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Every day, however, those of us with mobility problems—I am sure it is the same for those with other disabilities—come across examples where the legislation does not yet seem to have made much difference, leading to some disabled people calling the Disability Discrimination Act a paper tiger. Nowadays, for example, we expect public buildings to be accessible to wheelchair users and others with mobility problems as a matter of course, but there are still all too many public buildings with bad access; for example, with steps and no rail, let alone a ramp. Some buildings with poor access are not public buildings such as a town hall, but they are buildings to which a wide variety of people need access. A good example is the headquarters of the Town and Country Planning Association in Carlton House Terrace here in London. It is a beautiful terrace, with gracious steps and lofty columns, but to access the building, which is often used for book launches, one has to hail a passing member of the public for help in mounting steps unadorned by a rail. There is a ramp that can be put down, but one has first to find the person with it. I expect that the body charged with overseeing this London terrace has thrown up its hands in horror at the thought of a disfiguring rail, but is it really beyond our inventive designers to come up with beautiful and suitable rails for this and similar sites?

If one travels by train and books beforehand one will find that railway companies are very good at arranging for a ramp to be put down at the station. However, if one takes an unbooked train—say, from Waterloo, where unplanned visits are expected—one risks arriving at one’s destination but seeing the train sail off again with no ramp appearing, keeping one on board even though telephone calls have been put through to the relevant station. The theory is fine—which is that train travel is now possible for disabled people just as it is for non-disabled people—but the practice is very different. It is no wonder that many disabled people cannot bear the hassle of train transport, even if they are in theory able to access a train. This is an area where service users can help shape practice by being members of relevant passenger groups. Their slogan, already quoted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, is good and worth quoting again: “Nothing about us without us”.

I must briefly mention two other matters. The first is access to swimming pools that are part of health clubs. Even the health club nearest to the Palace of Westminster, Bannatyne’s, has only a vertical metal ladder going into the pool in spite of many representations for a hoist. As it is in a building that already has wheelchair access, this is a real slap in the face for elderly and disabled club members.

The second matter is a little more cheerful: the provision of lavatories for disabled people. I applaud the fact that there are more of them than ever before, which is of the utmost importance for those with

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mobility problems. Even many pubs now boast one. There is a simple reason why we should expect the provision of disabled lavatories and accessible hotel rooms to increase: not only is the disabled population expected to grow year by year, but people will expect this provision as a matter of course. That would not have happened without the legislation that we are celebrating today.

I turn to wider disability issues. Many more people now know something about conditions such as autism. The expression “learning difficulties” is now in common usage, lending more dignity to and respect for people with those disabilities. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, there is still disturbing evidence that the rights of many people with learning difficulties are being violated, particularly in the health service, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights found out in its report, A Life Like Any Other? Human Rights of Adults with Learning Disabilities, published on 8 March. One realises that there is no room for complacency when one reads in the report that, for many people with a learning disability,

The Government’s response was underwhelming. I quote just two sentences from it:

Is that really what the Government define as the “practical steps” that they are committed to taking? For the strategy to be more effective, it is vital that it is adequately resourced to provide more of the services that are needed for people with a learning disability.

Finally, I turn to those with recurring mental illness, which is a huge and growing problem in this country. Only a quarter of those suffering from it are in employment. The Government are committed to providing more cognitive behavioural therapists, which is welcome, but I urge them to ensure that adequate support is available for those with mental illness who are being encouraged to find employment rather than be on benefits, and that employers are encouraged to show flexibility. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, also made that point.

I end with a rather good quotation relating to the equality Bill which features in the Government’s draft legislative programme. It is as follows:

1.25 pm

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, this has been a fascinating and somewhat philosophical debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, on achieving it, although it was unfortunately by accident rather than design. I sympathise with the Minister for having to respond to it.

