HC Deb 19 October 1995 vol 264 cc552-92

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Streeter.]

7.24 pm
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

What we have witnessed is an absolute disgrace. The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Gallie), who intervened and who cannot now be seen, at least by me—[HON. MEMBERS: "He came back."] Yes, he came back because I had the courtesy to tell him that I was going to refer to him. Yet Conservative Members did not have the courtesy to tell Opposition Members, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People or my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who is a giant among pygmies when we discuss disability, that they were going to behave as appallingly as they have.

I regret that the Prime Minister, who appeared a few moments ago to be interested in disability, has suddenly lost that interest. I therefore trust that the Minister will convey to him the views expressed in what I believe will be an important and informative debate.

I welcome the Minister to his new and extremely important responsibilities. I can assure him that very often, in contrast to what he has just seen, he will see the House at its best as we discuss disability. I cannot give him an assurance that my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Mr. McKelvey) and for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) will be any less difficult on the football field than they have proved so far, but I welcome the Minister to his post.

I am delighted to open this debate as the first holder of this portfolio at shadow Cabinet level. There can be no clearer signal of the high priority that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), as Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, gives to the issue of disabled people's rights.

I am equally delighted to be joined on the Front Bench by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe, whose appointment in 1974 as the first Minister responsible for disabled people in any country was also a milestone in the growing recognition of the importance of the subject by the Labour party, then led by Harold Wilson.

I also take this opportunity to recognise the tremendous contribution of so many hon. Members of all parties in the continuing battle for disabled people's rights—not least my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) and, of course, for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth).

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke

I will give way later.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and I have much in common. This evening we mark the 25th anniversary of the passing of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which was highly unusual in that it was a private Member's Bill which passed into law.

Mr. Duncan

To set his remarks in context, will the hon. Gentleman say exactly how much his party is prepared to pledge as extra spending on the sick and disabled if it were to be in government in order to make the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) happy as a member of the party?

Mr. Clarke

I have not often heard the hon. Gentleman call—apparently—for increased expenditure, but he will be delighted to know that on this issue, in 1974, under the 1970 Act, the Labour Government went further than their manifesto commitments. I am very pleased with that achievement.

Next year we will mark the 10th anniversary of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. I was privileged to pilot that measure through Parliament as a private Member's Bill and, like my right hon. Friend's Bill, it reached the statute book. The difference between our Bills was that, 25 years ago, my right hon. Friend received the support of the Labour Government who took on board the objectives that lay behind his proposals. In contrast, my experience of the Tory Government of 1986 was that they at first opposed my Bill but, when prevailed upon to make it into an Act, they then avoided implementing the new law in full. That has happened to a greater extent under the present Prime Minister than under his predecessor.

Those matters are relevant to us today because, as the House will know, there is once again a disability measure before Parliament, for which the Minister will shortly be seeking Royal Assent. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has monitored the Government's position and wriggling. He knows as we do how much progress we made in demanding from the Government, on behalf of organisations of and for disabled people, that which already exists elsewhere from America to Australia and New Zealand, and we demanded it from a most unwilling Government. Those matters will be relevant when we consider the Government's Bill once it returns from another place and the question of Royal Assent.

The Disability Discrimination Bill leaves a good deal of discretion to Ministers. The lesson of the past 25 years is that Labour Ministers can be trusted to carry through the wishes of Parliament in implementing disability legislation whereas Conservative Ministers simply cannot.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way so early in his speech. How does he square that statement with the fact that spending under the Conservative Government has been 75 per cent. higher for the long-term sick and disabled than under Labour? He will know that that statement is true because it was in the 1987 election manifesto of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth).

Mr. Clarke

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not recognise that there were more claimants for benefits introduced by the Labour Government. If I have time later in the debate, I might even discuss taxes, and perhaps the hon. Gentleman will intervene on that issue as well. Taxation is being discussed in another place and, as an expert, the hon. Gentleman may wish to catch your eye on that matter, Madam Deputy Speaker.

It is instructive to look back at successful private Members' Bills on this issue for another reason. This year, we have seen once again a Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East and blocked by the Conservative party. It is clear that as long as the present Government are in power, private Members' Bills will remain the best available route for building on existing disability legislation. Labour Members recognise that fact.

Ministers should take note. I warned them that the greater the inadequacies of the disability discrimination measure when it completes its passage through Parliament, the more likely the Government are to have another private Member's Bill to deal with in the coming parliamentary Session. We would welcome that, as would 6.5 million people in Britain.

Even more effort will be made by hon. Members on both sides of the House and organisations of and for disabled people. Some of them came to the House yesterday and found great difficulties in gaining access to it. They were not even able to use loudspeaker equipment in the House. And we call this is the cradle of democracy. It is totally unacceptable. Given the contribution of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe to improving access to every building in Britain, we should make a good start by looking at the Houses of Parliament.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Earlier today, I raised this matter with the Leader of the House. Yesterday, several hundred carers came here with lots of people in wheelchairs who were unable to use the Grand Committee Room. They went into Westminster Hall, but were prevented from using microphones. I pointed out that when celebrations are organised by the establishment, like the American Bar Association, VE day celebrations and various other activities, they use microphones in Westminster Hall for meeting purposes. If a real effort were made by the Government, particularly the new Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, we could sort that problem out so that when disabled people come to the House in future, instead of not being allowed to use those microphones, they can have a proper meeting with their Members of Parliament.

Mr. Clarke

Not only is my hon. Friend right, but he speaks with a record of great commitment. I have never known my hon. Friend to be absent from any debate in which I have participated on the important issue of disability, and I am sure that the people of Bolsover and Britain will note that.

Even more effort will be made by hon. Members on both sides of the House and by organisations of and for disabled people, such as those who were here this week, to ensure once again that a private Member's Bill will succeed even in the face of Conservative Government opposition at the eleventh or even twelfth hour.

All hon. Members will agree on one point: we have come a long way in the past 25 years. If we now argue about disabled people's rights and how to outlaw discrimination rather than debating whether disability discrimination exists, that is largely because of the achievements of the Act that we are debating today. For the first time, the 1970 Act recognised the right of disabled people to legislative action on their behalf. The Act of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe was the first legislation anywhere in the world to deal with disabled people's access to buildings. It created a requirement to provide such access, so far as it was reasonable and practicable to do so.

On that basis, further improvements have been made and more will be done as a result of this year's legislation. More importantly, the issue of access was put on the agenda for the first time. Those responsible for the design and construction of buildings of all kinds began to ask themselves what they could or should do to make buildings accessible.

The debate on that issue will continue, and rightly so. Before the 1970 Act, such discussion simply did not take place. Likewise, on mobility and transport, the 1970 Act broke the barrier and made future advances possible. The orange badge scheme, which arose directly from the Act, has given the benefit of parking concessions to more than 1.5 million disabled people in Britain. Mobility allowance and Motability have added to the freedom of movement that disabled people rightly enjoy. The concessions that we have won on accessible transport during the passage of the Disability Discrimination Bill would not have been possible without the foundations laid down 25 years ago at the behest of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Clarke

I should first point out that the House wants to hear hon. Members on both sides and also my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe, so this will be the last time I give way.

Mr. Couchman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He rightly pays tribute to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) for introducing the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. But does he agree that for 20 of the past 25 years there have been Conservative Governments, who have provided the resources to implement many of the measures under that Act and more recent Acts, and that this Government have brought in major changes to the benefit of the long-term chronically sick and disabled? Over the past 15 years, resources for the chronically sick and disabled have trebled in real terms.

Mr. Clarke

Not only do I not agree, but I challenge the hon. Gentleman to produce in the debate, or later, evidence from one single organisation of disabled people which shares his view. I may as well tell him that he will look in vain for such evidence.

As a result of the 1970 Act, the special needs of children affected by dyslexia and autism and those who are deaf and blind were recognised for the first time. That marked the beginning of the provision of special needs education, which remains on the agenda during debates on current legislation. The recognition of those needs broke new ground and liberated many disabled children and adults from the effects of ignorance and neglect.

Mr. Duncan

The hon. Gentleman cannot even read.

Mr. Clarke

Few people outside will find this issue as amusing as the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman), nor will they share his joy at the fact that Conservative Members delayed the start of the debate for 25 minutes.

Mr. Couchman

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)

I hope that it is not a bogus point of order.

Mr. Couchman

No. I should like to point out that I was not laughing at what the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) was saying. My colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) may have giggled, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I was not laughing.

Mr. Clarke

I withdraw that charge unreservedly. I would not wish for one second to visit the reputation of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) on the hon. Member for Gillingham. I am sure that he, too, would not welcome that.

The 1970 Act was the first time that the term "dyslexia" entered into statute. The very existence of dyslexia had not been recognised before that. Because of the 1970 Act, education providers have taken responsibility for supporting children affected by dyslexia. A campaign is under way to gain greater support for dyslexic adults. The fact that there is now a Britain-wide association of people affected by dyslexia campaigning on the issue is a direct result of the changes made by the 1970 Act. There were notable pioneers campaigning on behalf of dyslexics before 1970, but the legitimacy conferred on that condition by the 1970 Act allowed them to take the campaign on to the national plain.

Local authority services and benefits for disabled people were entirely discretionary before 1970, and in many places they did not exist. The 1970 Act imposed new duties and hugely increased the scope of public support. More significant than anything, there was a change of attitude and outlook on the part of local authorities and of disabled people themselves.

Between 1972 and 1982, public expenditure on benefits and services for those covered by the 1970 Act increased tenfold. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe indeed did a tremendous job in addressing the issue of resources. In May The Times reported that the 1970 Act had been responsible for 12 million acts of assistance in England alone. The value of such acts of assistance to millions of disabled people cannot be overstated. In Scotland the 1970 Act has been responsible for nearly 2 million acts of assistance, which is equivalent to one act of assistance for every third person—man, woman or child—living in Scotland.

The 1970 Act affected 12 Departments of state. It imposed on them new duties and responsibilities across a broad range of Government activity. That Act also led to the amendment of 39 existing Acts of Parliament. It is because of that that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe became the world's first Minister for disabled people's rights. The late Lord Wilson had the imagination, vision and concern to see that the full implementation of the 1970 Act required the creation of a single ministerial post to co-ordinate the work of all Government Departments. It was to do that job that my right hon. Friend was appointed to government in 1974. His party and the House have been well served by him in 22 years of continuous service representing Labour in government and in opposition on behalf of disabled people's rights.

Of all the effects of the 1970 Act, none is more important than the change in standing of disabled people in society, in their own eyes and in those of the community as a whole. In the past 25 years, more than in any other period of human history, disabled people have been in a position to advance their own interests and aspirations to the point where the pressure for full civil rights has become unstoppable. There have been delays and obstacles along the way, but a single continuous thread joins the 1970 Act to the civil rights campaigns of the past three years.

It is not only in this country that disabled people have benefited from the effects of the "Alf Morris" Act; other countries have taken a lead from that legislation and countries such as the United States have now left British law far behind. That is the scale of the debt owed to my right hon. Friend. We also owe it to him and to the 6.5 million disabled people of our country to continue to build on what has been achieved in the past 25 years.

We need first to ensure that local authorities are able to provide the services for which they are responsible under the 1970 Act and successive Acts. If Parliament says that certain services are mandatory for local government to provide, central Government must ensure that the necessary resources are made available. That was the impact of the report by Sir Roy Griffiths, but the Government do not seem to have acknowledged that. If it is a breach of law to withdraw a mandatory service where there has been no decline in need, the Government must act to ensure that the law is not broken. The Minister will be aware that that issue is before the High Court because the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation has seen the need to test the application of the law. We await the court's findings with interest.

