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The public debate in recent years has helped us towards greater sensitivity of language. One sometimes hesitates to take part in such discussions in case one uses language that is seen to be offensive. Much more should be done to enforce legislation, which brings me to my third point. Perhaps I may use the cloak of anonymity. I know of two excellent parish priests with disabilities: one with spina bifida and the other with cerebral palsy. Both were appointed to parishes, and the parish representatives, with great delight, saw them as people who would, with their particular conditions, bring something to the rest of the community. That is something over which I can rejoice and which I realise might not have happened 10 or 15 years ago. One of them writes very strongly about making public places more accessible:
The problems I face are not often related to the fact that I have a physical disability but the way society creates an environment that limits my involvement. People who use wheelchairs cannot enter buildings with steps. It is not the using of the wheelchair that limits, but the steps of the building.
That brings me on to the question of public places. As noble Lords have already mentioned other public places, it is perhaps appropriate that I should mention churches. Access to churches is often very difficult, often because of history. When I was rector at a parish in Guildford I had probably the least accessible church in Surrey. It was put there to be at the top of a hill. The present parish church in Bishops Waltham, for example, was built in the 13th century on the site of a building from Anglo-Saxon times. We are
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Like all the world religions, Christianity has a rather mixed history in its teachings about disability. That is why every religion needs its own critique. It is sometimes a rather irritating process for some of the faithful but I would say that it is a necessary one. There have been some rather warped understandings of the New Testament: for example, disability has been linked to sin; it is seen as a travesty of the divine image; it has been said that people with disabilities are spiritually enhanced through virtuous suffering; and, worst of all, charitable action is viewed as benevolence rather than justice.
The trouble is that we have these two words in the Christian vocabulary which, for obvious reasons connected with our history, have passed into public discussionmiracle and healing. I am rather relieved that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham is no longer in his place because I suspect that in the next few minutes he would be jumping up and down correcting what I am saying, although I did clear some of this with him before he left. The word miracle has a very loaded understanding within Christianity and outside it. The word used in the New Testament is the Greek word dynamis, which is about power rather than miraclethe two are not quite the same. Similarly, the word healing is not about cure but about wholeness. During my illness I was anointed a number of times. I was not expecting to be cured of the disease but to be calmed, to steady me and to give me a time of rest before the next stage.
Another negative aspect of Christianity, if I may put it that strongly, is that people with mental disabilities have only recently been allowed to be confirmed. Now it is normal practice, but I remember being asked by anxious parents early in my ministry whether their children could be confirmed. Only recently I confirmed a severely autistic young lad who brought his mother along to be confirmed alongside him.
Here I am speaking on behalf of a historic voluntary organisation that has an important part to play in the life of the community. I am sure that other noble Lords have similar stories to tell about the heightened awareness that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. There have been repeated calls, for example from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and Rabbi Lionel Blue, about extending this public awareness and enforcing legislation. That is one problem: the legislation needs to be more incisive and developed. However, many of the problems arise because the current legislation is not being enforced.
I shall conclude on a more general note about the way in which discussion is held, and here I want to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said. In a recent lecture in Cambridge, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, spoke movingly about the place of people with disabilities in the rest of society. She put it in five words: Nothing about us, without us.
Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, I am sure we must all feel the shadow cast over this debate by the absence of Lady Darcy de Knayth, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, reminded us, made her maiden speech in your Lordships' House during the passage of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act in 1970. The sense of shock and loss was palpable throughout the House on the day that her death was announced. Following that maiden speech, she became one of the most persistent campaigners in your Lordships House for equal rights for disabled people. In May 1990, she was responsible for defeating the Government by 87 votes to 86 on her amendment to grant deaf and dyslexic students the right to claim income support and housing benefit. One of her greatest victories came in March 1991 when she helped to kill off the Government's attempt to abolish the Independent Living Fund.
It is remarkable how much you learn about people at their funerals that you never knew before and wish you had. Davina was a woman of many parts. In her youth, after a period in Florence, she attended the Sorbonne. She was also a keen sportswoman. As well as playing table tennis, she became an archery champion and was active in the Paralympic movement. She was a strong advocate for involving disabled people in sport and won a gold medal for swimming in the Israel Paralympics. As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, reminded us, she was injured in a serious car crash in the mid-60s which left her widowed and severely disabled with three young children to bring up. It is not the done thing these days to speak of disability as a tragedy but, as misfortunes go, I should have thought that would take some beating. Yet I never heard Davina complain even as, towards the end of her life, her need for assistance grew greater. She seemed to me to just get on with things. She was kindness itself to me when I entered the House and far too self-deprecating about her own abilities. As we all know, she was held in the highest regard, so that when hereditary Peers automatic right to sit in the House was removed in 1999, she topped the poll to see which 10 per cent should remain. A fellow Peer told me that he did not even bother to vote for her because he knew that this would be the outcome.
