§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. It is appropriate that there should be legislation going through Parliament during the International Year of Disabled People. Although legislation by itself does not answer all the problems of the disabled, it is a necessary framework, particularly in order to ensure that the benefits for disabled people are not just confined to this year of 1981 but are ongoing.
The last major piece of legislation for disabled people was the 1970 Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. That was a tremendous step forward, but 11 years have elapsed since it reached the statute hook and there have been apparently many areas 1483 which need strengthening. There have been a number of attempts to bring forward legislation by means of Private Members' Bills in the other place to answer the gaps in existing law. For example, Mr. Edwin Wainwright, Member of Parliament for the Dearne Valley, introduced a Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons (Amendment) Bill in the 1978–79 Session of Parliament, but although this received a Second Reading in the other place it was lost with the advent of the 1979 general election. Again, Mr. Stanley Orme, Member of Parliament for Salford West, tried to bring forward a similar Bill in the following year, but there was no time available in the other place for it to have a Second Reading.
That, too, was the prospect for the present Bill. it's sponsor in the other place, Mr. Daffyd Wigly, the Member of Parliament for Caernarvon, drew 10th place in the ballot and there was no time for a Second Reading debate. However, the strength of feeling in the other place that there should be legislation during the International Year of Disabled People on matters of concern for disabled people was shown by the fact that 328 Members of Parliament, over half the membership of the other place, signed a Motion supporting the need for legislation to help disabled people.
The Bill before your Lordships today is a very limited one, a fact dictated by virtue of it having to find its way through the other place procedure without time for formal debate. Despite its restricted nature, it is the feeling of the All-Party Disablement Group in Parliament, as well as of bodies such as the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation, that it is worth securing for a number of reasons to which I shall refer in a moment. I hope with the help and wisdom of the Government your Lordships will be able to improve this Bill. We have already heard from the Government that the access clause is to be strengthened. We are also hopeful that it will be possible during the Bill's passage through your Lordships' House that it can be strengthened and extended in other directions. I hope that the Bill's scope may be widened to encompass Northern Ireland. The Minister for the Disabled himself, Mr. Hugh Rossi, stated in the other place when this Bill came up for its Third Reading that he appreciated that it had not yet been possible to go as far as he would have liked. It is, therefore, my hope that this Bill will not only deal with a few specific problems facing disabled people but will also create a framework for further legislation in the future.
The United Kingdom still has a long way to go to catch up with the provisions made for disabled people in certain other advanced Western countries, notably those in Scandinavia. I very much hope that the general debate surrounding this Bill, and in the country on the issue of the International Year of Disabled People, will awaken a desire to make much more significant progress on these matters over the next few years.
Clause 1 of the Bill is aimed at strengthening the safeguards for blind people in particular, but also for other disabled people whose mobility is impaired by their handicap, in relation to their use of the public highway, and specifically the pavements. This is a matter which has been of great concern to organisations campaigning on behalf of the blind. In 1979 the 1484 National Federation for the Blind, with the support of the National League of the Blind and Disabled, Help the Aged, the Pedestrians Association and a number of other bodies, started a campaign under the title "Give us back our pavements". The object of the campaign is to clear up cluttered pavements in order to ensure that blind, partially blind and other handicapped persons can safely use the pavements. The campaign accuses local authorities of continuing to erect bollards and other street furniture indiscriminately without any thought for blind or partially-sighted pedestrians. It is appropriate that we are discussing this clause today because tomorrow, 6th June, is National Pavement Day. They also accuse gas, electricity and water authorities, the GPO and local councils of often erecting insufficient guarding for street work undertaken by them, and when the work is completed of leaving pavements in an appalling condition.
Clause 1(1) places a statutory duty on any authority which undertakes works on the highway, which includes the pavements adjacent to such highways, to have regard to the needs of blind and disabled persons. Subsection (2) extends this responsibility to cover the placing of lamposts, bollards and other pavement obstructions in the street. Subsection (4) deals with protecting temporary obstructions such as road works.
Subsection (3) is of relevance not only to blind persons and those in wheelchairs, but also to the general public, not least mothers wheeling prams. It places a statutory responsibility on local authorities to consider the needs of disabled persons when deciding whether or not it is appropriate to provide a ramping between a pavement and a street. The benefit that would accrue from a positive approach to such ramping by local authorities is self-evident. The National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom strongly supports these provisions in Clause 1 of the Bill. They are, incidentally, very worried about the possible effect of the recent Green Paper on the use of pavements and those cycling on them.
Clause 2 attempts to deal with one aspect of a major problem facing disabled people and that is the abuse of special parking arrangements which are made on their behalf. I should, however, make it clear that this clause does not deal with one major bone of contention which is at present under consideration by the Department of Transport—namely, the orange badge scheme. That scheme, which was provided under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 is currently being seriously abused with the net effect that there are pressures not to issue badges in some areas and disabled people thus suffer because of the unthinking abuse of the scheme by others. However, the Government themselves have given a commitment to deal with this abuse under the revised orange badge scheme which will create a new offence of abuse of the orange badge. Perhaps the Minister when she responds later today will confirm that this commitment still stands and can indicate, hopefully, that progress might be made in this matter in this Bill. It would seem sensible to have at least two badges, one for temporary disabled people and one for those people who are permanently disabled.
The Road Traffic Regulation Act 1967 gives powers to local authorities to provide parking spaces by order and allows them to make fines on summary conviction 1485 of up to £5 on the first offence and up to £10 on subsequent offences. This level of fines has been increased since the date of that Act. The purpose of this clause is to introduce a new specific offence for those who abuse parking spaces restricted for the use of disabled people. A fine for any offence under this clause will entail a fine of up to £50 and it is important that there should always be a higher fine for such mean offences against the disabled community than for normal parking offences. We therefore hope that the Government, if at any later stage they decide to increase fines for ordinary parking offences, will further increase the £50 upper limit so as to keep a real deterrent effect in the differential.
The new category of offence also relates to the abuse of parking places for disabled people in streets on the highway. I should just like to say here that parking in central London is virtually impossible for disabled drivers and no parking places seem to be allocated to them at all. Taken together with the anticipated tightening up of the orange badge scheme, this new provision should help make life a little easier for disabled people who so often find that the parking provision made for them is currently abused, if it is made at all.
Clause 3 has been the aspect of the Bill which has received the most attention in the press and the media and deals with the need to improve the legislative framework securing access for disabled persons into and out of buildings to which the public have a right of access, and for securing their mobility inside such buildings and I hope also to and from car parks.
There has been much criticism of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 because its access provisions have been insufficient and have not been binding. Sections 4 to 8 of that Act deal with this question and it might be as well to dwell for a moment on the wording of Section 4. It says:Any person undertaking the provision of any building or premises to which the public are to be admitted, whether on payment or otherwise, shall, in the means of access both to and within the building or premises, and in the parking facilities and sanitary conveniences to be available (if any) make provision, in so far as it is in the circumstances both practicable and reasonable, for the needs of members of the public visiting the building or premises who are disabled.The problem is that there is no sanction for those who do not abide by the provisions of this and subsequent sections. More to the point, perhaps, is that there is no means within either the planning legislation, at least as it has up to now been interpreted, or in the building regulations procedures which ensures that a statutory responsibility laid down by Section 4 of the 1970 Act is pursued at critical stages of development of new buildings.
There are three ways of tackling this problem. The first is the use of planning legislation and in the case of England and Wales, the Town and Country Planning Act 1970. It has been the intention of the sponsor of this Bill in the other place to bring in new powers in this Bill which would make it mandatory on local authorities to lay down as part of their planning consent, conditions that the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 should be adhered to where appropriate. It has generally been thought up to now that local planning authorities, far from being mandated to make such planning conditions, were not even permitted to make access for the 1486 disabled—a matter that is a material factor in giving or withholding planning permission.
