|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Goodman: I was intrigued by the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that we might have a day in Committee. Does he agree that it would be far better if we spent such a day discussing matters such as cancer and did not spend any of it rolling back the gains on depression that were made in the Lords?
Paul Holmes: I agree that, if we do get a Committee, it should be used for those purposes. A number of amendments were made in another place, and I think that Ministers have so far indicated that they intend to try to reverse only one of them, which deals with depression. That would be a retrograde step. The wide range of disability charities in the disabled charities coalition have made it clear that they would be very unhappy if the amendment on depression were removed. It would be better to look at how we can improve the Bill after the recess rather than look at ways of weakening it.
As a final point on cancer, does the Minister agree that, even at this stage, there is still time to get the Bill right for everyone with cancer, so that all people with cancer and all the cancer disability and research groups can welcome it wholeheartedly and without reservation? After a Parliament in which the Government have rightly given cancer priority, surely getting the Bill right for everyone with cancer would be a testimony to joined-up government and is a golden opportunity for them to reaffirm their commitment to everyone living with cancer.
I was asked to raise the second of my three issues by the Parkinson's Disease Society. It has major concerns about the inclusion in the Bill of just one neurological
23 Mar 2005 : Column 926
conditionmultiple sclerosisrather than a clause that covers all progressive and fluctuating neurological conditions. The current Bill specifically included MS from diagnosis as a result of an unexpected and unsuccessful discrimination case that was brought by a man with MS. As a result of the failure of the case, the Government decided that they needed to include MS in the Bill.
Maria Eagle: MS was already included in the Bill; in fact, it was in the original Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The problem that the case threw up was that somebody who everybody thought was obviously disabled was said not to be, because he could not prove that his condition would deteriorate. That is the minor issue that we are trying to put right.
Paul Holmes: I welcome the Minister's comments, but they lead into exactly the point that the Parkinson's Disease Society wishes to make. Exactly the same condition that applies to the MS sufferer who lost a discrimination case when everyone thought that the rules covered it would apply in future to people with Parkinson's disease. Do we have to wait until somebody with Parkinson's disease goes to a tribunal or a court and loses before we look at changing the legislation, or are we adequately covered at this stage if we are naming only one neurological condition, MS, and not others, such as Parkinson's? Does that leave the Bill too open and too weak with regard to Parkinson's? The Minister is shaking her head; I am sure that she will reassure us later.
Miss Begg: I have some sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying. The MS decision was perverse, however, possibly because the condition cannot always be proved by any clinician to be necessarily progressive. That would not be the case with regard to Parkinson's, Huntington's or a number of the other neurological diseases. I cannot imagine any clinician saying that there is not an automatic progression in those conditions, so they would, I hope, already be covered.
Paul Holmes: I hope that the hon. Lady's observations are correct. The Minister was nodding, and I am sure that she will reassure us. The Parkinson's Disease Society was concerned to get the point clarified on the record in this debate precisely because after the early onset of Parkinson's is diagnosed, it can be many years before it starts to affect somebody's life and ability to work and to appear as a debilitating condition. As that long period can elapse in some cases of Parkinson's, people are worried that they might have to go through the same legal procedure as the MS sufferer went through in order to be covered.
Maria Eagle: Perhaps I should clarify now that the current law provides that, on the onset of the first symptom that one normally gets before a disease such as Parkinson's is diagnosed, as long as the condition is going to be progressive and lead to disability, one is covered from that point, even if one is not suffering severe symptoms at that stage.
My third point concerns schools, which play a major and fundamental role in shaping our society in a couple of ways, the first of which is access for all. Certain categories of children may be excluded from access to a good education because they are poor and qualify for free school meals, are in carethe Department for Education and Skills has expressed concern that children in care do not get a good deal on access to schoolsor have special educational needs. Such children need just the same, if not more, access to schools as any other children. Otherwise, they will miss out on educational opportunity, finish their education with inferior qualifications, and have much less chance of going into satisfying and well paid careers and having a good life as adults. Schools are very important in respect of social inclusion and equal access to education.
Secondly, schools are important in a more general way, because of the role that they play in socialising and forming attitudes among our young people, who are our future adults, business men, Members of Parliament, Ministers and so on. If all children are educated together where that is practicalI know that there are difficulties about how far that can gothey become, as children and later as adults, far more tolerant, understanding and accepting of differences, whatever they may be.
I speak as one who was a teacher for 22 years. For 17 of those years, I worked in a school in the constituency of the hon. Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt)at first it was a boys school, but then it merged with a local girls school to become a mixed comprehensive. In its two different incarnations, that school had a very good reputation for including children with special educational needs and disabilities. In the course of those years teaching in mainstream classes in a mainstream comprehensive, I taught children with fragile X syndrome, cerebral palsy, spina bifida and Down's syndrome, as well as children who were registered as 85 per cent. to 90 per cent. blind. That worked very successfully. Pupils accepted that such children were simply other children and, later, simply other adults. They accepted such conditions automatically because they had been exposed to them and experienced them all the way through. It was not a matter of separating people out into different categories by saying, "You go to a special school; you will never mix with anybody else." That is exactly how it should be. I can see hon. Members nodding.
Ofsted has pointed out that, according to its inspections, up to 50 per cent. of schools are not completely fulfilling their obligations on social inclusion. I would argue, as I frequently have here and in the Select Committee, that one of the reasons for that is the pressure of league tables and testing. The Committee has repeatedly criticised thatfor example, in its report on secondary education, which was published last Thursday morning, and in its report on school admissions and diversity of provision in schools, which was published last year. There is widespread concern about the whole area of social inclusion, not only the specific issue of children with disability or special education needs.
Somebody said that the Bill is perfect. I do not think that the DRC would go quite that far, even if it feels that there is nothing else to change at this stage. The
23 Mar 2005 : Column 928
Disability Charities Consortium, which includes a very wide range of disability groups, does not agree. It is worried that while a general duty to promote equality of opportunity for disabled children will apply to schools, it appearsthis is reflected in what the Secretary of State said in his opening commentsthat a specific duty will not be applied to schools even though it will be applied to councils, universities and further education colleges.
Mr. Goodman: I think that the Minister is right about what the Secretary of State said. The important point is that he said that it would be done by regulation, and some of those who were calling for action were hoping that these measures would be in the Bill. It now looks unlikely that we will get a chance to debate that or to table amendments in Committee that would insert them.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|