In a debate on the United Nations convention last June, the noble Lord, Lord Morris, referred to the small fellowship of disabled Peers who typically spoke in debates of this kind and came to support one another. Indeed, he described it as one of the more endearing and charming features of your Lordships House. I am sorry that the small fellowship is not quite as strong today as it normally is, and that the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Wilkins, are not here because they are not well. I am sure that we all send them our best wishes and hope for their speedy return to the fellowship. I am sure that we could all do with their support.
I was very taken with the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, to the assistance that he gave to a fellow MP who had difficulty delivering a speech in the House of Commons. He vividly described the
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I am sure that we are all particularly sorry not to see the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, in his place today to introduce the debate, as was originally planned. I join everyone else in wishing him a speedy recovery so that he can return to his rightful place in the fellowship to which I have referred.
As has been said, however, there could be no more appropriate person to introduce the debate than the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, for in truth he started it all with the introduction of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, the 30th anniversary of whose application to the whole of the United Kingdom we are celebrating today. He demonstrated his unrivalled skills as a parliamentarian in steering it through as a Private Members Bill right up against a general election. Shortly after that, as Britains first Minister for Disabled People, he played a seminal role in the development of rights for disabled people in this country. He also played a key role in chairing Rehabilitation Internationals world planning group, which drafted the Charter for the Third Millennium, which called for a United Nations convention, the fruits of whose labours have been realised only in the past year or so.
Prior to 1970, there was very little state provision for disabled people, apart from those who became disabled in the Armed Forces or through injury at work. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which was extended to Scotland in 1972 and to Northern Ireland in 1978, was a landmark Act that required local authorities to publish statistics on disabled people in their area, to provide information about how to obtain the help available and to develop comprehensive services to meet their needs. It made authorities provide practical assistance in the home, undertake adaptations and provide additional facilities to ensure greater safety, comfort and convenience. Public buildings had to make some provision to ensure easier access, better toilet facilities and parking spaces designated for disabled people.
Following his appointment as Minister for Disabled People in 1974, the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, went on to lay the foundations of the disability benefits system that we have today in the attendance allowance and the mobility allowance, and he laid the ground for the trailblazing disability rights legislation that was later to flower from the mid-1990s onwards by establishing the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People, to which he has referred and on which I was privileged to serve.
It is customary today to place the emphasis on rights rather than services, but it is important to remember that without services to have a right to, there would be no rights worth having. It is therefore fitting that, in our debate today, we should take a moment to look back and celebrate the seminal achievements of those who laid the foundations of the system of disabled peoples rights that we have
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The comprehensive services that local authorities were encouraged to develop by the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act are still anything but comprehensive, and of course expectations change with time so that local authorities are for ever chasing a receding target. As soon as one need is met, another emerges. Currently, many disabled people are not getting the support they need to live independent lives. Some groups, such as blind and partially sighted people, are by and large excluded from local authority support because their needs are not judged to be critical or substantial under fair access criteria. In drawing the attention of the House to this factnot for the first timeI immediately declare my interest as chairman of the Royal National Institute of Blind People.
To make disabled peoples right to independent living a reality, future changes must deliver choice, flexibility and levels of support that meet peoples needs. The current consultation process under way in advance of the expected Green Paper on the reform of adult social care is therefore likely to have a profound impact on disabled peoples rights. We now eagerly await the Single Equality Bill promised for the next Session. When the discrimination law review Green Paper was published in February 2007, there was great concern among disabled people and their organisations at the proposal to streamline the disability equality duty, which was introduced by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, which had come into effect only a few months before and which, even within those few months, proved to be a powerful instrument for advancing disabled peoples rights. The proposal to replace this with principles to,
The Disability Rights Commission undertook research into the views of staff across government departments on the benefits gained from developing disability equality schemes. Overwhelmingly, departments felt that the process, particularly the requirement to involve disabled people in such schemes, had been positive and productive. The process of drawing up a disability equality scheme was felt to focus minds across complex organisations with competing priorities.
