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Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman has spoken of community care, and about costs and benefits. Is he aware that discussions between the Rowntree Foundation and York city council have revealed that more than 60 per cent. of the council's budget for disabled facilities grants in 1993-94 could have been saved if the owner-occupied houses involved had been built to accessible lifetime home standards? Is that not one illustration of the fact that anti-discrimination legislation should be seen as an investment rather than a cost or a burden?
Mr. Clarke: I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. He has made a constructive contribution, and I am sure that he will continue to do so as he reflects on how he will vote in the Division. A recent study by the "Rights Now" campaign calculated that the cost of under-employing disabled people was between £2.75 billion and £5 billion, taking into account the tax revenues forgone and the welfare benefits which, as the Americans and others have already found, could have been saved. Other enormous benefits would accrue from effective measures to improve access to goods and services, but nowhere does the Government's thinking reflect that.
It is difficult to take Government claims about cost too seriously. I recently asked the Minister for an account of expenditure under the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986--a measure that I know very well. Although the Act has been on the statute book for nine years, the Government are incapable of providing figures to show what it has cost. Patently unable to calculate the amount spent on an Act of Parliament, the Government still claim to have estimated accurately the cost of a proposed Bill. I believe that the onus of proof in regard to cost and benefits lies with those who oppose comprehensive civil rights, but the Government have adduced no convincing argument so far.
The Government's Bill is plainly a bad Bill. Its motivation is crystal clear: it is designed to block the passage of one infinitely better, as the Government have been doing for 13 years. Ministers should go away and try again; they should return to the House when they have endorsed the principle of civil rights for disabled people, and when they are ready to support a Bill that is enforceable, effective and comprehensive. Until they do, they will not have the support of Opposition Members, and they will not win the support of the 6.5 million disabled citizens who have waited for far too long. Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): Order. Just under five hours are available for the debate, and no fewer than 20 right hon. and hon. Members hope to catch my eye, including those who will make the winding-up speeches. I hope that, if hon. Members who are fortunate enough to be called early bear that in mind, I shall be able to call most of those who wish to speak.
Column 167book--legislation presented by the Government, with a commitment to eliminate discrimination against disabled people.
The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) was wrong to imply that this Bill resulted purely from the activities and events of last July. It was 18 months ago, in the summer of 1993, that the Prime Minister set in motion the events that led to it. The House may recall that, following a meeting with leading members of the all-party disablement group, he asked the then Minister for Social Security and Disabled People to begin a series of discussions with members of the group to discuss steps that could be taken to remove discrimination.
Throughout the ensuing months--during the remainder of the summer, and into the beginning of last year--a series of meetings took place at which it became apparent that, while there was no disagreement about the principle that discrimination existed and should be removed, there was basic disagreement about how best to achieve that objective. The then Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott), articulated--as he had to--the Government's view that progress could best be achieved on a
Department-by-Department basis by means of education and exhortation: the piecemeal method, as we called it, which both main parties had used for some years.
Along with my colleagues in the all-party group--and, as it turned out later, a large majority of Members of Parliament--I believed strongly that a comprehensive anti-discrimination approach was necessary, and that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was the right vehicle for that approach. We and the Government were rather like two trains heading in the same direction but on parallel tracks, quite likely eventually to bypass our common objective. That was what concerned me at the time.
As one who admires his Government for the tremendous progress that they have achieved in helping disabled people to live with increasing independence, I vowed that I would do all that I could to ensure that the Government managed to introduce their own legislation in the current Parliament--or, failing that, that such legislation would be a manifesto commitment.
That is why today is a momentous day for me. Even during the dramatic events of last spring and summer when we were fighting to make progress with the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, I sensed that the battle within the Government over the principle was being won, and that we were on the verge of a breakthrough. That breakthrough came with the announcement of a full consultation period with the promise of legislation at the end, either by Government or in a private Member's Bill. I argued strongly against the latter course: we all know how difficult it is to get a Back Bencher's measure of such size and importance through all its parliamentary stages.
