those who replied thought that good eyesight was vital. That would rule out a whole group of people who had no sight at all. Thirty-one per cent. thought that the ability to walk fairly long distances was vital for employment in a professional capacity at degree level.
Even if those with disabilities got through that maze —they would be lucky if they did—in my experience the interview process is entirely different from that applied to those who are not disabled. If people without disabilities go for job interviews the questions put by the employer are: "What can you do? What is your experience? What are your qualifications and skills?" The questions put to someone with a disability are: 391 "What are your disabilities? Can you walk or see properly? How can you respond?" They are not asked what they can do but what they cannot do. Therein lies the negative attitude that unfortunately exists in the field of employment in Britain.
The Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944— passed 50 years ago—required employers with more than 20 employees to employ 3 per cent. of workers with disabilities. Today, it is 0.7 per cent. in the private sector. The Act is not being enforced and is not working. We need to have the kind of civil rights Act that we are speaking about this evening. Indeed, in work that the Law Society carried out in 1992 it was concluded that there was an absolute requirement for statutory provision to help people with disabilities.
Of course, access to work and transport and fair and unbiased interviews and recruitment policies are important. The Bill will provide that. But there is more to life than work. Access to work provides the means to enjoy the greater pleasures in life. Access to the world of arts and entertainment is completely denied to many disabled people. But there are some good examples of access. I never thought that I would put forward football as one of them. However, the Football Trust has done marvellous work in affording access to football matches. One sees on television disabled people enjoying a front line view of matches. How many in theatres enjoy that kind of facility? Twenty-five London theatres do not even have toilets for people with disabilities. Nearly 20 have no loop hearing systems for amplification. Some have no facilities for wheelchair users and make admission difficult. If someone in a wheelchair is able to get into a theatre, he or she has to buy two tickets since many theatres require the disabled person to be accompanied.
The Government have a very good once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I urge them not to miss it. Next year, the national lottery gets off the ground. It is anticipated that it will bring in £70 million in revenue. Without spending one extra penny from the public purse as a condition of receiving a grant, the Government could require theatres, museums and art galleries—all places of art and heritage—to provide access for people with disabilities and for people in wheelchairs. That very positive move would not cost the taxpayer a penny. It would establish criteria. It would mean that by the end of the decade we would have made progress. The millennium would mean something to so many people.
I hope that your Lordships will support the Bill. Perhaps I may give a few examples to encourage that outcome. A member of the public in a wheelchair was refused access to a cinema because he was a fire risk. A blind person with a guide dog was refused access to a taxi because of the possibility of hairs getting onto the seat. At work, a blind person suitably equipped to work in tele-sales was refused a job because the tele-sales office was on the first floor and the employer thought that a blind person could not walk up a flight of stairs. A diabetic person in employment had to have injections regularly and when the company was taken over he was told that he could no longer be employed. A disabled young man with a brilliant degree got through the 392 interview and was offered the job but at a wage lower than that offered to his counterparts doing exactly the same job but possessing fewer qualifications.
Those are real examples; therefore the Bill deserves, support. I tell the Minister that now is his chance to reverse all the bad feeling directed towards the Government because of the despicable manner in which the Bill was dealt with in the other place.
§ 11.12 p.m.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, I understood that my noble friend Lord Hamilton of Dalzell suggested that employers were not willing to employ disabled people because they were likely to be sick more often. I am surprised that, in his capacity as chairman of the Queen Elizabeth's Foundation for the Disabled, he is not letting people know that disabled people are far more likely to continue working when they are ill and are very much better timekeepers because they have had considerable difficulty in obtaining a job in the first place and are frightened of losing it.
§ Lord Hamilton of Dalzell
My Lords, I did not malice exactly that point. I was making the point that employers are discouraged from employing disabled people because of the sickness benefit system. I was not advocating anything other than that they are extremely good employees.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, I must apologise to my noble friend if I misunderstood him. Perhaps I may say with regard to the benefit system that I believe that it should taper off in order to encourage people into work; but that is a different question.
I return to the Bill. My original thoughts on a Bill of this kind were not very encouraging because I did not think that it was necessary. I thought that education and persuasion would enable the population as a whole to change its general attitude. However, I have been educated and persuaded to the other point of view. I now believe that we need a proper framework in order to do away, in the long-term, with discrimination against disabled people.
In this country it is unlawful to commit murder or robbery and there are laws against it. We do not encourage either of those. Mere law does not stop it happening, but it acts as a framework in which to discourage it happening more than it does.
I am not sure that this Bill is particularly well drafted or that it even has the right name. I believe that it probably needs a considerable amount of change. However, as a matter of history, I introduced into this House during the last Session what was originally called the Armed Forces (Disabled Persons) Bill. My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway told me that he supported the principle behind the Bill but that it was so badly drafted that he would not even speak in favour of it because he thought that it was unamendable.
I do not have the resources of the Government, but I amended that Bill. I changed its name and sent it to the other place in a perfectly workable form. I challenge my noble friend Lord Astor, with all that he has at his disposal, to do the same to this Bill. If both he and the 393 Government really want to do away with discrimination against disabled people they have the facilities and the ability; and, indeed, they can make the time to do so.
I was at a meeting earlier today of the John Groom Association for Disabled People at which my right honourable friend Dr. Mawhinney—and I have told him that I would be quoting from his speech—was speaking. He said:You enhance people's quality of life in that you enhance their independence".That is just what this Bill seeks to do. From the legislation that has been passing through the House from the Government on community care and many other aspects of life, that seems to be just what they have been trying to do. Therefore, let them put their weight behind the Bill. Let them improve it as they think necessary and get it through.
