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Mrs. McGuire: Yes, and I am glad.

Mr. Robathan: Not many people outside the House are glad.
 
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Miss Begg: Every wheelchair user, every person with a fixed hip or who has difficulty in bending and every person who has difficulty getting upstairs in London is glad that the Routemaster has gone.

Mr. Robathan: I am surprised that the hon. Lady believes that she can speak for everybody because no one can do that. How many people who are in wheelchairs use buses in London? Would not it be much better to provide them with taxis that can take them from door to door?

Mrs. McGuire: With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman is stuck in a mindset that ghettoises disabled people. I believed that there was a general consensus in the House about the need to examine the barriers that stop disabled people taking a full and active part in their community. Although there is role for the community bus that he mentioned, many people who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) said, have mobility problems but are not necessarily wheelchair users and come to work in central London, welcomed the demise of the Routemaster. If the hon. Gentleman tries to get on a bus in his current condition, which he highlighted, he will find the existing buses far more attractive for meeting his needs than the Routemaster could ever be.

Mr. Robathan: The Minister makes my point for me. If we want joined-up government, public transport policy in London must include disabled people but is about more than that. It covers, for example, congestion and ease of getting on and off for the majority of people, who are not disabled, including those with diabetes. It is important to realise that rather than simply saying that we must continue to ensure that, for example, we get rid of Routemaster buses. Many people, including Ken Livingstone at one stage, backed the Routemaster bus because it was such an excellent way of swiftly transporting large numbers of people around cities.

I appreciate that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South is not from London but I am sure that she reads the London newspapers. She will then know that many people in London dislike bendy buses enormously and do not travel on them because they do not have sufficient seats.

Roger Berry (Kingswood) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman believe that public transport should be made more accessible to disabled people? Is it a good thing or, as he appears to imply, a trivial matter?

Mr. Robathan: No, it is not a trivial matter and I am not implying that. Of course, it is a good thing to make public transport more accessible. That is not in doubt. The question is whether it was sensible to push out the Routemaster bus and I suggest that it was not. I am talking about holistic, joined-up government.

Roger Berry: Cliché, cliché.

Mr. Robathan: The hon. Gentleman speaks in clichés, so he should know. I am glad that I have stirred up Labour Members—they needed a bit of stirring up.

Let me consider my second example. I used to be a councillor in Hammersmith and Fulham. I do not know whether any hon. Member who is present knows
 
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Hammersmith town hall, but it was built in the 1930s on the main A4. The front entrance was therefore on that road. When the A4 became a six-lane highway, the front entrance was moved to the back. Cleverly, there was a lift installed at the original back entrance in the 1930s so that disabled people could go up and down every floor. When the entrance was moved to the back, people were faced with an appalling number of steps at the front entrance. In about 1990, the council decided to build a ramp that ran for about 100 yd alongside the steps to provide wheelchair access to the foyer. It cost about £100,000. However, as soon as the wheelchair users got into the foyer, they were immediately faced with steps, so they could go no further. But if they went round to the back of the building, they could take the lift to any floor and any meeting. I raised the matter with the Labour councillors there, and they said, "It's a statement." I believe that most people with mobility problems would prefer to be able to access the rooms than to live a statement.

Miss Begg: I would not wish examples of bad adaptations to be used as an excuse not to make buildings wheelchair accessible. I commend to the hon. Gentleman the publications produced by English Heritage that show some of the really imaginative ways in which buildings have been made not only wheelchair friendly but people friendly, even though they were built centuries ago.

Mr. Robathan: The hon. Lady thinks that I am disagreeing with her, but I am not. I am saying that there should be proportionality, and that we should help disabled people in the best possible way—thoughtfully and pragmatically—rather than making statements that cost a lot of money and do not help them.

I want briefly to talk about attitudes. In the past two weeks, I have learned about attitudes towards people on crutches. I have found the attitude of most people towards me to be pretty good. A man slammed the door behind me yesterday after I had scrambled into a taxi at Euston station. He was just walking past and decided to help me. That was excellent. As hon. Members might imagine, the Tea Room staff here could not be more helpful with carrying things for me. Occasionally, however, I have met people such as the minicab driver who tried to pick a fight with me when I was leaving the hospital. I would have thought that people who were on crutches or in a wheelchair were pretty safe from people trying to pick a fight with them for no reason at all, but apparently not. However, that is another matter, and it is one that I subsequently discussed with the police.

People's attitudes are important. I was appalled to hear the story related by the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander) about someone being refused access to a bus. In 1991, I trained as a bus driver. I was not very good at it. Indeed, I had to become an MP instead. I hit a trader's barrow in the street market in North End road, actually. However, my point is that, when I was training to be a bus driver, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee—DPTAC—already existed. I was shown films about access to buses—the Minister will remember that this was under the wicked Tories in 1991—and about the colour coding of handles and steps. I was amazed to discover that, some 15 years later, bus drivers
 
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are not so well trained and that they now refuse access to disabled people. Of course that should not be happening, and I am astonished that it did. Disabled people do not want warm words and statements; they want genuine assistance, so that they can lead their lives independently, as far as possible. I can understand that.

I want to talk about people in the developing world who are affected by disability. When we see people in the developing world who have very little, and who are also disabled because of disease, for example, we realise how poverty strikes the disabled the worst. Until last week, I was chairman of the Halo Trust, a charitable trust that clears landmines around the world. Indeed, it is the biggest mine clearance agency in the world. When clearing the landmines, we also see the disabling effects that landmines can have, especially when they blow off people's lower limbs.

People ask why we do not just leave the mines where they are. I know only a little about this, but I have seen villages in Cambodia in which anti-personnel mines have been laid underneath houses that people are still living in. The people must follow a particular path to get out of their houses, because if they stray from it, they will get their legs blown off. That helped me to understand how the mines impact on people's lives. But poor people who live in squalor in the developing world have to go out to tend their cattle and to hoe the ground. And they are subject to the most awful impact that disability can have. In the streets of Maputo, Phnom Penh in Cambodia or wherever, we can see what effect disability—brought on early, particularly by land mines—has on young people. They are then reduced to poverty and cannot raise themselves out of it. Their life chances are very slim.

Hon. Members might not know that 1 million people have been killed or maimed by anti-personnel mines in recent years or that 26,000 people a year become victims, which is 70 a day. Of course, such mines do not just injure or kill an individual; they create long-term costs to communities, and the most immediate problem is medical costs, which people often cannot bear.

I said that I would be brief, and I am glad that I have stirred up Members on the other side of the House. I wanted to check that they were listening and not going to sleep. Before moving on, I pay tribute to the Department for International Development, which has been extremely good in funding not only land mine clearance, but the victims of land mines—the disabled in the developing world. I suggest that, there, small investment pays huge dividends in a way that it does not here.

In conclusion, we should all care, and I hope we do, but we should not treat disabled people as in some way inferior beings. We should give them every opportunity to live their lives to the full. However, we should be not just offering warm words, but taking effective and concrete action in our policy development. The Government are doing much that is good here, but statements are not always enough. We need positive action that is pragmatic and helpful.

2.56 pm


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