At last, however, the smoke screens were being blown away: arguments that comprehensive legislation was not necessary, that the costs were too high-- the ridiculous figure of £17.5 billion was suggested at one stage--or that business organisations were against the idea. In fact, the Confederation of British Industry and the Employers Forum on Disability were in favour, as was the Law Society. The Bill is a marked advance on the consultation paper, and is accepted by all disability organisations as
Column 168such. I am immensely thrilled: I believe that it represents a landmark for disabled people, and that it is positive legislation. Before I deal with the Bill and the role of my hon. Friend the Minister in it, let me express my thanks and admiration for what was done by the previous incumbent, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea, who held his office for many years. Throughout the difficult period leading to last summer's confrontations, he never ceased to give full support to the cause of serving the interests of disabled people. Although, because of various events, he was not able to deliver the final legislative package, and although timing was not on his side, his heart was in the right place, and he never failed to offer constructive help and advice to the all-party disablement group.
I strongly support the Bill, and all the documents from the disability organisations suggest that they do as well. However, like most new Government Bills of this nature, it has its deficiencies, especially in comparison with the all-embracing provisions of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. The House must recognise those deficiencies, and we must try to improve the legislation. The disability organisations have made that clear in their
representations to all hon. Members.
Sir John Hannam: As we are dealing with Government legislation, and as representations from all the disability organisations sensibly concentrate on that legislation--as does the all-party group--it has not been a question of choosing one Bill or the other. To be fair to the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), however, all of the organisations have made clear the division between the two Bills and which Bill they prefer. I am concentrating my attention on the Bill that we are debating today. It is not a question of the House arguing the pros and cons of the two separate Bills. I have supported both Bills, and I shall continue to support the concepts of both.
Mr. Berry: The hon. Gentleman suggests that disabled people's organisations support the Disability Discrimination Bill. Is not it relevant to note that every organisation both of and for disabled people prefer the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill? Can the hon. Gentleman name a single organisation of or for disabled people which does not support the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill?
"The CAB service welcomes the introduction of measures to tackle discrimination against disabled people. For too long disabled people have had to rely on voluntary approaches. Legislation is desperately needed. However, it is disappointing that the need for legislation is recognised only in a limited number of areas. The CAB service hopes the Government will take the opportunity to introduce further measures on transport and education."
That is the gist of what we are arguing about today. If the hon. Member for Kingswood can name any Government Bill in this area which has been totally satisfactory to the House in its initial stages, I would very much welcome hearing about it.
Column 169It is right for the House to concentrate on the Disability Discrimination Bill, and to make it more effective as it passes through its stages in the House. Many questions have been asked, the answers to which will--more than anything--determine whether we have got it right.
For example, will cinemas, restaurants or taxis be able in future to ban blind people or people in wheelchairs? The answer to that--if we are getting the legislation right--has to be no. Will buildings and meeting halls be able to ban certain groups, not because they lack access but because they are considered to be undesirable? The answer must be that they cannot under any circumstances be allowed to continue that policy. Will disabled people continue to be rejected from serving as magistrates or jurors, and will they find that they cannot vote in elections or attend county courts?
We have heard about the importance of the county court procedures in the provisions in the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned. The NACAB briefing points out that, in a survey that it carried out in 1993 of 22 representative schemes in county courts, "only one bureau reported any provision for people who are visually impaired, only two were aware of any provision for deaf people, six said that there was no provision for wheelchair users and twelve bureaux reported no accessible toilets in the courts." We must make sure that courts are properly accessible and that they provide for disabled people.
Mr. Alan Howarth: Regarding tribunals, if, sadly, there is to be no legal aid, is it not important that some support and help is given to disabled people to enable them to communicate in those circumstances? Is not that particularly important for people with sight and hearing impairments?
Sir John Hannam: I agree, and I was heartened by the Minister's comment that, following the legislation, a series of regulations and a review of the codes of practice will be put into effect which will outline the intent behind the legislation.
Another important area is the fire and safety precautions. Disabled people are often excluded from buildings because of fire and safety precautions. There needs to be a full-scale review of health and safety legislation and codes of practice so that provision for disabled people is taken into account.
The fact that businesses would have to take reasonable steps to remove physical barriers and to provide auxiliary aids is good news, and it was welcomed by the Access Committee for England in its representations to us before the debate. The lack of a right of access to transport and vehicles and the exclusion of further higher education provision from the welcome new right of access to goods and services must be looked at again, especially when we debate clause 12.
