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This is so nearly a good Bill. It is a Bill that was shaped by the events of last summer when, to thwart the Berry Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, the Minister got his friends to put down amendments for him, denying that they were his and then admitting that they were. Then, when they were accepted by the Bill's sponsor in order to get the Bill through, he talked out his own amendments in order to defeat the Bill. In the process, we lost a good Bill then and, sadly, we also lost a good Minister who had fought for disabled people when they did not have the support that they have today.
Such was the anger of Parliament and of disabled people that the Government finally concededafter 13 years and 13 private measuresthat education and persuasion were not enough. After consultation, they
It is so nearly a good Bill. It makes it illegal, as the Minister said, for larger employers to discriminate unreasonably against disabled people when their disability is not relevant to the job. We do not ask that blind people become bus drivers. But we all know that three times the number of disabled people are likely to be unemployed and six times as many are denied an interview for a job. We all know of cases of discrimination. For instance, there was the woman with MS who took a fortnight off work because she was sick, and was sacked. She was sacked for having 'flu! We all know of employers who insist that a driving licence is essential for a desk job, or that the ability to walk long distances is essential for a professional job. Or we have heard of the hearing-impaired but skilful typist who failed her interview test because the interviewer insisted on dictating to her with his back to her so that she could not pass. These practices will not stop, but they will become illegal. No longer, under the goods and services provision, will pubs and cinemas refuse to admit, waiters refuse to serve, taxis refuse to pick up or insurance companies refuse to insure. Again, those practices will not stop; but they will be illegal. Therefore this is nearly a good Bill.
However, I suggest to noble Lords that the Bill is not good enough, and for three main reasons. First, it is unduly restrictive about whom it defines as disabled. Secondly, it is unduly lax about which organisations it exempts from conforming to the legislation. Thirdly, and above all, although the Bill has the power to make discrimination illegal, it has no power to prevent it because it lacks an enforcement agency.
Perhaps I may enlarge on those three points. First, the Bill is unduly restrictive in its definition of disability. The Minister very helpfully gave us the definition based on paragraph 1 of the first schedule. Under the Bill, a disability must be a long-term, clinically well-recognised condition that substantially and adversely affects day-to-day normal activities. In other words, if a person has a disability that falls outside the definition in the Bill, even though it gives rise to discrimination, there is no redress. Therefore courts will have to take difficult decisions about diagnosis, definition and prognosis. For example, a condition that is not medically so well recognised, such as ME, and, according to MIND, most mental disorders, will not fall within the law. A person who is discriminated against on those grounds will have no redress. Likewise, if a disability exists that gives rise to discrimination, but the person himself can manage his day-to-day activitiesas, for example, in cases of controlled epilepsy, HIV, some forms of multiple sclerosis, or mild cerebral palsythere will be no redress.
Equally, if a person does not have a disability but the employer incorrectly believes that he has had one, or has onefor example, a mental health problemand he proceeds to discriminate against that person, there is no redress. If an employer is right in thinking that someone has a severe disability which under the terms of this Bill disables that person, he may not discriminate against him. But if someone has a disability that is not covered by this Bill, the employer may discriminate against that person.
Why is the definition of disability so narrow? It is narrower than it is in mental health legislation. Someone can be compulsorily sectioned on grounds of mental disorder which is nonetheless not regarded as a severe enough disability to merit protection under this legislation. Equally, someone can be awarded the new incapacity benefit, which is very restrictive, because that person is disabled. Yet if he sought work, he would not be regarded as sufficiently disabled to merit protection under the Bill. If someone has been sectioned in the past, or has been awarded invalidity or incapacity benefit in the past, and the employer discriminates against him, that person will have no redress. That definition excludes too many people. In Committee we shall hope for a more inclusive definition of disability.
