HC Deb 20 March 1970 vol 798 cc910-28

Amendments made: No. 36, in page 9, line 13 at end insert: (2) Sections 1 and 2 of this Act do not extend to Scotland. No. 37, in line 15 leave out 'Scotland or'.—[Mr. Alfred Morris.]

2.59 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Morris

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I said on Second Reading that this Bill was very much a collective essay. It has been much improved by the viva voce examination which it was given in Committee. It has been further improved by our detailed debates on Report today. We were extremely fortunate in Committee in that we had a team of Members all of whom were dedicated to ensuring that the essay was as felicitously worded as possible.

I have been enormously helped by the Parliamentary Group on Disablement. In particular, I received great support and assistance from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Astor). They worked with other members of the Committee as a closely knit working force dedicated to the task of improving conditions for the chronically sick and the many disabled people in our community.

I have referred to the National Campaign for the Young Chronic Sick, to its officers and to the help which they have given from the outset in helping the Bill forward. Outside, as well as inside, Parliament there has been a consensus working in favour of the Bill. I know that every member of the Committee and other Members who have been associated with the Bill would say that the Central Council for the Disabled has given remarkable help and support. It is a federal body, representative of organisations working for groups of disabled people throughout the country. I pay particular tribute to Mr. Duncan Guthrie, the Director of the Council, and to Mrs. Phyllis Forman, who have done a great deal as individuals as well as representatives of an organisation, to ensure that the Bill is given every possible support, both practical and moral.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South and the Member for Newbury would agree that I should refer also to the work done for us by Miss Mary Greaves, who succeeded the late Megan du Boisson as the leader of the Disablement Income Group. I know that Mary takes great delight in the success that we have had in pressing the Bill to a successful conclusion.

On a personal note, I owe a great tribute to my brother the hon Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Charles R. Morris), whose happy thought it was that my name should be included in the ballot. But it would be wrong of me not to mention that it was your hand, Mr. Speaker, which pulled my name out of the hat. Mr. Giles Ecclestone of the Public Bill Office has helped throughout in trying to turn what I called an essay on disablement into a Bill which was capable of being enacted. We have all been helped by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), who is so able when it comes to drafting provisions.

It is asked how many people will benefit from the Bill. The answer is 1,200,000. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary said that the best estimate—or guesstimate—as of now is that there are 1,200,000 chronically sick or disabled people in Britain. The Disablement Income Group says that the figure is nearer 11 million. I always emphasise, if asked who shall benefit from these provisions, that we are all potentially disabled. Prospectively, we are all beneficiaries of any Measure which sets out to assist those who are disadvantaged by ill-health and who are in special need.

It has been suggested by my hon. Friends—indeed, by my colleagues in all parts of the House who have been working on the Bill—that there should be a Minister for the Disabled. Originally, nine Departments were involved. After our debate today on the application of the Bill to Scotland, at least ten Departments are now involved. But I would say that we have had a Minister for the Disabled; indeed, we have had two joint Ministers for the Disabled since 5th December, 1969. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security and my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government have together been acting as Ministers for the Disabled since the Bill received its Second Reading, because they have been coordinating the work of ten Departments. They have spoken on subjects previously unfamiliar to them, both in Standing Committee and in the House today. They have probably had more experience in government of coordinating matters concerned with helping the disabled than any of their predecessors. I very much hope that we shall as it were, keep the team together and make certain that the left hand knows what the right hand has been doing and that nothing goes by default.

There are so many provisions in the Bill as it now stands that on Third Reading one ought not, perhaps, to speak about any particular one. There is, however, one Clause which gives me particular pleasure as the son of a war-disabled man. My father died of war wounds when I was six years of age. I am glad that the Bill does three important things for people who are disabled through war service. I am especially pleased also about the provision which will help thalidomide children, that complicated Clause which gives access to the pavement for the vehicles of thalidomide children. I was speaking only last night to Lady Hoare, who has done such distinguished work in the service of thalidomide childen, who said that this was a great step forward for those children. She said that if we can conquer the problems of the thalidomide children, we can conquer disablement generally.

