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Mr. Barnes: I understand the hon. Gentleman's arguments--they have their own internal consistency. Of course, I disagree with them. What surprises me about the hon. Gentleman's philosophical view is that he supports the Government's Bill while opposing mine. However inadequate I believe the Government's Bill to be, it nevertheless contains little bits and pieces that will result in some interference in what the hon. Gentleman might consider to be certain rights and freedoms. Surely, philosophically, he is strongly opposed to that. He certainly objects to that in my Bill, so why does he not object strongly to the Government's Bill?

Mr. Leigh: That is a fair point. My hon. Friend the Minister is continually under pressure from Opposition Members, but very little pressure comes from Conservative Members. I have to tell him that some of us are worried that the Government may have over-responded to the very severe public pressure put on them last year. It is right for me and others of my hon. Friends to give a warning sign. I have looked carefully at the Government's Bill, and I am just about prepared to go along with it. It contains a degree of flexibility that I can live with.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East made a fair point. Not all the pressure on these issues should come from special interest groups-- [Interruption.] I am trying to argue on behalf of everybody in this country--disabled people and people who do not have disabilities. Opposition Members rightly, from their point of view, argue on behalf of people with disabilities. However, it is our duty to think of the nation as a whole, and also of particular minorities within the nation. That is what I am trying to do.

I want to deal with some of the points about the Bill which worry me. My hon. Friend the Member for Chingford made a good point. Neither he nor I has had an answer from the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East about the meaning of "sensory impairment". However, it is a minor point that can be dealt with in Committee. The definition in the Government's Bill of the ability to carry on day-to-day activities is much more sensible.

My next point, which is much more serious, is about employment rights. The Bill is seriously flawed because it will apply to all companies, whereas the Government's Bill would apply only to companies that employ more than 20 people.

I cannot understand how any sensible, practical person who is interested in introducing sensible legislation could make such a proposal. Presumably the hon. Member for Monklands, West would hope to be the Minister for

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Social Security and Disabled People if there were to be a Labour Government. How could he suggest that every little business or shop that employs three or four people--about 70 per cent. of the nation's work force--should be covered by the Bill? It does not make sense. Mr. Tom Clarke rose --

Mr. Leigh: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, as he may be able to answer my point.

Mr. Clarke: The hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way, which I appreciate. He said that he did not understand our proposal relating to firms that employ fewer than 20 people. Will he pay due regard to the Employers Forum on Disability, which speaks not only for firms such as Marks and Spencer and Barclays, but for the Lord Chancellor's Department and British Gas? Are they wrong, or is the hon. Gentleman wrong?

Mr. Leigh: I do not know. I can only put a personal point of view and speak from my experience. I think that what I say has a certain element of common sense. If the House does not agree with me, so be it.

Mr. Wareing: Is the hon. Gentleman not confusing our proposal with the quota system? We are not saying that firms with fewer than 20 employees have to employ disabled people. We are saying that a disabled person has as much right to consideration for employment with a small firm as with a large firm.

Mr. Leigh: The hon. Gentleman makes my point for me. Practical difficulties may stand in the way of a small business complying with the Bill. It is easier for a large business.

The Government's Bill sensibly provides a statutory right of non- discrimination. That is a major step forward, something that we have never previously had in law. Under the Government's Bill, disabled people cannot be treated less favourably unless it can be justified. That is sensible, and I do not think anyone would disagree with it. However, that is as far as I am prepared to go.

Let us consider the quota system. I do not want to labour the point, but the system has not worked. The hon. Member for Monklands, West says that it has not worked because the Government have not tried to make it work. I do not know about that, but we all accept that it has not worked. The Bill would reintroduce the system.

I do not like quotas. I am philosophically opposed to them, because they stereotype people, which is the wrong way to proceed. If the system had worked and all businesses had had to take their quotas, there would not have been sufficient disabled people to fill them.

Ms Lynne: Can the hon. Gentleman tell us where in the Bill the quota system is mentioned?

Mr. Leigh: I may be wrong, but my understanding is that the quota system would be reintroduced under the Bill.

Mr. Barnes: The point is that the quota system would not be discontinued under my Bill. It would be discontinued under the Government's Bill. My Bill simply

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maintains the existing position. The hon. Gentleman should address himself not to my Bill but to the legislation that covers the quota system.

