Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, before the noble Viscount finally sits down, perhaps I may say that your Lordships will be extremely grateful for the speech that he has made. However, would he care to respond to the invitation to say that the Government do not regard amendments to Bills made by your Lordships' House as other than normal and acceptable and that they do not regard them as humiliating or embarrassing, as was expressed in the summer?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, that is almost like a "When did you stop beating your wife?" question. However, I can say to the noble and learned Lord that I regard your Lordships' House as a House of Parliament and not as an elderly, and indeed young, gentlemen's and ladies' club. Therefore, it is well within the rights and duties of your Lordships' House to seek to amend primary legislation if that is your Lordships' collective judgment. I should be the last person in the world to stand in your Lordships' way of doing so.

Perhaps I should point out that for every defeat inflicted on Her Majesty's Government over the past few years which has been reversed in another place, there have been many hundreds of instances of your Lordships' amendments being accepted. I could give many examples of that if we had the time.

Lord Renton: My Lords, before my noble friend finally sits down, perhaps I may put one further thought in his mind which I am sure he will be glad to have and perhaps declare; namely, that, above all, we are a revising Chamber for legislation.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I certainly accept my noble friend's stricture that that is indeed one of the more important functions which we perform and, as we all know, it takes up a great deal of our time. Higher quality legislation will no doubt lead to less time needing to be spent, but it will always be there.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Nathan: My Lords, in winding up the debate, I should like to say how very grateful I am for the speech that has just been given by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House. I thought that it was most affirmative and helpful.

I am delighted about two matters in particular: first, the reference right at the beginning of his speech to the dissatisfaction of the House and elsewhere about certain matters, and perhaps I may refer to that word

14 Dec 1994 : Column 1327

"elsewhere" in a moment. There were many matters to which he referred which seem to be more than helpful, in particular, that he wishes to return to the subject and aspects of it on future occasions. It is a matter of the very first importance.

I should also like to thank those many Members of your Lordships' House who have participated in this debate. As I said at the very beginning of my remarks, I tabled the Motion not because I knew very much about the subject but because it raises questions of great importance. The Motion was purposely widely drawn into four or five different headings: the Hansard Report itself; the process of legislation; questions of consultation; the position of your Lordships' House; and the questions relating to commencement orders. Those have all been addressed by one or other of your Lordships, or more. They are all important.

The noble Lord, Lord Richard, asked what the problem is, and he then answered the question very clearly referring to questions of legislation. I confess that my problem—and it is the reason that I was so concerned that the matter should be debated, as it has been so excellently in your Lordships' House—is that I am greatly concerned about the decline in the esteem in which Parliament is held by the public as a whole. Therefore, I hope that in order that the public may not be further alienated from the parliamentary process there will be further debate and that the subjects that have been discussed today so interestingly and seriously will be disseminated widely and known publicly so that members of the public may also play their part in the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.


5.36 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy rose to call attention to the case for recognising the many different kinds of disablement which occur and the ways in which the community in the United Kingdom can contribute to their alleviation; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said:

My Lords, this is an opportunity to consider the different forms of disability which exist and the varying requirements to help those who are handicapped to live lives that are as normal as possible. Because I was disabled 49 years ago, causing me to have to change professions, and having been in a wheelchair at times during that period, I feel that I can speak frankly and offer advice to my colleagues in the disability organisations.

Having also campaigned for more than 30 years in both Houses of Parliament, I welcome the Government's undertaking to introduce legislation in this parliamentary Session. Today, I am raising relevant matters in preparation for our later debates. I am aiming to help to set the scene. I shall not concentrate on any particular category. My object is to present the general comprehensive picture.

14 Dec 1994 : Column 1328

I am glad that distinguished noble Lords and Baronesses, knowledgeable on the subject and concerned, have undertaken to speak. I am sure that particular kinds of disability will receive attention. In that context, I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Rix, in his place, because I understood that he might not be able to take part in the debate. He and I were operating together in 1981 in the International Year of Disabled People when he was the chief executive of MENCAP and I had been invited to play a prominent part in that international year. He and my noble friend Lord Renton have drawn attention to the fact that the largest single category of disabled people is the mentally handicapped.

First, I shall recall briefly the history of efforts to assess numbers and locate disabled people. The situation over 30 years ago, when I was starting my parliamentary campaign, was that help for disabled people was restricted to war disabled, like me, and the industrially injured. People who had been disabled from birth or early youth and housewives or others who had not been in employment were not in the system at all. Their only support was national assistance—the ultimate safety net.

In the mid-1960s, I pressed the government of the day to assess numbers. One had to have a starting point. At that time no one had any idea how many disabled people there were in the country. In October 1967, I was rewarded. In reply to a Question from me, the Government announced that the Government Social Survey, as it then was, would undertake an operation to estimate numbers.

In 1971 the results were announced, in what became known as the Amelia Harris Report, by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys—the OPCS. That survey was carried out by sampling only, and was limited to persons aged 16 and over in private households. Nevertheless, it was the first-ever reliable estimate in Great Britain. In addition, it introduced classification and so provided the very first rough estimate of the number of severely disabled people.

We now have very much better information from the 1991 census. In that census, the terms "disabled" and "handicapped" were not used. The description chosen was, "limiting long-term illness", which of course includes the chronically sick. The definition was:

    "Any long-term illness, health problem or handicap which limits the daily activities or the work that a person can do".