However, the position has changed somewhat during the discussions that have taken place during the progress of this Bill and of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Scotland Bill which your Lordships considered earlier this week. The Department of the Environment for England and Wales and the Scottish Office for Scotland have now agreed to issue a new circular this summer which will point out to local authorities that they already have powers under the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 to make planning permission conditional on the provision of access for disabled people. This is a major step forward and one can only ask how on earth it could have been that such powers have not been pointed out to local authorities over the past 10 years. It will now be up to local authorities to ensure that they use these powers and to local councils and organisations campaigning for the disabled, to keep a watchful eye on the situation. I hope that the Minister can give your Lordships an assurance that the circular which is to go out to local authorities will be of real use and that the Government will consult with interested parties.
The purpose of Clause 3 of the Bill as it stands is to make it mandatory on every local planning authority when granting planning permission for the development of the building to which Sections 4 to 8 of the 1970 Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act applies, to draw to the attention of the developers their responsibility under that Act and to the code of practice—BS 5810, 1979–which is the Code of Practice for Access for the Disabled to Buildings. The practice of notifying developers in this way is already undertaken by the better local authorities such as Hove in England and Arfon in Wales. It is said to be very helpful practice. This Bill makes it good practice hereafter; the standing practice for all planning authorities.
The third aspect is that of the mobility of the disabled inside buildings, which is not covered by the imposition of planning conditions. Planning can deal with the access and egress for disabled persons, but mobility inside buildings is a design rather than a planning factor. There is a strong feeling that building regulations based on BS 5810/79 should be developed and applied to ensure that this aspect is safeguarded. As it currently stands, the Bill does not make such provision, but in view of the new proposals introduced by the Government on Tuesday night into the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, which appears to bring the code of practice provisions into the sphere of building regulations, I would hope that at a later stage of this Bill it will be possible also to move in this direction for England and Wales.
There can be no doubt that a properly laid down procedure, inspected by a local authority stage by stage, as a building is constructed, with the proper sanctions against those who do not comply with the requirements of the code of practice, will be the most effective step to ensure that more than lip-service is paid to the needs of disabled people inside buildings as well as in terms of access and egress to and from buildings. I hope that when she replies the Minister will be able to give some indication of Government thinking on this matter.
1487 Clause 4 does the same for Scotland as Clause 3 does for England and Wales. However, in view of the progress on this matter that has been made in the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, the Report stage of which we discussed in this Chamber on Tuesday, it would now appear that the provisions of this clause may no longer be necessary. We shall, therefore, consider amendments in Committee that will adjust this Bill so as not to duplicate what has already been provided for in the Scotland Bill.
I come to Clause 5. Section 7 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 requires that buildings falling into the categories covered by Sections 4 to 6 of that Act—namely, ones into which the public are to be admitted and which, therefore, should make provision for the needs of disabled people—should have signs outside indicating that such provision is made. However, this is not enough. Not only should people know that there is access for disabled people to buildings, or that there are lavatories inside them, but clearly they should be made aware of the way in which disabled people might be able to move inside the building in order to get to these lavatories; likewise, for disabled people to get out of buildings and to the car park, there should be sign-posting. Such signs should also be displayed in universities and school buildings covered by Section 8 of the 1970 Act, and in offices and other premises covered by Section 8A of that Act.
The purpose of Clause 5 of the Bill, therefore, is to extend the use of sign-posting in this way so that a disabled person can move about inside buildings easily and not he left merely with an indication of the facilities on a small sign on the outside of that building.
Finally, we come to Clause 7. The only reference which needs to be made to this clause is our hope that it may be possible, in later stages of this Bill through your Lordships' House, to include the necessary form of words that will enable its scope to extend to Northern Ireland. Sadly, it seems that there are likely to be more people in Northern Ireland who are in need of these facilities and provisions, and the least that we can do in this Chamber is to try to ensure that they do not miss out on this Bill.
On Tuesday an amendment requiring local authorities to appoint access officers was widely supported by many of your Lordships. This was for Scotland, but it seems important for England too. It is vital that scarce money is not wasted by doing the wrong thing, and I can assure your Lordships that there is nothing more frustrating for disabled people than to find something like a lavatory or a ramp which has been especially installed for them but which they cannot use because it has been incorrectly arranged. No doubt many of your Lordships will have read in the press of the lavatory for disabled people which was especially built at the new Covent Garden complex, the only problem being that it was built down 19 steps. All of us who are disabled can give many similar examples.
Disability varies; there are the blind, the wheelchair-bound, the ambulant disabled and others. Every local authority should have its expert advisers on access. I very much hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, 1488 will agree that a job will be more efficiently carried out if the person supervising knows and understands what is needed.
As I sat in my car collecting the meat from the butcher last Thursday a car drew up not far from me. Out got a woman and a young boy. The woman went to the boot of her car and lifted out a wheelchair. She then went to the passenger seat and helped out a young girl of about seven. The three of them went towards a shop and found that it had steps, so the woman and the boy went in leaving the little girl sitting in her wheelchair on the pavement. This week I went down to visit Stoke Mandeville hospital, and the spinal unit was full of young paralysed people.
In introducing new legislation to help so many disabled people in this country, the country is doing a really worthwhile, humanitarian job. It must not be forgotten that what is useful and helpful to disabled people is of use to everyone, whoever they are, and more so if they live to be elderly. I very much hope that this legislation will come into force during this 1981 International Year of Disabled People. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Masham of Ilton.)
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Lord Banks
My Lords, I should like, briefly but warmly, to welcome the Bill. We, on these Benches, fully support it. I should also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, for the way in which she has introduced the Bill to the House today. She has explained the provisions of the Bill very clearly indeed and I agree with all that she said in support of them.
As it stands—and the noble Baroness made this point—it is a modest measure. Nevertheless, in the form in which it stands, even without the developments of Tuesday evening, we would have welcomed it in the year of disabled people as a token of the national desire to give help to the disabled in this particular year and as a forerunner of more far-reaching legislation for which we would hope at a later date.
There are six provisions in the Bill which have been outlined by the noble Baroness, and three of them relate to access. The views expressed by the Silver Jubilee Committee and the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People have made it clear that although the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 sets out provisions for access for the disabled, it has proved almost impossible to enforce them. The fact that some requirement was not reasonable or practicable seems to provide a perfect excuse for noncompliance.
We, on these Benches, therefore welcome most warmly—as my noble friend Lord Winstanley made clear at the time—the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, on Tuesday to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill. As the noble Baroness has said, it is a significant step forward in the enforcement in Scotland of the access provisions of the 1970 Act. We are grateful too to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and those who supported him in all parts of the House when he tabled the amendment in the first place. We welcome most warmly the expressed intention of the Government 1489 to move a similar amendment to this Bill in Committee to apply the provision to England and Wales. The amendment will greatly strengthen the Bill, and will help to make the Bill worthy of the year of its birth. We look forward to the speedy passage of this Bill through the House.
§ 1.21 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, on her introduction of this Bill, and for piloting it through your Lordships' House. I should also like to congratulate those in another place who were responsible for helping to get this Bill to us, and in particularly the honourable Member for Caernarvon, Mr. Wigley. As the noble Baroness has reminded us, the Bill in this form has not been discussed at all in Parliament. It has been the subject of a great deal of negotiation with the Government behind the scenes. Therefore, I hope that at its various stages in this House we shall be able to air publicly some of the matters in the Bill, and some of those which may still be at issue. I understand very well, as I am sure others do who have been in the Commons, the difficulties that exist in finding time for Private Member's Bills, especially if they are controversial or complicated.
