§ 7. Mr. McFall
To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what discussions he has had with the National Disability Council on possible additional functions for the council. 
§ Mr. Burt
I am grateful for the opportunity to clarify the National Disability Council's duties, particularly in the light of recent statements by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) which suggested that the council can give advice only when asked to do so by Ministers. Since its creation in January 1996, the council has had the power to give advice on its own initiative, and it has done so on a number of issues, including the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. It has also consulted widely and proposed a code of practice on the rights of access to goods, facilities, services and premises, which was published in July this year. The council's annual report identifies its priorities 144 for the coming year, and details its ambitious work plan. There has therefore been no need to discuss extending the council's functions.
§ Mr. McFall
Does the Minister agree that every organisation for the disabled in Britain realises that the council has weaknesses, that it needs to be strengthened and that employment matters affecting disabled people should not be treated separately from other issues affecting their lives? Non-discrimination and access to work are what disabled people want, and a stronger council is therefore essential.
§ Mr. Burt
The question whether the National Advisory Council on Employment of People with Disabilities should retain its duty to advise the Secretary of State for Employment on matters relating to discrimination in employment was considered at the time of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we are examining the matter; we expect to reach a conclusion some time next year, and changes may be made.
There is no doubt that advice and information on discrimination in employment are already being passed to those who need that advice and information, but I nevertheless say to organisations for disabled people that they should wait and see in regard to the council's abilities. It is already doing good work, and I think that it is proving a number of people's expectations wrong.
§ Mr. Tom Clarke
If the National Disability Council is as proactive as the Minister would have us believe, may I issue a specific challenge to him? Will he ask the council to investigate the outrageous discrimination that building societies are practising against disabled people. contrary to the spirit and letter of the Government's 1995 Act?
In particular, will the Minister join me in deploring the actions of the Alliance and Leicester and Halifax building societies, which are refusing bonus shares to disabled people because they are represented by carers or by supervisors in residential homes? Is that not outrageous discrimination? Will the Minister confirm the council's impotence, or inactivity, by telling us whether it will investigate the matter? Yes or no?
§ Mr. Burt
If there were prizes for huffing and puffing, the hon. Gentleman would be head and shoulders above the rest of us. I note that, in his opening remarks, he did not deny that my interpretation of the NDC's power was entirely contrary to what he has been saying in recent weeks. I hope that he will now withdraw his observations and apologise, because he got it wrong.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the building society issue has been a source of concern for some time, and my officials have made representations to the building societies' organisations. I shall be meeting representatives of the building societies tomorrow. Under existing legislation, it is possible for societies to make changes to their practices and procedures to ensure that disabled people are not subject to discrimination. If the NDC wishes to advise me and to make any representations in relation to building societies, it is free to do so. The hon. Gentleman should at least recognise that now, because he has had it wrong.