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1.39 pm

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : I am pleased to be in the House today to be able warmly to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) on his success in the ballot and on his selection of this subject for debate. Ten years ago, when I had just been elected to the House, I managed to come second in the ballot for private Members' Bills--within my first fortnight here. Perhaps that will serve as a warning to new Members that they may not be so lucky again. I certainly have not been, but I keep longing for the day when I am.

The Minister talked of attitudes changing. I am pleased to note that they are changing markedly among Conservative Members. Sitting here today I have noted down the names of five Conservative Members, including the Minister, who, on 18 November 1983, voted against my Bill on this subject. I also noted the reaction to the speech--it was the only one of its kind today--by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern). That reaction, on both sides of the House, was almost wholly hostile.

Conservative Members' speeches made in the debate on 18 November 1983, however, were almost all like the one made today by the hon. Member for Bristol, North-West. Lord Merlyn-Rees. who was then in this House, described the speech made that day by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) as the worst he had heard in 20 years in the House of Commons. Perhaps making such speeches denotes the first rung on the ladder to running the Home Department--I do not know.

What a difference in the atmosphere today. The change has come about because the political consciousness of disabled people has been awakened in the intervening years. They have campaigned and campaigned, and they have become a political power. No longer are they willing to be the Cinderella of minorities. I do not intend to be facetious when I say that I will never be a woman or a black person, but we could all become disabled people in time, so we are acting in the interests not only of those who are disabled already but of all who are able-bodied and healthy.

At the risk of aggravating hon. Members, I must remind the House that, in 1983, 210 Conservative Members, including all but eight Ministers, cancelled their engagements to make sure that my Bill did not get through. Last week, when I heard the Prime Minister say that this Bill would go to a Committee, I breathed a sigh of relief and said to myself, "Here is the breakthrough. There is now the opportunity to get this Bill on the statute book."

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : One of the biggest problems is that we need the Government to provide parliamentary time for this Bill to go through all its stages. Today is only a hurdle. We need the Minister, or someone like him, to say that the Government will provide the necessary time to carry it through.

Mr. Wareing : I am grateful to my hon. Friend because his intervention brings me to a major point. As my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) said, there has been an Act on the statute book for nearly 50 years this year. However, it has been enforced or, indeed, come anywhere near to being considered by the courts on only 10 occasions. Of the 10 cases which were heard by the courts between 1944 and 1975--there has not been one case before the courts since 1975--two were dismissed. In

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one case, the employer involved received an admonition ; in the other seven cases, fines totalling only £434 were levied on the wrongdoers.

That is why we must be willing to ensure not only that this Bill reaches the statute book but that it is fully implemented, and we have a will to implement it. The Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke)--unfortunately, he is overseas carrying out his shadow Cabinet responsibilities--became a statute. In Committee, the Government made sure that they had the power to decide when certain clauses of that Bill would be implemented. To this day--eight years later--sections of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 have not been implemented. I warn my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood to be careful because there are still snares on the way to legislation which will fully assist the 6.5 million disabled people and, indeed, their families in ensuring that discrimination against them is outlawed. That is why it is necessary to have added assistance. I hope that my hon. Friend will insist that the disablement commission continues to be a part of the Bill because it is necessary to have a body outside the Executive which will represent disabled people. Indeed, the commission will be composed partly of disabled people who will bring to light any discrepancies and issues which have contravened the spirit and the letter of the law.

This is a cause for which many have fought for so long. My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who is now a legend as far as fighting for disabled people is concerned, and my noble Friend Lord Ashley will be overjoyed if the Bill goes through Committee unemasculated. This is a cause for which so many have been fighting over the years, and it is a cause for which--at long last--the time has come. Shortly we will have the opportunity to eradicate all the bad memories of the past 10 years when, on about eight occasions, in either this House or the other place, we have rejected legislation for disabled people.

Mr. Skinner : We have not.

Mr. Wareing : My hon. Friend is right--the Labour party did not reject it. But the Houses of Parliament rejected consideration of the rights of disabled people as full citizens of our country.