The Bill is too restrictive in its definition of disability, and therefore in the grounds on which a person may seek protection against discrimination. But, secondly, it is also too lax in terms of the organisations that it exempts, and in particular firms that employ fewer than 20 people. As the Minister rightly said, small firms employ some 20 per cent. of the labour force. But they represent something like 96 per cent. of all businesses in this country. They are the fastest growing sector of the economy. In rural areas very few businesses employ more than 20 people. So in the countryside virtually no employer will be required to come within the framework of this Bill.
Where does the figure of 20 per cent. come from? It is a hangover from the 3 per cent. quota system, under which 3 per cent. of a workforce represents less than one full-time employee. Yet that percentage has been imported unnecessarily into the Bill. Do we need it? No Member on any side of this House wants to see unacceptable burdens placed on small businesses which jeopardise their financial survival. Small businesses are our seed-bed of the future. Yet the American experience shows that the costs of making even small businesses accessible to disabled people are trivial. In the United States two-thirds of all companies were made fully accessible to disabled people at a cost of less than 500 dollars. But in any case, this Bill contains a crucial provision that the Minister was right to emphasise. For all businesses and organisations, including small businesses, any such adaptions must be done at reasonable expense. So any small business faced with a cost that was considerable or substantial would not have to carry out such adaptions. They do not need the belt-and-braces protection on grounds of both numbers and reasonable cost. Why, then, should the rights of a disabled person depend not on their disability but on who is their employer? In Committee, we shall seek to follow up the Government's hint to us about revising the figure and will try to bring it down to 15, or even 10, over a phased-in period.
As the Bill stands, therefore, it is nearly a good Bill. It protects some disabled people against some discrimination. But ultimately it is not good enough. I come now to my final criticism. We do not believe that it will work, because it contains no power that will make it work. It sets up no central authority to enforce it. The Bill will make
For this legislation to be observed and enforced we need, in the words of the Employers Forum on Disability a single, central, authoritative body with statutory powersand for three reasons. First, we need such a body because, without it, the Bill adds a second advisory council to an existing advisory council, and both will run in tandem, provided that they pedal in the same direction. We already have a national advisory council for the employment of disabled people reporting to the Secretary of State for Employment. It has fewer than three staff, and I suspect that most of us have never even heard of it. The national advisory council in the Bill will be a second advisory body, this time to the Secretary of State for Social Security, with a budget of £250,000 and five staff, for most of everything else, when even to administer the present quota system takes £2 million. So that means two bodies, both advisory, one for employment and one for everything else. As the Employers Forum on Disability says:
Secondly, we need it for the sake of employers. Many of your Lordships will know far more about this matter than I do, but I hope that the House will agree that I present the employers' case fairly. Employers want to know what the law is, where they stand and what they must do to conform to the law. When, for example, the EOC investigated employment agencies, within five days 250 agencies telephoned, anxiously seeking to conform to the law. They did so quite voluntarily. Similarly, in this field, employers have made it clearit is in their responses, summarised in the Government's Red Book and elsewherethat they too want an independent impartial body with powers to give advice, information and guidance; powers to receive, investigate, conciliate and, if necessary, prosecute complaints; and with powers to initiate the test casefor example, on controlled epilepsyso that we do not get a dozen cases being tested at the same time in a dozen different courts with perhaps a dozen conflicting outcomes.
The third and final reason why we must have a central authoritative body with powers is on behalf of disabled people themselves. It is not just for employers and not just to clarify the law; but for disabled people. The Minister told us again today that disabled people will be able to enforce their employment rights through industrial tribunals and the rights to goods and services through the county courts. About whom are we talking? We are talking of a disabled person, who is perhaps solitary and isolated, not very fit and well, without a trade union behind him or the CAB (because it has washed its hands of this side of things), certainly poor, without a solicitor and without access to legal aid, pursuing a powerful employer through the legal system, knowing that, even if he has the moral strength to do it, he will in future never again get a job because he will be labelled as a troublemaker.