Mr. Leigh: I expressed myself badly. The Government's Bill would abolish the system, which is the right thing to do.

The Government's Bill is a sensible halfway house. It may be too little for some people and too much for others, but that is the nature of Governments and of compromise. Its aims in relation to premises and services are achievable. It refers to "phasing in". That is sensible.

Of course access to transport should be made more available, especially at terminuses--but to make every vehicle accessible to disabled people would cost an enormous amount. It is one thing to ensure that all new vehicles have low loading so that there is better access for wheelchairs, but to insist that all transport should be made accessible to wheelchairs simply would not work-- [Interruption.] It is my understanding that that would be the result of the Bill-- [Interruption.] That is my understanding.

On the question of the enforcement of employment rights, the Government's Bill gives disabled people, like anyone else, the right to complain to the county court or an industrial relations tribunal. That is a sensible halfway house. The problem with this Bill is that it is framed so widely that it will result in considerable litigation, with people appealing right up to the High Court.

A point made many times in the Chamber is that Opposition Members support the Bill because it would create a disability rights commission similar to the Equal Opportunities Commission. That is one fundamental reason why I oppose the Bill. To create a whole new body with investigative powers would be a dangerous departure, and would not help rights for disabled people.

We have two Bills. First, there is the Government's Bill, which has been supported by a substantial majority of hon. Members and will almost certainly become law. It is a sensible and flexible Bill, which will ensure that there is a statutory right to


On the other side, we have a private Member's Bill whose cost we cannot quantify and whose impact on transport systems and small businesses could be great. It has the potential to create resentment against disabled people, it will not abolish the quota system, and it will introduce new bureaucratic procedures and a whole new layer of administration in the form of a commission. There is no doubt in my mind that the Government have got it right on this occasion, and that we should reject the Bill before the House.

11.49 am

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe): In our previous Second Reading debate on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill in March last year, I observed that there were hon. Members from all parties who wanted it to succeed, but who unavoidably were unable to be present. I went on:

"That applies notably to my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), one of the few hon. Members significantly to have legislated as a private member for disabled people".--[ Official Report , 11 March 1994; Vol. 239, c. 540.]

Typical of him, he was honouring a commitment to Africa's poor. Today he is not only here but speaking for the Opposition, and I most warmly welcome him to his first full debate on the Bill in that role.

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It was in 1991 that I drafted and first promoted the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. I moved its Second Reading on 31 January 1992, when it was talked out by Robert Hayward, then the Member of Parliament for Kingswood. Earlier that day he had explicitly stated that he would not be talking the Bill out, and disabled people everywhere felt badly cheated by what they saw as a gross deception. Five days later, Robert Hayward made a personal statement of "unreserved apologies" to the Speaker and the House for misleading Parliament.

That did not, however, alter the fact that my Bill had been delayed indefinitely by the most crude of blocking tactics. In fact, it was not until February 1993, by which time the Bill had been approved at all stages in another place--due not least to the abiding support of Lord Snowdon, my noble Friends Lord Ashley and Lady Lockwood and of Lord Rix--that I was able to seek a further Second Reading debate for it in this House.

It was then blocked again, not this time by a Government Back-Bencher but from the Treasury Bench by the Government themselves, notwithstanding the unanimous approval by the House of a motion standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), calling for the Bill's urgent enactment.

Then came the good news. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), who had won the seat from Robert Hayward only three months after the latter talked out my Bill, also won a high place in the ballot for private Members' Bills for the parliamentary Session 1993-94. Without hesitation, he agreed to reintroduce my Bill, and I have already paid tribute to his dedication in promoting it in the face not only of further obstruction but also of prevarication and blatant dissimulation by the Government, which resulted in two further personal statements of "unreserved apologies" for misleading Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) has now used his good fortune in the ballot to reintroduce the Bill, and I most warmly congratulate him, on both the manner and content of his speech in opening the debate. His energy, skill and sincerity in promoting the Bill are widely admired.

As my hon. Friend knows, there are those who ask why, now that the Government have been dragged kicking and screaming to accept the necessity of legislation, we do not just welcome them as repenting sinners and work to amend and improve their, by common consent, pallid alternative to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. Only this week, a woman who is well disposed to our aims wrote to me to say:

"Now that you've won and the Government, at long last, are having to legislate, why don't you simply claim victory and amend their Bill to your liking?"