I intend to speak almost wholly on the question of access for disabled people to buildings. This subject has now become, since last week, closely linked with a Government Bill; namely, the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, which is still before this House. Three days ago there was a breakthrough as regards access to the disabled in the addition that was made to that Bill. A very significant new clause was added late last Tuesday night. The Government had put down that new clause amendment on the same lines as the one that I had tabled at the Committee stage.
That new clause, and it was the new clause that I had drafted with some small drafting changes, constitutes the first strengthening of the 1970 Act—the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act—on this subject of access in 11 years since it first was passed. So I should like again to thank the Government for acting fairly fast, as they did behind the scenes, and for changing their minds from what they had been saying earlier in another place. I should particularly like to thank my noble friend Lord Mansfield, who was the Minister who had to hear the brunt of getting this change agreed and brought forward in time.
My noble friend Lord Mansfield in his speech on Tuesday evening also stated that the Government intended to extend the purposes of the new clause to the rest of the country, and that they intended to use this Bill, a Private Member's Bill, to allow that to happen. So we understand that the Government at a later stage will be bringing forward the necessary new clauses or amendments to this Bill, in order to carry out what has now already been done in the Scottish Local Government Bill.
As some of your Lordships will know, I am chairman for Scotland of the International Year of Disabled People, so I particularly welcome this development in 1981 and am glad to have played a part in it myself. I am sure that the other three chairmen, the chairmen for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, who are not in Parliament, will also be very glad indeed that 1490 the Government are making this important advance in 1981. I should just like to ask my noble friend the Minister when she comes to reply whether she can confirm that Northern Ireland is included, because that was not made clear on Tuesday evening. I assume that the statement meant that at the earliest opportunities the equivalent of the new clause would be extended to all the other three parts of the United Kingdom. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lady Young for the part which she must have played too in going into this matter in recent weeks and arriving at a decision that this advance should be made, and should be made for all parts of the United Kingdom.
I should briefly like to state what this forthcoming change consists of. The 1970 Act prescribed that there should be access for disabled people for all new buildings that were going to be built, were being designed and which were for use by the public. It was not only buildings owned publicly, such as libraries; it was also shops and pubs and other places which were privately owned but were used by the public as a whole. Wheelchair access and also facilities inside for severely disabled people were prescribed. But a number of buildings have been designed and built since 1970 without providing proper access arrangements. There was in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1979 the safeguard that this would be required only if access arrangements were both practicable and reasonable. When buildings have been constructed which were for use by the public and have demonstrably not had access of this kind, the reason why it has been impossible to enforce the 1970 Act is that there was no way of determining what was both practicable and reasonable.
Many complaints have been made and efforts made to try to put this to the test, but there was simply no system for testing what was both practicable and reasonable. That is why it has been impossible to achieve compliance with this part of the 1970 Act. What the new clause which I originally tabled some weeks ago, which the Government with drafting changes have now adopted and which is now in the Scottish Bill, provides is an independent system of determining what is both practicable and reasonable. This follows recommendations of the Silver Jubilee Committee. That committee advocated in January 1979 that this should be done. It was also advocated by the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People. These are two bodies which represent a wide range of bodies who have been campaigning for disabled people.
The effect of the new clause now in the Scottish Bill, and which we understand will be added to this Bill for the rest of the United Kingdom, is to strengthen the 1970 Act. It may be asked why this was done first in a Scottish Bill; that this has been an untidy way of doing it. But there is nothing unusual about that. We have separate legislation, and this happens from time to time. I must remind your Lordships that when the 1970 Act was first presented as a Bill—and I was closely involved with Mr. Alf Morris at that time—it was drafted for England and Wales. Scotland was not in it, and it was only after some weeks of my drawing attention to the matter that the position was changed; in fact, I obtained help to draft a separate Private Member's Bill for Scotland which followed the same lines.
1491 The Government of the day, who had been helping Mr. Alf Morris with the drafting of his Bill—also, of course, saying how it must be restricted because, naturally, they were prepared to help only if it was within certain limits—came to the rescue and eventually provided the amendments which extended to Scotland the 1970 Act, when it was a Bill. But that happened only at a very late stage; it was on Report that the amendments extending it to Scotland were included, the Bill having gone right through its close examination in Committee as a measure applying to England and Wales. So, if a Government can contemplate with equanimity a major advance in this field, which is what the 1970 Act was, applying to parts of the United Kingdom but not to all of it, and notably not to Scotland, then I do not think we need have any difficulty in accepting a similar procedure in the reverse direction; on this occasion the breakthrough has been made in a Scottish Bill. It was going through at the right time and as a Government Bill.
Can my noble friend Lady Young give an approximate timetable? I realise she cannot be exact. My noble friend Lord Mansfield gave an indication on Tuesday night of how long it might take before the Secretary of State for Scotland would be able to prescribe the body or bodies to carry out the determination of what is both practical and reasonable in Scotland, and the Secretaries of State for England, Wales and Northern Ireland will no doubt have a similar duty. We should be interested to have a rough timetable of when the Government foresee the new procedure coming into operation.
I wish to comment, albeit briefly, on access officers, because my noble friend Lady Masham referred to the subject. I must again accept some responsibility because I tabled the amendment on access officers in Committee on the Scottish Bill, having myself done the drafting for it to be in a Scottish Bill. My intention was to have a discussion of the subject and to hear the Government's views. But I must make it clear that I never intended to press that amendment if the Government had any objections to it. I say that because almost every local authority in Scotland has already designated an access officer; and therefore if there were objections to my new clause in that respect, it was not a proposal I intended to press. While I am not familiar with what goes on south of the Border, it would have been wrong to try to press that new clause into the Scottish Bill because access officers are being designated in Scotland satisfactorily by the local authorities. Having myself drafted and tabled the original amendment on that, I did not table it again on Report; I thought a useful discussion of the subject was all that was required, and I am of course speaking in that respect about Scotland.
I am glad we have this Bill before us and I am pleased to think that in your Lordships' House we have this opportunity today, and will have others, which are not available in the other place, to discuss it. I hope the Bill will emerge at the end of the day not only with the advance concerning access, which we have already been told the Government intend to put into it, but with the other parts of the Bill which the noble Baroness outlined and which will also be helpful to disabled people.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I shall be as brief as possible at the end of what has been a long and trying week in your Lordships' House. I wish at the outset to thank my noble friend Lady Masham for introducing the Bill. With her great knowledge, she presented it with the customary clarity she brings to anything she does in this House. In one of my capacities outside, I am national chairman of all the leagues of hospital friends—1,285 different leagues—and in that capacity I have the privilege of working with and trying to help some of those people suffering from disabilities, and I mean disabilities in the widest possible sense—physical and mental—those of us who can get around and those who are bedridden. I wish the Bill could have helped the bedridden, but unfortunately it must aim at trying to implement the 1970 Act, so it deals more or less exclusively with those who are able to get around. Indeed. I wish the Bill were not necessary, but those of us with problems realise that something must be done, and that is why we are so grateful to my noble friend Lady Masham.
I feel very strongly that people need to be taught. Those of us who suffer from a disability know the problems; but those who do not, do not appreciate what we are trying to overcome. I could single out, for example, the architects and designers of new and old buildings. Not far from here, opposite the West door of Westminster Abbey, is a brand new bank. I tried hard to get into that bank on a rainy day not long ago and found it utterly impossible to do so. Also a few days ago I opened a community centre and to my horror discovered that leading up to the stage, in what is not a very large centre, was only a ramp with no handrails, and therefore for me, with two sticks, it was utterly impossible to get on to the stage. It was with equal horror that the local authority realised that the community centre, which was designed almost (or supposed to be) for disabled people as a meeting place, discovered that it was impossible to get on to the stage unless one was in a wheelchair.