My right hon. and hon. Friends will raise a number of other issues, should they catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, on which the Minister's view would be welcome. Many of those issues have been addressed in the civil rights legislation proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and my hon. Friends the Members for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) and for Derbyshire, North-East. Ministers have addressed some of those issues in the Disability Discrimination Bill, although not always to the extent that disabled people want. Ministers have not yet taken on board, however, that disabled people will not be satisfied with piecemeal concessions. It is that feeling, above all, that we owe to the 1970 Act, because it is because of it that disabled people demand equality as a right, not as a concession. It is because of that Act that disabled people will not allow themselves to be patronised or told what is good for them—even when they cannot be heard in parts of the Houses of Parliament. They insist that they should be involved in decisions about care and initiatives to improve their ability to play a full part in the life of the community.

On that basis, I ask the House to join in celebrating 25 years of growing recognition of the rights of disabled people. I ask hon. Members to join me in applauding the Act of Parliament that made that possible. I also ask hon. Members to consider the lessons of the past quarter of a century when they come to make decisions about current legislation in a few days' time. We should not neglect the opportunity to build yet greater achievements on the foundations laid 25 years ago. In this Session, if we have the opportunity, or in the next if we do not, we should make the celebration of the "Alf Morris" Act the launching pad for a further new chapter in the story of the emancipation of 6.5 million disabled people of this country, to stand for ever as a beacon to the rest of the world.

7.49 pm
The Minister for Social Security and Disabled People (Mr. Alistair Burt)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) for giving the House an opportunity to mark the 25th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. I am equally grateful for the opportunity to take part, from my new perspective as Minister with responsibility for disabled people, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind and generous welcome. I look forward to working across the Floor of the House with him for some time to come.

I am also pleased to take the opportunity to pay a genuine tribute to the first holder of the office, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). It is not easy following the right hon. Gentleman around Manchester, as I do now on occasions in my role as sponsor Minister for that great and wonderful city. The right hon. Gentleman has a deserved reputation, built on his long-standing work for disabled people, and of course his pioneering work in relation to the 1970 Act. It is therefore a great pleasure to take the opportunity to say kind words about him and to wish him continuing success as he works wholeheartedly for disabled people.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

As the parliamentary private secretary to the late Dick Crossman, who was the Secretary of State at the time of the legislation, I had at first hand a worm's eye view—but a very close one—of the work that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) did. Frankly, he persuaded people against their better judgment. I also pay tribute to several civil servants in the then Elephant and Castle.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

indicated assent.

Mr. Dalyell

I see my right hon. Friend nodding. They were as good allies as a man wanting to do good could get. Tribute should be paid to those civil servants, led by the late Alan Marre.

Mr. Burt

The hon. Gentleman makes his own point. He also discreetly lifts a veil in relation to the way in which the then Labour Government regarded that legislation—a veil that was not lifted by the hon. Member for Monklands, West, for some reason. It is possible that the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe may tell us more about that, and that may help the House to take a less partisan view of the way in which Governments have regarded disability legislation in the past. I shall say more about that later, but I also acknowledge, as the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned it, the work of civil servants, who have been devoted in their assistance to disabled people, serving all Governments over many years.

I pay tribute to my two immediate predecessors. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott) gave long and devoted service to disabled people from this Dispatch Box. Those who know the workings of government know how difficult it sometimes is to achieve one's aims, and my right hon. Friend worked hard and consistently for disabled people and achieved many successes, as I shall detail shortly. For his work he deserves to be well remembered by disabled people and all those people who have supported them.

I also pay tribute to my immediate predecessor, the present Secretary of State for Wales, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). In his relatively short time as Minister with responsibility for disabled people, he guided the Disability Discrimination Bill through most of its stages with a decency and a respect for both sides of the House that no doubt was responsible for his elevation to his present position.

However, the country generally has been well served by Ministers for disabled people on both sides of the House. I shall say more later about the non-partisan way in which that subject might best be approached.

It is not an overstatement to say that the passage of the 1970 Act was an historic landmark in the progress of disabled people towards taking their full place in society. The vision and tenacity of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe rendered the country immense service—not only those among us with disabilities but all of us. The 1970 Act has been called a charter for chronically sick and disabled people, and so it was. In administrative terms, the Act placed on local authorities a duty in section 1 to establish the numbers of disabled people in their area needing help. Section 2 followed that up by describing and categorising the help to be provided.

The Act went further than simply making additional material provision for disabled people. It also provided the momentum for changing attitudes to disabled people among statutory authorities, the caring professions and the public at large.

I am indebted to the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe for his courtesy in informing me earlier this week of the book produced by RADAR in celebration of the 25 years of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. The book says that, when the right hon. Gentleman rose to move the Second Reading of his Bill on Friday 5 December 1969, among the things he said was that most disabled people wanted more than anything else to lessen their dependence on other people, to live their own lives as normally as possible in their own homes with their own families and to have the opportunity to contribute to industry and society as fully as their abilities allowed.

That determination to change attitudes towards disabled people has been as much at the cornerstone of so much work that has been done since the passing of that Act as any provisions in the Act. The recognition that attitudes had to change, and that full weight had to be given to those sentiments among disabled people, was the watershed on which so much has grown after that.

The process of change has continued and intensified in the intervening 25 years. I pay credit to the hon. Member for Monklands, West for the provision that he introduced in 1985–86, which he mentioned earlier, which built on the 1970 Act and blazed a trail for the empowerment of the most vulnerable people in society which is now a key feature of our community care policy.

Before the passage of the 1970 Act, the National Assistance Act 1948 was the first major piece of legislation empowering local authorities to promote the welfare of persons substantially handicapped as a result of illness, injury or congenital deformity. The Act was criticised by some people on account of its generality and the fact that it was founded in attitudes toward disabled people that were, often for the best motives, condescending, patronising and charitable.

The 1970 Act engendered in all of us a sense of what disabled people can achieve with appropriate opportunities and support. The promotion of independent living began with that Act and the process has continued through the health and community care reforms, about which the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), will say more.

Now, that process has been taken still further by means of a Government Bill designed to enshrine in legislation disabled people's right of access to things that we all take for granted—goods, services and employment and, through those rights, the right to be all that they can be, fulfilling aspirations and participating in and contributing to society at all levels.

At the time that the 1970 Act was passed, people with severe disabilities were often housebound and socially isolated. For example, it was far from commonplace to see wheelchairs in the streets. Aids and equipment for mobility and daily living were hard to come by. Appropriate housing was rarely available and, when it was, it tended to group disabled people together, increasing their sense of being somehow different and socially isolated.

The range of technical aids and equipment available for disabled people was beginning to be developed as new technology was applied, but the focus was often on basic utility rather than sophistication, customised designs and user acceptability. Expertise in designing effective and pleasing housing was in its infancy.

Confronted with all that, many people—sadly, many who were young, with hopes and ambitions for the future—had little option but to enter residential care. Those with high levels of dependency often ended up in hospital, with little opportunity for social contact with their peer group and few opportunities to develop their abilities and talents. Opportunities for leisure and sport were similarly constrained by lack of transport and access difficulties for those with mobility problems, sensory impairments or both.

Perhaps even more important, opportunities were constrained by public attitudes, which sought to exclude rather than include disabled people in the everyday use of facilities that the rest of us take for granted.

In employment, the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act 1944 was an important milestone for disabled people who wanted to work. It provided for vocational retraining, employment rehabilitation and sheltered employment for severely disabled people. Nevertheless, by today's standards, the range of employment opportunities available for disabled people was narrow. Occupations reserved for registered disabled people were in undemanding jobs such as lift and car park attendants. All too often, severely disabled people had to be satisfied with working in sheltered environments.

All that sounds depressing, and so it was. The 1970 Act was a watershed in helping to gear service provision to the needs of disabled people and in changing society's attitudes to them.

Until now, the analysis of what had happened and the significance of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act has been common ground between us. But the love of politics of the hon. Member for Monklands, West has helped to make him lose his grip on reality over what has happened in the care of disabled people since then. It is unfair to suggest to the House and the world at large that somehow, magically, all the compassion and care come from the Opposition while the Government are grudging and reluctant and nothing happens.

I have a list as long as my arm that I could read out detailing what the Government have done for disabled people. I could take the House through it, and I am tempted to do so after the hon. Gentleman's remarks, or I could give a briefer summary.

Mr. Tom Clarke


Mr. Burt

If the hon. Gentleman is rising to acknowledge what we have done, I am happy to give way.

Mr. Clarke

I am not rising to do that.

Mr. Burt

In that case, I shall read the list out.

Mr. Clarke

I was generous in giving way. The Minister was not doing too badly until that point. When he accuses me of making partisan points, he seems not to recall that I referred to hon. Members on both sides of the House. Will he explain why the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott)—I agree that there is great respect for him—was unable to win the battle, which was in due course won by someone who passed, like a ship in the night, and I think is now somewhere between here and Cardiff? Why, if the Government are now right, did they refuse to accept until two years ago that discrimination even existed?

Mr. Burt

I shall deal with some of the battles that have been won. If I remember correctly what I heard with my own ears, I venture to suggest that anyone who reads the debate and the hon. Gentleman's speech could be forgiven for believing that he was trying to portray a situation in which, by and large, the balance of good lay almost exclusively with the Opposition—[Interruption.] In that case, we shall have to beg to differ.

Mr. Clarke

Will the Minister give way? I gave way generously.

Mr. Burt

I shall rely on what people read into the hon. Gentleman's speech. I shall now seek to set the record straight. If the hon. Gentleman wants to be more generous towards my colleagues, I now give him the opportunity to do so.

Mr. Clarke

I think that it was Aneurin Bevan who asked: why look into a crystal ball when one can see it in the book? It can be seen in Hansard—time after time, Conservative Members have voted against the progress that we have advocated. There is one honourable exception to that, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), who came into the Lobby with us to support a commission. Perhaps the Minister will give us the Government's current thinking on that.

Mr. Burt

I shall give the hon. Gentleman and the House the Government's current thinking in a little while. I shall now turn to the book rather than the crystal ball. I shall list the measures that the Government have introduced in relation to disabled people.

My hon. Friends have already made their points on overall expenditure. There has been a considerable increase in both benefits and personal social services under this Government. Between 1978–79 and the present date, there has been a 280 per cent. increase in spending in real terms on long-term sick and disabled people—a remarkable increase. Personal social services have increased by 60 per cent. in real terms since 1978–79.

Let us consider some of the Acts and regulations that have been introduced. I apologise to the House in advance as I may necessarily have to give a slightly longer list than I intended. The Education Act 1981 addressed many of the matters raised in the special educational needs report of the committee of inquiry into the education of handicapped children and young people. In that same year, the invalid care allowance was extended by the Government to cover non-relatives. The Education (Special Educational Needs) Regulations 1983 placed on local education authorities further requirements relating to assessment and statements for schoolchildren with special educational needs.

In 1983–84, the disablement advisory service was introduced by the Government. In 1984, the severe disablement allowance was introduced. In the same year, the code of good practice on the employment of people with disabilities—the first in Europe—was published by the Government. In 1985, the disabled persons transport committee was set up. The same year saw the introduction of the sheltered placement scheme and provisions were introduced in building regulations covering access for disabled people to non-domestic buildings.

