Previous Section Home Page

Column 860

future. Before the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asks, as he surely will, we will of course ensure that the necessary amendments are tabled to bring appropriate provision to all parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Tom Clarke: The Minister is right and what he said is important. He said that the Government will introduce measures. Can he make it clear whether they will be in this Bill and, if so, in what form?

Mr. Hague: I cannot precisely specify the form, because the legal work on drafting such amendments is at an early stage. But I can say that provisions will be in the Bill, and to a large extent will probably modify existing legislation, to introduce new powers where necessary to ensure that the Secretary of State for Transport is able to set minimum access standards, with a timetable and with further provisions as necessary covering the areas that I have

mentioned--buses, trains, coaches, trams, taxis, underground systems and so on--satisfying the hon. Gentleman on every point except shipping, over which we had the particular problem to which I referred earlier.

Hon. Members will appreciate the crucial importance of ensuring that such legislation is drafted with the full knowledge and agreement of the transport industries. It is in no one's interest, least of all that of disabled people, to introduce measures that would jeopardise the viability of transport operators. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London will be particularly concerned to ensure that time scales for the introduction of accessibility requirements reflect the particular circumstances of individual modes of transport. For systems such as London Underground, for example, we are certainly talking long term. Nevertheless, I hope that the House will agree that the embodiment of those powers in legislation will represent another major step in demonstrating that the Government's policies for tackling discrimination are comprehensive and will allow us to meet in their entirety the points that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter, and almost in their entirety the points made by the hon. Member for Monklands, West.

New clause 13 deals with the provision of door-to-door transport services. Its effect would be for the Secretary of State to require local authorities to provide such schemes for disabled people. In fact, local authorities already have powers to provide excellent schemes such as these which do so much to improve independent mobility for disabled people. We believe that local authorities are best placed to assess their priorities in the light of their available resources and their knowledge of local need. The Department of Transport works closely with local authorities and offers advice and guidance on the effective operation of such schemes. I assure my hon. Friends that it will continue to do so, but it is not desirable for the Government to impose regulations on local authorities in this respect. We would, therefore, resist any move to impose requirements on local authorities.

In this context, it is interesting to reflect on the fact that the increasing introduction of accessible mainstream public transport, to which I have made it clear that we are firmly committed, will over time change the role of door-to-door services. For many disabled people, they have up to now been a substitute for other forms of transport which were inaccessible. In future, they will

Column 861

increasingly become a complement to public transport--for example, by providing local links to accessible main line services. I hope that all hon. Members will welcome my statement and that, as a consequence, they will not wish to press the new clauses. 5.30 pm

Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale): I welcome the Minister's statement, but I wish that we had heard it earlier. He could have made it in Committee, when we repeatedly debated transport but were told that he was not to be moved. Nevertheless, I congratulate him because he has clearly won the day with some of his colleagues. I am sure that he fought his corner to ensure that transport was dealt with.

It always seemed crazy that bus and train stations had to be accessible but buses and trains did not. Such a state of affairs could be welcomed only by a disabled person who was a train spotting enthusiast as he or she would not be able to get on a train. I am glad that accessibility is to be more widely spread to include those who wish to travel. It is the only way forward. I am glad that the Government have at last decided that all the disabled people and their organisations who have been lobbying for months and all the Opposition Members who have been talking about making transport accessible have been proved right and that the Minister has seen the sense of their arguments.

Disabled peopled have had so many problems with travelling. Only yesterday I issued a report on those problems, which include the fact that only one wheelchair is allowed per train. There will be difficulties with the InterCity 125 trains because the doors are not wide enough for an electronic buggy to get through. There are still some horrendous problems to deal with. We must ensure that they are dealt with quickly and that the Government outline some exact proposals.

The Minister said that he agreed with the spirit of the new clauses, but we need some flesh on that statement. We need to know exactly what he is proposing. Further Government amendments will no doubt be tabled in the other place so we shall see whether the Government are going as far as we want and as far as disabled people want. There are more than 6 million disabled people in this country who will be pleased if the Government go as far as they have been asking or, indeed, demanding. They will not be pleased if, despite today's announcement, they suddenly find that the Government are not going to follow through.

