Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. It gives a list of our achievements over the past 15 years: a series of piecemeal steps forward towards better rights for disabled people. The Statement refers to the Education Act 1993 and the SEN code of practice which was introduced. It pays great attention to the laudable progress that we have made. However, we started from a low base. I am afraid that the legislation envisaged carries on in the same vein. It is piecemeal. It hedges everything with comments such as "as and when it is practical" or "as and when the costs are there". It does not provide any vision of where we should be going or how it will be achieved. It goes the other way around.

The Statement contains many good things, but we must accept that we are giving it two cheers rather than three. Direct payments enhance the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. That is important. That is the type of help required. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, full civil rights are required. That is what people with disabilities expect to receive. We have provided them for other groups in society. Why cannot we provide them for this group of people?

When we have a copy of the Bill, we shall be able to go through it in far more detail. We shall be able to discuss what should be in the legislation. Does the Minister have a rough idea of the approximate cost of what is to be brought forward in the Bill? If we have a

24 Nov 1994 : Column 396

rough idea of that figure, we shall be able to see whether we have finally buried the absurd idea that providing civil rights for disabled people will cost £17 billion.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I suspected that there would be a welcome for these pioneering measures that we are putting forward today, but I also suspected that some of it would be somewhat grudging. I am pleased to hear that the noble Baroness welcomes the Statement. I think she said that she was glad but not grateful. We do not seek gratitude. That is not the purpose of government. We propose to enable people with a disability to lead fulfilling, independent and useful lives. That is the purpose of the Bill.

Perhaps I may take up some of the points mentioned by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Addington. First, there is the question of the need for legal aid at tribunals. The majority of applicants who appear before tribunals are not legally represented. Industrial tribunals are intended to provide a means of redress with the minimum of formality. Legal aid is therefore not available for anyone who appears before a tribunal under any jurisdiction.

We feel strongly that the more we can go forward by conciliation, the better it is for everyone. When cases end up before tribunals, or court, few people are winners, except the lawyers.

With regard to the smaller employers, I understand that there is a feeling that small firms should also bear the costs of what we are proposing, but we have to draw a balance. We know that it is the small firms which are the seedcorn in creating this country's wealth. Therefore, we do not wish to overburden them. I understand that in America the disability legislation does not apply to small firms. We believe that we too should go down that road and exempt them from some of the burdens.

Our figures do not marry with those given by the noble Baroness. Indeed, 83 per cent. of employees would be covered by the new right. We believe that the figures given by the noble Baroness include self-employed people, and that distorts the figures.

With regard to education, we must wait for the accessibility audit that is now being carried out. We shall then look critically at what needs to be done and discuss the phasing of that with local education authorities.

We hope to make a policy statement before Christmas and therefore we are anxious to press ahead with the Bill. The policy statement will take up many of the detailed issues that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. It will also take into account the phasing.

We believe that this is a good Bill and we wish to see it go forward. The costs will not be exorbitant. The figure of £17 billion was given when the Berry Bill was introduced. That was the cost of that Bill--

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, no, it was not!

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, we costed the proposals in that Bill. This is a different Bill and the

24 Nov 1994 : Column 397

costs will be different. Noble Lords must wait for the compliance cost assessment once the details are worked out.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I welcome this first legislation coming from a government and aiming to tackle discrimination. One of the reasons is that I was the Member of another place who introduced the first Private Member's Bill on the subject. That was in 1968 after I had been successful in the ballot. Is my noble friend aware that early in 1969 my Bill was defeated after a two-line Whip had been imposed by the Labour Government of the day? I feel obliged to mention that because the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, referred critically to the present Government and even used the word "outrage". She may not remember the incident, but I can assure her that in 1969 there was much greater outrage among the disability groups about my Bill being voted down. This is, therefore, an historic occasion which I welcome.

The quota system is now 50 years old and it was intended mainly for war disabled. Does my noble friend accept that, if replacement does not find favour, major reform is necessary and that that was agreed on all sides of this House during my debate on 13th April? It is now mathematically impossible for all eligible employers to employ the present quota of 3 per cent.

As regards direct payments, I supported the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord McColl because I had understood that the system of direct payments applies in Scotland. Therefore, I have argued that it should apply to England and Wales too. I should be grateful if my noble friend could confirm that in Scotland there is already a system of direct payments.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend's patience has at last been rewarded. We strongly agree that the quota system needs major reform. As he said, it was introduced towards the end of the war and for a different purpose. It has proved to be unworkable. We believe that the measures that we have put forward will vastly improve the situation.

I am delighted to hear that the House welcomes direct payments. I am not sure about the situation in Scotland. Perhaps I can write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, the last thing that I wish to do is to bandy party political points. However, is the Minister aware that the first anti-discrimination Bill, as distinct from the general Bill that was brought forward by the noble Lord, was brought forward by a Labour Member some 12 years ago? I have forgotten his name but he represented Stoke-on-Trent! There has been a series of Bills ever since.

It would be churlish not to welcome the Statement and I so welcome it. The proposals are an advance for disabled people. However, I wish to make a particular point. The Minister spoke of burdening small employers. That is the wrong language to use because the whole object of anti-discrimination legislation is to release the talents and skills of disabled people. The

24 Nov 1994 : Column 398

Minister in no way excused the Government's failure to include firms of fewer than 20 employees but we hope to convert her and her colleagues on that issue.

I wish to ask the Minister to reflect on two related central issues. First, for the past 12 years the Government have resisted anti-discrimination legislation. Indeed, there have been 13 Private Members' Bills. The Government have now bowed to pressure from disabled people, the disability lobby and parliamentary and public opinion. There is nothing wrong with that; it is democracy at work. The Government have done well to respond. Secondly, the people and organisations which discriminate against disabled people will resist guidance and advice. They are the very people who require pressure. That pressure can come only from a strong disability rights commission which can investigate, monitor and enforce the law. Will the Minister and her colleagues consider putting forward a strong commission? If not, the legislation will go the same way as the quota system--it will be disregarded and discredited.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I recognise that the noble Lord has been a doughty fighter for the needs of disabled people and I cherish his comments on welcoming the Statement. I take his point about small businesses. I am sure that many employers see enormous benefits in employing disabled people. Often they are the most loyal and reliable employees. Of course, there is nothing to prevent employers from employing disabled people if that is their choice. We are not making it mandatory for them to alter their buildings, introduce new systems and seek what could be expensive advice in order to do so. Perhaps we can take the Bill as it stands and see what progress is made. I am sure that small businesses will look to others and see some of the benefits.

The noble Lord called for a commission. The National Disability Council will be a powerful body and will be independent. It will advise the Government on issues relating to discrimination, suggest measures to reduce them, review the effects of the new rights of access and draw up codes of practice. It will also be required to report annually to my honourable friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People and to lay that report before Parliament. I have no doubt that it will be conscientious, particularly as its membership consists of 50 per cent. disabled people or their carers. I am sure that it will perceive as one of its duties to monitor what is happening and to report back to my honourable friend.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page