Is that what we want? Surely, disabled people, even more than women or ethnic minorities, need a strong frienda commission, which can remove their personal need to fight through the courts and establish the clarity of a test case; a body whose very intervention can bring the conciliation which we should all prefer and which would discourage frivolous claims. Why should disabled people have less power to enforce their rights and less power to obtain their due than any woman or any member of an ethnic minority? On simple grounds of fairness and decency, they are entitled to a commission.
Without such a body the Bill will not work. It will outlaw discrimination but it will not stop it happening. It will offer to disabled people rights which cannot be enforced. It will impose duties on employers and traders which are not enforceable.
Yes, but it will only happen if the Bill has a commission to enforce it. That will be for your Lordships to decide over the course of the Committee and Report stages. If so, we can send from this House a Bill of which we are all rightly proud. In the process we shall have made a Bill which is nearly good enough into a Bill which is truly good enough and which brings credit and honour to us all.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Addington has asked me to express his regret that he is unable to take part in this debate on a subject in which he takes a keen interest. He has a complete alibi. I believe that he is playing rugby football in South Africa.
Like the noble Lord the Minister, I pay tribute to the Members of this House who campaigned long and hard for effective legislation on this subject. We on these Benches warmly welcome the Government's recognition, however belated, of the need for legislation to tackle discrimination against disabled people so as to enable them to play a full part in national life and fulfil their individual talents. The effective legal protection of the fundamental human rights to equal treatment on personal merit without unfair discrimination on any ground is a central part of our commitment to liberal democracy. The disabled surely deserve the strong legal protection that Parliament has given to the victims of other forms of unfair discrimination so that they too may live and work in dignity without being unfairly handicapped by practices and procedures which disable them still more.
Most regrettably, however, although we enthusiastically support the Bill's declared aims, we can only give a small cheer for this measure. I hope that the Minister, when he has heard me, will not regard my speech as churlish. The reason why we can only give a small cheer is because of the narrowly restrictive, obscure and legalistic way in which the Bill has been drafted and the impracticality of its key clauses.
I shall do my best, lawyer though I am, to explain in non-technical and non-legalistic language something of what is wrong with the Bill. To put it in a nutshell, first, the key definition of what constitutes unlawful disability discrimination is very narrow and outmoded. Crucial issues about what is and what is not unlawful discrimination are left to be decided by Ministers, without effective parliamentary scrutinya matter on which we await with interest a report from the Select Committee for the scrutiny of delegated legislation. The Bill will be immensely difficult to interpret and apply, whether by the disabled, or by employers and others on whom the Bill places legal obligations. The well established body of case law, so carefully built up for 20 years under the sex discrimination, race relations and Northern Ireland fair employment legislation, will be of little help because this Bill introduces cumbersome concepts that are alien to our existing well tried code of anti-discrimination law. The enforcement of the Bill's provisions, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, pointed out, will be as weak as water because the national disability council will lack the necessary minimum powers that Parliament has already given to the equal opportunities commissions, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Fair Employment Commission for Northern Ireland. If the Bill is enacted in this form, I am sorry to say that the victims of disability discrimination will therefore be much less effectively protected than the victims of discrimination on grounds of sex, race, religion or political opinion.
The principles on which anti-discrimination laws have been built in this countryand in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States as well as under European and international laware widely recognised. The first principle is that the concept of unfair discrimination must cover not only cases in which the discriminator is badly motivated but also cases in which the discriminator is well motivated but where the effects of his practices have a disproportionate adverse impact on particular groups and have no objective justification. That is the key concept of
Unfortunately, the definition of unlawful discrimination, both direct and indirect, is much narrower in this Bill than in our existing laws. The meaning of "discrimination" in Clause 4 is confined to cases where an employer treats someone less favourably for a reason which relates to the disabled person's actual disability, which is narrowly defined in Clause 1. It does not cover the common example where an employer treats someone less favourably, not for a reason which relates to actual disability but because the employer wrongly assumes that that individual is disabled and therefore not suitable for the job. That is one way in which the concept of discrimination is too narrow. A black person or a woman is protected against discrimination based on characteristics attributed to them on the basis of broad stereotypes or generalisations. But under this Bill a disabled person can complain only of discrimination relating to actual rather than assumed disabilitywhat the Minister referred to as a "reputation" for disablement; a reputation that may be entirely unjustified and which would be entirely unfair to act upon.