Sixty-two per cent. of disabled people have no access to a car, so it is even more important that they have access to trains and buses. I am glad that the Minister has agreed to move on that point. My report said that it would be halfway through the next century before buses and trains were accessible. If the Minister feels like intervening, I shall be grateful to hear what time scale he has in mind for making buses and trains accessible to disabled people: does he envisage it being halfway through the next century, or will it be sooner? I should like him to make a commitment. It is all very fine to talk about making transport accessible, but what is the time scale?

Mr. Hague: I cannot expand further on the announcement that I have already made. Indeed, the new clause is designed to give the Government regulation-making powers to deal with such matters. We

Column 862

shall take the hon. Lady's point on board. Neither those who tabled the new clauses nor anyone else could give a timetable for such things off the cuff. An enormous amount of discussion is needed, but the hon. Lady can be assured that the Government's intentions are absolutely sincere.

Ms Lynne: I am grateful to the Minister. I was not expecting him to say that all buses and trains would be accessible next week or even in the next five years; I was seeking merely to get a rough idea of his estimated time scale.

Some vehicles are easy to adapt quickly and some will take longer, but comprehensive legislation is needed. If the Minister's proposals are comprehensive, the House and the organisations representing disabled people will welcome them.

Mr. Alan Howarth: I, too, warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's announcement and congratulate him on it. He knows that when disabled people are asked what is their highest priority in practical terms as to how we should release them from discrimination, many unhesitatingly cite transport first and foremost because it is the key to their having access to a range of other opportunities in life. My hon. Friend the Minister has been aware of that, and I know how happy disabled people will be that he has been able to introduce this transport dimension fairly and squarely into the Bill. We look forward very much to the specific amendments that the Government will table in another place.

The Minister talked about modifications to a complex area of law and envisaged future adjustment to regulation. However, I hope that when he frames this new element in the Bill he will range as widely and be as declaratory as possible. It is an important principle that the unacceptability and illegality of unjustifiable discrimination in transport should be clearly set out.

The Minister talked about the Secretary of State having the power to do certain things. I hope that it will be possible for the Government to agree that the Secretary of State should have a duty in so far as may be reasonable, because that would put the matter in a more positive light, which is important in itself. The Government need not be especially nervous about the implications of reasonableness. For example, if it became standard that new public transport vehicles should be designed to be accessible, the output volume would be large and unit costs would accordingly come right down. If one sets the fairly minimal costs against the benefits to the economy and to society of increasing access--benefits which are hard to estimate or compute with precision, but which are undoubtedly very large--it is clear that we do not have to fear the cost implications, which a number of people have used as an argument for not proceeding very far, or very fast, in this respect.

I again congratulate and thank my hon. Friend the Minister.

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood): I welcome the Minister's statement that, at some stage, the Bill will include provisions on the means of transport. I hope that, in the same spirit in which I welcome that inclusion and applaud that statement, the Minister will recognise that, for a considerable period, a number of hon. Members and many people outside have been arguing for precisely such provision. If I am generous enough in spirit to welcome

Column 863

the Minister's statement, I hope that he will be generous enough in spirit to acknowledge that many people have been arguing for such provision for a significant period.

It may be--we must obviously wait for the details of the Minister's proposals--that, in practical terms, the Minister's suggestion will not be a million miles away from provisions of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill which provoked the Government into making transport cost estimates which, frankly, were mind boggling. I shall be generous and acknowledge that the Government have made progress. I hope that they will include transport provision and that they will be generous enough to apologise and to say that a mistake was made a mere 12 months ago. We must wait for the details.

I am acutely aware of the fact that, if more powers are contracted out to different Departments, provisions may be introduced in the Bill that will mean that someone else will take care of enforcement, which will lead to more difficulty in enforcing the measure. I want to return to enforcement on a future occasion. Notwithstanding the remarks about the inclusion of transport provision in the Bill, I am genuinely worried that the Government do not yet have the means to enforce a proper equal rights approach.

In yesterday's debate on the disability rights commission, to which many hon. Members are totally committed, an hon. Member--he is not here, so I shall not mention his name--referred to the problem of regulation. We heard the argument, which one comes across frequently, that we should not have too much more regulation, and that the terrible thing about having a commission to ensure equal rights for disabled people was that too much regulation would result. I repeat the point that I made yesterday in a brief intervention. We can consider regulation in different ways. We can consider it as a purely ideological matter--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. We must consider that matter specifically in relation to transport.

