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Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I add my warm congratulations to the three maiden speakers. Led by the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, they have made today a distinctive and even a memorable parliamentary
The gracious Speech is apparently a watershed for disabled people because for the first time ever the Government are making provision for anti-discrimination legislation. I welcome the Government's shift from arguing that there is no evidence of discrimination. They argued that when I brought in the first anti-discrimination Bill 12 years ago. Ministers said that there was no evidence and so there was no point in bringing forward Bills of that kind. Afterwards, they shifted their ground, claiming that education and persuasion were adequate. We all know that education and persuasion are grossly inadequate. Now they have admitted the need for legislation. I welcome the Government's agreement that there is that need.
The impression that this is a watershed is more apparent than real because the Government are offering a mirage if the Bill is on the lines of its consultative document. Disabled people, who are desperate for a comprehensive Bill of human rights, are disappointed and frustrated at the prospect of a fiddling, piddling Bill. That is what it looks like when one reads the consultative document on the Government's legislative intentions. I believe that such a Bill, far from placating understandably angry disabled people, will provoke them. That is because the Government are probably intending to give disabled people not what they want but what Ministers think they should have. That is entirely their own way of going about it.
The main reason why the Government's proposals are hedged, limited and inadequate is the belief that a comprehensive Bill would cost £17 billion. At least, that is what the Government say they believe. But somehow Ministers seem to be winking to each other when they mention £17 billion. They know, and we know, that that estimate includes double counting. It excludes the benefits of employing disabled people and excludes disabled people becoming taxpayers rather than tax users. The figure is based on an implementation timescale which was not in the original Bill proposed in another place and passed by this House.
As usual, it is the attitude to disabled people that counts. The Government's attitude to them is so penny-pinching as to be neglectful. I give one example. In the proposed provisions in the consultation document the Government suggest that a statutory duty not to discriminate should be imposed on employers. That is fine. It seems to be a new right which would afford great protection to disabled people. But the Government say that employers of fewer than 20 employees should be excluded from that duty. At a stroke 35 per cent. of the disabled workforce is excluded. Despite that, the Government create the impression that they are giving new rights to disabled people. How can they justify that exclusion?
The Government propose that disabled people should be able to seek damages if they are debarred unreasonably from goods and services. However, they will not provide the right to challenge those whose buildings are inaccessible. Yet it is inaccessible buildings which are responsible for daily discrimination against millions of disabled people. The rights proposed in the Government's consultative document are an advance, but they are limited, grudging and inadequate. Rights are meaningless if they cannot be enforced. Anyone can suggest or propose rights, but if those rights cannot be enforced they are utterly meaningless.
In their document, the Government have rejected the very sensible idea of establishing a disability rights commission. Instead they propose a disability council which will be mainly advisory and which will lack the powers and authority of a commission. Many bodies can give advice and guidance, but equally many organisations and authorities can ignore advice. There is no point in offering guidance and advice if there is no way of pressing what is recommended.
I hope that the Government will take on board the sensible point that what is really required is a disability rights commission with investigative powers, able to monitor and enforce, if necessary through the courts, the rights of disabled people against discrimination. There are such commissions for race and sex discrimination and if a good argument exists for them there is an equally good case for having a commission to protect disabled people. There is no justification for treating disabled people differently. Without the commission it will be very difficult for disabled people to enforce any new rights because legal aid simply is not available in any of the forums to which they could go. Yet their need for protection is just as great as that for women and ethnic minorities facing discrimination.
