HL Deb 24 November 1994 vol 559 cc387-400

4.50 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to repeat a Statement about measures to tackle discrimination against disabled people which my honourable friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People has made today in another place. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a Statement about measures to tackle discrimination against disabled people.

"Earlier this year the Government published a wide range of proposals in a consultation document. I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right honourable friend the Member for Chelsea, not only for his work on these proposals, but also for his tireless efforts over seven years as Minister for disabled people. We have received a large number of responses to the consultation document and I am grateful to all those who have commented. As promised, we considered the responses carefully. The result is a package which goes substantially wider and deeper than the proposals we put forward in the summer. As we develop the detail of our proposals in the coming months, I want to continue to work closely with disabled people and others so that the end result is a package which meets the wishes of disabled people, and the legitimate interest of businesses.

"Over the past 15 years, the Government have taken a series of measures to help disabled people live with dignity and independence. We have trebled the amount spent on benefits for long-term sick and disabled people and introduced new benefits like DWA; the recent reform of community care which has given local authorities additional resources of £1.27 billion in 1994–95; the new access to work programme, which enables more disabled people to take up employment; the introduction of Part M of the building regulations, which will ensure access for disabled people to public buildings; the new Education Act, which improves schools' provision in meeting special educational needs; and action to build on widespread achievements in the field of transport. These initiatives, combined with the efforts of local government, the voluntary sector, the private sector, and disabled people themselves, have led to major advances in the opportunities open to disabled people and the attitude towards them of the rest of the community.

"A process of change has been taking place. It must continue. An ageing population will bring an increasing number of people with some form of disability. It is wrong and it is wasteful for many of them to be restricted or excluded from many aspects of life. One way or another, our society must meet the aspirations of disabled people by ensuring that they are included on an equal basis in our work, travel, study and leisure.

"Our objective is clear: to eliminate discrimination against disabled people so that they can take a full part in society. But changes cannot happen overnight, as most disabled people themselves recognise. It is vital that the action we take has a realistic timetable, is practical, and takes account of the impact on service providers.

"I am therefore announcing today a series of measures and legislative proposals which have been conceived in conjunction with my colleagues in the Departments of Health, Transport, Education and Employment, and the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Taken together they will represent the greatest advance for disabled people in the history of this country.

"We will shortly publish a Bill which will deal with employment, rights of access and the establishment of a National Disability Council. Similar legislation is proposed for Northern Ireland. We will also be taking new action on education and transport.

"Greater employment opportunities are at the heart of enabling disabled people to be fully active and independent members of society. Some employers have done much in recent years to improve matters, but there is evidence that discrimination persists. It is clear that the current quota system is unworkable and fails to meet the needs of disabled people. We therefore propose to repeal it.

"We propose to introduce a statutory right of non-discrimination against disabled people. It will be unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably than he would treat others, unless there are justifiable reasons. In combination with this, employers will be required to make a reasonable adjustment where that would help overcome the practical effects of disability.

"The new access to work scheme can provide a wide range of practical help to disabled people and their employers of up to £21,000 over five years.

"The new employment right will be a major step forward in improving the employment prospects of disabled people.

"Disabled people who suffer discrimination will be able to complain to industrial tribunals, where the remedies available will be the same as those under other discrimination legislation.

"There will be a power to make regulations to ensure that adjustments do not involve excessive costs. The duties will apply to employers with 20 or more employees. Employers will continue to be able to recruit the best person for the job.

"A code of practice and guidance will be produced to promote clear understanding and reduce the likelihood of disputes arising. Should recourse to an industrial tribunal be necessary, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service would be able to offer the services of their conciliation officers.

"The Government's consultation document aimed to ensure that service providers did not deny access to disabled people because of prejudice or ignorance. In the light of responses to the consultation document, the Government believe that this proposal does not go far enough. Where practical, we also need to remove those physical and communication barriers which prevent the access to goods and services most of us are lucky enough to take for granted. The new right of access will therefore require service providers to make their premises and services accessible to disabled people as long as this is 'readily achievable'.

"It is vital that the new right is framed in such a way that it leads to genuine and lasting progress. We will therefore give businesses the option of providing their services by alternative means; and require modifications only to the extent they are readily achievable and subject to a financial limit; we will also ensure that there is a proper phasing-in period. We will consult on the length of the phasing-in period, the financial limit and the possibility of other exemptions from the right; for example, older or listed buildings. We will arrange to provide advice and conciliation with respect to this new right and, where legal action does take place, we are considering measures which will ensure that redress can be obtained without undue difficulty or expense.