Clause 5 also marks a major departure from our existing legislative code by introducing the curious concept of justifiable direct discrimination which focuses on the employer's state of mindthat is, his opinion that one or more of the conditions mentioned in Clause 5(4) are satisfied and on whether it is reasonable for the employer to hold that opinion. By contrast, existing legislation does not focus on the employer's state of mind. It forbids less favourable treatment whenever an individual's sex, race, political opinion or religious belief has significantly influenced the employer's decision as a matter of objective causation and however worthy the employer's intentions. That was established in the case law of this House in the Equal Opportunities Commission v. Birmingham City Council case, reaffirmed in James v. Eastleigh Borough Council.
Those and other radical departures from the existing anti-discrimination code are certain to give rise to costly and protracted litigation and much avoidable uncertainty. That would be for the benefit of no one except some members of my professionthe legal professionfor whom this will truly be a disability litigation Bill of immense advantage.
Clause 5 also departs from the existing legislative code by excluding the usual and widely recognised definition of indirect discriminationthe equal rule with unequal impact or effect such as a height requirement which is not necessary to enable an employee to do the job, and which hits disproportionately at women or Asian workers. What the Bill does instead is convoluted and weak. One needs more than algorithmic diagrams to find a way through this bewildering maze. The Bill creates a duty under Clause 6 for employers to make adjustments to their arrangements and premises which would place disabled people at a
Clause 6(5) then immediately creates an exception where the employer does not know, and could not reasonably be expected to know, that the complainant has a disability and is likely to be placed at a substantial disadvantage by the employer's arrangements or premises. Once again the state of the employer's mind is brought into the Bill by way of defence when the whole point about the concept of unlawful indirect discrimination, learnt 20 years ago, is that it is designed objectively to tackle practices, procedures and systems which have been designed and operated from the best of motives, but which unintentionally put groups of people at a substantial disadvantage and which are not objectively justifiable.
Another basic and universally recognised concept of discrimination law is that all exceptions to the principle of equal treatment should be kept to the minimum necessary to avoid undermining the principle itself. That has been repeatedly put into our existing laws, which are usuallynot always, but usuallycareful to define the circumstances in which what would otherwise be unlawful direct discrimination, is not unlawful; for example, an exception because an individual's gender is a genuine occupational qualification for a specific job because of the job's essential nature.
By contrast, this Bill embodies a series of sweepingly broad absolute exceptions; for example, for employers with fewer than 20 employees, for prison officers or for firefighters. Those blanket exceptions make it unnecessary for employers to ensure that they look closely at the physical and mental requirements needed for specific jobsthe touchstone of any anti-discrimination law worthy of the name.
The Bill is riddled with vague, slippery and elusive exceptions making it so full of holes that it is more like a colander than a binding code. Suppose, for example, that a disabled person is treated less favourably by the employer than others without that disability. To decide whether the employer acted unlawfully we must discover whether he failed to comply with the duty imposed on him by Clause 6. That provision contains examples of steps which an employer may have to take in relation to a disabled person to comply with the employer's statutory duty. However, the employer is under no duty if he falls within Clause 6(5). The circumstances in which an employer may or may not be in breach of duty are not to be found on the face of the Bill, but are to be prescribed by regulations under Clauses 6(7), 6(8) and 6(9) subject only to parliamentary approval by negative procedure. If the employer is found to be under a duty imposed by Clause 6, then the next question which must be asked under Clause 5(2) is whether he has complied with the duty. If he has not complied, then the tribunal has to determine whether it would have been reasonable for the employer to believe, at the time of the treatment in question, that even if he had done so the treatment would have been justified.