I have been reminded recently by Mr. Gordon Piller, of the Institute of Child Health, that the number of disabled children is increasing. Many more children now survive even the most grievous complaints. Only quite recently it was certain death for a child to suffer from any one of a number of complaints which many children now survive. Therefore, the problems of disabled children are extremely and increasingly important.

Another matter which I mention briefly is that of bringing technology to the aid and service of disabled people. We have not asked for annual report on what is done by technology in helping the disabled for the purpose of having yet another annual report. We are seeking in that Clause to excite new progress and ensure that every Department will ask itself what has been done in its sphere in the past 12 months in the service of the disabled.

Many of the Bill's provisions are important to local authorities and I am glad that we are making mandatory what is now in many instances permissive. A permissive society—my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would call it a "civilised society"—is all very well in certain spheres, but in the sphere of local authority provision for the disabled I am rather opposed to it. I regard myself as being reasonably tolerant in moral questions, but I am against permissiveness in local authority provision if this means local authorities shirking their jobs.

I am glad that we shall now be basing local services on the standard of the existing best. We are applying the reverse of Gresham's Law, as it were, by helping the good to drive out the bad. Mr. Speaker, may I say again that, if we could bequeath one precious gift to posterity, I would choose a society in which there is genuine compassion for the very sick and disabled; where understanding is unostentatious and sincere; where needs come before means; where if years cannot be added to the lives of the chronically sick, at least life can be added to their years; where the mobility of the disabled is restricted only by the bounds of technical progress and discovery; where the handicapped have a fundamental right to participate in industry and society according to ability; where socially preventable distress is unknown; and where no man has cause to be ill at ease because of disability. I hope it will be felt that this Measure is of some importance in that context.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. A number of hon. Members want the joy of participating in this Third Reading debate. As the debate must conclude at 4 o'clock, speeches must be reasonably brief. Mr. Astor.

3.12 p.m.

Mr. Astor

The sponsors of the Bill and those who had the privilege of serving on the Standing Committee feel it a real privilege to have been able to play even a small part in improving provision for disabled people.

People throughout the country, both individually and representing organisations, have contributed to the discussion and content of the Bill, but its main architect is, of course, the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris). We are greatly indebted to him for having chosen this as the subject for his Bill and for the excellent and delightfully-mannered way in which he has led the Measure through its various stages. As a private hon. Member, he took on a considerable task in seeking to legislate on this rather broad field, and I sincerely congratulate him and hope that the Bill will continue on its course.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that a great deal of the groundwork had already been done by the Disablement Income Group, to which he referred. This movement was inspired by the late Megan du Boisson, whose work has been ably carried on by Mary Greaves, work which in the last five years has done a great deal to educate not only public opinion but parliamentary opinion and which has given us a greater understanding of what the problems of disablement really are.

It was against a background of this improved climate of opinion that the Bill has been able to make progress, with support from hon. Members in all parts of the House. I wish to add my thanks to that of the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe to the help which was given to the Committee by the Central Council for the Disabled and, in particular, to Duncan Guthrie, Mrs. Forman and Mr. Denly, who has been particularly concerned with the Clauses affecting access to buildings.

It was a delightful pleasure to serve on the Standing Committee, which was single-minded in its purpose to serve the interests of disabled people. I take the opportunity, albeit a rather rare opportunity from these benches, to pay a genuine tribute to the most helpful attitude of the two Ministers who have been primarily concerned with the progress of the Bill. The Committee has been greatly indebted to them for their helpful work and in seeking to meet requests made of them. I am sure that as the result of their work the Bill was greatly improved in Committee.

We have had an unusual degree of harmony, and I hope that the Bill will pass through its next stages in the same happy atmosphere, resulting in real benefit to disabled people. I believe that the Measure will do much to broaden their lives and increase their degree of independence. I hope that it will be implemented by local authorities and others concerned in the same spirit of good will as has been shown in our discussions. If that happens, as I believe it will, disabled people will have gained a thoroughly useful Measure, and we shall have done a good job.