Of course, nothing would be more agreeable to me than to be able to amend at will the Government's proposals and thus to end a parliamentary battle that I began in 1991. But changes to their Bill on the scale required to make it acceptable to disabled people are just not possible. Even if they were, however, why, having invented the wheel, should we now have to waste time adapting the Government's very poor imitation of one? Rather than attempting to amend the Government's Bill so extensively, with no real prospect of success, why should we not persist in trying to enact our own?

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Another question posed is: why, even if we are unable significantly to improve the Government's Bill, can we not accept what is on offer as a major step forward after 13 years of systematic obstruction, and then, in the years ahead, build on what their Bill has achieved? But in the view of disabled people and those who work to help them, the Government's Bill is not a major step forward. In fact, much apart from thinking that it will make life better for them, their view is that the Government's Bill will actually increase discrimination against disabled people. They cite first the Government's proposal to end the 3 per cent. jobs quota, which they argue will undoubtedly make matters worse.

"Rights Now", whose affiliates include the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People, cites as well the Government's pointlessly complicated and over-restrictive definition of discrimination. It attacks what it calls the Government's "complete failure" to understand how disability discrimination works and goes on:

"The Government's 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".

Such pointed criticism leaves scant room for any doubt about what Britain's 6.5 million disabled people think of the assumption that the Government's Bill is a major step forward.

Nor are disabled people alone in rejecting that assumption. The Confederation of British Industry, among other employers' organisations, is opposed to the exclusion from the Government's Bill of employers with fewer than 20 employees. No less than 83 per cent. of all employees work for such employers. It surely cannot be right to let them go on discriminating in any way they choose.

Mr. Nigel Evans I am a little disturbed by the question of quotas. The right hon. Gentleman talked about 6.5 million disabled people, but they are not registered disabled people. Was not the problem under the quota system the fact that relatively few people are registered disabled compared with the 6.5 million figure, and firms found it impossible to fill the quota with registered disabled people?

Mr. Morris: I have given way, but I shall not do so again, because I know that many other Members want to speak, and the House wants to move on as quickly as possible.

I am not alone in that there are 6.5 million disabled people in this country; the Government themselves, on the authority of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, say that this is the number of disabled people in Britain today.

What is wrong with the quota is that it has not been enforced since the 1970s. It was last enforced during my period as Minister for Disabled People. My hon. Friend's Bill provides a mechanism--the disability rights commission--that will assist disabled people to enforce their statutory rights. To do away with the quota is to take away an existing statutory right at a time when disabled people will point out to the Minister that they want more protection, not less.

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To resume: it cannot be right either for Ministers who have no experience of running a major private enterprise to tell those who have that the Government know best. I make no apology for quoting again in this debate a big employer in the private sector, who has told me:

"To end discrimination in the labour market, you must not 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 his view, "piecemeal change" of the kind proposed in the Government's Bill is an attempt to divide the indivisible, represents a profligate waste of taxpayers' money, and calculated to make discrimination against disabled people even more widespread than it is now.

Sir Peter Large--than whom few people can speak with more insight on this subject or have more personal experience of severe disability--has sent me his analysis of the differences between the Government's Bill and the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which is no less devastating than the comparison made by Scope, to which I referred when we debated the Government's Bill on 24 January 1995. Sir Peter Large compares the two Bills in all respects, and makes it crystal clear why disabled people and their organisations are wholly right to support our Bill.

If asked to single out the two most important differences, Sir Peter tells me, he would name first the exclusion of education from the Government's Bill; and, secondly, its proposal for a "toothless" national disability council in place of the disability rights commission for which our Bill provides. Referring to the disadvantages faced 25 years ago by children with disabilities, he says:

"I remember being dismayed that scholastically able but physically disabled children were forced into special schools merely because they were barred access by the bricks and mortar of mainstream schools. That still happens today, but your Bill would help eliminate the difficulty".

Turning to the Government's proposed national disability council, Sir Peter describes the provision for a disability rights commission in our Bill as "incomparably superior". Indeed, he regards the commission for which we provide, with its powers to undertake general investigations and assist individual disabled people to enforce their rights, as central to the success of any legislation to eradicate discrimination against them.