Mr. Berry: Indeed. In relation to transport, I made the point yesterday that, often, public transport access is denied to disabled people. That is the regulation that matters--the excessive and intolerable regulation. Disabled people's lives are regulated by inadequate access to transport. The point which I was trying to make--I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I was not making it well--is that the regulations that limit what disabled people can do are the regulations about which many of us are concerned.

It may be the case, and indeed the Government admit this--it is part of the Bill--that the Government must regulate more so that disabled people's lives are regulated less. That point is no more important in relation to transport than it is in relation to other issues. We must ensure that the Government have a clear policy on Government regulation in public transport so that disabled people's lives may be deregulated.

I support new clause 13. I hope that the hon. Members for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) did not table it merely as a probing

Column 864

measure. The new clause contains an excellent idea. Only a fortnight ago, I picked up a leaflet in an underground station. It said:

"If you or someone you know can't use Metrobus, Metrorail or other regular public transit because of a disability, MetroAccess is the answer . . . MetroAccess provides curb-to-curb services for persons with disabilities who cannot use regular public transportation."

It is with regret that I have to inform the House that, as hon. Members have probably guessed, that document was found in the United States of America and not in the United Kingdom. Whatever the future of new clause 13 this afternoon, the hon. Members for Exeter and for Stratford-on-Avon were correct in saying that local authorities or a public transport authority-- whatever organisation we choose--should be required to provide reasonable door-to-door transport services for disabled people. However much we improve the rail service, buses and taxis, those people may not be able to have access to a decent transport system. Like other hon. Members, I look forward to the Minister giving details of his new transport provision. I welcome the fact that the Government now recognise that transport needs to be dealt with in their Bill. I wish that they had recognised that 12 months ago.

5.45 pm

Mr. Wigley: I greatly welcome the Government's conversion. We look forward to finding out the detail. In July or whenever, when the House of Lords considers the Bill on Report, an opportunity will exist for us to probe those details more than is possible today. We reserve our position.

Unfortunately, the one matter on which I wanted to concentrate in this short debate was shipping and ferry services--the one aspect that does not fall within the Minister's remit. I wanted to bring his attention to the difficulties facing disabled people using such services. I have been approached by a travel consultant. The Travel Freedom organisation operates in Wales. It is run by Mr. Mike Weston Ashford. He collects advice for disabled people on holidays in the United Kingdom and overseas, and on transport and hotel needs. He wrote to me in the context of the legislation and his letter is worth quoting:

"One glaring problem is the lack of facilities available within Britain and the need for legislation to enhance the right of disabled people . . . in respect of travel, accommodation and places of interest.

Attached please find a photocopy of just one example. Here, in response to my communication enquiring of Eurolink, who intend to operate a new ferry service between Sheerness and Vlissingen in respect of facilities for disabled persons, is their response." I shall quote the response, which is especially pertinent to our debate. Eurolink stated:

"We must advise you that, unfortunately, the two vessels which will shortly go into service for the Sheerness to Vlissingen route are not really suitable for disabled travellers.

Whilst we do not wish to turn disabled travellers away, the facilities on board do not fully cater for disabled persons, ie there are no lifts on board nor are there any cabins specially adapted for wheelchair users.

We are aware of the needs of the disabled and will be looking into this aspect of our service so that, at some time in the future, we will be able to offer all travellers the same access to all our facilities and service."

There we have it. That is the sort of problem that is facing disabled people who want to travel by ferry. I remind the Minister that not only is there a ferry service between the

Column 865

islands in Scotland but an internal United Kingdom ferry link exists between Northern Ireland and the British mainland. A commonality of service is being developed in Europe. Whatever the general international perspective, standards in Europe should enable disabled people to use ferries and other modes of transport. The Minister has gone a long way in relation to the other modes of transport. I welcome that warmly and look forward to reading the detail. I accept that discussion continues on ferry services, but is it possible in another place to build in regulations to cover ferries? Those regulations could have different starting dates. They could come into effect as and when current international discussions have reached fruition. There could be two parts to those regulations, with some on internal ferries coming on stream immediately. Otherwise the position described in the letter that I quoted will continue and people providing a service, even a new service starting now, will feel at liberty to say, "Sorry, disabled people cannot use this facility." In the spirit of what the Minister has already said about transport, perhaps he would care to consider the possibility of doing something about that later in another place.

