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The Government have set out and taken action in a number of areas to tackle those problems. We all recognise, across the country, that there is antisocial
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behaviour, and it is probably the leading issue raised in my constituency surgery. From what the hon. Gentleman says, I anticipate that the same applies to his surgery. That is why we have set out a respect agenda, given the police more powers and put more police on the streets, as well as community support officers. A range of measures has been taken.
Every so often hon. Members raise such issues at business questions, but I would like those same hon. Members to see through the logic of their complaints by supporting legislation that the Government introduce. There is sometimes, if he will forgive me for saying so, a disconnect between the two. He is right to raise his constituents' concerns about antisocial behaviour, but I am right to say that this Government have taken more action than any other in history to sort it out.
Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): When can we have a debate on rural crime? I recently had a meeting with farmers, estate owners and people who live in the countryside around Kettering who feel increasingly isolated and under siege from Traveller-related and other criminal gangs, which are stealing tens of thousands of pounds-worth of agricultural equipment and threatening people in my constituency. There seems to be a group of people in the country that is increasingly above and beyond the rule of law.
It is vital, in rural as well as urban areas, that the law is observed and enforced. I will not follow the hon. Gentleman down the route of suggesting who might be responsible for particular crimes, but I am saying that it is vital, in all parts of the country, that the police force is properly resourced and supported to be able to act against those responsible for such crimes. I believe that the Government, in ensuring that there are more police officers in every part of the country, are setting out on the right road in dealing with not only rural crime, but urban crime. I accept that there is still more to do; this Government are determined to do it.
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"The Welsh Assembly Government are planning to invest an additional £30 million in NHS dentistry in the coming year. That will bring total spending on NHS dentistry in Wales from £81,000 in the last year to over £210 million in the coming year."[Official Report, 3 May 2006; Vol. 445, c. 957.]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mrs. Anne McGuire): I welcome this opportunity to discuss the Government's record on improving the life chances of disabled peoplea record in which we can take some pride. I also hope that we can debate the challenges that lie ahead and our strategy for tackling them.
The last Adjournment debate on disability took place in summer 2004. I have read the report in Hansard, and I was struck by the focus of that debate, which was almost exclusively on civil rights, although there were, as always, some well-made points on the wider agenda.
Since then, the Government have massively extended civil rights, and I will start by setting out some of our achievements in this area. We have also undertaken a comprehensive study of the life chances of disabled people and, through the flagship report by the Prime Minister's strategy unit, set out an ambitious but deliverable strategy to ensure substantive equality for disabled people within 20 years. That ambition ranks alongside, and is indeed integral to, our ambition to eradicate child poverty. I will take this chance to update the House on our progress in implementing that strategy.
John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that the Nuffield speech and language unit is a centre of excellence that for more than 35 years has been providing specialist teaching and therapy to children aged four to seven with severe speech and language disorders for whom no comparable provision does or can exist in mainstream education, will the Minister tell the House what discussions she has had with the Secretary of State for Health on the importance of protecting that centre of excellence from the threat of closure?
Mrs. McGuire: I will not deal with the specifics of the Nuffield centre, but I will explain some areas where we are working across Departments to ensure that we dovetail far more creatively in delivering for disabled people.
In January, we set out our proposals for welfare reform, which, again, are integral to the development of our policies for disabled people. We believe that they will end the marginalisation and exclusion of disabled people from the labour market. In that report, we explicitly set out our belief in the right of disabled people to work, and I know that hon. Friends and colleagues will welcome some discussion of that key element of our strategy.
However, before I begin that discussion, I want to spend a few moments reflecting on the position just under 10 years ago, not to seek to embarrass the official Opposition[Interruption.] No, no. We need to be clear, though, about how much the debate has moved on in that period. In today's debate, we should appreciate the dramatic changes that have been made to the environment in which debates such as this take place.
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I offer congratulations to the official Opposition, who have travelled a long road since 1995. We can all accept that, in 1997, disabled people had limited rights. Indeed, they had only two substantive rightsthe right not to be discriminated against in employment if they worked for a firm employing more than 20 persons, and the right not to be directly discriminated against in the provision of services. However, there was no commission to help disabled people to enforce those rights.
I hope that we can all accept that there were opportunities missedmost notably when the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was passedto establish Britain as a beacon of civil rights for disabled people. Although the DDA was undoubtedly a small step on the right road, I suspect that in retrospect, many of those on the Opposition Benches regret that they did not respond more positively to the challenge that was presented to them at that time.
However, since then, and with increasing consensus in the House, this Government, who came to power in 1997 determined to deliver on a commitment to improve the rights of disabled people, have taken action to ensure that we meet the ambitions and aspirations of disabled people themselves.
In respect of extending rights for disabled people and those with long-term limiting health conditions, I submit that the Government's record is without parallel. I mentioned the debate in 2004, which preceded the massive extension of the Disability Discrimination Act in October of that yeara landmark in the history of disability rights. In that debate, the then Conservative spokesperson was still concerned that there might be a massive backlash from businesses, the public and the media. I am glad, however, that those prophecies of doom proved to be wide of the mark. In fact, the changes that extended the employment provisions of the DDA to more than 1 million additional small businesses and a further 7 million jobs, and brought the final access duties into force, are driving a massive cultural change in society.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): As the then Conservative spokesman to whom the Minister referred, may I point out that saying that something might happen is not a prophecy? May I also ask her about the timing of the debate in 2004 to which she referred? The debate in 2004 took place on European election day. The debate today is taking place on local election day. Could she arrange for our next debate on this subject to be on a day on which local or European elections are not taking place?
Mrs. McGuire: The hon. Gentleman made great play of that in the previous debate, and I noted his comments. I am sure that the business managers will have heard his plea yet again. We have the opportunity to debate the issues today, and a significant number of Members who have strong views on the subject are here. I hope that we will use the time to promote the agenda rather than bothering about whether this is the right time to have the discussionI will not go down that route to any great extent.
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