1.50 pm

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton) : It is a great honour to follow so many eminent speakers, who obviously have a long-standing reputation in this area. I pay tribute to the hon. Members who have worked hard on a subject that is close to many of our hearts. I congratulate the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) on choosing the subject following his success in the ballot.

Last February, I was pleased to take part in a similar debate and I do not intend to go through the same things as I said last year. Although I accept many of the advances which my hon. Friend the Minister reiterated from the Dispatch Box, in essence things have not changed that much. Many hon. Members today have made the point that education and awareness are important, but that in themselves they will never solve the problem because it is so diverse. Every 20 years, a new generation comes along which must be educated, or re-educated, about the difficulties faced by people with disabilities.

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If that discrimination is part of their culture or their thinking--if they have grown up with it--it means that another wave of people must be made aware of this important subject. We all feel that there is a difficulty in giving people choice or the opportunity to make changes, when in fact the subject needs reinforcing with something more substantial.

Progress has been slow and that is the essence of the debate. We are all frustrated that progress has been too slow. The hon. Member for Kingswood said in his excellent opening speech that we need action, and I believe that that is what we are looking for. In the debates last year and today, many speeches addressed the needs of people with physical disabilities. There has been much awareness in the speeches from hon. Members of the right to access, mobility and public transport, as well as housing. Those are all legitimate candidates in the debate.

However, with the indulgence of the House and in the limited time that is available to me today, I will concentrate on one section of people with disabilities. It is a section in which the House will be aware that I have a particular interest, as I am a special counsellor for the National Autistic Society. People with learning disabilities suffer no less discrimination and are often unable to articulate the difficulties and pain that they suffer as a result of that discrimination.

I welcome many of the programmes that have been announced and discussed in the House today. Access to work certainly will be a more flexible programme in future for that group of people. I said in an intervention that care in the community is now expected to address the needs of the individual so that a package can be put together which is adapted to that individual's needs.

There is a particular problem for the group of people who would come within the category of autism. There are estimated to be some 115,000 people in the United Kingdom with autism, and it is a condition which covers a wide spectrum. At one end of the spectrum there are adults and children who self -mutilate and require 52-week a year care for life, probably in an institution. Care in the domestic home is out of the question for them because of the nature of their difficulties.

At the other end of the spectrum is a group of people who are not necessarily intellectually impaired. Many of them, through education, enter higher education. Some of them obtain university degrees, but they are still fundamentally impaired by autism, which makes it difficult for them to communicate, particularly social communication and awareness of their social relationship with other people. That makes life especially difficult for them. Such difficulties affect their employment as well as their integration into social activities.

Today we have discussed the difficulties facing people with physical disabilities, but autistic people have problems over and above those that have been mentioned. They face the problem of diagnosis and assessment. Many of the 115,000 autistic people do not receive proper diagnosis until they are quite old--some are even adults. That means that their civil rights and their other essential needs in terms of education, further education if appropriate, and employment, are not considered.

We are talking about the civil rights of people, but some of them do not even receive a diagnosis. Even when they are diagnosed, the lack of awareness among professionals and other carers means that, not only are they denied access

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to the civil rights that the Bill seeks to introduce, but they lose and do not even receive the fundamental requirements of people with disabilities, in education, training, housing and other areas. People with autism often experience problems using public transport. Their inability to relate to other people and their lack of communication skills create difficulties. Organisations such as the National Autistic Society place great emphasis on equipping people in its establishments with the necessary skills to use public transport.

One young adult man was taught how to get on a bus, pay the fare and get off at the right stop--a big step forward even for some autistic people with academic qualifications. He was told to board the bus and sit in his seat. He was a little concerned about looking at other people and was told to take something with him to occupy himself on the bus, pay his fare when asked and get off at the right stop. He managed to do that, but, on his first trip alone, he sat in his seat and occupied himself by spreading out a set of water colours. He put them over not only his lap, but that of the person next to him--[ Laughter. ] It is amusing to us, but imagine the horror of the passengers around him. They found that behaviour, coming from a young adult, difficult to understand. There is much progress to be made, particularly with autistic people, in relation to access to civil rights and raising awareness.

