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Modifications Of This Act In Its Application To Northern Ireland

Volume 257: debated on Tuesday 28 March 1995

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Amendments made: No. 102, in page 36, line 1, after '2(5)', insert

'for "him" substitute "it" and'.

No. 103, in line 35, leave out '1989' and insert '1986'.

No. 104, in line 40, at end insert—

`. In section 16(4) and (6) omit "or (in Scotland) the subject of'.'.

No. 105, in page 38, leave out lines 3 to 5.

No. 106, in page 40, leave out lines 1 to 3.

No. 107, in page 43, line 17, leave out 'and'.

No. 108, in line 18, at end insert

`and subsections (3) and (4) below'.

No. 109, in line 28, leave out 'Secretary' and insert `the Secretary'.

No. 110, in page 44, line 25, at end insert

`and in paragraph 3(7) for "his" substitute "its".'.

No. 111, in page 45, line 10, at end insert—

`(c) in the definition of "relevant compromise contract" for "or Article" substitute "Article" and at the end insert "or section 9(2) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995".'.

No. 112, leave out line 31.

No. 113, leave out line 35.— [Mr. Hague.]

Order for Third Reading read.

8.18 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

At this point we should pause for a second and raise our eyes from the level of detail that we have debated in Committee and on Report and remind ourselves of several things about the Disability Discrimination Bill. It is a landmark Bill. It is the only comprehensive Bill for disabled people ever introduced by a British Government. It will mark the United Kingdom out as one of the world leaders and the leader in Europe in the move towards comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation for disabled people. It is a profound measure with significant implications for every part of the economy.

Before the Minister awards himself an Oscar, will he satisfy the House that he is referring to the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill?

I am satisfied, and the House will be satisfied, that I am referring to the Disability Discrimination Bill. It is a shame that the hon. Gentleman interrupted me at that point because I was about to be generous to many people on the Opposition Benches as well as to many of my hon. Friends. I acknowledge that the Bill embodies a goal for which many people have worked tirelessly over the years. They include hon. Members on both sides of the House, many of whom are present in the Chamber tonight, as well as campaigners outside the House and many disabled people.

We owe it to all the people who have campaigned for such legislation to get it right. That means producing legislation that wins the support and active co-operation of all employers and service providers who must deliver the benefits that we want to flow from it. I also pay tribute to the constructive approach that has been adopted by hon. Members on both sides of the House in Committee and on Report. I am convinced and I think that it is clear that the points that have divided the House have been of far less significance than some basic principles that now unite it.

I also pay tribute to the consideration of detail that has gone on behind the scenes. Organisations of and for disabled people and many other groups have helped us to improve the Bill. The improvements that we have seen effected, particularly on Report, are due in no small way to their labours as well as to the efforts of hon. Members.

It is all too easy for ambitious law to become ambiguous law. Many hon. Members said during our debates that they did not want the legislation to be a beanfeast for lawyers. I certainly agree with that. We must be particularly careful in matters of disability discrimination, in which there could easily be far more uncertainty than in the sex and race legislation dealt with in the past. Therefore, the Government's guiding principle has been to achieve certainty wherever possible so that employers and service providers know what is meant by disability and we do not have a vague concept that might cover all kinds of people who never have been or may never be disabled.

We want to achieve certainty so that employers and service providers know what they have to do to provide an accessible environment for disabled people. The Bill has the potential to affect the employers of many thousands of disabled employees in all manner of jobs and occupations. It has the potential to affect about 750,000 businesses, from broadcasting and banking to greengrocers and newsagents. That is why we have made sure that the legislation is sufficiently flexible to be applied right across the board and why we have had the good sense to allow that matters such as education and transport deserve to be treated in a different way. I am pleased that we have been able to make or plan to make in another place additional provisions on those matters.

We want to achieve certainty so that disabled people know how to obtain redress if employers and service providers fall short of the standards expected; hence, we want to have a national network of advice points, whether placing, assessment and counselling teams or citizens advice bureaux, so that disabled people have somewhere local and amenable to which they can turn when they need help. We have made statutory provision for codes of practice and guidance so that those who provide advice and support know what is reasonable in a given set of circumstances.

While we have ensured that the Bill abides by those principles, the Government have been prepared to listen and to make sensible adjustments. In our debates on amendment No. 12, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), earlier today, we accepted that we should widen the definition of disability to include those with a history of disability. We have accepted that the small employers' exemption should be reviewed for effectiveness and that we should remove the power to increase the number of employers exempted.

We have accepted that the Government's policy of requiring transport to be made accessible to disabled people on a replacement basis in the future should be, for the sake of certainty, written into the Bill. We have included measures against discrimination in the sale and letting of property. We have undertaken to look again at a variety of other matters. Our approach of flexibility founded on solid principles is reflected in the Bill. I believe that it is the right approach to this difficult and complicated subject and I commend it to the House.

8.25 pm

We have had some interesting debates in the past two days. I am sure that the Minister shares my view that the public awareness of the debates has been interesting. As we have sat here, I have received note after note inviting me to raise issues which I would love to raise, but which, alas, time does not allow me to do. I am sure that the Minister has had the same experience and that his electorate has followed our proceedings.

Only two minutes ago I was requested in neat writing, better than mine, to raise on Third Reading the issue of access to work and the possible impact of introducing reasonable accommodation. That was a specific reference which a member of the public attached to Government amendment No. 120. So I hope that in our democratic processes members of the public will not think that we have not taken their views on board. Alas, because of the limited time—we could have debated the matter for a whole week, if not more, so perhaps we should have a party conference on disability—we could not take all the points on board.

I thank the Minister for his unfailing courtesy; I shall perhaps return to that later. It has been the ambition of many people inside and outside the House to make 1995 the year of disabled people's rights. The Bill is not adequate to justify that title, but we remain hopeful that progress can be made. The Government have been forced to tear up their "exemptions"—I use the word in the Bill—for education and transport vehicles. We count that as progress on two of the most objectionable features of the Government's original proposals.

The Government have promised to move new clauses in another place that will do something to improve the position of disabled pupils and students in education and will apply the right of access to public transport by road and rail. We shall wait to see the contents before we pass final judgment, but the fact that Ministers have abandoned the appalling exemptions—to use their words and the words in the Bill—is a major victory for disabled people. I congratulate disabled people and organisations of and for disabled people on those achievements.

Ministers have also conceded a little ground on the exemption of small firms by removing the option to extend that exemption to firms with 20 or more employees. However, what they have given with one hand they have taken away with the other by introducing at the very end of our proceedings today a new employment exemption for particular services, which we have only just discussed, and discussed inadequately. Ministers have given ground in a number of areas in response to the positive arguments that my hon. Friends and others have raised during the past 10 weeks. Their concessions do not do enough to transform the Bill into the kind of comprehensive measure which we would have liked to see, but they give us some encouragement that further improvements will be possible.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) said, we are pleased that the Government have now conceded part of what we sought in Committee in terms of access to information and to the means of communication. We do not regard the Government's concession as sufficient, and their explanation for failing to impose a requirement on manufacturers to provide information on goods in an accessible form is unconvincing.

