HL Deb 16 February 1977 vol 379 cc1550-63

2.58 p.m.

Baroness PHILLIPS rose to call attention to the Snowdon Working Party Report on the Integration of the Disabled; and to move for Papers. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I will try to set the pattern so that all our speeches will be contained within the time allowed for a short debate. Therefore, I will spread what I hope is the canvas upon which other noble Lords will make their contributions from their own knowledge and experience.

The Working Party on the Integration of the Disabled was set up in October 1974 and reported in 1976. There were seven sub-committees, which met 84 times. They heard evidence from over 100 individuals, while 181 organisations and 300 people submitted written evidence. It was a very exciting and rewarding experience for those of us who were privileged to take part. While it is always delicate to single out any individual for praise, particularly if they are, in the old family expression, present, I should like to pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, for his inspiration, his compassion and his eminently practical approach. It is significant that this was called a Working Party and not a Royal Commission. It therefore reported in well under the time that it was expected to take. I should like to pay tribute also to the Director of the National Fund for Research into Crippling Diseases, Duncan Guthrie, and to the tireless and kindly editor of the report, Rosemary Thorpe Tracey, who acted as secretary, guide, mentor and friend to all seven subcommittees. What a task! And she always produced the minutes on time.

Our brief was quite straightforward: To consider the areas in which disabled people are not fully integrated with the rest of society, to examine the reasons for this lack of integrations and to consider ways in which, in the different areas, the situation can be rectified so that the disabled person may, so far as his personal disabilities allow, have equal opportunities and appropriate facilities as his non-disabled fellows, and to make recommendations.

The report says that integration for the disabled means a thousand things. I will name only three: the absence of segregation, social acceptance and being able to be treated like everybody else. All societies throughout history have had an accepted norm. These tend to change from century to century and from society to society, but the Establishment always seems to encourage the idea that anyone outside that group, for whatever reason, does not quite fit in. So the segregation begins. In the cinema the disabled have to occupy a group of separate seats. We were told that although their seats were separate at the National Theatre, they did have a free programme. I was rather impolite and suggested that they need a free programme like a hole in the head; what they need is the ability to be able to enjoy the performance with an able-bodied friend. Then, in preventing the blind girl from taking part in the normal activities of the jumble sale— "You can't do the washing up ", they said. Or the suggestion that a woman should not use a public house because it might upset other patrons. These are not extreme examples: these are drawn from letters and from evidence submitted to our committees.

My own sub-committee was concerned with public buildings and housing, and I was particularly fortunate in having on the sub-committee a very intelligent and articulate young man—a professional—who was in fact in a wheelchair, and he was therefore our statutory consumer. He was able to make first-hand comments on whether doors were wide enough, whether the lifts were in the right place, whether there was a lavatory available, and so on. Having in my own life had the experience of watching my husband cope after paralysis of his right hand and leg, I realised again in the collection of evidence, as I had done previously, how many of the facilities which make life easier for the handicapped person are also quite suitable for use by the non-disabled person; they are not expensive and they are not inconvenient. For example, wider doors, wider passages in a house; double balustrades for the stairs, ramps instead of steps, handles on the bath I make this point because the suggestion made when discussing housing for the disabled always seemed to be that it would be expensive if it then had to be converted for those who were not disabled. This is not so. If you are not disabled you can quite easily get some use from the equipment that would be in such a home.

The evidence from those who live in the specially adapted housing repeated over and over again that they did not wish to be set apart from the rest of the community. "We stick out like a sore thumb", said one woman sadly. Our researches revealed a very disappointing record in the new towns in relation to the percentage of mobility type dwellings. At that time there were five new towns without any housing provision at all for disabled persons, and no plans to begin consultations.

I have with me a list of the help for disabled persons that has been brought in by Her Majesty's Government since the appointment of the first Minister for the Disabled in 1974. This was in reply to a Question from Sir Harold Wilson on Monday, 24th January. It is an impressive list and I congratulate Her Majesty's Government, but I am sure the Minister will not mind my asking a few questions about this. Can I, for instance, have some up-to-date information on the new town directive in relation to housing for the disabled in the expanding towns? Can I have a little more information about—to quote the list: Pressure on public and other institutions to improve access and services"? I cannot see any reference in this list to housing the disabled or the actions taken, unless it comes under one particular statement, beloved of Governments: Wide-ranging and detailed consultations on the implementation of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act have taken place". I hope that we shall hear something under that heading about the discussion on housing for the disabled in the new towns.