By making the United Kingdom a country where it is easier and more practical for people with disabilities to live their lives independently, we shall enhance those lives. Moreover, we shall also enhance the lives of many other people. Perhaps our lives—as any of us could easily become disabled—will need enhancing in such a way. My noble friend would be wise to remember that one-in-10 persons spend some time of their life in a wheelchair. The Bill is designed to help at least 10 per cent. of the population during some part of their lives.
By making it easier for disabled people to work we move them out of the benefit system and help them to become net contributors to society, not only through their taxes but also by way of all the other things to which they can then so easily contribute. In addition, many carers who are at present unable to go out to work because of a relative's disability would become contributors even if they were only able to work on a part-time basis.
It would, of course, be impractical to expect all buildings and businesses to comply with the provisions of the Bill when it receives Royal Assent, or even within a very short period. At the Committee and Report stages we can discuss how best the Bill could be implemented, together with a sensible timetable. However, the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act has been on the statute book since 1986—that is, eight years—and has not yet been fully implemented. In my opinion, it would be wrong to make the full implementation of the Bill too short a period, but we must make it reasonable in the circumstances that apply in any particular case.
I repeat my challenge to my noble friend: do something about this Bill; you have the facilities and the ability. Make it work!
§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, I am delighted to support this Bill so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. It would not have been necessary for us to have this discussion this evening if the Government had maintained some sort of sign of their benevolent neutrality and not the malevolent hostility which led to the loss of this Bill in another place.
394 As the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has said, this is the thirteenth Bill we have had on this subject. The Minister in this House, the noble Viscount, in answer to a Question last week, referred to costs of £17 billion. But when he was pressed on how those costs were made up, the Minister refused to reveal the figures of the "compliance cost" before the Second Reading today. I believe the estimates of the compliance costs were commissioned from departments in a hurry and they have been published, as my noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) has reminded us, as the compliance cost assessment for the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. The aggregate of the non-recurring compliance cost, rounded up to the £17 billion has been, and is being, cited by Ministers to justify why this Bill should not become law, and thus impose compliance costs on private business.
I am sure the departments concerned made their estimates in a conscientious way; but we need to examine what compliance cost actually means. To optimise investment alternative outlays must be considered with their respective returns; that is, we should consider the "opportunity cost" at the same time as we consider the compliance cost. To consider only the compliance cost is to consider the outlay but to ignore what the return will be. This attitude tells us nothing, either way, about the merits of any investment that is made. The Office of Population Censuses and Surveys has assessed the proportion of the population with disabilities at 11.5 per cent., with locomotion disability accounting for nearly 8 per cent. These proportions are expected to be even larger in the years to come.
Of the £17 billion compliance cost, some £10 billion is attributed to upgrading the existing stock of private, non-domestic buildings to provide a reasonable level of access and facilities for disabled people. That £10 billion is calculated at 2.5 per cent. of the cost of entirely replacing that stock. But this compliance cost ignores any return from providing access to the stock for people who, among the 11.5 per cent., would become users of it. If its use by them and, implicitly, by those among the 88.5 per cent. of the population who already use it, can be ignored in this context, how and why was the private stock, valued for replacement on the Government's figure of £500,000 million, ever built in the first place on those figures?
People with a disability are more likely to receive poorer education. They are much more likely to be found in low paid and unskilled jobs. If they are in full-time employment, they are likely to earn up to 20 per cent. less than their able bodied colleagues. Many of the colleges and higher education institutions are still inaccessible to them. The labour force survey in 1992 showed an unemployment rate for disabled people of 20 per cent. and a non-employment rate of 60 per cent. But this rate is probably much higher because the statistics do not count disabled persons as part of the active labour force. We do not know how many more would want, or be able, to work if they were given an accessible transport system; if they were able to enjoy 395 arrangements to work flexible hours; and if there were appropriate state benefits to enable them to work part-time, if necessary.
Having taken out the £10 billion attributed to up-grading the building stock, between £5.5 billion and £6.2 billion is attributed to transport. Some £2.8 billion of that represents the cost of replacing the slam doors on trains within five years. Yet in the compliance cost assessment of the Department of Transport it is pointed out that some of those trains might be withdrawn anyway.
A further £2.5 billion is the difference between replacing within 10 years the existing fleet of local stage buses with low-floor models instead of the traditional models and fitting local stage minibuses with lifts. But again, at what cost benefit?
No account is taken of the fact that over 10 years many existing buses would have to be replaced anyway. No account is taken of the increased revenue from increased ridership among those who would be enabled to use this form of transport. No account is taken of prospective reliance on public transport in urban areas producing further increased revenue. And no account is taken of the experience in Europe—in the Netherlands and Germany—that time saved at bus stops through the use of low-floor buses and the speeding up of the entry and exit of all passengers, both able bodied and those who are disabled, enables some urban routes to be served by fewer buses and thus makes that investment go even further. No account has been taken of the probable relief of congestion and pollution.
There are scant resources in much of the present-day bus industry, particularly in the rural areas now deregulated and privatised. For the industry to invest at all it has to attract many more passengers. Operators have already exploited most of the market, except among people with mobility handicaps whom they have not yet equipped themselves to serve. The mobility handicapped does not mean only the physically handicapped; it means the blind and the deaf, the aged and the infirm, and mothers with young children.
In recent years Cranfield University, supported by the Rowntree Trust, has built up research, detailed in an admirable booklet which has already been referred to by my noble friend Lord Rix. I hope that the Minister has had time to consider it and to look at the university's response to the costs and the cross-sector benefits of accessible public transport. It finds that making public transport accessible results in annual savings counted in nine or 10 figures in calls on health and other services. These vary from £256 million to £1,161 million.
The government compliance cost assessment includes an estimate by the Department of Employment that employing 126,000 disabled people to whom impaired productivity is attributed would cost private business £63 million a year. But the Cranfield University report points out that if 127,000 disabled people were in full-time employment in private business on an average wage, the annual total of social security benefits saved and the income tax and national insurance paid would amount to £1,266 million. That annual saving to public funds could be 20 times the 396 annual compliance cost to business. Why could not that compliance cost to business be allowed against tax to reap 19 times as much advantage to the taxpayer?