In 1986, the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Bill was introduced. The Education Reform Act 1988 established the Secretary of State's duty to maintain certain schools. Governors also had to ensure that there were appropriate provisions for pupils with special educational needs. The Act also ensured that the national curriculum was made available to all children with special educational needs until the requirement was formally disapplied or modified.

Mr. Clarke

I thought that the Minister might have given credit to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) for his Act. The Minister referred to the 1986 Act—why was half that Act implemented by Lady Thatcher's Government but not one finger raised to implement the rest under the present Prime Minister?

Mr. Burt

As the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, will say when he winds up the debate, that is largely because the community care provisions have taken the provisions of that Act a considerable distance.

In 1988, the disabled persons transport committee produced a recommended specification for buses used to operate local services—a further development for transport. The independent living fund was also introduced in 1988. In 1989, all new licensed taxis in London were required to be wheelchair accessible. The National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 promoted development of domiciliary, day and respite services in an entirely novel way. In that same year, income-related benefits were increased above the inflation rate on premiums for the long-term sick and disabled and the child disablement premium more than doubled.

Mobility allowance was extended to deaf blind people in April 1990 and to amputees in April 1991. In the same year, a consultative document was produced on employment and training for people with disabilities. It took stock of current provision and informed further decisions into the 1990s.

In 1991–92, there was a reorganisation of specialist disability services in employment through locally based placing, assessment and counselling teams. The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 consolidated previous legislation and laid a specific duty on local education authorities and the Further Education Funding Council to have regard to the requirements of people with learning difficulties in securing further education provision. In April 1992, the disability living allowance was introduced to amalgamate help already available to people and extend help for the first time to 350,000 less severely disabled people who had previously been unable to qualify.

I could continue, but now the balance of my speech has been affected simply by listing those achievements. I did so solely to show that in the House, as a whole, there is a common determination to work for disabled people. The work of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe has been supplemented by that of many hon. Members from both sides of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) has done tireless work since he entered the House, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam). Work on disability has been carried on by many hon. Members in the House.

I fully accept the achievements of previous Labour Governments and the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe, when he was the first Minister for the Disabled. But Conservatives can stand proudly on our record for disabled people; we have done and are doing a great deal. I bow to no one in my admiration for what we have tried to do and the provision that we have made. I hope that, when the speeches are read in Hansard, proper tribute will be paid to the achievements of my colleagues. Perhaps I have given a slightly more balanced picture of what has been achieved over the years.

Since the 1970 Act, we can identify key engines of change. First, as I said earlier, the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe pioneered an acceptance of the view that disabled people do best away from institutionalised care and should be given the support that they need to sustain independent living in their own homes wherever possible. They should certainly be treated as integral and valued members of communities.

Secondly, the explosion of technology has assisted. Not only has it helped with the development of more sophisticated aids and equipment, housing adaptations and environmental controls, but such technological advance has opened up many more job opportunities for disabled people.

Thirdly, there has been a development of the political and economic influence of disabled people, and of organisations of and for them. Those developments have often been assisted by what the Government have been asking for in terms of consultation and listening to people. We have stimulated the creation of such groups, which we fully support.

Fourthly, advances in medical science have prevented disabling conditions occurring in the first place, ameliorated their effects and prolonged life. Rehabilitation techniques have been developed which aim to move people who are disabled through illness, accident or trauma through the health services and into independent living, education and employment. We should all pay tribute to those in the medical profession—doctors and those who care for patients after surgical treatment—for their tremendous work.

Lastly, we have seen the health and community care reforms, which evolved from long-standing trends in social care and which have encouraged fundamentally new ways of doing things. The reforms reinforced the historical movement away from institutionalised care towards supporting people in their own homes. They were further important points on the continuum of change from 1948 through 1970 to 1991 and beyond. They have strengthened the concept of needs assessment and better focusing of services and have given primacy to the needs and preferences of users and their carers.

A further major development of which the community care reforms are a manifestation is the acceptance—encapsulated in "The Health of the Nation" strategy—that health and welfare are no longer the narrowly defined provinces of the Departments of Health and of Social Security, nor are they only matters for health commissioners and providers and social services departments. Health and well-being are about addressing the holistic needs of disabled and vulnerable people.

The challenge is for agencies covering health, social care, housing, employment, education, leisure and a host of others to work together at the levels of central and local government and the community. The challenge is enormous and progress is critical to the continuing development of our policies and services. Again, I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will wish to say more about that in the context of the recently announced community care development programme.

I should now turn briefly to what we believe is a further milestone on the road to full integration of disabled people: the Disability Discrimination Bill. I understand that there has been much debate about the Bill, and we shall return to it shortly when it returns from another place. Although we do not all agree on every detail of the Bill, I think there is wide acknowledgement that it will be a giant step towards ending discrimination against disabled people.

The Bill provides an armoury of weapons to tackle discrimination. For the first time, it will be unlawful to discriminate against a disabled person who is looking for a job; it will be unlawful to discriminate against a disabled person in the provision of goods, facilities and services; and it will be unlawful to discriminate against a disabled person trying to buy or rent a house or let an office or a business.

There are extensive powers to set access standards for new buses, trains and taxis. Education providers will have to furnish more information about the access arrangements that they make for disabled pupils and students. Finally, the National Disability Council will be created as an independent voice for disabled people to ensure that the Government are kept informed of how well existing measures to end discrimination are working and to recommend further steps where necessary.

Mr. Tom Clarke

I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way, as he has done on several occasions. He has outlined the main objectives of the Disability Discrimination Bill and he will be aware that another place overturned the Government's view on the issue of definition. It would be very helpful if the Minister would explain the Government's thinking in that regard. We would welcome the Government's acceptance of the view of the other place, which reflects the overwhelming opinion of organisations for disabled people.

Mr. Burt

Following the reverse in another place, the Government made it clear that we would be seeking a reversal of that decision here.

Mr. Clarke


Mr. Burt

It is not disgraceful. We believe that it would extend the definition far too widely. Next week, I am to meet hon. Members from both sides of the House to discuss the matter further, so I shall reserve my judgment until then. However, it would be wrong for me to suggest that our intention is any different from what I have said and from what the Government said at the time.

Mr. Dalyell

I feel rather like the bad fairy for making this intervention. The Minister referred to the legislation concerning taxis. I have caught many taxis in New Palace Yard and taxi drivers often ask me what we are doing introducing legislation that will make it much more expensive for them when they might be asked to provide disabled facilities only once or twice a year. I do not know whether that is true, but that is what I am told.

Taxi drivers also say that any disabled person who wishes to travel by taxi could telephone for a taxi and the facilities would be laid on. It does not seem very sensible to impose such facilities on every taxi in the city. I am interested to hear what the Government have to say about that.

Mr. Burt

I am tempted to let the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) deal with that intervention. Why should a disabled person be prevented from hailing a taxi on the street when a person in any other condition could hail the first taxi with a yellow light, climb in and travel to his or her destination? Why should disabled people believe that they cannot hail taxis like anyone else? We have drawn a distinction between the taxi and the private hire vehicle, but it goes to the concept of rights: that public facility is available for everyone else and a disabled person should not feel any different. It is important that disabled people should be able to hail taxis on the street and our legislation gives effect to that. I do not wish to pursue the matter further now and I think that the hon. Gentleman's colleagues would agree with my general sentiment.

Mr. Dalyell

Taxi drivers tell me that they are seldom hailed by disabled people.

Mr. John Austin-Walker (Woolwich)

Because they cannot get into the taxis.

Mr. Dalyell

That may be the answer, but I think that it is important to set the matter straight.

Mr. Burt

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman's intellectually honest intervention helps the House considerably. I take his point, but in a sense his colleagues have answered his question: disabled people will not hail a taxi if they believe that they will be rebuffed. They do not want to hear the bloke in the taxi say, "Can't take you, guy." The Government have introduced that provision to ensure that all people have equal rights.

In short, I believe that the Bill's provisions commit us all to the creation of a fair, open and accessible environment for disabled people. I wish to take up the brief intervention of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in relation to Parliament. The Bill will require Parliament to be subject to its provisions regarding access, whereas the civil rights legislation did not make that requirement. I sincerely hope that disabled facilities in the House will improve in the meantime. I listened to the hon. Gentleman's exchange this afternoon with my right hon. Friend the Lord President, who I know intends to take up the matter. The legislation will apply to Parliament and assist with rights of access there. I hope that that is good news.

Mr. Skinner

As the Minister is in a conciliatory mood—and because he might be able to do something—will he ensure that microphone facilities are available for meetings? That is another problem. There will be further meetings, and in November a large lobby of disabled people will come to Parliament. They have asked me by letter—I have forwarded the letter to the Minister and he will see it shortly—to ensure that a portakabin is provided, as there are no proper toilet facilities for disabled people outside Parliament, and the facilities are not too good inside either.

Mr. Burt

I heard the hon. Gentleman's exchange with my right hon. Friend the Lord President this afternoon and I know that he takes those matters extremely seriously. We shall both talk to the House authorities about the facilities available to see what improvements might be made in time for the November lobby. I suspect that the problem with microphones might have had something to do with the fact that the House was sitting at the time of the meeting, but I really do not know enough about the matter. It is not my position to answer those questions, but I take the hon. Gentleman's point. As Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, it is within my remit to ask questions and to try to do what I can, and I shall certainly do that.

Despite my short spell so far as Minister for disabled people, I have already met representatives of a large number of disability organisations. Whatever their justifiable position, they have all emphasised the importance of pressing ahead to implement the Bill once it has received the Royal Assent. I have been happy to reassure them that their hopes in that regard exactly match the Government's intention. I have been equally pleased to concur with their view that the successful implementation of the legislation will demand close co-operation between the Government, business and, above all, disabled people and their representatives.

Looking forward to the near future, my colleagues and I in government will be taking forward the objectives actively. The nuts and bolts of the legislation will be the detailed regulations, codes of practice and guidance. We shall begin before the end of the year by consulting widely on drafts of an employment code of practice and a guide explaining in practical terms what is meant by "disability" as defined in the Bill. The aim will be to complete the consultation and lay final versions of the code and the guide before Parliament in time for the employment rights to take effect by the end of 1996.

In the new year, I expect to have set up the National Disability Council. I shall be asking the council, as one of its first tasks, to prepare a draft code of practice on the first rights of access to goods and services that we plan to implement towards the end of 1996. Those rights will ensure that disabled people are not refused service or offered a lower standard of service because of their disability.

At the same time as the council publishes its draft code for consultation, I expect to consult on a draft timetable for implementing the remaining rights of access. Those rights will require reasonable changes to practices which make access impossible or unreasonably difficult, the provision of auxiliary aids to facilitate access and the removal of physical barriers where an inaccessible service cannot be provided by a reasonable alternative means.

That dual consultation exercise will be the first of what I expect to be many examples of a close relationship between the Government and the council.

Disabled people and business will require a lot of information about the legislation. I confirm that we shall set up at least a telephone information line to meet those needs. We plan to discuss with disabled people and business how best to design that service.

We shall also need mechanisms to resolve disputes. The services of the Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service will be available to help resolve disputes about the new employment rights. We have already announced our intention of creating a special support service to help sort out disputes arising under the rights of access to goods and services in the Bill.