3.15 p.m.

Mr. Winnick

It is right that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) should be congratulated on his Bill. He has earned the gratitude of so many disabled people, and his name will be remembered for a very long time by those whom the Bill will help. At the same time, we should pay tribute to sponsors of the Bill on both sides who have worked so co-operatively to improve it. There are often great political party differences in this Chamber, but in this case there have been hardly any political party differences on Second Reading in Committee or now.

The Bill is concerned with that section of the community whose members are faced with so many tremendous problems in their daily life. The various Clauses will help them in many ways, and it is our job to make sure than, when the Measure is enacted, it does not in any way become a dead letter. It must be implemented and, in time, improved upon. One thing about which we must be concerned is that its provisions should be implemented once it is enacted. At least we can be sure that the D.I.G. branches in our constituencies will continue to act as an effective trade union for the disabled.

New Clause 6 empowers the Ministry to lay before the House an annual report on the mobility of disabled people. All hon. Members can quote constituency hardship cases, but I want to refer to a case that has concerned me for some years. I have a constituent who is virtually disabled and in no condition to drive a car. He requires a vehicle for his wife. The couple have four children. For some time I have been dealing with the matter with the Ministry. I recognise that one of the difficulties is that Parliament has not yet given the Minister power to take this kind of action. My hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary wrote me a kind letter stating that he understood and appreciated my constituent's problems. He added: It would be misleading, however, to suggest that the provision of cars through the National Health Service for persons who, like"— my constituent: would be unable to drive themselves is likely in the foreseeable future". There is this need to provide cars for people who are themselves disabled but need them for their spouses. I hope we can make sufficient progress in the years ahead so that such people can be assisted. There are tremendous problems for those involved in cases such as that I have quoted.

There is no doubt that this Bill constitutes a landmark in the work of helping disabled people. Although much more needs to be done, I think we can say today with some satisfaction that Parliament has started to do its duty to those who have been asking for its help for a very long time.

3.20 p.m.

Mr. John Page

The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) is being so over-burdened with bouquets that he has found it necessary almost to leave the Chamber. I add my congratulations to him for the enormous amount of work that he has expended in steering this Bill through the House. Many of us have known of the meetings with delegations on the interview floor and the vast amount of literature and briefing that he has had. We all wish to congratulate him on this milestone in his Parliamentary career. I suspect that to whatever heights he may go in the long time he may be in this House he will enjoy no greater satisfaction than that which comes from having piloted this Bill.

The hon. Member was kind enough to mention the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Astor), who has also been devoted to this subject for a long time. We also congratulate the Under-Secretary and the Minister of State and thank them for the help they have given. I do not know whether it is the experience of other hon. Members, but many people I meet in my constituency and elsewhere appear to think that sometimes our deliberations do not reflect their priorities and views about how the time of Parliament should be spent. I do not think any of our constituents would not rejoice that the time of Parliament has been spent in trying to improve the lot of the disabled. I think that this Bill will prove extremely successful.

We have been prompted to put our own House in order. We are grateful to the Serjeant at Arms and the staff for the survey they are carrying out to see whether the House can be made more accessible to disabled people so that they may come here as ordinary visitors and find it easier to attend debates in the Chamber and in Committee rooms. Although one may often have the feeling that ordinary life is a little boring, people do want to live ordinary and normal lives. When it has completed its further stages, this Bill will enable the 1,500,000 disabled people to do so more easily.

3.24 p.m.

Mr. Fred Evans

I join the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Astor) in expressing great appreciation for the work done, especially in Committee, by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris). Those of us who worked closely with him know the tremendous strain that he has been under. On behalf of all disabled people, I thank him for selecting this topic when he had the luck to draw first place in the Ballot. I understand that the number of possible Bills sent to him by interested organisations was about 450. The fact that he chose this piece of legislation, which is full of compassion, is something of which he can be proud for the rest of his life.

Like the hon. Member for Newbury, I have found great pleasure in being a member of the Committee, where there was unanimity and determination that a first-class piece of social engineering should be done to try to help people who, not always deliberately, had been left on one side for too long.