The Government have fiddled a little with their definition of disability, but they have not addressed the central issue. The basis on which protection will be provided under the Bill remains—despite all our efforts—a narrow, medically based definition of disability, and we are therefore disappointed. The real issue is that discrimination arises from prejudice more often than from medical assessments. People need protection from prejudices against disability, whether those prejudices are based on an accurate assessment of a medical condition or on ignorance alone, as we have found so often in discussing the matter.

The Government have added some substance to the definition of what arrangements employers should make to support disabled employees. Those may be helpful to employers and to disabled people alike, although we would be anxious to ensure that the examples of appropriate steps are not interpreted as an exhaustive list—far from it.

The most important concessions have been achieved on transport and education, and we heard about those matters this afternoon. We have argued from the beginning that it made no sense to exclude disabled people from those gateways to opportunity in a measure intended to outlaw disability discrimination. We have argued for a programme to be introduced under which all public transport vehicles should be made accessible. Ministers have fought a long rearguard action against that, but they have finally conceded defeat today and we welcome that. Not only do we welcome the inclusion of road and rail transport, but we look forward to that principle being embraced by fishing and ferry services as well.

I do not underestimate the achievement of this House in producing the measure—why should I? It is a great credit to the democratic processes of our parliamentary representative government that we have squeezed those concessions at almost the 11th hour from the Government. We welcome the access to vehicles such as buses and trains, but—as my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) eloquently argued—we want the measure to apply to ferries and shipping services as well.

All this has not been achieved by sleight of hand. I welcome sincerely the presence in the Chamber of the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott), for whom I have the highest regard. I believe that, within the ministerial restraints and constraints which exist, the right hon. Gentleman fought hard to achieve the measures which have been announced tonight. My only regret is that, as a distinguished parliamentarian, he was not able to speak on behalf of the Government today. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman should be very proud of his achievements, and we recognise that.

I also pay tribute to the input of my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) who, in introducing their private Members' Bills, clearly provided a lever which compelled the Government to recognise public opinion and the opinions of the House.

I recognise that we in the Labour party have had support on the issues from hon. Members from other parties, including the hon. Members for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and for Rochdale (Ms Lynne). The hon. Lady fought her corner superbly in Committee. The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) and hon. Members from all political opinions in Northern Ireland have been absolutely firm in their demands on the issue, and they have every reason to be proud of themselves.

It would be an absolute omission were I not to mention my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), whose name will always be associated with civil rights for disabled people. When some people were questioning at an early stage whether two Bills could be debated in one Session of Parliament, my right hon. Friend was steadfast, forthright and determined. As always, my right hon. Friend represents the very best in the all-party group which deals with disability.

The hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) played a noble part today in inviting the Government to introduce their concessions, and he can associate himself with those achievements also.

The issue of transport remains important and, although we welcome the concessions, we will be watching what happens in another place where noble Friends such as Lord Ashley, Baroness Masham and others who have fought so often and so hard on the issues will be vigilant.

I wish briefly to refer to the issue of taxis, which we were not able to address on Report because of the procedures of the House. I realise that the Minister and the House are facing a difficult situation in which there are strong opinions on both sides. The achievements in London ought to be applauded, and they could represent a model for elsewhere. However, strong representations have been made on the issue, not least by some hon. Friends, including the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin).

The excellent Employers Forum on Disability, whose representatives I met the other week in the presence of Bill Morris of the Transport and General Workers Union, advised us to look cautiously at the issue of taxis. There are two opinions on taxis, and I hope that we will have reached by the end of our deliberations the consensus which disability—outstanding among all other issues—seems to attract.

The House is at its best on disability issues, and today's debate has been no exception. I am sure that the debate on taxis will continue, and I would like to assure my hon. Friends and many others that we recognise that there are at least two separate views on the issue.

On education, the Government recognised the force of our arguments, and I look forward to the details of the new rights for disabled students which the Minister mentioned yesterday. I welcome also the obligation on individual schools and colleges to say what they will do to improve access. Having argued the point yesterday, I accept that there is a big responsibility on them to do so. We hope that suitable enforcement procedures will be introduced at the same time, so that those institutions that do not make adequate provision are placed under some obligation to improve matters within a reasonable time.

On education and transport, we will watch closely to see how clause 12 will be redrafted. We want the total exemption of those services to be replaced by a clear statement that they are subject to the law in the same way as other service providers. Of course, we accept that particular provision must be made for what must be done when, but it is essential that the new version of clause 12 clearly establishes the principle that those services are under a duty not to discriminate.

In spite of the Government's concessions on transport, education and so forth, they remain stubbornly opposed to the most important change that Opposition Members—with some support from Conservative Members—have suggested, which is to give adequate enforcement powers to the Government's proposed National Disability Council. Until they do so, no matter how much the Bill may be improved in its scope and coverage, it will not be adequate because it will not provide disabled people with the powerful backing required to eliminate discrimination.

Although Parliament has indeed been at its best, even given the fact that we did not achieve all that we wanted, sadly the same could not be said of the British media. The Guardian today made up for lost ground in a very interesting leader entitled, "Enabling the Disabled", which appealed to the Minister as much as it did to me. One or two of the profound comments in it are relevant to this debate. It said:
"For 15 years they"
the Government—
"could see no discrimination, hear no discrimination, nor smell no discrimination against disabled people. Then, hey presto, they were faced with a private member's bill in the last parliamentary session which they were only able to stop by ordering backbench sycophants to torpedo it"—

As I was about to say, they are not much in evidence tonight. I have looked in vain for the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland), but I think that she got the message last time around.

The Guardian concluded appropriately by saying:
"What is needed—as the history of race and sex discrimination demonstrates—is an enforcement agency. Even Conservative supporters—see last week's Guardian Society—are insisting on this change. Peers take note. Without it, the whole edifice collapses."
I could not have put it better myself.

We have taken into account the views and pledges that the Government have expressed and we do not want to be churlish. I am confident that the Government will come under renewed pressure on the matter in another place. The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) set his colleagues an example last night and today, which others may follow if this matter comes back from another place as a result of a successful amendment, or perhaps more than one.

Opposition Members will certainly continue to set a high priority on the means of enforcement and on turning good intentions into real progress. If we achieve that, whatever the other limitations of this legislation, we will have gone a long way towards making this the year of disabled people's rights. Unless and until we do, the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East, will remain the best hope for progress and I say so proudly as one of his colleagues.

We shall not, however, oppose the Third Reading of this Bill, weak and inadequate though it remains, despite the concessions that I welcomed—I do not want to be churlish about them. However, we look forward to seeing it much improved before it is placed on the statute book. We hope that the House will have a further opportunity to consider some of those improvements.