We envisage a service that would provide expert assistance to existing local advice points. Again, discussions with service providers and disabled people will be necessary before we finalise the details. We have not been able to go as far as we would have liked by now, as a number of organisations were not in a position fully to discuss the matter with us. When the Bill is enacted—we hope that it will be soon—we will be able to take the matter further. I regard it as an important part of ensuring that the Bill has the effectiveness and the teeth that Conservative Members want it to have. Opposition Members believe that it can work only in a different way, but I am determined to secure it in this way.

Nobody knows what the future holds, but I am confident that the measures will lead to much greater awareness of the abilities and aspirations of disabled people. The Bill will help positively to change people's attitudes and actions and allow the nation to benefit from the skills and abilities that disabled people have previously been denied the opportunity to display.

I hope that the House will continue to serve disabled people well, and in that we shall remember the contribution for a long time made by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe.

8.21 pm
Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

I, too, welcome the Minister to his new post. I also welcome the chance to debate the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which is a reminder of the progress that disabled people have made and of the work that remains to be done to secure full equal rights for them.

Looking back, it is almost unbelievable that politicians were so dismissive of disabled people. Between 1959 and 1964, there was not one debate in the House on disabled people. The 1951 Ministry of Health guidance to local authorities was not revised for the following 19 years. Before the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, many disabled people were treated not as second-class citizens but more as non-people without any rights. Before the Act, we did not really know how many disabled people there were in Britain. We are still a bit hazy about it, but at least we have a figure—6.5 million. The Minister for Education at the time even inquired why the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) wanted to help young people and children with dyslexia. He said that the condition simply did not exist.

Before the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act was implemented there was no right to cash benefits for disabled people. Non-contributory benefits as a right were barely contemplated. Local authority services were discretionary and often non-existent. Against that background, the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe introduced his Bill, and I salute him for doing so. His measure challenged the arrogant and complacent people in the House who would not give disabled people their rights. It challenged the complacency of Richard Crossman, the then Labour Secretary of State for Social Services, who I understand tried to get the right hon. Gentleman to drop his Bill—thank goodness for independent Back Benchers who are willing to stand up to Ministers. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman again.

Mr. Dalyell

The hon. Lady is going over the top. I was the late Richard Crossman's PPS. It was not a question of complacency: there were real difficulties. I am not making a party point as the Conservative party at that time was represented by a man called Richard Wood who had a wooden leg. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House certainly did not regard the disabled as non-people. The hon. Lady should be careful about using extreme language. Of course there were matters that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) put right, but the hon. Lady should not condemn everybody at that time.

Ms Lynne

The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe fought to ensure that the Bill was enacted and, according to what I have read, Richard Crossman tried to get him to drop the Bill. It is on the record and, despite what the hon. Gentleman says, it is there in black and white.

Thank goodness for independent Back Benchers who fight against Ministers. That is what is happening now. Some Conservative Members are fighting Ministers to get more services for disabled people.

Mr. Dalyell

I cannot let this go. I was Crossman's PPS. If the hon. Lady is going to raise the subject, I have the right to put the record straight. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe was asked to drop the Bill, but on the assumption that the Government would introduce a Bill of their own. That Labour Government were not heartless.

Ms Lynne

That sounds exactly like what happened last year when the Government wanted hon. Members to drop the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill because they were introducing their own Disability Discrimination Bill. I cannot see any difference.

As the Liberal Democrat social security and disability spokesperson, I should like to express my admiration of the work of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and of his initial decision, his vision and his courage. Hon. Members on both sides of the House should respect him for introducing such a wide-ranging Bill, which, for the first time, established rights for disabled people. He has continued to fight alongside members of all political parties for civil rights for disabled people and I certainly hope that we will succeed.

The Act is a reminder of what can be done. It imposed new duties on 12 Departments of state and amended 39 Acts of Parliament. One or more sections of it have been used by 12 million disabled people. It has also been an inspiration to other countries. In 1970 we led the world in disability legislation. In 1995, even after the implementation of the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill, we shall lag behind a number of countries.

Mention must be made of the implementation of the Act. Local councils have difficulty in meeting their statutory duties under the Act, especially since the Community Care (Residential Accommodation) Act 1993, and it is not reaching the people for whom it was intended. We must fully implement the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act and provide full civil rights for disabled people. That is what we are seeking.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act awakened the aspirations of disabled people and now, 25 years later, we need to push the frontiers further to build on what has been achieved and carry on the just fight for equal rights for disabled people.

8.29 pm
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

When I saw this debate on the Order Paper, it struck me that it would be one of those relatively rare occasions when there would be agreement in principle in all parts of the House—that although there would be a difference of emphasis, there would be a high degree of consensus, and that has emerged.

The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) took exception to what he viewed as filibustering by some of my hon. Friends. I can understand why he felt that way on entering the Chamber. As someone who had sat through the previous debate and tried to make a point of order, I must tell him that passions were running high. If he does not accept my judgment, when he reads Hansard in the morning he will see that passions were running high. My point of order was certainly not bogus, although it might have been a trifle optimistic. I assure him that there was no attempt to filibuster.

Although I do not profess to have the expertise of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) or of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), long before I entered the House I was aware that among its pioneers was the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe. I was aware of him not only because of his own efforts but because my local Member of Parliament at that time was my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam). There have probably been times beyond number when the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and my hon. Friend have acted in concert—very often in the same Lobby, while I was acting in concert in a different Lobby. Anyone who takes an interest in politics knows that the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe has completely changed the nature of the debate, for the reasons mentioned tonight. If we disagree now, it is only over how far and how quickly one can go.

Mr. Alfred Morris

I have received a note from the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) saying that although he had hoped to speak in this debate, his flu and throat infection have grown worse and his voice is not up to it. As the hon. Gentleman said, the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) has worked long and hard, with great distinction, over many years.

Mr. Nicholls

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be happy to read those remarks. It was typical of the right hon. Gentleman that he made them.

Most Conservatives would say that the duty of the state is to look after people who cannot look after themselves, but to let everybody else get on with it. If ever there was a section of society that needs help, it is disabled people. It is said to be a moral issue, and it is. It is not so much about granting rights, which are integral, but about not withholding rights that our fellow citizens should have.

In my three years as a junior Employment Minister, I learnt that it is not only morally right to help disabled people to make the most of their potential in the workplace but that it makes good economic sense as well. For a relatively modest outlay, one can create the means for somebody to achieve their human potential and make an economic contribution as well. That was not my direct responsibility, but any hon. Member who has served in a Government will know that Ministers often double up for colleagues. I was constantly amazed that employers had not realised the amount of help available in the provision of facilities for the disabled, or had not put themselves in the position of others. What a difference that can make.

Although it makes good moral and economic sense to help disabled people, that sometimes involves massive expenditure. Some people might argue that one could not spend money on anything better, but anyone who has seen a Chief Secretary labour in a Government of either political complexion realises that it is not as easy as one might think. This year, the amount spent on helping disabled people. will rise to £19.5 billion, which is a substantial sum, and money does not grow on trees.

My hon. Friend the Minister made the point that there is no monopoly on compassion on either side of the House. To do the best that can be done, the economy must be run in such a way that it generates the required tax revenues. I do not say this in a combative way, but it is of direct relevance to the prospects of disabled people to generate the sort of money required. Constituents often write to me saying that the Government have free access to money and have only to produce some new money.

People write to me every day saying that their demands are perfectly straightforward and can be delivered by the Government—decreased taxation for them but increased expenditure in the areas of their choice. The Government are required to square that circle. Every penny that we spend on any worthwhile endeavour ultimately comes from the pockets of, for the most part, ordinary working people. Their numbers, for reasons that we need not examine this evening, are decreasing. Even as we speak, there are about 3.8 workers—in the sense of taxpayers—for every pensioner. By 2010, that figure will have fallen to 2.4 workers. We must face and wrestle with the implications. Even under this Government, taxation is too high. Whichever party is in power as we move into the next century, the decreasing body of taxpayers will place a limit on how much they are prepared to spend.

Some people may argue that the way to square the circle and help the disabled is to soak the rich—a proposal usually advanced by people who will not be among the contributors. However, 89 per cent. of this country's tax revenues are generated by basic rate taxpayers. The hope that a crock of gold will be available from a future Government, to be tapped in a meaningful way to make a significant difference, will never materialise.

When I was in America in 1987, I spoke to a doctor about fibre-optic bypass. He told me that the technology was fast arriving to help people who fracture their spinal column—for example, in a riding accident. Provided the area of trauma is localised by applying dry ice or using other specialised techniques, it should be possible to introduce a fibre-optic bypass which, with a powerpack, should enable the injured person to function. I said to the doctor that such technology must be years ahead but he said it was only 10 to 15 years ahead. He said, "How will you function when you encounter a row of paraplegics in wheelchairs outside your constituency surgery? If your wife, son or daughter was in a wheelchair today, you would not say that you were sorry, but that public sector constraints are such that you cannot find the £10 million needed for the disabled." He was right. I would not say that to a member of my family.

That technology may not be with us yet, but when it comes it will put a great strain on the resources of the Government of the day. Some pretty hard choices will have to be made. Although cliches make people groan, their good feature is that they fulfil a useful task because they usually encapsulate a truth, the sight of which is all too easy to lose. Against that background, I say that it will be a question of balance. That will always be the position when it comes to determining the amount that we can afford to expend. We must also consider how far we can take the public with us.

In that sense I was much impressed by the remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the hon. Gentleman is an honourable man who is capable of bringing us up with a jolt in ways that we do not expect. He referred to London taxis. I think that I am right in saying—this is the figure in my mind—that only three of 100,000 taxi rides in London are taken by disabled people. An argument quickly developed.

Those who take what might be considered to be a cynical attitude might have thought that the hon. Gentleman was a hard-hearted Tory and that my hon. Friend the Minister, in fulfilling a most unusual task for him, was a warm-hearted liberal. But the point was made. In effect, there were two debates. There was the human-right approach of saying, "I may want only to make the occasional trip in a taxi but why cannot I hail a cab like anyone else?" There was also the question of practicality. A London cab driver would have to have an extremely expensive piece of equipment. I am told that it would be the equivalent—taxi drivers talk a great deal when one rides in their cabs—of taking out a large mortgage on a house. We must examine the morality, if that it can be called, of forcing taxi drivers, for example, to kit up to such an extent when the facility may not be used.

I have in mind two examples that I am sure are mirrored in constituencies throughout the country. Two buildings in my constituency, to which the public have access, had to have a substantial lift for disabled people as a condition of planning permission. So far, so good. We can all agree with that provision because it sounds entirely right. However, the lifts have never been used. In one instance, for reasons that I shall not go into on the Floor, it would be inconceivable that a lift designed for use by disabled people would ever be used. In the other instance, there has been no call for the lift. That lift has not been hidden away. That can be said in both instances. Indeed, the owners of the premises, having spent the money on the lifts, say, "Would it not be a good thing if the lifts could be used?"

The attitude of the business men who had to install the lifts has not been affected. We should pause to reflect, however. Is there an argument that will have to be taken on board in due course? It is that there is a human right to use such a lift if a disabled person wants to do so. In the end, however, are we entitled to say that it does not matter whether the lift is used, or may never be used, because a point of principle is involved? Points of principle are easier to establish in the end if someone else is paying the bill.

What I am about to say might be judged as slightly opportunistic. If it is, perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will write. I received visits this week, as well as letters, from representatives of Mencap. They are drawing attention to the fact that they are about to be charged for the provision of day services by local authorities. Letters are outstanding from my hon. Friend the Minister on that subject. I do not at present understand the practicalities. It would be interesting to know more about the matter.

