Baroness Seear: My Lords, briefly, on this occasion I agree with the Minister. This is an enormously important subject. We want a great deal more information. We want to study the report. The subject merits a Bill on its own when we are ready to have one, but I do not believe that that time is now.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has made my point for me. Indeed, the Select Committee, which reported only today, clearly indicated that it did not consider this Bill to be the proper vehicle. The committee reported only today, and I believe that we all need to have an opportunity to reflect on this issue. Frankly, it is full of serious moral and practical problems. I simply do not accept that anybody who knows even a tiny bit about this whole question can believe that it can be dealt with quickly. We have to look extremely carefully at all the aspects of the committee's report and decide what legislation, if any, is required on the wider field.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, perhaps I may make one quick point. A few weeks ago, the All-Party Disablement Income Group listened to the Genetic Group, a special group set up to study this matter. I found it a hair-raising experience and the fears expressed by that expert group were the cause of very deep concern. Would the Minister consider meeting that group himself before the Government move on this issue, so that he can receive its expert advice?
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this short debate. I am inclined to agree with my noble friend, with the publication only today
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of the report from the other placehe says that he has not had a chance to read it but his officials have gone through it and there is one sentence which he has found extremely usefulin suggesting that we should not do anything on this particular Bill. I have had the opportunity only of glancing at the summary of recommendations and should like to read the report properly. I am sure that those who brief me would like to do the same.
It is possible that I may come back on this subject at Third Reading in order to give my noble friend the opportunity of advising the House that there will be mention of an appropriate Bill in the Queen's Speech. I should like to give him as early an opportunity as possible to do so.
This is an extremely important subject. It is a very worrying subject. We already have the knowledge that there are certain seriously disabling illnesses that are genetic in origin and are being passed down. We should make certain that we deal with the matter as early as possible. With those words, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord McCarthy moved Amendment No. 55:
("Review of this Part
After Clause 12, insert the following new clause:
.The Secretary of State shall lay a Report before Parliament no later than April 1997 which shall include a review of the operation of this Part of this Act, and an account of the effectiveness of financial, social security and other support in promoting the employment of disabled people".).
The noble Lord said: My Lords, noble Lords opposite are masters of what one of my students called "the reply of Pontius Pilate": "This is a very real problem and we are very much aware of it; unfortunately, this is not the place to address it". I hope that they will not use that argument for this amendment, which does not ask them to decide anything in this place at this time, other than to have a review.
The amendment seeks to insert a new clause stating that the Secretary of State (obviously, it cannot be the Secretary of State of the Department of Employment because there is not one):
"shall lay a Report before Parliament no later than April 1997 which shall include a review of the operation of this Part of this Act"
that is to say, Part II, the employment part, of the Act
"and an account of the effectiveness of financial, social security and other support in promoting the employment of disabled people".
There are three good reasons why we can ask the Government to accept this amendment. First, we have had considerable experience with Acts designed to deal with discrimination: to remove discrimination and promote equality, especially equality in the employment field. Every one of themthe race relations and the sex discrimination bodies of legislation and, taking in Northern Ireland, religious discrimination as wellcreates different problems. They are all slightly different and all suffer on occasion from having the same framework. In every caserace and sex in particularwe have had to learn from our mistakes. In race legislation, it took three Actsin 1965, 1968 and 1976to get it broadly right; and even then it had to be changed from time to time and probably needs changing
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again. In sex discrimination, there were the Acts of 1970, 1975 and 1986; and there is still much that is wrong. Nevertheless, by periodic changes in legislation in both those areas, any fair-minded person could say that advances have been made in removing discrimination and that the Acts concerned became more carefully adjusted to the circumstances with which they had to deal.
The exception to thatwhich we have debated in this House in relation to this Billis the Disabled Persons Act 1944. When that Act was passed it was a pioneer Act; it was the first example of positive discrimination. But that Act was not brought up to date, and we found when we came to discuss it earlier in the Committee stage of this Bill, that it had become largely ineffectiveindeed, some people say counterproductive. Therefore the experience of the past and in other areas suggests that discrimination Acts are innovations; they all require slightly different approaches; and all, with experience, produce different problems. They are therefore best subject to periodic review, especially in the area of employment.
That is the first reason for tabling the amendment. The second reason concerns the employment provisions in the Bill. There is much that is uncertain in terms of definition and consequences. There is much about which people have reasonably said, "We must wait to see how it works out". I shall quickly give five such areas. The first is the extent to which the definition of "disability" is too much dependent upon perceptions and is not objective enough. We must wait and see. It will come through in time, but it may be that the definition of "disability" needs to be changed.
The second area concerns exceptions. Clearly there must be exceptions, and we have a list of exceptions where unfavourable treatment is allowed. Whether we can, in advance, on the face of the Bill, fix the proper boundary where disability actually affects performance when we do not yet know what the regulations will say, is to be doubted. That is an argument for review. There are also the exemptions for small businesses, which we have spent much time debating. No reasons can clearly be given for setting the limit at 20, 10 or five employees. We need to know what happens in the firms where there are below 20 employees. If the Government persistas it looks as though they willin keeping that area out of the Act, then they themselves admit that there will have to be a review. Another area is enforcement, and whether the provisions for enforcing the Bill are strong enough. Finally, can the job be done without a commission? Some say yes and some say no. The answer to that will emerge through time.
That is the second general reason for having a review; that is, that the Act is particularly innovative with a number of definitions and revisions, and we shall only know how they work out in practice.
The final reason relates to what the amendment says about financial, social security and other support. We have no way of telling in advance whether there will be an adequacy of funds for the Access to Work scheme; how the operation of the disability allowance will work; how the work of the disablement resettlement officers will operate; what will be the adequacy of the
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assessment and rehabilitation services. The Department of Employment, in its last White PaperPeople, Jobs and Opportunitiesclaimed that it had conducted an extensive review and consulted all those working in the various services. It was going to bring them together into a high quality integrated service offering disabled people more personal advice and assessment,
"as well as continuing support in implementing the individual action plans".
That is something we are required to study and review. Changes are taking place in the responsibilities of the Department of Employment. What effect will that have on the operation of this aspect of the Bill? We are saying that there are many good and sufficient reasons why there should be a review of this Bill not later than April 1997. I beg to move.
Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble Lord spoke at great length at this time of night. I do not intend to follow his example but will respond to his points very briefly. First, the noble Lord talked about the lack of a Department of Employment. There is no such lack. We have simply merged the Department of Employment with the Department for Education to provide a much greater focus for the work that it does.
Secondly, I shall deal with the point on timing. For some peculiar reason the noble Lordperhaps I am naive in terms of the motives behind the amendmentsuggested that the report should be laid before Parliament not later than April 1997 and should include a review of the operation of Part II of the Act. I simply do not understand why he has chosen that date, but that is a matter for him. By April 1997 this part of the Act will have been in operation for substantially less than a year since we have already made it perfectly clear that we intend to commence Part II of the Bill towards the end of 1996. Even the noble Lord would accept that there is no point in mounting a review of the working of the Act barely six months after it has been brought into operation.
I accept that there is value in a periodic and continuing review of all aspects of government policy on these matters. That is what governments do and that is what governments have done over the past few years. That is why we have always made it clear that we thought that, though the Bill was highly important, it was not the sole line in our strategy in this area and that we had various other broad aspects that we wished to pursuefirst, to increase the employer contribution to a positive approach towards employing disabled people; secondly, this legislation; and, thirdly, the various pieces of practical support that we are able to offer through Access to Work, disability working allowance and other such measures. I can assure the noble Lord that we shall continue to keep such matters under review, but I see no point in accepting an amendment of this kind.