Scott filibuster kills disabled Bill

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT was accused last night of cynically exploiting the funeral of John Smith to kill a Bill on disabled people's rights.

Nicholas Scott, Minister for Social Security, faced a fresh storm of protest and angry demands from his own daughter, Victoria, for his resignation after he helped to block the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which would have banned discrimination against the disabled at work.

'It was a terrible experience. I feel very angry and terribly upset,' said Ms Scott, a parliamentary liaison officer for the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, who watched her father filibuster for more than an hour at the despatch box and talk out the Bill.

The coup de grace was delivered when a Tory MP, Liam Fox, the parliamentary aide to Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, forced a vote and halted discussion at 2pm. The Bill was shelved, because - with many Labour MPs attending Mr Smith's funeral in Edinburgh - there were too few MPs in the House to take the vote.

Ms Scott said: 'To talk out the Bill on the day of John Smith's funeral is a really shabby way to treat people. This issue is far more important than a family dispute. It is about the quality of life for 6.5 million people.'

Mr Scott stood his ground last night and said the Government would produce a consultation document on action in five key areas raised in the Bill. But Mr Scott, regarded as a 'caring' Tory MP - Nick's Diner, a luncheon club for Tory wets, was named after him - is said by Whitehall insiders to be upset at being responsible for killing the Bill. One MP said: 'I thought I saw tears in his eyes.' Some of his own officials speculated that he may be humiliated into resignation.

One of John Smith's last interventions in the Commons was to call for Mr Scott's resignation over allegations that he lied to the House earlier this month when he denied involvement in the tabling by backbenchers of amendments that were wrecking the Bill.

Ministers were caught off guard yesterday when Labour and Tory supporters of the Bill set up an ambush to defeat the Tory whips' plans for quietly laying it to rest. The Government calculated that the Bill would fail because it was fourth in the list behind other private members' Bills, but these were disposed of by procedural tricks.

That provided time for the final stages of the Civil Rights Bill, and forced Mr Scott to the despatch box to oppose it on the grounds of the costs it would impose on business.

Downing Street said yesterday that Mr Scott had admitted his earlier mistake, the Speaker had ruled that he did not breach parliamentary rules, and 'that is that'. But the storm will not go away.

Labour MPs said it would be raised in the Commons on Monday. Ms Scott warned there would be more civil disobedience by disabled campaigners who this week chained themselves to buses outside Mr Scott's office.

A handicapped man spent 40 minutes yesterday, naked in his wheelchair, chained to the front bumper of a bus in Taunton, in protest against the Bill. Paul Monaghan, 45, was cut free by police and reported for obstruction.