Dr. Godman: I thank the Minister for his response to the transport needs of disabled people, and also for the way in which he replied to my intervention about passenger ferry services, especially the Scottish ones, which form an essential link between the islands and the mainland and between different islands.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to think seriously again about the need to provide equality of access for disabled islanders and tourists, and for every other disabled person who travels in the islands, both between islands and between the islands and the mainland. I speak as a former shipwright, and when I next inspect the Isle of Lewis, a passenger ferry ship being built at Ferguson's in Port Glasgow, in my constituency, I shall look closely to ensure that she offers access for disabled people.

That vessel, which will be launched by Princess Alexandra on 18 April, will form an essential link between Stornaway and Ullapool. Islanders have no means of travel apart from either the ferry service or the air service to Inverness and Glasgow; so for disabled people there is little or no choice anyway.

The Minister said that he would bring my remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport, and I should be grateful if he would also alert the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, as the Minister will readily acknowledge, has responsibility for piers, jetties and quays in Scotland.

In his speech, the Minister said that his aim was to achieve a fully accessible public transport system for all. That is a laudable and honourable objective, and we all share it, but with Scotland's train and bus services there is a long way to go before we attain it. ScotRail has a disgraceful record on disabled people, and I hope that new clause 18, or even the Government's amendments, will persuade Dr. Paul Prescott and other directors of Railtrack in Scotland to get their skates on and improve services.

Here is an example for the Minister. If an American tourist arrived at Glasgow airport seeking to catch a train from the nearest railway station-- Paisley Gilmour

Column 866

Street--he or she would have enormous difficulty in reaching the platform, and even then would have huge problems in boarding a train.

The same is true of all the stations in Inverclyde. At Greenock central station, Port Glasgow station and elsewhere, boarding a train or disembarking from one requires a degree of agility beyond disabled people. That is a disgrace, and I hope that the Bill as amended by the Government will encourage ScotRail, Railtrack and the Strathclyde passenger transport executive to move things along. Hitherto their record has been disgraceful.

That means that for many of my constituents who are disabled and live on low incomes a trip to Glasgow is out of the question, unless they have a friend or relative who can provide a car. At Greenock central station someone who wants to get on a train has to lift himself up about 18 in, which is too far for disabled people. We must always remember that, because they are denied access to an impervious labour market, many disabled people have to live on low social security incomes. They are therefore confined to public transport systems, and the system in the west of Scotland is an utter scandal at present. I hope that, in the interests of disabled people throughout Scotland, it will be improved within the next three or four years.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith): I welcome the fact that the Government have changed their mind and seen the absurdity of their original position that there should be equal access to bus and train stations but not to buses or trains. I realise that the Minister cannot go into much detail now, but I want to press him a little further on what he has in mind for trains. I raise that subject not only because of the chaos of rail privatisation that the Government are trying to impose on us but because a constituent asked me to raise the matter.

On Sunday I was asked to visit a woman in a wheelchair who has multiple sclerosis. She told me how she and a friend who also has MS had tried to travel from Edinburgh to Grantown-on-Spey, where there is a holiday establishment for disabled people. British Rail had told her that if they wished to go by train they would have to travel in the guard's van. Fortunately, she and her friend had a contact who could take them there in a motor vehicle with disabled access. My constituent was upset to be told that she would have to travel in the guard's van. However, like me, she already knew that that might happen, because she had several friends who had had the same problem. She told me how three other people had had to pay £100 each to make the journey in a handicab, and how another friend had travelled all the way from Edinburgh to Dorset in the cage of a guard's van. Rightly, she said that was a demeaning experience and that it could also be dangerous if, as was the case, the person concerned was in a manual wheelchair whose brakes were not absolutely foolproof. Furthermore, the doors of toilets on trains are not wide enough for wheelchairs.

Can the Minister give us any guidance on what he intends to do about such matters? I know that the provision in the Bill will be general, but I should like to have something to say to my constituent about how the Minister imagines the problem being resolved. It does not seem to me that it would be inordinately expensive to do something about it. I believe that there is already usually one place on a train where a wheelchair can be clamped.

Column 867

Surely other places could easily be converted for that purpose without great expense. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some reassurance to convey to my constituent.

Mr. Hague: As I explained to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne), I cannot expand on the announcement that I have already made. But I have given a commitment about taking a power through the Bill to make regulations covering trains and other modes of transport and, of course, the points made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) are among those that the Government and others, including rail operators, will want to take into account in the discussions about future regulations.

