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Other outcomes of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act included its impact on Parliament itself. Here its Second Reading had to be preceded by changes in conventions, and even the seating arrangements in this Chamber. Thus the first row of the Cross Benches were removed to make space for what rapidly became known as the “Mobile Bench” of Peers confined to wheelchairs, and from which Davina and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, among others, made their maiden speeches.

In the House of Commons, too, the Act’s impact soon became visible. It was there that the decision to adapt the whole of the Terrace originated and, among other changes, large and small, the offensive practice of detaining guide dogs at St Stephen’s entrance, leaving blind visitors to be escorted by police officers, was ended. Another change, seemingly small but hugely encouraging as a sign of Parliament’s growing acceptance of its duty to lead came when Alan Beaney, a miners’ MP, was suddenly afflicted by throat cancer, leaving him capable of little more than an intermittent whisper that could barely be understood even by life-long friends. I discussed speculatively with Selwyn Lloyd, then Speaker of the House of Commons, whether it might be possible for Alan still to make some contribution in Parliament.

Since time immemorial, of course, Members of both Houses engaged in debate only by the spoken word, but Selwyn, reflecting that Alan’s must be what he called “the ultimate parliamentary disability”, now agreed that I could move from the Front Bench and sit by Alan’s side, as he rose to speak, to help him to convey his words to the House in a debate about the future of the mining industry of the highest importance to his constituents. So together on 3 December 1970, each with a copy of the speech, Alan and I attacked, in concert, the Coal Industry Bill, describing it as,

that would,

and much more to the same effect. Sadly, his cancer spread and it was Alan’s final speech, uniquely eloquent in its way, and a timely further reminder that Parliament must never again accept easy excuses for excluding people from its proceedings.

One of the penalties of longevity in parliamentary life is the loss by attrition of close and valued colleagues. The longer one survives, the more colourful and crowded one’s gallery of old and trusted friends. Many of the most honoured in mine are those who laboured with

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me to enact the 1970 Act. They were not all of one party. They were of all parties but one mind and united by a shared determination that laws affecting disabled people must be based on statutory rights.

As well as Jack Ashley—presiding then over the All-Party Disability Group, as he has done ever since—the Back-Benchers who worked most closely with me to enact the Bill included the honourable John Astor, Lewis Carter-Jones, Dr Michael Winstanley, Fred Peart, Sir Richard Body, Laurie Pavitt, Dame Irene Ward, Fred Evans, Neil Marten and Will Griffiths. Outside the House my collaborators included Duncan Guthrie, then director of RADAR’s predecessor, Mary Appleby of MIND, George Lee of MENCAP, Michael Flanders, Leonard Cheshire, Sir Harry Platt, Douglas Bader, Lady (Pix) Hamilton, Dr Ludwig Guttman of Stoke Mandeville, Field Marshal Lord Harding, the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, Mary Greaves who led DIG after the death of Megan du Boisson and my fellow co-operator Mary Stott, a Guardian columnist said by Megan to have inspired her proposal for a campaigning Disablement Income Group.

While we have come a long way since then, there is still, as all of us know, a long and daunting agenda of unmet need, but in facing the future today we are strongly fortified by the UN Convention on Disability Rights. We also have Rehabilitation International’s globally acclaimed Charter for the New Millennium drafted by leading disability campaigners from the north, south, east and west of the world and launched in 1991 in the Church of St Mary Undercroft in Westminster Hall, on the basis of which Davina secured and led the debate on disability rights here on 14 July 2000, after Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, had described the charter on 5 July as,

Moreover, we are strongly reinforced on the “Mobile Bench” by my everywhere-respected noble friend Lady Wilkins and, in the last year, by my longstanding friends Lady Campbell and Lord Low. Again, in Anne McGuire we have a Minister totally committed to tackling unmet need. My noble friend Lord McKenzie will, I know, want to respond to this important debate both positively and with all his customary care and concern.

I conclude with the final words of a speech made to parliamentary colleagues the day before the Second Reading of my Bill on 5 December 1969. I told them:

That is what the legislation that we are met now to recall was all about. I beg to move for Papers.



