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Alan Johnson: I think that it was on 1 October 2004 that that final part of the Act was passed. It was a red-letter day for all those interested in disability issues.

We are working to ensure that the DRC's championing of disability remains at the core of the new commission for equality and human rights. We have also set about implementing the most profound extension of disability civil rights that the country has ever seen. In transport, buildings, education and access to goods and services, our legislative programme has strengthened, widened and deepened the original Disability Discrimination Act.

In 1997, there were no rights of access for disabled people to public transport. We introduced accessibility regulations for rail vehicles in 1998, and for buses and coaches in 2000. From 1 March 2001, licensed taxi drivers have had a duty to carry guide dogs free of charge, and that duty was extended to all licensed private hire vehicle operators and drivers from 1 March last year. Accessibility regulations for taxis are also on the way.

The Bill protects disabled passengers against discrimination for the first time, ending the anomaly of transport not counting as a service under the DDA. It also allows us to set an end date of 2020 for all rail vehicles to be subject to the accessibility regulations providing access for all disabled people. Replacing the vehicle stock to meet the legislation places a cost burden on the rail industry and it is important to strike the right balance between those costs and the need for accessibility.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Quite long lead-in times are given to rail companies. Are not most rail franchises let on a 10 or 15-year basis? The Secretary of State is allowing more than enough time for a replacement company to bid for a franchise, which should put it in a much better position to ensure that all its rolling stock is disability-compliant from day one.

Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman's point has been raised in debate and by the Scrutiny Committee, but I was just coming to the way in which we see the balance working. It is not so much an issue of the franchises, but of the costs of replacing trains that have not yet reached the end of their proper working lives.
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We moved from our original proposal to introduce the deadline of 2025 to place 2020 in the Bill, and combined with moves to strengthen the monitoring and scrutiny of exemptions, we believe that we have got the balance right; and we welcome the recent endorsement of the approach by the DRC. This does not mean that everything stands still until 2020; indeed, by the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, around 1,500 trains will have been made fully accessible.

As with transport, we cannot tackle the legacy of buildings overnight, but we are making good progress. Improved building regulations have already made provision for more buildings to be accessible and usable by disabled people. The Bill goes further, in imposing a duty on landlords to make reasonable adjustments for disabled tenants and prospective tenants, short of physical changes to premises. Where the lease gives tenants a right to carry out alterations to residential premises with a landlord's consent, the landlord will not be able to withhold such consent unreasonably for alterations needed by a disabled person living in the premises.We have also agreed to review the position on changes to common parts of residential premises. Work on the review is already under way and we expect recommendations by the end of the year.

In education, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 is leading to innovative solutions. For example, at a school in Birmingham, a pupil who is registered blind accesses the whole curriculum with the help of a specially adapted keyboard. The world of learning has been opened for him. What is more, there is no extra work involved for the teacher apart from keeping the service provider abreast of teaching plans.

With access to goods and services covered since October last year, as my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt) mentioned, service providers such as shops, restaurants and leisure centres have had to take reasonable steps to tackle physical features that make access impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people.

Last October also saw protection against discrimination extended to an additional 600,000 disabled workers, and 7 million jobs and 1 million employers were brought within the scope of the employment provisions of the DDA for the first time.

Creating employment opportunity is a crucial part of supporting disabled people to fulfil their potential in society as a whole. But in addition to opening up job opportunities for disabled people, we believe that they need to have the skills and personal tailored support to fulfil their employment aspirations. Since 1997, through our investment in Jobcentre Plus and the new deal, we have begun to transform the welfare state from the passive one-size-fits-all inheritance to an active service that tailors help to the individual and enables people to acquire the skills and confidence to move from welfare to work.

The new deal for disabled people has seen nearly 55,000 job entries since its launch in 2001, but our other new deal initiatives—for lone parents and young people for instance—have also been effective. Altogether, nearly 200,000 disabled people have been helped into work through our total package of new deal programmes, while the numbers claiming incapacity benefit fell by 22,000 in the year to November 2004.
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We are seeing remarkably encouraging early results from our pathways to work pilots, with the latest statistics showing that the number of recorded job entries for people with a health condition or disability has almost doubled compared with the same period last year.

Our proposed reform of incapacity benefit builds on our investment in pathways to work, the new deal and Jobcentre Plus, seeking to enable the 1 million disabled people on benefits who want to work to fulfil their aspirations.

Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): I agree with what my right hon. Friend says, and he is very positive. But does he agree that there are particular problems for those who have mental health difficulties, inasmuch as we need to provide additional support? There is always a fear that things will go wrong for them and that they will be thrown back on to incapacity benefit. If we are to get people with mental health problems back into work, we will need to provide additional support.

Alan Johnson: I agree completely. I said last week that we will be publishing a Green Paper in the summer and I set out the four basic issues we would be looking at in terms of the input from everyone involved; the fourth was how we dealt with mental health problems. We have great experience already, from the 10 per cent. of the country that is covered by pathways to work, as to how we can deal with such fluctuating conditions, but I agree with my hon. Friend that it is one of the crucial issues that we need to solve in talking the project forward.

Tom Levitt: My right hon. Friend is aware that I represent one of the pathways to work pilot areas where the Jobcentre Plus team has been very successful in getting people off incapacity benefit and back into work. I was at one of my local hospitals last week to talk to members of staff involved in the partnership work with Jobcentre Plus. It is clear that, across the board, there is a high level of job satisfaction and fulfilment for members of staff working with people on incapacity benefit through pathways to work. That is what they came into the job for, and I pass their thanks to him for the opportunity to do what they are there to do.

Alan Johnson: I thank my hon. Friend, whose constituency I visited to see for myself the success of pathways to work. He referred earlier to a hidden part of the Budget. Another part of the Budget was the extension of the linking rules to 104 weeks, which will be crucial in helping people—particularly those with fluctuating mental health conditions—to take that all-important first step into work.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Further to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) on mental ill health, will the Secretary of State confirm the Government's attitude to Lord Skelmersdale's amendment, which I believe is now clause 18? An earlier amendment tabled by Lord Carter was resisted and failed, whereas Lord Skelmersdale's amendment was pressed to a Division and incorporated in the Bill, apparently against the Government's wishes. Is there any intent to amend that at any stage?

Alan Johnson: There will indeed be an attempt to amend it, and I will explain exactly why later.
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Improving the support for obtaining and retaining employment was a cornerstone of the Prime Minister's strategy unit report earlier this year. This set out an ambitious 20-year strategy to improve the life chances of disabled people by promoting independent living supported by individualised service delivery. But such a strategy can be successful only if it is built on the foundation of the enforceable and comprehensive civil rights that this Bill makes possible.

I should like to set out the Government's position on three important elements of the Bill which I think will help to inform this afternoon's debate—namely, the definition of depression, the exclusion of some cancers and the effect on schools. A basic principle of the DDA is that it protects people who have, or are likely to have, long-term effects connected with their impairment.

Businesses, especially 1 million small firms, are still getting to grips with last October's duties, so it would be inappropriate to make fundamental changes to this long-term definition of disability. In any event, a special provision for only some people with short-term conditions would be confusing and potentially unfair to people with other impairments. The DDA already enables people with recurring or fluctuating conditions—including depression—to meet the long-term definition of disability if there is a continuing underlying impairment. So we will seek to overturn the amendment made in the other place, but this is not the end of the road. The pre-legislative scrutiny Committee asked the DRC to look at ways of progressing the "social model" of disability discrimination. We believe that this review is the right place to consider whether and how to cover short-term conditions, and we look forward to working with the DRC on this.

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