When considering the forthcoming legislation that we are expecting, one should be aware of the size and nature of the subject. An estimate of 6.5 million disabled people in the United Kingdom has been made by the OPCS, based on that 1991 census. However, crucial to interpreting that figure is the fact that more than five million of them are over retiring age, and that most of them were not disabled during their working lives. The 6.5 million figure includes all forms and degrees of disability from the slightly handicapped, even those with no employment difficulties, to the wholly paralysed and unable to speak. There are many categories and combinations of handicap between those extremes; so trying to generalise about "the disabled" can be misleading.

14 Dec 1994 : Column 1329

The estimates produced as a result of the 1991 census should be of special interest to all concerned with disablement: 79 per cent. of the 6.5 million were over pensionable age (and the ages of 65 and 60 were observed for men and women respectively). That is significant, bearing in mind that all forecasts show an increase in the proportion of elderly people in our population in the future. It is also significant for the whole system of care in the community, because it is having to cater for elderly people who are increasingly incurring disabilities. There are other important findings by the OPCS.

Turning to the nearly 1.5 million who were under retirement age and to those between the ages of 16 and 59, 25 per cent. of men and 12 per cent. of women were found to be in full-time employment, and 45 per cent. of men and 30 per cent. of women were described as "economically active". There is one other helpful estimate which has recently been made, and that is that about 500,000 people, of all ages, permanently need a wheelchair. That figure is generally accepted by government authorities.

To sum up these most recently available estimates, which helpfully provide much more information than ever before, about one in nine of our population has a disability of some kind, whether slight or severe, and four out of five of those people with disabilities are over retirement age. About one in 112 of our population is permanently in a wheelchair. That comparison is important, because there are sometimes public oversimplifications to the effect that disabled people and wheelchair people are the same and synonymous. That happens, for example, at airports and at railway stations.

My noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish is to reply to the debate. I presume that he is not yet in a position to elaborate on the Government's proposals for legislation. I am sure that we would be most grateful for anything that my noble friend can tell us before we depart for the Christmas Recess. We would also be grateful for any comments that he may have on situations which I and other speakers describe this evening.

What can we as a community in this country do to improve life for disabled people, especially the severely handicapped? One way to improvement, and not an expensive one, would be to promote further public awareness of the different kinds of disability, thus spreading information and so changing attitudes. The principles which I believe should inspire our progress as a nation, in all those matters, are equality and integration.

To able-bodied people I put the following thoughts. A disabled person who is on his feet may well have to regard every day, nonetheless, as a test to be thought out in detail beforehand in terms of mobility and effort. The attitudes of other people can vary to an extraordinary degree. A friend whom he has known for years will say, perhaps when he has a setback and has to go back to a wheelchair, "I didn't know there was anything wrong with you". In one sense that is a compliment to the success of the disabled person in coping with daily life. But, unfortunately, it also often reflects the unobservant nature of the friend.

14 Dec 1994 : Column 1330

At the other extreme, other acquaintances will treat the same disabled person as if he was totally incapable of any independent thought or action. The disabled person will encounter both attitudes within a few hours on the same day. What is his or her reaction? Unpredictable at first, but later, probably, philosophical. The public can help by learning more and by exercising good judgment, with sensitivity in extending help where needed.

I shall touch on one part of life which is difficult or impossible for certain categories of disability; namely, transport. Improvements for disabled people are in general being made; but they cannot be achieved instantly. On all sides in Parliament—and, again, in this House recently—it has been agreed that it will take about 25 years before everything necessary can be done in public transport in this country for wheelchairs. Even that time-scale can only be achieved by determined efforts.

The London Underground is virtually a no-go area for wheelchairs, besides some other disabled people, because of the many steps and the very few lifts. That situation would be transformed if a new safe system could be invented for accommodating wheelchairs on escalators. There is a challenge for inventors and designers! There are many forms of disability which do not require a wheelchair and they also meet obstacles and difficulties of other kinds.

Discrimination against disabled people is, accordingly, very different from sex or race discrimination. The completely paralysed man is unlikely ever to seek to board a bus or to work in an ordinary office. That is why I do not favour the term "civil rights" as an appropriate description of new legislation. Even the United States has not used it for the Americans with Disabilities Act which aims for "reasonable accommodations" to be reached.

Another reason why I am worried about the use of the term "civil rights" is that an impression can be given that the enactment of a Bill can, in itself, immediately remove obstacles and difficulties. I have already met that impression among some disabled people and their carers. In taking this view, I know that I part company from several of my colleagues who serve on the Parliamentary Disabled Group. I do not know what title the Government intend to use for their Bill or Bills. I offer my view for what it is worth.

This leads me to something which the right honourable gentleman Mr. Alf Morris has asked me to raise at an early opportunity. In our debate on 22nd June I referred to his Private Member's Bill which became the 1970 Act. I said that it had been drafted by the Government. That was widely understood, then and later, to be the case; and many winners of the annual ballot in another place, like him, accept a first draft from the Government.

Mr. Morris has since told me that the situation was in fact somewhat different: that the then Secretary of State, the late Mr. Richard Crossman,

    "was strongly opposed to the whole proposition".

14 Dec 1994 : Column 1331

Fortunately Mr. Morris persisted and put together a draft Bill, with difficulty, in time for the Second Reading. The Government did then give help with drafting amendments. This I remember because I was one of the Bill's sponsors, at Mr. Morris's invitation, and I moved the amendments to extend the scope of the Bill to Scotland. They were provided by government draftsmen. I am glad to put that part of history correctly on the record. It could only have been known to very few at the time that the Minister was strongly opposed to the introduction of that Private Member's Bill.

In opening this debate, I hope I have exposed the vastness of the area of problems and possibilities within this subject—a subject we expect to be considering soon in this House over a period of several weeks at least. I suggest that many of the special problems of various disabilities require separate solutions and that these should be tackled with vigour and determination. I beg to move for Papers.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page