To be frank, the Government give the impression in their consultative document and in speeches--the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, spoke warmly about the Bill--that they are going to provide something that will be well worthwhile. However, to disabled people the Government seem to be retreating slowly, doggedly and stubbornly in the face of parliamentary and public opinion. Their spokesmen and spokeswomen try to dress up inadequate measures as radical reforms, but they seem more concerned with public relations than with ending discrimination. Ministers do themselves no favours. What they need is a sense of mission. They should be prepared to take an imaginative leap forward for human rights such as has been managed in other countries. Will the Government explain how Ministers in the United States, Australia and New Zealand can put forward strong and powerful legislative proposals, backed by commissions to enforce such proposals, yet we cannot? On an issue on which we should have led
We need to provide a comprehensive anti-discrimination Bill of Rights, such as that endorsed recently by this House. That Bill passed through all its stages in this House, but the Government did not even mention it in their consultative document. The Government brushed aside the decisions of this House. I suggest that they have mismanaged the need for a comprehensive Bill of Rights for disabled people. The Government should stop deluding themselves that enshrining such rights leads to bankruptcy and industrial decay.
I should like the Minister to listen to the quotation with which I am about to conclude. It is not a quotation from disabled people or from left-wing trade unionists. It comes from the Employers Forum on Disability:
That is a clear and unequivocal message to the Government that their misgivings are misplaced. Such proposals would not cost the earth. It would not break industry if the Government were to introduce a comprehensive wide-ranging Bill of genuine human rights to end this discrimination once and for all. I ask the Government to consider that when they introduce their Bill.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I apologise to the House for the fact that a long-standing engagement which I cannot avoid means that I cannot be here for the end of the debate. I had put down my name to speak in the debate partly because I wanted to have an opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on her new incarnation at the Dispatch Box and to say how much I was looking forward to crossing swords with her in the forthcoming Session but, unfortunately, the gracious Speech does not seem to present many prospects or opportunities for that. I should also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the most reverend Primate on his most thoughtful and important speech.
I should like to speak briefly about a subject that is not mentioned specifically in the gracious Speech. I refer to juvenile crime. Your Lordships are well aware of the problems associated with juvenile crime and I shall give three statistics: about 45 per cent. of known offenders are under the age of 21; persistent offenders constitute 50 to 60 per cent. of court appearances; and crimes of violence are on the increase. I am one of those who agree with the Government's policy. I believe that offenders should be punished because that sends a message to them that their behaviour has been unacceptable. I also believe that offenders require to be rehabilitated so that they will not offend again, thus
There is increasing evidence that much juvenile crime is avoidable. Recurrent offenders can be persuaded effectively to change their ways. I am involved with a befriending scheme where we have achieved a 70 per cent. success rate in dealing with young people who have been referred to us by the police as a last resort before court. They are young people known to the police who have already offended two or three times and have been cautioned. A 70 per cent. success rate at a cost of £800 for six months' intensive befriending compares favourably with the cost of a place in a young persons' institution which may be £50,000 to £100,000 a year.
My second point is that it is accepted increasingly that there are strong links between juvenile crime and the way in which a child had been brought up in the home. There is massive research on that. If any noble Lord wishes to ask, I can give many references. It is obvious: we all know that a child needs guidance, security, support, love and stimulation in its early years. It is normally parents who provide that.
During July the All Party Parliamentary Group for Parenting, in conjunction with the International Year of the Family, held four hearings in your Lordships' House. A report was produced. I have deposited it in the PPO and the Library. I encourage noble Lords to look at it. Noble Lords can take the full variety or the family economy size which is a summary and a good deal more readable. The report shows, among other things, that most parents want to be good parents. It shows also, as we probably all know if we think back to our time as children or parents, that all parents need help at some time during the course of their parenting experience. The problem is that often many of the traditional structures of our society which used to give help and support to parents, such as grandparents, the extended family and the community, no longer exist, and nothing has been put in their place.
The evidence in the report shows clearly why many parents, even parents who want to be good parents, fail to be so. It is an encouraging report because it shows that there is a great deal which can be done and a great deal which is being done--often on a small scale and often inadequately funded. There is a need to pay attention to support for parents, to the support of parental relationships so that there are fewer parental breakdowns and greater security for children, and to improving parenting skills. Perhaps I may quote Sir Christopher Ball. In his recent report he said:
I wish to put across briefly the key message that the best way to help children is often to help their parents. I urge your Lordships to read the report which is available in the Library and the PPO.
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