Some people ask me, "What do disabled people who can get around actually need?" I have noted, for instance, that the blind need inside buildings a rail to enable them to walk; the deaf in public galleries need amplification and headphones such as we have in this Chamber: the wheelchair people need ramps to get up and down any incline or decline; those on crutches or sticks cannot manage ramps—how few people seem to realise that—so they must have steps at the side of the ramps. That applies to steps going into a building, inside a building and from pavement to road. I believe that is covered by a provision in the Bill in which the noble Baroness is endeavouring to make it easier for people to get off the pavement and across the road, and one sees so many wheelchair people unable to get their wheelchairs up the pavement. But we must nevertheless have the pavement edge and not always the sloping pavement.
Those of us who are lucky enough to drive have problems with parking. My local town does not have a single parking place for disabled people. I do not expect that it ever will, though perhaps with any luck following the passing of the Bill somebody might jog the arm of the local authority. I find that the new chopping precincts have ample parking spaces for cars 1493 driven by the disabled, and usually it is possible to find a parking space, unless someone who should not be using it has already parked there.
I think that the general public would say to us that we do not make our needs well enough known. Perhaps some of us suffer from pride. We do not like to ask for help. But today we have the opportunity to ask the Government and the Minister for help, in this special year, and it is for that reason that I hope that the Bill will speedily go through your Lordships' House.
§ 1.41 p.m.
§ Viscount Ingleby
My Lords, I should like to begin by offering an apology on behalf of my noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) who is unable to be present because she is attending a family funeral. I know that she would support some of my remarks if she were able to be present. This is a small Bill. Perhaps one might liken it to a small child, and in saying that I want to pay tribute to the enormous amount of hard work that has already been devoted to the Bill in another place. However, I should like to ask the Government whether they are satisfied that this Bill is the best Bill that can be produced for disabled people at this time?
I have just likened the Bill to a small child, and I am delighted to say that the small child has grown up considerably in the last few days. I hope that that growth will continue while the Bill is passing through your Lordships' House and that by the time its passage is complete it will have grown up to adulthood and will be a Bill of which not only your Lordships' House, but the Government and in fact Parliament as a whole can be proud.
I wish for a few moments to turn to Clause 1 of the Bill. Subsection (3) provides that:Highway authorities shall have regard to the needs of disabled persons when considering the desirability of providing ramps at appropriate places between carriageways and footways.I wonder whether we cannot put that a little more strongly and provide that when kerbs at pedestrian crossings are replaced sloped kerb-stones should be used, though I take the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, that this might not be suitable for blind people.
With regard to Clause 2, and the subject of fines to be imposed on able bodied people parking on spaces provided for disabled drivers, I would say that I understand that proposals are in hand to increase the ordinary parking fine maximum from £20 to £50. If that is so, I think it would be important to maintain the differential, so that the fine for parking on spaces provided for the disabled should go up in proportion to £125. I mention this point because it is a very important one to disabled people. If someone else parks on their spot, unlike other drivers they cannot find another parking space just a little farther away. Probably they have to go away, being unable to park at all in the area.
With regard to Clause 3, relating to access, the original proposal in the Bill was merely that the attention of developers must be drawn to the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, with the addition, much welcomed, of the building standard No. 5810. Now, since last Tuesday, we hope 1494 that the clause will be greatly strengthened so far as new buildings are concerned. Along with my colleagues who spoke in the debate on the Scottish Bill, I am delighted about this, though we should like to see some of the details spelt out later.
However, this clause does not provide any benefit in relation to existing buildings, and this point reminds me of an instance in this building the other day when I had some guests who were in wheelchairs. I went to the Central Lobby to get them tickets for the other place, but found that I could not get my own wheelchair into the Admission Order Office, where one has to go to get tickets for disabled people. Obviously in this kind of instance a little good natured pressure needs to be applied, and I feel that every local authority should appoint someone who is responsible for applying good natured pressure towards improving access to existing buildings. Someone already on the staff of the local authority should have such a responsibility. We have heard that in Scotland all but two local authorities already have access officers.
Access is so vital. We talk about integrating disabled people, but how can you be integrated if you cannot get to your place of work, cannot find a parking place so as to go shopping, or cannot get to evening classes and so on? Access is absolutely vital. So I very much hope that every local authority will designate someone who will gently pressurise, so as to secure improvements to existing buildings.
I should like to finish with a small point. The wheelchair sign is sometimes used in relation to facilities designed only for the ambulant disabled and which are not suitable for those in wheelchairs. It is not much good displaying a wheelchair sign if the facilities are not suitable for disabled people in wheelchairs.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ The Earl of Swinton
My Lords, first, I wish to congratulate my noble kinswoman on the excellent way in which she has introduced the Bill today—but of course I am a little biased. I should also like to congratulate the honourable Member in the other place who presented the Bill. We have been told by the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, that the Bill is like a baby and it is growing and growing. This is much to be welcomed.
Your Lordships may feel that you see addressing you today a very fit and healthy Lord. I must admit that the fact that I might look a little pallid is due to a temporary disability, since yesterday I went to celebrate the wedding of the son of my noble friend the Leader of the House. It is a purely temporary disability. Some of your Lordships might think that I am a little too large to be absolutely perfect, but on the whole I am a fairly fit chap. The people on whose behalf I wish to speak today are I believe not so often considered when the disabled are being discussed. If I call them the "pushers" that might attract a rather bad connotation, but they are the people who take charge of, and move about, people who are in wheelchairs. So on the whole I find myself very warmly in favour of the Bill and of making access easier.
Although I say to your Lordships that you see before you a fairly healthy person, during the last 10 years I have suffered from two hernias. I am not to say 1495 that they were either directly or indirectly a result of my having to push my noble kinswoman around the place. But I can certainly say that when you have a hernia, having to lug a wheelchair up a set of flights is probably not the best thing to do, and on those occasions before I could go on I either collapsed or sat down at the top of the stairs until the beastly thing went back into place. Therefore what is now being proposed will benefit not only people in wheelchairs, but other people, too.
What annoys me is the misuse of the orange badge scheme for parking. I am delighted that the penalties for parking in places reserved for disabled drivers are to be increased. But is there no way in which to deal with the misuse of the orange badge? I think one of the troubles is that the symbol of a wheelchair on the badge is not a good thing. I sometimes drop the noble Baroness off somewhere and go on myself to another meeting, or something, and I have her mobile badge in the car. I am glad to say (and I am not trying to blow my own trumpet or boast) that I have never yielded to the temptation of using it for parking myself somewhere on a yellow line and leaving the badge up, but the temptation is there.
I think that what perhaps annoys other motorists is to see somebody with a yellow badge stop their car, get out and walk away looking perfectly fit. I am quite aware that these people may well perhaps have a heart problem, or some sort of respiratory problem, or something like that, and that they are in fact disabled, but I think that in a way this is rather immaterial. It is a fact that stuck on the badge is the symbol of a wheelchair, and people think, "That person is not in a wheelchair and is therefore fit, and should not be allowed to park there". This makes people frustrated and angry. I was wondering whether there was any way in which the Government could consider a different badge of some sort for different forms of disability. I think this would be purely a public relations act, but would in fact make it more easy to weed out the sinners from those who are perfectly entitled to use a disabled badge.