Why cannot the Government even now show some: benevolent neutrality, accept the principle of the Bill and put it on the statute book at the first opportunity? What can be the ethical, social or economic grounds for not doing that? Is it not possible, even at this late stage, to reach a consensus on what should be in the Bill in time for the Queen's Speech in November? Consultation papers can only delay consideration for another year.
The Government say that they want handicapped and disabled people to live full and independent lives in their community. That is what community care was supposed to be about. Therefore I plead with the Government either to give the Bill their blessing or to give the House a commitment tonight that they will introduce their own Bill in the next Session.
§ 11.30 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, for me this has been an instructive debate from which I have learned a lot. Like other noble Lords, it is particularly fitting that it should have been initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, whose work for disabled people over many years we all admire so much.
At this stage it is difficult to say much that is new. However, it seems appropriate, having supported the similar Bill introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, almost exactly two years ago, and thereafter passed by your Lordships' House, that I should now seek to summarise my party's attitude to this Bill.
We gladly support the Bill in principle. I certainly do not wish to dwell further on the unhappy way in which the same Bill was dealt with recently in another place. Enough has been said about that already. The basic question that we have all had to consider is whether the Government are justified in saying, as the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said in answer to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley last Thursday, that the Government do not see comprehensive legislation as the most effective and practical means of eliminating discrimination against disabled people, that they consider the Bill's drafting to be defective, and that they are concerned about the potential costs and burdens of the Bill.
On the last matter, it is significant that with all his legal and practical experience of the subject the noble Lord, Lord Renton, should then have responded by saying that if the Government were still worried about the alleged cost just two amendments could deal quite simply with the problem; and that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, should himself have reminded the Government, as he has again tonight, that in the Bill there is no time limit set on the period within which it should be implemented, that matter being left entirely to the discretion of the Government.
As regards the drafting, although we have been assured by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, that the Bill has been checked by the Law Society it is plain from what the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, said last Thursday that in the Government's view the drafting is defective at a 397 number of points. We should therefore willingly acknowledge our readiness to consider appropriate amendments in Committee.
Indeed, before the regrettable episode in another place occurred on 6th May, amendments to the Bill had already been made in Standing Committee; for example, in the field of employment—a field on which I am best qualified to speak. In Clause 1, the definition of "employer" was modified. Instead of the definition under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944, which gives a small business exemption for employers with fewer than 20 employees, the definition in the Bill, as amended in Standing Committee, no longer gave that exemption and extended to an employee under contract for services. That change is reflected in Clause 1 of the Bill now before us.
In dealing with the question of the enforcement machinery for complaints to an industrial tribunal about discrimination in employment, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People noted that it,would confer on the tribunal a potentially far-reaching and novel jurisdiction in relation to contractual disputes between business and self-employed contractors with which the tribunals are not familiar and which might have a significant impact on their case load and staffing".The Minister added:The corresponding provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act 197S and the Race Relations Act 1976 phrase their prohibitions differently [from those in the current Bill] focusing on the employment rather than the employer".—[Official Report, Commons, 675/94; col. 1000.]That difference gave rise in his view to a number of difficulties and led him to feel that the Bill might be deficient and over-ambitious. Its sponsors had perhaps been unduly influenced by American models and terminology which might not always adapt precisely to the United Kingdom's legal framework and conditions. I have touched on that matter, which is rather complex, simply as an illustration of the way in which we might give due consideration to possible amendments to the Bill.
Having said all that, at the end of the day, even if the Bill is passed by the House, we may as a matter of political reality have to recognise that it will not gain overall parliamentary approval in the present Session and reluctantly have to accept the Government's proposal to consult with employers and others on measures to combat unjustifiable discrimination in the five areas of which the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, spoke last Thursday; that is, employment, access to goods and services, financial services, the impact of building regulations on disabled people and the creation of an advisory body on disability.
The noble Viscount said last week, and it is worth quoting his precise words:We have announced the Government's proposals and we intend within six months to consult on them. The consultation will take account of the views of everyone with an interest in disability. After consultation, we will be prepared to consider assisting in drafting workable and practical legislation, which will be identified by the process of consultation".—[Official Report, 16/6/94; col. 1812.]Can the Minister tell us just what those last words mean? Will the Government then be prepared only to consider helping in the drafting of suitable legislation 398 or, after what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, told us is now 26 years since he introduced the first of these Bills in another place, will they now undertake to ensure that legislation is brought forward?
I should add that it is some relief to have learnt that instead of having to wait for another six months before consultation can begin the Prime Minister has now stated that consultation will start as soon as possible. If the noble Viscount is able to tell us more precisely when the consultative process will begin I am sure we will all be grateful.
In conclusion, may I say from these Benches how glad I am that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has given us the opportunity to discuss this vital matter once again.
§ 11.37 p.m.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, I am sure I speak for all of us tonight when I thank my noble friend Lord Ashley for introducing this Bill, and again when I thank my noble friend Lady Lockwood, who steered a similar Bill through this House on a previous occasion. I am sure I also speak for everyone in the House tonight in paying tribute to Dr. Berry and Mr. Alf Morris for their tireless work in steering the Bill through another place.
People are handicapped because they have an impairment: they cannot see, they cannot hear, they cannot walk; they may have a learning disability. But they are disabled because society discriminates against them. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, their handicap is personal but their disability is constructed by us. We impose it on them. That discrimination may be direct, as when the Spastics Society found that two-fifths of all employers would not interview for a secretarial vacancy someone with cerebral palsy. It may be indirect, as when an employer requires a driving licence, which is not essential to the job but which nonetheless prohibits many disabled people from applying for it. Or it may be compounded when we ask disabled people to bear an unequal burden when, for example, it would be reasonable to adapt premises but the employer will not do so.