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The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth talked of unlocking a collective memory. The trouble for the Government and the Minister opposite is that we in your Lordships’ House have very long memories, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has demonstrated today—although I suppose that he should be grateful that since the great parliamentary emasculation of 90 per cent of the hereditary Peers in 1999 that memory is not quite as long as it was.

None the less, none of us, I believe, can remember as far back as the period between 3500BC and 1800BC, when the Rig Veda recorded the world’s first prosthesis. It tells of the Indian Queen Vishpla who lost her leg in battle, was fitted with an iron leg and returned to battle. I mention this not for effect but because, in the early days after the Second World War, disability legislation concentrated almost entirely on those injured in that war, not only from a curative point of view but, even more pressingly, because of the need to increase employment. We think particularly of the Act which set up Remploy, of which the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, spoke in part.

In general terms, though, nothing much had changed since the great mental hospital building programme in Victorian times. Indeed, as late as 1985, it was written that,

That is an interesting comment, since the core of the problem associated with disability was seen to be social rather than medical.

I suspect that it was their awareness of this fact that the early parliamentary pioneers of disability rights championed. Of the eight MPs involved in pressing the Government, it is notable that five ended up in Your Lordships’ House: two doctors—the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and the late Lord Winstanley—the noble Lords, Lord Ashley of Stoke and Lord Morris of Manchester, who as today’s debate has proved are still very much with us, and my late noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy.

That brings me to the “Morris Act” of 1970, known technically as the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. I agree with RADAR that it was the first Act to acknowledge disabled people as ordinary citizens, not only covering information as to the need and existence of welfare services but putting new duties on local authorities in the fields of housing and access to public buildings, including schools and universities. These have rightly figured widely in this debate, perhaps more from the physical adaptation aspect than from that of their ability to teach children to respect their disabled peers. Is not time that we settled the argument whether to educate disabled children in mainstream schools or special classes?

The Morris Act became law in the dying days of a Labour Government and had the great drawback that no extra money was given to local authorities for its implementation. The result was that some, indeed many, chose to ignore it, especially Section 1, which required a census of disabled people in their area. Plus ├ža change. Even those who carried on with the recording, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, told us, stopped after a bit—and the whole thing became out of date

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really quite quickly. I confess that that was not helped by the fact that it was left to the incoming Conservative Government to implement. They, of course, were short of money, as so often happens after a period of Labour government, so implementation was delayed. Indeed, even when it was implemented, it remained almost totally ignored.

Legislative matters rested there until the next Labour Government of 1974 to 1979, who appointed the world’s first Minister for Disabled People, the noble Lord, Lord Morris, himself—a fact of which he should be, and I think is, justly proud. He and his successor, the late Nicholas Scott, who became my guru on disability matters, continually raised the profile of disabled people, asking of virtually every piece of proposed legislation what effect it would have on them. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, is right in saying that there are more pieces of legislation that have references to disabled people than to any other group in society. It was in that period that a general feeling arose that disabled people were people first and disabled second; they had—or perhaps I should say “have”—exactly the same aspirations as able-bodied people, albeit limited, to a lesser or greater extent, by their disability. I am afraid that that attitude wobbles a bit from time to time. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Low, that I do not think that disabled people should be worried by no longer having their own employment and other tribunals.

To get back to my historical survey, it would be unfair to say that nothing happened to benefit disabled people. However, the focus was on money and disability welfare payments of all sorts, although a rather feeble attempt was made to have workplace quotas. At the same time, the attitude remained with the able-bodied that, “You can’t do that, you’re disabled”—the “Does he take sugar?” attitude to which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred. In my research for this debate, I discovered a saying from Aristotle, who wrote:

It took from 355 BC, when he wrote that, until the 16th century, when Girolamo Gardano was the first physician to recognise the ability of deaf people to reason, and therefore that they could be educated along with the rest of society. We might do well to think of that when we listen to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke—though, alas, not today.