We accept that the most important concessions achieved are those on transport and education, but we hope that, when the Bill goes to another place and in the intervening weeks or months, the Government will have the opportunity to reflect not simply on our debates but on the views of organisations of and for disabled persons—heavens, we all admire them. In that cold January day on the eve of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East, they stood in cold Westminster Hall, sending green cards to Members, some of whom responded—some did not. They did not even have access to loudspeaker equipment. I hope that the people there that day and the many other disabled people and carers who organised similar events and meetings throughout the country will feel that at the end of the day, despite their misgivings and their understandable scepticism, there is yet something to be said for representative parliamentary democracy. In that spirit, and as a tribute to them, we will not oppose the Third Reading, but will act with vigilance on the events that take place.

8.45 pm

In the same spirit as the spokesman for the Opposition, the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), I am pleased to follow what he said and I am pleased that the Third Reading will not be opposed. We have had two fruitful days of consideration of this important Bill and, although the Government were not able to concede on two of the early issues—the commission and the small firms exclusion figure—since then, thanks to the willingness of my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People to discuss and negotiate improvements with us, the Bill has been much improved and strengthened. The key areas of education and transport are now included and my hon. Friends the Ministers in both those Departments are to be thanked.

The provision of information, definitions of disability and the history of disability, leave of absence at work and other employment assistance are now included and other improvements, through Government amendments, have all combined to make this anti-discrimination legislation a truly historic step forward for disabled people.

Towards the end of today's debate, we found that we were unable to discuss two important areas—civic rights, on which I was hoping to move some amendments, and leave of absence provisions. I will touch on those so that my hon. Friend the Minister can deal with some of the issues that we would have raised.

The leave of absence provisions, on which the Government moved amendment No. 120, relate to responsibilities that employers must have for their disabled employees or those who may become disabled while working and who may need a period of leave for rehabilitation or retraining. We also recognise that a newly disabled person, even after rehabilitation, might not be able to continue in the same employment.

The provision of leave of absence as a part of reasonable adjustment is the motivation behind such options as disability leave, which was an initiative developed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind and was launched less than two years ago by the then Secretary of State for Employment, who is now Secretary of State for Education.

The pilot scheme has enjoyed widespread support from employers and organisations representing disabled people. The steering group includes the Midland bank, Barclays bank, the Employers Forum on Disability, the Trades Union Congress and the Department of Employment, in addition to the various disability organisations. It would have been incomprehensible not to have recognised the potential of that initiative by including in the Bill provisions to enable disability leave to be given. I welcomed, therefore, Government amendment No. 120, which we unfortunately did not have a chance to debate in any detail. I put that on the record because it is an important part of the changes to the Bill today.

Civic rights, as I term them, were the other important issue that we did not discuss because of pressure of business. The amendments on the Order Paper were aimed at providing disabled people with reasonable access to the process of politics and the justice system. One was designed as a probing measure, to ensure that adjustments are provided under part III of the Bill, if required by disabled persons, to enable them to serve as an elected or appointed member, for example as a Member of Parliament or a councillor, or if required by a disabled person wishing to make representations to an elected or appointed person. For example the law debars a deaf and dumb person from standing as a parliamentary candidate. There is only one elected deaf councillor, despite the wonderful example in this place of the co-chairman of the all-party disablement group, the noble Lord Ashley.

Another area which we could not discuss today was access to the justice system. It is vital for disabled people to gain full access to the judicial system and legal proceedings. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister said that the Bill covered the judicial system and legal proceedings and that the design of new Crown and county courts should enable disabled people to have independent access into and within those buildings. While "The Court Standard and Design Guide" states that all new court rooms and those undergoing significant alterations must comply with part M of the building regulations, that does not deal with the problem of access to existing court rooms. The building regulations do not cover many of the adaptations and facilities that would be required by disabled people in court, nor do they specify monitoring and maintenance—many of the sound enhancement schemes for hard of hearing people installed under part M do not work. A survey carried out by the Lord Chancellor's Department in 1993 showed that 44 per cent. of Crown and county courts had inaccessible main entrances; 59 per cent. had no disabled toilets; and only 6 per cent. had facilities for deaf and hard of hearing people.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister would have wished to comment on those points, had he had an opportunity to do so, and I hope that he will accept the concerns felt by disabled people about problems of access to courts, justice and juries.

A year ago, I and my colleagues on the all-party disablement group were desperately trying to persuade the Government to adopt positive anti-discrimination legislation. As the hon. Member for Monklands, West described, it took a long, hot summer of campaigning and applying pressure, with lobbies of Parliament, marches, demonstrations and debates in the House. But following the personal intervention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, together with the previous Minister responsible for disabled people, who was in the Chamber a few moments ago, we began to see some progress. A somewhat inadequate consultation document first appeared on the scene. That changed for the better into a nearly satisfactory Bill and White Paper. Now, having filled the gaps during Report, we have reached the point where a good measure is heading for the other place, where a number of further changes will no doubt be implemented by members of the all-party group, which is more than adequately represented there.

Many hon. Members are still committed to the private Member's Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which will also continue its progress through the House. As one of those supporters, I believe in the old adage that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. This Bill has now become a nice plump bird and is on its way to the statute book before the summer is out. I therefore congratulate all those who have worked so hard, both within Parliament and in all those organisations outside. I hope that they regard their efforts as well rewarded.

I therefore hope that the House will give this landmark Bill an unopposed Third Reading.

8.53 pm

I was deeply moved, as others on both sides of the House must have been, by the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). He has shown a shining sincerity in arguing the claims of disabled and other needful people from the day that he entered the House. He is worthy of the highest admiration, and his Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), is also entitled to our deepest respect. He has brought enormous skill, humanity and commitment to his new sphere of responsibility, and I thank him most warmly for all that he has contributed to our debates on the Bill.

The Bill was heralded as an historic advance for disabled people. In fact it marks only the end of an historic retreat from contemporary standards of protecting disabled people across the developed world. We used to lead the world in legislating on new help for disabled people; for example, in legislating on access to the built environment, the first country ever to do so, 25 years ago. We pioneered as well, also in the 1970s, such entirely new benefits as the mobility allowance, the disabled housewife's allowance and the invalid care allowance.

The Government's measure is, of course, their latest attempt to assuage the public outrage provoked by the wholly scandalous tactics used to obstruct the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill ever since I drafted and first presented it to the House in 1991. There were no less than three personal statements of unreserved apology for misleading the Speaker and this House in debates on the Bill. They were three of only four such statements that I have witnessed in 31 years as a Member of Parliament.

There are those who ask today why, now that the Government have been dragged kicking and screaming to accept the necessity of legislation, we do not just welcome them as repentant sinners and work further to amend and improve their, by common consent, pallid alternative to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. That is not my description; it is how disabled people themselves have described the Government's Bill as compared with our Bill.