They come, and we come, with our handicaps. But we—they —construct the disability. It is a disability because it is about the ability of disabled people to make choices and to have equal life chances, which has depended not so much on the inherent limitations of their handicap as, for example, on the limited imagination of house builders who have not designed houses appropriately; or on the stereotyping by employers who will not interview; or on the judgment of waitresses who will not serve; or on the bureaucracy of cinema owners who will not admit; or on the surliness or helpfulness of taxi drivers who will not stop. It has depended on everyone but disabled people themselves.
The Government rightly object to a dependency culture. But that is exactly what we as a society have forced people with disabilities to accept. We have offered care in the community, care for people, care attendants, when what is wanted is not so much needs attended to (although that may be necessary) as rights 399 that are met and held. That is what we have not done. And that is what this Bill is about: rights—not care, not needs, but rights.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said, disabled people should have the same rights as everyone else, where the impediment to those rights can be removed over a reasonable time at reasonable expense. We want no more and no less than that.
As my noble friend Lady Dean said so eloquently, we want the right—these are examples that are very often quoted in another place—of a young policewoman who is injured on duty not to be turned away from a charity event because she is in a wheelchair; the right of a blind man not to be refused a taxi because of his guide dog; the right of a blind doctor going to the Palace to get an MBE not to find her guide dog refused entry; of adults with cerebral palsy not to be refused access to a holiday; of a child with Down's syndrome not to be refused access to a restaurant—and then, to compound the matter, to be able to do nothing at all about it. That is not decent.
Mr. Scott, the Minister, has argued in the past—and some of those arguments have been heard again tonight, I am sorry to say—that we should give the voluntary approach a further chance. Voluntaryism has failed. We do not just have to turn to the Commission for Racial Equality or the EOC for evidence that when voluntaryism fails law can and does change behaviour and will in turn change culture. Jimmy Saville's "Clickety-click" campaign persuaded only 30 per cent of the population to "belt up". Law has persuaded 95 per cent. For most of us it is now second nature. We require manufacturers to label food products with their additives, fat content and the like. That has changed the culture of our eating patterns. The breathalyser has not only made drink-driving illegal but, equally importantly, it has made it unacceptable. As was quoted in another place—noble Lords will forgive me if I quote it again —as Martin Luther King said,Reality cannot be legislated, but behaviour can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless".Quite so, my Lords.
What have education and persuasion achieved? At the last count they had achieved 60 per cent. unemployment among the disabled; 50 per cent. of our children in segregated schools; 80 per cent. of disabled people dependent on social security—oh, and 0.3 per cent. disabled staff in the Home Office.
The Government do not accept that legislation is needed. We believe that it should be this Bill. On 8th March the Prime Minister encouraged it when he said:I hope that the Bill will go into Committee for detailed examination of its provisions".—[Official Report, Commons, 8/3/94; col. 147.]The Bill had an unopposed Second Reading. The Committee did indeed examine it; it made some 20 amendments to it; the Minister welcomed most of them, hesitated about only one or two of them and voted against only one of them. Though invited, he did not offer a single amendment of his own. When the Bill was reported back to the other place on 6th May, it was found that suddenly 80 amendments had been tabled by 400 government Back-Benchers, which would block the Bill. They and the Minister denied, untruthfully, that it had anything to do with him.
The sponsors then agreed to accept all the amendments to get the Bill through, and the Minister was left having to talk out the amendments which his own department had drafted so that the Bill could not complete its passage. He did so for 70 minutes while MPs could not force the vote because they were attending John Smith's funeral.
So when the Minister could amend the Bill in Committee he did not do so. When he did offer amendments at Report, he denied responsibility for them. When he did have to accept responsibility and his amendments were accepted, he himself had to defeat them by talking them out: not this Bill at any price—not even at the price of a Minister's honour.
Yet the Minister accepts, as does the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, that legislation is needed. But the Minister said last week that while the Government support the aims of the Bill, they do not support it as drafted. If the Minister supports the aims and the need for legislation but not the drafting, why does he not amend this Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), pressed him to do? We are told that the Bill is unacceptable on grounds of cost, timing, consultation and accountability and that together they make the Bill unamendable. If the Government and the Minister wish to use that argument, they are wrong on every count.
As for the matter of cost, which seems to loom so large in Ministers' minds, the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, has already done a splendid demolition job on that. But I have to say that it is a splendid demolition job on one of the shoddiest pieces of research that it has every been my misfortune to study. Of that £17 billion quoted by the Minister, the sum of £5 billion was contributed by the Department of Transport and £10 billion came from the Department of the; Environment. Both figures were equally bogus. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, reminded the House in regard to transport that the figures assume that all buses, trains and taxis will be replaced within five years. It is a pity that the authors of the financial cost assessment did not bother to read the Bill, when they would have seen that it was open-ended and there could very easily be a phase-in period of 25 years, by the end of which time trains, buses and taxis would already have reached the end of their useful life and one would be talking perhaps about merely the £½ billion extra needed for the design of new vehicles.
It is not just the disabled who would gain from that extra £½ billion. Every elderly person, every pregnant woman, every parent struggling with heavy shopping or troublesome toddlers and anyone with a bad back would be grateful for those same adaptations. All of us at different stages in our lives have a handicap.
As for the environment, the £10 billion figure is even more disreputable. How was it arrived at? So far as I can see, it was reached by estimating the current value of all non-domestic property at £600 million, and calculating that it would cost 2.5 per cent. to adapt it—all of it, and all of it at once. As noble Lords will recall, Mark Twain talked about "lies, damned lies and statistics". Here we 401 have it. First, what the assessment for the Department of the Environment does is to double-count. All departments—transport, education and employment— submitted their own estimates. Then those different figures were repeated in the sums of the Department of the Environment and they were all added together, thus getting double-counted. Perhaps some £6 billion of the £10 billion goes in that.