How long will this attitude persist? It was not long ago that a severely partially sighted computer operator was selected for a job interview with a local authority, and when he arrived he was told that he should not have applied because he had a white stick. That was well after my right honourable friend’s Disability Discrimination Act 1995 came on to the statute book. That Act gave disabled people a right not to be discriminated against in employment and a right of access to good facilities, financial services and the transport infrastructure. It involved millions of, usually, able-bodied people taking positive action to make the lives and aspirations of disabled people more liveable. The equal opportunities review described it as,

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Looking back, it is curious that the two seminal disability Acts came at the end of a Government’s term—one Labour and one Conservative. It took another 10 years for the next milestone to be achieved. It was based on the Disability Rights Task Force report, From Exclusion to Inclusion, which concluded that there were gaps in the 1995 Act and said that it had weaknesses that,

It is fashion at the moment to think in terms of human rights, something that 30 years ago we really did not understand or think about very much. What will we be thinking of, either in relation to disabled people or anyone else, in 30 years’ time? Most of us, by the law of averages, will not be here—but, none the less, I am sure that the discussion will go on.

The review concentrated on a duty on public bodies for the promotion of equal opportunities and the extension of the DDA to cover almost all activities in the public sector. Most importantly, that included transport, which hitherto had been excluded, and local councillors, as opposed to the councils themselves. Just before this, the Government’s new deal for disabled people began to get into its stride—or, perhaps, stumble would be a better word. The plan was to have a voluntary scheme in which disabled people referred themselves to a job broker, who then sought to move them closer to the job market. Of the 35,316 people registered, only 2,330 people with disabilities found sustained employment through the scheme between July 2001 and December 2002. Furthermore, the departmental review of the scheme in 2004 showed that only 1.9 per cent of the disabled people eligible had volunteered to take part in the first place.

The scheme’s failure must be one of the major reasons the Government produced the Welfare Reform Bill, which we have just finished discussing. Research suggests that 1 million people on incapacity benefit want to work and the Act is designed to help them achieve that objective but, like all disability legislation, it depends not so much on disabled people themselves but the willingness of able-bodied people to accept them into employment and society more generally. Like the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, I believe in the “can do” rather than the “can’t do” philosophy, which I hope that I showed in debates on that Bill.

The incremental effect of both Governments’ disability legislation has slowly changed the attitude of society. However, as every speaker in this debate has said, there is still a long way to go. I do not see the need for much more legislation in this area, but we should turn our attention to the enforcement of what we have. I certainly agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Howarth and Lady Thomas of Winchester, on that. There are, however, two exceptions to this. The first is to decentralise the role of the state because, in trying to run society from Whitehall, the state takes responsibility away from people, families and communities. Of course, that applies to able-bodied people just as much as it does to disabled people. The

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Government need to raise public awareness of disability rights and, as I have said repeatedly, that starts in schools. That is a way for disabled people to see a practical difference to their lives.

The second thing we need to do is to conflate the bewildering array of benefits and complicated forms to which many disabled people are subjected. We are, or should be, grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Errol, and, again, to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, for bringing a breath of pertinence into our debates, with their very direct comments on real problems being faced by disabled people. The Government have made a start here with the introduction of the employment and support allowance, which begins in October. But there is much more that could and should be done, and I ask the Minister what further progress is being planned, especially as we are being promised a welfare Bill next Session. Can the Minister tell us something about it? Furthermore, during our debates on the previous Bill, the Minister said that those on the support component would not be worse off that they are on incapacity benefit. It turns out that that is not true of single men, and I wonder whether the noble Lord has anything to add to what he said to my noble friend Lord Taylor in the debate in the Moses Room two or three weeks ago.

My party has called for an annual audit across the public sector of practice towards the employment of disabled people. The Morris Act of 30 years ago should have made that the norm by now, but it is most definitely unfinished business. We have already committed a future Conservative Government to set an example to the private sector by making the employment of disabled people in the public sector a priority in recruitment policy. What example are this Government giving to employers?