The idea that there is a monopoly of compassion in one area is one that ultimately would not attract support. When there is an almost empty Chamber, it is sometimes tempting to ask, "Who takes an interest in what we say?" I have sometimes been heartened and on other occasions warmed by the number of people who write to tell me that they have read my contributions to debates in Hansard. For those who take an interest in these matters, the reading of a Hansard debate will be as interesting if the Chamber is poorly attended or is full. There is no doubt about that. We must take into account the reputation of the House and the confidence of our constituents that we are fulfilling a useful function.

Although the debate has not been without humour and a degree of point scoring, that has not been the entirety. I speak from a Conservative perspective even though there is a high degree of consensus. I suppose that the best statement of what I regard as my position and of what might be achieved might read as follows: In the field of social security the Conservatives can offer a decent prospect for the future because Conservatives have policies that will prevent inflation eating up social benefits and foster new prosperity to pay for better welfare. Conservatives are committed to a fair society and a caring society. Conservatives have greatly improved help for the most vulnerable people in our society. The poorest pensioners' incomes have risen 15 per cent. and 5 million pensions will receive cash increases of about 10 per cent. Those are matters of fact and not of partisan point scoring in the sense that one is denying that others would have sufficient compassion. The statements that are contained within the quotation encapsulate two vital features. First, they accept that Conservatives are as committed as the members of any other party would be to do their best to care for people for whom they have a responsibility as fellow citizens. Secondly, we have enough confidence in our fiscal policies to think that we are generating taxable income.

It is often said that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery. I suppose that politicians are wont to raid one another's speeches to find elegant words to make particular points. I think that the words that I have quoted are magnificent. They stand as a fine testament and they are as valid now as when they were included in the previous two election addresses of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth).

8.47 pm
Mr. Colin Pickthall (Lancashire, West)

First, I add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on his Bill as it then was, which was 25 years ago, and on the 25 years of consistent work that he has since done. It is a delight to see him still slogging away at it. I congratulate the Minister on his new job and on escaping from his previous one. He looks extremely happy about that escape. In his absence, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) on his new post in the shadow Cabinet. It is a significant appointment, and a symbolic one.

The Minister was right to say that we, the Opposition, cannot claim all the credit. Not even my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe can do that. Equally, the Government cannot claim credit for all the advances that have been made in responding to the needs of disabled people in the past two decades.

The greatest credit should go to disabled people. They have been battling away, especially during the past few years, to find new ways of publicising what they are doing. They have been securing tremendous public support. The same can be said of carers. Disabled people and carers have been lobbying, writing letters and generally making sure that Members know what is going on and are aware of the pressures they face. They have also been chaining themselves to buses and been rescued by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner).

There is no doubt that advances have been made in upholding and extending the rights of disabled people. Unfortunately, many questions remain unanswered. I hope that they will be taken up by the next Labour Government. I have in mind the question that was put to me yesterday—not for the first time—in my constituency by Rene Harding, who attended a lobby at Parliament. Why should she, on becoming a pensioner at 60 years of age, have her carer's allowance removed? She looks after her adult daughter, who is severely disabled and a wheelchair user. Rene has to do everything for her daughter. When Rene is getting on in years and finding these tasks ever harder, she is deemed by the system not to need so much help. That is a farce and an insult. There are many quirks within the benefit system on which we must continue to concentrate with a view to ironing them out.

The lobby that Rene Harding attended focused on local authority charging policies for day care centres, and the failure of Government properly to fund care in the community. Those who attended were confronted by an illustration of what disabled people face. That has already been referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Monklands, West and for Bolsover. I shall mention it briefly, because I believe that it is a matter for Madam Speaker rather than the Minister.

A great deal of effort was made to assist the people attending the lobby. Although they could not use the Grand Committee Room, which they had booked, they managed to secure Westminster Hall, which was set up as a proper lobby, with Doorkeepers, a green card system, chairs, gas heaters to make the place vaguely habitable, and so on. The staff of the House did a great deal, as did hon. Members, to assist.

I witnessed the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne), who managed more or less to make herself heard, unlike some others. Hon. Members had to bellow to make themselves heard to many people who were hard of hearing, among other problems. It was simply impossible to be heard. I believe that the ruling that a public address system cannot be used in Westminster Hall is a matter for the Speaker, and so I place it on record and hope that Madam Speaker will look at that and ensure that it does not happen again in future.

I want to make one rather specialist point: it is rather different from what has been raised before. My colleagues, and Conservative Members, have made the case on behalf of disabled people extremely cogently, but during the debates on the Disability Discrimination Bill and the private Member's Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), we returned again and again to discrimination against those who have the reputation of being disabled. In particular, it was of concern to many Labour Members that perfectly capable people could be discriminated against because of, say, genetic conditions—being HIV positive and many other reasons.

It was clear that employers and others can and do discriminate against such people on the grounds that they might at some stage in future he ill or require time off. That seemed to us not only unfair in itself, but something that prevents people from being productive. It prevents them from being independent individuals, and forces them into dependency. During Report stage of the Disability Discrimination Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) raised a new dimension when he pointed out that diabetes could be included in the argument.

That struck a strong chord with me, because I happen to be an insulin-dependent diabetic. Up until that point—at my advanced age—I had never thought of myself as disabled, although I must say that, shortly after being elected in 1992, I was contacted by the makers of a television programme, who said that they were making a feature programme on disabled Members of Parliament, and wanted me to participate on behalf of the Labour party. I was somewhat surprised, and declined, telling them that I was not disabled and that there must be some mistake. Since then, I have had cause to rethink the matter, partly thanks to my hon. Friend here.

There are many aspects of diabetes that do not properly fit into this debate, and I shall not weary the House with them. It is important, however, to remind the House that diabetes affects about 2 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom. There are 750,000 diagnosed, and an estimated 250,000 undiagnosed, diabetics. Some 18,000 of those diagnosed are under 20, and therefore have to live the remainder of their lives with the condition. Some 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Of all cases, about a quarter are insulin-dependent.

The difficulty of the condition, briefly, is that the diabetic has to balance an artificial intake of insulin with diet and exercise. Getting the balance wrong can lead to hypoglycaemia—a sudden reduction of blood sugar levels, which can affect brain and body co-ordination, sometimes quite badly. It can also lead to hyperglycaemia, which is less dangerous but can be very damaging over time. Obviously, these can be serious disabilities and can lead to terrible complications, such as kidney failure, amputations, heart disease and so on in the longer term.

The health service and many individuals put a great deal of time and care into ensuring that the correct balance is maintained and that these problems do not arise. The types of insulin and their method of delivery have been immensely improved over time, particularly in the past 20 years, and knowledge and expertise are much greater.

The key point is that a well-balanced diabetic has regular blood and eye checks, has a better diet, tends to take more sensible exercise—I do not include myself in all this, by the way—and is acutely aware—nor do I include myself in this—of his or her body, its failings and functions. In essence, he or she is likely to be, in almost every respect bar one, healthier and better tuned than fellow citizens without diabetes, yet the moment insulin-dependent diabetes is diagnosed, car insurance is usually increased, it becomes much more difficult to get a mortgage or life insurance, driving licences have to be applied for every three years, and many job application forms demand declaration of the condition.

Therefore, immediately, for thousands of people a year who become insulin-dependent diabetics and are struggling to adapt to quite a traumatic experience, many extra difficulties are flung at them by the system. In a sense, they are fortunate, but they are a microcosm of what happens to a large number of people with disabilities of all kinds.

The people who are most discriminated against are those whose employment is terminated and permanently denied by their becoming insulin-dependent diabetics. This, I believe, is a problem that has been neglected by all the debates and legislation on disability discrimination that have come before the House. Obviously, I accept a large share of blame for that.

For example, a constituent of mine, Thomas Wright, was a heavy goods vehicle driver from 1979 to 1984, when he contracted insulin-dependent diabetes. When his licence became due for renewal the following year, it was denied. He has been unable to work as an HGV driver ever since, even though his former employer is still, after all these years, active on his behalf to secure his licence again. Oddly, he is able to drive a minibus full of people should he so wish, but he cannot continue his career as an HGV driver.

There are many complications to Mr. Wright's story, with communications with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and so on, but the main point is that he has good control of his diabetes. He is well balanced and has a clean medical record from his doctor and specialist. The regulation that prevents him from pursuing his trade is, the hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Knapman), who represents the Whips on the Conservative Benches, will be pleased to hear, a European one. It was passed in 1991. It is absolute, in that it takes no account of the individual's health record. In my view, it is wrong and discriminatory. There is a risk, certainly, in a diabetic driving any sort of vehicle, just as there is from people driving with hundreds of different medications, and people with heart disease and many other conditions.

Secondly, my friend, Mr. Tim Hoy, from Willesden, London, acquired insulin-dependent diabetes while a serving firefighter, a job which he loved, and he was instantly removed from active service. He was found another job in an office, but he has lost the career he enjoyed. He has written a book on the experience of diabetics in a variety of jobs and the difficulties that they face, which is shortly to be published.

Gary Cooper, of Christchurch, had a similar experience with the Dorset fire brigade, and his Member of Parliament has been active on his behalf. Mr. David Stevens, of Romsey in Hampshire, although insulin-dependent, was able to pass his medical to be a firefighter, but cannot be a firefighter because he cannot obtain a licence to drive a fire engine, which is a heavy goods vehicle.

All those men are physically fit, and even athletic. They control their diabetes well and have medical experts who are prepared to go into print to back them. However, all have been excluded from their careers. I take the point made by the hon. Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) about the economic activity of disabled people; it is tremendously important, because there are many who, if it were not for discrimination, could be economically active, and therefore cease to be dependent and be more satisfied in their own life.

My last example is Ian Billsborough of Preston. He was a probationary police constable in the Lancashire force. He had done almost two years' probation when his career was terminated because he became an insulin-dependent diabetic. Despite his personal sympathy, the chief constable reported to me: All the medical officers have unanimously concluded that diabetes is a condition that bars any applicant from joining the constabulary. That is nonsense. He continued: Mr. Billsborough could not, because of his condition, meet the requirement that he is fitted both physically and mentally to perform the duties of the office of constable. That is despite the fact that there has been at least one insulin-dependent diabetic England international footballer.

Those are judgments by the EC, the Department of Transport, the fire brigade and the police service which are completely arbitrary and based on fear.

The inclusion of insulin-dependent diabetics in our anti-discrimination philosophy would mean that the individual medical case would be the prime matter for consideration. It would mean that discriminatory insurance premiums could be challenged. It would help to fulfil the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency's avowed policy of getting as many individuals as possible driving again, including insulin-dependent diabetics and those suffering from conditions such as epilepsy or petit mal. Above all, it would mean that hundreds of men and women in key professions with essential expertise could continue to serve society, rather than rely on benefits.

I realise that I have pushed the parameters of the debate a little too far in one direction, but diabetes is a problem which is relatively neglected by the Department of Health—that is a subject for a different debate—and is being mishandled, piecemeal, by a variety of Departments. Its inclusion in a future Labour-led disabled people's rights Bill would correct many injustices and serve the country well.

9.1 pm

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

I join in the congratulations to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) in celebrating the 25th anniversary of his Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill, which became an Act in 1970.