The Minister has performed a Herculean task in translating the consultations with more than 1,000 different organisations into positive proposals and the White Paper promise which declares that the Government aim to set in hand a programme to review the effectiveness of legislation in meeting the needs of students with learning difficulties and disabilities. That could offer a splendid opportunity for a code of practice which would cover not just goods and services, but
Column 170colleges of further education and institutes of higher education. Will my hon. Friend the Minister carry out a review such as is implied in the White Paper in time to put recommended amendments into the current legislation? That would be extremely helpful. While on the subject of education, I agree that the disabled students allowance provides an effective package of support for students who are undertaking higher education courses for which a grant is available. Is not it time, however, to resolve the problem facing part-time students who are not eligible? Many disabled students have to be part-time students because of their disability, yet their equipment, personal support and study costs are basically pro rata the same as full-time students. Testing for the allowance results in the parents of disabled students being penalised to the extent of being required to contribute up to £5,800 before any allowance is payable, as compared with £2,065 for parents of non- disabled students.
Disabled people who take a second degree course and who took their first degree course prior to becoming disabled often find that, when taking the second course or retraining, they are not eligible for the disabled students allowance. I have raised those anomalies in the hope that the review that is promised in the White Paper will look into them, because the Government could remove a lot of discrimination which affects disabled students.
I come now to the employment proposals. An obvious area of concern and trepidation lies in the abolition of the quota which, for all its weaknesses, provides a measurement with which to work. I personally would rather have a strengthening of the quota alongside the new rights in the Bill, at least until we can be sure that the rights are working.
Incidentally, I was pleased to receive a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister today which followed on from a point that has been raised about the disablement register. My hon. Friend reassured those concerned that the register will be discontinued, and that the arrangements which are there for those on the register to be accepted for disability recognition purposes for the legislation are purely transitional.
In any case, I would like an effective monitoring system of the employment of disabled people to be put in place, as well as a rethink--others have called for that--on the exclusion figure for firms employing fewer than 20 people. I was again reassured to hear my hon. Friend state that the figure can be changed by regulation as we see how it is working. I do not see the logic of that figure. It is larger than in other countries with similar legislation, and it will certainly exclude about 90 per cent. of firms in Devon, where we have small businesses predominately.
Mr. Fabricant: Does my hon. Friend agree that there does need to be a figure, whether it is 20, 80 or eight? There is no point in forcing companies to introduce facilities for the disabled if, in doing so, they are driven out of business. [Interruption.]
I agree that the object of the legislation and the discussions which will take place is to try to arrive at a satisfactory figure. The Americans went through the same
Column 171process and found that, by setting their own terms, they were able to achieve a massive removal of obstacles to employment without great cost. We must look now at how the measure will work. If it is merely a question of protecting small businesses from unreasonable expense and bureaucracy, surely the Bill contains a safeguard. It uses the term "reasonable adjustment", which would protect businesses from excessive demands on their resources. A protection is built into the Bill and we should consider the figure carefully as the Bill progresses.
As I understand the Bill, small employers will be required to employ a disabled person only if he or she is the best candidate. If any alteration to the workplace can be readily achieved, they will also be able to seek support from the access to work scheme, which I commend. A small firm can refuse to consider a disabled candidate, even if employing that person would not cause the firm to incur costs.
We could be sanctioning overt discrimination and excluding disabled people from any commercial or industrial enterprise that is beginning to get under way--something that the hon. Member for Monklands, West mentioned. Most new jobs are created when new firms are in their early stages. Both the Confederation of British Industry and the Employers Forum on Disability question the 20-employee threshold, as do all organisations for the disabled. I hope that we can reconsider the issue, especially as two fifths of all disabled people work in small firms.
My final suggestion is on enforcement systems. My hon. Friend the Minister dealt at some length with his reasons for the national disability council and the local tribunal system. I understand the pressures on him to avoid setting up an expensive and bureaucratic enforcement system. As the Bill proceeds, however, I hope that he will reconsider the matter. Given the restrictions on legal aid for industrial tribunals and the need for more than just an advisory organisation, we may conclude that something stronger will be necessary to underpin the pillars of this legislation.
In his down-to-earth manner, my hon. Friend the Minister has achieved tremendous progress by drawing agreement from the various Departments and consulting widely with more than 1,000 disability and other interests. I congratulate him, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, who has been backing his efforts to the hilt. Parliament now faces a push-me-pull-you, Dr. Dolittle situation, with two proposed disability anti-discrimination measures. No one can have fought harder than I for the private Member's Bill last year, but now the Government have tabled a Bill that, as the CBI states,
"marks the start of a new era for the rights of disabled people"-- something that we can put on the statute book. I will support the Second Reading of this long-fought-for legislation and I hope that the House will also give it its full support.