Secondly, and almost as remarkably, no estimate is made and no contribution allowed for work already done. It is remarkable. This afternoon I was told by a city architect that he estimates that in the City of Norwich some 60 per cent. of all non-domestic buildings, shops, halls, pubs, churches and restaurants are already accessible as a result of work done. Yet not one penny anywhere in this document is allowed for the work that has been done, although the Government is aware of it.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Viscount Astor)
My Lords, will the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, allow me to intervene? On page one of the Compliance Cost Assessment, it is stated that,compliance savings have been included where possible; for example, savings which occur because businesses no longer have to carry out a particular procedure".In other words, where there are savings or where there is no need to carry out changes, those savings have been included.
§ Baroness Hollis of Heigham
My Lords, I very much welcome the Minister's intervention. In that case will he also look at page 36 and ask himself why the statement on page one is not carried through from page 36 onwards when there is the detailed assessment for existing non-domestic buildings. Perhaps the Minister would care to point out to me anywhere in those detailed assessments that that calculation is made. I invite him to comment. He makes no comment.
On the first point we had double counting; secondly, there is the fact that all the work so far done has not been taken into account. If my authority is any guide—it may not be typical—perhaps half of all the work needed to be done has been done and not one mention is made of that. If the Government do not know what has been done, how on earth can they estimate what needs to be done? We need to cut the Government's figure for that.
Finally, if we take out of the assessment—which again is not done in this report—the listed buildings for which planning consent would be denied and which it would be entirely unreasonable to adapt, then 2.5 per cent. of market cost is almost certainly too high. As my city architect confirmed and as American experience shows, 70 per cent. of the adaptions were done for under £300 and 99 per cent. of them for under £3,000.
So in this document, on which the Government rest their case, we find that the cost compliance estimates have been double counted; that they have ignored all the work so far done; and that they have assumed that all the rest is to be done in five years, right away, with no exceptions. The figures are palpably bogus. I have to say that those responsible should be ashamed of themselves. 402 I hope that the Minister does not continue to insult the intelligence of Members of this House by quoting them at us ever again.
If the Government's case therefore rests on costs, and their costs have been double-double counted because departments have counted twice and they have taken no account of the work done, will the Government then agree that they no longer have a financial case at all? On the contrary, as my noble friend Lord Carter said, disabled people have a real economic and positive contribution to make as they come into work and off benefits which over time could suggest that there would be a nil cost. What a pity that the Government can put this package of figures together, but not a full cost benefit analysis which would show the true sums for our community. So the Government rest their case on figures which are shamefully bogus.
I turn to the second argument the Government offer us, if one can call it an argument; namely, the need for further consultation and greater accountability. On the issue of consultation, if I may comment on the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, where have we all been for the past 15 years? We have had consultation on the DLA, the DWA, the ILF, and the Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Bill as well as on the Statutory Sick Pay Bill. We had consultation within the Department of Employment on quotas, access to work and sheltered workshops. We had consultation within the education department on segregated facilities for disabled children and children with special needs. We had consultation within the DoH on community care; we had consultation within the Department of the Environment on local authority housing, on special needs, housing associations, listed buildings and building regulations. We have had all that consultation, let alone 13 Bills, in the 12 years since Alf Morris in another House set up his committee, chaired by Sir Peter Large. We do not need to consult on the Bill because the Bill is about rights. Where consultation properly comes in is in connection with the draft code of guidance, which makes those rights enforceable. That is the basis on which we should consult. That would be entirely proper. That is what the Bill would permit.
As for accountability, Mr. Scott, the Minister himself, helpfully suggested at Committee stage that the code of practice for the disabilities commission should come in draft form to the Secretary of State and should go to both Houses on affirmative rather than negative procedure. The Minister helped the Committee to suggest a clear, simple and effective form of accountability and scrutiny. So, my Lords, where are we? We all agree I think that we need legislation. I hope we all agree that the Government's fears about costs are unfounded, because only reasonable costs may be incurred, and that within a reasonable timescale. We should all be able to accept that we have had consultation in abundance, and that this Bill protects the right of Parliament to steer the issue of policy by virtue of parliamentary accountability. So I, like others tonight, finish by asking the Minister again why he will not amend the Bill.
As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, why not amend it? Why instead indicate possible legislation in 403 the Autumn, thus ensuring the very fragmentation and passing on of the burden of costs to other departments that have so bedevilled change in the past? As my noble friend Lady Lockwood said, how much do the Government estimate their proposals might cost? One can only assume that, though the Government say they do not want discrimination against disabled people— and I believe that—they do not want to give disabled people the rights to prevent that discrimination nor to construct a proper and effective disabilities commission to ensure an effective Act. That is the difference between good will, which we believe the Government may have, and a respect for civil rights, which they clearly do not have. It is the difference between treating disabled people as children, given to being noisy and making unreasonable demands, and viewing them instead as moral adults entitled to define their needs and to hold their rights. I hope that the House tonight will again confirm that principle and support the Bill, because disabled people are entitled to nothing less.
§ 11.57 p.m.
My Lords, the introduction of the Bill has provided your Lordships with the opportunity to debate this important issue. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy reminded the House, the issue has been debated by Parliament since 1969. I should like to begin by making it absolutely clear that the Government wholeheartedly share the aim of eliminating discrimination against disabled people and I am glad that your Lordships recognise that commitment.
As my right honourable friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People said in another place on 11th March:the Government share the aim of eliminating discrimination against disabled people. We recognise that the aspirations and expectations of disabled people in our society are now firmly part of the political agenda. It is impossible for us to ignore them, even if we wished, and it would not be right to do so".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/3/94; col. 562.]He went on to say that what we have to do is focus our minds on the best ways of achieving this aim.