"These provisions will ensure every business and service provider takes action to meet the needs of disabled people. They will leave no-one in any doubt that the fair treatment of disabled people is a responsibility placed on us all.

"In addition, within the next few weeks my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be issuing his own consultation document on making domestic properties more accessible.

"The consultation document made clear the Government's intention to exclude financial services from any right of equal access. But as a result of responses received, I propose to include financial services in the new statutory right. We shall be looking closely, in consultation with the insurance industry, at how legislation could best be framed to prevent discrimination while recognising the legitimate need for insurance companies to distinguish between any customers on the basis of likely costs entailed in meeting their insurance claims.

"All these new rights will apply to all those persons with a physical or mental impairment which is long-term or recurring. The impairment would have to have a substantial effect on the person's ability to carry out normal activities.

"The Bill will also establish a National Disability Council. This will be an independent body to advise the Government on how existing and new measures to help disabled people are working; and recommend further measures where necessary. It will therefore be a new powerful voice for disabled people in the decision-making process. It will present an annual report on its activities and findings so that we can continue to make progress. This report will be laid before Parliament.

"The consultation document was limited to the employment right, the right of access and the establishment of the National Disability Council. But we now propose to go further—by bringing forward proposals on education and transport.

"The more it is possible to educate disabled children with their able-bodied peers, the less we shall see adults avoiding, ignoring or feeling embarrassed by disabled people. We must ensure that this new approach is not frustrated by the physical inaccessibility of mainstream schools.

"The Education Act 1993 was a major advance in meeting special educational needs. It re-enacts the requirement on local education authorities to find a suitable place for every child with a disability and enhances parents' rights of school preference and appeals against decisions. Next year the Department for Education will conduct an audit of accessibility of all schools. Once its results are available, local education authorities and the Funding Agency for Schools will have an up-to-date picture of facilities, helping to inform their work on the supply of suitable places.

"Linking with this programme of improvement, we want to take new steps to encourage schools to make themselves more accessible to pupils with disabilities. We will be bringing forward proposals under which funds will be made available to providers of education to provide imaginative and cost-effective projects aimed at improving accessibility. We envisage that the new scheme will encourage voluntary involvement by the local community. We shall consult on the details of the scheme.

"In addition, the Department for Education will shortly consult on the revision of their constructional standards to bring them in line with those set out in the current building regulations. This would mean that all new schools and extensions would be fully accessible to disabled people.

"Scotland has its own extensive provisions in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 for pupils with special educational needs. The Scottish Office will be considering further ways of encouraging authorities and schools to improve access for pupils with disabilities through the normal capital allocation arrangements. In Scotland, schools are already subject to the relevant requirements of the building regulations.

"All these measures will consolidate the improvements for children with special educational needs set out in the 1993 Act. They represent this Government's firm commitment to ensuring that every child with a disability gets full educational opportunities and to steadily improving access in schools.

"Transport is another crucial area for disabled people. The new right of access will cover transport infrastructure—for example, railway stations and bus terminals—but it will not apply to transport vehicles. The sensible way to improve accessibility here must be to do it when new vehicles are purchased. Huge progress has already been made in this way, for example, by improving the accessibility of InterCity trains, airports and London taxis. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport is anxious to ensure that progress continues. In addition, he will strengthen the guidance issued to local authorities in preparing their annual transport policies and programmes to give greater weight to the needs of people with disabilities.

"It is vital that we take further steps towards making fully accessible the most commonly used form of public transport —the bus. The Government intend to ensure that all new buses will be of low floor construction, as far as this is technically feasible. The effect will be that, over an agreed time-frame, an increasing proportion of buses will be fully accessible to wheelchair users as well as more readily accessible to all other passengers with mobility problems. We will, of course, need to take full account of European legislation. A draft directive on bus construction is already under discussion and we will be making our case vigorously.

"The objective of our package is to give disabled people more power over their own lives. So I am delighted that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health will be announcing today that we intend to take a new power for social services authorities and, in Scotland, social work departments, to make cash payments to disabled people who request them in lieu of community care services. This is a new departure which I believe will be widely welcomed. It will enable disabled people to control far more actively how and by whom the care they need is delivered.

"Further details on all our proposals will be included in a detailed policy statement to be published, in addition to a Bill, in the near future.

"Madam Speaker, in presenting this package, the Government are building on an already impressive record of helping disabled people. The steps I have announced today will involve millions of people in taking positive action to tackle the frustration which disabled people encounter in attempting to do the things many of us take for granted.

