§ Question again proposed.11.31 am
§ Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston)
I wish to concentrate on a specific aspect of disability. I was especially interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who addressed a wide and important range of problems facing disabled people. I shall not deal with those points or with the matters raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) as they have been dealt with adequately already. If the views of the hon. Member for Battersea were shared and acted on by the Government, there would be little, if any, need for today's debate.
As the hon. Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) said, we are all aware that many hon. Members have attempted, through private Members' Bills, to bring these matters to the attention of the Government, but most attempts have failed. Hon. Members have attempted to introduce legislation covering the range of matters raised today but in almost every case the Government have turned their face against the Bill. They have resisted the opportunity presented to them to make progress.
I was fortunate enough to be drawn in the ballot and I attempted to introduce a simple private Member's Bill, the Local Government (Access to Information) (Disabled Persons) Bill. All the points raised this morning are vital. A problem which affects many disabled people is their lack of access not only to buildings, but to information. My simple, one-clause Bill sought to bring to the Government's notice the fact that disabled people were disadvantaged by not having access to information. There are many examples of that problem. We are all aware of the tremendous impact of information technology. Information is power, and information means that one has the knowledge to deal with matters affecting one's life and the lives of others. In many ways, disabled people are deprived of information which could bring a solution to their problems or relieve the problems in their day-to-day lives.
It is only since the creation of the national health service that disability and disabled people have been brought out of the shadows of the pre-war and early post-war period, when in almost all instances the problems of the disabled were ignored by Governments and by society in general. The national health service did a great deal to make us aware that disabled people were people like ourselves who suffered from a disability which often prevented them from leading what would be considered a normal life. Progress has been made in many directions, thanks to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and of many other hon. Members who have constantly attempted to draw the Government's attention to the various problems faced by disabled people.
I want the Government to act on the single issue raised in my Bill and I appeal to the Minister to take its provisions on board. That would not be a costly exercise. My Bill sought to make local authorities and other agencies responsible for ensuring that disabled people, such as blind people, who have great difficulty in obtaining information about themselves, about the world in which they live, about their local authority and about the agencies, have access to information. Little or no provision 621 is made by local authorities to make such information available to blind people or to deaf people who suffer particularly as a consequence of a lack of information.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
Is my hon. Friend aware that his private Member's Bill was widely welcomed by disabled people and their organisations? It is still not too late for the Bill to be enacted. I hope that the Minister will respond as helpfully as he can to my hon. Friend's important plea.
§ Mr. Loyden
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend's useful intervention. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister will relent and move away from the attitude adopted by his predecessor. I hope that he will at least consider the Bill, which will not cause financial problems for the Government but will make local authorities and agencies responsible for reporting annually. The Bill is not intended merely to leave the matter as a piece of legislation, but to bring the issue alive. Every year, reports would be produced to show whether local authorities and other agencies were implementing the provisions on access to information for the blind, for the deaf and for other disabled people. That information is vital.
We must remember that disabled people pay their rates and taxes just like everyone else. As ratepayers, we have access to local authority information on a whole range of issues that affect our lives. We can obtain that information reasonably easily by going to the local authority and obtaining a leaflet or some advice. Disabled people cannot make those simple approaches. We must take into account the need for local authorities and other agencies to find ways of providing information to blind and deaf people in particular.
That task would not present local authorities with problems. Information technology provides the means to let deaf people know what is going on when they visit their local council chamber. How many councils provide sign language at their meetings to enable deaf people to understand and appreciate what is happening? The answer is very few. How many blind people are given the opportunity to know what is happening in their council and its committees, which take decisions that affect their daily lives? The answer, again, is that very few, if any, are trying to provide disabled people with access to information that is vital to them.
I came to understand the enormity of the problem when I first introduced my private Member's Bill. I received a video letter from a constituent in his early 20s. I had to find a means of translating that letter, which was in sign language, and I used the resources of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, which provided me with the translation that I sought. That young man went to the trouble to point out that that was his only means of communication and it made an impact on me. He pointed out that often when he could not hear what was happening on television he asked his parents, who were sometimes annoyed or could not understand him. That may appear, on the face of it, to be a minor problem but it means a great deal to that young guy.
Attempts are being made to provide sign language on television to help deaf people. Now that our proceedings are televised, sign language should be provided, because people regard this place as an important feature of life in this country. It is essential that they should have access to 622 what happens here and in the other place. Sign language should be used so that deaf people can join all those who gain their information from the television.
I was greatly encouraged by the fact that the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and my young constituent went to the trouble to do what they did. I sent a video sign language reply to his message which was a simple one. He asked, "Have you forgotten our problems of communication and information? Are you aware of them?" I knew then that the video letter was the only means of communication that that young man had. We should consider that most seriously because he is one of many thousands of people who are affected.
I hope that the Minister will take on board the points made by the hon. Member for Battersea and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe. I appeal to him, even at this late stage, to reconsider my simple, one-clause Bill, which would bring a great deal of comfort and pleasure—and, information being what it is, a great deal of value—to those who, by reason of their disability, are cut off from vital sources of information.
§ Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow)
I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) on his good fortune in winning the ballot and on his excellent choice of topic. I am delighted to be able to be here today, and I am only sorry that the Liberal Democrats have not seen fit to attend this important debate. They go on at length about how much they care for the disabled, but not one of them was here at the start of the debate and, to the best of my knowledge, there is not one here now. I suppose that they may all be sitting there en masse but if they are, they are invisible as usual.
It is a sad fact that many people today pay no heed to the problems of the disabled unless they themselves are disabled or have relatives or friends who are. Those facts bring home to ordinary people the great needs of the disabled. I have a relative who suffers from multiple sclerosis. Another relative, who died recently, suffered a major stroke and lived for 10 years after it which I gather is quite unusual. He was a man of very strong constitution. He found that he could just about cope with his disability although, unfortunately, he had lost the ability to read and write. He managed by using talking books, watching the television and conversing with others. But he found particularly difficult a little operation of which most people would think nothing: he could not cut his toe nails. That caused him more anxiety and difficulty than almost anything. Often, people find that they are able to deal with most things and they find it difficult to ask for help with an everyday operation such as that.
Also on a personal note, my father suffered from Alzheimer's disease for several years. It is a truly horrific and terrible disease. My mother did sterling work looking after him and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Dr. Bennett, the local doctor, and to Rose Fortune, the district nurse in the area of Inverness-shire where my parents lived. They were both marvellous in looking after my father. Personal contact with disability brings home to one how important the subject is and one perhaps gets some idea of the problems that the disabled face.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea had done his research well and covered most of the subjects that I wish 623 to mention. I congratulate him on that. He has done extraordinarily well. In my brief intervention in his speech, I said that many prospective employers are not prepared even to consider someone if he has a disability of some sort. I do not know why they should do that, but they are doing themselves out of people whose brain power may be much better than theirs. I plead with employers to widen their scope when they want to fill job vacancies. They should consider the claims of disabled people because they can do those jobs very well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea referred to the difficulties of getting to work. He also referred to the achievements of many notable disabled people. I can think of many examples of disabled people who have achieved a great deal. For example, Nelson won the battle of Trafalgar with only one arm and only one eye. That was a great achievement. The French may not have thought so at the time and they probably do not think so now. Sir Douglas Bader was legless when he flew Spitfires in the battle of Britain. Professor Stephen Hawking has already been referred to. I briefly dipped into his book "A Brief History of Time" and quickly out of it again. That book requires the summer recess to do it justice.
Some great composers also suffered disabilities and in that regard I think of Delius. I am not necessarily convinced that he was a great composer, but some people think so. Nevertheless, he found ways of overcoming his illness and he wrote music. Beethoven was so deaf that when he attended the first performance of his ninth symphony he was completely unable to hear it. He did not know when it finished and his friends had to turn him round so that he could see the cheering and applauding crowd.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea mentioned Itzhak Perlman. I remember attending a concert at the Royal Festival hall some years ago at which Mr. Perlman performed Mendelssohn's violin concerto. That was a notable occasion and one of the concerts that has stuck in my mind. It was a great performance by Mr. Perlman, who followed the violin concerto with Bruckner's seventh symphony which made the concert even better. We must also think of Jacequeline du Pré, that great cellist and a wonderful music maker. Tragedy overtook her, but she rose above it and passed on her talents and knowledge to young musicians in her wonderful master classes.
Disabled people in wheelchairs take part in the London marathon. From time to time I have thought that I might enter the London marathon, but I unthought it pretty quickly. The prospect of pounding around 26 miles is a little too much for me. However, I pay tribute to the people in wheelchairs who take part. It is incredible that they do so well.
We have recently debated Bills on abortion. I hope that such legislation does not lead to circumstances in which a baby which shows signs of being disabled before it is born is automatically aborted. That would be disgraceful. I have spoken to people born with disabilities who have told me that it is the only form of life or view of themselves that they have known. They believe that they have a right to live their lives in whatever form they were born.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea also referred to building design. At election time we visit polling stations which all too often are in places that have no access for the disabled. Often polling booths are set up in small village halls or in odd corners here and there. Disabled people cannot get into those places. It is fundamentally important 624 to our democracy that all people should have the right to vote, and it is wrong that some may be put off exercising their democratic right simply because they cannot get into a polling station. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will consider that point.
Many buildings were not designed with the needs of the disabled in mind. That applies not simply to access to buildings, but to lifts. Someone in a wheelchair might be able to get into a lift, but be unable to reach the buttons to get to the required floor. The designers must bear in mind small things like that when they design buildings and the services in them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea has already mentioned trains. It is very difficult to adapt a train to the needs of the disabled once it has been built. However, if a little thought was given to the design in the earliest stages, every disabled person who wanted to travel by train would know that he could do so. Occasionally disabled people may decide not to bother even setting off on the journey because they know that they will not be able to get on the train. A little thought would go a long way.
Buses and conductors have also been mentioned. These days we have those horrible things called OPOs—one-person operated buses. We often see people struggling with babies or shopping trying to get on to them. The disabled have no chance of getting on. Buses should be designed in such a way as to allow the disabled to board them. The fare-paying public would be willing to pay a little extra to have a conductor. The modern double-decker buses in London are not a patch on the old Routemaster which was one of the best buses ever designed or built.
A pavement is something which most hon. Members simply walk along. If a paving stone is sticking up a little, one might trip over it, utter an oath and walk on. The incident is quickly forgotten. But for disabled people, particularly the blind, such a paving stone could cause a crashing fall. Very often there are holes in pavements. The utilities come along and dig them up. That is fair enough; they probably have to do that. But more often than not, the hole is left inadequately guarded. There may be only a couple of cones on either side of the hole or a couple of rods stuck in the ground with a little sticky tape wound round them. The assumption is that most people will see the cones and ribbon and will take avoiding action. But a blind person cannot see the cones, ribbons or rods. Blind people have fallen into holes and hurt themselves seriously. It only needs a little thought. It is not very difficult to erect something slightly more rigid so that a blind person can knock against it with his stick and thus be warned of the obstruction.