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe): It was fascinating to hear the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) talk about the Government's opposing factions on this issue. I am sure that he will recall the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott), to whom he has paid tribute today, telling him and me, over and over again, that this is a seamless Government. That
Column 172explains why my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), in an excellent speech, said today that the former Minister was very clearly acting for the Government as a whole when he fell under very strong criticism in this House in the last Session. For reasons that will be well understood in all parts of the House, I want briefly now to put this debate into historical perspective. It was as long ago as 1979, as the first Minister for Disabled People, that I appointed a committee of inquiry into unfair discrimination against disabled people-- chaired by Sir Peter Large--which began the national debate of which today's proceedings are the latest phase. The committee reported in 1982 to Sir Hugh Rossi, one of my early successors as Minister, in favour of making it unlawful to discriminate on grounds of disability. Since the committee reported, every attempt to give effect to its recommendations, from both sides of the House, has been met by the Government with prevarication, dissimulation and systematic obstruction. They have had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to a grudging acceptance that legislation is today an imperative necessity. Almost by common consent, it is also scandalously long overdue.
The Government's treatment of the issue ever since the committee of inquiry report has been disgraceful. That is not only my view but that of many Conservative Members as well. In 30 years here, I have witnessed only four personal statements of unreserved apology by Members for misleading the House. The first was from a Member of Parliament who, in the mid-1970s, misled the House over his role in the Poulson scandal. All of the remaining three, including one from the then Minister himself, were for misleading the House in debates on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, starting with the personal statement that Robert Hayward, then the Member for Kingswood, had to make for seriously misleading the House very soon after I drafted and first promoted the Bill in 1991.
As the House knows, that Bill was ably sponsored by my hon. Friend, the new Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), when he subsequently won a high place in the private Members' Bill ballot in 1993; and it is being sponsored again now, with both considerable skill and total commitment, by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes).
The Government quite dishonestly gave the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill a price tag of £17 billion--a totally bogus, indeed preposterous figure. By misrepresenting the Bill as requiring all existing buildings to be made fully accessible, they added £6 billion to the cost of compliance and by saying, just as perversely, that it required full access to public transport within five years, they added another £5 billion. Many other examples are available of their blatant disregard for easily ascertainable facts in order to inflate the cost of the Bill. Yet they breathed not a word about the estimate by Touche Ross of a loss to Britain's travel industry, due solely to lack of access and facilities for disabled people, of many billions of pounds. Nor did they say a word about all the other benefits of ending the exclusion of disabled people from so much of the economic and social life of this country.
In his statement on 24 November last, and again today, the Minister heaped praise on the Government for proposing what he called an "historic advance" for disabled people. As a more seasoned practitioner, I most strongly counsel him against any further resort to that
Column 173grandiose claim. In truth, the Government have blocked, for over 13 years now, what would have been a really historic advance, long craved by the disabled people of this country. They want not this Bill but what the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill offers: not second-class rights for second-class citizens but full civil rights and equal citizenship. As the Minister must know, they and their organisations see this Bill's proposals as a travesty of those in the Bill that I drafted, in close consultation with them, more than four years ago.
The extent of the travesty is spelt out with striking clarity in a detailed comparison of the two Bills in the excellent submission from Scope-- formerly the Spastics Society--for today's debate. Does the Minister question that comparison? If he has not yet seen it, I commend him to read it with all urgency. Let him also ponder Scope's admirably concise description of his proposals, in saying:
"We are looking here at a Bill of ifs, buts and maybes". Is it really thought worthy of Britain's disabled people to offer them a Bill so described by so universally well regarded and authoritative a voice from the disability movement?
The Minister says that he recognises that disabled people want an end not only to discrimination but to condescension and patronising attitudes towards them. But is it not both condescending and patronising for any of us here to decide what they should want and what they deserve? How can we possibly tell them, without being at once condescending and patronising, that they deserve less than what non-disabled people already enjoy as of right? My answer to that question, ever since the 1970s, has been that unfair discrimination against disabled people is morally wrong and that what is morally wrong ought not to be legally permissible in this country. In fact, it was my answer to that question which led me to appoint the committee of inquiry into discrimination against disabled people 16 years ago.