That statement makes it unquestionably clear that we agree on the principle of seeking to eliminate discrimination. Discrimination of any kind is wrong. But to stop the abuse and segregation that discrimination brings is not simply a question of legislating; it is also about awareness, understanding and, above all, attitudes. Combating prejudice and discrimination cannot be achieved by just government, but we have a duty to provide a strong lead and to take positive action when necessary. That will require co-ordinated action by all concerned in government, the private sector, the voluntary sector and the public at large. It is in the approach that we differ from the sponsors of this Bill. We believe that the best way forward is through education, persuasion and specific legislation where necessary—not by all-embracing, comprehensive legislation.
Concerns expressed about costs from business, industry and the Government unfortunately appear not to have been reflected in the Bill before us today. It has been framed without general consultation or the wide support that a measure as far reaching, potentially costly 404 and important as this requires before it can be enacted. I shall give your Lordships some examples. Business and industry have always expressed concerns over costs. Business in Sport and Leisure said of Dr. Roger Berry's Bill:Overall we are concerned at the very high costs this Bill would involve for the leisure industry if it became law. We would urge the Government to undertake the widest possible consultation and to consider the full impact on business if this, measure is to receive Government support".The Institute of Directors has written:Regarding the Bill's provisions, the IoD is particularly concerned about the proposals for mandatory physical alterations to business premises. We believe that these arc:, in effect, a tax on businesses, a tax which will be arbitrary in effect and incidence".The institute goes on to say:The potential cost of alterations to premises for business, as proposed in the Berry Bill, is enormous, and, with powers for the Secretary of State to add new types of premises to an already extensive list, could be greater than anyone has so far proposed".The CBI said:The costs of any proposed legislation are also a concern. In the context of the Bill, the tests of reasonableness and awareness of the varying circumstances of businesses are obviously welcome and show the concern of the Bill's sponsors with the wider economic impact of the Bill. However, they remain somewhat vague and there is a concern that vagueness will encourage litigation, eating up resources better spent directly on the need of people with disabilities. UK employers have a good record of legislative compliance and this may mitigate the danger of a spate of claims".The CBI go on to say:Concerns have also been raised that the Bill's provisions, by requiring accommodation in such a wide range of areas, will divert resources away from introducing vehicles and facilities which are fully accessible to people with disabilities and which sit alongside existing fleets and facilities. Nor is there any apparent provision for flexibility in how jobs are structured or goods and services delivered, to meet the need of people with disabilities within what a firm can afford. While appreciating that progress cannot be achieved without extra costs, the size of these and where they will fall are crucial to the success or failure of action in this area".
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, my noble friend has quoted various organisations complaining about the cost. Over what period are they talking about? Are they talking about instant cost or over a reasonable number of years?
§ Lord Carter
I wonder whether the noble Viscount will give way. As regards costs, does any of the evidence which he has quoted from the CBI and others give figures, or was it just a series of unverified assertions?
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to proceed. I believe that he will get an explanation. The Government compiled and published a compliance cost assessment. A copy was placed in the Library on 5th May of this year. Your Lordships had the opportunity to look at it—
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to finish my sentence—as did those who were interested in this Bill, whether that be business or organisations connected with people with disabilities.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, that is very helpful and I am extremely grateful to the noble Viscount. Is he saying that all the figures in the compliance cost assessment were produced entirely by the Government, or did the CBI, the Institute of Directors or anyone else provide any of the figures?
My Lords, the document is published by the Government and the figures came from government departments. The document was put together, and in doing so we did our best to give a broad indication of the likely implications of the Bill introduced in another place. As I have said, the compliance cost assessment was laid in both Libraries on 5th May and was prepared on the best information available.
Much has been made—indeed the point was made in Questions here last week—of the fact that the CCA reflects the civil rights Bill as originally drafted and assumes that compliance would be immediate or deferred for up to five years. The supporters of the Bill contend that, as amended, Clause 10 amply caters for lengthy phase-in periods to address the Government's specific concern. But to leave such an important provision so open would mean that it would be impossible to assume that long phase-in periods would inevitably be the outcome.
My Lords, if the noble Baroness would allow me to make some progress, that would be helpful and it would allow me to deal with Clause 10.
My Lords, the noble Baroness must allow me to make some progress. She has made her speech. It is up to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, to reply to the debate. I am attempting to answer points on Clause 10.
The amendments to Clause 10 do not address all the fundamental flaws in the Bill. First, Clause 10 applies only to those parts of the Bill surrounding the provision of goods and services, not employment. Secondly, as drafted the clause is by no means as flexible as has been suggested, relating as it does to making exceptions for groups and classes of individuals. I note that those of your Lordships who have been quick to criticise the compliance cost assessment—and in particular its omissions—have not been able to come forward with their own detailed analysis. We must remember that it is a cost just to business, not to the Government or to the nation as a whole. That is an important point.
Although we can argue about whether some of the details may be correct and about whether the figures may be higher or lower than in the document, the compliance cost assessment has confirmed the fears of both Government and industry of the likely impact of sweeping anti-discrimination legislation. By way of illustration, I should like to quote a few examples. Shops, hotels, restaurants, banks, and public buildings, would need to be accessible. This would mean altering existing buildings, involving additional measures such 406 as removing steps at entrances, widening doors and corridors, altering stairs, installing lifts and installing wheelchair accessible toilets. The total cost of providing a reasonable level of access and facilities is estimated to be in the region of £10 billion.
