|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that robust reply. Is my noble friend aware of the survey reported in the Sunday Times on 30th April which stated that of 1,600 state pupils aged 11 to 14, over a third did not know who Winston Churchill was and over two-thirds did not know what the Holocaust was? Does my noble friend agree that that is serious? We have clearly failed to give a large number of our children a proper historical understanding of recent events and of the leaders who have shaped our national history. Without that understanding, they cannot really appreciate the basic freedoms we now enjoy or indeed the sacrifice which so many people made to achieve those freedoms.
Lord Lucas: Yes, my Lords. I entirely agree with my noble friend. She will be comforted to know that both Winston Churchill and the Holocaust are clearly covered in the new national curriculum, and we hope that children who have been through the process of learning in our primary schools now, as opposed to the way it used to be, will come out with a strong historical understanding. I entirely agree when my noble friend says that we need knowledge of individuals in history. We need our heroes and our villains. We need to understand what our mistakes and triumphs have been in the past; they are part of what makes us a nation.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, particularly in connection with teaching our children modern history, will the Government take all possible steps to make quite sure that modern history teaching includes a factual
Lord Gainford: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister have any information about education authorities taking into consideration what is called "situated perspective"that is, the way in which so many historians can differ according to their opinions, political opinions and the market they are writing for when they are producing history?
Lord Lucas: Yes, my Lords. To my mind one of the most interesting and important changes in the way history has been taught over the past 30 years is that it now includes an important element of critical understanding: looking at sources and at evidence and making one's own judgment based on those and understanding that, certainly in history and perhaps in current newspapers, most of what is written is biased.
Lord Annan: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that it is important for children between the ages of 9 and 14 to learn about the passage of time? In our youth that used to be done by learning the dates and names of the kings of England. That was a way of acquainting oneself with the great passage of time in history. Does the noble Lord also accept that it is important not to study social and economic history too early and that before the age of 14 children need to gain a perspective of the panorama of history? Does he agree that that is what history, the storywhich used to be our island storyis all about?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the noble Lord is a very persuasive advocate for the points that he mentioned, and I agree with him entirely. I hope that he will agree that the national curriculum, as it is now, supports most of what he said.
Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, will the Minister tell us how he reconciles his statement that the new national curriculum will remedy the serious deficiencies of knowledge identified by my noble friend Lady Cox with the letter sent to schools by his own advisers, Sir Ron Dearing and Mr. Christopher Woodhead, in November last year which says that the teaching of landmarks in British history will be very much up to individual schools? Does the Minister not agree that there is a contradiction between what most of us in this House would regard as the kind of history that ought to be taught in schools and the signals constantly being sent out by the Government's own advisers? How does he propose to overcome that contradiction?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I have not seen that particular letter, but I have studied what the national curriculum has to say. It sets out clearly in considerable detail some of the main elements of our national history which have to be taught to children. I cannot reconcile what I know of the national curriculum and the way it is taught with the picture my noble friend has painted of the way history is taught in schools today. I shall certainly look at that letter and shall write to my noble friend when I have had a chance to do so.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the national curriculum also includes the holocaust of 1915 in which 1.5 million Armenians perished at the hands of the Turkish authorities, a terrible holocaust of which we have just commemorated the 80th anniversary?
Lord Lucas: No, my Lords, it does not. Nor does it include many other examples of such events from past and recent history. But teachers are encouraged to draw on current events and on events in recent history to illustrate the lessons that may be drawn from the particular events which have to be taught under the national curriculum.
Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people have the disadvantage of growing up thinking that what happened before they were born does not matter a bit? Does he agree that if they grow up with that attitude they lead incomplete lives, and therefore we should promote the notion that has been expressed in your Lordships' House this afternoon that everyone should learn all about the great events of the past?
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the recent Ofsted report states that resources for history in primary schools were rarely adequate and books were often bought only in single copies to provide teachers with ideas? Does he recall that in several debates in recent years we on these Benches have told the Government repeatedly that too many schools have too few books? Why was not that disgraceful state of affairs remedied years ago?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, if the noble Lord will question Ofsted further, he will find that it considers the improvements made in the teaching of history in primary schools one of the great triumphs of the national curriculum. There have been enormous improvements. If there is further to go and there is more to be done, I am delighted that Ofsted is in place to identify the needs.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that our history is part of us, just as we shall one day become part of it, and that it is just as important to know what has been as to know what is, so that we shall know what will be?