A woman who is well disposed to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill wrote to me recently to say:
"Now that you have won and the Government at long last are having to legislate, why don't you simply claim victory and amend their Bill to your liking?"
Nothing would have been more agreeable to me than to have been able further to amend, at will, the Government's proposals and thus to end the parliamentary battle I began in 1979 when I appointed the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Large. But changes to their Bill on the scale required to make it acceptable to disabled people have proved impossible. Even had they not been, why, having invented the wheel, should we have had to waste time trying to adapt the Government's unacceptable imitation of one?

As well as attempting to make the Government's Bill more acceptable, are we not right to go on trying to enact our own? Another question posed is why, even if we are unable further to improve the Government's Bill, can we not accept what is on offer as a major step forward after 13 years of systematic obstruction and then, in the years ahead, build on what their Bill achieves? But in the view of disabled people and those who work to help them, parts of the Government's Bill will actually increase discrimination against disabled people.

They cite first the Government's proposal to end the 3 per cent. jobs quota, which they argue will undoubtedly make matters worse. The Rights Now campaign, whose affiliates include the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, cites as well the Government's pointlessly complicated and over-restrictive definition of discrimination. It attacks what it calls
"The Government's complete failure to understand how disability discrimination works."
It also states:
"The Government's Bill contains a host of defences and potential justifications for discriminatory treatment which are not present in the legislation on sex and race. The accumulated effect of these loopholes will render it almost impossible for a disabled person to challenge discrimination."
Such pointed criticism leaves scant room for any doubt about what Britain's 6.5 million disabled people think of the assumption that the Government's Bill will solve most of their problems.

The measure we have been debating today is but piecemeal reform. It attempts to divide the indivisible. Look at the employment problems of disabled people, not least those of the blind, of whom the Royal National Institute for the Blind says only 17 per cent. are in work. That figure is a shocking comment on the avoidable hardship inflicted on them.

The employment prospects of blind and other severely disabled people will only be improved if, while removing discrimination against them, we recognise also the importance to disabled people of improving their access to better training opportunities, among other essential requirements which must be met if more and more of them are to end their dependence on social security and enjoy the dignity of becoming taxpayers. Yet this is not what the Bill achieves.

That is why Members in all parts of the House will go on insisting on stronger and more enforceable protection for Britain's 6.5 million disabled people. That is also why our campaign will go on for as long as it takes to secure full civil rights and equal citizenship for them. Without the rights that everyone else can take for granted, disabled people are doubly disabled. The handicapping effects of their disabilities are made even harder to bear by preventable social handicaps for which there is no moral justification.

Why on earth should disabled people any longer have to put up with rights inferior to those of everyone else and inferior as well to those enjoyed by disabled people all across the developed world? I refer, among other countries, to New Zealand, Australia, the United States, Canada, Japan, Germany, France and Sweden. Why should the Government here have assumed for so long that employers in all those countries are more capable than British employers of contributing to the achievement of social progress for disabled people? It is because our disabled fellow citizens should no longer have to put up with inferior rights that the campaign for the social fairness they crave must go on; and, Mr. Deputy Speaker, go on it will.

9.2 pm

I am delighted that the Government have changed their minds on several aspects of the Bill, particularly on education and transport. I am also pleased by their decision to extend the definition in clause 1 to cover people with a history of illness or disability. That is a step in the right direction. We must not lose sight of the fact, however, that they have not moved a lot on other parts of the Bill. In fact, the Government have failed to respond to the majority of the amendments that we tabled in Committee and on Report.

I cannot count the number of amendments that other hon. Members and I tabled in Committee. Ministers remained immovable on all of them. They did not accept any amendments to do with education and transport, but I am pleased that they accepted certain changes on Report. The Government have bowed to pressure from all the disabled people's organisations that have lobbied them and those hon. Members who have worked over the months to ensure that improvements relating to transport and education were included in the Bill.

Those changes are a triumph of democracy over dogma, but the Government have not changed their mind on much. They gave way slightly on small businesses, but they have not moved on the call to establish a commission. It was extremely important that we should have had an organisation with teeth, rather than the mere advisory council that the Government proposed. I am grateful, however, that the Government agreed to extend the definition in clause 1 to cover someone with a history of mental illness.

I continue to believe that disabled people will feel extremely let down by the Bill, as will carers. In Committee we discussed the problems that carers had, and I was disappointed tonight that we did not get round to debating in the House the amendments especially relating to carers. I was sorry that those amendments were withdrawn without debate. I hope that they will be retabled and debated in the Lords, because an immense number of carers have lobbied hon. Members, and they have some very serious problems of discrimination relating to their caring duties.

I know that the Government will prevent the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill from obtaining its passage through the House, and I am sorry about that. I am sad, because that is the Bill that we should pass into law in future. The Disability Discrimination Bill is welcome as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. However much we debate the Bill and however much it is amended in the Lords, disabled people will continue to be denied their basic human rights, whatever the Government say.

The way in which Ministers and the Government have moved on certain amendments is a step in the right direction, but they were forced to take those steps, sometimes at the last minute; suddenly there was an announcement from Ministers. In the past two days—

The Minister shakes his head, but we had an announcement about education yesterday and an announcement about transport today—a last-minute conversion. The Government did not move in Committee, so they were forced to move by all the pressure that they had from hon. Members and from disabled people throughout the country.

However, I continue to believe that the Government have not gone far enough, especially as regards the commission. There is no point in legislation unless it has teeth. I hope that the Government will not suppose that they have done enough. Disabled people will continue to fight because they want the same equality as everyone else. They do not want more; they do not want less; they want the same. I believe that they have a right to expect that and that they deserve no less.

Although I welcome some of the movement by the Government, I wish that they had gone further.

9.10 pm

Several of my hon. Friends want to speak, so I shall confine myself to revisiting the announcements that the Minister made yesterday about the education part of the Bill. Incidentally, I complain that, that important debate having been confined to one hour, more than half of that hour was taken by the Minister giving us some interesting and important new thoughts, which we did not have time properly to consider.

It is obvious, from column 746 of yesterday's Hansard, that the Minister considers that the existing Education Act 1993 and the code of practice do the business in respect of integration into mainstream schools. He complained that the new clauses that were tabled by hon. Members would cut across the provisions of the 1993 Act. However, in column 750, his proposals to amend the 1993 Act within the Disability Discrimination Bill in substantial ways were revealed, so that, in any case, the Minister's proposals cut across the 1993 Act. We shall in effect have two separate Acts controlling access to schools for disabled young people. It is important that that is carefully considered before it goes to the other place.

The Minister also said that the Government's measures have given an enormous boost to special education. That is fine; I accept that, but they have also presented councils with enormous resource problems and resources have not been forthcoming in sufficient quantities from the Government to enable local education authorities to put into practice what the 1993 Act expects.