"We are guided by one over-riding belief: that it is the duty of society as a whole to enable disabled people to play a full part in national life, and to help them and us to make the best use of their talents. Recognition of that makes good sense for disabled people, good sense for the economy, and good sense for the nation".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

5.5 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, we thank the noble Baroness for the Statement. Perhaps I may also place on record how appreciative I am of the fact that we were able to have the Statement a little earlier than is sometimes the case. As a result it gave us more chance to contact the groups concerned. I appreciate that and I thank the Minister.

Obviously, on this side of the House we are glad that this Statement travels the distance that it does. But we are not grateful, because every inch, every foot of that distance has been screwed out of a recalcitrant Government by the anger—yes, the anger—the pressure and the outrage not just of disabled people but of Members of both Houses, as well as that of citizens across the country. I believe that we all know in our heart of hearts that, but for the events of last summer, we would not be seeing this Statement now. It is better than nothing and we certainly welcome it as far as it goes. But, in my view, it is still far short of what disabled people are entitled to as of right. As I say, it would be churlish and quite unreasonable not to welcome the proposals.

The first thing which I am so pleased to see in the document —if I may go to individual aspects of it—is direct payments. Here I would like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, who introduced a Bill with all-party support in this House to try to achieve just that. I remember the regret, it would be fair to say, that the noble Baroness demonstrated when she had to reject that Bill at the time. It must be a particular pleasure for her today to be able to announce the good news. The significance of that is that direct payments will place disabled people at the centre of organising their network of care rather than being dependent on the convenience, the timetable, and so on, of others. That must be an important and major step forward, which is very welcome.

Secondly, I come to the areas which concern us. The first of these is access to employment. I ask the noble Baroness three questions on this section of the Statement. The Statement says that the Government are proposing to scrap the quota system, that it has failed. I believe that many of us have some sympathy with the view that the quota system has had its day, but I believe that many of us—particularly noble Lords who have a specific interest in disabled people with learning difficulties—are very worried that it should be scrapped without more effective and better powers in its place. In particular, if employers are not to be required to meet a quota system and disabled people have to pursue their rights against discrimination through tribunals and ACAS, but without the backing of an enforcement commission, will the noble Baroness consider whether disabled people should therefore be eligible for legal aid?

As I understand it, most employers are legally represented at tribunals. Many people, in the CRE, in race relations and other forms of discrimination, have the legal support of their trade unions. All the evidence shows that where there is legal representation the ability to achieve success is that much higher. Disabled people are very much more on their own; often very poor, rather fragile and rather bruised. They will need all the help that we can give them if they have to pursue their own grievances through a procedure which is known to be cumbersome, bureaucratic, difficult and slow. Can we hope for that?

The third matter on which I should like to press the Minister in terms of employment is small business exemption. I checked with the Employment Gazette and I understand that 95 per cent. of businesses in this country employ fewer than 20 people and cover about one-third of the working population. Obviously we understand that the approach has to be one of reasonableness and we do not disagree with that at all. But will the noble Baroness consider, when we come to the legislation, producing a timetable analogous perhaps to that of the United States, where I believe the provisions have worked very well? There could be a minimum of 20 employees to start with and in five years' time only firms employing fewer than 15 people should be exempt. In 10 years' time firms employing less than, say, 10 people should be exempt, and so on. In other words, there should be a pattern of implementation which, over time and in a reasonable way, brings all employers within the frame as it currently does immediately for employers under EOC and CRE legislation. We believe that disabled people are entitled to no less rights.

Then, on employment, will the Minister look at the question of indirect discrimination? It is significant in employment. I am sure that we all know of examples where a job requirement is that one has a driving licence even though driving is not essential to the job. It acts as a form of indirect discrimination. The latest research by Scope (the former Spastics Society) suggests that 51 per cent. of disabled people believe that they were refused a job because of their disability; 35 per cent. said that they could not accept the job because of problems of physical access; and 55 per cent. of disabled people thought that they would lose their jobs because of their disability. On many occasions those forms of loss amounted to indirect discrimination. Will the Minister comment on that point?

Perhaps I may move from employment to public buildings and the pressure on volume house builders. We are obviously awaiting a consultation document on that. Will the Minister tell us when we may expect it? We welcome what the Statement said about tougher arrangements for financial services. That has been brigaded with access to goods and services; for example, insurance. I believe that I am right in saying that half of all disabled people have difficulty obtaining insurance; 37 per cent. find difficulty in obtaining car insurance; and 20 per cent. have difficulty in obtaining a mortgage. That is what we are talking about. May we hope, therefore, that the Minister will ensure that there is as much toughness with regard to the provision of financial services as to other aspects of the Bill?