There still seems to be a desperate need for a real review of public building provisions. Recently, I was at a university in the Midlands, and in the middle of the meeting I was approached by a delegate in a wheelchair. She informed me that there were no lavatories on that level that she could use, nor indeed were there any that she could use without in some way having to be taken upstairs. This was in a relatively new university. When we visited the National Theatre we saw that, at any rate in one theatre, one would need to go up 13 steps or down 14 steps in order to get some refreshment. It is not enough to say that the refreshments would be brought to this lady. I should like to emphasise that integration means just that—that you are with your able-bodied friends.

May I refer those of your Lordships who have been lucky enough to get one, to the report—and I am afraid I cannot compliment British Rail on taking 13 days to deliver the reports from Redhill to the Palace of Westminster; I can only assume that they were using camels. The result is that many of your Lordships have not in fact had the report. I am sad about that, but I would refer your Lordships to the back of the report, to the graphs on accessibility to publicly and privately-owned buildings. With the exception of educational establishments the odds are against disabled persons finding it possible to enter a building.

One returns so many times to simple requests. They say: "Let us have some ramps at intersections". "Let us have ramps at the pavements". If any of your Lordships have ever pushed a pram—and you do not have to be disabled to do that—you will know how lovely it would be to have a few ramps. These are not going to be expensive or difficult. One returns to the simple question: Can we have at least one entrance without steps to every major building? We hear about brand new shopping areas with adjacent sports centres and libraries, but with no access to the reference library or to the lecture room except by being bumped up three flights of stairs.

As I indicated at the beginning of my introduction I do not intend to cover the seven sections, but I wish briefly to refer to education. In the education section of the report, we referred to the fact that various forms of special provision for the children who are disabled at the moment lie between the special school on the one hand, and the ordinary school with no extra help on the other. But I think there is no question of the great value of integration at this level. Here is the child's first opportunity to be part of the community.

Your Lordships will remember, I hope with pride, and will take credit for, the clauses included in the 1976 Education Act which were instrumental in bringing about the law that in future the handicapped child should be integrated in the ordinary school. I intend to refer those of my enthusiastic Left-Wing friends in the Labour Party who talk about the House of Lords, to some of the Acts that have been formulated in this House. If a referendum were taken of the general populace, I think it would be very interesting to see which House they would like abolished.

My Lords, the Minister of Education in her speech recently referred to this, and in her circular she refers to the fact that in the House of Lords special concern was expressed on the question of the disabled child being integrated into the ordinary school. Her directive is excellent; her speech is excellent. I am only just a little concerned when she says at the end: I wish to await the findings of the Committee of Inquiry into the Education of the Handicapped. —the famous Warnock Report. My Lords, I would only enter one plea. Need we wait for Warnock, and why?

On transport, I would merely say that I have only seen the London Transport's attempt to reserve seats in the buses and Underground, especially for the disabled, for the elderly, for those with children. I was in a London Underground train the other day with my daughter-in-law and two-year old twins, and was somewhat horrified to see those seats occupied by large, youthful and apparently deaf youths who could not read the notice, who did not like my somewhat un-Peerlike comments. I can only hope that we will be able to insist that if the transport system attempts to assist the disabled at least the general public will have the courtesy to recognise that facility when it is there. I understand the Minister has news of "goodies" for the disabled in her brief. So perhaps she will tell us a little more about the liaison with voluntary bodies, better cooperation of Government Departments, the new edition of the booklet for handicapped people, how many, who receives them, and if they have not got them now whether they are likely to get them soon.

My Lords, in the report we are told, in the very touching words of the introduction, that we are all somewhere on the same scale of human disability. I shall return to this report again and again, because we all know it needs a long process of education and imaginative legislation before there is real integration. When people know about other people they do begin to understand and care. I should like to pay a tribute to the media, who, I think, do a marvellous job in this connection. Successful integration depends, as one of our folk who came before the Committee said, on all aspects of good will towards all people. My Lords, this report needs action on all fronts. On a personal level, I should like to remind Her Majesty's Government that so far as I am concerned time is running out. I have not got, in the words of the old song, time for the waiting game. I beg to move for Papers.

3.13 p.m.