"In comparison,"

he goes on,

"the Government's proposal for an advisory council is a wheyfaced ghost of what is required. Not only does it lack teeth: it enjoys no life of its own. It can act only in response to summonses of the Secretary of State. Its subservience is blatantly obvious in that it is specifically excluded by Statute from even daring to offer advice on any of the important issues covered by the Government Bill." They are but some of the withering criticisms made in Sir Peter Large's submission. They come from the man I appointed over 16 years ago, when I was Minister for Disabled People, to chair the world's first ever committee of inquiry into unfair discrimination against disabled people.

Sir Peter Large's comments are a shaming reminder that, if the Government had acted on the committee of inquiry's recommendations when they were published in 1982, Britain would have led the world in making such discrimination unlawful. Instead, we lag way behind many other countries. They include, among others, New Zealand, Australia, the United States and Canada.

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While those countries read and acted on the report of Sir Peter Large's committee, it has taken the British Government 13 years to come forward with what can only be described as a travesty of its recommendations. What the committee urged upon the Government, in 1982, was a Bill to give disabled people full civil rights and equal citizenship; but what they are being offered by the Government, in 1995, as they themselves protest, is second-class rights for second-class citizens.

I shall go on briefly to raise three further issues; first, the mess that the Government have got themselves into by defining disability so narrowly. I give three examples.

If a job applicant's curriculum vitae shows periods of in-patient treatment for psychiatric illness, the employer is entitled to throw it straight in the dustbin, but if instead the CV says that he is still receiving psychiatric treatment, he cannot. How on earth can that be justified?

Again, in the case of a person known to be HIV-positive but who is asymptomatic, the Bill invites employers to "get their discrimination in first", as it were, because once acquired immune deficiency syndrome is diagnosed, the Bill's provisions apply.

My third example is the scope for unfair discrimination against people with genetic disorders who are as yet "pre-symptomatically disabled". Has the Minister seen the Genetic Interest Group's admirable submission about his Bill, and will he now meet the group to discuss its well-documented statement of concern?

By its very nature, discrimination is often irrational. Will the Minister now accept that, to be viable, any definition of disability must include people who are perceived by employers to be disabled even if they are not?

I turn now to a fundamental error in the Government's approach to costings. Thus, they treat the costs of public provision for able-bodied people differently from those of providing for disabled people. They see it as quite normal for the providers of services to help their able-bodied customers to enjoy them by installing escalators in shops, amplification at meetings and so on; but provision for disabled people--lifts at stations, induction loops at concerts--is treated differently as a "special" and abnormal expense. Like most other people, I believe that "normal" provision must now include the needs of disabled people. Otherwise, are we not treating disabled people as being apart from and not a part of society? Even more clearly, is it not intolerable for Ministers to claim that their Bill adds to Government spending on disabled people, when in fact--at the same time--they are cutting by £2 billion their expenditure on invalidity benefit, and inflicting on a huge number of disabled people a cut in income from about £77 a week to £46? That puts in perspective the Government's so-called "extra spending" on the Bill. I conclude with a question about the speech made from the Government Front Bench by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) in the debate on Second Reading of the Government's Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) will be especially interested in a quotation from the hon. Lady in that debate.

Referring to the Government's record, she stated:

"Do Labour Members recall how we look after not only the disabled but their carers? . . . What about the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 and the

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provisions in the Education Reform Act 1988? We have introduced all those measures, but the Opposition do not think that we can be trusted."--[ Official Report , 24 January 1995; Vol. 253, c. 234.] As the Minister for Disabled People knows full well, that was another gross distortion by the Government of easily ascertainable facts.

It was, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West, legislating as a private Member, who promoted the 1986 Act. For their part, the Government blocked--and are still blocking--the implementation of crucially important sections of that humane act. The deception was used to persuade Members of the House to give the Government's Bill a Second Reading. It was unworthy of the hon. Lady and demeaning the House for her to misrepresent the facts, and I am sure that the Minister for Disabled People will now want to ensure that the record is put straight.

I commend the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill to the House and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East again for his humanity in promoting a Bill of such profound importance to all disabled people.

12.7 pm

Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester): I do not doubt for a moment the sincerity of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) nor that of the hon. Members for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) and for Kingswood (Mr. Berry). They are sincerely committed to the cause of helping disabled people. I simply wish that sometimes they would give Conservative Members the same credit. The fact that we disagree with them about mechanisms does not mean that we are not equally committed to outcomes.