Finally, I mentioned Queen Vishpla’s artificial leg. Technology has since improved by leaps and bounds, and will always play a significant role in helping people to live independent lives. Too often, however, assessment and procurement processes take too long and people are forced into care. In these straitened economic times, do not the Government realise that it is much cheaper to let people do what they want—to stay in their own homes as long as humanly possible, and to subsidise them to do so, rather than pay for them in residential homes, whether state or private? I am a fan, as I said, of the disabled facilities grant. The Minister must surely agree with me that we need a much more responsive and flexible system than we have now. However, I think that the major message of this debate is enforcement of what we have. I hope that I can persuade the Minister for once to agree with me.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, has allowed us to review what the Americans call the state of the nation as far as disabled people are concerned. I am extremely grateful, as we all are, to him for that.

1.41 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I very much welcome the opportunity provided by my noble friend Lord Morris to celebrate

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the progress that we have made on disability rights and to have this important debate on the crucial issues around how we achieve equality for disabled people. As we have heard, his Private Member’s Bill, which subsequently became the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, was truly groundbreaking in being the first piece of legislation to recognise the rights of disabled people. I pay tribute to his remarkable determination in ensuring that that legislation came into being and to those who worked with him, most notably the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, the late Lady Darcy de Knayth, who was my noble friend and who, as others have said, is greatly missed in this House, and my noble friend Lord Ashley, who had hoped to be here today and whose unceasing efforts over many years have greatly furthered the interests of disabled people, together with others of whom we have heard. They are pioneers and heroes of all parties but of one mind—the fellowship of Peers, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, and my noble friend Lord Morris said. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said in his rather brave speech, the reach of this legislation has been profound, not least in his own case.

In the 30 years since the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act was extended to the whole of the UK, the disability rights landscape has altered radically. I believe that the Government’s performance in extending rights and opportunities for disabled people and for those with long-term limiting health conditions is unparalleled. Over the past 10 years, we have significantly improved and extended rights for disabled people under the Disability Discrimination Act, although we acknowledge that this has been built on what went before.

We introduced significant changes in 2004 when we extended the employment provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act to a further 1 million employers and 7 million more jobs and when we improved rights for disabled people for physical access to goods and services. Through the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, we fulfilled our commitment to introduce a comprehensive and enforceable set of civil rights for disabled people. In 2006, we introduced the disability equality duty, which places a positive duty on all public bodies to consider how their services affect disabled people.

The extension of disability rights is proving to have a real and significant impact on the lives of disabled people. More disabled people are in employment. The percentage of those in work has increased from 41 per cent in 1998 to 48 per cent in 2007. There is still some way to go, with organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors adapting their working environments or practices to support new employees who are disabled and existing employees who have become disabled. There is greater access to goods and services for disabled people as service providers have put reasonable adjustments in place. Our research shows that 87 per cent of service providers have made or plan adjustments for disabled people. More and more people are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act. Awareness of the Act among the general population increased from some 40 per cent in 1996 to more than 70 per cent in 2007. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of

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Portsmouth, whom we are delighted to see in his place, acknowledged, the significance of public awareness is that it is an underpinning of the journey that society has to make.

We will continue to keep the legislative framework under review. We remain committed to a single equality Bill within the lifetime of this Parliament; indeed, we have included the equality Bill in the draft legislative programme for 2008-09, which we published last month. We remain committed to ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the end of this year. The Government believe that the convention is an important initiative that will help to shape the protection of disabled people’s rights for the future around the world. The noble Lord, Lord Low, reminded us of the pivotal role played in this by my noble friend Lord Morris.

While the legal framework has been transformed and has laid the foundation for equality for disabled people, we are not complacent about how much more needs to be done to deliver real change—change in the lives of disabled people themselves and change in the way society reacts to disability—and to stress that this is about justice, not about benevolence. The Government are committed to bridging the gap between national policy and the realities that disabled people face every day. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, who I am pleased to say made the list, reminded us forcefully of this. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, spoke from experience about what more needs to be done, particularly regarding transport.

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