HC Deb 26 April 2004 vol 420 cc632-4
14. Mr. John Lyons (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (Lab)

What assessment he has made of the effect that changes to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 in October will have on disabled people's access to services. [167690]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle)

1 October is DDA day for service providers. The new duties will require them to tackle physical barriers to their services. Our research shows that nearly half the disabled people who experienced difficulty in accessing services reported entry to premises as the main problem. The new duties will enable around 10 million disabled customers to benefit from physical adjustments, where those are reasonable. Raising awareness of the barriers faced by disabled people will lead to greater improvements over time as society in general gets better at accommodating their needs.

Mr. Lyons

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Does she accept, however, that greater clarity is still needed on access to buildings? The Times recently ran a report saying that museums, theatres and heritage buildings will be forced to close because of the October changes. Will my hon. Friend help to fight the scaremongering?

Maria Eagle

I hope that it was not scaremongering, but merely ignorance, which of course one would not expect from The Times. I recommend that people look instead at the access supplement in Disability Now, which was written by the Disability Rights Commission, and in which they can find good information. We are mailing 1 million small businesses to make them aware of their obligations and to give them information about where they can get good-quality free advice about what they need to do to meet their obligations.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con)

Can the Minister confirm that no Government Department will use this Act as an excuse to close premises that are open to the public at the moment?

Maria Eagle

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that it is an important part of the public sector's commitment to service to ensure I hat it has the very best possible standards of access. It is important that we should lead by example. However, the law does not require buildings to close; it requires access to services. If such access is impossible in a particular building, arrangements should be made to make those services accessible in a different way. I want to make it perfectly clear that the law does not require anyone to close a building because it is inaccessible.

Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op)

Will the proposed changes to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 force local education authorities to improve access to schools throughout England and Wales for physically Disabled children?

Maria Eagle

My hon. Friend is right to identify that issue as one of great importance. Of course, the DDA does now apply to schools all the way from nursery schools to higher education, through the provisions of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001. My ministerial colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills are overseeing a programme, funded by extra resources, to ensure that every local education authority area has schools that are accessible to children with physical disabilities, so that when their parents want them to, they can get their education in mainstream schools.