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I am sure that you would not be surprised, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to know that, as a former Whip, I knew that I had moved the motion to adjourn the House at 12.20 pm, a few hours ago.
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I was about to thank the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) for his thoughtful comments in winding up the debate. I shall deal with the specific issues that he raised shortly but his speech illustrated what I tried to say about the Opposition on various occasions this afternoon. I shall embarrass him, but, led by people such as him, the Opposition has come a long way on disability rights. That is worth stating. Although I scratched at a bit of a sore earlier, the road that the Opposition have travelled must be acknowledged and I wanted to do that.
I thank all hon. Members for their contribution today. I agree with the hon. Member for Daventry that the debate has been thoughtful, with some fantastic contributions, regardless of whether it is the right or wrong day to hold the debate. I thank especially my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), my hon. Friends the Members for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg), for Kingswood (Roger Berry), for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), of course, my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks) and last, but not least, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Mr. Clarke). All those contributions were valuable, together with those from Opposition Members.
I should like to comment on some of the major issues that were raised and, hopefully, answer some of the specific questions. In some instances, although they were related to disability and disabled people, they are matters specifically for other Departments. I shall ensure that ministerial colleagues' attention is drawn to those matters.
I congratulate the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt) on his first speech from the Dispatch Box. We will give him the card that specifies the difference between incapacity benefit and disability living allowance so that he is well aware of it.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned Scope's publication about access to polling stations, which was a very appropriate subject for comment today. He will not be surprised to learn that we have not been able to verify the accuracy of some of Scope's findings. However, we have taken action to improve disabled access to polling stations. Returning officers are now required to display a large version of the ballot paper, for example. Each polling station must also be supplied with a tactile voting device to assist blind and partially sighted electors, so that they can vote without the need for assistance. For some time, blind voters have been able to take a companion into the polling station to assist them with casting their ballot, rather than having to rely on the presiding officera strangerto help them.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about a young woman who was injured in the 7/7 bombings in London. I hope that he will understand that it is inappropriate for me to get involved in individual cases; indeed, I am precluded in law from doing so. However, the subject was also raised by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), and I want to place on record that, as of 21 April, about £2 million-worth of compensation has been paid out. Some of those compensation payments are interim awards, for the understandable reason that complex issues relate to the injuries and disabilities caused by the bombing.
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We are not complacent about this matter, and the young woman whose case the hon. Member for South-West Surrey raised is a reminder that we cannot afford to be. I hope that her case has also highlighted to hon. Members and to the country the sheer tenacity and bravery shown by many people when they become disabled, even in such horrible circumstances as the 7/7 bombings. The hon. Gentleman also spoke about the man from Buckinghamshire with a learning disability. Obviously, I cannot comment on that, because it is an abuse case that is currently being investigated by the police.
The hon. Gentleman raised a number of other points, but I would like to concentrate on the transport issues that he mentioned, in particular aviation. He will be aware that the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 does not cover aviation and shipping services, but both industries have voluntary codes of practice on meeting the needs of disabled people. The Department for Transport, in conjunction with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, is monitoring compliance with the codes, and that work is due to report shortly. The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander) also asked a question about that. We are committed to legislating if the voluntary approach proves ineffective.
Several hon. Members mentioned aviation, and pointed out that it involves an international market. In airports, the ground side is covered by our own disability discrimination legislation, but the code of conduct on planes is effectively part of an international discussion. I think that it was the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and wherever who highlighted that fact that we raised this issue during our EU presidency.
I do not, however, want to lose sight of the changes that have been made in transport. More than 4,000 accessible rail vehicles have already been introduced into service, and 46 per cent. of our buses are now accessible. I know that that might not be an acceptable statistic to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), but there we have it. That figure is now rising to 80 per cent. in some of our urban areas.
Taxis are also now getting more accessible. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South has left the Chamber, because I remember trying to get into a London taxi with her and other colleagues in 1997. I am not sure whether the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Mr. Roy), was there, but my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South eventually decided that the best way for us all, including her, to get a taxi was to hide her. That is exactly what we did until the door was opened, and before we could say Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, we were all in the taxi. I hope that the hon. Member for Blaby appreciates that there has been movement.
To come to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, we do need to get a shorter constituency title, although I appreciate that he represents a wonderful part of the country and I do not want to insult it. On the independent living centres, which were referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood, the issue of funding was highlighted recently at their own conference in Southampton, which
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was run in parallel with the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Social Services. They are working on a funding protocol, and the Department of Health is linking closely with those developments.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey also raised the issue of the driver refusing to take a disabled passenger. That is unacceptable and there is no excuse for it. I can assure him that the Department for Transport is funding driver awareness videos and the extension of the DDA part III duties will impact on transport in December. That will start to encourage companies to raise awareness.
I want to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East in relation to a couple of points. First, he said very kind words about my late father, who was much involved with promoting disabled rights when he was chairman of social work in Strathclyde. Specifically, he prompted some support for BlindCraft in the Glasgow area. I am aware of the work that has been done to turn around the BlindCraft factory outlet in Edinburgh, and I know that my right hon. Friend has been very supportive of it.
My right hon. Friend also made the important point that, for some disabled people, sheltered employment might be necessary. We must look at it as part of the overall menu of opportunities for disabled people. I want to tell him a wee bit of personal history. When I was born, a good number of years ago, I was put in a BlindCraft Moses basket, and very good Moses baskets they were. As a matter of fact, that basket was so old it was probably made by Moses. Thirty years ago, I put my own second born into another Moses basket, because that was the tradition in our part of the world.
I come now to the hon. Member for Blaby. What can I say about him? I think that his motivations are honourable and his instincts are probably right, buthow can I put this nicely?there are still some steps that he has to take along the road to where some of his hon. and right hon. Friends have already parked themselves.
I fear that the hon. Gentleman tried to imply that there is a hierarchy of disability, although I might have misinterpreted him. I think there are some issues that he needs to reflect upon. However, I welcome his remarks on the work that DFID has done in the developing world and I take very seriously his comment that we need action, not just statements, in that respect.
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