The search for a practical and foreseeable answer to that hypothetical question is indeed a daunting task. The unfortunate complainant who has recourse to law will find that this is a game of snakes and ladders with plenty of snakes and very few ladders. Nor is that all. In deciding whether the treatment would have been justified, the tribunal will have to consider the four conditions mentioned in Clause 5(4). But, under Clause 5(5), regulations may again be made providing for other circumstances in which an employer is to be taken to be justified in treating a disabled person less favourably. Once more those regulations are subject only to negative procedure.
If the employer is not in breach of the Clause 6 duty, then the employer has a defence under Clause 5(1), if he reasonably believed that one or more of the conditions in Clause 5(4) were satisfied. I agree with the Minister that employers are entitled to know what is expected of them: to reasonable legal certainty. I feel great sympathy both for employers and for disabled people because they simply will not be able reasonably to foresee in what circumstances there will or will not be legal liability when they gaze into these opaque obscure clauses. I also have great sympathy for the tribunals and the courts which are meant somehow to make sense of this inaccessible and indigestible verbiage.
I have referred only to the employment provisions, but what I have said applies equally to other areas dealt with in Part III. Before the tribunal or court decides whether a complainant is the victim of unlawful discrimination in employment or elsewhere, it must first decide that he or she is a disabled person within the crabbed definition in Clause 1, read with the morass of technical detail in Schedule 1.
For that purpose Clause 2(3) requires the tribunal or court to take into account any relevant guidance issued by the Minister about whether an impairment has a substantial adverse effect on someone's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, or whether such an impairment has a long-term effect. The guidance may therefore have a quite crucial influence on whether the complainant has any basis for bringing a complaint at all; yet the Government have decidedI know of no precedent for this whateverthat no parliamentary approval is needed for this legally relevant guidance, not even by means of negative procedure. All that Clause 2 requires is that the Secretary of State must consult whoever he likes, and that he lays a copy of any guidance issued before this House and another place. Because the guidance is not legislation, it is not even referred to in the memorandum which the Government have given to the Select Committee on the Scrutiny of Delegated Powers. It is not legislation, but it will have important legal consequences.
Twenty years ago, the government of the day were much more respectful of ministerial accountability to Parliament and of the need to ensure that the process of law-making complied with the law and conventions of the constitution. The Sex Discrimination and Race Relations Acts, to whose fashioning I am proud to have contributed, required the Secretary of State not only to consult the EOC and the CRE but also to proceed by way of
I agree with the trenchant criticism made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, about the absence of any enforcement agency similar to the EOC, the CRE or the Fair Employment Commission for Northern Ireland. The national disability council will be a pathetically powerless quango, not worth setting up in my view. Unlike the existing commissions, it will not be able to investigate individual complaints or give legal advice and other assistance to individual complainants in test cases or where they are specially vulnerable. The council will not be able to investigate suspected unlawful practices and procedures, to issue non-discrimination notices or bring enforcement proceedings.
The council will have only two functions: advising the Secretary of State and, if asked by him, preparing draft codes of practice. This quango will have no teeth, and even its freedom to advise is quite extraordinarily to be fettered. It is to advise only the Secretary of Statenot Parliament and not the publicand, for reasons that wholly escape me, Clause 23(9) forbids the council to advise on its own initiative on whether specified existing measures are likely to reduce or eliminate discrimination against the disabled. I can only assumeI hope that this is not an unworthy thoughtthat the Government fear the advice which even this attenuated and diminutive body is likely to give on this important subject and must therefore ask Parliament to prevent the council from giving such unwelcome advice.
I recognise that it would be unrealistic for the House to refuse to give this measure a Second Reading and to ask the Government to come back with something closer to the admirable Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) (No.2) Bill introduced by the noble and indefatigable Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, almost a year ago. I think that the present Bill is very seriously flawed, but its defects could be cured by appropriate amendments. I very much hope that the Government will listen with an open mind to constructive proposals to improve the Bill, so that it becomes readily intelligible, workable and reasonably certain in its operation, and so that it is able to be enforced in practice for the benefit of the whole of our society.
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