Parked cars also constitute dangerous obstructions. If people park their cars on pavements there may not be enough room for a person in a wheelchair to pass and he may be forced out into the road. Blind people cannot always anticipate such obstructions. They will walk into parked cars or catch themselves on wing mirrors and hurt themselves. Again, it is a matter of a little thought, not only by those who are responsible for the design and layout of roads and pavements but by those who park their cars there. They see a gap, park their car and do not notice—they probably do not want to notice—that they have blocked ramps that were specifically constructed to enable someone in a wheelchair to get over the kerb. All too many of us are remarkably selfish. I appeal for a little thought for those who are less fortunate than we are.
625 All too often those of us who can see do not spot dog mess on the pavement. A blind person has no chance at all. The first that he or she knows about treading into something revolting is when he or she get home and smells it. By that time they have trodden it into their carpet. That is horrible. Many thoughtless people let their dogs out at the start of the day. Some dogs are almost latchkey dogs; they know that if they return at 6 o'clock their owners will be back to let them in. They spend the rest of the day running about. I am sure that you would rapidly rule me out of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, if I spoke at length about a dog registration scheme. Nevertheless, such a scheme would cause people to look after their dogs better. If people looked after their dogs better, that sort of incident would be less frequent.
Some organisations in my constituency are doing marvellous work. ARMS—Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis—has a facility that I have visited several times. It has all sorts of technology to help people who suffer from multiple sclerosis. One machine is almost like a diving chamber in which people can breathe pure oxygen at a higher pressure than normal. They find that helpful. Dial-a-ride has already been mentioned. I take this opportunity to take a swipe at London Regional Transport's regionalisation proposals. Dial-a-ride is presently organised on a local basis, and that is how local people want it to remain. They want to use it to visit local shops and visit friends locally. The vast majority do not want it to go miles away—they want it specifically for local activities. I hope that LRT will reconsider its proposals.
Dial—not to be confused with dial-a-ride—is devoted to the needs of disabled people and the resources that are due to them. Whitefield school in Walthamstow has acquired an excellent reputation for looking after children with all types of disability, especially autistic children. The parents of autistic children have great difficulties.
I congratulate my hon. Friend. This has been a marvellous occasion to discuss the disabled and the opportunities that should be open to them if people gave a little more thought and care. That message should go out from the House today.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
The motion pays tribute to people with disabilities. I shall mention the achievements of one of my constituents, Melvyn Wall, who lives at Delves road, Killamarsh. Two years ago, he had a foot removed, and subsequently both legs were amputated below the knee. He now has artificial limbs and does his best in the circumstances. The motion pays tribute topeople with disabilities and to the dedication of individuals and organisations that support them.The two organisations that support Melvyn Wall at the moment are the Sheffield Area Limbless Association and the Mosborough citizens advice bureau. The motion welcomes
the measures taken by the Government, by local government".North-East Derbyshire district council is to be complimented on moving Melvyn Wall from a house on a hillside, because it was impossible for him to move around and about, to an old person's bungalow—although he is only 44—on flat ground opposite a supermarket and a 626 newsagent. When he looks out of his window and sees that there is hardly anyone in the supermarket, he does his shopping. Because of his disability he cannot stand in a long queue waiting to be served. The bus stop is also nearby, which would add considerably to his mobility if it were not for the Government's action in removing his mobility allowance. I have mentioned that matter previously. If he had the mobility allowance, he could involve himself in activities within the community, just as he did before his legs were removed.
Melvyn Wall's home is only two miles from the Rother Valley country park. A disabled person needs to be able to transfer by bus or taxi to reach the artificial lake at the centre of the park. If Melvyn could get there, he could spend the day moving slowly from seat to seat around the lake, as he often did when he was able bodied. However, that is beyond him because it has been decided that his mobility allowance should be taken away.
Melvyn Wall occasionally visited Sheffield, which is nearby, but he has been able to do so only once recently. He has depended on his brother collecting him and taking him in his car. He used to watch local cricket matches at Killamarsh junior school. He now finds it difficult to move out of his house and get around readily and easily. Many activities are beyond him. Even to visit relatives he is dependent upon others collecting him.
In the current circumstances, Melvyn Wall cannot afford a holiday, which would be of considerable benefit to him. It takes him an hour or so to do what I found to be an eight-minute journey to the post office. It is then impossible for him to walk back up the hill, yet it has been decided by the Department of Social Security that Melvyn Wall is quite able to get around.
Reference has been made to Douglas Bader and his achievements. Melvyn Wall has achieved much. His financial circumstances mean that the ordinary requirements of life are beyond him.
At one time, he worked in opencast mining and, before that, he was a farmer. He used to be quite interested in gardening. Luckily, the council cuts his grass, but the remainder of his garden is looked after by his 80-year old neighbour, out of the goodness of his heart. Melvyn cannot employ him to do the sorts of work that, otherwise, he would find beneficial. I hope that the Minister will carefully consider the case that has been put to him several times by myself, by the citizens advice bureau at Mossborough and by the Sheffield Area Limbless Association, which is well aware of the difficulties and problems that Melvyn faces.
If we do not deal correctly with disabled people and give them the right to be fully and actively involved in society, we do not just damage and harm them, we damage and harm society. There are many people with considerable abilities who could contribute towards the well-being of communities, but who are kept away from jobs, social activity and involvement with us. We would be better people if we associated with them in terms of their abilities—which are quite normal abilities—and had some understanding of their capacity to overcome their considerable disabilities.
It has already been mentioned that the televising of the House should provide some form of signs so that deaf people could benefit. I have spoken about the poll tax in many areas, but the meeting that I remember most was held in a deaf club in Chesterfield. A signer stood by my side. The full involvement of the deaf audience, the way 627 that they discussed the issues through the signer, and their interest in the debate were quite astonishing. People who did not have access to information about the poll tax had the opportunity to discuss it with someone who had served on the Standing Committee that considered the poll tax Bill. That was of considerable benefit to me, as well as being a valuable meeting for those who attended. Involvement with disabled people is beneficial for us, as well as for them.
I wish to bring a second case to the attention of the House; it concerns Ken Davis, a constituent of mine who lives in Clay Cross. He has been involved in a campaign to maintain access for disabled people in the centres of towns that have introduced pedestrian areas—which might be a great boon for able-bodied people, but which cause considerable problems for disabled people who are excluded from taking their vehicles into those areas.
The hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) mentioned the abuse of the orange badge scheme. However, we must remember what it is used for and the fact that many disabled people are dependent on its operation. Therefore, any action on that scheme must ensure that those who are entitled to use it are given a full opportunity to do so.
§ Mr. Bowis
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. My point was that some people who are not disabled use the orange badge, which gives the whole scheme a bad name. We should pursue such people and make that abuse a criminal offence. Those to whom the hon. Gentleman rightly referred could then use the scheme to obtain access to exactly the places he mentioned.
§ Mr. Barnes
Disabled drivers are dependent on the scheme as it currently operates. They often have great difficulty in handling situations in the middle of towns.
The campaign has been running in Chesterfield—a neighbouring constituency of mine—which has a fine town centre and a fine market with cobblestones. The cobbles create a problem for disabled people, but it is an even greater problem if they are excluded from the area by what might be considered a very progressive scheme for able-bodied people.
Ken Davis felt so strongly that he disobeyed the byelaws arid had to appear in court. In fact, he wanted to go to prison to highlight the campaign. He did not go to prison because someone paid his fine, against his wishes. He still does not know who that person was.
That led me to table a number of written questions about disablement to the Minister. One of the central problems is that of disabled people who have to appear in court. Of course, there is also the question of facilities in prison if a disabled person ends up there because of his actions.
I was sent Prison Report—the quarterly review of the Prison Reform Trust. It had published an article by Baroness Masham called "Disabled access to the gaols". She said:One young man I came across while visiting a young offenders institution could not turn his wheelchair round in the cell because it was so narrow. He was allowed to spend his sentence in the hospital after he appealed to me, as a member of the Board of Visitors, for help. The prison staff, however, felt he would feel more 'normal' in a cell. One can imagine the utter frustration he felt at not being able to turn his chair—he became a prisoner in more ways that one".628 Baroness Masham suggested a number of provisions within prisons so that proper access facilities would be available for disabled prisoners so that they could live as normal a life as possible.
Disabled people are as varied as able-bodied people. Some may be imprisoned for offences that we may criticise, and they will serve their sentences. However, some highly principled people may be in prison because of stances that they have taken on certain issues. Ken Davis is one such person, and there could well be many more because of the Government's unwillingness to consider disability and severe physical handicap in setting poll tax rebates. A number of people might pursue their protest against, or inability to pay the poll tax to a stage where they become open to court action. There cannot be an attachment of earnings because they have no earnings to attach. The bailiffs cannot be sent in because they do not have furniture that they can take. They only have furniture that cannot be taken because it is essential to their needs. The only avenue left for many disabled people who have not paid their poll tax might be imprisonment.
I hope that the concern of Ken Davis and those who campaigned with him about pedestrian areas will be seriously considered. It is not adequately taken into account in Government documents such as "Getting the right balance"—guidance on vehicle restrictions in pedestrian zones—which seeks to deal with that issue. It seeks to deal with the problem by giving guidance on vehicle restrictions in pedestrian zones.
The Government are given some praise in the motion, yet they have been given many opportunities to assist the disabled. It is not just a matter for the Department of Social Security. I served on the Standing Committee on the 1989 Employment Bill, on which the question of dismissal notices arose. The Government decided in their wisdom that instead of being given written notice of the reason if one is dismissed within six months, the period should be extended to two years.
The Opposition tabled an amendment providing for disabled people to receive such notification at whatever time they were dismissed, because of their special circumstances. Mention was made of the problems that the disabled have in finding work and because of the improper operation of the quota provision. A disabled person might find himself removed from a job because of the pressure that it imposes, but even if he is dismissed for reasons that may be entirely beyond his control and which have nothing to do with his disability, he still needs a dismissal notice for his own benefit and to confirm to potential employers the reasons why he had to leave his previous job.
The London information and advisory service for disabled people on arts and entertainment feels that legislation should include a stipulation that once a year, employers should receive a visit from the Disability Advisory Service, for the purpose of inspecting access facilities, identifying possible adaptions to help the disabled, and reviewing progress with the employer's recruitment policies and practices. Perhaps one of that service's first visits should be to the House of Commons. Other right hon. and hon. Members have experience of meeting deputations of the disabled and of trying to take them to Committee rooms, when the greatest difficulty is encountered. One wonders also what arrangements there are for disabled people wanting to enter Strangers Gallery, 629 or even approaching the building or standing outside it. It would be appropirate for the House to get its own priorities right, to serve as a marker for others.
§ Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)
I thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise to right hon. and hon. Members for not having been present at the start of the debate as I had to deal with urgent constituency matters. None the less, I have received reports from my hon. Friends of the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), and I add my voice to those who have congratulated him on his initiative with a carefully thought-out motion. He may have spoken for a record amount of time for a Friday morning—79 minutes—but I am sure that it was pure gold all the way. I shall certainly read the whole of my hon. Friend's speech in Hansard to catch up with all his points, although I am aware of the main ones and of some of the ideas that he advanced.
This is one of those Friday debates in which the House often comes into its own in terms of common sense and a high degree of wisdom because party issues are set aside. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) for his work over many years and for the expertise that he has shown us all. In naming him first, I pay no less tribute to my own right hon. and hon. Friends and to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. He is a politician of great compassion, he knows a vast amount about his subject, and he has done a great deal of work on behalf of the Government. That shows that the Government themselves attach great importance to the problems confronting the disabled, as do all civilised members of society. There is a feeling that, as the British Rail slogan goes, we are getting there, but one must inevitably add that it is happening only gradually.