I spoke about the Government's grossly distorted estimate of the cost of complying with the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. To take the most charitable view of their conduct, their distortion suggests that they are not very good at compliance cost assessments. That calls seriously into question their assessment of the cost of this inadequate Bill. But what no one here or anywhere else can question is the fact that the Government have already arranged to recoup from disabled people much more than the Minister's costing of the Disability Discrimination Bill. As proof, I need only cite the effect on disabled people of the Government's drastic cuts in invalidity benefit.
As the House knows, that benefit will be replaced on 13 April by a new incapacity benefit, which pays less, is taxable and more difficult to claim. The Government now spend £8 billion on invalidity benefit, which is to be cut by no less than £2 billion even though, in the same period, every other major item in the social security budget, except unemployment benefit, is set to increase. Many disabled people on invalidity benefit now face a cut in income from about £77 to £46 a week. That puts into context the Government's so-called "extra spending" on this Bill.
I turn now to some of the specific points about the Bill of particular concern to disabled people and those who work with and for them. They complain bitterly, as the
Column 174Minister must know, of his substitution of the National Disability Council--or "talking shop", as they see it--for the Disability Rights Commission for which the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill provides.
The Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation states: "The Government's Bill cannot avoid comparison with the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, or with equivalent laws addressing race and sex discrimination. Measured against these standards it falls short on three vital counts: it is neither comprehensive, effective, nor enforceable".
With other major disability organisations, it condemns the fact that small employers--who employ an estimated one in three of this country's work force--will not be covered by the Bill and will remain, as we have heard this afternoon, free to discriminate. How can the Minister justify that when the CBI, the leading organisation representing British industry, opposes the exclusion? Let me remind him again of the report of the Employers Forum on Disability, which states:
"It cannot be right for a disabled person to be discriminated against just because an enterprise has fewer than 20 employees". There is widespread condemnation also of the Bill's failure to cover education and the means of transport. Their exclusion is not only condemned by disabled people but ridiculed by employers who insist that discrimination, not least in the employment field, cannot be solved in isolation. As one big employer with more experience of running a major enterprise than any Minister in the present Government put it to me:
"To end discrimination in the labour market, you mustn't only protect disabled people there but also achieve full equality of access for them to transport and training, among many other facilities and services".
In that employer's view, "piecemeal change" in this policy area is an attempt to divide the indivisible and a total waste of both parliamentary time and taxpayers' money.
I also want to quote here the Royal National Institute for the Blind on the Government's failure to produce an enforceable Bill. It said:
"Too much legislation has fallen into disrepute through not being enforced effectively, if at all. Parts of the 1944 Disabled Persons Act and the 1986 Disabled Persons Act are notable examples". The RNIB explains clearly why it wants no more time-wasting in protecting disabled people from unfair and unmerited discrimination, which it identifies as a major factor
"in determining that only 17 per cent. of blind people and only 31 per cent. of partially sighted people of working age are actually in work".
Those figures shout of unfair discrimination against blind people. Yet the most withering of all the criticisms I have seen of the Bill is that it will actually increase discrimination against disabled people. The abolition of the 3 per cent. quota, with no more adequate substitute, is widely cited as justifying that charge, as is the Government's
"complete failure to understand how disability discrimination operates".
They are the words of "Rights Now"--among whose affiliates is the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People--which also attacks the Bill's
"pointlessly complicated and over-restrictive definition of discrimination".
Column 175Its submission to the House goes on:
"The Bill contains a host of defences and potential justifications for discriminatory treatment which are not present in the legislation on sex and race. The accumulated effect of these loopholes will render it almost impossible for a disabled person to challenge discrimination."
"Rights Now" wants the enactment of the comprehensively all-party Bill which the Government have been obstructing since I first promoted it in 1991--nothing more and nothing less. Britain's 6.5 million disabled people have already been made to wait far too long for its enactment and the bounden duty of this House today is to make 1995 the year of full civil rights for them. Without those rights, they are doubly disabled. The handicapping effects of their disabilities are made even harder to bear by gratuitous social handicaps for which there is no justification whatsoever. "Rights Now" wants the reasoned amendment to the Government's Bill to be approved this evening and the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill to succeed on 10 February.
As I have argued, disabled people want not second-class rights for second- class citizens but the same rights as everyone else and equal citizenship. On both sides of the House, let us now make that happen.
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me a short time to speak this evening. I promise that I shall not take long, because the subject is important to so many hon. Members.