The Minister did say—I agree with him entirely—that integration into mainstream education is not a simple issue of parental choice. Of course it is not; but does he not recognise that section 21 of the 1993 Act includes that phrase "efficient use of resources" as the universal caveat by which local authorities have a let-out from providing mainstream education for many disabled pupils? Many local authorities have been able to make progress only where such provision has been tied to statementing provision, with all its legal implications. They cannot even keep up with the legal requirements of statementing, never mind make further progress.

We must bear in mind the revenue consequences of integration. As long as mainstreaming is expected of local education authorities while resources continue to be cut and as long as the 1993 Act contains a caveat enabling LEAs to use the shortage of resources as a reason to refuse mainstream provision, many parents will have no choice and no system of redress. I do not blame local authorities for that in many instances. Nor do I blame the many schools that resist taking students with disabilities because they cannot accommodate them, in terms of either physical access or revenue.

There are frequent cases in which there is a conflict between the two parties, the parents and the school LEA, and both sides might well be right. There have been many cases, including that of Chloe McCollom from Lewisham, a Down's syndrome child who has not been provided with a place in mainstream education, Emma and Alison Gibbs from Suffolk, who also suffer from Down's syndrome and have not been given places in mainstream secondary education, Zahrah Manuel in Campden, Angharad Duffield in Avon and Nicky Crane in my constituency. Two more cases were discussed in today's edition of The Guardian involving Natalie Dance of East Sussex and Alan Dean—I think the name is an alias—in the west midlands. All those children are disabled in one way or another. Their parents are desperate to get them into mainstream education and are having to fight their battles with no back-up. There will still be no back-up for them once the Bill is passed if it remains as the Minister intends.

The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People seemed to assume yesterday that the new clauses proposed by hon. Members on both sides of the House were meant to abolish special schools, but that is not so. The Minister was right to say at column 746 of yesterday's Hansard that not all disable children be integrated into mainstream education and that some parents prefer special schools. However, if the Minister assumes that the improvement of the range of choice by legal back-up will mean that most or all parents of disabled children will opt for mainstream education, that should tell him something about what parents want for their children.

The Minister continued by saying that it was absurd or impossible for local authorities to spread their access provisions too thinly. He said:

"Instead of several schools in an authority, each with excellent resources, being able to take many pupils with a wide range of special needs, we would end up with nearly all schools in that authority with a few ramps, no lifts and improved curriculum access for only a small minority of pupils … It is certainly not what the Government want".—[Official Report, 27 March 1995; Vol. 257, c. 747.]
I understand what the Minister is talking about in terms of shortage of resources, but he is also talking about the creation of ghetto schools, which have the resources to provide for children with disabilities and special needs. That would remove choice for thousands of parents and children. Parents will have to remove their children from education in their own communities and ship them across to another part of the local authority area to a school that has the necessary resources or they will not have a choice at all. Making full access the norm rather than the exception will take a long time. The Minister's statement yesterday seemed to suggest that it should not even start. As he said,

"It is certainly not what the Government want".
When the Bill goes to the Lords, the Minister must confront the issue of increasing selection in our schools, particularly secondary schools. Only yesterday, Manchester grammar school said that it wanted to come back into the fold and be a state school, but only on the strict understanding that it would control its selection process. Up and down the country there is evidence, particularly in grant-maintained schools, that selection is taking place on all sorts of strange grounds, not just academic ability.

The Minister said that schools will have new responsibilities to report to parents—and presumably to local authorities and to the Secretary of State—about improvements in disabled access. That is a good move which we must welcome. However, in those circumstances, schools will merely have to ensure that they are not out of step with other schools. Schools that do not want to go to the trouble of admitting disabled students could ensure that the description of their facilities is not good or is even offputting. I believe that we need an enabling legal framework and back-up for parents who come up against those problems, which will continue to exist under the Bill as it is now constituted.

The Minister also made some interesting, and I think on the whole encouraging, announcements in response to the detailed concerns that were advanced by Labour Members in Committee about access to further and higher education. I do not have time to deal with them in detail but, as the Minister mentioned part-time access yesterday, I must ask about the chance of making the disabled students allowance available for part-time students. That is a major problem. Many students must study part time because the nature of their disability prevents them from studying and progressing at the same speed as non-disabled students.

The Minister said that he would require colleges to provide access to disabled students "as a condition of grant". That is a tremendous step forward. The Minister also mentioned the duty of the Further Education Funding Council to report to the Secretary of State, which I think will prove an interesting control mechanism.

The Minister's proposals for higher education are also fascinating. In the areas of both further and higher education, he seemed to suggest that students who are denied access to a college on the ground of disability will have the right to appeal to the Further Education Funding Council. Why does the Minister object to our idea of a commission if, in the area of education at least, he is proposing the FEFC as a kind of education commission?

There is a potential for ghettoisation in further education. The Minister said yesterday that we could not spread access too thinly across colleges. However, FE colleges, by their nature, are local and provide services for local people. As Skill observed, it is not acceptable to have to transport people 60 miles to the nearest accessible college. I hope that that problem will be addressed properly in another place.

The measures that the Minister has announced in relation to the education part of the Bill at least respond to the concerns expressed in the Committee and, to that extent, they are welcome. I hope that, before he sends those measures to another place, he will take into account the sorts of problems about which I have talked this evening and to which we referred at leisure and in more detail in Committee.

9.18 pm

Nine months is a short time in politics. Nine months ago, no one could have foreseen that today we would be debating the Third Reading of a Government Bill making it unlawful to discriminate against disabled persons. After all, nine months ago the Government blocked a measure which enjoyed cross-party support and which would have achieved precisely that aim.

The Government told us that education and persuasion would work; they told us that they could not possibly legislate in this area. They then said that it was quite incompatible with the thrust of deregulation policy to legislate for civil rights for disabled people. They then said that it would cost £17 billion to outlaw discrimination against disabled persons.

I have welcomed the fact that the Government have moved ground over that nine-month period. I mean that genuinely, as, I am sure, does everyone else, but it would be welcome if they acknowledged that they were misleading people nine months ago when they said that it would cost £17 billion to legislate to outlaw discrimination. It was pointed out by the all-party group at the time and by every independent observer that that figure, which was repeatedly quoted on and off the record, was a gross distortion of the cost of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. I am prepared to acknowledge the substantial movement in the Government's position on that issue, but they should acknowledge that they misled people last year and that disabled people's organisations in particular deserve an apology.

The outcome of the Government's consultation exercise in the summer was that, of those who offered a view on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, 98 per cent. wanted the Bill, which was originally introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), for whom I have the greatest respect, and which is currently being promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes).