In 1986, the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) also had the satisfaction of seeing a private Member's Bill go on to the statute book. No doubt he has marked his diary for the year 2011 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that.

I had the satisfaction of getting a private Member's Bill on to the statute book this summer which I hope will help tenants of commercial premises, and I shall be marking my diary to make sure that that is appropriately celebrated in 25 years' time.

I had not realised until recently that it was the 1970 Act which led to the formation of the all-party parliamentary disablement group, which is one of the most active of the all-party groups. I very much welcome being a member of that group and an officer for some years now. It has brought together many common interests from both sides of the House. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) cannot be here, because I believe that he was a founder member of that group back in 1970, and has therefore served it for many years.

The Disability Discrimination Bill is currently going through Parliament. The all-party group can claim much credit for that, and although it does not have all the features which Opposition Members may have wanted, much credit is due to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), for the way in which he introduced it. I wish my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt), all success in seeing that Bill through its final stages on to the statute book. It will make a big difference.

I particularly want to address my remarks tonight to the employment of disabled persons. It is right that we should be scrapping the quota, which never was a satisfactory approach. There are some 900,000 disabled persons in work, only perhaps 300,000 of whom are registered, and there are another 300,000 disabled people who are looking for work. We can do a great deal more to help those people to get into work.

I have recently been examining the workings of the supported employment scheme, which benefits some 21,500 disabled persons. They have been helped into jobs at a cost to the Exchequer that is put at £153 million a year, although I query that figure. I should certainly like the amount spent on the scheme to be increased—and, if we accept the figures that are tucked away at the back of the Remploy annual accounts, that would not involve any net cost to the Treasury.

If my hon. Friend the Minister cannot respond to my point this evening, perhaps he will find out whether I can be given written confirmation of the Government's full agreement to the method of calculation shown in the Remploy annual accounts. As the Government own the company, they presumably agree with that method of calculation.

Some interesting figures are tucked away in those accounts which I had not noticed until recently. I looked at the figures shown for five years and at the latest figure. The deficit—the excess of expenditure over income—is shown as £91 million in Remploy's most recent accounts, but under that figure is the company's estimate of the net cost after flowback and savings to the Exchequer. That is shown as only £14 million; so somewhere there must be a detailed calculation showing that £77 million flows back to the Exchequer in what are described as net costs and savings.

I should like to know more about how the figure was calculated. It works out at £8,651 for each of the 8,900 disabled people employed by Remploy. If such benefits flow back to the Exchequer as a result of the employment of a disabled person who would not otherwise be employed, why do we not put more money into the supported employment scheme?

The voluntary placement aspect, which is illustrated very well in the work done by the Shaw Trust, costs only £4,500 per placement. Surely, if £4,500 can be spent to help a disabled person into work and if—according to the Remploy figures—that results in a saving of £8,600 to the Exchequer, the more we do the better, because an overall "profit" will result.

It seems that the more we spend the more we save. What is limiting the scheme? I should be very interested to know whether the Remploy figures are fully supported by the Treasury and other Government Departments, and, if so, exactly how they are calculated and whether the same calculation could be applied to people on the supported employment scheme. That strikes me as a good argument for taking the brakes off supported employment as a whole, which costs a total of some £153 million.

I commend the work done by the Shaw Trust, which now helps some 2,200 people into jobs at a cost of no more than £4,500 per person this year. Its £8.5 million grant is therefore very valuable, and questions are raised when that is compared with the cost of employing people through Remploy. Remploy has been expanding what is known as its "interwork scheme", for which the target this year is for 2,000 people to be employed. It seems that Remploy is acting in a similar way to the Shaw Trust, as a kind of job agency—at a similar cost of £4,500 per person per year.

There are, however, substantial costs for the factory workers who are employed in Remploy's 87 factories. The figures I have show that the cost of subsidising a job in those factories is now more than £12,000 a year for the 7,200 people who constitute this year's target. Those costs are substantially above those of the supported employment scheme—I would estimate, about £56 million this year. That would be enough to provide for 12,000 more jobs, at a cost of £4,500 each. If we take Remploy's calculations, that would give to the Treasury a total flowback of more than £100 million. If Remploy could operate more effectively and employ another 12,000 people on the same costings as, for instance, the Shaw Trust, the benefit to the Treasury would amount to more than £100 million.

One must ask: why is that not happening? I have been preparing a report, to be published by the Social Market Foundation on, I hope, 13 November, to explore ways in which Remploy could operate more effectively, so that more disabled people could be helped into jobs. Taking Remploy's own figures, it would not be at any greater cost to the Treasury; in fact, there might even be savings.

I would welcome having discussions with all interested parties. I know that the hon. Member for Monklands, West is interested in Remploy factories, and that he has visited factories in the north-west, and no doubt elsewhere. I would be interested in having discussions with him and with trade union representatives.

Only a few weeks ago, I had a useful and helpful meeting with Mr. David Martin of the National Union of Knitwear, Footwear and Apparel Trades, together with three employees of the Bolton Remploy factory: Mr. Bill Hardman, Ms Marlene Lockley and Mr. Trevor Wilson. I should be pleased to have further meetings with employees and with trade union representatives to discuss ways in which Remploy could operate more effectively.

The arguments that I am advancing in my report are along the lines that we could consider Remploy as an employee-owned trust, moving it out of the Government's direct control as a publicly owned business. It would be better for the employees, and for other disabled people who could also benefit if Remploy were more effective, to make it into an employee-owned trust, with a responsibility for entering into partnership agreements with other organisations. That would effectively help the management of the businesses to make Remploy run more effectively, bringing in the full resources of the private sector, and perhaps other organisations if they could help to partner existing factories.

Remploy has some 87 factories. One or two have closed recently and a danger exists that there could be more factory closures unless Remploy is run much more effectively. I should like those factories' future to be secured by Remploy entering into partnership arrangements with other organisations.

I am not in any way suggesting that I do not want Remploy to succeed and prosper: it is for that very reason that I am preparing the pamphlet. Many more disabled people could be helped into jobs if Remploy were able to use its substantial subsidy, which comes to some £94 million a year. It is a massive subsidy for an organisation whose turnover is only about £140 million a year. The subsidy is greater than the wages bill for the disabled employees, which raises questions about how Remploy could need such a massive subsidy.

I therefore would not argue that less money should be spent in helping disabled people into work. As I said, I should like more money spent on that, but it should be spent more effectively than it is now, so that the flowback savings to the Exchequer, if those figures can be substantiated, would be even greater.

That was the gist of what I wanted to concentrate on. This has been an interesting debate. We have been able to look back. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne), in her speech, much of which I support, said that we should build on what has been achieved. That is very much how we should be considering the matter today. We should be looking ahead so that we can build on the 25 years of achievement since the Bill of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe reached the statute book.

Politics is a funny old business, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I suspect that, if he captures your eye, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) may make what would be a maiden speech from the Opposition Benches. If that is the case, I should like to obey the conventions of the House and welcome it. I think that it was the former right hon. Member for Waveney, now Lord Prior, who once told me that he thought that all the ills of the nation could be ascribed to the adversarial nature of the Chamber.

I cannot accept my former hon. Friend's arguments, as I have read them, for joining the Labour party, and I am sorry that we find ourselves on opposite sides of the Chamber. Perhaps if the Chamber were a different shape, or even if there were Cross Benches as there are in the other place, there might not have been quite such a divide to separate us. In any event, I think that there is much common ground between us on this subject.

I think that my argument that we should he spending more money on the sheltered employment scheme to increase flowback savings to the Treasury and thus benefit society as a whole by enabling more disabled people to work and make a full contribution to society will be accepted by all parties, and I hope that, when my pamphlet is published by the Social Market Foundation, it too will receive cross-party support.

9.15 pm
Mr. Ray Powell (Ogmore)

It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate in recognition of the tremendous amount of work that has been done in the past 25 years in obtaining rights for disabled people. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) appreciates that in this country and internationally he is known as someone who has established rights for the disabled. As the president of a large disabled group that meets every Sunday in the Ogmore constituency, I can assure him that the Act that he introduced and the subsequent related measures to provide facilities for disabled people over the past 25 years have been greatly appreciated.

I agree with the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) that there is unity among the parties about the need to provide facilities for the disabled. In previous debates, we have rightly asked how we can pretend to legislate for the disabled when, although they can perhaps enter the mother of Parliaments, they cannot get to the Grand Committee Room or various other rooms.

Members of the Accommodation and Works Committee have met officers of the all-party group on disablement several times to try to deal with the justifiable criticism levelled in the Chamber at the House itself for not providing the necessary facilities to enable disabled people to have access to most rooms in it. In answer to a written question from my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) on 8 February this year I, in my capacity as Chairman of the Accommodation and Works Committee, outlined some of the projects that the Committee was pursuing to assist disabled people to gain access to the Palace of Westminster. I should like to take this opportunity to inform the House what progress has been made since then.

During the summer recess, we continued to implement many of the improvements recommended by experts to try to make the House more accessible. The new entrance that has been created in Black Rod's Garden enables people in wheelchairs to go directly to the start of the Line of Route. A ramp has been constructed at the entrance to Speaker's House giving access to the North Door. The ramps in Star Chamber Court allow access for people in wheelchairs to the Strangers' Gallery via lift No. 1. The new ramp at the Medals Corridor enables them to go on to the Terrace, to the private dining rooms, and, via lift No. 15, to the Principal Floor and Committee Rooms. That lift has been specially adapted to include such features as relocated control panels, with embossed and illuminated buttons, hand rails to the sides and rear of each car and door edges with time-delay sensors. Lift No. 3 serving the Peers Gallery and lift No. 17 serving Speaker's House have been similarly adapted, as has one in the other place.

Modifications to lavatories have been carried out and there are now specially adapted facilities on each floor in the following locations: the Centre Curtain Corridor, the Lower Waiting Hall, opposite Committee Room 7 on the main Committee Corridor and opposite Committee Room 19 on the Upper Committee Corridor.

In addition, a continuous handrail has been ordered for installation on the Strangers Staircase and a platform lift is shortly to be installed to take people in wheelchairs from Westminster Hall to the Grand Committee Room. In time we hope to install a proper lift there as part of the plans for a visitor centre.

Altogether, in the Palace of Westminster, some £688,000 is to be spent this financial year on facilities for disabled people. I am confident that, now that statement is recorded, hon. Members will read it and know that they can advise some of their visitors who are disabled on the extra facilities that have been made available.

I am very glad to be able to give that report. Indeed, even more funds have already been made available so that there will be greater access to facilities for the disabled in the House. I hope that in future there will be less criticism of the facilities that we are planning and, indeed, introducing as a result of the joint efforts of hon. Members on both sides of the House.

9.21 pm
Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

After a day of deeply felt antagonism across the Chamber, it is good that hon. Members from both sides of the House can come together to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. I happily join others on both sides of the House in paying my tribute to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). It was a rare, creative achievement in politics to introduce that Bill and bring it to the statute book. His dedication on the Front Bench and the Back Benches to the cause of disabled people has never subsequently flagged.

The 1970 Act was an epoch-making measure and so too could be the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill if they would but accept amendments tabled in another place, and if they would, even at this late stage, be willing to fill what are major gaps in the legislation.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act originated as a private Member's Bill, as has the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. The difference is of course that the 1970 Bill was supported by the Government, following the negotiations of which the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) has told us something.