The Earl of SNOWDON

My Lords, I am deeply honoured and grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate and to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for her extremely kind personal remarks. I wish I could believe that the Press, television, radio, the Prime Minister himself, and I suppose the public, who last weekend were all spending so much time, money and energy, rightly and naturally, to bring about the rescue of 917 marooned cattle, could bring themselves to give half as much attention to the permanent human tragedy with which we are concerned today. There are now over 3 million disabled people in this country.

I want to stress that, although I had the great honour of being connected with the report Integrating the Disabled, it is those who spent two years of their valuable free time serving on the various committees who need to be congratulated and thanked. They were as varied a group as possible, from MPs of different political beliefs, doctors, academics, journalists, impressarios from the world of entertainment, experts in commerce, representatives of the Church, plus an important few enlightened lay people. They had only one thing in common—they cared. They cared for the plight of the many thousands of the less fortunate in our community who are disabled in one way or another, who have been in the past, and are to a lesser extent today, treated as second-class citizens with unequal opportunities, be it to do with education, employment, housing, economics, transport, entertainment, or just with life itself. When the Working Party completed its brief, in the allotted time, a great many of the problems had been identified and isolated, the economic and the financial, the psychological and the physical, the administrative and the social. A large number of recommendations were made, all with a view to ensuring greater growing acceptance of the idea that disabled people of every income level have a useful and important role to play in the life of our society, in every aspect.

My Lords, there was one problem whose size we underestimated. It is the problem of public and private inertia, when the country is faced with a new demand upon its time and patience, not to say on its compassion and indeed on its pocket. That inertia extends from the private individual to the local authorities responsible for houses, schools and public buildings, to the owners of theatres, places of entertainment, restaurants, stores, supermarkets and every other enterprise in the private sector; to the professionals, especially the architects, the engineers and designers who plan (sadly, so often with too little research, thought and ingenuity) right on to the civil servants and to Government themselves, not forgetting on the way those who combine the great qualities of charity with inadequate understanding of how it should be dispensed.

We were not calling for a great shift in the application of public resources. Indeed, many of the recommendations would in the long term actually save money rather than cost more. Beyond that, we would be happy enough if these times when so little money is available were used to research and plan for the day when we can afford what we do need. The report is in print, but its existence alone is far from enough. It must be read, studied, publicised, discussed, and, if necessary, criticised, not just by the few enlightened people who are already involved and concerned but by the decision and policymakers of every organisation, both in the private and public sector, to be on their desks, not to gather dust but to be referred to, both at the design stage of every new project and as a constant check that existing laws and regulations give enough concern and thought to the problems of the disabled. In short, to make them continually awake to the problems that have been overlooked for far too long, awake to the necessity in the name of common humanity to understand and perpetually to go on being aware that there are not just a handful but many hundreds of thousands among us who cannot cope on their own with a world designed for the so-called able-bodied.

Perhaps it is not easy for someone without a severe disability, or who does not have to take personal responsibility for a handicapped parent, child or relation, to see the world through other eyes—to imagine what it is like to be unable to use existing public transport, to be excluded from certain public places on the ground of being a fire hazard, to have one's guide dog confiscated, to be fobbed off with an inadequate mobility allowance as an alternative to a lethal three-wheeler travelling in totally unacceptable isolation, to be unable to enjoy all the amenities of our new National Theatre or to be forbidden entry to stores during the January sales; indeed, to be segregated, categorised or institutionalised; herded apart from friends, contemporaries and the ordinary run of human beings with whom one craves to be identified and blend with anonymously.

However, let us remember that none of us is, or will remain, physically perfect. Who does not wear spectacles or is not slightly deaf or slightly lame? Who does not have muscular, respiratory or circulatory problems with which he or she must live? Which athlete or even Olympic medallist, fit as a fiddle at the time, does not suffer from arthritis and other agonies in old age. Fortunately, it is exactly these great athletes, with no axe to grind, who have set an example and done so much to draw attention to the problems of the disabled.

Sadly, everyone is or may be disabled in one way or another. It is just a matter of degree as to whether or not one is able to cope. It is then that money and privilege help a great deal. It should not be too hard for us to envisage what life would be like if our disability were of such a degree that we could no longer manage alone and yet could not afford the alternatives.