My interest in the subject stems from being a member of the old board of governors of the royal national orthopaedic hospital in Stanmore—both the country and the town hospital—and president of its league of friends. I am also chairman of the Save the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital Action Group, so I had the privilege of gaining, as an amateur, a great deal of knowledge about various mental and physical disabilities.
The problems confronting the disabled are enormous, and the demand for improving provision is, by definition, limitless. Government must order things in accordance with competing priorities for public expenditure, and the same is true of the legitimate use of private money. The irony and frustration is that as one proceeds along that complicated road, the demand for a 100 per cent. quality of life for the disabled, so far as it can be achieved in everyday living and working, rises exponentially.
For example, we are much more used these days to buildings being equipped with ramps—automatically in the case of new buildings, in accordance with Government requirements in respect of public buildings, with the private sector following suit. However, many disabled people complain to me that at the top of the ramp there is often a forward-opening door that they somehow have to open and then get through in their wheelchairs. If ramps are installed for the benefit of wheelchair users, they 630 should be supplemented with electric doors—though they are more expensive and need special maintenance. A new sports centre being constructed in this country is, because of budget cuts, unable to incorporate electric doors. One of the most difficult tasks for a person in a wheelchair to perform is getting through a door. Everything else in that sports centre is fantastic and marvellous, yet there is that example of society trying to grapple with budget problems and limitations.
Demand for improvements is being made not only by the articulate lobbies for the disabled of which many right hon. and hon. Members have experience in their own constituencies and to which we pay tribute, but by the public at large. We should inculcate consideration for the needs of the disabled early in the education process. I regret that when I was at school I was not brought up to work and play alongside the disabled, so that it would become for me a matter of routine to know almost instinctively the assistance that they need. Often, the mentally and physically able person unwittingly adopts a condescending attitude towards the disabled. We all do that. On how many occasions do we, on meeting someone in a wheelchair, shout at them as though they were deaf as well? The techniques and the information need to be put into people's minds at a young age. The most adaptable person is the child. In that way, children will treat disabled people normally, and not condescendingly as though there were something strange about them. The "Aren't I good and gracious because I am dealing patiently with you, a disabled person, although I am a busy important person" attitude drives disabled people mad. I would put able-bodied schoolchildren in wheelchairs so that they experience the problems of trying to get about in one.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson). He knows that access to and in stations is a nightmare for disabled people. The costs of rebuilding and adaptation are enormous. Even if it were possible to get disabled people on to the platforms—many stations and tube stations have long flights of stairs—they face the nightmare of getting on and off the train. How can a guard keep the train waiting longer on the off-chance that a disabled person may be trying to get on? These are huge problems.
I reiterate the plea—Ministers have justifiably become thoroughly sick of hearing it because I have been making it for so many years and I therefore apologise in advance—that the royal national orthopaedic hospital must be saved. I believe that the Government are committed to doing that. Complex discussions and negotiations about its inclusion in the relevant future structure of services will take place. Its work is fantastic. There is no other word for it.
Many institutions throughout the country pursue similar work. You will understand, Madam Deputy Speaker, why I am so intensely proud of this fabulous institution and what it has done. If hon. Members doubt that and say, "Yes, yes, we have heard all that before", I invite them to visit the hospital either with or without me—preferably without me because I shall drive them mad by going on about it all the time while they go through the corridors and wards and see the work done there, particularly on spinal injuries, implanting metal pieces into broken limbs, and so on.
631 My right hon. Friend the Minister has a standing invitation to visit. I would even tempt him by saying that if he comes soon, we could arrange for a Nicholas Scott plaza to be named or whatever he wants.
§ Mr. Dykes
Or a Nicholas Scott avenue. There are various possibilities and it would be worth while. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Health will come shortly. He has made it clear that he will. It is a vital national institution for many people. Over the years, we have been inundated with letters from all over the world.
A cloud hangs over the hospital. There is an erosion of morale and a lack of confidence because of the closure of certain facilities. I know that the hard-faced bureaucrats in the Department—they must be hard-faced because if they were sentimental they would make bad decisions—do not like gardens outside hospitals. They think that gardens are too expensive. They like to see rationalisation and square concrete buildings which are easy to administer and pay for. In reality, this hospital deserves the support of society, like others such as Stoke Mandeville, for which the Jimmy Saville campaign has done so much.
§ Mr. Summerson
May I invite my hon. Friend to turn his attention to another institution—the House of Commons? My hon. Friend will be aware of the scheme for tax-exempt payroll giving to charities which the Government introduced recently. Is he aware that only a tenth of hon. Members use it and give to charity in that way?
§ Mr. Dykes
I note what my hon. Friend says and thank him for his interesting point. I am sure that more hon. Members will note it when they return on Monday.
My hon. Friend mentioned multiple sclerosis in his excellent speech. It is one of the worst of the terrible diseases and disabilities, mental and physical, to contemplate. The staggering everyday heroism of individual cases moves us all to tears. Spasticity is a different condition. I recall a moving part of the biography of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), the former Labour Chancellor. He and his wife invited a young boy who was completely paraplegic and spastic to No. 11 to have a look round. The young man became famous for writing poetry and won a special prize from the Spastic Society. That formed the theme of a later story.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow mentioned the case of Jacqueline du Pré, who attended the equivalent of my multiple sclerosis unit in Harrow. Once again, one must pay tribute to her courage.
It is also important to record the difficulty of able people to appreciate the horror—I am not sure that "disease" is the right word—and the terrible affliction of MS for which there is no-known cure. Treatment can, to some extent, appease MS but that depends whether the pattern of the disease is horizontal or growing. In the latter stages of the disease, Jacqueline du Pré displayed amazing courage which moved us to make greater efforts to help those with it. I understand that the Government are under pressure on all their budgets, entitlements and requirements, particularly on health, but I hope that the Minister will take on board the need to use more public money in 632 research on MS. I know that considerable research is now being undertaken and presumably there will be a breakthrough one day.
I know that the national health service was a little ambiguous about the use of oxygen cylinders, but I am pleased that the Government are positively encouraging their use. There are still people who believe they are not the right way to go about it, but they provide great physical relief. For that reason the local unit at Harrow is doubling in size. Local schools have raised staggering amounts of money—the money has come mainly from sixth form colleges, but other schools are also involved. Such fund-raising shows that society wants to get involved and does not want to shut away those suffering from MS and other diseases. Society has a psychological need to be involved to help people with that terrible affliction as well as other disabilities.
I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister is also psychologically committed and I wish him well in his future work. He will understand when I say that it is not just private effort that is needed, but Government help to fund the research that will find a cure.
§ Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)
I am pleased that we are having this debate this morning. I apologise for being absent for part of it, but I had to receive some important guests who are now in the Gallery.
The debate centres on the question of society's attitude to people with disabilities—the language people use emphasises that. I know that it is unwitting, but many people drop into the vernacular and talk about disabled people. Those people are not disabled as people, but are people with disabilities and there is a big difference. We should always try to use the term "people with disabilities", especially as the effects on many can be mitigated or overcome with different attitudes or support. It is clear that society's attitude towards people with disabilities are still wanting. Consider the number of people with disabilities who suffer unemployment through no fault of their own, live in inadequate or unsuitable housing, and have difficulty travelling round and pursuing their careers.
I shall add one example to the many that have been quoted. A good friend of mine, Nabil Shaban, who is a fine actor, performed the part of Ayatollah Khomeini in a Howard Brenton play about "The Satanic Verses". My friend has also give a number of good performances on television. Two years ago he was offered the part of Micro Man in a Christmas show on Granada television. He was then taken off the show; it was thought to be a bad idea to have someone with such disabilities appearing on a children's programme because it might upset children. That was an absolutely disgraceful decision. I was pleased to join Nabil and a number of his friends in a demonstration outside the offices of the Independent Broadcasting Authority to demand that that decision was reversed. Nabil was demonstrating not for himself, but for all actors with disabilities of all types and the attitude adopted towards them by television companies and commerce.
It is right to talk about the media image of people with disabilities. Often people with disabilities appear on television or radio programmes to talk about other people with disabilities. Why are not the television announcers 633 people with disabilities? Why do advertising agencies in general go for the young, fit and mobile to promote their goods? We must include those people in society. I understand the points made about education, and I favour as much integration as possible. We must be careful that the future of special schools is not decided solely on financial grounds, but on the grounds of the greatest benefit for children suffering from disabilities. If children with disabilities are offered places in what one would call ordinary schools, a couple of factors must be borne in mind. First, as the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) rightly said, there must be full disabled access throughout each of those buildings. We must not wait until someone in a wheelchair arrives at the college before tackling the problem.
A constituent of mine who is fully wheelchair-bound tried to get into a college. We thought that we had secured her a place on a suitable course and then found that she could not enter the building, apart from the ground floor. She did not see why she should have her lectures in the staff room because she could not get upstairs into the lecture theatre where the other students went. She was right. Why should she be treated in that way? There must be an acceptance of the need for full facilities.
Where there are hearing, sight or mobility-impaired children in a school, there must be sufficient allocation of resources to that school to ensure that they are not left out of events and are given support and individual tuition where required. If not, integration becomes integration for ambulant and able-bodied children but not for those with disabilities. Integration becomes its opposite and those with disabilities become separated from the rest of the school.
It is sad that although many local authorities have worked hard to try to improve facilities for those with disabilities, build better and improved housing and encourage the movement of people to ground floor accommodation where appropriate, far too often they have insufficient resources. My authority has just been poll tax-capped, as have a number of others, and people with disabilities will suffer because of the cuts in local authority expenditure. Similarly, the enormous cut in house building means that there are fewer places for people in desperate need of converted flats. The sale of council and housing association property means that the possibility of good housing for people with disabilities is rapidly diminishing, which is serious. We cannot keep saying, "We admire what everybody is doing", if the Government are not prepared to provide the necessary resources for local authorities to carry out the policies required.
I shall concentrate mainly on mobility and public transport. Clearly, those who suffer from disabilities of any sort find it extremely difficult to get around—that is fairly obvious. Their position is often made much more difficult because of simple factors such as the design of pavements, kerb let-downs and pedestrian crossings, and the difficulties of crossing roads. There is also a problem with the provision of vehicles and public transport. An interesting and important debate is being conducted in London about the provision of facilities by London Regional Transport and local authoritis.
The chairman of the London Dial-a-Ride Users Association, Keith Armstrong, who is a good friend of 634 mine, has done an enormous amount of work on the subject. When Parliament was lobbied the other week, hon. Members were treading over themselves to get outside the building to be photographed with people entering in wheelchairs. It is just as well that they were being photographed outside the building because those in wheelchairs could not have come inside to take part in a proper lobby.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) said, it is absolutely disgraceful that in a building, in which legislation is passed about employment facilities and access to buildings for those with disabilities it is impossible for people in wheelchairs to get around. They can do so only via a circuitous route round the top of the car park and through Star Chamber Court. Only if their chairs can be squeezed into the lift, can they then get into the gallery to see and hear debates. Exactly the same applies to other parts of the building.
