HC Deb 13 December 1983 vol 50 cc822-3
7. Mr. Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what further progress is being made by his Department in improving access for the disabled.

Mr. Newton

The Department is funding an independent Access Committee for England which will be based at the Centre on Environment for the Handicapped, a voluntary organisation with great experience in this area. The centre is consulting interested organisations on the precise membership and functions of the committee and expects comments back early in the new year.

Mr. Hannam

I welcome my hon. Friend's setting up of the Access Committee for England. Will he ask the committee to consider the situation at DHSS offices, where there is often a lack of toilet facilities for the disabled and often access problems as well?

Mr. Newton

I shall certainly consider asking the committee to look into the problem. Meanwhile, I assure my hon. Friend that I am looking into it myself. The point was raised with me in relation to one office which I visited recently, and I have asked for inquiries to be made about that. We are anxious to do everything that we can to deal with the problem.

Mr. Carter-Jones

May I ask the Minister to treat this as a matter of great urgency? Is he aware that people not normally classified as disabled could benefit by better access, for example, those with arthritis, pregnant ladies and women wheeling prams? They would all gain. If that is so, and if millions stand to gain, will he intensify his efforts to make access readily available at all public places?

Mr. Newton

We are concerned to move as rapidly as we can. The access committee is only part of that effort. I have referred to what the Department of the Environment is doing on building regulations. The Department of Education and Science will follow that with design guidance for schools. The Home Office is considering a number of points on buildings with which it is concerned, and we have just referred to social security offices. What is needed is a co-ordinated effort, using every weapon that we can find.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

Will my hon. Friend say something about the other part of the problem, which is to get an allowance that can be spent on wheelchairs most suitable to the needs of the disabled people concerned? Is this the committee that will have terms of reference covering that aspect?

Mr. Newton

It is not quite the same committee. I thank my hon. Friend for his interesting letter to me on this matter. As he knows, we have recently announced the establishment of a review of the artificial limb and appliance centres. That is very much the type of point that the review team will want to consider.

Mr. Alfred Morris

How many benefit offices that are used for appeals and tribunals are accessible to disabled people? Moreover, will the Minister take seriously the point that many outpatient departments of hospitals are inaccessible to the disabled?

Mr. Newton

I cannot give the figures, but I am conscious of the problem, which we are anxious to remedy.