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7.22 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for giving us the opportunity to debate disability and to keep it on the agenda. Over many years my noble friend has kept the issue on the agenda. He is walking proof, even with the disability that he suffered in the Second World War, that one can be very active in one's chosen career and reach the top; that is, I suppose, if one considers being Secretary of State for Scotland being the top.

My noble friend represented a constituency just about as far away from Westminster as one could get. Travel arrangements which today are very simple—my noble friend began as the Member of Parliament for Moray and Nairn—were, I imagine, very complex. It is a big constituency, although not as big as the one that I had the honour to represent. My noble friend did not just represent the people of Moray and Nairn well for many years; he became Secretary of State for Scotland, and anyone who has served in government at any level—I never reached those exalted levels—will know that that involves a great deal of work, a great deal of travelling and a great deal of meeting people. My noble friend is an example to all disabled people that one can overcome such problems and reach the top of one's chosen career or profession.

Over the past 15 years the Government have notched up an impressive record. Increasingly, disability has been given a high priority. We have pursued a range of reforms, from widening and improving the benefits system, to the introduction of community care and the introduction of the Access to Work programme, to list but a few. They were all designed to improve the lives of disabled people.

Some 10 years ago, the Government commissioned the most thorough and comprehensive survey of disability ever undertaken in Great Britain. In the light of that survey, we introduced a coherent and integrated package of changes. In introducing the debate, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy attempted to show what was behind the ballpark figures that are often thrown around without too much thought. The most interesting point may have been the distribution of people who are elderly as well as disabled within the 6.5 million—which I noticed during the course of the debate grew to 7 million. It does not help too much to expand numbers beyond those upon which we agree.

The main changes from April 1992 focused additional help with the extra costs of disability on those people who are disabled from birth or early in life, on those who are unable to work or to save and on those who received no help from the previous system. They

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provided help for disabled people who can and who wish to work by making it easier for them to keep or take work. To date, that package has provided extra help for about 1.5 million disabled people at an estimated additional cost of £625 million this year.

By introducing better targeted benefits, we have been able to direct significantly more help towards disabled people. Total spending on benefits for long-term sick and disabled people and their carers has trebled in real terms since 1978-79 to about £17 billion in 1993-94. I shall repeat the figure because noble Lords who perhaps listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, may have been forgiven for assuming that almost nothing was being spent in that field: £17 billion is a considerable amount of money, and a 237 per cent. increase from the days when her party was last responsible for such matters.

In addition to the benefits system, Section 2 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 requires authorities to provide a range of services, if necessary, to meet assessed disablement. They include the provision of recreational facilities, home adaptations, clever devices and new materials which, with the improvements in technology, have come on by leaps and bounds; practical assistance—for example, in holidays and meals, telephones and various items of special equipment, which are increasing in number all the time. Local authorities are fully aware of those responsibilities and I believe that they face up to them all over the country.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, asked me about the incapacity benefit in relation to targeting benefits. The introduction of that benefit represents a fundamental reform to achieve a more coherent approach to incapacity provision and a more affordable system. I assure the noble Baroness that adjudication officers will consider and weigh all the evidence from the claimant, the claimant's doctor and the Benefits Agency's own medical staff in deciding whether a person is incapable of work. I trust that that covers the point she raised about people with intermittent difficulties.

The community care reforms gave thousands of disabled people the chance to stay in their own homes rather than lose their independence and go into care. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, for saying that there may be the odd horror story in the newspapers—who can believe the scale of them from what the newspapers say?—but let us not forget that up and down the country there are excellent success stories which it would be nice to see reported to encourage everyone in this new, excellent idea of looking after people as far as possible in the community and in their own homes.

The implementation of that policy has been a good story for disabled people. The new arrangements give local authorities the flexibility they need to tailor services to individuals. The point made by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and other noble Lords was that these people are individuals, and it is not easy to classify them in great chunks of disability. People with the same disability may have a different range of difficulties within that same disability, and there are all

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the differences between various disabilities and the problem that people often have multiple disabilities—something of which we should not lose sight.

We believe that the new arrangements mean that the users and the carers are fully involved in the process of developing the care package and that their preferences are taken into account. This year local authorities in England have received £4.6 billion for community care services. That includes additional resources of more than £1.2 billion to meet their new responsibilities to implement the new reforms. In the coming year they will receive £5.1 billion for community care services, including £1.8 billion for their new responsibilities.