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11.56 am

Lord Addington: My Lords, I have become accustomed to following the noble Lord in debates on disability over the years that I have been here. There are very few days when one feels that it has already been said, as it has been today. The noble Lord was in at the start on the first effective step of a long journey; there had been previous attempts. It is an odd journey, because it has diverse paths. When I asked the Library to give me a list of all the major Acts since the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 that refer to disability —I understand why we have the 30th anniversary today—it gave me three lists of 15, seven and 17 Acts. I looked at them and said, “No, there should be others here as well”. I then read something from the Employers’ Forum on Disability that mentioned many health and safety Acts. I would have included many education Acts.

My joining of this diverse series of paths came in 1987, when I made my maiden speech on the problems of dyslexia. That was blatant self-interest, of course, but that is where I started from. I received assistance through the state system directly as a result of the noble Lord’s Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. That was because a teacher at Brooke School in the county of Norfolk said to my mother, “The reason why your son cannot write is because he may well be dyslexic. I have just heard about this new thing, and apparently it is accompanied by an Act of Parliament”. So, if I bore the noble Lord today, it is his fault.

I believe that some people have said, “Not another debate about various Bills on disability”. When this started out, it went to places that we did not think it would go, because we did not have the mindset to make those sideways steps. We did not realise that effectively everything has a disability aspect to it. Everyone then got frightened about the prospect of a disability aspect to every single Act. Every single Government and lobby group have said at various times, “We cannot do that; it will be too expensive. It will stop everything happening. We will be sued if we put ramps in shop doorways. We cannot have those. They will be far too expensive, and if people skateboard on them we will be sued and go to prison”. I heard that on numerous occasions. If that has occurred anywhere, I have not heard about it. There has frequently been the panic factor or fear factor of the unknown and of the expense. “We do not do it this way, so it cannot be done this way”, has always been said.

Indeed, many disability groups have had to go through some extremely painful development—more than that, evolution—to tangle with the new worlds that they are dealing with. Many organisations which started off as fairly paternal, patting people on the head and literally asking questions such as “Does he take sugar?”, have become groups which empower people to go out and live their own lives as independently as possible by removing barriers up front; and most things that help someone in a wheelchair also assist someone wheeling a pram or carrying heavy luggage.

If you put lifts in you have fewer people with back injuries. Other small measures are being taken in various businesses. There are savings to be made by design factors. You can be walking down a corridor at

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a party conference and be grabbed by an official who says, “Will you host something on design?”. When that happened to me, I did not know anything about it and made some comment, asking if design was useful. Someone said, “You are a disability spokesman. Did you know that including disability factors in design have become commonplace—they are legion?” I did not. The fact that this goes on and spreads is massively important to the development of what goes on here.

Has everyone got the legislation right yet? No. Is there much more legislation and does it cover many more parts of our lives? Yes. Has that become something of a lawyers’ feast, if you let it get that far? Yes. Legislation should cross-reference with other legislation. The previous disability Bill of Lord Carter, whom one feels should be here today, but is not, insisted that we should take that path by trying to cross- reference the various pieces of legislation. All Governments have taken brave steps on their own. The cultural starting points of the various political parties have meant that their approaches have been different and the inertia of government has been there for all of us. The way that style has changed has meant a different approach; each rosette will have a slightly different take on this.

As the noble Lord said, the various stages and developments have come from all around the House, but we are far too dependent on the courts, which effectively excludes large groups from taking action if someone feels that they are discriminated against. That should go on the record. This really is not the best way forward. It may have been a way forward, and more may have been hoped of it, but it is not the best way forward—or if it is, we are in trouble.

We have to try to integrate everything more closely with the current legal structure and get in there early. The distance we have travelled is underlined by the fact that a very small piece of legislation was referred to when we were taking our places for this debate—the Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Interoperable Rail System) Regulations 2008. I believe that this is a disability issue—if I am wrong, it does not matter. The fact is, it could quite easily be. How are we going to approach this issue and deal with the lobby groups which still feel that other priorities need to be addressed first and that this basic human right is not fully integrated yet into the mindset? That is the big challenge. Do we do enough to encourage people to ensure that in the initial planning stage disability-friendly legislation should be there right up front? We are pushing things that way, because if you do not, there is a potential legal threat. Unfortunately, the legal enforcement system means that that threat is seldom delivered or is delivered with difficulty.