Does my noble friend not agree that this is yet another tragic example of the triumphant "long march through the institutions" perpetrated by the gender, race and class brigade so often favoured in the past by the Benches opposite?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, again I am afraid that I do not recognise the description of current history teaching in schools in the words quoted by my noble friend. I shall be delighted to talk over the matter with him in detail; but I do not agree with what he said.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lord Inglewood will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on competitiveness.
The Bill is the first comprehensive measure to tackle discrimination against disabled people ever brought before Parliament by a British Government. This is an historic day for disabled people, and I should like to start by paying tribute to those noble Lords whose efforts have in no small measure ensured that this day has arrived. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and many other Members of your Lordships' House who are in the Chamber this afternoon have kept the flag flying over many years. Their experience and expertise will be of incalculable value when we come to examine the Bill in detail. I should also like to pay tribute to the many organisations of and for disabled people which have argued so persuasively for anti-discrimination legislation.
The Bill will provide: a right for disabled people not to be discriminated against in employment and a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to working practices or the working environment where that would help to overcome the practical effects of a disability; a right of access to goods and services which will make a refusal to serve a disabled person unlawful and require service providers to make reasonable adjustments to their services to make them more accessible; and the establishment of a national disability council to advise the Government on their strategy for eliminating discrimination against disabled people.
The Bill is the most tangible evidence yet of the Government's commitment to disabled people, a commitment which over the past 15 years has done much to help them live with dignity and independence. Over time it will bring about dramatic changes involving millions of people in taking positive action. Its effects will be felt across the board and in all aspects of life.
However, the Bill ensures that the move to a more accessible environment will not place undue burdens on those who will be responsible for delivering its provisions. In forming our proposals, we have taken account of the understandable concerns of the business community that the legislation should not be unrealistically ambitious or unnecessarily prescriptive. Most importantly, employers and service providers are entitled to know what is expected of them. The Bill shows that the Government are prepared to face up to this responsibility, and it has been drafted to provide for maximum certainty.
Nowhere is the need for certainty of approach more apparent as in Part I of the Bill where we define what we mean by "disability". Our aim has been two-foldto produce a definition which covers those people who would be regarded generally as disabled and, at the same time, to produce one which can be easily understood by ordinary employers and service providers and, of course, by disabled people themselves.
For the purposes of the Bill, a person is disabled if he or she has a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. A definition of "long-term" is included in Schedule 1 as is a list of the areas of activity. The Bill also provides authority for us to issue guidance on matters to be taken into account in determining whether an impairment has a substantial adverse effect and whether it has long-term effects.
While the definition covers people who are disabled in common sense terms, we have also ensured that people with progressive conditions are covered from the first point at which they develop effects on day-to-day activities, however slight, and that people are covered who have impairments where the effects fluctuate or recur. We have ensured, too, that people with severe disfigurements are covered.
A line has to be drawn somewhere. Clearly, people with merely a "reputation" of an impairment are not "disabled" in any common use of the word and, in our view, should not be covered. But we have recognised the serious concern about discrimination against people who have had a disability but have recovered. After very careful consideration we accepted that the Bill should confer protection against discrimination for people who have had a disability that met the Bill's definition. The Government will bring forward amendments to give effect to this during the Bill's passage through your Lordships' House.
Part II of the Bill deals with the new employment right. Employers have done much in recent years to improve the employment prospects of disabled people. But it has become increasingly clear that the current regulatory systemthe "quota scheme"which sits alongside and complements their initiatives, has not been working as
So the Bill will repeal the quota scheme and introduce instead a statutory right of non-discrimination against disabled people. For the first time it will be unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably than he would treat others without good reasons. Employers will also be required to make reasonable adjustments to help overcome the practical effects of disability where not to do so would result in less favourable treatment. The factors which a tribunal would take into account in determining reasonableness include issues such as the cost and benefits of making an adjustment. A statutory code of practice will be produced, which will be the subject of consultation before the new right is commenced, to give practical guidance on various points in the legislation.
However, we think it self-evident that compliance with this Part of the Bill, particularly the provisions on reasonable adjustment, will be more difficult and burdensome for small firms. Very small firms are much less likely to have the specialist personnel to help them get to grips with the new requirements, or to obtain and consider the advice they need about the adjustments that can be made in particular cases.