The Bill must be looked upon as a springboard for further action. Yesterday the Daily Telegrah carried a critical but helpful editorial saying that we still have a long way to go. As much as could be done in a Private Member's Bill has been done. It goes quite a long way to our first goal of getting disabled people completely involved in society. They will no longer be behind locked dooors. Life will open up to them again. The community is accessible to them and, with its great kindness and tolerance, will welcome them. Those of us who deal with disabled people know that this tremendous feeling of isolation must be overcome.

Like other hon. Members, I am grateful for the dedicated work of the Joint Under-Secretaries of State. They have explored every avenue and bent over backwards to make every conceivable concession. They, too, will earn the gratitude of many people in this country.

The problem of accessibility has been partly solved by the Bill. It may take some time, but disabled people must have greater accessibility if they are to be completely involved in the community. They must have the right to work, the right to earn, and the right to the dignity and pride of contributing to the community.

The unemployment level for the general population is about 2½ per cent. For disabled people capable of doing some work and being completely involved it is 12 per cent. This situation cannot be tolerated in an advanced, civilised, wealthy country like Britain. I hope that, as accessiblity to buildings and so on improves, employers who do not fulfil their 3 per cent. quota of disabled employees—a duty placed upon them by the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act, 1944—will have the conscience to see that their quotas are fulfilled.

South Wales shares in the general problem of the disabled throughout the country, but it is overlaid by the special problem peculiar to mining areas, and particularly to the South Wales coalfield, of disablement not simply through accident but through diseases like pneumoconiosis and silicosis. My hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe I can say officially, I think, will have the opportunity of visiting South Wales to talk to the South Wales branch of the National Union of Mineworkers and to receive its most hearty thanks for his efforts in this matter.

I am happy to have taken part in the proceedings on the Bill. I hope that it will be the precursor to other Measures which will ultimately give justice to our disabled comrades in the community.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)

Although I was not fortunate enough to take part in the Committee proceedings, I am glad to take this opportunity to congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) and the other sponsors of the Bill on their work. He and his colleagues know that although I have not taken part in the parliamentary discussion on the Bill I have attended their sub-committee meetings and put forward certain suggestions on how I thought they could help the building industry to implement the provisions.

The important thing about the Bill is that it has stirred the conscience of hon. Members who have been only too willing to admire the courage and fortitude of the disabled but have never felt it within their powers to help them as the Bill does.

I feel almost like an intruder speaking in this debate, but I wanted to congratulate the hon. Gentleman. I speak with the experience of having had the honour to introduce about seven years ago a Private Member's Bill of a similar nature. I am sure that the Bill will have a quick passage through the other place, but I think that the problem then will be to notify the authorities and the public about its provisions and stir the conscience of those who can contribute to those provisions and use them.

The Bill provides that local authorities shall have special powers. Representing a constituency which has more than the average number of elderly people, I appreciate the great advantages of this. I also understand the ignorance on the part of people who design buildings, roads and other things of the special needs of the individual disabled person

I hope that this short debate will provide more publicity and show the advantages that can be obtained from the Bill.

3.32 p.m.

Mr. Weitzman

I had the privilege of serving on the Committee considering the Bill, and I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) on introducing it and on the great work he has done in carrying it through its various stages. It is a charter for the chronically sick and disabled. The paramount consideration has been to help them to make their lives more useful and happier. If we have done anything in that direction we shall have achieved a great deal, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to my hon. Friend for his work.

The Bill contains important provisions concerning welfare, housing, facilities for sanitary needs and access, advisory committees and other matters. I should be out of order if I referred to matters that are not in the Bill, but there are a number of points that I hope will he considered in another place.

I would add a word of gratitude to the Ministers involved, who have done everything they could to help in the passage of the Bill.

3.33 p.m.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

It is with great pleasure that I support the Third Reading of the Bill. The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) described it as a collective essay. Judging by the fairly drastic revision we carried out in Committee, he might consider it a serial story. Great improvements have been made earlier this afternoon, and there are perhaps more to come in another place and in further legislation.