The DRCs conclusions have been reinforced by recent research, undertaken by Schneider-Ross, into the public sector equality duties from November 2007. One of its key recommendations to the Government Equalities Office, which partly funded the research, was to retain the involvement and outcome-focused aspects of the equality duties. It is therefore welcome that the Secretary of State recognised these concerns and, at the end of September last year, withdrew the Green Paper and pledged to review this and other issues, coming back with draft clauses for consultation in a number of areas this summer. This intention has been reaffirmed in the Governments draft legislative programme, and in the Secretary of States remarks made as recently as Tuesday at a TUC and CBI event
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The conferment of rights by legislation is important, but the effective enjoyment of such rights presupposes effective mechanisms for their enforcement. For many years, concerns have been expressed by disabled people and organisations which provide advice and legal support in relation to the Disability Discrimination Act that challenging discrimination in relation to goods and services under Part 3 of the Act is very difficult and, effectively, denies access to justice for individuals who experience discrimination. Anyone seeking to challenge discrimination relating to services must use the county courts in England and Wales or the sheriff courts in Scotland. Research evidence shows that a major reason why more complaints about discrimination are not translated into legal cases is the expense and complexity of the court process.
In contrast, in employment tribunals, there is no cost for starting proceedings or making subsequent applications. Costs are not awarded against the losing party except in exceptional cases and procedures are considerably less complex. In consequence, thousands of disabled people are able to bring cases challenging employment discrimination each year.
It has been proposed by many organisations that all discrimination cases should be commenced in employment tribunals, with the tribunal being designated as an equality tribunal when considering non-employment cases. The UK review of anti-discrimination legislation concluded, that there is usually more in common between employment and non employment discrimination cases than between these cases and other county court and sheriff courts jurisdictions. The Joint Committee of both Houses, which considered the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 in pre-legislative scrutiny, cited evidence from Mind, RADAR, RNIB, RNID, Scope, Mencap and Leonard Cheshire and asked the Government to look at this proposal. I hope very much that in framing the single equality Bill they will give it most serious consideration. Now we have the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and we all hope to see it ratified by the British Government, who contributed so much to the agreement of the text with the minimum of reservations and further delay.
Perhaps I may be permitted to enter a tiny note of reservation of my own. It may be unwise to insist that the convention is ratified with no reservations whatever. If it can be, that would be wonderful. But, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said when we debated this last on 24 April this year, a modicum of reservations which do not undermine the object and purpose of a convention can facilitate ratification. Such reservations as there are tend to fall away over time.
As I said in my maiden speech in November 2006, one size does not necessarily fit all. A monolithic uniformity of provision may not always be the most appropriate; for instance, there are few who would
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Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, let me immediately thank, congratulate and applaud my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester for making this debate possible. I have a small complaint, of which I will not make much. He has already repeated to the House his closing remarks from the Second Reading debate in December 1969, which I was going to use today. However, what my noble friend could not say is that, over the years, he and my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke, whose absence today we deeply regret, have been giants in this field. Not alone, but principally, they have led all that has been achieved in disability legislation over the past almost 40 years, much of which has had support from all sides of this House and all parties in the Commons.
The noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, reminded us of what has been achieved through the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. In its brief for this debate, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights acknowledges:
Disability is a relatively recent addition to the equality family. It is easy to forget that before 1995 disability rights had not found expression in UK law. But one would not know that by looking at the sheer scale of achievements of the disability movement and the progress that has been made. A decade of change between 1995 and 2005 was bookended by two Disability Discrimination Acts, with developments in the areas of education, transport, our planning system, independent living and a new Government Office for Disability issues, to name a few coming in-between. The ... Commissions predecessorthe Disability Rights Commissionwas at the centre of those developments.
How prophetic those words were. Just four years later, my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester became not only the United Kingdoms first Minister for Disabled People, but also the first in the world. As has been said, an enormous amount has been achieved. It
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In 1994-95, I was proud to be the opposition disability spokesman in the other place. When referring to people with disabilities, I sometimes used the expression, people with different abilities. I really believe that that is a better way to look at this. It responds to those people with different abilities who say, Do not tell me what I cannot do; ask me what I can. Much has changed in public attitudes in the past 30 years and, by heavens, they needed to. That expression, which I have heard so often, makes the point in a nutshell.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission gives examples of the challenges that we face, some of which have been mentioned today. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, the unemployment rate among people with mental health issues is 80 per cent and costs the economy an estimated £10 billion a year. Of all the people in Britain without formal qualifications, more than one-third are disabled, and disabled people in work are disproportionately in low-paid and low-status jobs. Just as there is a need to upskill everyone in this country, so there is a need to make it possible for those with different abilities to add to their skills so that they can break out of the cycle of being at the bottom of the employment heap.
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