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Maria Eagle: We want to give those organisations that have raised those concerns at quite a late stage in the process time to submit any evidence that they may have that stigma is attached to those conditions. We will not be rigid about the matter and we will give them the time that they need. There is no reason why regulations under this power should be made according to any speedy time scale. We need to make sure that we get this matter right, to everyone's satisfaction. I hope that that reassures those hon. Members who raised the issue.
The hon. Member for Wycombe also asked when section 146 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 would come into effect. My understanding is that he will not have to wait long, as it will come into effect on 4 April. I hope that he will be pleased with the speedy response that I have been able to give him on that question.
Several hon. Members asked about end dates and the 2020 deadline. Bringing the end dates further forward than originally planned would impose extra costs on industry, but that has to be balanced against the speed with which we can make our transport system more easily accessed by disabled people. We always need to be pragmatic about such matters. The Bill is all about balancing the needs of disabled people against the costs incurred by certain stakeholders in society, such as businesses.
We think that 2020 is the right date. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, that does not for a moment imply that no transport vehicles will be ready before then. The accessibility regulations for rail and bus vehicles are already having a positive impact. For example, 3,800 fully accessible rail vehicles are already in service, with 700 more to follow in the next 12 months. The total fleet comprises some 16,500 vehicles, so a good quarter is already fully accessible, and that shows that we are making progress.
Of the taxi fleet, 56 per cent. is already wheelchair accessible, although I admit that that figure mainly applies to black cabs, which are easier to render accessible than other vehicles. However, we expect steady progress towards improvement to be made between now and the end dates. We do not expect
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everything to remain as it is now until we reach the end dates, with a sudden improvement as those dates approach.
The DRC accepted that 2020 is a reasonable deadline. I fully understand that disabled people wish that everything could be accessible now rather than at some time in the future, but the House must recognise that we have to overcome a legacy of inaccessibility. Transport was not included in the 1995 Act, and that has not helped over the past 10 years. Part 3 of the Bill deals with transport, and that will help deal with some of the other problems that hon. Members set out. We have all heard the stories about ramps that are not used, bus drivers who drive past and disabled people having to use slam-door rolling stock.
By the way, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) might be interested to know that I have been told that the slam-door stock on the lines in his area ought to be replaced by the end of the year. I can say no more on that subject, but replacement will clearly be very welcome. I agree with him that it is outrageous that wheelchair users should be expected to travel in the guard's van. One of my constituents told me a similar story only a little while ago, so we know that such things still happen. Including transport fully and properly in this Bill is a good way to make sure that they will not continue.
Tom Levitt: I am a regular user of the Pendolino service on the west coast main line, where disabled wheelchair access is very good, but the same cannot be said for the trains on branch lines. I appreciate that, for the reasons that I gave in my speech, there has to be a relatively long lead-in time. Nevertheless, while the number of carriages that are accessible is less than 100 per cent., a disabled person will not know whether the branch service that they want to use is accessible. Will there be a way of encouraging train operators to ensure that at least one coach in every train is disabled accessible in the time leading up to when 100 per cent. can be achieved?
Maria Eagle: My hon. Friend raises the issue of better quality information for passengers. Many train operators are getting much better than they used to be, and they are beginning to realise that disabled people have a lot of money to spend, that they like to travel as much as anybody else and that excluding them from transport services excludes not only the disabled people but often their entire family from a journey. We are seeing an increasing realisation of that among businesses and that is something that we want to encourage.
The other big issue raised during the debate concerned how the general and specific duties would apply to schools. I kept trying to be clear, although I appear to have failed to convince hon. Members about how clear I was. The general duties are in the Bill, and the specific duties will be in regulation-making powers. The Department consulted on how they will apply last year and draft regulations set out how the specific duties are intended to work. We have consulted on those regulations, which are in the Library, so there is some indication of what the duties will consist of. They will cover matters such as a disability equality scheme, demonstrating that disabled people have been involved
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in producing the scheme and action plan, setting out a plan of action to make improvements, and other such arrangements.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear in his introduction to the debate that the specific duties will apply to schools, and the Bill has never been about trying to place onerous burdens on anybody, whether schools or any other public sector body. It is not about trying to ensure that public sector bodies are engaged in bureaucratic form-filling and box-ticking but ensuring that we design out institutional discrimination from the way in which our public sector works. Such discrimination is often one of the biggest obstacles to disabled people in their attempt to live ordinary lives: to access services and goods, to go to work and to do all the things that the rest of us take for granted.
David Taylor: No doubt the regulations to which my hon. Friend is referring arise partly out of discussions with the Department for Education and Skills. What further discussions are planned as the regulations emerge so that the DFES and schools are clear about their role in promoting the Government's policy for disabled children and their families?