The new duties will not therefore apply to employers with fewer than 20 employees. I should say that the Government take great exception to the allegation that this exemption shows that they are content to see small firms treating disabled people unfairly. We oppose unfair discrimination in any form. In fact, many small firms already employ disabled people and we shall encourage them to follow the guidance in the new code of practice. We will consult small firms organisations in drawing it up. Small firms will also continue to be able to get help from the Employment Service.
But we need to strike a fair balance between what it is reasonable to require on behalf of disabled people and the need to avoid imposing a disproportionately onerous requirement on the employer. We must avoid steps which could constrain the growth and prosperity of new and small firms, which are so essential to the creation of job opportunities. It is important to note that even with this exclusion, 80 per cent. of employees will still be covered by the Bill.
However, as has been stated in another place, we recognise the strength of feeling on this issue and have given an undertaking that an amendment will be tabled to the effect that within five years the Government will review the operation of the relevant employment provisions in relation to small firms. Further, the power within the Bill which enables the Secretary of State to vary the threshold number will now operate in a way that will make it possible to lower it below 20 but never to raise it above.
The right of access to goods and services as set down in Part III of the Bill ensures that it will be unlawful to refuse to provide goods or services, or treat people unfavourably, solely on the ground of their disability.
The new right imposes four broad duties on service providers. First, it will be unlawful to refuse service to a disabled person for a reason which relates to that person's disability. Secondly, there will be an obligation to adjust policies, practices and procedures where these make it impossible, or unreasonably difficult, for a disabled person to use a service. Thirdly, there will be a duty to provide auxiliary aids, such as induction loops for people with hearing aids. Lastly, there will be a duty either to remove physical barriers or provide the service by a different means.
The Government recognise that some of these stipulations are more stringent than othersthe order in which I listed them perhaps a reflection of the difficulties and expense which businesses might face. Therefore, we have made it clear that the duties will be introduced at different times over the coming yearsthe requirement to make physical adjustments being introduced last, after perhaps 10 years. That will give businesses time to prepare.
But before long those measures will start to bring about the accessible environment which we all wish to see. Your Lordships will have deduced from the fact that there are four duties on service providers that accessibility is not just about building construction and design, although those factors are important. It is also about the production of written material in large print; it is about the installation of induction loops for hearing aids in theatres; it is about the prohibition of "no-dogs" policies in restaurants so that blind people with guide dogs are not excluded. In fact, it is about tackling the thousand and one ways, perhaps insignificant and unnoticed by the rest of us, in which society makes life difficult for disabled people. We will not be able to change the world overnight, but this Bill will stand as a significant landmark on the road to an accessible environment.
I alluded earlier in my speech to the all-embracing nature of the legislation. However, there are two areas which, as the Bill now stands, are excluded from the general right of access to goods and services where, in the Government's view, special factors require a different approach to questions of accessibility. I refer to transport and education.
We have made clear our commitment to achieving fully accessible transporta key element for enabling disabled people to become fully integrated within society. Improved access to goods and services is of little use to someone who cannot get on the bus to the shops.
We have, however, also made it clear that we believe that progress towards accessible public transport is best achieved by targeted action rather than by any kind of blanket legislation. Different modes of transport inevitably require different access solutions. A simple application of Part III to transport vehicles is not therefore appropriate.
However, the Government will be bringing forward amendments to give a statutory basis to their policy of incremental development. The amendments will allow the Government to set minimum standards of accessibility
I should like to turn now to education. The Education Act 1993 was a major advance which set the right framework for meeting special educational needs. We have already announced measures which build on its provisions: the Further and Higher Education Review and the Schools Access Initiative. A consultation document was recently published on how the access initiative might operate, and it was announced that in the region of £10 million would be made available to encourage imaginative projects aimed at increasing accessibility to mainstream schools. We are currently analysing the responses received; it is fair to say that the proposals have been warmly welcomed by local education authorities and voluntary groups alike.
But we have consistently set out the clear rationale for not applying Part III of the Bill to education. We are concerned to avoid measures which would perhaps conflict with the carefully balanced provisions in recent education legislation which was so warmly welcomed by your Lordships. However, your Lordships will be aware that we propose to table a number of amendments which will quash any possible fears that by not covering education we are undermining the importance of education.