It is high time that those responsible for the administration of the House stopped pussyfooting round and ensured that all the necessary alterations are done immediately to allow full access to all with disabilities. We need braille signs and easy access ramps throughout the building. It smacks of hypocrisy that Parliament of all places does not have access for people with disabilities. We cannot go on like this; no one will take seriously what is said here about disability if people with disabilities cannot get round the building.
Keith Armstrong also said:Because buses and trains are mostly inaccessible to anyone not fully able bodied, we have to rely on Dial-A-Ride as our bus service. With insufficient funds, Dial-A-Ride can only offer on average, one trip every eleven weeks to our users—we are therefore demanding sufficient finance for Dial-A-Ride to enable us to offer every user just one trip a week. A modest demand, compared to the variety of journeys normally available on buses and trains for most people.Keith is right. Although some local authorities take great pride in their provision of dial-a-ride and in the pioneering work done in setting it up—not least in Islington, where we have a good service which is a great inspiration to many, run by people with disabilities who manage the system to make it work as well as it can—those services are grossly underfunded. The dial-a-ride lobby asks for much wider provision of facilities.
The London Committee on Accessible Transport sent out a circular on 7 June, only three weeks ago, containing this proposal:That further work be undertaken to adopt a strategic approach to various transport schemes in London, and so as to draw the various funding agencies together. In this context, consideration should be given to the suggestion that members of Dial-A-Ride schemes who would be entitled to concessionary fare permits should be permitted to use them to obtain free travel on Dial-A-Rides.At the moment fares on dial-a-ride are quite high. The committee is asking for interchangeability between London Regional Transport's concessionary fares and dial-a-ride. That is an excellent suggestion.
I hope that the Minister will assure us that his Department is prepared to offer sympathetic assistance in this matter, if necessary by leaning on the Department of Transport, which is the Ministry responsible for LRT. I hope that he will also assure us that the concessionary fare scheme is not about to go under. Every time LRT puts up its fares someone has to pay, and the money comes from the London boroughs, some of which have been poll tax-capped and thus find it increasingly difficult to meet 635 these bills. It is crucial that we keep the concessionary fares scheme in London; without it, pensioners and people with disabilities will suffer a great loss of mobility.
Recently, a policy statement emerged from the London Regional Passengers Committee about the provision of transport for people with disabilities. Section 9, which deals with overcoming disabilities and which warmly welcomes the growing public and political awareness of the problems of transport for people with walking difficulties, for the visually or hearing-impaired, and for people pushing wheelchairs, states:
But, even given the requisite resources and political will, many years will elapse before full accessibility to London's public transport system becomes a reality. In the interim, parallel 'para-transit' systems such as dial-a-ride and taxicard will have an essential part to play. At present they are desperately under-resourced, and able to meet only a fraction of the suppressed level of demand. If only one trip a week for each subscriber is still far beyond the capacity of the dial-a-ride service, then to offer its users the freedom to travel with the same ease and frequency as passengers on conventional public transport systems may seem an ambition wholly incapable of attainment. Nevertheless, the Committee believes that nothing less will satisfy the aspirations of those who are dependent on these services, and that a determined effort must be made to enhance the scale of their provision.Such a determined effort means first examining the funding arrangements of LRT. One problem is that a financial regime has been imposed upon London Regional Transport and it has to make a return on capital. No other public transport system in Europe has to make such a return and none has the slightest intention of doing so because the philosophy in other parts of Europe is that public transport is essential for a civilised city.
London fares are high and the service is inadequate. In some cases, because of the obsession with a return on capital rather than the provision of service, the service is downright dangerous. As a result, everything must be carefully costed and simply because of the costs involved there is resistance to providing the service necessary for disabled people. It should be accepted that those with disabilities should be able to travel openly and freely on the public transport system. To bring that about we need a change in bus design.
I am a great admirer of the Routemaster bus, which is probably the finest bus ever made. However, although it is by no means the worst bus to which to gain access, it requires modification. The Volvo is probably the worst bus to get on and off because there are several steps at the door. The Routemaster should have a lower step at the back to make it easier for disabled people to get on. If all the thought that goes into designing buses such as those in the Careline range was put into the general design of buses, we would have a much better system.
The buses used at airports to take people from aeroplane to customs and immigration have low steps and it is easy to get in and out of them. I timed the loading and unloading of 60 ambulant people on such a bus at Heathrow. It took one and a half minutes to fill the bus and one and a half minutes to empty it. Surely it is possible to use such buses to transport disabled people who would find them easier to get on and off? There seems to be a resistance by the bus industry to provide such public transport. Perhaps the Department should put pressure on the industry to overcome that resistance.
There is a badly publicised but nevertheless enforced policy by London Underground Ltd. that those in wheelchairs or people who are not ambulant cannot go on 636 the deep tube lines. Such people are not allowed on the Picadilly, Victoria or Northern lines and that presents a major difficulty. Disabled people who want to travel round London and who do not have a car must use the bus or the tube. At busy times it could take an hour or more to get a bus from Finsbury park where I live to central London. That journey would take just 20 minutes on the underground, but disabled people are not allowed to use the deep lines.
The journey from Finsbury park to here by tube and bus entails going down about 35 steps at Finsbury park station. If the traveller wishes to get a bus at Leicester square, he has to get off the tube there, walk up the steps and then take the escalator. It is almost impossible for disabled people to do that. Our underground system should not deny access to such people.
I was one of the people who blocked the London Underground (Victoria) Bill promoted by London Underground Ltd. I did so because I thought that LRT was paying insufficient attention to the need for people in wheelchairs to move between Victoria underground station and the British Rail station there. I warn LRT that if it brings forward a Bill for the construction of a Chelsea to Hackney line, many of us will block it unless it contains detailed provisions for disabled people. We will do that to encourage London Underground to come forward with serious proposals about mobility on the system. There is no point in bringing in a Bill for a line that will move people rapidly round London if consideration is not given to those with disabilities.
Underground stations now have the notorious mechanical rottweilers, otherwise known as ticket barriers. Their introduction was ludicrous because they are a danger to people with disabilities, people pushing prams or pushchairs, people carrying heavy shopping and those who have difficulty in walking. People get trapped by them every day. Why cannot we adopt the system that operates in Paris and in other cities where there are no barriers at exits but only at entrances? It is ludicrous that one has to get a ticket to get off the train as well as on. Clearly, if one has a ticket to get on a train, it is possible to get off it. We could easily get rid of all the barriers in zone 1, which would ease passenger movement and make travelling much safer.
A person who uses a wheelchair and who wants to travel on InterCity or other British Rail services is well advised by British Rail to book a seat. The seat can be taken out and the wheelchair manoeuvered in. I understand the difficulties with that operation, but it means added difficulties with wheelchair-bound people in moving around the country. We must think about these matters more, and transport organisations should be encouraged to do much more.
The most recent edition of "Transport Innovation" includes a petition for accessible buses. It gives a good example of the pressure that has been put on British Rail and London Transport. "Transport Innovation" states:700,000 people in London … are barred from using public transport due to thoughtless design. Of these, 20 per cent. cannot use buses, 33 per cent. cannot use the tube and one quarter cannot use British Rail.Many people are therefore prevented from travelling on those modes of transport. I hope that there will be some improvements.
I am not filled with great hope. I have quoted extensively from journals the views of those representing 637 people with disabilities. The "London Transport Annual Business Plan 1990–91"—a glossy document—devotes just one column on one page to "Facilities for Disabled Passengers." It states:On the Underground, features such as improved stairs, better handrails and more seats on platforms will be included wherever possible in new and modernised stations. Both new and refurbished Underground trains will also include better handrails and improved passenger operated door controls.Particular attention will be given to the needs of passengers with sensory handicaps. Improved audible information, clearer signs and better lighting are of particular benefit. The 'bus stopping' signs and the installation of dot matrix indicators on Underground platforms are of great value, and hearing-aid users benefit from the installation of 'induction loops' at all station ticket office windows.I agree with all that—it is splendid. I wish, however, that the plan went further and that I had more confidence that London Regional Transport will introduce the measures with the necessary speed.
The Association of London Authorities produced an interesting 10-point charter on "Accessible Transport in London". I do not want to detain the House long, but this is an important element in transport. Point 1 states:London needs a strategic transport authority, accountable to representatives from all boroughs, administered, financed and controlled by them.That is essential. As I said, the problem with LRT is that it is given a commercial set of targets which are impossible to marry up with the needs of London people and the social needs of London as a whole. We need a different attitude in the administration of transport.
Secondly, the charter says that existing forms of conventional transport must be targeted towards improvements, such as shelters, seating, grab handles, colour coding on vehicles and information signs. I am glad to say that, by and large, London Underground Ltd. has largely taken that on board. I hope that it will be done quickly. I hope, too, that guard dogs for the blind will be allowed to travel on deep-level tubes. Unless I am mistaken, blind people are asked not to take their dogs on deep-level underground trains. That is extremely unfair and unnecessary. Obviously, there is a difficulty with the use of escalators, but it could be overcome if there were sufficient staff at stations to assist people with guide dogs.
Point 3 refers to the planning of new public transport vehicles to take accountof the needs of disabled and elderly passengers.Fourthly, the charter states:Funding of the London Taxicard Scheme should be continued".It should be continued because it is necessary to provide mobility. Fifthly, the charter refers to the expansion of Dial-a-Ride as a whole and states:
There are now 29 Dial-a-Ride schemes throughout London, which are funded by central government through London Regional Transport. The budget for 1989–90 is £7.6 million for 29 separate schemes. Approximately 50,000 Londoners are members of Dial-a-Ride schemes. The current level of funding only permits an average of one trip per user each fortnight … 200,000 Londoners are eligible to be Dial-a-Ride members, but cannot be served because the demand already outweighs available resources.That means that 200,000 people in London are denied mobility because they cannot get on the dial-a-ride schemes which are insufficiently funded and cannot, therefore, provide the necessary service.
638 Point 6 of the charter is important. It would not require a lot of money, but is a question of attitude. It advocates the prohibition of pavement parking, which is a menace throughout London. Many people thoughtlessly park their car on pavements because they are going to buy a packet of cigarettes or a newspaper from the newsagent. They do not think about the difficulties for people in wheelchairs who want to get past, for those pushing children in prams or for people with sight difficulties who, although not necessarily completely blind, may bump into the cars. I have frequently had disagreements with builders who have wantonly dropped piles of bricks on pavements. That is extremely dangerous. People should think about the dangers and there should be strict enforcement of the legislation on pavement parking. The enforcement of the legislation on the obstruction of pavements should be as strict as that on the obstruction of roads.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East spoke about pavement surfaces. Cobblestones may look attractive, but they are a menace for people trying to negotiate them in wheelchairs. Something should be done about that. There should also be dropped kerbs and textured pavements so that people with sight difficulties know when they are getting near the edge of the pavement.
Point 7 of the charter refers to the expansion of transport services to provide "equal transport opportunities" for disabled Londoners. Point 8 says:
The shop-mobility scheme should be viewed as part of a transport network which enables disabled and elderly people to make full use of their local shopping facilities.Point 9 says:Local authorities should operate a central brokerage scheme to ensure full use of accessible Council vehicles by local residents and groups.That is important. Local authorities often have good vehicles for transporting people with disabilities, but they are in use only during the seven-hour or eight-hour working day and they are often not available to other groups at weekends. Such vehicles are a public asset and should be as readily available as possible at weekends. That proposal should be carried out. Point 10 of the charter refers to support for the orange badge scheme, despite some of the abuses suffered in recent years.