The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the work of many hon. Members on both sides as well as individuals and organisations outside. I was very pleased that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Astor) referred to the work of Mary Greaves and the Disablement Income Group, particularly as the late Megan du Boisson was a constituent of mine. She was a person with whom it gave me great pleasure and pride to work, and she would have been pleased and encouraged by the progress of the Bill, particularly the provision of cash. She and the Disablement Income Group advocated this, with the same thought as underlay most of the Bill—not so much purely to help the disabled but to put them in a position to overcome their disability, to help them and their families, and to assist them to lead as normal, effective, useful and productive lives as their disability and handicap made possible. It is a great pleasure and source of pride to me to have taken a part, however small, in the work of the House towards that end.

The hon. Member for Wythenshawe was characteristically modest in his speech, and gave the impression that he had had hardly anything to do with the Bill, that it was all the work of others. I am happy that that has been remedied by those who have spoken since. If he had been absent I think that his ears would be burning—I hope with pleasure. I join in congratulating him, in particular, among all the others who have taken part in the discussion on the Bill. Finally, I assure him of the full support from this side of the House in this very considerable step forward. Perhaps we can do still more in future, and when it has been done people will look back and say, with gratitude to the hon. Gentleman, that it all started from the Morris Act.

3.35 p.m.

Dr. John Dunwoody

On behalf of the Government I support the Third Reading of the Bill. I intend doing so briefly because I have spoken frequently throughout the Committee stage and the debate today and many hon. Members have heard enough from me on this Bill for a day or two.

But there are one or two things I must say in addition to welcoming the Bill on behalf of the Government. I add my tribute to those already paid to the Bill's sponsor, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Albert Morris). He undertook a very ambitious project and put forward an exceedingly extensive and complex Private Member's Bill when he drew No. 1 in the Ballot. It would have been easy for him to choose a simpler, less complex and shorter subject, and I know that many people approached him at that time to do precisely that. Instead, he selected what I think is the Private Member's Bill of the year. Every year in Parliament there is one Private Member's Bill which goes down in parliamentary history. We can all think of some of the Bills which have passed through the House in recent years. In years to come people will remember this year as the year of the Bill to which we are now about to give a Third Reading.

A wide range of people all over the community will be helped by the Bill. It will help large numbers of people, although I do not want at this stage to enter into the numbers game. They include people with very differing disabilities—the children hon. Members have mentioned, the young chronic sick and the older members of our society. Each and every one of these people can feel today that a significant step has been taken.

The way in which the Bill has been handled in Committee, on Report and during Third Reading is a measure of the concern of hon. Members. There has at no stage been division or a semblance of party conflict. We have had differences of view on certain issues, as is right and inevitable. I pay tribute to all hon. Members who have played their part in getting the Bill to this stage. I also pay tribute to the help of those of my colleagues in Government who may not perhaps have played so noticeable a part as my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, to whom well deserved tributes have already been paid. I pay tribute to all those other departmental Ministers—and there are many of them—who have responsibilities and who have been exceedingly helpful to the two Ministers who have carried the major share of the work in Committee and subsequently. In order to solve these difficult problems, we need more than legislation. Of course, legislation has a useful and valuable rôle to play, but it can only partly solve the problems.

The Bill and the discussion of it have managed to achieve a shift in public opinion and an increase in the awareness of the problems and difficulties of a group in our society whose needs in the past have not perhaps been fully understood. I hope that this understanding will continue to increase for years to come, to the benefit of those who are burdened with chronic sickness or disability. We are concerned, of course, not only with those who are burdened in a physical sense; we should not forget those who are perhaps burdened in a mental sense. There is need for a continuing shift in public opinion. There is also need for Government legislation, and it is striking how many different parts of the Bill interlock with Government legislation already on the Statute Book or going through the House at the moment, or legislation which it is the Government's intention shall become law in the not-too-distant future.

I have paid tribute to those intimately concerned in the passage of the Bill, and I also pay tribute to the wide range of organisations outside the House who have been giving advice and help to all of us involved in getting the Bill to this stage. It would be invidious to pick out any organisation because each has had a particular point of view and a particular interest which it has expressed with enthusiasm.