I would also welcome the signposting of disabled facilities; but again—this is something I feel very strongly about, and I do not think it would cost any money—I was wondering whether an amendment could be made at some time to stop what I would say is the signposting of non-facilities. I have travelled around the country with my noble kinswoman and on one occasion we had to stay somewhere in the West Country. We looked in a guide (I think it was the AA handbook) to find a suitable hotel, and we found one with the symbol of a wheelchair against it. I rang up to book a room and they said they had a marvellous room with a specially-adapted too, wide doors which opened the right way, and all that. I said, "That's splendid; it sounds grand". They said, "Of course, it is up a flight of stairs". I said, "What do you mean—is it not suitable for disabled '?" "Oh, yes", they said, "once you get up the flight of stairs it is perfectly suitable for disabled"—and here it was in the book with a wheelchair symbol against it.
Also, I cannot believe that every single service station on every single motorway is in fact suitable to be coped with by somebody in a wheelchair; but it 1496 seems to me that every single one of them, since the passing of the last Act, has put up a little sign with a wheelchair on it. I think it may be a question rather like the animals of Animal Farm; every motorway station is suitable for disabled people, but some are more suitable than others. I wonder whether it might not he possible to bring in an amendment at some stage to provide a form of punishment for, as it were, advertising as being suitable when in fact they are not. This is a most maddening situation. People have rather "cottoned on" to the fact that it is a good thing to shove up a sign showing a little chap sitting in a wheelchair, and that all will then be well.
I remember another hotel that we stopped at for lunch coming down from the Borders of Scotland. I went down after lunch to use the lavatory, and there were terrific works going on. They were terribly pleased, and I said, "What are you doing"? They said, "Oh, we are building a brand-new loo for the disabled". I said, "Has it occurred to you that it is down nine steps?". They said, "We didn't think about that", and there they were in the middle of building it. Doubtless when they had finished they would have put up a little sign saying, "Disabled Loo". People do not think a great deal, and if there could be some form of pecuniary fine for people who misuse these signs I think it might not be a bad idea. I throw that out as a suggestion.
One thing that worries me a bit about this Bill (if I can use Lord Ingleby's metaphor of this being a baby) is that we might push too hard in trying to make too many amendments, so that we throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think we have to be careful. The Government have been very good, and have shown this week how they are prepared to give way in some respects. I just hope we do not press for too much. I can see that my scheme about the disabled badge could lead to all sorts of complications and might create more expense, but I really think that some form of legislation against the wrong signposting of facilities for the disabled might be a possibility. But I should like to welcome this Bill most warmly, like everybody else who has spoken in this House this afternoon.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Lord Hale
My Lords, I had the gravest doubt about putting my name down at all to speak in this debate, and I really only did so because I had to be here for another, similar debate and I did not at that time know what course to take. Having read and studied this admirable Bill, it does not seem to me specially apt for a Second Reading debate, which was the view taken in the House of Commons, where, so far as I can see, on Second Reading it was not discussed at all. That, I am sure, was a tribute to the authorship of the Bill and no doubt took into account the discussions which had already taken place there on the problem, which is a known problem and which has for years been one of the most difficult and intractable problems. Apart from the problems of expense, and apart from the problems of older buildings being adapted, and so on, for the purpose of access, on the other stages of the Bill we have always run up against the very real problem of enforcement.
1497 The noble Baroness, Lady MacLeod of Borve, was saying that in her part of the world—I am not quite sure where she lives, but I imagine it is south of the Trent—there is no provision at all. One of the reasons why people balk at making provision is that they say, first of all, that there is often no use made of it for considerable periods; but much more often they say, "The moment we put them up they are used by non-disabled people". It is very difficult, in almost all the circumstances they put up, to bring a prosecution and to enforce it. But that is not what I intended to say, my Lords.
What I intended to say to the noble Baroness and others is that I sometimes feel that you have to go north of the Border (and the House does not know all it should about the industrial north of England, and about the problems there) to see where the problems of disablement are particularly acute. I think that since the death of John Peel too few Members of this House have had the opportunity of becoming familiar with, say, industrial Lancashire. In Oldham, where the problem was acute and where we have the privilege of being built, like Rome, on seven hills—though they are not wholly similar in appearance or design—we have a large number of industrially disabled and, of course, we, too, took part in the war. The housing problems, which left few facilities and even a shortage of lavatory accommodation, presented quite special difficulties.
One of my constituents came to me and said, "Only the seriously disabled can comprehend and share the problems of the seriously disabled". That was his text: and he said that he proposed to build or to adapt a substantial building which would provide facilities where the disabled would he entertained, which would meet the problems of access and which would allow the disabled to sit in their chairs when they went into any part of the building to attend the entertainment inside. That was designed 20 years ago, and it was completed.
It is only when one gets the disabled together that one comes to the conclusion that the most serious ailment of all is probably loneliness. The loss of a husband or wife is the most complete loss one can have, and how is one going to deal with that?
My Lords, I apologise for going slightly upside down. The problems presented at the Second Reading were immediately resolved by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, who does speak, as the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, said, with peculiar clarity. One recalls her speech in the debate on disablement in which she gave us a whole list of things, and today she has explained them word by word. From what was said earlier it is obvious, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said, that in view of what happened last Tuesday there will have to be discussions and presumably preliminary analysis before this Bill comes to Committee. It is not a matter of time because this is too important a subject to have any time limit. There is no reason why I should waste any more of your Lordships' time, but I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Elton, for showing once again her indomitable spirit coupled with her great ability in taking another useful and substantial step towards helping the disabled.
§ 2.3 p.m.
My Lords, I, too, should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Elton, for the excellent work she does not only on behalf of the disabled but also on behalf of many other organisations. I well remember when the noble Baroness and I went to Brussels and how she overcame all the difficulties she faced one after the other. That gave me a wonderful example of what can be done with determination. Her noble kinsman might like to know that during the time I was in the other House a party from Plymouth visited us for three or four days every year, travelling by coach. Many of them were pushed around in their wheelchairs both in this House and the other House and were also given tea on the Terrace. There were some difficulties, but we managed to overcome them quite happily. Perhaps I may just mention that we are constructing a special building in Plymouth for people who have suffered strokes and had accidents, where they can learn to speak and to use their limbs again. That building is due to be finished early next year at a cost of some £140,000 and I hope that some of your Lordships will be able to come down to see it. I hope that we have not made any mistakes with that building.
I should just like to emphasise one or two points including the wrongful parking of cars. Some of your noble Lordships with special badges have received parking tickets and know what to do with them, whereas many people do not and have to pay the fines. I should like to support what has been mentioned about badges. The yellow badge system is very badly abused. Quite a number of persons have one of these badges and, when the passenger to whom it relates is not in the car, they continue to take advantage of the facilities provided by the badge. Not only that, but a great number of badges are meant to be only temporary and are issued on the basis that once the person to whom the badge relates completely recovers, it will be returned. However, people go on using them beyond that time. I should like to suggest that, when a temporary badge is issued for a temporary disability, it should be valid for, say, three months and then it could be renewed if necessary. The temporary badge should be of a different colour; permanent badges could remain yellow but the temporary badge might be coloured purple so that the police could distinguish between the two. I should have thought that an initial period of three months in the case of a temporary badge was quite long enough.
I should also like to refer to the case of post offices and other public buildings. The interesting fact is that persons have to visit a post office to receive their mobility allowance and also their children's allowance. Very often they cannot get into the post office because there are steps, and it does seem very odd that proper provision is not made for them. It could he said that disabled people may have payment sent direct to their hank or giro account hut there are many members of the public who do not have bank or giro accounts.