The Government could have been constructive in their approach to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, but they were not. Of course there is a deep difference of principle embodied in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill to differentiate it from the Government's Disability Discrimination Bill. The former is comprehensive in its reach, as was the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill.

I take it that it should be axiomatic for all parties and for a Government of any party in this country that it is our obligation between us all to do everything that we can to promote equal civil rights for everyone and, as far as possible, equal opportunities. It saddens me that the Conservative party and the Government have been equivocal in that regard.

I hasten to say, however, that I exempt from that charge the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir N. Scott). I am also quite certain that all those who know the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People know that his heart is very much in the right place concerning the cause of disabled people. I know that the right hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) also did all that he could to advance the frontiers of the legislation during its passage over the past year. Let me add my tribute to the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) and to my former hon. Friend and, I trust, my continuing personal friend, the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), who has just told us eloquently of his hopes for sheltered employment.

Over the past 12 months or more, the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry set their grim faces obstinately against allowing this legislation to be as generous and far-reaching as it should be. I fear that they were backed by Conservative Members, all too many of whose hackles always rise at the very mention of equal opportunities. Part of the Government's objection is that they have a great dislike for rights-based legislation because it allows powers of interpretation and scope to judges to check the Executive, which this House all too often lamentably fails to do. The Government pass a torrent of secondary legislation that is not debated, which allows loosely defined powers to the Executive, and the Disability Discrimination Bill will be no exception to that pattern.

The Government's dislike of rights-based legislation and of the intervention of judges has been demonstrated all too clearly in their opposition to incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into our domestic law. This Session, I tabled a private Member's Bill that would achieve that. I felt strongly about the extraordinary complaints made by the Deputy Prime Minister about the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights.

The logic of the Government's position is that they should repeal the equal opportunities legislation passed 20 years ago in the fields of gender and race. But if they are prepared to be fair minded, they must recognise that that legislation has led to enormous improvements in our culture and practical advances in our society on the issue of discrimination. They must accept that that legislation should provide a model for legislation to ban discrimination against disabled people.

The cost of equal opportunities legislation has not proved onerous, as the Conservative party may have feared. It was a great pity that the Government's tactics for seeing off the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill meant producing disinformation. They alleged that the measure would have cost £17 billion over five years. That was a shoddy and dishonest piece of work. The best cost-benefit analysis that I saw tabulated the cost at some £5 billion before taking account of the benefits. When one takes into account the benefits arising from the contribution of disabled people to our economy, I believe that the net cost would have been nil.

So far from the Government being willing to accept modest costs, they have been cutting back on their expenditure on the long-term sick and disabled. That is utterly unacceptable. Conservative Members have mixed feelings about claiming that, during the life of this Government, there has been a 75 per cent. increase in social expenditure on the long-term sick and disabled. But the Government now seek vigorously—they have already legislated to that end—to reduce expenditure on the long-term sick and disabled. Invalidity benefit has been cut back in the transition from invalidity to incapacity benefit. The Government mismanaged the economy over a period and ran up an enormous public sector borrowing requirement. The retrenchment that they were driven to undertake was to be paid for in part by the long-term sick and disabled. Some six volumes of research were produced by the Department of Social Security, none of which supported their contention that there was wholesale abuse of that benefit and that money was being squandered on it unjustifiably.

Now the Conservative party clamours for tax cuts at a time when the needs of the disabled are not being met and support in important areas is being diminished.

I believe that the Education Act 1993 is an important and beneficial measure in the interests of children with special educational needs for which the Government deserve credit, in particular the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth). The code of practice in the legislation could be an instrument for much good. I speak as a vice-president of the British Dyslexia Association. We know that there are some 300,000 dyslexic children, notwithstanding the 25 years during which Whitehall denied the existence of dyslexia. What we and those children need is to have their dyslexia identified earlier, at the age of five, say, rather than at 15. We need therefore proper investment in in-service training for teachers, particularly special educational needs co-ordinators. Of course we also need better resources for statements so that the process of statementing children with educational needs ceases to be a miserable process of attrition characterised by disingenuousness on the part of local education authorities, which use every technical excuse as a smokescreen to disguise the fact that they are not willing, because they are not able, to spend money on statements, and characterised by antagonism and heartbreak for parents and their children.

The Government have also caused charges for disabled people to increase enormously. We have seen a massive percentage increase in charges under the community care policy which have hit frail and poor people in a most shaming way. There is a lack of central guidance and therefore a lack of local consistency and fairness. Benefits for disabled people are set centrally, but they have not been increased to take account of those charges.

The Minister mentioned the National Assistance Act 1948, which was, of course, a great reforming measure. It does, however, contain within it an important stumbling block—the bar on social services departments making cash payments to disabled people rather than providing benefits in kind.

The Minister spoke of the Government's desire to lessen the dependence of disabled people, but it has taken a very long time for the Government to commit themselves to act to open the way to direct payments. I greatly welcome the fact that that commitment was made a year ago. It is over a year since I sent to the then Secretary of State for Health a model scheme drawn up by social services directors and others to show how direct payments might effectively be implemented. I hope very much that the Queen's Speech will contain the legislation that has been promised and that it will be a wholehearted and positive measure.

I must say a further word about the Disability Discrimination Bill. It was unfortunate that it was a piecemeal measure and that concessions had to be dragged out of the Government during its passage. I hope very much that the Government will now be willing to accept amendments, for example the amendment on perception, which was eloquently spoken of by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall). If an employer thinks that a person is disabled, although he or she is not, or if an employer anticipates that a person may become disabled, it cannot be justified for that employer to discriminate on those grounds. The evil against which we seek to act is that prejudice. I hope very much that even at this stage the Government will be willing to accept that the legislation must establish the principle unequivocally that discrimination itself is an unacceptable practice.

There are still large defects in the legislation. The definitions are a shambles and will, notwithstanding the Government's intention, be a lawyers' charter. It is wholly unacceptable that it will be permissible under the legislation for employers of fewer than 20 people to discriminate. It is wrong that it should be within the law for a person to be discriminated against because of where he or she happens to work.

Perhaps most importantly, it is imperative that the Government agree that there should be a disability rights commission. No one wants litigation, but there will not be legal aid so it will be difficult for disabled people to avail themselves of the rights that the legislation purports to create. Notwithstanding what the Minister told the House earlier, there are no credible arrangements for the provision of advice to employers, providers of goods and services and disabled people themselves. Ultimately, there needs to be an agency with power to investigate and to enforce. That is what we have under the race and gender legislation, and so we should under the legislation that we are discussing.

If we do not, the Government's intentions will merely be a matter of minimal concessions rather than a measure born out of a positive and generous will to help disabled people. Disabled people and decent people expect no less.

9.34 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

For me, our proceedings in this debate are reminiscent of those which in 1970 led to the enactment of my Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill. The House of Commons was never more constructive in its concern for people in special need of its attention than it was then. There was no party animus in our proceedings. Everyone who spoke seemed to know the value of things as well as their cost

One of the penalties of longevity in parliamentary life—I have now had two and a half times the average stay in the House—is the loss by attrition of close and valued colleagues. The longer one survives here, the more colourful and crowded one's gallery of old and trusted friends. Many of the most honoured in my own gallery are those who laboured with me to enact my Bill in 1970. They were not all of one party. They were of all parties, but of one mind.

What united them was the shared determination that Parliament must no longer ignore the rightful claims of long-term sick and disabled people—that they must be free to live their own lives as normally as possible, to have the same opportunities to contribute to industry and society as everyone else—and that the law affecting them must be based on rights and not on charity. I am grateful to the Minister for recalling that expression of my view in the speech with which I presented my Bill in December 1969.

The Back Benchers who worked most closely with me to enact the Bill included Jack Ashley, John Astor, Lewis Carter-Jones, Sir Clive Bossom, Laurie Pavitt and Sir Neil Marten. Outside the House, my collaborators included Duncan Guthrie, who then headed both RADAR's predecessor, the Central Council for the Disabled, and Action Research; Peter Large, as he then was, of the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled and of the Disablement Income Group; Mary Greaves, who led DIG after the death of Megan du Boisson; and Mary Stott, a columnist on The Guardian.

No one gave me more practical help than the late Duncan Guthrie and today's debate is a timely occasion to pay renewed tribute to his memory. Flexible of mind, he was a man of transparent decency and inflexible integrity, and he is mourned by everyone who had the privilege of knowing him.

This debate would not be taking place but for the commitment to making life better for disabled people on the part of my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster). I am most grateful to them both. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) for his characteristically kind speech. I most warmly congratulate him on the distinction that he has achieved by his re-election to the shadow Cabinet yesterday. He was followed tonight by many other hon. Members who made distinguished contributions to what inevitably for me has been a moving parliamentary occasion.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancashire, West (Mr. Pickthall), the hon. Members for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) and for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) and my hon. Friends the Members for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) all made memorable speeches. To my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore I want to express the appreciation of disabled people and their organisations for his tireless and outstanding work in making this Palace so very much more accessible to disabled people. I thank him on their behalf for all that he has achieved.

To my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon I want simply to recall that this is not the first time I have referred to him as my hon. Friend. I have done so often over the three years we have worked together, in Committee and elsewhere, to achieve enforceable civil rights for disabled people. I found his constancy to their cause wholly admirable. I honour him deeply, and he has honoured us today by making his maiden speech from the Opposition side of the House in this debate.

For Back Benchers, first place in the ballot for private Members' Bills is the most coveted prize in the lottery of parliamentary life. Ministers whose Departments are affected by the Back Benchers' choices of Bills may not, however, share their delight at winning the ballot. I have to confide to the House that Richard Crossman, then Secretary of State for Social Services, who was to become an undeviating supporter of my choice, was not best pleased when he heard in November 1969 that I intended to use my good fortune to present a Bill to enhance the well-being and status of disabled people. He offered an alternative measure—a human tissues Bill, drafted by the Government. I am glad to tell the House today that it was my good and hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), although he was too modest to say so in his interventions, who pressed and persuaded Dick Crossman to recognise that I was totally resolved at least to try to legislate on disability.

Dick was not alone among Ministers who initially wanted me to drop the whole idea. The Minister of State for Education inquired why I was proposing to include in the Bill help for people with dyslexia—a condition which, he said, "simply doesn't exist." To which I was provoked to reply, "Then it won't cost you anything." Official reaction to my proposals for helping deaf-blind children and those with autism, like my proposal for an institute of hearing research, was no more supportive; so the Bill's prospects looked anything but promising.

It seems incredible and outrageous now, but from 1945 to 1964 there was no mention in any party manifesto of anything specifically to help disabled people. Between 1959 and 1964, as the hon. Member for Rochdale recalled, there was not one parliamentary debate on disability. Westminster and Whitehall always had more pressing things to do than to respond to the claims of people with disabilities. One could say that the attitude of both was one of serene satisfaction with the status quo. No one even knew how many disabled people there were in Britain. They were mostly seen or heard only by their families or, if they were in institutions, by those who controlled their lives.

Even to talk then of as-of-right cash benefits for disabled people or for the carer of a disabled relative was to invite ridicule. Local authority services were wholly discretionary and often non-existent. I knew of disabled people with every kind of moral justice on their side, but no statutory right whatever to vitally needed help.