There are serious problems with the Government's Bill and they will not go away. The definition of disability is still too narrow. When I came here today, I thought that I would have to argue that the Government should include within their definition those who have a record or history of impairment and those who are regarded as having such an impairment. I immediately acknowledge with gratitude—perhaps gratitude is the wrong word—

I acknowledge the fact that the Minister now recognises that those who have a record of impairment should be protected by anti-discrimination legislation, but that still leaves those who are regarded as having such an impairment. In particular, it leaves those with a diagnosed but as yet asymptomatic condition: people with multiple sclerosis, a genetic illness, Alzheimer's disease, or HIV infection. Those people do not have a symptomatic condition that would qualify them for protection under the Bill, but surely they should be protected by it.

We debated the small firms exemption at some length. Equity demands that if our legislation to outlaw unfair discrimination on the grounds of gender and race does not provide a small firms opt-out, neither should legislation that is designed to protect disabled people.

The Bill offers us a blank piece of paper on transport. This time last year we were accused of being vague in our transport proposals in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which vagueness, we were told, made the Government uncomfortable. We have been asked today to accept from the Minister a blank piece of paper as the Government's clauses relating to transport in the Bill.

The omission of a commission is the crucial error. The more the Government have taken on board some of the points that we have made in recent years, the greater has become the need for a commission. I have paid my eight quid to the Bow Group to buy Jonathan Kaye's pamphlet. I did not read its summary in The Guardian—I sent off good money for it. Jonathan Kaye was arguing, as a Conservative, that it would be nonsense to claim that the Disability Discrimination Bill can effect true equal opportunities for disabled people if there is not a commission to investigate complaints and to enforce people's rights.

I urge the Government to take on board a whole range of omissions that we highlighted before Committee, during Committee and again on Report—above all, the fact that without a mechanism to enforce the law, without something akin to a disability rights commission, the Bill will not be effective. If the Government are serious about outlawing discrimination, they must will the means to do so. If they are prepared to make concessions in another place, disabled people will be far happier than they are at present. Disabled people feel that the Government have made a move in the right direction but that they have not moved far enough—much remains to be done.

9.24 pm

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), who has played such an important part in bringing this subject to the fore through his Bill and his work with the all-party group.

A succession of hon. Members have taken up the baton. A parallel Bill is being promoted by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) and I wish that many of its provisions were included in this final version. I say that this is the final version but, of course, it is not.

Nor, I suspect, is this the last time that we shall discuss the Bill, even though this is a Third Reading debate. We shall need a great deal of time in July to debate the Lords amendments, assuming that the new clauses promised by the Minister relating to education, transport and other issues are tabled in another place. We shall need time to apply ourselves to any further amendments when the Bill returns to the House in due course. This is adieu but not farewell, or whatever the appropriate saying is.

We should put on record the support that we have received from disability organisations and from disabled people themselves, who have campaigned vigorously for many years for progress to be made in the relevant legislation. The legislation that will reach the statute book will not be everything that they want but it is a step in the right direction. The Minister has succeeded in making more progress than appeared possible on Second Reading. Nevertheless, some important provisions still need to be tightened, not least that relating to the commission, which has been mentioned by several hon. Members.

It is not realistic to expect individual disabled people to go to court and fight on an ad hoc basis to get their rights. There must be a structured approach. If the Government have not seen the light during the passage of the Bill, I hope that this will be one of the first things taken up by an incoming Government after the general election.

I am still unhappy about a number of the Bill's provisions. I think especially of the problem of small companies. At the end of yesterday's debate on companies employing fewer than 20 people, the Minister said that it would be possible to have a "zero option"—or effectively a zero option—in the regulations. I hope that the Government will be prepared to review the situation not over five years but perhaps over a couple of years to ascertain how the small companies provision is working and will use the flexibility that they have given themselves with the order-making provision to include if not a zero option then an option relating to firms employing even one employee. That will effectively mean that the Bill will apply to every company.

As the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) said, we skipped over Government amendment No. 120, which gives examples of the adjustments that employers should be making for disabled people. It is not clear who will bear the cost of the provisions listed. Will any expenditure come from the public purse or will it land on the employer himself? It is an important matter that should have been dealt with earlier.

I am also worried about the position of carers. We did not have the opportunity to deal with this topic earlier because of the pressure of time. I am concerned that carers may be subject to discrimination when they are working on behalf of and are involved with disabled people. This could arise in the provision of goods and services—an amendment was tabled in this regard—and in the context of employment.

The work undertaken by carers is of immense benefit to disabled people. We are trying to ensure that disabled people are not discriminated against because of their disability and I should hope that that spirit would extend to people who give their lives to disabled people by being carers.

The Bill will go through to the other place. We know that many Members in the other place have tremendous experience of many aspects of the work with which we are dealing. We know that the other place passed a civil rights Bill way before we got to this one. We can look forward to the other place positively amending the Bill to make it stronger.

I hope that, some day, the saga will be written of how the Government started off totally opposed to any anti-discrimination legislation, and of how, with a succession of movements, change took place. I do not want to score political points on that. I say hallelujah to the fact that change has taken place. I hope that change has not finished and that more progress will be made.

9.30 pm

I remind the House of the position on Second Reading. A reasoned amendment was tabled by the Leader of the Opposition. On a three-line Whip, that was carried by 27 votes—

I am sorry—it was defeated. The vote for the Government was made up entirely of Conservative Members. The vote that lost was made up of hon. Members from all other parties. When the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill received its Second Reading, it was carried by 175 votes to nil, and it had support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Members on both sides of the House supported the measure in early-day motions and were among its sponsors. It is clear that the principle of civil rights for disabled persons has clear support in the House when it is presented fully and when it is considered in line with the Government's measure.

Where does the measure before us, which is leaving now for another place, stand in comparison with the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill? I have always thought that three areas should be considered. The first is the definition of whom the measure applies to. The second is the measure's scope, including exemptions, to which the definition obviously also applies. The third is the enforcement of the legislation.

The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill refers to 6.5 million people. There has never been any dispute about that. The Government have promised a further extension of the definition in another place. A "history of impairment" will be added to the definition, but not having a "reputation" for impairment. Many points in schedules considerably restrict and limit the definition.

The definition needs to apply to the discriminator. We should say that people cannot use the term "disabled" to discriminate anywhere in society. But that is not what the Government want. They want to try to define the people who, on technical grounds, will be considered to be disabled. They want employers and others to have the right to know whom that definition applies to. A massive distinction must be made between the two areas. The Government have never told us what the additional definitions that they have announced today will mean in terms of the 6.5 million figure.

There is the question of scope and exemption. Some of the exemptions have been removed by the Government or are in the process of being removed. Northern Ireland was exempted initially, but that was changed in Committee. Certain provisions in connection with property were exempted initially; they, too, were altered.

We have had statements on education and transport. Yesterday's statement is well worth considering in detail. We have already had some examination of it. What does it actually mean? I want the amendments in the other place to fulfil the objective. In interpreting the areas that are liable to be covered, one must be careful about the Minister's words. I am willing to bet that there will be a minimum interpretation of the words that have been given to us about education and transport. As has been pointed out, the employment adjustment is very minor. Perhaps the number 20 would not have been increased in any case, but now it is to be written on the face of the Bill. There are also extra exemptions, on which we have just voted.