I should like to see investigated the question of how many post offices are accessible to the disabled and whether or not those which do not offer access could have a cashpoint style dispenser in the wall so that, in the same way as one can go and obtain money from 1499 a cash dispenser outside an ordinary bank, the disabled would be able to obtain cash from those post offices which did not offer adequate access. Such a thing would be very helpful. It is very difficult in country districts. I have made small surveys in parts of London and also in Wiltshire and find that practically all the post offices are inaccessible to people in wheelchairs and also to those people mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, who have to try to get into post offices with their inconvenient steps. Also mentioned has been the difficulty of getting across crossings. I should like to support the suggestion that when new crossings are made on paved roads, a portion of pavement on each side of the crossing should be made into a ramp. I think that a portion would be quite adequate for there are other people to consider besides those who are in wheelchairs.
The object of this Bill was well explained and discussed the other day, but I should like to ask about the new Section 8B which appears in Clause 6. It reads:The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report on his proposals for ensuring or facilitating the improvement of means of access".How often will he have to do this? It should be a continuing report because it takes a considerable time to get proposals going and to see that they are carried out. I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness on the fact that Clause 7(2) reads:This Act shall come into force at the expiration of the period of three months beginning with the date on which it is passed".I think that three months is a very short time and it would be excellent if it could be done in that period. I should like to give my support to those who have spoken so well, and particularly to the noble Baroness who introduced the Bill today.
§ 2.9 p.m.
§ Lord Crawshaw
My Lords, I shall be brief because your Lordships have heard quite enough from me today. I must say a few brief words in support of my noble friend and her Bill. A close study of the form will reveal that my mind is more full of the odds against horses than against wheelchairs. Nevertheless, I am something of a practical expert in obstacles against wheelchairs. Therefore, I must say a few words about it. I have been following closely (and took part in) the debate on the Committee stage of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill and therefore I have followed closely the development of this Bill in conjunction with that Bill. It is my hope that neither of these Bills will fall. As much as I welcome this particular Bill, if it is in order now to say so, I particularly welcome what the Government intend to put into it as an amendment. It is my belief that to bring the planning laws into the subject of the disabled needs is a great step forward and one which could be used in several instances. I look forward to hearing what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will have to say on this.
I couple that with a brief word of support for the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Ingleby that each local authority will brief one of their existing personnel to deal with the whole subject of access for the disabled. 1500 It seems to me—and I said this on the Scottish Bill—that it is only a matter of common sense and that there is no need for tremendous technical expertise. I hope that something along those lines will find its way into this Bill and into the Scottish Bill. I must also put on record a word of appreciation of what my noble friend Lord Ingleby has been doing in this field over the past few months. In his quiet, persistent way he has achieved a great amount. That is a wonderful example to the more raucous elements who take up the cause of the disabled in other directions. He achieved far more by quiet, reasoned argument than do some people with their vociferous performances outside. I hope the Government will see their way to supporting his view on this question of access. I am sorry to say—although your Lordships may be delighted to know it—that I have not prepared a long speech on this Bill because of my thoughts on the complex matter of horseracing. I simply want to support the Bill.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Baroness Elliot of Harwood
My Lords, I apologise for not putting my name on the list. I shall keep the House for only two minutes or so. I should like to say with what enthusiasm I greet this Bill and how optimistic I feel, having listened to all the speeches today. I think that there is a real head of steam in this country today wanting to do something practical and helpful on this particular problem. I should like to congratulate the Government and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for getting the amendment into the Scottish Bill. I think that that will be a great help in Scotland and I hope that it will apply also to England.
I should like to say two things. First, I am not afraid of the future. I think that we have got people and local authorities all keyed up about buildings; although what the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, said about the new Barclays Bank building was depressing. It is a fine building although I have never tried to get inside it. It was depressing to hear that this brand new building did not allow access to the disabled. But I am concerned more about existing buildings. Not enough stress is put on the fact that they could be altered without great expense if people had imagination. Architects have the skills, and we can get the advice from all these people who have had long experience of living in a disabled world and also living with non-handicapped people.
My noble friend Lady Vickers is right about post offices. I have hardly seen a post office where you do not need to climb steps in order to get inside. These things can be altered, and I feel that this is a moment when we want to take advantage of all the goodwill and the enthusiasm there is behind this subject.
I had a lot of experience in one or two local authorities and when we were building houses we insisted that one or two of them should be suitable for handicapped people. They were a great success. When sometimes such a house in a particular area was not wanted it was perfectly possible for a non-handicapped person to live there. Therefore, there was no trouble about it at all. The idea of building one or two little houses which had access for the disabled was something new in the days when I was involved. That is probably done now in other local authorities. However, I 1501 hope it is something that will be looked at. Birmingham—where I have some contact now with the disabled—is doing a splendid job in equipping flats and houses for disabled people who are learning to live with their disablement but in the community. I shall not say any more, except that I enthusiastically support the Bill. I hope the Government will go ahead with it as fast as they possibly can.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Lord Noel-Baker
My Lords, I intervene for one moment only to voice my warm support for the Bill. I should like to add one detail to the very interesting list of practical suggestions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, about people who walk with the aid of crutches or sticks. She did not add the necessity of having handrails on staircases. That is a facility that I often miss in daily life in the buildings around which I walk in London today. A few years ago I had a very heavy fall in what is known as the Palace of the United Nations in Geneva. I fell down seven marble steps where there was no handrail. That left me with a permanent injury. This is an important point, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, for what she was good enough to say, and all those who have lent their support to the Bill.
§ 2.16 p.m.
Lord Wallace of Coslany
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lord Noel-Baker regarding the need for handrails. I have personal experience in this matter, though the lady concerned will kill me if I mention her by name. There is a need in her case for a handrail, and I had to fix one on part of our stairs on her release from hospital. I fixed the handrail in far better fashion than I normally would. Unfortunately, having covered it with its first coat of paint, I stepped back to admire my work and kicked a tin of paint down the stairs, covering both the walls and the stairs. Consequently, I was then closer to tears than I had been all my life! Perhaps I should not have said that, hut I strongly agree with the noble Lord that this is one of the things which some people seem to overlook.
My Lords, may I welcome this Bill? It had a formal passage in another place. That was due to rather fortunate circumstances—it was probably late on a Friday and nobody said "No" when the Bill was put forward. That was a lucky streak so far as the noble Baroness and all who are disabled are concerned. If some idiot had said "No", then the Bill would have gone right down the list, as some of those who have served in another place know.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I think the noble Lord is referring to the cry "Object" rather than "No". This is a device in the other place when people feel that a debate is necessary. They are not objecting to the Bill; they are objecting to it going through without debate. I am sure we agree with the noble Lord that in this case there was so much support for the Bill that the other place was ready for it to go through without debate.
Lord Wallace of Coslany
My Lords, the noble Lord corrects me. It is correct to say "Object". We 1502 know that on many occasions many worthy Bills have gone down the scale simply because of that. Therefore time is lost.
This is an excellent Bill and I am personally delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and her formidable team of campaigners—and there is no other word to describe them—have decided to take the golden opportunity of a Second Reading. The number of speakers who have taken part is an indication of the interest taken in this Bill. I congratulate the noble Baroness on having taken charge of the Bill in your Lordships' House. In my view, there is no one better able to do it. This is an excellent and urgently needed Bill. After all, it is the International Year of Disabled People and it is fitting that the Bill should proceed through Parliament at this time.
If I may add a personal note, I thought it rather appropriate that I should wear the tie given to me in Hong Kong to celebrate the International Year of the Disabled. I was assured by those in Hong Kong who presented it to me that it would serve as an indication to Britain that the people in Hong Kong are determined to make the most of the International Year of the Disabled as far as their people are concerned.