Mr. Barnes: I have two things to say. The first is about the importance of what we are discussing, and the other is about the Minister's statement, which is also important. A while ago, I tabled an amendment to a social security measure dealing with providing mobility allowance for double amputees. At the time the allowance was not paid automatically, and once a person had lost both legs and had artificial limbs there was a test to see whether he or she was entitled to mobility allowance. I remember that the leader of Plaid Cymru, the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), was in the House and joined the discussion.

I was concerned about my constituent, the late Melvin Wall, who was a double amputee and found difficulty getting out and moving around. He needed his mobility allowance so that he could get around. He liked to be picked up in a taxi on a fine day and taken to the nearby Rother valley, where he would be placed at the edge of an artificial lake. Throughout the day he liked to move around that artificial lake from bench to bench, resting as he went and, when the day was over, to be taken back. The quality of his life was vastly improved by that mobility allowance. Such a facility is equally important in the new clauses.

6 pm

The amendment was not adopted on the occasion to which I referred because it was withdrawn. The Minister's predecessor promised to introduce the mobility allowance later in regulations, and indeed he did so. Unfortunately, Melvin Wall benefited from it for a short time only, because he died soon afterwards. His case is a clear example of the need for people to be able to get around, move about, improve the nature of their lives by so doing and thereby be dealt with as full citizens in society.

I am a little more sceptical about the Minister's statement than some hon. Members--perhaps that is my nature. We are rather in limbo. I am not quite sure whether the bottle is half full or half empty. Such a speech should have been presented as a statement in the House, after which we could have asked questions. Instead, hon. Members have asked questions and the Minister has jumped back in response. The Minister has not been able to say anything else, but he has offered some response to the points put forward. It is as if we have used the House's time on Report for statement purposes, which seems procedurally odd.

Column 868

After Report is Third Reading, and on Third Reading we should be reasonably clear about the proposed legislation. Even though various changes may be made in the Lords and even if the Bill gets into trouble there, we should have the authority to say that the Bill should be passed as it was on Third Reading, a year after its First Reading. It is beholden on Ministers to try to get us to a stage where we know, as clearly as possible, where we are, apart from a little tidying up which may occur in the other place.

The Bill has not progressed in such a way. Two major statements about changes to the Bill concerning education and transport have been made. I am pleased about those changes, but I think that they are as a result of important pressure, which has been exerted by people outside the House and by the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill in the cupboard. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is locked away in the cupboard and will not be released into Committee to progress properly. If we are dissatisfied with what occurs in another place, not only will we have the opportunity to discuss the Lords amendments and whether we think that they are good enough, but we will have an alternative. That alternative should be given the opportunity to see the light of day--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a Third Reading speech and I urge him to stick precisely to the new clauses.

Mr. Barnes: I would especially like to stress the transport provisions in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, some of which are included in the new clauses and amendments.

Mr. Berry: Does my hon. Friend find it somewhat ironical that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was criticised for being too vague about transport and that was why the Government were unhappy, yet here we are this afternoon, as he says, welcoming even more vague proposals?

Mr. Barnes: Yes, it is ironic and there are strong political reasons for it. It is entirely justifiable to say that the other Bill is helping, together with other action that people are taking, to nudge such provisions forward. The Government's Bill has been improved by some of the Minister's statements, such as the statement on transport. It is difficult to judge, however, by how much it has been improved, whether the statements and promises make it an acceptable Bill and how it measures up to the alternative Bill. The alternative must be present for as long as possible to push the Government's Bill further. In the end, when it comes to transport and other aspects, the provisions of the alternative should be fully operated.

As has been mentioned, the intentions outlined by the Minister could work rather well if a disability rights commission were set up to pick them up, run with them and do a great deal of the work and we could make suggestions and recommendations.

Sir John Hannam: The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) spoke of the Minister pulling a rabbit out of a hidden hat. He has certainly done that, and a whopping Easter bunny it is, too. Yesterday we brought education into the Bill and today my hon. Friend has achieved our other main objective of bringing transport into the Bill. I pay tribute to all hon. Members from all parties who have consistently pressed the case for

Column 869

transport to be brought into the Bill. In view of the assurances given by my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, who, together with our hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London, deserves our thanks, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Tom Clarke: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am assuming that the new clause which I moved is still before the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The technical position is that if the hon. Gentleman wishes to move new clause 18 formally, he may do so, at which point I shall have to put the Question. Does he wish to move new clause 18 formally?

