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Lord Skelmersdale: I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to look at this problem—if indeed it is a problem and I have not highlighted a myth, which I know that I sometimes do, as the Minister has told me privately from time to time. However, I remember, although I cannot pin it down at the moment, that the DRC quite regularly supports or initiates court cases in the field of disability. I made a speech months ago on exactly that subject. If that is going on already outwith the Bill, it is likely that there will be a need for the occasional court case because of the Bill. That is what I am concerned about. However, as I said, I am grateful to the Minister for saying that she will consider the matter. As I said earlier, I do not think that this is the subject for an amendment to the Bill but it is something that we should watch very carefully indeed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Clause 3 agreed to.

Lord Ashley of Stoke moved Amendment No. 26:


"DISABLED PERSONS' RIGHTS TO INDEPENDENT LIVING
Persons with disabilities are to be entitled to the same choice, control and freedom as any other citizen, at home, at work, in education and as a member of the community."

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this new clause is to propose enforceable rights to independent living for disabled people. We have come a long way in the past 30 years or so from a patronising, pitying attitude to disabled people, but without full rights to independent living we fall well short of our goals. In my view, that is one of the highest priorities for the next Parliament. I understand that, at present, it is the subject of an intensive programme of work by the Disability Rights Commission and I very much hope that the Government takes that on board. I shall listen very carefully indeed to the response of my noble friend Lady Hollis.

The concept of independent living sounds very general, but it contains a range of very definite specifics. Some of those are taken forward in the Bill through new transport rights, the extent of the DDA's public functions and the public sector duty to promote
 
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disability equality. If the splendid amendments about disabled tenants and leaseholders proposed by my noble friends Lady Wilkins and Lady Darcy de Knayth, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, are eventually accepted they would add enormously to independent living.

The concept arises through our failure to provide independence for disabled people. Schools, jobs, leisure and all the things that we take for granted are beyond reach, as vast numbers of disabled people know to their cost. It is remarkably sad that so many of our citizens are deprived of so many basic rights.

Independent living means disabled people having the same choice, control and freedom as any other citizen. It means providing practical assistance based on their own choices and aspirations. Now is the time to move decisively on this. We need to guarantee that disabled people can grow up with their families, go to neighbourhood schools, use the same buses, get jobs commensurate with their abilities and have equal access to the same services and establishments and social life, culture and leisure.

It may be argued that we have made some progress, with community care and direct payments, and indeed we have. But there are many defects. For example, the DRC calculates that direct payments are particularly low for people with learning difficulties and mental health service users, with take up of only 10 per cent and 2 per cent of all direct payment recipients respectively.

The essential point is that full rights to independent living must be properly financed and carefully planned. With that, we can release human talents and potentialities that would benefit not only disabled people themselves, but the whole of our society. That is a marvellous goal and we will not be satisfied until we have achieved it. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale: I added my name to this amendment because I certainly agree with the principle. However, I made the point that disabled people are people first and disabled second. Therefore, it goes without saying that any rights and duties that are attached to able-bodied people should also be attached to disabled people. I am fairly confident—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that, when general duties, controls and freedoms are legislated for in the whole panoply of civil and criminal law, disabled people are covered just as much as the able-bodied. However, in principle I support the amendment.

Lord Addington: It only remains for me to say that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, is right in this matter and that the House should support him.

Lord Carter: I did not add my name to the amendment, but I should have done. As always, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, speaks with enormous authority and experience on this issue. We can all agree with the amendment, but it is what is known in the trade as a declaratory clause and I am sure that the Minister has a note from the draftsman saying that it is not necessary or something of that nature.
 
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I also wonder whether the amendment is in the right place in the Bill because it comes after Clause 3 in the section relating to public authorities and refers to rights that should apply to disabled people in all contexts, not only public authorities. The right place for the amendment—and it would be excellent if the Minister would accept it—is a declaratory clause right at the front of the Bill.

Lord Skelmersdale: Before the noble Lord sits down, does he believe that the Minister has a back pocket?

Lord Carter: I am sorry?

Lord Skelmersdale: A back pocket.

Lord Carter: In Committee, we can speak as many times as we like. However, it would be extremely ungallant of me to refer to whatever the Minister has behind her.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The notion that the Minister has a civil service in her pocket should not be regarded as an appropriate statement for any of us to make.

As my noble friend said, the amendment as worded is not necessary: the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale is exactly right. There is currently nothing in law that prevents disabled people from being entitled to the same choice, control and freedom as any other citizen. In that sense, the amendment is redundant. There is no law that says X, Y or Z applies to everyone except disabled people. However, that is not the issue, as I am sure my noble friend Lord Ashley would agree. The crucial matter is that disabled people have the opportunity to make use of existing rights. In other words, the rights must not be merely declaratory, but deliverable.

Too often, the barriers that people face are too great, which is what the DDA aims to tackle. By making discrimination against disabled people unlawful, it ensures that they can have greater choice, control and freedom in their lives. As Committee Members know, the DDA outlaws discrimination against disabled people in a range of situations including employment, education and the provision of goods, facilities and services. Requiring providers of hospital services to examine their policies and procedures, as we discussed earlier, or service providers to adapt or remove steps to a cinema or church to make access possible for wheelchair users is already within the DDA.

However, the current duties go only so far, which is why, through Clause 3 in the draft Bill, we are placing new duties on public authorities in the exercise of functions and requiring them not only to dismantle barriers but to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people. Those public authorities will have specific duties to make reasonable adjustments to the way that they fulfil their functions. More than that, they will have to consult disabled people on their priorities when developing policies and methods of delivery. They will then have to prioritise actions and reporting arrangements to reflect the priorities
 
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expressed by disabled people. Those new duties are aimed at ensuring that disabled people's needs are not considered as separate issues but are mainstreamed in all that public authorities do. The new duties should be transforming.

As my noble friend described today, I am aware that the Campaign for Independent Living sets out a number of aims, the "seven pillars of independent living", covering accessible housing; education; employment opportunities; provision of advocacy services; community care; access to information; and provision of welfare benefits, including direct payments.

I do not want to take up the Committee's time in listing all the activities under way in government, or how far this Government and, indeed, previous governments have moved in this direction. However, I can assure the Committee that the Government are working hard to improve services and facilities for disabled people in all of these areas.

Finally, I would like to highlight in particular the review being undertaken by the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit to examine how to improve the life chances of disabled people. The Strategy Unit review started a year ago, and an interim analytical report was published in June this year. I understand that the unit will publish its final report shortly. I am happy to do my best to ensure that all Members of your Lordships' Committee receive a copy when it does. That report will set out the Government's long-term vision for disabled people and I would expect its recommendations to aim at significantly improving outcomes for them.

I hope that with that assurance my noble friend will consider that we are properly and rightly addressing the concerns that he has outlined today.


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