This Bill is comprehensive in character and I particularly welcome Clause 6 and the reference in Clause 2 to places of entertainment, exhibitions or sporting events. When I made my maiden speech in this House some six years ago I mentioned wheelchairs at football matches. Coincidentally, in that debate I was followed by the noble Baroness herself. Unfortunately, very few football grounds have suitable and adequate arrangements for disabled people in wheelchairs. If the clubs themselves cannot afford to meet the financial cost, perhaps the supporters' clubs could raise the money, in the same fashion as they raise money to help to buy expensive players.
I do not see any specific reference in the Bill to holiday facilities. I appreciate, of course, that it would be very difficult to deal in the Bill with holiday facilities or with holidays, but it is something that needs attention. This also gives me the opportunity to relate to the House an inspiring experience I had recently. My wife and I made an eight-day cruise on the P and 0 liner "Canberra". We were very interested to notice a number of people going around the ship in wheelchairs. There were plenty of lifts and it was quite easy for them to get around, but they mostly had some degree of capacity for walking.
There was one man who was being pushed around all over the place. He was always on the go day and night, taking an active interest in all facilities. Many of us noticed the care and attention given to this chap in the wheelchair by the young attendant. An opportunity came when Harry—I found out that was the name of the man in the wheelchair—was being chatted up by a rather attractive lady on the sun-deck and the attendant had a chance to have a break for himself. I had a chat with the young man and found that he came from the Islington Day Centre which is one of the social services run by the social services department of Islington Borough Council and that, as a matter of fact, he was a welfare worker. I found that his job was to dress and undress this particular man, to get him around and generally look after him.
I made further inquiries, and the story is even more 1503 interesting because I found that Harry, who attends the Islington day centre, is quite a character and has always had the idea of going on a cruise as one of his life's ambitions. He mentioned at the day centre that he was going to advertise for somebody to take care of him on the ship and take him around. The day centre people said: "Don't worry; we think we can get somebody", and Ivor (I will not mention his surname for obvious reasons), who is one of the assistants at the day centre, voluntarily gave up a week's leave out of his leave entitlement to go and assist Harry to enjoy his holiday.
That, my Lords, is a wonderful example of those people in public service who give up some of their spare time to assist people like Harry, and I can assure the House that when we said farewell to Harry and Ivor at Waterloo Station when we got off the boat train, no chap in the world had had such a wonderful holiday as Harry. He had had the time of his life.
I understand on further inquiry that, in the normal run of things, Islington have two holiday schemes for the disabled in Britain, on which Ivor and many other workers are busily engaged. I want to emphasise that not one penny of public money was involved in the cruise. It was a voluntary effort by one of the staff who gave up his holiday.
There are a number of authorities which are running holiday schemes for the disabled, and I can only express the hope—I am not making a political point—that pressure by the Department of the Environment will not lead to the reduction or abandonment of holiday schemes for the disabled, in an effort to reduce the rate burden. I do not think, in all decency, that any council could do such a thing; though, unfortunately, I could mention one that has.
The Bill, welcome as it is, deals with the future when it becomes law. The fact is that quite a lot of work needs to be done now on existing roads, crossings, toilets, public buildings et cetera. This was underlined recently in a television programme—I think it was "Nationwide", but ITV will forgive me if it was not—when a London MP was seen pushing a wheelchair with a handicapped lady in it, in order to experience the difficulties which arise in getting on and off pavements, entering a post office—as the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, mentioned—and the other problems which the physically fit do not comprehend. Those people who have experienced such problems can understand, but there are quite a lot of people—nice people—who do not.
There are a number of good local authorities which have done, and are doing, excellent work in the provision of facilities, signs and other works to assist the disabled, and I can say from past experience that Norwich, which I once represented, is just such a good authority. But there are far too many which are dragging their feet. While the Government are putting pressure on local authorities to reduce expenditure, there is every moral and practical justification for the Government to put pressure on local authorities and public undertakings to spend money on a campaign to improve and provide facilities for the disabled. I sincerely hope that, in general, the Minister will agree with me on this.
I do not want to take up too much of the time of the 1504 House. This has been a very good debate and we are anxious to hear the Minister's reply. This is a good Bill which is worthy of support, and I trust that the House will expedite its passage in order that it may become law at the earliest possible moment. But I want to utter a word of warning, which the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, has also hinted at. We must not be over-enthusiastic about Committee amendments. I trust that the Committee and other stages will not be too protracted. Legislative time is drawing very short indeed, and it would be a great pity, even a tragedy, if time defeated this Bill. From these Benches, we pledge support for this Bill: in fact, we give it enthusiastic support.
§ 2.29 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)
My Lords, I should like, on behalf of all your Lordships, to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, on her speech and, quite particularly to thank her for bringing before us this measure which has already been passed in another place with all-party support.
In this International Year of Disabled People, I am delighted that we are to have an opportunity to place on the statute book a measure that is likely to bring real benefit to the lives of disabled people. One of the many praiseworthy aims of the International Year is the "full participation and equality" of disabled people in the ordinary everyday activities which the more fortunate able-bodied members of the community take for granted. The Government fully support all the aims and objectives of the Year, which has already proved itself to be an excellent opportunity for stimulating public interest in the problems and aspirations of disabled people, and it is fitting that in this particular year Parliament should be considering the problems of access and mobility—problems to which not only the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, but my noble friend Lady Macleod and many of your Lordships have drawn attention this afternoon.
The Disabled Persons Bill recognises that the integration of disabled people into the community inevitably involves improving access to buildings. Knowing that acceptance and a warm welcome is waiting inside a building does not make a long flight of steps any less of a barrier to someone in a wheelchair. I do not think anyone in this House would disagree with the view that since the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act was passed over a decade ago, substantial gains have been achieved in the access and other facilities provided for disabled people in public buildings. However, that should not make us complacent, and where a measure such as the one before us today seems likely to bring about further improvements I am sure that it will command widespread support. In expressing the Government's support for the Bill, I should like to add a rider with which I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, would agree. Legislation is an important part of the business of this House and of the other place and, when faced with problems in society, it is often a temptation for us to consider first how far they can be met by changes in the law. In this question of the integration of disabled people, however, while the law must obviously play a part, the essential answers to the problem must be sought in 1505 the hearts and minds of the able-bodied majority. We want to work towards a situation in which the needs and wishes of the disabled are generally and freely recognised, and not one where they are imposed by force of law.
For that reason, I would suggest that the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act has probably been more important in its effect on attitudes than in its direct effects of a mandatory kind. And I believe that when we look back in another 10 years at the outcome of the present Bill, should it become an Act, we shall be impressed by the success it will have achieved in influencing public opinion and guiding people's attitudes in a helpful direction. I recognise, however, particularly after the stories from personal experience which we have heard from my noble friends Lady Macleod of Borve and Lord Swinton, that we still have quite a long way to go. I would suggest that this essential role of the Bill is one which we should keep constantly in our minds in our detailed consideration of its provisions.
My honourable friend the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled has sought to give the sponsors of the Bill all the assistance he can in the drafting of a legally satisfactory measure. I think that some of the ideas which have been incorporated in two clauses of the Bill may well have found their way there following suggestions made by my honourable friend. One of these clauses, Clause 5, is designed to improve the signposting of access facilities, such as routes of travel for disabled people to and within buildings. The other, Clause 2, creates a separate offence of wrongful parking in spaces reserved for disabled people, with an enhanced penalty for those found guilty of the offence.
This is a thoughtless and selfish act, and it is right that we should be thinking in terms of more severe penalties. In addition, reference has already been made to the statement made by my noble friend the Minister of State at the Scottish Office that the Government intend to strengthen certain clauses dealing with access in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 and will be tabling amendments to that effect.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, whose amendment this originally was, asked me whether we should be consulting interested bodies. I should like to confirm that we shall be having those consultations before the regulations implementing that provision are framed. He also asked me about the timetable for its implementation. The most useful answer I can give to him this afternoon is that we shall accept the same timetable as that which my noble friend Lord Mansfield made for the Scottish Bill.