Access requirements in transport would mean replacing or retrofitting most existing buses, trains, taxis, boats and planes. London Underground would need alternative escalators and lifts, and accessible ticket barriers. Extra staff would be needed at stations to provide help. The costs of providing levels of access which are reasonable and workable in terms of service operation for land-based vehicles alone would be in the region of over £5 billion. In addition, operators might have to cover additional staff costs and the costs of training existing staff in the operation of new vehicles and equipment. Costs are estimated to be £150 million to £240 million.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, my concern is that there seem to be two problems. The first is that the compliance costs about which the Government are talking are based on assessment as at 5th May, but my understanding is that the Bill that is now before us has been significantly altered. Therefore, that compliance cost assessment cannot be valid—
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, perhaps I could finish. I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me this intervention.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, that was my first point. The other point—and this is where I have some experience—is to ask whether any allowance has been made for action that has already been taken by local authorities and businesses. I call in aid the experience in Manchester where, for the past 10 years, we have had policies to improve disabled access to buildings—
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I am sorry but I am genuinely concerned about the Minister's pronounce-ments in terms of the cost assessment—
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way to me. I believe that it is customary in this House that a noble Lord has an opportunity of making a speech and perhaps of asking for clarification by way of a question to the noble Lord who is answering on behalf of the Government. But at this time of night I suspect that for a noble Lord to indulge in making his own speech by means of an intervention is perhaps going a little too far.
My Lords, with your Lordships' indulgence perhaps I may continue. Referring to the compliance cost assessment, we believe that those were the elements which went to make up a total estimated cost of £17 billion, with a year-on-year cost of £1 407 billion. I do not believe that any of your Lordships can deny that this Bill, whether in its original form or the amended form before the House today, has a considerable cost to business. That cost exists whether or not some of the items are brought in immediately or over a slightly longer period. Of course, we also recognise that there are benefits to business that may flow from the Bill. It is important that people with disabilities are seen as individuals who have individual abilities and skills. To welcome disabled customers is not only good citizenship but is also profitable. More and more companies recognise the financial advantages of attracting disabled people as employees and customers, and are taking positive action to achieve this.
Employment is the key to unlocking potential and ability, enabling disabled people to live fulfilling and independent lives and to enriching our culture and national life. Disabled people are often people of great ability. They wish to develop their skills and talents fully in the workplace in the same way as anyone else. With this aim in mind, we have a programme of education and persuasion to raise employers' awareness, encourage them to concentrate on people's abilities and help them achieve success by releasing individual potential and initiative. For example, the access to work scheme was introduced on 6th June as a positive move forward. The scheme provides disabled people and their employers with a wide range of help in overcoming barriers to work and it will make a major contribution towards assisting disabled people to compete on an equal basis in the labour market.
In 1992 the Government introduced a new benefit —disability working allowance—designed to give financial help to disabled people going into work but who are on low earnings, making it easier for disabled people to achieve greater independence through taking employment. Disability working allowance is unique in Europe. The Government have announced a number of improvements to the benefit: the introduction of a child care disregard from October this year of up to £40 against earnings; remission of National Health Service charges to recipients with savings of £8,000 or less; improving the linking rule for invalidity benefit and severe disablement allowance so that those undertaking training will be able to claim disability working allowance when they start work and will be able to reclaim invalidity benefit or severe disablement allowance if necessary within two years; an increased allowance for lone parents and couples of up to £8.35 a week; a rise in the threshold for single persons of over £10 a week; and the introduction of a disabled child's premium of £19.45 a week. I hope that those significant improvements will help increasing numbers of disabled people to move into work.
We also introduced new rules from 16th May this year to assist volunteers. People claiming benefits in respect of incapacity for work, which include sickness benefit, invalidity benefit and severe disablement allowance, can now do voluntary work of less than 16 hours a week without it affecting their benefit. Previously, benefit could be stopped unless an adjudication officer decided that the work would be therapeutic. This improvement was brought forward to 408 meet concerns expressed by voluntary organisations and their helpers that the existing rules might discourage people from doing voluntary work because of fears about its effect on their benefits.
It may be useful if at this stage I refer to the Americans with Disabilities Act that some of your Lordships have discussed. This piece of legislation is held by some to be the global answer to prevent discrimination against disabled people.
I should point out to your Lordships that it is significant that the Act became law on 26th July 1990 with phase-in times which range from 30 days to 30 years. It is being phased-in over that lengthy period. For example, the employment provisions will apply only to employers with between 25 and 15 employees from July this year. It is too early to make a firm judgment on the weight of its effect. The Forum of Private Business believes that the experience of that legislation so far has been a significant deterrent to the employment of disabled people.
The Bill before us today, like a similar Bill introduced recently in the other place, does not have government support. It would be burdensome, litigious and costly. We have looked long and hard at ways of making this Bill acceptable. Regrettably, during the Bill's passage in another place, we concluded that the substantial lack of consultation during the drafting stages of the Bill had rendered it so defective that even the considerable number of amendments prepared by Parliamentary Counsel could not address its consider-able weaknesses. To make the Bill an effective legislative vehicle would, we believe, require not only substantial amendment but also we should need to consult with those bearing the heaviest burden to ensure that the resulting statute was in fact practical, workable and affordable.
It has been claimed that title Government have been dishonest in their handling of the Bill. I reject that allegation absolutely. The Government have always made clear their opposition to comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. We have made our views well known, and have come up with our own proposals. The Bill was in fact not talked out on 20th May, as some noble Lords suggested. There was a vote when only 29 Members of the other place voted and business could not therefore proceed in the absence of a quorum. That is what happened. The Bill is listed to come back to another place on 15th July when they will deal with it as it sees fit.
