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Baroness Seear: My Lords, I had forgotten the time allowed for the gap. I beg the noble Lord's pardon. I have made the point about discrimination which is very important. I finish by saying again that without enforcement procedures of the kind that we have had in other anti-discrimination legislation, we are wasting our time.
Lord Carter: My Lords, as is always the case when this House debates disability, we have had an excellent and wide-ranging discussion. In winding up the debate from this side of the House I shall not attempt to repeat the many persuasive arguments which have been advanced. I believe that all who have spoken have felt a strong sense of déjo vu. If my arithmetic is correct, this is the 14th attempt to get legislation on the statute book since 1982. We know now that the Government have been finally persuaded that education and persuasion are not enough and that legislation is needed.
Obviously, the crucial question is this: will the legislation begin the task of ending discrimination against people with disabilities? At the outset, to be fair, I must say that it is a beginning. My noble friend Lord Ashley said that it was "a midget milestone". I would describe it as a very tentative first step. To use the Minister's word, it would be churlish to argue that it is not in fact a beginning. But will it go far enough? Clearly, we believe that it will not. We shall certainly attempt to strengthen the provisions of the Bill as it goes through its various stages.
The reason for having the legislation at all is a simple one. Discrimination of any sort, be it on grounds of sex, race or disability, reinforces and legitimises attitudes in society which run counter to fundamental beliefs which are based on natural justice. Those of us who have made the case over the years for enshrining anti-discrimination provisions in law did not have to make the case in favour. The onus was on those, like the government, to show why legislation was not needed. That argument has now been won.
Our task now, having breached the walls of prejudice against legislation, is to see that the Bill does a proper job, not in ending but in beginning to end discrimination against people with disabilities. I believe that we can all agree that one Act of Parliament will not solve the problem. Attitudes towards disability are founded on a complex psychological matrix involving fear, ridicule, pity and charity.
However, if those attitudes are to be overcome, there has to be a basis in law which lays down the rights of a disabled person. Anti-discrimination legislation does not confer privileges on those affected by it. It ensures that certain groups in society receive the same treatment that the rest of society takes for granted. Discrimination against disabled people has become institutionalised in employment, access, education and many other areas. Institutional discrimination can be ended only by changing social behaviour through appropriate legislation.
The statistics and the arguments are well known and have been quoted, so I shall not repeat them. However important the statistics, it is the everyday experiences of people with disabilities trying to live their lives as fully as possible which are the real facts that matter. If one in nine of the population is to lead life to its fullest potential, the other eight must learn to listen and to understand that the argument has now moved from charity and welfare to civil rights.
Perhaps a useful way to examine the Bill is to compare it with successive anti-discrimination Bills which have been proposed over the years as Private Member's Bills. The latest is the Barnes Bill. A true anti-discrimination Bill speaks of "civil rights". This Bill speaks of "duties". A true anti-discrimination Bill would say that no employer can discriminate. This Bill says that certain employers, small employers, are allowed to discriminate. Anti-discrimination is based on the idea, "You are disabled if you think you are". This Bill is based on the philosophy, "You are disabled if we think you are". A proper anti-discrimination Bill would have a commission with teeth; this has a council with gums.
Your Lordships may have seen the excellent supplement in the Observer on 7th May, produced in association with Scope, which dealt with disability. It provided an excellent summary of the arguments surrounding disability legislation over time and included immensely instructive and moving accounts of the day-to-day experiences of nine disabled people with a wide range of disabilities. A number of things can be discerned when one looks at the life experiences of disabled people. There is often low self-esteem among disabled people, fuelled by a low level of expectation in education and employment. Many people think that a job as a lift attendant, telephonist or car park attendant is not only suitable but appropriate for disabled people. There is also casual institutional discrimination, often by doctors who either do not understand disability or just do not know how to communicate with disabled people or their relatives.
There are infuriating practical problems. There are cab drivers who pretend that their wheelchair ramps have been stolen so they cannot take a wheelchair. As we have heard, there are minicab drivers who either refuse to take
Discrimination against disability has its roots in our social culture and finds expression in economic and physical disadvantage. As I pointed out earlier, a complex mixture of religious, psychological, cultural and educational factors provides the seed bed for discrimination. Every disabled person continually meets examples of insensitivity or downright ignorance based on traditional perceptions of impairment.
Much has been said about the powers, or lack of them, of the national disability council which is proposed by the Bill. Only this morning I received the government response to the consultation paper on the government measure. The section which deals with the new advisory body states:
It will be interesting to know from the Minister why the response to the consultation was ignored. How is it proposed to organise or fund advice at the local level where it is needed? We hear that NACAB has said that it is not at all keen on the idea.
Over the past five years when we have been discussing this matter we have all had occasion to mention the Americans with Disabilities Act, the ADA. I thought that it might be helpful if we brought ourselves up to date with the latest thinking in America on the ADA, its successes and failures. I spoke only yesterday to Judy Heumann in Washington DC, who is herself disabled and is the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitation Services. She is very well known on the world disability scene. Her view was that, broadly, the ADA is working well but that it takes time. When one looks at the American experience, it is important to remember that the ADA is one of a number of Bills which started out over 20 years ago. It is not the first such Bill, as ours is. How much progress have we missed by the Government's intransigence on this matter since 1979? Judy Heumann said that there is now much more discussion, both for and against, but that the barriers are breaking down. Substantial resources have been put into technical assistance for employers and educationists. We have to compare that with the miserly amount that is set aside under the Bill for the national disability council.
I am sure that much will be made of the fact that this Bill excludes from its provisions employers with fewer than 20 employees. The federal Act, the ADA, has a limit of 15 employees. Indeed, for many years some states have specified a significantly lower minimum. That is because the only way to include employers in some states was to bring the limit right down. In New York, for example, the minimum is six and in California it is four. Why then are we starting with 20? As a result of the ADA, there is now much greater awareness of disability, but in the five years of its existence only nine cases have come to court in the whole of America. There has been no rush to litigation. Those of your Lordships who have been to New York will know that it has many old buildings with many steps. However, most of its restaurants are now accessible and the average cost per restaurant of doing that was 300 dollars. They have discovered that if you use a small portable ramp, you do not have to put in the expensive solid ramps to which we are used. When owners came to modernise their restaurants, they were forced to think things through and to make their buildings accessible.
As I said, America has 20 years of experience, starting with contract compliance which was laid down by federal and state government. When the ADA was introduced, over 50 per cent. of companies in America were already complying with such provisions as a result of contract compliance. What could we have done over the years if the Government had insisted on anti-discrimination measures for disabled people in contract compliance here? The late Ed Roberts who, sadly, died recently, was the chairman of the World Institute of Disability. He said that the ADA made people think twice, and that when disabled people say, "You're discriminating against me", the officious, the bureaucrats and the prejudiced back off. Mr. Justin Dart, the Right-wing Republican, the chairman of the President's Committee on Disability under George Bush, said that the ADA has made disabled people full citizens of the United States.
The first Motion that I moved in your Lordships' House eight years ago was to draw attention to the needs and problems of people with disabilities. In that debate, I coined the phrase "the disabled divide" to describe the gulf that exists between the aspirations and ambitions of people with disabilities and their actual experience. The Bill will not bridge that divide unless it is considerably amended and strengthened. Noble Lords will be doing a great service to disabled people if they ensure that those improvements are made to the Bill as it goes through its various stages. We must ensure that when it completes its passage through the House it will truly be a civil rights for disabled persons Bill and not the half-hearted and tentative Bill we have before us.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have had an interesting debate with a large number of speakers. I do not suppose that your Lordships would appreciate it if I tried to answer every point that was made by every speaker.
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