I am very glad to announce that the Government now feel able to go even further to prevent abuse of parking facilities for disabled people. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport has been concerned for some time about something which I think we would all agree is even more reprehensible than the conduct which Clause 2 seeks to discourage. I refer to misuse of the disabled drivers' orange badge by people, such as relatives of badge holders, who are not entitled to the privileges the badge confers but who nevertheless seek, by using it, to take advantage of the special parking facilities provided for disabled people.
These facilities, besides the special reserved parking 1506 spaces with which Clause 2 is concerned, include a range of exemptions from normal parking restrictions, such as being able to park on yellow lines. At the moment people who use orange badges under false pretences cannot normally be proceeded against other than for an ordinary parking offence, which in most cases means that they simply get a fixed penalty notice. This is hardly an adequate penalty for what is in reality an act of fraud or deception. The Government consider that this abuse, of displaying an orange badge to obtain its privileges when one is not entitled to do so, which seems to be on the increase and is tending to bring the whole scheme into disrepute, should be made a specific offence, as well as being a parking offence.
The proposed new offence, which requires main legislation, would help to make it clear that there is a stigma attached to abuse of a system intended to help the disabled; and the Government feel that it would be appropriate for it to carry a maximum penalty of £200–considerably more than magistrates are accustomed to impose as parking fines in cases where it is decided to prosecute. I have no doubt that this is a proposal which will be generally welcomed and the Government propose to make provision by means of an amendment to the present Bill at Committee stage.
The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, and the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, raised the point about the possibility of having two badges for disabled drivers. I think that is really a Committee matter, to which we should return, but the House may be interested to know that on the last census of badge holders there were some 220,000 people who held badges and that figure is now thought to be nearer a quarter of a million. It is very important to strike a balance between the needs of the disabled and other road users and the limits to what could be done.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, if I may intervene, I think my noble friend has left the question of access and I hope this is a convenient pause between subjects because I wish to thank her for giving an indication of the timetable; but I had one other question, concerning Northern Ireland. The noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, said that this would be extended to the whole country. This Bill does not extend to Northern Ireland. So is my noble friend able to give an indication of whether the Government will take an early opportunity to consider that fourth part of the United Kingdom?
§ Baroness Young
My Lords, if my noble friend will wait until I have concluded my remarks, I think he may hear what he would like to hear.
The two clauses and the Government amendments stem from the recognition that access does not just mean ramps. There are so many ways in which a building can be inaccessible or inconvenient for those who have less than perfect mobility, sight or hearing, and although this Bill seeks to make certain improvements, it would be quite impossible—even if it were desirable—to legislate to cover every situation. That is one of the reasons why we have given our wholehearted support to the Committee on Restrictions 1507 Against Disabled People. This committee was established by the last Government in January 1979 with the following terms of reference:To consider the architectural and social barriers which may result in discrimination against disabled people and prevent them from making full use of facilities available to the general public; and to make recommendations".The committee hopes to report to Ministers by the end of this year, and I have no doubt that when it does report your Lordships will wish to consider, more fully than it is practicable for us to do on the basis of the present Bill, the whole range of problems which disabled people face in a modern society and the ways in which they can be tackled most effectively.
My Lords, I am also glad to confirm to the House, and particularly to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy, that we also intend to introduce an amendment at Committee stage to make it possible for the provisions in the Bill to be extended to Northern Ireland.
Before concluding my remarks on this Bill, I should like to say something on a matter which does not immediately arise on the Bill but did on the Scottish Local Government Bill, and which has been referred to by a number of your Lordships; namely, the appointment of access officers. It is argued that local authorities should have a statutory duty to designate access officers. Local authorities clearly have an important role in ensuring the improvement of facilities for the disabled. The question is whether this should be done by statute or left to local authorities to decide how best to organise their responsibilities. The imposition of such a statutory duty would be a very exceptional interference by central Government with local government affairs and organisation. We would, therefore, need to consider this very carefully, and the House will no doubt appreciate that on this particular point we can give at this stage no commitment about this matter.
However, what I should like to confirm is that the Government are committed to the issuing of a circular to local authorities to give guidance on this Bill and related matters. I should like to confirm that it is always the practice of Governments to consult on circulars, clearly with the local authorities in this case, but in this particular case we would also consult in relation to the circular with interested bodies. I can give noble Lords the undertaking today that we shall consider sympathetically how we can advise authorities on their arrangements and staffing in connection with the access provisions of the 1970 Act and their new obligation to draw the attention of developers to them.
Meantime, we have this Bill before us. Its objectives are modest, but I suggest no less worthy for all that; I am glad to reiterate the Government's support, and I look forward with interest to our further proceedings on it.
§ 2.43 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, the helpful support and goodwill your Lordships give to disabled people in this noble House is most encouraging. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have spoken, giving special thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Banks, for his support for the Bill and his wishes for its speedy 1508 passage through your Lordships' House. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy; as a member of the International Year of the Disabled Peoples' Committee myself, I should like to thank him for so clearly explaining the importance of access for disabled people. At every International Year of Disabled People meeting I have attended access has been one of the main issues; integration and participation for disabled people is so difficult without adequate access, and independence is impossible.
My thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, for illustrating so well the varied needs of disabled people, and to the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, for his very important point on the wheelchair signs being used for access and properly used. This was very well developed by my noble kinsman when he stressed the very important point that good access is a way of preventing disability of able-bodied people.
I would also thank the noble Lord, Lord Hale, for the important point of suitable places of entertainment for disabled people and that they should not be isolated. The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, stressed the need for updating the parking badge and stopping its abuse, and I thank her for that. I would also thank the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, for his experienced support, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, for the hope for the future. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, for his intervention on the very important need for handrails on staircases, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, for his overall support and for stressing that disabled people have the same variety of interests as anyone else; this was very good to hear. I agree with him as to how important holidays are for disabled people and for their relatives.
Lastly, but most important of all, I would express thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Young. She does work, as we all know, so very hard, and she is always brought in by the Government to speak on important issues and on difficult ones in your Lordships' House. I sincerely hope she will not find this difficult. I do not see why she should, because this Bill has had support from every single one of your Lordships who has spoken. I do stress that this is important, and I am glad for this reason that she is here with us. I would agree with Lady Young that attitudes are very important. The problem is that the general public very often do not know, or do not think about, the needs of the disabled. Also, the abuse of the parking badge shows how important legislation is. I am very pleased to hear the good news that Northern Ireland is to be included.
The noble Baroness concluded her remarks by referring to access officers. It is very important that we have the goodwill of the local authorities. I hope that my colleagues who are interested in this matter will go along with the Government as they are being very helpful with this Bill, and we hope that it will have a speedy passage through your Lordships' House.
I should like to conclude with one matter which has arisen today and that is to do with the blind and your Lordships' House. The Secretary of the National Federation of the Blind very much wanted to attend today's debate, but could not do so because of problems with her guide dog. An exemption from the rule of "no dogs at Westminster" is made for guide dogs, 1509 but they are not allowed in the Public Gallery. Many guide dogs, because of their training, become very upset and make a commotion if separated from the blind person. It is hoped that these dogs could be allowed into the Gallery because beside their masters or mistresses they are very quiet and docile. They become part of the blind person, they are really as important as his or her right hand. I hope that your Lordships will consider this matter and help in this the International Year of Disabled People. I thank all noble Lords for their support.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.