How do we translate this private compassion into public action? It is not easy. Yet it is all too easy by contrast to suppose that enough progress is being made. That little symbol depicting an invalid in a wheelchair is familiar to us all and has helped a great deal. With a few notorious exceptions, new public places are equipped with ramps and rest rooms for the wheelchair user. I am glad to say that tourist boards, led by the Welsh, have published booklets to help inform the disabled. That is excellent and fundamental, but there is a great deal more to integration than that. Merely the spread of that symbol must not lead us to suppose that progress at the moment is much more than skin deep.

Let us consider education. Disabled children are still being unnecessarily excluded from most schools where their presence would enhance both their own lives and those of other students. I turn to consider mobility. Appeals to two successive Ombudsmen have been entirely abortive—for reasons which are still unexplained—and the Department of Health's indefensible policy still holds of refusing to replace those unacceptable invalid tricycles with safe vehicles which would ensure that the disabled could at least be on equal terms of survival as the rest of us in getting to work.

Let us consider employment. The disabled are still pushed to the back of the queue and then frequently given only menial tasks to perform—insulting both their intellect and demeaning their self-esteem. I turn to consider housing. Over a quarter of a million people in Britain are housebound and the disabled are often not even identified on the waiting lists. I beg with the utmost humility to draw attention to the report and request that this House continues to ask what is being done about it until that question no longer demands an answer.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships' House is indeed fortunate in having the opportunity given to it this afternoon by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, to discuss the report of the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon. I have had great pleasure in reading this report. Your Lordships will be only too well aware of the emotions that usually pass through us when we are presented with a report and very often we suffer an inward groan, of, "Oh, another".

In this case the report is not only admirably laid out but compulsive reading. Your Lordships would have expected the noble Earl to produce something that is graphically satisfying to look at. The very Trajan lettering on the cover is an admirable choice and the symbol of the foot gives a very good introduction to anyone who has no particular connection with this area in seeking further. In the admirable foreword to the report the noble Earl has given very lucid and practical reasons why we should investigate this whole subject further. Indeed, today he said that public inertia was wholly underestimated. This sentiment is, of course, reflected throughout the report but perhaps nowhere more keenly than in Chapter V on page 46 where it says: We found that the lack of awareness by the general public of the problems of the disabled is one of the fundamental reasons why progress…has been so slow. The noble Earl referred to problems which have been identified in the report. It was the aim of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 to cast a duty on local authorities to identify the disabled themselves. Once those two are combined we may perhaps make a little more progress. However, it is a matter of regret that local authorities have been unable to make as much progress in this particular area as we should have liked.

In examining the report this afternoon it would be helpful to look at the 96 recommendations which the committee have set before us. Perhaps in her reply the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, could tell us the Government's plans for implementing those recommendations and the scale of priorities which they have in mind from reading the seven chapters and the seven very clear sets of recommendations set out in each chapter. Chapter 3 concerns itself with housing and there is one matter which should command our attention straight away. Paragraph 20 spells out very clear views on what should be done. It says that the immediate priorities should be, first: To establish the extent of the demand for new Part III accommodation". Secondly, To establish what further provisions are needed in the form of domiciliary care". Thirdly, To develop a real choice of life style combining housing with social services. Existing legislation has been found to be defective and surely nowhere can the report be more suitable applied than to Parliament.

In examining the shortcomings in previous legislation can we not take a look at two Acts which were specifically referred to in the report. First, the Town and Country Planning Act 1971. The report suggests an amendment to Section 30, and not only do the Working Party suggest an amendment to Section 30 but they set out exactly what they would like carried out. I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether she believes that this particular amendment would be acceptable to the Government.

Secondly, to pass from the planning aspect, I should like to turn to the General Rate Act 1967. Here a recommendation was made because of a decision of your Lordships' House acting in its Judicial capacity in the case of Vandyk v Oliver. This is quite a recent judgment concerning the question of rating relief upon what are termed major adaptations in a house for a disabled person. In this particular case your Lordships' House, in its Judicial capacity, made a recommendation which was harmful to the disabled persons concerned, but, further, the state of the law is now impaired. I draw your Lordships' attention to what the report says here because it may be possible to remedy the situation comparatively easily. It states: We therefore urge Parliament to clarify the position and establish in law those concessions which, prior to the House of Lords' ruling, had been deemed to exist. We must stand here in a situation in which a Statute has once again been found to be defective. There is a lesson here, because only a matter of a few months ago, in the last Session, we had another cause to return to the General Rate Act 1967 where the question of rating of charity shops had also led to a judgment in your Lordships' House. This was resolved by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King, and all-Party agreement. The lesson is surely this. Where there is a situation on which all-Party agreement can be achieved, would it not be much better for the Government to consider as a matter of urgency a small measure remedying the situation? I am certain, as I believe the noble Baroness is all too well aware, that professional advice in the matter of rating will be this: wait for Layfield; wait for the long-awaited Bill in regard to rating, and in due course all these many matters will be put right. I do not believe that the authors of the Report we are discussing this afternoon would feel that that was the answer at all. I believe that small amending legislation, such as the Charity Shops Rating Act of last year, can put right a situation which has arisen.