Running through all 10 points is a question of attitude. Finance is relevant, but equally relevant are the management of social services departments, transport schemes and other facilities. I am not happy that London Regional Transport proposes to appoint a committee if the Dial-a-Ride Users Association does not agree with its strategy and does not make nominations to the committee. Dial-a-ride users are the best people to manage the dial-a-ride scheme. They understand the difficulties of the schemes and are the best qualified to manage them. All transport undertakings should have places reserved on the management board for representatives of organisation of people who suffer from disabilities.
We pay a great deal of lip service to the problems of people with disabilities. There is far too much talk about charities to help them. We should move far more towards the idea of the right to mobility, the right to work and the right to independent living, with sufficient publicly financed resources to make those rights available. Those who suffer from various disabilities do so through no fault of their own, but because a great misfortune has befallen them. It is up to the rest of society to grant them the independence and normality of living that we expect for 639 ourselves. I am grateful for this debate today because it has at least given an opportunity for some of the points to be put forward.
§ 1.3 pm
§ Mr. Allan Stewart (Eastwood)
The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) made a thoughtful and knowledgeable speech. He will not expect me to follow him on his many points about transport in London. However, I want to underline the importance of two of his general points. The first was about attitude and terminology. He advocated the use of the term "people with disabilities" rather than the term "disabled people", which is too often used. He also made the point, extremely well, that the House should respond to the needs of people with disabilities who come to lobby their elected representatives.
I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) for not being here for his speech. As you may know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the First Scottish Standing Committee, which is considering the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill sat rather late last night and put some of our programmes a little behind. Nevertheless, I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on the terms of the motion and I understand that he made an excellent and comprehensive speech on a subject which is of great and increasing interest to the country.
As I am a Scottish Member, it is perhaps appropriate that I should pay tribute to the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) for all his work on the private Member's Bill that he successfully steered through the House during the previous Parliament.
The debate has concentrated to a considerable extent on access—in particular, access to transport facilities. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) summarised the position correctly when he said that we have made progress—that is undoubtedly true—but that we have a great deal further to go.
I pay tribute to British Rail in Scotland for the genuine efforts that it has made. It has improved access to Barrhead station in my constituency for people with transport handicaps. A long campaign was conducted by local people. I should explain that Barrhead is a fairly substantial town about half an hour away from Glasgow with a very good rail service, so access to the station is important to the community. The campaign was conducted throughout with a great deal of good will on both sides, and access for those with transport handicaps has been substantially improved.
In addition, new stations are being built in the Greater Glasgow area as part of the reopening of stations programme, which is encouraging generally. I am particularly encouraged by the fact that ScotRail is to open a new station at Dumbreck which is about five minutes away from where I live. I recently went to look at the proposed provision. A great deal of thought had undoubtedly been given to the design of that station which I do not think would have happened many years ago.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East was right to refer to practical problems. It is all very well to have a proper ramp, but if there are difficulties with the door at the top of that ramp, many of the benefits will be taken away. The local authorities are facing those difficulties. My constituency covers the whole of the 640 Eastwood district council area and part of the Renfrew district council area. Both councils are concerned about the matter and Eastwood district council has received an award for its particularly well-designed council building, the Carmichael hall.
Progress has also been made with attitudes and that theme is clear from this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East made an important point about attitudes in schools and that was underlined very well by the hon. Member for Islington, North.
We have been talking about access to transport facilities. The hon. Member for Islington, North referred in particular to dial-a-ride and other facilities. I want to ask my right hon. Friend the Minister about the design of taxis, a matter which has been raised with me by my constituents. I understand that alternative designs of taxis are available and local authorities have powers to insist on designs that are helpful to those with access problems. I understand that Edinburgh district council is ensuring over a period of time that its taxis are better designed. Clearly we cannot move on that problem overnight because there is a difficulty with the taxis that are currently being used.
Taxis are not as important as buses and trains when we consider public transport as a whole. However, many disabled people who perhaps live away from established bus and train routes must depend on taxis. Therefore, the design of taxis is important.
We should all recognise that people with disabilities of whatever form consistently depend on other people. They depend on friends, relatives and neighbours to enable them to continue to live within the community. We are all aware of friends, neighbours and relatives who have given up a great deal to care for people with disabilities. The Government have received many comments from carers and their organisations which make it clear that extra resources must be allocated to those people. This week I had an opportunity, with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy), to discuss the matter with the new secretary of the carers group in Scotland.
The Government decided to help carers before the publication of "The Way Ahead". I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues on the important changes that were announced last October. They have been welcomed by many people involved in caring and by the relatives and friends of people with disabilities. The changes include the introduction of a carer's premium and income support and housing benefit for people receiving invalid care allowance. The invalid care allowance earnings limit is to be raised from £12 to £20 a week. Invalid care allowance, as I understand it, will become available for the first time to many carers as a result of the Government's proposals to extend attendance allowance to the under-twos and to the terminally ill. A family with one parent staying at home to care for their severely disabled baby could have an increase in benefits of more than £65 a week as a result of the Government's changes. I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on the way in which they have responded to representations.
There should be as much assistance as is possible and reasonable for disabled people who want to achieve independence and want to go into the normal labour force. The lack of earned income is often a major cause of the gap between the average income of people with disabilities and that of the rest of the population. My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea mentioned certain figures. Office of 641 Population Censuses and Surveys statistics show that only about 31 per cent. of disabled non-pensioners are in the normal labour market. There is a widely perceived need for a benefit that will correct that problem.
The Government have responded by introducing the new disability employment credit from April 1992 to make it easier for disabled people to take up jobs. It will help disabled people on low earnings. Disability employment credit is not a completely new idea, because it works in much the same way as family credit, which helps families on low earnings. I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on what they have done to reduce disabled people's worry about what would happen if they tried to go into the labour force, were unsuccessful, and were subsequently temporarily worse off. That can be a problem. I do not claim to be an expert on the details of the various benefits and allowances, but, as I broadly understand the matter, the benefit system has been changed to eliminate that worry.
I hope that hon. Members will understand that I may need to depart for Scotland before the end of the debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea on introducing this important debate. As so often happens on a Friday, the debate is an opportunity to contribute constructively and in a non-partisan way. I have no doubt that many people will find our proceedings of considerable interest.
§ Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud)
I am grateful for the opportunity to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), I apologise because I shall shortly have to go back to my constituency. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will forgive me.
I agree with every word that my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood said, especially about the role of the carers, including relatives and neighbours, being fully recognised at long last. My right hon. Friend is not just the Minister for Social Security, he is the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. That shows a very welcome trend.
We should certainly not apologise for our record. Our spending has increased substantially. It is now about £8 billion, whereas a decade ago the amount was very much smaller and probably could not even have been separately analysed.
My right hon. Friend has been kind in our correspondence about the Guild of Disabled Homeworkers. Its members operate from the enterprise aid centre at Stag house, Woodchester, near Stroud in my constituency. The organiser is Mr. Francis Halton—a man of exceptional ability who has given much assistance to fellow disabled workers. It might be of interest to my right hon. Friend if I quote one or two sections from the guild's annual report. Thanks to my right hon. Friend, our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wrote to the guild, as a result of which the annual report begins:The Prime Minister shares your concern that the initiative of disabled people needs to be rewarded and encouraged.The report then states:
This recognition of the need for the work of the Guild in a Downing Street letter confirming a prospect of grant aid was 642 most notable among many expressions of moral support which brightened the Guild's difficult and troubled 21st birthday year.That also put the year into perspective by reviving memories of the bad old days when the guild's founders reported to previous incumbents of No. 10 that many local authorities and charities were exploiting disabled people by taking for themselves rewards that those who used initiative and skill in making saleable items at home were not allowed to earn. We must remember that at that time the disabled were limited to earning £1 a week before loss of state benefit. Before the coming of this Government, social services and charities bought the items as cheaply as possible, sometimes paying less than the cost of the materials. Sometimes they charged commissions, and then resold for profit or reward that they kept for themselves as payment for services.
The guild states, in its encouraging report:
To relieve the distress caused by this regressive trading of years ago the guild volunteers set out to provide free marketing for disabled people and thereby give them fair access, which they now receive, to the rewards and the encouragement of the enterprise.Later in the report, the guild further discussed the benefits of the free markets. As the earnings limit has now been raised from only £1 a week a decade ago to about £30 a week for many disabled people, the guild's volunteers have this year travelled further round the country than ever before giving free market displays and finding approval of their cause everywhere. Indeed, at Alexandra palace in London the free market exhibition was visited by thousands of professional carers. The general approval was underlined by the number of offers to assist in setting up a guild enterprise aid centre in or near London. I hope that that can be done.
The exchange of letters with my right hon. Friend related to the premises occupied by constituents. They are first-floor premises, so the stairs are a problem and there is no possibility of installing a lift. The guild described that in its report as a "premises crisis". It has also had a demand for an increase in rent. Its small work force is attempting to cope with an increasing flood of orders from throughout the country—much of it from charities and social services departments. It is now likely that the guild will lose its spacious headquarters, and a more affordable and accessible replacement will be needed.
It might assist the House if I explained the nature of the services provided by the guild. Its aid service continues to prove useful and the free markets have established their viability under experienced management. They have become well known for attractive displays of imaginative and well-made products at reasonable prices. I and my wife have visited the guild's premises on several occasions and can confirm that. The free material service continues to thrive with a plentiful supply of surplus materials willingly given and readily used to boost members' rewards. Both those services have helped to eliminate shoddy work by allowing slow workers to take more time and care.
One guild member has designed and developed new products and tools for making worktrays that are then fitted to wheelchairs. That project alone offers great possibilities for helping paraplegics and others, but unfortunately it is short of initial funding.
My right hon. Friend may be interested to know that there are 117 members of the guild in the Stroud area, which shows the considerable contribution that it makes. 643 He will be aware through our correspondence that the guild, because it is well organised, looks to the future with confidence—but faces the one difficulty of finding new headquarters.
Because of my right hon. Friend's comments, increased monetary support is in prospect, but it is important the guild relies only on building up its own strength. That means that the front-running volunteers must generate more support from distant members and their friends, by finding ways for them to share more fully in the charity's work, including fund raising. The report concludes:If the Prime Minister's reported concern becomes official policy"—in view of recent announcements, we can say with certainty that it will—
The revolution started by the Guild will be complete in the foreseeable future. This can be expected to mean that the initiative of disabled people, which was fair game for exploitation only a decade ago, would at last be allowed unrestricted access to the rewards and encouragement of free enterprise.I hope that the guild will continue to thrive. I referred to its one main problem. It is fashionable to criticise local authorities, but I received considerable help from Stroud district council and in particular Mr. David Ashley, its director of planning, leisure and tourism until he entered into well-earned retirement a few weeks ago. His successor is also helping me. Mr. Ashley wrote to me last December saying that he had met Mr. Halton to ascertain precisely the guild's requirements for premises. He said that when he visited its headquarters, he learnt much more about the organisation and its history—and he, like me, was impressed by its efforts and products. He pointed out that the guild receives goods made by disabled people all over the country which are then sold in the free market, and that the guild makes no charge to the vendor for that service. He added:This enterprise obviously offers the disabled person working at home an outlet for the products, which were extremely well made and reasonably priced.I confirm that that is true.
