Discrimination (Disabled Persons)

Oral Answers to Questions — Social Security – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25 February 1997.

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Photo of Mr Mark Robinson Mr Mark Robinson , Somerton and Frome 12:00, 25 February 1997

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what steps the Government are taking to prevent discrimination against disabled persons. [15746]

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister (Department of Social Security) (Disabled)

The Government introduced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to spearhead the fight to prevent discrimination against disabled people. On 2 December, we implemented new rights for disabled people in employment, and in accessing goods and services. The Act is essential if disabled people are to live their lives fully and independently.

Photo of Mr Mark Robinson Mr Mark Robinson , Somerton and Frome

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. How are the Government helping the National Disability Council in its task of monitoring the Act?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister (Department of Social Security) (Disabled)

We fund the National Disability Council—which is charged to deliver advice, either on our invitation or on its own initiative—for all aspects of monitoring anti-discrimination legislation in the United Kingdom.

The council differs from a commission. I noticed during last night's debate that the Labour party had changed its position crucially. It, and some members of the disability lobby, originally intended a commission to deal with cases on behalf of disabled people, but last night the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) excluded that definition from his description of the commission's work. I want to know whether that was because Labour agrees with us that a commission is not necessary because disabled people enforce individual rights, or whether, again, it is because Labour has been left without a budget, and would therefore have a commission in name only. The National Disability Council can do a much better job.

Photo of Ms Liz Lynne Ms Liz Lynne , Rochdale

The Minister said in the debate on health yesterday that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was the flagship of Government policy on disabled people. If that is the case, why cannot it be used to force building societies such as the Halifax to give share options to the second named account holder, most of whom are disabled people? If the Act cannot be used in that way, surely he must agree that his flagship is missing at least a couple of masts.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister (Department of Social Security) (Disabled)

The hon. Lady will probably be aware that there is a dispute of opinion about whether the action by the building societies contravenes the Act. I believe that someone is preparing to test it because the Act does prevent discrimination against disabled people and it may yet cover that situation. However, to avoid doubt, I think that the House would welcome the action taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. French), who has introduced the Building Societies (Distributions) Bill, which will ensure that this problem does not happen in future. We have been delighted to give support and encouragement to his work.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Opposition Whip (Commons)

Is the Minister aware that some 43,000 women in the United Kingdom are discriminated against because, when they reach the age of 60, their incapacity benefit is discontinued, whereas if they were male it would continue until the age of 65? Does he know that, during an Adjournment debate last week, I had the privilege of debating that point and his colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security, told me, "Yes, it is discrimination, but don't worry: the Government will put it right in 2020."?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Minister (Department of Social Security) (Disabled)

I do not think the hon. Gentleman has it right. This is covered by the Graham case, which has been taken to the European Court of Justice. Our policies have been found not to be discriminatory in the way that he describes. This has been fully tested by the court and the British Government's position has been upheld.