It does not help the Opposition's argument when quite serious misrepresentations are made in order to score partisan points in an important debate on an important Bill. It was a total

misrepresentation for the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East to claim during his speech--or to imply at least--that there had been no consultation on the Government's proposals. The Government's consultation on those proposals was one of the biggest ever undertaken by Government. One hundred thousand copies of the consultation document were circulated, including, I am glad to say, a braille version. That is an example of the Government's commitment to consultation, and it was extremely misleading for the hon. Gentleman to claim that there was no consultation.

I was also disappointed to hear from the Opposition Front Bench a claim levelled against my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) that he had not participated in the debate in Committee on the Government's Bill, the Disability Discrimination Bill. I am glad to say that the matter was clarified, albeit rather churlishly, by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke). I opened the account of the Committee proceedings almost at random and found an important and significant contribution by my hon. Friend, and it is important that it goes on the record that that contribution was made. That was another example of the Labour party seeking to score party points when we should be debating the Bill in a spirit of genuine mutual concern about disabled people.

The question is not whether something should be done; the consensus is that more must be done, which is why the Government introduced their Bill. The question is

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whether this Bill or the Government's Bill should be enacted. I declare firmly for the Government's Bill. It accurately reflects the desire that I have frequently expressed in the House--as I have done in correspondence to Ministers--to see more done for disabled people. I am delighted that the Government have brought forward their proposals, which are more workable, less bureaucratic and more enforceable and will bring more benefit to disabled people. I was staggered by the arrogance of the hon. Member for Monklands, West in implying that he speaks for all 6.5 million disabled people in this country, because he does not.

An article in the Daily Mail on 7 September 1994 began: "Quentin Crewe, in a wheelchair for 40 years, deplores proposed legislation for the disabled."

He wrote:

"The race laws have not done much to eliminate racism, but plenty to provoke more of it. And that is what I fear from disabled legislation . . . It will merely aggravate the taxpayers who have to pay for such fantasies. What's more, in the long run it is far more likely to push firms out of business--thereby decreasing the wealth available to do something useful about helping the disabled."

Mr. Berry: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Luff: No, because I do not want to detain the House. Some of my hon. Friends' speeches were unnecessarily prolonged by interventions from Opposition Members.

It is wrong of Labour to claim that it speaks for all disabled people. Many of the disabled people to whom I spoke in preparing my speech do not agree with the Bill. A large body of disabled people believe that the Government's proposals are superior to its provisions.

There has rightly been extensive debate about the different definitions used in the two Bills. I have no hesitation accepting that the Government's definitions are more workable and sensible, but I ask my hon. Friend the Minister for an assurance in respect of myalgic encephalomyelitis. It is an important test of my belief in the Government's definition that ME sufferers should be encompassed by the Government's Bill. I speak as patron of my local ME support group, and I am anxious that their interests should be protected. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott). It is no reflection on my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People that I regard the Government's Bill as my right hon. Friend's lasting memorial. I was sickened by the way that he was hounded during his handling of the Bill. He was probably the most decent member of a decent Government. His only sin was to refuse to listen to those who shouted loudest. He did what he thought was in the best long- term interests of disabled people. History will prove him right.

It would be more difficult to attack the hon. Gentleman's Bill and to defend the Government if they had a bad record on disability issues, but they do not. I shall not detain the House with that long list but offer two simple statistics. Total spending on benefits for the long-term sick and disabled and their carers has trebled in real terms since we came to office. The numbers helped have increased from 360,000 to 2 million--a wonderful record.

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I agree with the hon. Member for Monklands, West that the facilities for the disabled in the Palace of Westminster are a disgrace. There is a trade-off--it is why I support the Government's Bill --between the costs and the benefits to commerce of assisting and helping disabled people to play a proper role in society. There can be no such trade-off when it comes to disabled people lobbying their elected representatives. When preparing my speech, I had to meet one of my disabled constituents some way from the House because of the difficulty in getting here. Part III of the Disability Discrimination Bill will place a statutory duty on the Palace to improve access for the disabled.