I turn to the numbers of disabled, to which both the noble Baroness and the noble Earl have referred. One of the fundamental documents in this regard is the Amelia Harris and Judith Buckle study entitled Handicapped and Impaired in Gt. Britain, which was written in 1971. Here they quote a figure of no fewer than 3 million people. One must also remember that over and above this figure there is quite a large grey zone in the population of people who are not actually handicapped but are on the fringes of disability, who are suffering from such complaints as severe arthritis which are not actually classed as disablement. Those people in that particular category could say with Mark Twain, "The world is sick, and I am far from well." I believe that public recognition must stem from a recognition of how many there are among our fellow citizens who suffer from some form of disability. It is only when this message has reached both Whitehall and the town halls that we shall make progress.

The noble Earl referred in some detail to the question of mobility and the question of the appeals to the Ombudsman in regard to invalid tricycles. There may be some crumb of comfort in reading in The Times of today that the car loan plan for the disabled is now being discussed by Ministers. This is indeed relatively good news if intention is carried a little further, because of course last July the Government said that in their view the tricycle, after consideration, was in fact an unsafe vehicle, but they were going to replace it with a mobility allowance.

This is a real step forward if the Government are now considering a new scheme, suggested by the Central Council for the Disabled and other bodies, which might take its place. The scheme would be, as we understand it, a four-wheeler vehicle, which would be a current production model suitably adapted for the disabled person. It would involve the commuting of the disabled person's mobility allowance for a period of about seven-and-a-half years. Here is a really ingenious idea, and if Ministers are presently discussing this scheme for four-wheelers which, from our knowledge and reading of the Sharp Report are so clearly to be preferred to the three-wheelers, some progress may be made in the near future. I hope that the noble Baroness, in her reply, may be able to make some comment about the present discussions taking place. It is further a matter of comment that in the present issue of today's Motor magazine there is an article by Mr. Peter MacBryan, of the Invalid Tricycle Action Group which so wholeheartedly condemns both Ministers and the Ombudsman for neglect of duty in this regard, that I hope that the combination of the spur of this debate in your Lordship's House and the condemnation in the Motor magazine may have some desirable effect on Her Majesty's Government.

I turn finally to the Silver Jubilee Appeal. Once again it is a matter of considerable pleasure that His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has decided that the first claim on the fund should be one of three purposes. The first of all, of course, is to enable young people to work together in helping others of all ages; secondly, to assist with grants as soon as possible specific youth projects in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Many of your Lordships are in enthusiastic support of a body known as PHAB—the physically handicapped and Able Bodied Group. It is precisely this type of activity which the Silver Jubilee Appeal aims to support—not this group alone, but perhaps many charities yet to be set up to encourage and carry out recommendations in the report.

I do not believe that any Silver Jubilee Appeal could possibly be more timely or more suitable when combined with this report before us. But we must remember—and I hope that the noble Baroness will remember—that this is not intended to let the Treasury off the hook, because of course the fundamental issue raised by the noble Baroness closely touches upon the question of income. I should finally like to make this point in regard to the invalidity pension because I believe it to be quite fundamental. Perhaps it should be addressed particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. If one may take one particular person in this whole field—the wife of somebody chronically sick or disabled who is hit by the earnings rule—she is hit by two forms of taxation. First, if she is over 60 her pension is reduced and, secondly, she pays income tax on her earnings above £35. Unfortunately, the change in the threshold will not take place for some time. It had been hoped it would be done in April, but we now understand that there is a delay of a number of weeks until the autumn, when the threshold may be raised to £50. Invalidity pensions and the earnings rule are fundamental to this whole field, and I hope that the Government will take note of our earnest plea in this regard.