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Maria Eagle: Many Members have mentioned this issue, and I keep saying that the specific duties will apply to schools, as the Secretary of State has made clear. It has only ever been proposed that the duties should be in regulations, as the hon. Gentleman will see from the Bill. They will therefore apply in the same way to schools through regulation as they will to any other public authority. I hope that that makes the position crystal clear to any Members who have been concerned about the issue.
Maria Eagle: We have just completed a consultation on how the regulations should operate and what the regulations will say. When the regulations are published, the hon. Gentleman will see precisely how they will work. They will apply to schools as they will be applied to other public sector bodies.
Tim Loughton: I think that the Minister is now saying something different. She is talking about regulations that none of us have seen, and about a consultation exercise that does not form part of this legislation. That is why there is confusion. I have asked her a specific question as to how our fears can be allayed by the legislation, and that provision is not in place. It is only fair that such concerns should be aired. We will need clear guidance as to the form in which she suggests that the regulations will appear, when they will appear and how they will interact with this legislation. That is a fair point, and that is why Members have raised the concern time and again, much to her annoyance. Such concerns are legitimate, however.
In relation to education, I welcome the clauses dealing with the general qualifications bodies. I have a particular concern, as an officer of the all-party deafness group and having visited a deaf school recently, about some of the changes that some examining bodies have made, which would disadvantage seriously those with deafness. Previously, such people have been accommodated much more generously when taking exams. Perhaps the Minister will tell me, when she winds up, whether such considerations will now be included in the part of the Bill on general qualifications bodies.
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Deafness is a disability that affects many of our constituents. I hosted recently a reception in the House by the deafness group, Sign, which does a lot of good work, particularly for deaf people with mental illness problems, too. It has produced some fantastic innovations and projects, including a software program that can be distributed to every GP in the country for the price of £10 per year, in which a signer in video form on a laptop screen goes through a list of symptoms and possible illnesses, pointing to parts of the body and so on. It is a simple and clever way of enabling a doctor who has no sign language to communicate with a deaf person. It also has applications for people who speak a different language, as a translatable version is possible.
In relation to mental illness, uniquely, patients have had to prove that their illness is clinically well recognised to secure the protection of the DDA. I welcome the amendments tabled in the upper House to deal with that, as it affects an awful lot of people. One in four of the population will experience a mental illness problem at some time in their life. One in 10 children now suffers from mental illness, much of which is related to depression. It is still a very big stigma. More of a stigma is probably attached to mental illness than to any other disability or physical condition. On the day on which the Joint Committee on the draft Mental Health Billof which I was a memberhas produced its rather damning report, I must say that I fear the Government's proposals will do nothing to reduce that stigma. Indeed, in their present form they would do the opposite.
There is a big shortage not just of acute beds but cognitive behavioural therapy and other alternatives to drug treatment, especially counselling. I hope that some measures in the Bill will make it easier for people with mental illness to gain access to such services. Mental health has been very poorly served by anti-discrimination legislation. The Disability Charities Consortium says:
"These provisions cause real problems for people with depression . . . depression is typically severe though relatively short-lived but discrimination against the person is commonplace . . . once there is a medical record of having had depression in the past, however distant or short-lived, discrimination is common."
My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) gave figures demonstrating how difficult it is for such people to find jobs. There are the "revolving door" patients who go into residential accommodation for treatment, then recover, leave the accommodation and may be able to secure straightforward jobs for a time, but then relapse and have to return. The DCC continues:
"However case law has shown that this provision is not effective in the case of depression. There are differences of view within the medical profession as to whether (and when) episodes of depression are manifestations of an underlying condition and when they are discrete episodes. As a result experts often disagree in court on the issues. Furthermore, doctors often, understandably, feel reluctant to testify that a person with a first episode is likely to have a recurrence."
In this more than any other context, we need a joined-up approach to, for example, helping people with mental illness back into housing when they have been in residential accommodation. I am particularly concerned about what the Government are doing with the supported housing project. According to a parliamentary answer from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister today, some 12,000 individuals and households benefit from the supporting people programme, which is now to be cut. In Worthing, in my part of west Sussex, it will be cut by some 30 per cent. Many people with mental illness problems who have benefited greatly from that project will not be able to do so any more, and I think that that has severe implications. I urge the Government to think again about trying to reverse the amendments on depression that were made in another place.
At the same time as introducing regulations, restrictions and duties on public bodies such as local authorities and schools, we should bear in mind the enormous amount of good practice that goes on. We should do all that we can to encourage such good practice. It need not be costly. One of the best examples is provided by the store B&Q, which showed itself to be enlightened and progressive when it saw a niche market and became much more disabled-friendlyjust as, some time earlier, it had become more environmentally friendly.
To a greater extent than many other large retailers, B&Q has a policy of encouraging the employment of people with disabilitiespeople with physical disabilities who may be in wheelchairs, and people with learning disabilities. Surprise, surprise, it has found that such people make rather more reliable and hard-working members of staff than some others. Surprise, surprise, it has found that it takes a larger share of the disabled customer base because people see that it is disability-friendlyand not only in terms of providing wheelchairs, situating signs at a lower level and providing large print signs, and not only because it employs people with disabilities. Disabled people like to shop there and B&Q has made a commercial success out of being disability-friendly. If only many more retailers and businesses followed that example! We should not only be imposing more regulations: we should be pointing to the attractions and benefits for everybodyit is a win-win situationfrom encouraging good practice among businesses that become disability-friendly.
There are more things in the Bill to be scrutinised and it would benefit from more time in Committee than I fear it will get if the general election is on 5 May. I do not take the point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South that a pre-legislative scrutiny Committee is in some way a substitute for this Chamber or the upper Chamber having a full opportunity to scrutinise the Bill. It is complementary to the process and helps to prepare the Bill before it comes to this place. However, it will deserve no less scrutiny because of that process when it goes through the upper House or this Chamber.
The Government need to come out with further details, but I join all Members who have spoken in this excellent debate in welcoming the Bill and in hoping that it will get on to the statute book before the general election. I hope also that the benefits that it will bring can be enjoyed by our many of our constituents who have disabilities as soon as possible.
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Mr. Goodman: With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to respond to the debate. The Under-Secretary has a lot of ground to cover, so I will not go into detail on the three comprehensive and knowledgeable speeches from Government Membersfrom the hon. Members for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) and for High Peak (Tom Levitt)or the three equally knowledgeable and sensitive speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and, not least, my relentlessly inclusive hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell).
I shall not repeat points made in the debate but shall raise one that arose during it. Much of the debate has focused on what will happen with any time that we have in Committee, which the Under-Secretary knows is likely to be limited. It would be helpful if she gave some idea of the priority that the Government will place on the Bill in Committee. It would be regrettable if that time were spent on rolling back the gain made on depression.
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