Mr. Clarke: I had hoped that the rules of the House would entitle me to ask the Minister a few more questions and then to decide whether to move the motion on this important new clause.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman has been in the House some while and he must know that new clause 18 was grouped with new clause 11. Once the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) had begged to ask leave to withdraw the motion, I had put the Question and there were no objections, the motion was withdrawn. The only procedure that is now available to hon. Members is to move the new clause formally, in which case I have to put the Question. Formally means just that--not a speech.

Mr. Clarke: Further to my point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is not my intention to move the new clause formally, but I hope that on Third Reading I can respond to the Minister's comments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is well aware that, on Third Reading, he is restricted to addressing what is in the Bill. Within that, he has plenty of scope.

Clause 1

Meaning of "disability" and "disabled person"

Mr. Alan Howarth: I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 1, line 10, after `activities', insert

`or has a history of having had such an impairment'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 15, in page 1, line 10, after `activities', insert `, or

(b) a history of having had such an impairment.'.

No. 17, in page 1, line 10, after `activities', insert `, or (b) a condition which is likely to cause him to have such an impairment in the future.'.

Government amendments Nos. 98 to 100 and 128 to 131.

No. 21, in schedule 1, page 29, line 11, at end insert-- `History of having had an impairment--

4A.--(1) A person shall be treated as having a history of having had an impairment if there is evidence in medical records that he has, in the past, had an impairment which falls within the scope of any other of the provisions of this Schedule.

(2) Regulations may prescribe other forms of evidence, apart from medical records, which may be taken to demonstrate that a person has a history of having had an impairment under sub-paragraph (1) above.'.

Column 870

Government amendment No. 132.

No. 13, in page 30, leave out lines 9 to 13 and insert--

`(2) Where a medical test reveals a genetic predisposition in a person to a progressive condition, sub-paragraph (1) of this paragraph shall apply to that person as if he were suffering from that condition.'.

Government amendment No. 133.

No. 18, in clause 2, page 1, line 16, after `effect', insert `, or

(c) whether a person is to be treated as having a history of having had an impairment.'.

Government amendment No. 127.

Mr. Howarth: The purpose of amendment No. 13 is to remove an item in the Bill which seems to be misconceived and which would have deeply unhappy and damaging consequences for people who are destined to suffer particularly terrible disabilities.

Schedule 1(7), which deals with progressive conditions in the Bill as it is drafted specifies that

"Where a person--

(a) suffers from a progressive condition . . . but

(b) does not have an impairment which has a substantial adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, he shall be taken to have such an impairment".

Schedule 1(7)(2) proceeds specifically to provide that where "it is likely that the person concerned will suffer from a progressive condition at some time in the future (for example, where a person has a genetic or other predisposition to a progressive condition)"

he shall not have the protection of the legislation.

I believe that the latter provision is unfortunate in its consequence. I cannot believe that the Government intended the consequences that would follow from it. Therefore, I have tabled amendment No. 13 so that

"Where a medical test reveals a genetic predisposition in a person to a progressive condition"

he will after all enjoy the protection of the Bill against discrimination.

My particular interest in genetically transmitted diseases goes back for some years during a period in which I have been the national chair of the Huntington's Disease Association. Huntington's disease is one of the most terrible conditions from which anyone can suffer. The association is one of some 130 organisations which are members of the Genetic Interest Group. I have developed and tabled the amendment in consultation with the group.

I believe that it is wrong to provide that those with a genetic predisposition to a late-onset disease, but who are not yet in the symptomatic phase, should be excluded from the protection that we give to disabled people from discrimination. Unless we so protect them, they will be liable to suffer discrimination in employment, when they seek insurance and in terms of credit ratings. A mass of practical difficulties could well be laid upon them. For heaven's sake, their lives are hard enough. They have to live with the knowledge of the near certainty that they will develop a disease. They surely deserve our particular consideration and support. Scientific advance in genetics is rapid. The human genome project is one of the largest research projects which is taking place today. The range of conditions that can be predicted and the accuracy with which they can be predicted is increasing by leaps and bounds. In the case

Next Section

  Home Page