In 1976 my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister again took an interest in the guild. It has been greatly encouraged by that interest over the 21 years of its history—or at least over the past 11. As a token of the guild's appreciation, Mr. Halton wrote to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently:Since your office wrote to me on January 12 1976 that those disabled persons who wish to work should be encouraged to do so, much has been done by your Government to improve the lot of disabled people generally.I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister should have a share of that praise. He will receive an additional slice of praise if he will just look into the one small issue that I have raised.
The guild has been promised assistance for 1991, but given its problems with premises, it needs assistance preferably within the next few months. It may be that if the guild takes a lease on new premises, it will have to pay a form of premium.
I have described at length the work of the guild, and I am sure that none of us doubts its value. The guild has a temporary crisis. My right hon. Friend the Minister has been most kind and generous with his time in his exchange of correspondence with me, and is well aware of the problems to which I have referred. I should be grateful if he would keep them at the forefront of his mind.
§ The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Nicholas Scott)
We have had a good debate with little acrimony across the Floor of the House. Most hon. Members, no matter what their position, have spoken with the interests of disabled people in mind. I shall seek to reflect that in my remarks.
I pay the warmest possible compliment to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), whose constituent I happen to be, on choosing this subject for debate today. I pluck at random three particular points from the motion. First, he pays warm tribute to the achievements of people with disabilities and to the dedication of individuals and organisations that support them. I am sure that I carry the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) with me—he was the first person to hold this office—when I say that one of the most rewarding aspects of the job is to meet the individuals who suffer from a disability of one sort or another and those who care and organise support for them. It is inspirational. At least once a week I try to get away from the piles of paper at the Department of Social Security to visit disabled people and those who care for and support them. It is much the most rewarding aspect of my work in Government.
Secondly, my hon. Friend said that wherever feasible the services that disabled people receive should be decided after consultation with the disabled people concerned. They should be involved in the process, not treated with condescension as objects of pity, and delivered services. They should be actively involved in the process of decision making. I shall return to that in a slightly light-hearted manner later.
Thirdly, my hon. Friend recognised, as we all do, that whatever progress has been made—substantial progress has been made in the past 20 years, embracing Governments of both parties—there are still too many obstacles confronting disabled people in various aspects of the lives that they would like to lead and have a right to lead. Those obstacles are being removed progressively and so long as I hold this office, I shall do my best to ensure that further progress is made.
I take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman) about the Guild of Disabled Homeworkers. As he said, we have been in correspondence about it. I have noted his remarks and shall have another urgent look at the matter.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea for choosing this subject and for the elegant and compassionate style in which he introduced it. It has been a wide-ranging debate. I say in no partisan sense that this is the first debate in which I have taken part as Minister for disabled people rather than Minister for the disabled. I know that the change in my title does not go as far as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) would like, but it is a question of getting the title on the notepaper. We have struck a balance.
I am extremely glad that at last we have managed to get away from the condescending term, "the disabled". I have received several letters from individual disabled people and organisations for disabled people that have warmly welcomed the change. Some people may think that it is rather a trivial matter, but for many disabled people it is an important step and a recognition of their status. We 645 want to underline the crucial fact that people with disabilities are first and foremost people and individuals, who happen to suffer from a disability.
Some people outside Westminster believe that the Minister for disabled people has an executive role across the whole of government. Would that it were so, but it is not. My job as Minister for Social Security and Disabled People is largely concerned with benefits for disabled people. I like to think, as I know that the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe did when he held this office, that one has a role to encourage, cajole, bully and snap at the heels of other Departments to ensure that in developing policy initiatives they never forget the needs of those in our society who suffer from a disability. I pursue that role as actively as I can.
Before I comment on the debate, I publicly apologise to the staff at the orthotic research and locomotor assessment unit at Oswestry, which I should have been visiting this morning. Alas, it is the second time that I have had to postpone a visit to that unit. It does splendid work. In 1981 it won a Design Council award for its swivel walker and it is now working on the development of parawalkers. I hope that I can make good my omission today by visiting that unit in the near future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea said that we should not be too sombre when we talk about disabilities—there is an awful tone that sometimes creeps into people's voices when they talk about disability. I have been able to visit various places and have seen the steps taken by children suffering from cerebral palsy or by accident-injured teenagers. We who are able-bodied, temporarily at least, may consider such tiny steps trivial, but when one sees the sheer joy and sense of achievement felt by those disabled people, it is immensely rewarding. We should not be sombre, but we should be concerned to do our best to ensure that public and private policy is as well tuned to their needs as possible. We, too, should share some of the joy that those people are able to achieve in life.
A number of important points have been made in the course of the debate and I shall seek to deal with as many as possible. There are a range of matters that interact in terms of the quality of life that disabled people are eventually able to enjoy. Today my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment has published a consultative document called "Employment and Training for People with Disabilities". That follows his Department's review of services for people with disabilities. The review will carry forward a number of themes that have been established in the past decade. It aims to maximise the participation of people with disabilities in the mainstream non-specialist services, particularly the training programmes. It welcomes the flexible approach that the newly established training and enterprise councils, the TECs—can take in that regard. It looks to improve the quality of the specialist services for disabled people through assessment, counselling and rehabilitation and to draw better on the contributions that the voluntary and private sectors can make.
In essence, the document is about increasing the opportunities for severely disabled people to be placed in firms alongside the non-disabled. It looks to strengthen the 646 promotion of good practice to employers. It is a substantial document that I have not yet had the opportunity to study in depth.
I am sure that hon. Members who have taken part in this debate will want to look carefully at my right hon. and learned Friend's proposals. For the purposes of the debate, I shall summarise the main proposals. The document considers legislation and particularly the requirement that employers employ a quota of registered disabled people equal to 3 per cent. of the work force. The document analyses the weaknesses of the present quota system and also considers the weaknesses of the alternative approaches that have been advanced. At the same time, however, the document acknowledges that the retention of the quota may be necessary, at least for the time being, to prevent the wrong signals being sent to employers and others. The document invites comments on those specific proposals.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
The Minister is summarising a document that hon. Members on both sides of the House will feel that they should have seen. I have just been handed a press release of today's date issued by the Department of Employment. It states:The Secretary of State for Employment, Mr. Michael Howard, has today announced in a written reply the publication of a Consultative Document on employment and training services for people with disabilities … The Consultative Document reports on a review by the Employment Department of its programmes and services for people with disabilities.Is it not serious that a consultative document is still unavailable from the Vote Office? Will the Minister urgently ensure that the document, which I understand was released to the press several hours ago, is made available to hon. Members before the conclusion of this debate? It is surely discourteous to hon. Members from both sides of the House that a document of such importance and relevance to the debate has been made available outside the House for some hours while we have still not seen it. I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but I think that it was important to make that point.
§ Mr. Scott
I understood that the document would have been made available in the Library and the Vote Office by 11 o'clock this morning. If it was not, I apologise to the House. The right hon. Gentleman will have noticed that investigations are being carried out into what has happened. I anticipated that the document would be available to hon. Members so that as I assessed it they would have the opportunity of commenting on it.
We believe that the best results will be achieved by the effective education and persuasion of employers. The document makes proposals for that. It also suggests that, over five years, we should reach the position whereby most assessment is done by locally based employment department teams covering the whole country. Comments on how such teams could be supported by outside organisations are being sought by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. Much greater use of voluntary and other appropriate organisations to deliver rehabilitation is also proposed.
The document also suggests improving the departmental specialist counselling and assessment, management and training of staff, and bringing together those whose main concern is people with disabilities into an integrated specialist service. My right hon. and learned Friend has affirmed his intention to move over a period, the balance 647 of the sheltered employment programme for people with severe disabilities towards the more cost-effective sheltered placements with employers. Of course, sheltered workshops and factories will still have an essential role to play for those for whom sheltered placements are unsuitable.
The document also proposes better use of non-specialist services. Some 15 years ago, help to most people with disabilities was provided through special services. In the 1980s that pattern changed and the advantages of integration are now fully recognised. Full access for people with disabilities is an important feature of youth training and jobcentre services. My right hon. and learned Friend proposes to carry that further and provide better training for those involved in the specialist services, encourage TECs to use imagination to help people with disabilities and introduce audits of non-specialist programmes against the needs of clients with disabilities.
Most importantly, as a Government we are determined to secure the commitment of employers. Whatever legislative framework we put in place, we need effective ways of persuading employers to adopt good practice. The 1980s saw major innovations, including a code of good practice and the establishment of the disablement advisory service. My right hon. and learned Friend wants to carry that further. Proposals and issues raised include better training for the disablement advisory service, greater involvement by the employers' organisations and the introduction of a symbol for employers to use to express their commitment to good practice. That will be discussed further with the relevant interested parties before final details are decided.
Taken together with the proposals announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security in January, in "The Way Ahead" for a new structure of disability benefits, these proposals make an important contribution to the removal of obstacles to personal achievement at work for people with disabilities, to which I alluded earlier. Comments on the proposals are being invited from a wide range of interested parties and decisions will be taken at the end of a six-month consultation period.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea mentioned the education of young people who suffer from disabilities. The Education Act 1981 established a new framework for special education in England and Wales; it was implemented in 1983. In essence, it abolished statutory categories of handicap as the basis for special education. The emphasis of the Act is on identifying the special education needs of the child, then deciding the appropriate special education provision he requires to meet those needs.
Special education needs are defined as covering all learning difficulties which are significantly greater than those experienced by the majority of children of the same age. The term also covers any child with a disability that prevents him or her from making use of the educational facilities provided in schools. I do not believe that this is the time to go into great detail about how this policy is being pursued, but in January 1988 there were about 140,000 children with statements of special education needs in English schools.
A balance must be struck. There will always be some young people who will need special education, but I believe that the more we can educate children with special education needs in the regular school system, the better. That is better for the children, because although I admire 648 many of the special schools in this country, some of them tended in the past to be slightly over-protective towards children in their care. Children with special education needs benefit from being in the same classrooms as those who do not have these needs, and from competing with them and achieving with them. It is also better for able-bodied children to come into contact with youngsters with special needs of one sort or another. The policy is working well at the moment.
§ Mr. Morris
As the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) said earlier, the more disabled children can enjoy the society of non-disabled children, and vice versa, the better it will be for them later in their lives. Society is very reluctant to see the visible problems of handicapped people simply because opportunities were missed in the school years.
§ Mr. Scott
I totally agree. The right hon. Gentleman has emphasised the point that I, perhaps less eloquently than he, was trying to make. Only 10 days ago I was with a boy of about 13 who suffers from cerebral palsy. His mother had to fight for 18 months to get him into a regular school; the local education authority was determined that he should go to a special school. His mother—a formidable character—dug her heels in, and now he is heading for GCSEs and O-levels. Of course, he will then face other obstacles, on which I shall touch in my speech.