This day is a milestone in the provision of care and in the attitude of the community as a whole towards those suffering from disabilities. I hope that the Bill will be as kindly treated in another place as it has been treated here and that it will not be mangled in any sense. Britain today is a compassionate and civilised society. The support which the Bill has obtained is an indication and measure of the extent to which it is a compassionate and civilised society.

3.43 p.m.

Mr. Pavitt

I wish to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris). We have shared a personal friendship over many years. Secondly, we are both members of the Co-operative Movement—and this has been a co-operative effort throughout all the stages of the Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his tenacity and on the enormous amount of hard work and time which he has given to the Bill.

I offer my thanks to those of the Disablement Income Group and many other bodies who have come to the House to assist us in our deliberations and I thank, too, the police and other servants of the House, because at practically every sitting of the Committee stage I was bringing into the House in wheelchairs such people as Mrs. Dorothy Marsh Dickson and Miss Pamela La Fane. From the moment they arrived at the gate the police and the attendants of the House made sure that they had the maximum amount of hospitality. Through you, Mr. Speaker, I thank all those servants of the House who in that way helped us to get the Bill through.

May I make a brief comment on Clause 24, which has been incorporated in the Bill, because I have an interest in this subject as a member of the Medical Research Council. It is not a financial interest; as a Member of Parliament I am the only member of that Council who is not allowed to receive money. But Clause 24 lays responsibility on the Department of Education. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) in this connection, because although the first stage of the Clause lay with me, and the second stage was acceptance by my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe, the complete recasting of it was done by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South who did so much work to get it into the Bill.

If it materialises as we hope, it will means that for the first time clinical research into forms of deafness, diagnosis, pure audiology, psychological acoustics and physiological acoustics, histology and temporal bone banks—of which we know very little in this country—electronic acoustics and the whole question of vestibular functions and engineering will be brought together in one central, apex organisation. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South for the tremendous work he has done in bringing this problem to the attention of the country.

Lastly, I pay tribute to the work of the Medical Research Council. There are currently more than 20 projects for hearing under research. Since 1944 the work of, for example, Professor Hallpike has become world-famous. I hope that the acceptance of Clause 21 and the Bill's being accorded a Third Reading will not be regarded as any vote of censure on the work which is being done. It is an expression of hope that in future there will be a great increase in the application of the resources available to help those who, like our hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South and myself, are disabled with deafness.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Marcus Worsley (Chelsea)

I do not want to let this occasion pass without adding my welcome as one who was not on the Standing Committee. This Bill is a great step forward. I agree with the Under-Secretary that it fits in with other legislation—in particular, with the Local Authority Social Services Bill which is now in Standing Committee.

I applaud the fact that the Bill does not attempt to deal with different types of disability in a different way. The Under-Secetary said that mental disability should not be regarded in a different way from physical disability. One of the features of the Bill which I greatly applaud is that at no point are the different causes of disability separately treated. For this reason, I welcome the Bill.

I welcome the Bill, too, because it seeks to make the disabled more independent and self-reliant. This is the theme of all that is best in thought on this subject. Not only are the disabled happier if they are living full and complete lives, as far as possible, but they also place less train upon the community's resources. Therefore, it is better, not only for the disabled themselves, but also for the community, if they are more independent.

Finally, I welcome Clause 2, which attempts to spell out much more precisely than has even been done before the techniques by which the second of the objectives I have mentioned may be accomplished. I wish that the Local Authority Social Services Bill were more specific. Clause 2 of this Bill will be something of a charter for local authorities in the provision of social work. Up to now, the powers have been very vague and wide. Only within those wide powers have these techniques been developed. Clause 2 lists the sorts of things that local authorities can do.

For those three reasons, I join other hon. Members in warmly congratulating the promoters of the Bill and wishing it rapid progress through Parliament.

3.49 p.m.