Carers have been mentioned in today's debate. I should also like to flag up the fact that the burden of trying to gain access to information, rights, and civil liberties is also borne by the carers, particularly parents. Parents often feel that they are constantly having to battle with the establishment to obtain rights for their children and for other carers with responsibilities.

I am often invited to talk to groups of people about what it is like to be the parent of someone with autism. I usually begin my speech by saying that I am a pushy mother. I make no excuse for that, but I am critically aware of the fact that I should not have to be a pushy mother in order to gain access to services, facilities and civil rights. Many parents and carers are unable, for one reason or another, to be pushy.

As Members of Parliament, we are all familiar with the situation in which constituents--usually parents--are trying to challenge a statement for a child in education. Whereas one is quite prepared to stand shoulder to shoulder with them and to give them support, all too often one hears the parents say, "I do not want to cause any trouble at the school." So that is one group of people who will back off from being pushy parents because they are rather intimidated and worried about the possible consequences. In other words, they do not access their rights ; they feel intimidated ; they need those rights to be clarified and they need someone to be alongside them to help them obtain them.

That applies throughout the services. It can be social services and--if I may return to my group of people with autism--it can also be the medical profession. If we cannot even convince certain groups of professionals--who are also important in the debate--to recognise the rights and needs of people with disabilities, especially people with learning disabilities, how much harder it is to rely on public awareness and education in the wider population.

I have had great pleasure in making what I hope has been a short speech in response to the speech of the hon. Member for Kingswood. His Bill commands cross-party support and the support of a wide audience in the country.

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I hope that the Bill will pass to Committee, that we shall be able to consider the detail and that something will come out of it that is positive and--in the words of the hon. Member for Kingswood--that that produces some action.

Mr. Alfred Morris rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to. Question put accordingly , That the Bill be now read a Second time :

The House divided : Ayes 231, Noes 0

Division No. 162] [2 pm


Adams, Mrs Irene

Ainger, Nick

Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)

Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)

Allen, Graham

Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)

Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)

Armstrong, Hilary

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Aspinwall, Jack

Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)

Austin-Walker, John

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry

Barron, Kevin

Battle, John

Bayley, Hugh

Beggs, Roy

Bell, Stuart

Benn, Rt Hon Tony

Benton, Joe

Bermingham, Gerald

Berry, Dr. Roger

Boateng, Paul

Body, Sir Richard

Booth, Hartley

Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)

Bradley, Keith

Bray, Dr Jeremy

Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)

Browning, Mrs. Angela

Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)

Burden, Richard

Byers, Stephen

Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)

Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Canavan, Dennis

Cann, Jamie

Chisholm, Malcolm

Clapham, Michael

Clark, Dr David (South Shields)

Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)

Clelland, David

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Coffey, Ann

Cohen, Harry

Congdon, David

Connarty, Michael

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Cook, Robin (Livingston)

Coombs, Simon (Swindon)

Corbett, Robin

Corbyn, Jeremy

Cormack, Patrick

Corston, Ms Jean

Cousins, Jim

Cox, Tom

Cran, James

Cryer, Bob

Cummings, John

Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)

Darling, Alistair

Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)

Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)

Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'l)

Denham, John

Deva, Nirj Joseph

Dewar, Donald

Dicks, Terry

Dixon, Don

Donohoe, Brian H.

Dover, Den

Dowd, Jim

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth

Enright, Derek

Etherington, Bill

Ewing, Mrs Margaret

Fatchett, Derek

Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)

Foster, Rt Hon Derek

Fraser, John

Fyfe, Maria

Galloway, George

Gapes, Mike

George, Bruce

Gerrard, Neil

Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John

Godman, Dr Norman A.

Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles

Gordon, Mildred

Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

Grocott, Bruce

Gunnell, John

Hall, Mike

Hannam, Sir John

Harman, Ms Harriet

Harvey, Nick

Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy

Hendron, Dr Joe

Heppell, John

Hill, Keith (Streatham)

Hinchliffe, David

Hoey, Kate

Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)

Hoyle, Doug

Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Hughes, Roy (Newport E)

Hughes, Simon (Southwark)

Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)

Hutton, John

Illsley, Eric

Ingram, Adam

Jackson, Glenda (H'stead)

Jackson, Helen (Shef'ld, H)

Jamieson, David

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