The 1993 Education Act established a new appeals mechanism and makes schools more accountable than ever by requiring them to report on their special educational needs policies. Our proposed amendment will build on those provisions and strengthen the hand of parents whose children do not have a "statement" when they are choosing a school.
Similarly, the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 established a comprehensive framework for meeting the requirements of students with disabilities. The further education funding councils are under a duty to take into account the needs of students with learning difficulties and disabilities and have demonstrated their commitment in this area. We have proposed amendments to strengthen the current legislation by requiring colleges to focus on how they meet the needs of students with disabilities and publish clear statements of their provisions in these areas. In higher education also we propose to seek a power which would enable higher education institutions to be required to provide more information on their policies towards students with disabilities, thus giving the funding councils the ability to assess the provision which exists in the sector.
Part III of the Bill further allows for arrangements to be made to provide advice and assistance to people, with a view to promoting the settlement of disputes arising under the new right of access to goods and services, and Part IV
First, we have recognised that disabled people will need advice on how they can secure their new rights. This is why we propose a national advice and support serviceone that is accessible and knowledgeable and which will promote the resolution of disputes wherever possible before litigation becomes necessary. Should an acceptable solution not be reached, the support service will be able to provide advice on the redress available through the county courts. This service, however, will not be best placed to offer advice to government on measures relating to the elimination of discrimination, or to prepare the codes of practice, that disabled people and businesses will need to understand the new legislation.
The national disability council will fulfil this second requirement. It will be able to call on the experience and advice of its members, as well as consult other bodies either established to advise on disability, or able to provide specialist advice in a particular area. It will be able to request that research be undertaken, and the information collected by the advice and support service will be available for its consideration.
The work of the national disability council will be complemented by that of the National Advisory Council on the Employment of People with Disabilities who will continue to advise the Secretary of State for Employment on issues relating to employment. However, the national disability council has a much broader remit which will empower it to give advice to government, on its own initiative, on a very broad range of issues related to discrimination and to recommend the measures necessary to make further progress.
For example, if the national disability council were to find that disabled people were experiencing problems in obtaining their rights in a particular area, it could make recommendations to the Government about how these problems could be overcome. The flexibility provided in all parts of the Bill by regulation-making powers will allow the Government to tailor the legislation so that it works for disabled people, not only in the near future but in the long term as circumstances and technology change. This will mean that the national disability council has a vital role to play in ensuring that the legislation continues to meet the policy intention.
The national disability council will also be responsible for providing codes of practice giving guidance to disabled people and business on what is required by the legislation. This will be an important task. Given the wide-ranging nature of this legislation, the varied nature of the businesses covered, and the differing needs of people with particular disabilities, it will no doubt mean tackling a number of complex issues where practical, clear advice will be of great value to all concerned.
The national disability council will also be able to work with business, in the same way as the National Council on Disability in America does, and provide a lead in persuading industry to take account of, and provide for, the needs of disabled people. This would be particularly
The national disability council will be a powerful voice for disabled people. At least half its members will be disabled people, or parents or guardians of people with disabilities. It will be able to provide influential policy advice and practical guidance in the form of codes of practice. The advice and support service will provide disabled people with local, accessible help. This two-pronged approach will prove the most effective way of ensuring that disabled people can secure their rights, that business understands and meets its responsibilities, and that the legislation achieves our aim of bringing an end to discrimination on the grounds of disability.
I have described the effect of the Disability Discrimination Bill at some length. Although I am grateful for noble Lords' patience, I make no apologies for the time I have taken in introducing what is the most comprehensive package ever to be brought forward by any government to tackle discrimination against disabled people. For the first time, it will be unlawful for employers to treat a disabled person less fairly; for the first time, disabled people will have a right not to be denied access to goods and services solely on the grounds of their disability; and a national disability council will be established to keep the issue of discrimination under review and to advise the Government. Only the churlish would dissent from the view that this Bill marks an historic advance for disabled people in this countryan advance which marks Britain out as a world leader in tackling discrimination.
The Government have set themselves one central objectivethe elimination of discrimination against disabled people. That aim cannot be realised overnight, as disabled people themselves recognise. But the Disability Discrimination Bill marks the boldest move forward which any government have yet proposed.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|