HL Deb 16 June 1981 vol 421 cc528-30

2.52 p.m.

Viscount Ingleby

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what are their plans for Access Week of the International Year of Disabled People, beginning on 29th June.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)

My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are not themselves responsible for the planning and organisation of Access Week, but they have given their full support to the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People who are sponsoring this special week. The committee consider that improvements in access can best be brought about by local groups of disabled people themselves, and are therefore encouraging such groups to take the initiative in organising events to mark the week.

Viscount Ingleby

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I share very much her view that it is up to local groups to encourage improvements in access to inaccessible buildings—such as, in my own town, the post office and the swimming baths, both of which are inaccessible to disabled people. May I also ask the Minister whether she is aware of the wheelchair obstacle course exhibition which is at present touring the country? It is known as Grooms-mobile. It was opened by the Minister for the Disabled and the Lord Mayor of London to promote better understanding by able bodied people of the problems which disabled people face. This exhibition, as I say, is touring the country and copies of its itinerary are available in your Lordships' Library.

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords. I believe that my right honourable friend Mr. Rossi attended the opening of the Groomsmobile exhibition. It is something which the Government welcome. It will help to change public attitudes and encourage people to take a positive look at how the disabled can be helped to have access to public and other buildings.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether considerable help will also be given towards providing better access to pavements? The blind handicapped in our community suffer considerable disadvantage as a result of vehicles being parked on pavements and because of the practice in many urban areas of placing refuse cartons and plastic bags on pavements, which cause considerable concern to the blind handicapped.

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Government are giving support to the organisation which is sponsoring this particular week. I understand that the chairman of the Committee on Restrictions Against Disabled People will be writing to all local newspapers encouraging them to include during the week special features on access. That would, no doubt, include the type of access to which the noble Baroness has referred.

The Earl of Lauderdale

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the Government's encouragement goes beyond exhortation? Would she not agree that a soundly pragmatic Government would rather be remembered in the future for deeds rather than for words?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords; that is why the Government are supporting the Private Member's Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, which is to have its Committee stage in your Lordships' House this afternoon.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, would it be possible for the Government not to lose this opportunity of issuing a circular to local authorities urging them to study the availability of access for the disabled in any new building which is put up?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the Government have already given their approval to improvements to access. They will be included in the Private Member's Bill to which I have just referred. The Government have also given an undertaking that a circular will be issued which will make the kind of points which my noble friend wishes to have made.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she has seen today's Yorkshire Post which carries a picture of a man sitting at the bottom of the steps of Huddersfield town hall? May I also ask her whether she is aware that young prople from the technical college are helping to promote better access? Does not the Minister agree that it is very helpful if one can make use of the energies of young people in this way?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords; I support that entirely. There are many young people who do a great deal of voluntary work and who are only too happy to help the disabled in all these ways. I have not seen the newspaper to which the noble Baroness has drawn my attention, but I shall have a look at it.

Lord Brockway

My Lords, may I ask whether the Government will give encouragement both to access and to facilities for the disabled in toilets? May I also ask whether the attention of the Government has been drawn to the practice in Sweden, which I visited last week, where indications are given on doors that such facilities are available?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords. This matter is also included in the Private Member's Bill. I am sure that the noble Lord is aware of the orange badge scheme and of the symbol for the disabled which often appears not only on public lavatories but also on many other public buildings.

Lord Renton

My Lords, may I ask my noble friend about access to Government departments, especially those to which the disabled require to have access?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I cannot speak on this particular point for all Government departments, but those with which I am connected all have access for disabled people.

Lord Wallace of Coslany

My Lords, would it not be better and save the time of the House if your Lordships were to give speedy consideration to the Bill which stands in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, and get it through, since that would avoid a lot of questions?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, while the wheelchair symbol is internationally recognised, does not my noble friend agree that full account must also be taken of the problems of those who have great difficulty in walking or climbing steps, with or without sticks or crutches? Sometimes their problems are even greater than the problems of those who are confined to wheelchairs. Can attention, please, also be drawn to this problem during Access Week?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am sure that this is the kind of matter to which the committee will draw attention in its publicity.