We have to try to take steps forward. Indeed, the present planning and accessibility duty at one point seemed to be threatened by the proposed Single Equality Bill. I hope that the Minister will confirm that all future planning regulations will be strengthened and not rolled back on the grounds of expense. We can probably enjoy that confirmation today; it will put certain people’s minds at rest if that approach can be gone ahead with. If we do that, we

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are taking steps towards addressing the real problems here, without having to come back again and again to Parliament—without having to try to put a disability amendment or new clause into every Bill. Some have mentioned that we always seemed to do that in the past but do it slightly less often now. Another good point is that it can be done automatically without any fuss. If we can get away from having to do that, we will have finally arrived.

The timeframe of which the noble Lord spoke is long, and we may be getting towards a comprehensive answer. It will never be perfect and the diversity of conditions, what is needed to help them and emerging technology will probably mean that it will have to be systematically reviewed. We have come a long way, but I am afraid that we can never take our eyes off the matter totally.

It is a happy and sad occasion for me. I am not doing the sum-up today because my noble friend Lady Thomas will normally lead on this subject for the foreseeable future, I hope. It is not so much passing the baton as changing the runners in the relay, because I am sure that I will still be around. However, as she was responsible in her back-room days for instigating many of the things that I did, I do not think that we need worry too much about losing a grip from these Benches.

I deeply congratulate the noble Lord on his starting the process and his championing of making sure that it carries on.

12.06 pm

Lord Rix: My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Royal Mencap Society. After that declaration, I was expecting to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, on holding the debate. Instead I am saddened by his absence. He is certainly a tireless campaigner on behalf of people with a disability, as is shown more recently by his efforts on the excellent independent living Bill. I am sure that we all wish him well. However, I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, as his understudy. He is the original reason for this debate and I pay tribute to him for stepping into the breach.

The debate is an opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved in the last 30 years—since Northern Ireland was included in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act—and of course what is still left to do. Thankfully, we have come a long way in our attitudes since the Mental Deficiency Act 1927, which defined people with a learning disability as “idiots” and “imbeciles”. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, indicated in his Motion, it is now 30 years since the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act of the now noble Lord, Lord Morris, was fully extended to cover all those in the United Kingdom with a disability. He was ahead of his time and I am sure that everyone in the House will join me in paying tribute to the determination and foresight that he showed in 1970, and in the intervening years, in campaigning on all the issues affecting those with a disability.

The 1970 Act, affectionately know in another place as the Alf Morris Act, ensured that our country led the way on changes in attitude towards people with a disability. Sadly, we might be hard-pressed to make

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the same claim now, for no fewer than 27 countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities before the United Kingdom, the latest being Kenya on 19 May. Despite that unfortunate delay, I am delighted that the Government are apparently still on track for our ratification by the end of the year.

Another crucial year for disability legislation was 1974, when the post of Minister for Disabled People was created. What better way to ensure that Parliament passed laws to improve the lives of those with a disability than appointing the noble Lord, Lord Morris, who was the natural candidate for the position? It was also the first year that Mencap held what was then Mencap Week and is now known as Learning Disability Week. In fact, this year’s week is nearly upon us, starting as it does on 15 June. This will stress that, despite there being an estimated 800,000 people of working age with a learning disability, many of whom could make a significant contribution to the workplace, fewer than one in 10 known to social services is in paid work. It is hoped that the week will remind the Government to ensure that employers know that specialist help and support are available for those wishing to employ people with a learning disability.

Over the past 30 years, there have been Acts and statutory instruments galore, all with the aim of improving the lives of those with a disability. For that, we have to thank Governments of both political persuasions. However, the most important has been the Disability Discrimination Act, introduced in 1995 and strengthened in 2005. One of the new requirements under the 2005 DDA is that each school must have a disability equality scheme in place to help it to improve and change its practices to accommodate disabled pupils and staff. Secondary schools were due to have this in place by December 2006.