Maria Eagle: Discussions take place between Departments all the timethat is about all that I can say. Of course we will discuss with colleagues across Government how such measures work and how they are implemented.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) made an excellent contribution, based as ever on her personal experience. She is much respected in this House as someone who has more right than most to speak on the issue. She welcomed the legislation and gave some examples from her constituency of some other difficult issues that the Bill tries to tackle, such as housing. I acknowledge that the Bill does not deal fully with housing for disabled people. It was never intended to, and civil rights legislation is not the only way in which the issue can be tackled. However, I hope that, as others have done, she will welcome our move to try to make some progress in dealing with the issue of common parts in housing. Housing for disabled people is one of the most difficult issues that remains to be dealt with. The Disability Rights Task Force did not deal with common parts in its recommendations and we will have to return to the matter, whether in civil rights legislation or elsewhere. We must get better at ensuring that disabled people can access housing. As society ages, as more of us become disabled and as young disabled people live longer, the matter cannot be left. It remains unfinished business.
The Bill makes progress because, for the first time, the concept of civil rights applies to the landlord and tenant relationship, although it does not cover common parts. The working group that my Department established to look at progress on common parts could be a positive way of looking at next steps. We hope that it will return to Ministers by the end of the year with recommendations on how to go forward.
My hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Tom Levitt), who has a distinguished record of speaking on these issues in the House and served on the Joint Committeeas did my hon. Friend the Member
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for Aberdeen, Southmade his usual robust contribution, which made my gentle musings about the Opposition's record seem mild. I enjoyed his speech and, as ever, he emphasised issues of concern to deaf people on which he has an excellent record in the House.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes) generally welcomed the Bill and I was pleased to hear that. He made it clear that some organisations representing local government also welcomed it and I am also pleased about that, because the public sector duty to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people applies not only to central Government, but to local government. I was heartened that local government organisations, as well as Whitehall Departments, recognise that we need to do better. The public sector duty to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people could make a real difference to their lives during the next few years, so I was pleased to hear that his party supports the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the lack of an equalities Act and I heard what he said. He knows that a review is considering some of the issues and I would not want to pre-empt any recommendations that it might make. After some of the extensive revisions to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the article 13 regulations, the legislation is ripe for consolidation because it will be virtually unreadable for lawyers, never mind lay people, by the time the Bill is enacted. We will have to return to that.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) came to the issue through the experience of a member of his staff, which is a typical way in which hon. Members come to believe that the issue is important. He stressed the general and specific duties and whether they apply to schools. I hope that I have been able to answer his questions.
My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) also came to the issue through personal experience, but in his case it was family experience. He emphasised a point that no other hon. Member had raised, but with which we all agreethat carers are important to disabled people. We all know and accept that from our constituency experience. He gave credit to many local organisations for disabled people in his constituency, which is an experience that many of us in the House can relate to. We all know organisations for disabled people in our constituencies that do invaluable work daily to support disabled people and to ensure that their voices are heard, although disabled people are increasingly doing that themselves.
My hon. Friend praised a local journalist, as opposed to what might be described as the less than praise for a national journalist that we heard from the hon. Member for Chesterfield in relation to an article in The Times today. I read the article by Alice Miles and what struck me most was the lack of any kind of analysis of the point that discrimination might be occurring. That is the problem I had with the article, but it is clear that not all journalists are as unenlightened. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South was able to illustrate that with reports of a local journalist who does sterling work in his constituency.
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Other hon. Members referred with approbation to the extension of the legislation to private clubs. Of course that includes political parties, and the Bill will challenge and test all of us to ensure that we put our money where our mouths are and change the way in which we relate to our own membersbecause we are member organisationsso that we do not exclude disabled people. It is daunting in many ways, because the Bill will place far more obligations on all of us as members of private clubs, which we all are as members of political parties. We are taking on some difficult issues and we have to ensure that we get them right.
The hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) made his usual thoughtful speech, although I cannot agree with him that the Bill has been delayed. I understand why Opposition Members have claimed that, but the Bill has been improved by the extensive consultation. We need to get it right, because such legislation will be successful only if it gains general support within society. There is no point having theoretical rights on the statute book that do not have the approbation of those upon whom they place obligations. The Bill is now balanced from that point of view. It has been widely consulted on and will be much more widely accepted as a result.
The Bill plugs gaps that need dealing with, such as the transport exemption from part 3, the non-application of the law to councillors and private clubs, which includes political parties, and the functions of public authorities not already covered by the service and employment provisions. It also strengthens and improves the effectiveness of our anti-discrimination laws.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), who is in his place and who was involved in the issue from the start. He established the Disability Rights Task Force and, as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, he was assiduous in ensuring that the legislation made progress.
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