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Jane Griffiths (Reading, East) (Lab): The reoffending rate is indeed approximately 58 per cent., but is the hon. Gentleman aware that in Reading prison it is 7 per cent. as a result of various Government-backed initiatives on work training for inmates?

Mr. Oaten: I fully support what is taking place in Reading. Indeed, I took time to see it at first hand with Transco, the organisation that is doing that work. It is a fantastic scheme—well done to the Government for supporting it—whereby prisoners go out to work for Transco on a day-to-day basis, so that many of them end up with jobs when they leave prison. My complaint about the Home Office is its caution and lack of investment: I should like more Readings and more Transco schemes.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): Mention has rightly been made of Reading prison, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that the scheme is rolled out much farther than that? At Wymott prison in my constituency, people have got full-time jobs through National Grid Transco. Those on the scheme are not only getting educated, but have jobs at the end of it. It is a super scheme that has had such a success rate that only 7 per cent. of participants have reoffended.

Mr. Oaten: Both hon. Members make the point that such success levels mean that we should be less cautious in doing more faster. Many prisoners spend 23 hours a day in their cells and half of them share a cell. At one end of the corridor there is a classroom with a computer, and at the other end there is a prisoner in his cell, but there is no prison officer to get him from A to B. That is a ridiculous situation that shows that something has gone wrong with the system.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Oaten: I must get on.

I want to conclude with two brief observations. First, we wait with interest to see where the Government are heading with their review of police authorities. I suggest that it would be a mistake to assume that many of our policing problems could be resolved by establishing a new directly elected police authority. There is not enormous enthusiasm for elections in this country, and the idea that people on run-down estates will suddenly think, "Yippee—this is a fantastic chance to have a say in our policing", and run to the ballot box is flawed. I urge the Home Secretary to think carefully about using the existing system by enlarging the number of members and making the chief constable and those on the elected police authorities much more visible. The Conservatives suggest that an elected mayor—some kind of "Deputy

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Dawg"—would be a solution, but that is not sensible: the best way forward is to use the existing structure. Failure to do so could lead to members of the British National party becoming elected mayors—if the Conservatives had their way—or dominating directly elected authorities, because BNP-like areas would tend to get involved in such elections.

Finally, I put on record the fact that Liberal Democrat Members will be looking with great interest at what happens to trial by jury. I welcome the Home Secretary's compromise—I will not say backing down—on that issue a few weeks ago. We will play a full part in the discussions and negotiations on how we move forward. I hope that in the case of this Queen's Speech, we will not end up facing the situation of two weeks ago whereby the compromise had to come at the very end of the process, but that there will be close co-operation with all parties along the way to try to make genuine progress, particularly on immigration and asylum.

2.27 pm

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I am glad to be called to participate in today's debate on the constitutional and home affairs section of the Queen's Speech. There is much to welcome, including the changes to the House of Lords to get rid of the final group of non-elected Members. Reflecting the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton and Shepherd's Bush (Mr. Soley), there are a variety of views in this House on that issue. I am an abolitionist—I should like to see the House of Lords abolished and the functioning of this House more radically reformed. I hold on to the hope that perhaps in my lifetime I will finally see that wish granted.

As a Member of Parliament from Aberdeen, I hope that by the end of this legislative year we will see a measure on the statute books with regard to corporate killing. That has been a live issue in Aberdeen for the past 10 years since the Piper Alpha disaster. It would be nice to believe that this Labour Government are able to introduce a measure that can be applied in such circumstances.

I also welcome the Bills on domestic violence and on civil partnerships. I want to concentrate, however, on an issue to do with civil rights.

The legislation that I want to consider is cross-cutting, and although the legislative competency for the Bill rests with the Department for Work and Pensions, it is also relevant to the Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Home Office because that is where all the other equality legislation resides. Indeed, that is where the responsibility for the measure on civil partnerships lies. The issue of equality that I want to consider affects me personally: it is the proposal to introduce a draft disability Bill.

Disability is a civil rights issue and an equality issue, and it relates to access to democracy. While disabled people do not have their full rights, we will never be full citizens of this country. I welcome the Government's intention to introduce a draft Bill in the Session, but I make a plea that we speed its passage as fast as we can so that a new disability Bill will soon be on the statute book.

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Why is a disability measure necessary? This morning, I was with representatives of the charity, John Grooms, which provides housing for people with disabilities. We were handing a letter to No. 10 Downing street that pointed out that many people, especially those in wheelchairs, live in unsuitable accommodation. There are no rights for those of us in wheelchairs to have accessible accommodation, yet that should be an expectation. Local authorities and others should have a duty to ensure equality in housing provision for people in wheelchairs or with other disabilities.

It is also pertinent that the celebrations that mark the end of the European year of disabled people take place this week. Tomorrow has been earmarked as the European day for disabled people. Such events—I was going to call them celebrations, but they are not—highlight how far we still have to go to achieve equal rights and full civil rights for disabled people in this country.

The Government's proposals are in draft form and I hope that the Government will listen to disabled people before they introduce a Bill. I am making a bid to be involved in the draft process either as a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions or of any Committee that is especially set up. It is important that the voices of disabled people are heard.

I pay tribute to what the Government have already achieved. At such times, it is useful to reflect on the achievements of the six years in which I have been a Member of Parliament. The Disability Rights Commission has been established, and I am using its briefing today. It is therefore fulfilling one of its functions of ensuring that hon. Members are well informed about the issues that affect disabled people.

Access to education has now been included in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which means that an enormous omission from the legislation has now been righted. In October next year, part III, which covers physical access to goods and services, will be implemented. That is perhaps the most revolutionary measure in that it will affect the lives of disabled people possibly more than any other. It means that, for the first time, we will have access to many of the things that other people take for granted. Part III of the 1995 Act is challenging and I am not sure whether many shops and businesses are truly geared up for it or aware of its obligations. At least the legislative framework exists for businesses and public bodies. If they do not fulfil their obligations, they can be taken to court.

The Government have also acted in many other ways to help disabled people, for example, through the new deal for disabled people and the work on pathways to work. Yesterday, I attended the launch in Aberdeen of "Progress to Work", which is a specific scheme that was set up to help recovering drug addicts to work. It was one of the most up-beat, energetic events that I have attended for a long time. A group of young people, who believed that their lives had come to an end, and had no expectations for their future, suddenly thought that they were starting their lives anew. For them, it was the first day of the rest of their lives. I pay tribute to the Government on the spread of such new deals throughout the country. Many relate to disabled people and many to those who are hard to place in work. They are working and delivering.

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The disability Bill is intended to fill the gaps that continue to exist on a range of issues, for which different Departments are responsible. The measure will therefore be cross-cutting. The first issue is definition. Disability is currently defined as an enduring, long-term and possibly permanent impairment, but that is not necessarily the case in real life. Someone who has cancer may be severely disabled by the disease, but luckily medical science has advanced to the extent that we expect people to recover from cancer and a range of other debilitating conditions. Existing legislation does not cover people who have a variable condition, from which they expect to be cured. It is important that the definition is wider so that disabled people can have access to the cover of the law. That would mean that if an employer sacked someone for having a condition such as ME or cancer, the employee would be covered by the anti-discrimination legislation that currently covers those of us who have an enduring condition.

I should like a single equality Act, and it would be up to the Home Office to introduce it. That legislation would deal with many of the problems in existing law to do with the definition of disability. If someone is discriminated against, the grounds do not matter—it remains discrimination. A single equality Act would mean that the Government did not need a workable definition of disability because discrimination would be the determining factor.

I also believe—

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