As to access to polling stations, I have more sympathy with the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Clifton- Brown) than with the hon. Member for Kingswood on the view that every rural station should be suitably adapted. Another aspect is the size and type of ballot papers. I remain concerned that the visually handicapped find it difficult to cast their votes accurately.

My underlying philosophical objections to the Bill were expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), so I shall not dwell on them. My starting point is that none of us has rights; we have duties. No human being can effectively have rights unless the rest of society recognises the duty to facilitate them. There is an important legal precedent. Clifford Longley, a long-standing religious affairs correspondent, wrote in The Daily Telegraph last May:

"Since its foundation, America has set out inalienable civil rights to `life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' as a fundamental goal by which all public life is to guided. But America is not Britain"--

making the point that this Bill is copied from American legislation. He added:

"Most English legal textbooks do not have a single entry under `rights' in their index. Yet in the name of `equality' between the able-bodied and disabled, the Bill sets out to grant `civil rights' to the latter--a moral and legal minefield if ever there was one. As there is no general concept of `civil rights' known to English law, the disabled would enjoy and novel and privileged status given to nobody else. Whatever else that is, it is not a blow against discrimination. Even if it were accepted that the disabled should have such privileges, this is not a political revolution to be shuffled through Parliament when no more than 60 Members are present."

Does the voluntary approach work any better? The balance between the two Bills is important.

I shall give three practical examples of the voluntary approach working. First, I praise the initiative by my local radio station, BBC Hereford and Worcester. Its managing editor, Eve Turner, has launched a competition for buildings and organisations that encourage access. She has the active support of local newspapers, including the Worcester Evening News . That scheme is a great credit to all involved. It receives regular radio and newspaper promotion and helps to spread good practice and awareness. It is a model initiative and should be adopted more widely.

Secondly, transport is essential for disabled people. The work of Bill Buchanan, a disability adviser to British Rail for many years, has borne enormous fruit. I hope that his work will continue in BR's new era. Contrary to Labour claims in the context of the Bill, BR is probably the best railway in the world in terms of access for disabled people. That is the result not of any legislative requirement but of persuasion and willingness. One hundred per cent. of InterCity stock is accessible to the disabled, and it has coloured grab-handles to assist the

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partially sighted. The continuing problem of slam-door trains on Network SouthEast is disappearing. The new trains offer full access to the disabled. I am told that the number of accessible toilets on BR rolling stock exceeds the number on the rolling stock in the rest of Europe.

Eurostar trains--I am wearing a Eurostar tie today--were designed with the disabled in mind because of British input. They followed the example set by InterCity in the UK, which came as a revelation to our French and Belgian partners. Waterloo International is not only an architectural gem but one of the best stations in the world for access. At least until recently, a disabled person arriving at Midi after travelling from a fine station on a train designed for the disabled had to be physically manhandled off the train in his or her wheelchair and lowered precariously to the platform.

Similarly, facilities at the Gare du Nord are sparse and appear to be an afterthought. British Rail is leading the way in access for the disabled. [ Hon. Members:-- "Oh."] It is no use Opposition Members sneering-- they cannot gainsay the facts. No wonder my hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London said on Monday that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East

"should remember that this country boasts the best provision of disabled access for rail passengers on any intercity system of any country in the world."--[ Official Report , 6 February 1995; Vol. 254, c. 2.]

All that was achieved without legislation. Bill Buchanan has found working with the board of British Rail relatively straightforward, but the leasing companies for rolling stock and the 25

train-operating units represent a new situation.

I am delighted that clause 4 of the Railways Act--one clause 4 which I can support--imposes a duty on the regulator to have regard to the interests of disabled people. I am delighted to say that John Swift QC, the Rail Regulator, has gone further and faster than any of us hoped when that duty was imposed on him in the legislation. I commend the document "Meeting the Needs of Disabled Passengers". This is a product, not of a loose legislative requirement but of a frame of mind.

Mr. Swift is clearly determined to help disabled people. He states that his objectives are

"to ensure no diminution in current standards of accessibility across the rail network; to maintain the impetus for still further progress towards a more accessible rail system. Rail operators will need to bear these strategic objectives in mind when drawing on this Code to compile their own Disabled People's Protection Policies which must be submitted to me for approval."

He goes on in the foreword to the document to highlight the fact that there is a market advantage for rail operators, and for many other private sector operators, in providing properly for the disabled.

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