A major aim of the Government has been to encourage more employers to concentrate on the abilities rather than on the disabilities of employees. Progress towards this aim has been made, with more than 950 employers now using the disability symbol that signals their commitment to the employment of disabled people. The Access to Work programme, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Haig, was introduced in June and it is a positive step in the right direction. It provides a wider range of help for people with disabilities, helping them to overcome physical barriers and with transport costs. Assistance is flexible enough to meet individual needs; for example, it can provide communicators for deaf people and support workers for those with learning difficulties. That will help to make work a reality for many more disabled people.

But we still have a long way to go. Attitudes cannot be changed overnight and it will take time before disabled people are totally accepted as full members of our economic and social community. A number of noble Lords made similar points today. Discrimination exists. Much of it may be unintended or accidental; it may be caused through ignorance or fear. Nevertheless, it exists. Disabled people wish to be able to study, work, travel and enjoy leisure activities in the same way as the rest of us.

As your Lordships are aware, in July we published a consultation document on a wide range of proposals to tackle discrimination. One thousand organisations and individuals responded. In the light of those responses, on 24th November we announced a package of measures which go a good deal further than the original proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, said that this was unprecedented legislation to outlaw discrimination. I hope that he was referring to the proposals, and I was delighted to hear him say that. I know that he would like to push the Government a little further but I hope that his disappointment in us not going the whole way will not overcome his thinking on the subject to the exclusion of the fact that he welcomes the unprecedented legislation. It would be a great pity if we

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squabbled overmuch about the issues upon which we disagree but did not underline the issues upon which we agree.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I should like to place on record my thanks to the Government for responding to the pressure from disabled people and the disability lobby, and for introducing this legislation.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and I hope that when the Bill comes to this House we can continue the spirit.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester mentioned employment, as did my noble friend Lord Haig. Many employers have taken advantage of our initiatives; but, clearly, there is plenty of evidence to show that discrimination continues. It is also clear that the quota system is not working as originally intended, not least because of a reluctance on the part of disabled people to register. We therefore propose to replace the quota scheme with a new right which will outlaw unjustifiable discrimination on the grounds of disability in all areas of employment. It will be unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably than he or she would treat a non-disabled person, unless there are justifiable reasons. Employers will be required to make a reasonable adjustment to the workplace or to working practices where that would overcome the practical effect of disability.

Of course, it is essential to ensure that undue burdens are not placed on business. It is partly for that reason that we have decided that firms of fewer than 20 employees will be exempted. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, was not happy about that proposal, and no doubt we will return to it on a number of occasions. The American Disabilities Act excludes small firms. Indeed, the bulk of small firms are one and two-man or woman shows and do not add up to many employees. I did not hear it said tonight—which perhaps means that the argument has been made—but it can be said that, individually, 95 per cent. of businesses in the country employ fewer than 20 people. However, another statistic shows that those firms employing more than 20 people account for 83 per cent. of employees in the country. I hope that we do not lose sight of that simple fact. We believe that we must introduce the lower limit for the sake of good business and affordability and the difficulties that small firms will have. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that those above 20 employees cover the vast majority of employees in this country.

Disabled people who experience discrimination in the field of employment will have recourse to industrial tribunals. The procedure will be broadly the same as for complaints under other discrimination legislation. A statutory code of practice and guidance will be available for employers and disabled people following further consultation. The availability of good advice and information for employers and staff alike should reduce the likelihood of disputes arising in the first place. I am sure that we should all like to aim for that.

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As regards rights of access to goods and services, in the consultation document we recognised the importance of improving access to goods and services. As your Lordships are aware, our proposals have gone further than we originally proposed. We listened to what respondents said, and we acted upon their advice. The entire exercise has been an excellent demonstration of the value of consultation. The new right of access will prohibit any direct exclusion of disabled people. Where it is reasonable, proprietors will also have to provide aids and services to improve access for disabled people. In addition, they will have to remove physical barriers where that is readily achievable.

The overall costs may be subject to a financial limit, depending on the outcome of further consultations with disabled people and service providers. Where barriers are not removed, goods and services will have to be made available by alternative means, provided that that is practicable. It would be fairly naive to believe that these changes could be effected without hiccups. There will be a learning period for us all, especially the service providers. That is why we intend to set up a conciliation service which will be able to look at and, in the majority of cases, settle disputes.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester mentioned in particular financial services and the insurance industry. Equal treatment in financial services was not included in the consultation document. However, in the light of the views expressed, we propose to include them in the new statutory right. The proposals will outlaw unjustified loadings on the insurance premiums of disabled people. In consultation with the insurance industry, we will be looking closely at how legislation can best be framed in this particular field.