I announced in this House on 10th May, that we intend to consult on proposals to eliminate unjustifiable discrimination. We believe that consultation is at the root of successful legislation. That is why we propose to seek the views of those affected by it in the following key areas: proposals to prevent unjustifiable discrimination against disabled people in the field of employment, as we recognise that the quota scheme may not be the most effective instrument for improving the work position of disabled people; a right of access to goods or services where there is no physical barrier or safety risk; codes of practice on the provision of financial services, and extending roles for the banking and building society ombudsmen to cover cases of unjustified discrimination 409 against disabled people; extending the application of the building regulations as they affect the needs of disabled people—in that context noble Lords will be aware that on 17th May, my noble friend Lord Arran announced his department's intention to consult on provisions for new dwellings within the building regulations; a new independent body to advise the Government on issues relating to discrimination against disabled people. That body would work closely with existing statutory bodies representing the interests of disabled people and would report regularly on progress towards reducing and removing discrimination as well as making recommendations for further improvement.
We have repeatedly stated our commitment to consultation. Our plans are well under-way for that consultation to take place. I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, that we hope to start that consultation as soon as possible. We need to get our plans right, and to do so we intend to consult widely in order to take account of the views of everyone with an interest in disability. In that way we shall better secure understanding and commitment to action. As a part of that process, the Government will study carefully what has been said in your Lordships' House this evening. I very much hope that noble Lords will be involved in that exercise of consultation and will bring their very considerable interest and experience in this area to bear. The Government's proposals will be subject to the very widest consultation, which will include the transport industry and those committees that advise on disability and mobility issues; for example, the Disabled Persons' Transport Advisory Committee.
At the end of that process, if we believe that new primary legislation is needed we shall give such assistance as is necessary to draft it. That, of course, will include a compliance-cost assessment if a Bill is produced. We hope that that process will help to further eliminate unjustifiable discrimination against disabled people. I know that my noble friends Lord Campbell of Croy and Lady Seccombe have welcomed that commitment from the Government.
Our proposals are far reaching and they address the main components of the Bill before the House this evening. However, I believe that they do so in a way which is more practical and affordable. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, who asked about the human rights commission, I should respectfully point out to him that no other European state has comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people, although some countries have partial legislation. The proposals that the Government have made to remove unjustifiable discrimination as regards all kinds of disability are important and represent the Government's commitment in the area. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, wishes to intervene. I give way.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, I am much obliged. I am grateful to the Minister for responding to one of the two points that I made. However, I was not referring to the European Convention on Human Rights but to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which goes well beyond Europe. The point on 410 which I was seeking an answer is this. There is a positive obligation in that covenant to legislate in order to secure effective remedies for the wrong of unjustifiable discrimination. How can the Government possibly justify their continuing inaction?
I also set out the five principles justifying legislation in the field. Do the Government accept in principle that those arguments apply with equal force to discrimination against the disabled as they do to discrimination against ethnic minorities or women? If not, what is the difference?
My Lords, it is important to bear in mind the nature of the Government's proposals. I hope that I have made them very clear. Of course, we take account of the various conventions mentioned by the noble Lord. They are indeed important. We shall take account of them when we consider proposals for legislation. I cannot really go any further than that tonight. It is important to note that the Government have an open mind about the consultation and will study the issues very clearly. We do not prejudge the issues. As I said, if we feel that primary legislation is necessary we shall assist in its drafting in the future.
I should stress that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made clear that the Government are determined to take action in the area. He has given a commitment to press ahead with the consultation in the coming months. As I said, plans are in hand to publish our proposals as soon as we are able to do so.
I began this evening by reaffirming the Government's commitment to the elimination of unjustifiable discrimination on the grounds of disability. I believe that that is a fitting note on which to conclude. I have to tell your Lordships that the Government cannot support the Bill. We have always made our position clear on the matter. We do not believe that this Bill of comprehensive legislation is the way forward. However, I hope that your Lordships recognise the importance of the commitment and the proposals that the Government have made as regards consultation which I have outlined to the House this evening.
§ 12.25 a.m.
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Viscount for the help that he has given to the House and to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. However, I thank the noble Viscount in particular as he has been very helpful in revealing the Government's attitude, but it would have been even more helpful had he listened to some of the speeches. My feeling is that he has just made a speech which bore no relation to many of the speeches made on both sides of the House.
It is customary simply to say "Thank you", but I believe that the noble Viscount has enraged the House by his failure to deal with many significant and substantial points. How can he speak of consultation after some 15 years in government have elapsed and 12 years after the first Bill was brought forward? And now the Government are going to consult. How can he speak of the cost assessment that the Government have 411 produced without mentioning the cost benefit mentioned by myself and every speaker right through to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and after the sponsor of this measure in another place has explained in great detail all the discussions that have taken place? How can the noble Viscount suggest that there have been no consultations on the Bill?
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, this is very important. I would not dream of speaking at this hour if the noble Viscount had made some effort to deal with these important problems. He did not mention once the cost to disabled people, but he cannot speak of the compliance cost assessment and not mention cost benefit. That is crucially important. Alan Howarth, a Conservative Member from the other place, has been asking and begging the Government to give a cost benefit analysis and the Government have said no. That is unfair and quite wrong, and that is the basis of our anger tonight.
I conclude with this thought. I have a feeling that Members of this House and the Minister are speaking different languages. I feel as if I have been talking to a Chinaman tonight because there has been no communication between us and no understanding. We have gone to an awful lot of trouble over our speeches. We have spent days and weeks preparing speeches and preparing arguments. They may not have been as good as the speeches of Demosthenes or Pericles but they have been put forward in good faith. They were backed 412 by researchers, assistants and helpers. But what does the Minister do?—he peddles bromides from a brief which is irrelevant. I must stop because I shall go over the top.
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, I am sorry but you have asked for it. I regret that the Minister has really let the House down. He has enraged this House. He will have enraged the House of Commons—
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, he can answer by all means. He will have deeply and profoundly dismayed disabled people. We do not want from the Prime Minister any half-baked solution in November. We must have a comprehensive Bill of Rights for disabled people. That is what this Bill is about; that is what we want—nothing more and nothing less.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.