The timetable at the boy's school has to be arranged with him in mind—the school was built in Victorian days, and he cannot cope with the stairs. He has a full-time assistant with him; his computer has to be lugged around the school. I am sure, however, that that happy and well-adjusted young boy has benefited considerably from being in regular school—as have the pupils who have shared lessons with him. They have seen his disability. It is a theme of my job to persuade people to look behind the disability that they see first to the abilities that frequently lie behind it.
§ Mr. Corbyn
I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying about primary and secondary education. A constituent of mine went through a series of special schools under the Inner London education authority throughout his school life. In some cases ILEA did well for him, in others, less so. He has now returned home and it is proving impossible to find day care facilities for him. He is severely disturbed, and is now stuck at home with his parents, one of whom is unemployed. They have great difficulty looking after him. They do not want him to go into a long-stay institution but would prefer him to have a degree of independence at home. To do that, they need the support and respite which day-care facilities and day centres can offer. There is an enormous waiting list for such centres, not just in my borough but throughout London. I am sure that the Minister is also aware of that problem. Can he direct greater resources to such day centres for those who are severely disturbed?
§ Mr. Scott
A range of day-care facilities is provided by local authorities and voluntary organisations. I have visited many of them. I cannot promise extra resources, but I pay a warm tribute to those who operate in this field. We face problems when young people move from primary to secondary education and have to be integrated into the system. We must also smooth their path to higher education and later I shall discuss what can be done to 649 provide them with employment. I would welcome the further development of day-care facilities, some of which are good and some of which are not so good. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have seen both types of day centre. However, centres have a great contribution to make to the quality of life of many disabled people.
While on the subject of education, perhaps I could speak about conductive education. As the House knows, many British families make enormous sacrifices so that their children, mainly those with spina bifida or cerebral palsy, can travel to the Peto Institute in Budapest for conductive education. I am anxious to see the benefits of conductive education delivered as soon as possible to children here. I would not want totally to separate work that is carried out here from the work that is carried out in Budapest because that is where the whole idea was conceived and developed. It would be increasingly to the advantage of many British families if they could avail themselves of conductive education here rather than having to go to Budapest, where they would face language and social difficulties.
We continue to value the education provided in Budapest, and we are currently finalising an agreement with the international committee there to contribute some £5 million over the four years for the capital cost of a new building for the international foundation in Budapest. In September 1989 I announced our commitment to that new institute and I also said that we hope to supplement the Government's contribution towards Peto with a similar amount of money raised from non-government sources.
It seems clear that conductive education will be brought to this country, primarily because of the action of the several voluntary organisations that are working in this field in a number of different ways. We plan to have discussions with some of those organisations in the near future. I am optimistic that we can produce a joint approach to fund raising which will ensure an acceleration of funds for the new institute in Budapest and for developments in this country based on links with the Peto institute.
I have in my office a marvellous video starring Bob Hoskins and a young lady called Dawn. It shows how conductive education can benefit young people and I shall ensure that anyone who gets in touch with me receives a copy of that video.
The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe paid a warm tribute to the all-party group on disabilities. I also pay tribute to that group. The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) work immensely hard on that group. They do not always make my life as comfortable as I would like, but I never cease to welcome their attentions and persuasion.
I acknowledge the importance of carers. The plight—that is not too strong a word—of many informal carers will attract increasing attention in the future. As the House knows, we are introducing a carers' premium within income support in recognition of the work of carers and, of course, invalid care allowance also makes an important contribution. I acknowledge the importance of respite care, which enables the disabled person to go away and gives the carers a holiday. Several organisations offer facilities and encourage the provision of respite care.
650 The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe said that severe disablement allowance was taken from disabled people if they could not find employment after training. I think that the House will agree that SDA is a benefit for people who are incapable of work and have not paid the national insurance contributions necessary to get invalidity benefit. If we paid it to people who were capable of work but could not find employment after finishing training, it would cut across the basic principles underlying SDA, which we recently brought closer to invalidity benefit. There are, however, arrangements for former recipients of SDA who complete a training course but who, at the end of it, are incapable of work. If they claim SDA within eight weeks of the end of the training, they will requalify immediately. In essence, they retain their underlying entitlement to SDA. So long as they are incapable of work and claim it within eight weeks of the ending of their training, they can continue with their former entitlement to SDA. I hope that that will be some reassurance—if not total reassurance—to the right hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) referred to one of his constituents, Mr. Melvyn Wall. I cannot comment on individual cases. The decisions on all these claims for mobility allowance are made by independent adjudicating authorities on the basis of the medical evidence put before them. The basic criterion is that someone must be unable or virtually unable to work. There are no special provisions for amputees. Another notable case recently raised this issue. Inability or virtual inability to work are not the only criteria. When we introduce disability allowance in 1992, we plan to extend the mobility component to a lower level. The benchmark will be lower and it will be a question of whether people are independently mobile. The precise details are still being worked out. We are broadening the scope of what is now called mobility allowance and will be called the mobility component of the disablement allowance.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes
Some categories of people who are limbless have great difficulty in moving around. They work hard, and Melvyn Wall is one of those people who do not like to swing the lead when people are investigating their cases. He tries his best, but he is in considerable difficulty. Perhaps that category of limbless people should have a special provision. Common sense shows that they have great difficulty when they are virtually or entirely immobile. If the district council had not moved Melvyn Wall from one address to another to make life easier, a case for continuing mobility allowance might have been established. I do not believe that those factors should be taken into account.
§ Mr. Scott
I was going to ask the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East to give way to me. I take his point. I am concerned about a number of these cases. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any promises today, but during our consideration of the new disability allowance, we shall look at assessment and adjudication procedures. We shall note his point.
The next 10 years will see tremendous advances in the way in which disability is regarded. Several hon. Members have made the point that whatever Governments, local government or employers do, it is the attitude of society 651 towards people with disabilities that lies at the heart of many of our problems. Integrated education and increasing employment opportunities for disabled people will progressively change attitudes in society and I look forward with optimism to the next 10 years.
Once we have completed our policies in 1992, we shall have a more rational benefits system. The new disability employment credit will help people who are disabled and who may not be able to work to the full extent of an able-bodied person to obtain employment, which will be a big step in the right direction. The disability allowance will expand the coverage of the present mobility and attendance allowances. Overall, the changes we announced last October—most of which we implemented in April—and the new arrangement in 1992 will benefit about 850,000 disabled people. That will be a step towards a more rational and coherent structure of benefits.
Unlike the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, my experience is not that the majority of disability organisations are unappreciative of many of the steps that we have taken. However, many of them are campaigning organisations. I well understand that they want more and that they want it sooner. However, I believe that most people who look carefully at our proposals recognise that we are putting in place the building blocks for an improved structure of benefits, especially as we are shifting the emphasis in the benefit system towards those who have been disabled since birth or early in life and who have not, therefore, had the opportunity to build up contributory benefits, savings and occupational pensions. Those who have become disabled later in life may have been able to build up such funds. Our proposals are a step in the right direction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea urged me to look again at the age limit beyond which people cannot qualify for mobility allowance. The latest estimate of the cost of introducing such a change is about £1 billion, which will probably rule it out. One has to assess priorities and make choices. If I were fortunate enough to have £1 billion, I am not sure that my hon. Friend's proposal is the first choice that I should make. However, I understand that there is concern about this. Anyone who qualifies for the benefit before the age of 65 can continue to receive it for life.
Several hon. Members raised points about adjudication procedures. As I said earlier, I have looked at the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux report. It is fairly anecdotal rather than definitive, but I have looked at it with great care. I shall take account of its views and those of other organisations as we look at adjudication and assessment procedures for the disability allowance and for the disability employment credit.
Benefits are one aspect of the quality of life for disabled people. The delivery of services at local level is also an important aspect. Most of us who have had any experience in this area will recognise that the delivery of services tends to be uneven across the country. However, social services departments are increasingly considering the needs of disabled people and consulting disabled people about their perception of their needs.
I want to tell the House a slightly light-hearted story. I was at Totnes in Devon where a new system has been established for assessing the needs of disabled people and for consulting them about their needs. The social services department approached one elderly pensioner and asked her to say what single step could most improve the quality 652 of her life. She said that if the social services department could deliver a case of Guinness every Monday morning, that would be the best thing that could happen to her. The judgment of professionals may not be so perceptive as we think.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) made a point about the importance of information for disabled people. It is no use having benefits, services and support for disabled people unless they can find out about them and their availability. The Government have supported the development of a data base for the Disabled Living Foundation and are supporting the EC's Helios programme to provide information about aids and services for disabled people.
Hon. Members have also referred to access. I commend to them a recent Film 90 programme about access to cinemas, and how disgracefully bad our record is. Ironically, a constituent of mine in a wheelchair was refused access to the cinema to see "Born on the Fourth of July", although he had telephoned the night before to warn that he would be coming and had been told that arrangements would be made. A cinema showing "My Left Foot", the film about Christie Brown growing up in Dublin, is also inaccessible to those suffering from disabilities. We must encourage the cinema authorities to make cinemas more accessible. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts, in co-operation with—
§ Mr. Corbyn
I agree that cinemas ought to be accessible to people with disabilities, but will the Minister also turn his attention to access to this House and ask the Leader of the House when he intends to bring forward proposals or to implement arrangements to make this building fully accessible to people with disabilities?
§ Mr. Scott
There are, of course, problems with historic buildings. We all accept that, as does the National Trust. I am not being in the least light-hearted about this, but when I arrived at the building which houses the Department of Social Security and therefore the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, which had been thoroughly refurbished, I found that no disabled person could get to my office. Something has since been done about that, but we must make those who design, refurbish and update buildings much more aware of the needs of disabled people. I take the point about the Palace of Westminster, but the hon. Gentleman will understand that there are constraints. In any case, I shall certainly raise the matter with my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House.
§ Mr. Loyden
I welcome the Minister's remarks about the progress that has been made on access to information. Will he consider access to information from the local authorities—which should be the dispensers of information—for the blind and the deaf, through the provision of braille and sign language in their committees and council chambers? That would be very simple and would not be costly to the Government or the local authorities.
§ Mr. Scott
If the hon. Gentleman is fair and if he looks around he will have to admit that increasingly those facilities are being provided. I am delighted at the experiment to provide signing for deaf people to accompany transmissions from the House. These days, one is increasingly likely to find signing facilities at conferences, including those of the major political parties. 653 We need to consider the provision of signing and perhaps the installation of induction loops in theatres, council chambers, and so on. All such moves are warmly to be welcomed because they will enable those who suffer from sensory disabilities to play a full part in our society.
We are making progress on the transport front. I know that the hon. Member for Islington, North feels strongly about that, as do I. We are making substantial progress with London taxis, although the gradual replacement of the vehicles, which will make every taxi accessible to wheelchair users, will take 10 years. About 50 other local authorities have now made the mandatory London system applicable to their areas.
British Rail is making substantial progress with access to trains. Standards for coaches are being looked at on a Europe-wide basis and we expect substantial progress to be made on that, too. I am keen to ensure that house builders design houses—
§ Mr. Corbyn
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of transport, will he turn his attention to the funding of dial-a-ride systems and the design of underground trains and other transport systems in the capital. As I pointed out, some 200,000 people with disabilities in London are denied any real mobility either because of the inadequacy of the provision on the public transport system or because of the unavailability of dial-a-ride.