I turn briefly to the issue of definition because I suspect that we shall return to it. The word "disability" covers a wide and diverse range from slight to very severe. Many disabilities are caused by complaints associated with ageing. Arthritis and hearing loss are two of them. For that reason, it is generally agreed that important new rights should not include those whose condition has relatively minor effects. We would risk bringing these measures into contempt if they were extended to cover minor ailments and complaints. That is why the rights will apply to those persons with a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial long-term effect on the person's day-to-day activities.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, made some comments about that. Perhaps he will accept that if we go down the road that he suggested, we shall move considerably beyond the more medically-based approach suggested by us in the consultation document. I assure the noble Lord that we shall take powers to add conditions to the definitions by means of regulations. We have it in mind also to issue a code of practice to ensure that there is a full understanding of the Bill's employment provisions especially.

The National Disability Council is another subject to which I am sure we shall return. The Government propose to establish a National Disability Council. That will be a new independent body focusing on issues affecting disabled people. We believe that it will provide

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a powerful voice for disabled people and it will present an annual report on its activities to the Minister for Disabled People. That report will be laid before Parliament.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked me about the composition of the council. The Secretary of State will appoint the chairman, the deputy chairman and members of the council after consultation with individuals and organisations. Fifty per cent. of the members will be disabled people or parents or guardians of disabled people. In appointing members, the Secretary of State will be keen to ensure that the members also include representatives of business, industry and the professional groups.

The subject of education was raised on a number of occasions in the course of the debate. It did not surprise me that the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, dwelt on the importance of communication in education, not only from the point of view of the professionals but also that the professional advice should be backed up by active and informal efforts in the community and with the help of lay people, especially given some of the new technologies that have come along to help people with communication. I could not agree more with that.

The more that disabled children can be educated alongside non-disabled companions, the less we shall see adults avoiding and ignoring them, and the more integrated they will feel. However, our education legislation does indeed recognise that there are many different kinds of disability. Accurate identification and assessment of children's individual needs are essential. That is the thrust of the new code of practice which your Lordships approved so warmly in May this year.

There is a spectrum of different needs and there must be a continuum of provision to meet those needs. Our policies are designed to create educational diversity and to maximise parental preferences for disabled children. The 1993 Education Act was a major advance in meeting special educational needs. We believe that the Funding Agency for Schools which we propose will help with access for children to the schools, because we must not only make available the education; we must make sure that the children can get into the schools.

I have taken more time than I meant to, so I will merely say on the subject of community care that the important feature of the package that has been announced recently is direct cash payments in lieu of community care services. We believe that that will give disabled people and their carers greater choice about the care that they receive. That initiative complements directly our aim to give greater independence to disabled people and has been widely welcomed.

The noble Lords, Lord Selsdon and Lord Addington, introduced some interesting matters into the debate. I should have liked to be able to spend some time dealing with those. My noble friend Lord Selsdon quite rightly pointed to the advances in technology, in what might nowadays be called "spare parts surgery" and its importance in bringing back to people, perhaps especially elderly people, the mobility which they thought that they had lost through problems with joints, hips and so on. There are great advances still to be made in those particular fields.

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The noble Lord, Lord Addington, invited me to go into rounds of research deeper than that. But a great deal of money is spent on research through the medical research councils and through the various departmental and NHS budgets. There is a big programme with research. It is always difficult for the people who make those decisions to decide what is the best way to spend the money; which piece of research is most likely to produce results, and so on.

The noble Lord moved into the field of genetic engineering research. I always tiptoe into that one with some trepidation because it may stimulate some difficult moral dilemmas which may well be just round the corner for us when medical science produces some very clever ways in which to prevent genetically inherited diseases.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, who unfortunately is not able to be here at present, mentioned the importance of improving public attitudes and he mentioned the campaign of which my honourable friend Mr. William Hague launched the first phase last week. It is important in any public campaign that it should be directed not only at the disabled but also at the able bodied. They are the people to whom the disabled must look, necessarily, when they need help to do whatever it is that they are doing, they are finding difficult to do.

I am sure that all noble Lords on all sides of the House will agree that this has been a notable year for disabled people. Our Statement held some surprises and went further than most people imagined. The Bill will be published shortly and noble Lords will be able to see just how far it has moved. This is not just about legislation. We need education, persuasion and increased public awareness. Let us not forget the importance of following a course which is not only achievable but which is also practical and balanced. I feel sure that most sensible people will agree that, taken together, the Government's proposals represent an historic advancement for disabled people in this country and will enable them to achieve the dignity and independence that is their rightful expectation.


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