Last year, Mencap carried out a survey to see how these schemes were working. The results showed that many schools have a lot further to go before they fully understand and implement a disability equality scheme. The recent report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, A Life Like Any Other? Human Rights of Adults with Learning Disabilities, supported these findings and commented that, due to inadequate pressure from central government, the DDA and the disability equality duty were being “insufficiently understood and applied” on the ground. However, I am told that the Government have recognised that there are problems and that they have at least committed to strongly promoting the new guidance to tackle the bullying of disabled young people.

We are in the middle of a government-led consultation on the shape of future social services and expect a Green Paper on the subject next year, yet the Government are still working from an extremely low evidence base and do not have sufficient information to deliver their aspirational policies. I can give some figures now. The number of people with a learning disability is set to rise by 20 per cent between 2001 and 2021. A survey from the Commission for Social Care Inspection has already found that 73 per cent of councils are willing

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to support only those people whose learning disability is, in their opinion, severe or critical. All the others will be hung out to dry.

The Minister may remember that on 20 November last year I asked him whether his department would assess the number of people with a learning disability who are being denied services because of this tightening of eligibility criteria. Sadly, the Minister did not make such a commitment. Perhaps today when he rises he will be able to do so, for ignoring this problem will cause untold misery for tens of thousands of people with learning disabilities and their families.

The health inequalities faced by people with a learning disability is another crucial issue on which the Government must make progress. We are awaiting the findings and recommendations of the independent inquiry that was set up after Mencap revealed the unnecessary deaths of six people with a learning disability while they were in the care of the NHS. We expect the independent inquiry to find many more such cases and to call for annual health checks for all people with a learning disability. These were originally suggested by the Government back in 2001, yet they have failed to make progress on this most tragic of issues, despite evidence from Wales, where the introduction of such health checks has proved to be effective. In the last year in Wales, these checks picked up new health needs among 68 per cent of people with a learning disability, 11 per cent of which were serious. How many more patients with similar problems in the rest of the UK have to face death by indifference before government action is taken to ensure that the NHS is truly a health service for everyone, irrespective of their intellectual capacity?

The Government certainly took the initiative on the Children and Young Persons Bill when they placed a new duty on local authorities to provide short breaks for children with disabilities, but if the Government are to meet their stated ambition to have equality for all people with a disability by 2025, we need to see more of this praiseworthy type of legislative change.

I pay tribute to all noble Lords here today, as well as to Members in another place, who have made such a difference to the lives of all people with a disability. Now we are joined, most effectively, by disabled people themselves. Together, we are a formidable force that is capable of making even greater progress in the ongoing battle for disability rights and that faraway 1970 Alf Morris Act.

12.16 pm

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for initiating this debate. It is one of those occasions when there is—myself excepted—a galaxy of experts.

I want initially to try to find my own road into this whole area. I shall offer two personal examples. First, I am suffering not from a disability but from an impairment to do with my treatment, which means that I cannot read very well, I cannot hear very well and I cannot eat very well. I know that not being able

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to hear very well—a partial hearing limitation—is a very isolating and sometimes irritating experience.

My second example is rather more related to disability. In the village in which I was brought up, there was an old man who could neither hear nor speak. I do not know what his domestic circumstances were but he had a habit of going to the village ice-cream shop of an afternoon. After school, some of us would go and buy ice-creams and see him conversing through sign language with the Italian ice-cream maker. It was a shock and would defy every conceivable health and safety regulation today but we are talking about the 1950s. What the experience of seeing those two conversing did to a whole generation of children in the village is incalculable. We saw them both as complete persons in themselves conversing in their own way. There was no patronising compassion from the ice-cream maker. You could see in the way in which they related to each other with their eyes a kind of total equality and normality. I shall never forget that.

A lot is, quite rightly, being made so far of the progress—or lack of it—of legislation; it has been very informative to hear that. Since 1978, there has been slow progress. One result of that is heightened public awareness; but when you have heightened public awareness of a group that has been marginalised, you have got to be ready for the unlocking of a marginalised collective memory. That happens with any group of this kind, and not just those with disabilities. It becomes much more complex to deal with as awareness moves from ignorance, through patronising benevolence, to seeing the group as part of the whole of society and not an abnormality. It is our fault—the rest of us—for having a rather warped view of normality.


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