§ Mr. Scott
London Underground is looking carefully at that matter. The most important single factor in the underground's ability to adapt to the needs of disabled people is the presence of escalators. Stations that are only accessible by means of escalators present particular problems. However, I know that London Underground is considering the issue.
I have referred to benefits, services, information and briefly—perhaps too briefly—to access. Over the next 10 years as we see the diminution in the number of l8-year-olds entering the job market, employers will be compelled to seek out the abilities that lie behind the disabilities of the people about whom we are concerned today. The demographic trend will be a very important factor in opening up employment opportunities for disabled people in the next 10 years or so. The determination of disabled people will also be important. They should say, "We are not prepared to be portrayed merely as objects of charity and pity. We have a contribution to make to society and we are jolly well going to make it." Their determination will help to improve the quality of their lives.
I am aware that many disabled people resent the way in which some national charities portray them in order to raise money. So often they are portrayed as objects of pity instead of as people with abilities who, if given half a chance, could make a real contribution to our society. Technology will increasingly make it possible for disabled people to maintain independent living and to gain employment.
The Government want to encourage all that as much as possible. Other hon. Members want to speak, so I will conclude by saying that the services and benefits for disabled people and the changes in society that will benefit them will not suddenly stop and stand still. There will be 654 substantial further progress and the Government will do their best to support that as much as possible. The privilege of being the Minister responsible for disabled people is indeed a real privilege and an inspiration to me. I know that all those who have the privilege of working with disabled people experience the same feelings.
§ Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) on his motion. Almost everyone would want to be associated with the thanks that he offered to people who do so much work, usually, voluntarily and usually unpaid, to care for and provide opportunities for the disabled.
I shall refer briefly to the experiences of the Greater London council between 1981 and 1986. We established a commitee that included representatives of disabled Londoners and of organisations that work with the disabled in London. In a small way we began to approach the problems of people with disabilities in a city like London.
It is important that such a committee should include a major voice from the disabled. In that respect I am not sure whether the GLC committee was entirely successful. Many voluntary organisations do excellent work, but for too many of them it is impossible to find a director or member of the managing body who is disabled. I do not intend that to be a criticism of the people serving on such bodies, but voluntary organisations and local authorities must ensure that they give a voice and power to the disabled instead of relying on other people to speak for them.
The last few lines of the motion introduced by the hon. Member for Battersea call on the Government to remove obstacles facing the disabled to allow them to achieve their full potential. That is the crux of the matter. I have never come across a disabled person who asked me for a special benefit or special advantage over people who are not disabled. Disabled people want to remove the blocks that prevent them from achieving their full potential in society.
When we discuss this matter we inevitably consider some cost or some investment. When the Labour party was in opposition in the GLC, we drew up our manifesto. I chaired the transport working party. We looked at what could be done to help people with disabilities to get round London. Obviously, we went straight to London Regional Transport to find out the cost of converting the London transport system. It was horrendous. Even if we had decided to pledge to make London transport accessible to people with disabilities, the time and the large sums of money involved would have meant waiting a decade or two before we could achieve a change.
The underground was created at a time when people with disabilities were expected to disappear into the background. Work would have had to be undertaken on almost every means of access into the tube system. It would have meant a major capital programme running into millions of pounds by the time it was finished and the virtual replacement of all existing rolling stock. There was no money to do it. Even if there had been, the necessary time scale involved would not allow immediate relief to people with disabilities.
We looked at the most obvious compromise, which involved the private and the public sector, and we obtained some relief immediately. We devised two things. First, we 655 added support to something that was already in operation, the dial-a-ride system, which we had helped to build into a London-wide network of a small number of mini-vans that picked people up and took them to their destinations. Secondly, and most important, we involved the private sector and created the GLC taxicard system. The GLC would give a card to every disabled person in London. They would then be able to call a taxi on what were then the three main circuits, pay £1 for their journey, and the GLC would pay the rest.
That system represented a tremendous improvement in disabled people's ability to get round the city. It harnessed the existing private sector network. The taxi drivers' response was magnificent, and I regret that the system has not been built on. It is far more effective than any major programme of capital replacement of works and so on. Following the abolition of the GLC, I had hoped that the Government would give some guidance, perhaps by launching a programme to put every taxi on a radio circuit so that more people could enter the scheme. Perhaps central Government funds could have been provided to help London local authorities, many of which find it impossible to balance their books. Labour and Conservative authorities have either frozen their lists or have waiting times, so people with disabilities might have to wait months before they can get their cards. It would be helpful if the Government would step in.
§ Mr. Livingstone
I agree that the system is operating effectively, but demand is still building. Many local authorities are caught in problems. They are introducing restrictions and waiting times before people can get passes. That factor should be borne in mind in debates on the annual public spending carve-up, when we argue about the amount of money that is made available to local authorities. The system should be extended throughout the country. It is a basic right.
§ Mr. Corbyn
My hon. Friend must be aware of the zoning arrangements that have been brought in for dial-a-ride in London and how unpopular they are with people with disabilities because they prevent them from having real mobility around London. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is time to examine the zoning arrangements again so that we may revert to the system that existed under the GLC when there was real mobility all over London?
§ Mr. Livingstone
I thank my hon. Friend. I spend much time thinking how nice it would be to go back to the GLC—no doubt many of my colleagues will agree. I have not the slightest doubt that the present zoning arrangements imposed on dial-a-ride are unpopular. That brings me back to the point that I made earlier. If dial-a-ride was under the control of people with disabilities rather than being part of the London Transport democracy bureaucracy, I doubt whether it would have come up with such a scheme. I and many hon. Members have written to London Transport complaining about that.
I repeat that we are talking about money. The only time in my life that I have experienced the problem of some disability was when, with remarkable stupidity, I broke my leg in San Francisco. It was just after the last general 656 election. The immediate thought is that San Francisco must be the worst possible place to be in a wheelchair. But because of the very hilly nature of that city, people who depend on wheelchairs have lobbied effectively for years as a political movement and they have browbeaten each mayor or administration into doing something about it. The building regulations in San Francisco make it clear that a public building cannot be opened, whether municipal offices or a cinema, without excellent access for people in wheelchairs.
I was in a wheelchair for about two weeks while in San Francisco. One of the few things that I was able to do was to visit the cinema, and I must have gone a dozen times. There was not one occasion when I had a problem getting in. If San Francisco can do it, London can do it.
I also noticed that there were dropped kerbs on every street, and on every corner. That is a city with a political will to do it.
If we want to give effect to the sentiments of the motion, the Government must step in and provide the legislative framework so that people are forced to comply and create a society in which people in wheelchairs and other people with disabilities can exercise their right.
§ Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone)
I am grateful to have the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I shall curtail my remarks because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) has been waiting to make his contribution.
I join in the congratulations that have been extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) for tabling this important motion. The first line of the motion mentions promoting opportunities for the disabled. The one fundamental opportunity that we appear to be denying the disabled is the opportunity to be born at all. It is significant that my hon. Friends the Members for Battersea, for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart), for Stroud (Mr. Knapman), for Walthamstow (Mr. Summerson), and for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and, trying very hard for his constituency, my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr.Leigh), who are here to participate in the debate, have also played major arid leading roles in the pro-life movement.
I find it hard to reconcile saying that we must spend more on the disabled, that we must take greater care of their needs, that we must recognise them as a special category needing extra help, that there should be no recognisable difference, as far as possible, between their opportunities and the opportunties of their able-bodied fellow humans, and at the same time saying that, before their birth, we create two classes of citizen, the healthy and the able-bodied, who will enjoy protection from the 24th week, and the unhealthy and the disabled who will have no protection at all.
If we create two classes of citizenship before birth, we inevitably create the sort of society and social attitudes that will lead to two classes of citizenship after birth.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
For the last four or five years I have taken Order of Malta Volunteers groups of disabled people to Lourdes every summer. It is not the enormous courage of the disabled people that is so apparent but the good that it does for young, often selfish and privileged people actually to look after disabled people. They should not be swept under the 657 carpet. It is important that the disabled people are among us. Therefore, what my hon. Friend has said is very important.
§ Miss Widdecombe
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that contribution. I can only repeat what I have said: two classes before birth must inevitably lead to the social attitudes that will lead to two classes after birth.
We live in an age that makes a god of physical perfection and in which the emphasis is not only on being healthy and active—with which I do not quarrel—but on looking and appearing perfect. We live in an age in which a two-year-old child is removed from a playgroup because he has a severe birthmark that is said to disturb and frighten other children and an age in which women who are already beautiful spend fortunes correcting some minor imperfection while the rest of the world starves.
I recall the words of Celeste Hind, a very wonderful woman, who took her child to Canada for surgery because apparently we in this country begrudge major surgery for children suffering from Down's syndrome. The most distressing aspect for her was the attitude of people in this country, including doctors who said, "Oh dear. How did this one get through the net? Didn't you have the test?" If that is our attitude to the disabled when they are very small or young, that will assuredly be our attitude later.
Those of us who were born in the post-war years grew up knowing people who were limbless, and we respected their condition because they sustained those appalling injuries and deformities while preserving the freedom of our nation. When medicine was less well-developed than it is today, most of us remember going to school with children who had to wear leg-irons after contracting poliomyelitis. We accepted them as normal, as part of society, as something everyday. Today, the emphasis is on physical perfection, not letting such people be born, and on insisting that every last finger and toe is in place and that there are no even minor deformities. That insistence is creating two classes of citizens.
At the same time, we are living in an age in which, thanks to the Government, there are better carers' benefits, better facilities for the disabled, and more awareness of the need to provide access for them. But while we pay all that lip service to the disabled, we are creating a social attitude that says, "It would be very much better if we didn't have those people among us at all." That is fundamentally wrong and exceedingly dangerous.
658 The decision of the House last week will lead not to a better deal for the disabled but to a much worse one. They will increasingly become not only a minority but one of which we say, "Oh dear. How did they get through the net?"
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) on the way in which he introduced his motion, and I agree with many of his ideas, but I shall immediately comment on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe). I was appalled by the decision taken by the House last week to allow abortion up to birth in the case of disability. I am still deeply shocked by that decision, and I wonder how it will work out in years to come. It is quite appalling.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea spoke of a wide range of disabilities that exist. In my own family, I have relatives who are blind or deaf—and, as a tiny child, I was taught for three years by a speech therapist in West Ham, and I am grateful for that education.
§ Mr. Amess
I do not know the politics of the person who taught me, but I endorse my hon. Friend's comments about the importance of speech therapists.
My right hon. Friend the Minister has had some dealings with foot and mouth artists, and it is an experience when one's host uses her feet to eat the meal. I applaud and pay tribute to the work of the organisation concerned.
Five years ago a young man called Andrew Faulkner was struck down by a virus which left him blind. I am delighted to say that he is taking a training course which will lead to his City and Guilds. He is the first British person to benefit from this scheme at a cost of £60,000 over the past seven months. That certainly shows how much the Government are prepared to invest in training such people.
The Basildon disabled sports group is achieving marvellous results. A young man who was in the British paraplegic swimming team, represented us in Seoul in 1988 and won the gold medal for the 50m freestyle. He will represent us in basketball and the national wheelchair competition.
§ It being half past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.