First, I declare three interests. I have been invited and have taken on the chairmanship of the International Year of Tolerance. Our committee has decided that our key theme will be tolerance of difference, especially tolerance of disability. It seems to us that the least tolerated group in society these days is people whose motor functions or other impairments cause them significant long-term difficulties. I hope that we may be allowed to debate that matter later in the year to see how we have progressed.
I also declare an interest in that I chair an organisation called ADAPT, which was begun by the Carnegie trust. It stands for Access for Disabled people to Arts Premises Today. In our three or four years of existence, we have mobilised and enabled the expenditure of £3 million worth of funding, virtually all private, with some support from the Department of Heritage. That work has given me great insight.
I also chair a new organisation, Blind in Business, which was formed by some young men who suffer from significant sight impairment and who found it tough to enter the world of work. The House will therefore appreciate that my real interests in the Bill relate to access, particularly access for people with physical difficulties, the world of work and tolerance.
I should also like to put on record the fact that I introduced the Access to Employees' Records Bill--which did not reach the statute book--because I believe that it is lack of information which causes personnel officers to make errors concerning people at work.
Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green): I was interested that the hon. Lady mentioned access, because one of my constituents was denied access to the Tate gallery because she is a wheelchair user and there were already six people using wheelchairs in the gallery.
Column 176My constituent was left feeling extremely humiliated. Does the hon. Lady agree that it is not the Government's Bill but that proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) which will most succeed in meeting my constituent's needs and the needs of many other people with disabilities?
Miss Nicholson: I believe that ADAPT will be most successful in meeting that lady's needs as fast as possible, with the support of the Department of National Heritage. For example, one of ADAPT's first targets was the Royal Albert hall, which, when we first started work with the chief executive, provided just six places for disabled people out of 6,000 seats. After considerable persuasion, the management capitulated magnificently and undertook to redesign the hall. It recently won one of our awards both for that superb adaptation and for its future plans.
I cannot resist telling colleagues that, for the past three years, the awards given by ADAPT have been funded by British Gas. The withdrawal of that modest sum of money coincided exactly with the hyper pay rise given to its chairman and chief executive. I wrote a letter to British Gas on that very note and perhaps we will once again receive that modest sum for more ADAPT awards.
I am delighted to learn of the constituent of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche), and I shall get hold of the Tate gallery immediately and do something about it.
Private initiative, as ADAPT has proved, has been enormously successful. Half the board of ADAPT is made up of people with physical disabilities and the other half by people who make decisions that affect those who go to the theatre, the cinema, art galleries and public libraries. When we started work we were told that we were attempting an impossible task and that, if it were possible, it should be done by the Government anyway. We were told that we should not even start to try.
Several critical articles appeared in the press, and we were subject to severe recriminations from others involved in work with disabled people. We were told that the work could not be done; that the Government should have done the work and, if we commenced, that the Government should provide the total funding.
Our reply was, "That's life. We are going to start anyway." The fact that ADAPT has found £3 million at a time when not much free money is floating around is no mean achievement. That mixture of maximum private effort and minimum Government involvement means that tasks involving cultural change are completed faster. That is at the heart of today's Bill.
In terms of the world of work, I should like to pay a warm tribute to the work of the late Ron Leighton, who was a Member of the House. I was extremely fortunate to be a member of the Select Committee on Employment when he agreed to consider the question of employment for disabled people. He was a wonderful Chairman of that Committee, because when I put that idea to him he took it up and made it go forward with a will. We produced a report on the subject five years ago and I am glad to note that many of our recommendations form part of the Disability Discrimination Bill. For that reason I pay a warm tribute to Ron Leighton.
I also pay a strong tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott), the former Minister for Disabled People. I believe that his work provides an historical record of the way in which our society
Column 177approaches more positively the problems of disabled people. He carried out remarkable work for many years. I also commend particularly Geoffrey Lord, who was the secretary of the Carnegie Trust for many years, and who is now the honorary director of ADAPT. He initiated the work on access for disabled people to arts premises and public libraries.
It is a great pity that this vital Bill is being treated in such a traditionally adversarial manner. It, above all legislation, would benefit from a harmonious approach. It will impact upon the lives of millions of people who are citizens of the United Kingdom today and many, many millions more who have yet to be born. When it comes to disability, co-operation is infinitely more fruitful than adversarialism.