Then there is enforcement, and the question of a disability rights commission. Last night I said that the biggest item on our agenda and the big vote before us would be the decision whether to have a disability rights commission. We lost that division by 13 votes, but such a body would have done more to transform the legislation than anything else. No adjustment that may occur here or in another place will have as great an effect, unless we can get a commission back on the agenda. As I have already argued, a commission would be a dynamic force not only in helping to implement measures but in extending the boundaries of what is covered.

Other issues covered by the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill have not been touched at all by the Bill before us. For instance, there are the provisions covering polling stations. Those would have given us the opportunity to discuss civil rights and access to justice. Moreover, within them lies a most important principle: the building block of democracy is the ballot, and the ballot should be as open to disabled people as it is to everyone else.

Welcome as the changes and advances are, the Government's Bill is by no means good enough. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill should be let out of the cupboard and sent into Committee so that we can investigate it. As the Bill before us is likely to be passed and to become law, the original Bill will need altering because it will be able only to fill the gaps. We want the opportunity to begin to do that.

The movement supporting civil rights for disabled persons will now require legislation slightly different from the form in which it existed before. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill will have to amend, alter and transform the Disability Discrimination Bill when it becomes law—and the sooner the House can get down to that process the better.

9.36 pm

I am glad to have the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate. I welcome the changes that the Government announced yesterday on education and today on history and transport. Obviously we shall have to wait and see exactly what the amendments are like when they appear in another place, and especially how education is to be included, but there has been a significant shift and we welcome that.

There are still several problem areas, however, and I shall briefly describe one or two of them. The most glaring problem is that of enforcement, which has already been mentioned many times—the absence of a commission independent of the Government, with its own staff, able to set its own agenda and to help people directly by representing them, if necessary, at industrial tribunals and in court.

We should have learnt from our experience in operating anti-discrimination legislation through the Race Relations Act 1976 and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 what happens when people try to take cases as individuals, as the Bill will require them to do. It is difficult to take discrimination cases to industrial tribunals. Yes, as the Minister said yesterday, tribunals are becoming more familiar with the processes, but discrimination cases are still different from the bulk of cases that they hear.

Such cases have a low success rate, and in general employers will not admit that they have discriminated; indeed, it is extremely rare for one to do so. One of the key factors behind people who are successful in discrimination cases brought before industrial tribunals these days is their having gone through the process of a formal questionnaire. Clearly, that process is much more likely to be successful with proper advice and assistance. Even if the Minister is not prepared to concede the need for a commission, which I would ideally like to see, I hope that he will look very carefully at the processes that he says that he will put in place to assist people to bring cases.

There is still a glaring weakness in the Bill in relation to advertisements. We still have the provision that, if a discriminatory job advertisement appears, someone who is disabled has to apply for the job, fail to get it and then be prepared to go to an industrial tribunal for action to be taken. That seems quite ludicrous. It ought purely and simply to be illegal for an advertisement which discriminates to be published. I trust that the Minister will look again at that because it is a clear, simple point and it ought to be possible to take it on board.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) has already pointed out the logic of the argument that, in widening the scope of the Bill by including education and transport, the Minister is strengthening the case for a commission able to act on behalf of disabled people.

I welcome the fact that history of a person's health will now be included in the definition for the purposes of the Bill. I understand that the Minister does not want a definition which is too wide and that it must be understandable. He said earlier that vagueness and uncertainty will not do, but that means that one needs to think about the levels of knowledge and understanding among people who are not necessarily expert.

I particularly want to mention again the plight of people with HIV or AIDS. The Terrence Higgins Trust pointed out that it is hard to define precisely what is symptomatic HIV, but medical knowledge is developing fast. Although lists have been developed for incapacity benefit, they are about conditions which stop people working. This Bill should be about allowing people to continue to work. The definition used for incapacity simply will not do.

The Bill is wide ranging. Despite improvements, however, gaps still exist. We welcome the changes, but I hope that when we consider the Bill again when it returns with amendments from another place some of those loopholes will have been plugged.

9.41 pm

I have to be brief. I was not a member of the Committee which considered the Bill because I chose to be appointed to the Children (Scotland) Bill, which, in some instances, dealt with related matters.

I want to pick up on three issues. First, the omission of a commission is a grave error and seriously weakens the Bill. Secondly, with reference to observations made by the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) about the architectural faults to be found in many English magistrates and Crown courts, which present formidable problems for disabled people, may I tell him that the same holds for many of our courts in Scotland, which is deeply regrettable? I look forward to the day when, say, people with learning difficulties are treated, as are children, as vulnerable witnesses in our courts. If this Bill cannot deal with that objective in another place, perhaps the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 may be so amended.

Thirdly, the Minister said that we should raise our eyes from the details of the Bill. May I urge him and his colleagues to raise their eyes to Scotland, in particular to the passenger ferry services? In a Scottish context, to exclude ferry services from the transport provisions lately introduced to the Bill is an act of folly and insensitivity. People living on our islands catch CalMac ferries as others travel on trains and trams. The CalMac ferry timetable is a remarkable piece of delphic draftsmanship to many of us, but most islanders read it as if it were written by Catherine Cookson.

CalMac, which has its headquarters just down the road from me in Gourock, has a fairly good record of assisting people with disabilities. Nevertheless, I hope that the Minister will ensure that the deeply regrettable omission to which I have referred will be righted in the other place. The islanders who use the ferries on a daily basis, and particularly those who are disabled, deserve better than this. They may he few in number in terms of Scotland's population, but it is disgraceful that their essential travelling needs have been so grievously ignored by the Minister and his officials.

In conclusion, I urge the Minister to rectify the omission. I know that there would be problems if we were talking about international ferry services and that negotiations would have to take place with the International Labour Organisation and the International Maritime Organisation, among other international organisations. However, the Bill could be appropriately amended to cover our domestic ferry services in Scotland, in the interests of disabled islanders. They deserve no less from the Bill.

9.45 pm

I thank both Ministers for their patience and courtesy during all stages of the Bill. I thank my hon. Friends and the hon. Members for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) and, indeed, the hon. Members for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) and for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) and others for their contribution to the latest stages of the Bill.

I often regard Third Readings of Bills as rather like a great liner coming into port. In this case, I intend to be the noisy little tug at the back pushing it into the berth. I want to read something to the House.
"We are convinced that persuasion and education alone will not bring about the changes that are needed; an attempt to change behaviour merely by changing attitudes is not a cost-effective option."
Those words were in a letter from Peter Large 13 years ago to the then Minister for the Disabled when he presented the report and recommendations of the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People established by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). In many senses, my right hon. Friend is the father, or perhaps the grandfather, of the Bill. He was aided by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), who tried so valiantly to promote a Bill last year, and my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), who picked up that torch this year.

