The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, launched by the Labour peer Baroness Lockwood, has already cleared its Lords stages.
But a Tory whip's shout of 'object' in the Commons chamber yesterday was enough to deny a Second Reading to the legislation, which would ban discrimination against the disabled in employment, housing, education, transport and other services. The measure now has virtually no chance of becoming law and the decision sparked immediate anger.
The Bill, practically identical to that piloted unsuccessfully in 1991 by the former minister for the disabled, Alf Morris (Lab, Manchester Wythenshawe), has cross-party support. But its fate was sealed when Nicholas Scott, Minister of State for Social Security, said in a debate that it would 'not be the right way forward' for it to gain a Second Reading and go to its line- by-line Committee Stage.
Mr Scott condemned discrimination against disabled people as 'silly', but warned that the measure would incur huge costs for the Government and business. It was so wide-ranging that it would be a beanfeast for lawyers. He wanted to 'go to the drawing board' with the all-party Parliamentary Group for the Disabled to see 'whether we can have a fresh look' at legislation.
Barry Sheerman, for the Opposition, told Mr Scott: 'You have kicked disabled people in the teeth over this. We are appalled that you have given us the hard news that there is no hope of achieving a rights Bill that will give ordinary disabled people the ability to show they are not just disabled, but they are able too.'
Earlier, Mr Morris presented a petition to the House saying the Bill was endorsed by millions of people including the disability organisations. He said later: 'Practically the whole House was in favour of the Bill and there is now both anguish and anger among organisations of disabled people about what has happened.' He called for the Select Committee on Procedure to examine 'this disgraceful case'.
A spokesman for Voluntary Organisations For Anti-Discrimination Legislation said: 'The organisations are angered by the further blocking of a most important Bill. The battle will go on for as long as it takes to achieve full citizenship for Britain's 6.5 million disabled people.'