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Lord Carter: My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the point about small employers, will he deal with the question that I asked him; namely, if six is good enough for New York and four is good enough for California, why do we need 20?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we do not live in either New York or California. We live in Britain. We must make our own judgments on that, and our judgment is that 20 is the appropriate number. We do not do lots of other things that are done in New York, thanks be to God, and I do not see why we should just follow blindly what is done in New York. We must tailor legislation to the needs of our own country, and sufficient unto that is the problem thereof.

I shall turn now to Remploy because I was asked whether it would be safe when the legislation is enacted. The Bill does not affect the substance and the provisions in the 1944 Act under which Remploy was set up as a company providing sheltered employment. We are committed to maintaining Remploy's present support which, I am advised, was £92 million for the year 1994-95.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, raised a number of employment-related issues. He asked about Access to Work. When that was introduced in 1994, we made clear that the operation of the programme, including the financial aspects, would be reviewed after one year's operation, and a decision made on its future. The implications of the new duties in the Bill will be considered during the review. Of course, I cannot anticipate the outcome of the review, but I assure the noble Lord that its intention is to see how the available resources can be used as effectively as possible to help disabled people obtain and keep jobs.

As regards profit-distributing organisations, we are committed to the supported employment programme which provides jobs for nearly 21,000 severely disabled people. The new power will enable us to fund supported employment in dividend-distributing bodies. In the

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long-term, that will allow the provision of a wider range of supported job opportunities in a greater number of locations. It will also help to tailor provisions more precisely to the local employment needs of those who are most severely disabled. No one already in supported employment or on a waiting list will lose that place as a result of the changes. We shall consult relevant organisations, particularly those representing existing supported employer providers, before we use that power.

A number of noble Lords raised the question of education. As I said in my opening speech, we must be mindful of the considerable progress that we have made in education. I remind noble Lords that nearly 99 per cent. of all pupils are in mainstream schools. About 2 per cent. of all pupils have statements; and 49 per cent. of the pupils with statements are in special schools, while 51 per cent. are in mainstream schools. We must try to maintain a balance because it rather depends on individuals and their problems as to which is the best of the alternatives.

I do not wish to become involved in the discussion between the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and my noble friend Lord Beloff on the subject of higher education. Perhaps I may say to both of them that we are mindful of the need to make sure that if we attend to school education, when pupils leave school, they must not find that the doors are shut, the lifts are not there or whatever it may be if they are able to go on to further and higher education.

I should say to my noble friend Lord Beloff that we understand the anxieties in relation to the proposed higher education amendments. However, I ask my noble friend and those noble Lords who are interested to await the actual amendments before reaching a final decision on their merits. I assure him that there will be adequate time to discuss them in Committee, and I hope to be able to persuade him that the Government's proposed approach is both sensible and not imposing untoward restrictions on the universities. I can go further and say that we are consulting with higher education representative bodies, including those mentioned by my noble friend, on the details of achieving our objectives.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix (who I am glad to see has now returned from his expedition) asked me about discrimination by insurers. I believe that several speakers also mentioned that point. At the risk of detaining your Lordships a few moments longer, I should like to set out our position on that important aspect. I believe that noble Lords will recall that, despite originally proposing to exclude financial services from the legislation, the Government decided as a result of responses to last year's consultation exercise that, notwithstanding the many difficulties that we would face, it was important to ensure that disabled people did not encounter unfair discrimination in insurance or as regards any other financial services.

I have stressed "unfair discrimination" because insurance, by its very nature, involves assessing and weighing risks and selecting and discriminating between those risks. The task that we have set ourselves is to find a way of deciding what criteria it would be reasonable to apply. Actuarial data, certainly, where it is available; but what do we do when it is not available? What about claims

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history and other such factors? We have been exploring those questions with the insurance industry and have taken a power in the Bill so as to put the solution into practice by way of regulations.

I am confident that we will be able to come forward with a workable solution which will ensure that disabled people are not refused insurance or charged higher premiums unjustifiably, while also protecting the industry's right to transact its business, make its profits and act on the risks involved.

My noble friend Lord Renton and the noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham, raised the issue of taxis. I should point out that government amendments to allow the setting of minimum access standards for taxis have yet to be finalised. I can assure the House that there is no intention to require every new taxi to be purpose built; nor do we intend to subject taxis to all the requirements in Part III of the Bill on service providers to make reasonable modifications. I can also assure the House that, in framing the new access standards, the Government will be mindful of the problems facing taxi operators in rural areas. Coming from the West Highlands as I do, I am well aware of such difficulties.

However, more accessible taxis will be a boon for more than just wheelchair users; indeed, they will also be to the benefit of many elderly people such as those suffering from arthritis. Anyone who has an elderly relative will know the difficulties that they sometimes encounter when getting into a motorcar.

The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, raised a most interesting question about digital mobile phones; indeed, I was most intrigued. I should tell the noble Lord that we have to make sure that new telecommunication equipment can be used by deaf people. However, we cannot do that by imposing restraints on the manufacture and design of new products. It would be wrong to jeopardise the bringing of new products to the market by requiring manufacturers to comply with an individual's right to accessible products. The Americans with the Disabilities Act, for example, do not attempt such restrictions. The US National Council for Disability has pursued questions about accessible products with the manufacturers and they have registered some notable successes. For example, there are discussions with Microsoft about making the next version of the Windows computer operating system more accessible to people. I very much hope that our proposed national disability council will be able to play a similar role.

I believe that I have probably spoken for as long as I possibly can, given the admirably short speeches that most speakers made. However, I should like to conclude by saying that I was particularly impressed by three noble Lords who contributed to our debate. I happen to know at first hand the kind of careers that those noble Lords pursued. I have in mind the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, and my noble friends Lord Campell of Croy and Lord Holderness. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy reached the Cabinet table, which is better than some of the rest of us have managed to do. It shows that disabled people can often get to the very top. Perhaps my noble friend had secret ambitions of becoming Prime Minister, but I believe that getting around the Cabinet table would be good enough for most of us. In addition, my noble

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friend represented a constituency in the north of Scotland at a time when travel would have been a good deal more difficult than it is today. He got around that widespread rural constituency extremely well, as I know.

Of course, the three noble Lords that I mentioned exemplify what I believe we are all trying to achieve; namely, that people ought to be able to make their own way in the world by their own efforts and abilities, and they should be able to realise their full potential. Our policies will continue to be directed towards making that fulfilment a reality for those whose talents are constrained or who are prevented from contributing fully to society. More than most, disabled people can be frustrated by lack of opportunity and by the hurdles which they must negotiate in attempting to do the things which the rest of us take for granted. These difficulties are often caused by social barriers and a lack of—

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. However, before he sits down, I wonder whether he would be good enough to deal with one point that the House might consider important, which is parliamentary control over delegated powers. I raised the point—I think one or two other noble Lords did as well—that in the sex and race discrimination Acts, any changes in exemptions in the scope of the Bill must be dealt with by affirmative procedure. In this Bill it is only negative procedure, and so far as the guidance is concerned in Clause 4, that seems to me to be legally relevant, like the Highway Code, and yet there is to be no negative or affirmative procedure. Would the Government be prepared to think again about those two points?


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