I do not know whether Ministers have read the report of the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People. If they have, they have not understood what it argued. Their approach is, "What is the least that we can do?" rather than "What needs to be done?" What needs to be done is to give people with disabilities the rights, status and opportunities that able-bodied citizens have.

While we welcome the removal of the ability of Ministers to extend the exemption for small firms to firms with more than 20 employees, it is regrettable that there will be no phasing out of that exemption over a number of years.

We have had last-minute announcements of all these great things that are going to happen in education. As my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) said, we need to see them written down. What the Minister said yesterday, as reported in Hansard, and what has been said by the Department of Education today, are just promises. They deliver nothing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall) said.

We will never get rid of discrimination against children with disabilities who need to have their special needs met, on the basis of an extra 10 million quid—if it is a new 10 million quid—when school bids against school and council bids against council. Many schools, colleges and universities have needs and there ought to be a phased programme, as promised by the Government, so that over a number of years the resources will be provided to enable them to meet those needs.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West said, perhaps the greatest failing of the Bill is that the Government, in spite of the consensus view across the Chamber, have shied away from the critical element of enforcement—even enforcement of the modest steps in the Bill. The Government say that there should be enforcement on matters of race and gender, but that it is not needed when discrimination against people with different abilities is as rampant and persistent as it is in those two areas. I believe that that is a prize example of discrimination in a Bill which claims to tackle discrimination.

Yet again disabled people are to be treated as less than equal citizens. People with disabilities and their carers simply will not understand that second-class treatment. That is why they and their representative organisations much prefer and insist upon the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill which is being promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East.

All of us in the House have a duty now—we have had it for some time—to ask people with disabilities what they can do. We must provide them with the help to do it and treat them with respect for their different abilities and as equal citizens, rather than jumping to assumptions about what they cannot do. I do not believe that the Bill goes far enough to treat them as equal citizens. The Opposition know and believe that people with disabilities can do so much more than they are now allowed or are enabled to do. A new Labour Government will give them just those opportunities.

9.50 pm

With the leave of the House, I should like to respond to the speeches made on Third Reading and try to deal with as many of the points raised as possible in the time remaining.

The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) responded to my opening speech by welcoming the fact that I announced changes during our proceedings with regard to the Government's intentions on the Bill. He said that it would be churlish not to welcome that, and it would be churlish of me not to welcome his lack of churlishness. Since the hon. Gentleman thanked all of those who have made the progress of the Bill possible, I must pay tribute to him and to his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett). They have always put their case with clarity, and we have always been able to do business with them.

I join hon. Members in paying tribute to the work of my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scoot), who laid so many of the foundations necessary to bring forward a measure of this kind. I can only add to the tributes listed by the hon. Member for Monklands, West my own thanks to the Under-Secretary of State for Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Paice), who has been an indispensable part of the team. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear.") I also thank the noisy bunch of parliamentary private secretaries who sit behind my hon. Friend, and the officials at the Department, without whom none of this would have been possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) welcomed the changes which were announced on Report, and asked about some specific points which were skated over earlier in the evening because of the lack of time. He also asked whether the law in this country debars what used to be called a deaf and dumb person from serving as a Member of Parliament. If my hon. Friend would like to inform me of the specific Act of Parliament that debars people who can neither hear nor speak from serving as Members, I would be happy to look into that. I am not aware of that Act.

My hon. Friend also asked about amendment No. 120—which was carried by the House but was not debated—as did the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley). In Committee and during the consultation process, we picked up a number of concerns about the concept of reasonable adjustments. We want the law to be clear and understandable in that regard, and most of the details of reasonable adjustments have been given during the debates.

There are two particular items which amendment No. 120 brings into the Bill to which I shall draw attention. First, we have recognised the strength of the argument that an existing worker who becomes disabled should not have to apply formally for an existing vacancy that he or she could fulfil with a reasonable adjustment. As a result, we also include in our list the need to consider transfer to an existing vacancy.

Secondly, we have dealt with leave, by including a reference to absence for rehabilitation assessment or treatment. The Government amendment demonstrates that, once again, we listened to the matter raised in Committee and responded positively.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon also asked about costs and where they would fall in this regard. Access to work provides considerable help to disabled people and to employers in overcoming barriers to work. We are committed to reviewing the programme after its first year of operation, which ends in June. We will look closely at the aims and the targeting of the programme and its funding arrangements. Many adjustments will cost little or nothing. I cannot commit the taxpayer to open-ended funding of reasonable adjustments that employers will be required to undertake because of the new right, but we will look to see how the available resources can be used as effectively as possible to help disabled people to get and keep jobs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter also asked about the civic rights and duties questions, which were passed over earlier because of the speed of our proceedings. I cannot do justice to the subject in the time available, but I will certainly write to him about that. The Government have already given a commitment in the consultation document to seek to increase the representation of disabled people on public bodies. We recognise the important role that the Government have in providing a strong lead.

On access to courts, I can confirm that the Bill imposes a duty on the legal system to make the services that it provides accessible to disabled people who are making or defending a claim. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor has a continuing refurbishment programme, in which buildings are upgraded, as resources and physical constraints allow. That programme includes improved facilities for disabled people, such as ramps, better court lay-outs and infra-red hearing enhancement systems. For example, the Royal Courts of Justice have recently been upgraded and now include stair lifts, which were not previously available.

The hon. Member for Monklands, West said that he hoped that 1995 would be a year of securing the rights of disabled people. There is no question but that, when we look back on 1995 and on the Bill, we will be able to say that this was when we really got to grips with the matter and put in place the mechanisms that will bring to an end what we have come to know as discrimination against disabled people.

I ask the House to remember, however, that the passage of the Bill, after it has been through another place and we have discussed the amendments made there, will not be the end of the process of stopping discrimination against disabled people. The Government, the National Disability Council and all interested parties will still have much to do to codify the duties, to ensure that the duties that we are placing on people are clear and comprehensible and, above all, to communicate to employers and service providers what their duties are and why Parliament has imposed those duties on them.

I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will agree that that is a task in which hon. Members of all political persuasions will be able to join. We will always face the task and we must never forget the scale of the challenge. Surveys on public attitudes about discrimination against disabled people show that the overwhelming majority of people are against such discrimination, but they also think that they do not do it and that it is nothing to do with them. Passing this legislation will make an enormous difference, but the task of education, persuasion and communication will continue. People will need a means of redress, which we discussed last night, but the overwhelming majority of employers and service providers will comply with the law straight away, if they know what it is.

This is a landmark Bill. It sets this country on a clear, workable and unambiguous course to ending discrimination against disabled people. It will make a genuine difference to the opportunities and lives of millions of our fellow citizens and I hope that it will command the support of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.