That was how things were when, against all the odds, my Bill became law in May 1970. Those who worked with me to enact the Bill will remember how often and how close we came to disaster. But in the end it was Dick Crossman's main Bill of that parliamentary Session which hit the rocks while ours sailed safely by.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill became an Act of 29 sections. It imposed new duties and responsibilities on 12 Departments of state and became the model for legislation in many other countries. It amended 39 existing Acts of Parliament in the interests of disabled people, including such major statutes as the Education Act 1944, the National Health Service Act 1946, the National Assistance Act 1948 and the Housing Act 1957.

In the decade after the Bill's enactment huge leaps were recorded in the numbers of disabled people identified as disabled; millions were helped by the provision of aids, by adaptations to their homes and by the Act's five sections on access to the built environment, the first such legislation anywhere in the world. The research division of the House of Commons Library estimates that, at the latest date for which figures are available, as my hon. Friend the Member for Monklands, West has said, there were 12 million cases of assistance under section 2 of the Act in England alone, while in Scotland, over a shorter period, there were 1.7 million cases. Those are minimal figures since, to give just one example, they do not include the 1.3 million orange badge holders in England, under section 21 of the Act, and countless millions more beneficiaries, here and abroad, of its access provisions.

Public spending on related benefits and services went up from £330 million to £3.03 billion in the Act's first decade—between 1970 and 1980. But its effects went wider than its impact on statutory provision. There was now a wholly new emphasis on the importance of the statutory and voluntary sectors working together and many new organisations, often for disabled people, were created.

I take especial pleasure in this being also the 25th anniversary of the British Dyslexia Association and am most encouraged that the first ever statutory references to dyslexia in the law—and to autism—have led to so much progress towards better provision in those areas of need. I very much support the argument that investment in teacher training for special needs is an appropriate way to continue that progress.

As our understanding of these different disabilities grows, so does the need for professionals, including teachers, to be trained in identification and support of dyslexic children and those with other special needs. The challenges facing the teachers in a mainstream school classroom are immense. We must equip them to cope with the diversity and range of special needs. Both initial teacher training and in-service training are vitally important here.

The challenge does not stop at the school gate, however. Legislation and provision for adults with difficulties need now to catch up with the legislative framework that exists in education. Just because a disability is not obvious does not mean that it cannot be severe and disabling. The person without command of the written word and number is disabled from taking an effective part in society. I hope that the work to follow up the Government's poor imitation of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill will include all categories of disability, including the hidden handicap of dyslexia.

At first, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act lost some momentum due to the lack of clear ministerial guidance. Many people thought that, as it had been a private Member's Bill, it lacked the force of Government legislation. In fact, the Act was described by some local councils as a "private Member's Act". There is, of course, no such thing; but it was responsible for slow reactions, as was the myth that the legislation had no money resolution. Without sanction by the Commons of financial backing, my Bill could never, of course, have become law. So reports about its cost having to be met wholly by local authorities were baseless.

Twenty-five years on, our task is not just to assess the Act's impact and to take stock, but also to address important items on the long, unfinished agenda of unmet need among disabled people. The most pressing duty now is to defend the services that the Act provides. Powerful voices ask for more "flexibility" in applying the Act, by which they mean the right to dilute its provisions. Council leaders of all parties say that the Government's current rationing of resources is turning them into law breakers by forcing them to choose which of their legal duties to fulfil. They complain that they are being made to break one law in order to stay within another.

Many recent studies suggest that councils are finding it more and more difficult to meet their statutory duties to disabled people. For example, as the number of people over the age of 75 in need of the home help service increases, the more the service declines in both cases and hours. The Act's benefits clearly are not reaching many disabled people in the way intended by Parliament; and there is intense concern among them about the absence of any clear commitment from the Government to return to the Act's original purposes.

Why should disabled people so often now have to resort to the courts for the provision of services which Parliament plainly intended them to have as of right? Why do Ministers allow some local councils to play cat and mouse with them by deferring assessments of need, thus delaying the provision of services even where urgent help is demonstrably necessary?

Today, even when it is clear that disabled people could succeed in court, their rightful claims are resisted because delay can cut costs. Often that leads to the withdrawal of claims by disabled people for whom the law's delay is much harder to cope with than for most other people. By sleight of hand and fleet of foot, what used to be available to disabled people without means testing increasingly becomes subject to charges and is seen as penalising thrift, especially by elderly disabled people whose adult lives have been spent striving to remain self-supporting in their post-retirement years.

Ministers claim that, while they are tough on the generality of claimants, the weak and vulnerable are fully protected. But just how fully are disabled people protected? The Government say that they are being "singled out" for special help. But disabled people insist that they are being singled out for special hardship. Let the Government try to convince elderly people whose homes are being sold over their heads to pay for residential care in private nursing homes that they are being singled out for special help. Even to suggest that is to add insult to injury for people who feel cruelly victimised by current policy.

As of now disabled people and their organisations complain bitterly that the provisions of section 2 are being trampled on in many parts of this country. The disability organisations are as one in their determination not only to end abuse of the Act, but to see it joined on the statute book by the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which I drafted in 1990 and first presented to Parliament in January 1991. Unfair discrimination against them leaves disabled people doubly disabled. That is morally wrong and what is morally wrong ought surely no longer to be legally permissible in Britain.

I am sure most Members of Parliament will agree that much the best way of marking this 25th anniversary year would be to vouchsafe full and enforceable civil rights to disabled people. In continued fellowship with them, let that remain our urgent goal.

9.50 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Bowis)

Let me start by thanking all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in the debate and echoing the opening thanks of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Burt), the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, to the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) for initiating the debate.

Let me also set aside the hon. Gentleman's untypically ungenerous opening remarks. He and I have campaigned together for a number of years for improvements in the lives of people with disabilities. We have rarely been on opposite sides of an argument in these matters and when we have it has usually been over speed or scale rather than the principle of a proposal. That is good because the House is so often at its best when it comes together to promote the welfare of disabled people and to overcome obstacles for them.

The House is also at its best when it does not patronise such people, but recognises that disability can develop in or happen to each and every one of us to a greater or lesser extent—sometimes from birth, sometimes from the aging process and sometimes from an illness, accident or event in our lives—and that each and every person with a disability, however severe, is a potential achiever if we enable him or her to develop latent talents and abilities or remove obstacles from his or her path of progress.

Some people will need much greater levels of care and support than others. For some it will be in-patient care, for others it will be mobility support or aids to help them hold down a full-time job. Whoever, wherever and whatever, our task as a society—in central Government, local government, health, education, leisure, housing and transport authorities and as employers, friends, neighbours and families—is not to help people to forget their disability as that would be impossible, but to overcome it, to manage it and to achieve the highest quality of life despite it.

Government and Parliament have a linchpin role and I am proud to he a supporter of and a member of a Government who have done so much in so many ways to enhance the lives of people with disabilities. My hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People and my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Couchman) listed the resources. When I look at the calls that I made as a new Back Bencher in a debate on disability that I was fortunate to be able to initiate some years ago, I am impressed by the number on which there has been progress—from special educational needs to support for carers.

Many measures have originated in private Members' Bills and today we acknowledge the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) brought to and through the House 25 years ago. I was impressed to read "Be It Enacted", RADAR's celebration of that anniversary, in which Denny Denly describes the right hon. Gentleman as a "powerful beacon".

I had always thought that on major anniversary celebrations beacons were usually taken to a high place and set on fire. I hope that that will not be the fate of the right hon. Gentleman, but he can at least glow with pride at the progress which came from that Act. It is a pride that he has shared with a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House. One might add others too—Fred Evans, Sir Maurice Macmillan, Arthur Latham and the formidable Dame Irene Ward—who were with him in the trenches at that time. Then, as now, there was an all-party coalition working in support of disabled people.

We have been reminded of the occasion when, as RADAR's splendid publication describes, the right hon. Gentleman first took his ideas to Richard Crossman, the Secretary of State for Social Services, who hit the roof. His response was to ask who Alf was, after a mere five years at Westminster, to instruct him about social priorities. Had such a Bill been needed, said Richard Crossman, he would have put it on the Statute Book himself. That is confirmed in a letter from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell): I well remember how Dick Crossman tried to bully you into either changing drastically or dropping the Bill at more than one point. That just shows that obstacles to legislation are not always on one side of the House.

My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the achievements that have come from and were built on that Act through innumerable measures—some legislative, culminating in the Disability Discrimination Bill, but many not, such as the development of community care and the partnership that the Government have with so many charitable, representative and research organisations. Behind that progress has been our great health service, with advances in medical science and technology paralleled by strides in health care delivery and co-ordination with agencies such as social services and the independent sector. I will ensure that my colleagues in the Department for Education and Employment consider carefully the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) as they—not I—are probably equipped to consider the accounts of the organisation that he mentioned.

Community care has already played a significant part in enabling people to remain in their own home or to come out of institutions and into more homely settings. As years go by, community care's fundamental principles of assessment of need, involvement of users and carers in decision making and openness about eligibility criteria will help to make services responsive and flexible to the needs and wishes of disabled people. That will be strengthened from next April, when each local social services authority should have in place its community care charter.

We have recently issued our development programme for community care, "Building Partnerships for Success", which highlights the need further to develop partnerships with users and carers—not just in decisions affecting them personally but in strategic decisions. That mirrors the work that I so much valued during the introductory years of national community care planning and implementation undertaken by our National Users and Carers Group. I pay the warmest tribute to Peter Swain, the group's chairman, and all his members, who have served as a challenging and constructive ginger group that has been an invaluable source of wide experience, geographically and over the range of disability.

The Government work with an enormous range of disability organisations. I pay tribute to the people who run them and to the great army of volunteers who support them. Their work as befrienders, informal carers and advocates is valued by us and, more importantly, by the people they support.

It is inevitable that there will always be more that could be done by such organisations if they could afford it. I always understand when an organisation comes to see me or welcomes me to an example of its work, thanks me courteously for the Government's financial support, then gently and eloquently directs my attention to new ideas that just need a little priming of the pump. My hon. Friend hon. Friend the Member for Teignbridge (Mr. Nicholls) referred to constraints. As to the Mencap issue, charging is a discretionary issue. It is entirely up to each social service's elected authority to decide whether to charge and, if so, how much. It also has the discretion completely to exempt or to reduce charges for any category of people that it chooses. I hope that my hon. Friend will take that message to the people at Mencap.

Like those organisations, I have a budget and a shopping list for tomorrow. At least, unlike Alice's White Queen, tomorrow does come for a great many projects. If the bad news is when I have to say no or not yet, the good news is when I travel the country and see the innovation and dedication that we have been able to support. Much of that involves representative groups. I refer in particular to RADAR's independent living unit research and the work that we funded, to produce training packs and courses on the implementation of section 2 of the 1970 Act. SKILL is doing likewise with sections 5 and 6 of the 1986 Act in respect of disabled students and local authority schools and colleges.

The agony of stigma in addition to the disability from which an individual suffers means that work in the areas of epilepsy, incontinence and mental health is particularly important. We are also in the middle of a five-year programme to develop model rehabilitation services for those who suffer brain injury. Had I time, I would list many of the section 64 initiatives that we support, which enables so many voluntary sector organisations to work across a range of disabilities, of which we can be immensely proud.

There are about 6 million people with disabilities. Of those, 4.3 million face locomotion difficulties, 1.7 million have sight problems and 2.6 million have hearing difficulties. Many of those people have more than one disability. It is a substantial population within our nation. We attach high priority to the development of services for them so that they can achieve the maximum degree of independence.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East in congratulating the all-party group on its work and I join the House in acknowledging the work of the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe. I join all Members—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.