Mr. Ashley

I welcome the opportunity to take part in this Third Reading debate. I believe that the Bill accomplishes more for disabled people than any other legislative enactment that the House has ever seen, and this is a fine accomplishment for a Private Member's Bill. I am sure that the House and thousands of people outside will want to express their appreciation to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris).

The issues with which we have been dealing are those which affect the everyday lives of disabled people. My hon. Friend has had to deal with Members of the Government, with members of the Opposition, and with back-benchers of this side of the House. A number of hon. Members, whom I do not want to mention specifically, have helped in various ways. I mention only the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mr. Gordon Campbell).

This has not been a party political Bill, and I should like to place on record, as my hon. Friend intimated, that the Government have leaned over backwards to give every conceivable assistance to this Measure. They have made every effort to accommodate it. All the work which has been put in by the Government has not been visible. It has been like a duck's feet. They have been paddling away like mad, but the work has not been visible in the House.

Who are the disabled about whom we are talking? "The disabled" do not exist as a homogeneous unit, except in the public mind. There is no such thing as a group of disabled. What we are talking about are thousands of individual men, women and children, each of whom has a disability. Some live in total darkness. Some live in total silence. Some cannot speak, and some cannot walk. Indeed, tragically, some cannot even think, they are mentally disabled.

Each individual bears his burden with all the pride, dignity, and independence that he can muster. It is a daily battle which each disabled person must fight. To that extent every man is an island, and one must disagree with John Donne. Every man must bear his own burden, but I believe that the moral which we must draw from recognising them as individuals is that public indifference tends to make this chasm into an unbridgeable gulf, and the great virtue of my hon. Friend's Bill is that it helps to bridge this gulf and this chasm. What my hon. Friend has done in the last few months is to dent public indifference and this is a fine achievement by any standards.

My hon. Friend's efforts have affected the disabled themselves. The Bill has given them a new confidence and self-reliance. This is not giving succour to the disabled. The purpose of the Bill is to help the disabled to help themselves. This is the major virtue of the Bill, and this is what it is accomplishing. The disabled are now fighting for themselves and you know, Mr. Speaker, better than anyone, that wheel chairs are now a commonplace in the House. They have become such a commonplace that after the business of the House is completed the police shout, "Who rolls home?". It is a splendid thing that disabled men and women should come to this House and fight for their rights. This is a wholly admirable increase in confidence, which will develop and be reflected in city councils and town halls.

The Bill enshrines new rights for the disabled. They are rights which have been specified in Committee and on Report. There may have been some arguments about details, but I cannot stress sufficiently the way in which the Government have helped those of us, on both sides, who have been anxious to implement these proposals. The Government's efforts are very warmly appreciated.

In addition to enshrining these rights, it has given new responsibilities to authorities, both national and local. I hope that it will make it clear to local authorities that, as from the moment the Bill becomes law, which I hope will be shortly, they will have responsibilities to disabled people which they have not had hitherto. I hope that in both local and national government we will see a tremendous difference in the facilities afforded to disabled people.

How do the disabled themselves regard the Bill? I think that I may speak for thousands and thousands of people in expressing their gratitude to my hon. Friend. The Bill is a new departure for disabled people. All too often specific questions about specific disabilities are dealt with in isolation. What the Bill has done, and this is another of its great virtues, is to focus the public mind and the minds of hon. Members on the general problems over a vast range of disablement. This is a considerable achievement.

Although I do not pursue it too far, I pose the question of where we go from here. I cannot go into that in any detail now, but what I claim is that we have now laid the basis for an entirely new departure and it is on this basis which has been created by the Bill that we shall see what the Americans would call a new deal. It is only a beginning, but it is a very important beginning and it is one that disabled people all over Britain much appreciate.

I believe that people all over the world will look to the Bill because it is a pioneering Bill, that it will set an example which will be emulated throughout the world. The House may be proud of it. Again I offer my compliments to my hon. Friend, not simply on having selected the subject, but on the highly skilful and tactful way he has dealt with many complicated problems. I add my appreciation to that of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I commend the Bill as opening a new era for the chronic sick and disabled of Britain.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.