I believe that the Bill and other associated legislation, which has been introduced by other hon. Members on both sides of the House and for which I have a high regard, affects a much vaster section of the population than has been recognised in the debate so far. The phrase "the disabled should live with dignity and independence" has become a common one. It is an excellent phrase, because we all wish to live with dignity and some of us prefer independence. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Minister that that phrase should now be extended, because I believe that disabled people, in common with everyone else, want freedom, in particular freedom of choice and freedom of movement.
In the past, it was physically impossible for those with disability to achieve such freedom, but new scientific and engineering advances now make infinitely greater freedoms--far greater than anything previously possible in the history of mankind--possible for people with physical impairment. Perhaps the Government's greatest gift to those with physical disabilities is to offer those freedoms through judicious expenditure and legislation, by the carrot and stick approach and by energising private citizens and companies to achieve that goal.
Real freedom rests not just on economic freedom, but on a cultural disregard for difference. I hate the word "disabled" because it immediately sets up cultural barriers which we then have to work so hard to dismantle and pull down. But I do not for a moment take cultural disregard to mean acceptance of the plea of ignorance. I was struck by a strong and upsetting example of such ignorance at a recent Ministry--I will not say which one-- which launched a scheme for disabled. It took place in a grade 1 listed building. As chairman of ADAPT, I am familiar with such buildings, because we are always told that they are impossible to adapt properly. I think that Pugin would have been proud of us; it is astonishing what one can do if one has the will and even a modest sum of money. Determination is the key.
When I got to the first floor of that grade 1 starred listed building where the Ministry was hosting the so-called "excellent" initiative for disabled people, I was concerned to discover, as I had anticipated, that there was no lift, while half a dozen people in non-electric wheelchairs were at the bottom of the stairs. I sought out the senior civil servant and asked him what could be done. I pointed out that the initiative was supposed to be for the disabled people and drew attention to the poor people at the bottom of the stairs.
Column 178He was a good person and replied, I believe through ignorance, that there were at least three methods of getting the people in the wheelchairs up the stairs. When I asked him what they were, he said that they could be carried up the stairs, to which I replied, "Oh. Thank you very much". Secondly, he said that it might be possible for those disabled people to walk up the stairs, to which I replied, "Really?" I am afraid that I then left the Ministry. That was an example not of cultural disregard but of ignorance. That is a blight on all our social attitudes to people who are different, which we must examine carefully and rigorously.
I mean by "cultural disregard" acceptance of difference in the tolerance of normality in our society. We should strive for that, if only because the effects of difficulty of personal movement, for example, are widespread in all sections of our society. In ADAPT, we find that it is just as tough for young mums to get into the theatre with pushchairs and babies as it is for elderly people with zimmer frames and the wheelchaired able-bodied.
I did some research on sight and hearing in the House of Commons Library recently, and the Library staff gave me figures showing that about 26 million people in Britain wear spectacles. One could say that, 100 years ago, before all those excellent spectacles were available, all those 26 million people would have been, in today's terminology, "disabled" because they would not have been able to see well enough.
The Library staff investigated hearing for me--a vastly under-researched subject. They extrapolated some figures and gave me the normal cautions about extrapolation of statistics, but, on best guesstimates from the House of Commons Library, 23 million people have a hearing loss significant enough to warrant a hearing aid. I feel that the fine, upstanding, generally Anglo-Saxon male in the advertisements is not the norm in terms of physical ability for any of us, except for perhaps a short period in the lives of exceptionally healthy men, and that most people have some type of problem. Nowadays, many problems may be solved by science--with glasses, hearing aids, or electric wheelchairs--but let us not lose sight of the fact that people with physical difficulties are far more widespread throughout society than we may imagine.
Therefore, I suggest that we should not always listen only to membership organisations that represent people with a specific disability. Some time ago, one of the organisations for the blind told me that not more than about one blind person in 10 belonged to any of the registered blind societies that we know of. I do not know if that figure was correct, but I believe that, here in Parliament, naturally, we hear the views from membership organisations to the exclusion of the great number of people-- the greater number of people, I think--who do not belong to those organisations. The difficulty of definition to the Minister, therefore, is vast. How should we proceed, when we are speaking about such an enormous tranche of our population?
I vastly admire the munificent provisions for the disabled which the Government have made in health and social security, which are so numerous that I shall not name them. However, I believe that, outside that social and health provision, people seek as a priority access to the places that people with normal motor functions have