I come to education. We obviously greatly welcome the fact that there will be an audit of physical accessibility. We all recognise that the DFE has a logjam of capital maintenance works which need to be implemented. As I understand it, at the moment about a quarter of primary schools and a tenth of secondary schools have full access. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government propose to introduce a phased implementation so that, say, within 10 years three-quarters of primary schools and half of secondary schools will have full access for disabled children? I believe that the cost will be around £30 million a year. That is not excessive for the degree of opportunity that it will offer children and their parents.

On transport, as far as we can tell the Government's policy seems to be sensible: as vehicles are replaced, the new vehicles will meet new disability requirements. Can the Minister give us any guidance as to what timetable she expects that to operate? I assume that it is 15 to 20 years.

We were given originally a yellow document entitled Compliance Cost Assessment. Noble Lords will remember that when we discussed the matter many noble Lords denounced as shoddy the cost of £17 billion that the Government calculated. The department asked for assessments. The DoE counted the figures twice but failed to dock off the cost of the work already done. Then it assumed that the work had to be done within five years, and that it had to be done whatever the expense. Not surprisingly, the eventual figure was £17 billion which no one, except the statisticians who drew it up, believed bore any resemblance to the figures of £2 billion to £5 billion which many disability organisations believed to be the case.

We are pleased that in today's Statement the Minister did not revisit that fictional figure of £17 billion which was wildly and irresponsibly inaccurate. We hope that the Budget forecasts and uprating statements are not drawn up by the same statistics team. We are pleased to see that the figure has disappeared. What worries us, however, is not so much the putative cost of compliance but compliance itself.

I come to the one disappointing issue in the Minister's long and full Statement. The Government have refused to set up an enforcement commission. They are setting up merely an advisory committee (the National Disability Council) to give advice to the Secretary of State but not to enforce disabled people's rights. That will not do. An advisory committee with no enforcement powers, unlike the EOC or the CRE, means that the proposed Bill will give disabled people legal remedies; it will not give them what they are entitled to —civil rights.

Disabled people will remain on their own. They will often be poor, very disabled and lacking in energy and resources; and they will have none of the enforcement powers behind them that women and ethnic minorities now take for granted. Employers themselves say, and I quote from the employers' response to the Government's consultation document: If the new framework is to have credibility in the eyes of both employers and disabled people, it must be seen to be backed by the same commitment to guidance, support and enforcement which underpins the EOC and the CRE". Employers are calling for an enforcement agency. Will the Minister tell us why the Government will not provide one? If we do not have an enforcement agency, disabled people will have only an advisory committee which will have power to do everything except act and enforce. We owe disabled people more than that. I hope that the Minister can give us some movement on that point.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. It gives a list of our achievements over the past 15 years: a series of piecemeal steps forward towards better rights for disabled people. The Statement refers to the Education Act 1993 and the SEN code of practice which was introduced. It pays great attention to the laudable progress that we have made. However, we started from a low base. I am afraid that the legislation envisaged carries on in the same vein. It is piecemeal. It hedges everything with comments such as "as and when it is practical" or "as and when the costs are there". It does not provide any vision of where we should be going or how it will be achieved. It goes the other way around.

The Statement contains many good things, but we must accept that we are giving it two cheers rather than three. Direct payments enhance the rights and dignity of people with disabilities. That is important. That is the type of help required. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said, full civil rights are required. That is what people with disabilities expect to receive. We have provided them for other groups in society. Why cannot we provide them for this group of people?

When we have a copy of the Bill, we shall be able to go through it in far more detail. We shall be able to discuss what should be in the legislation. Does the Minister have a rough idea of the approximate cost of what is to be brought forward in the Bill? If we have a rough idea of that figure, we shall be able to see whether we have finally buried the absurd idea that providing civil rights for disabled people will cost £17 billion.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I suspected that there would be a welcome for these pioneering measures that we are putting forward today, but I also suspected that some of it would be somewhat grudging. I am pleased to hear that the noble Baroness welcomes the Statement. I think she said that she was glad but not grateful. We do not seek gratitude. That is not the purpose of government. We propose to enable people with a disability to lead fulfilling, independent and useful lives. That is the purpose of the Bill.

Perhaps I may take up some of the points mentioned by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Addington. First, there is the question of the need for legal aid at tribunals. The majority of applicants who appear before tribunals are not legally represented. Industrial tribunals are intended to provide a means of redress with the minimum of formality. Legal aid is therefore not available for anyone who appears before a tribunal under any jurisdiction.

We feel strongly that the more we can go forward by conciliation, the better it is for everyone. When cases end up before tribunals, or court, few people are winners, except the lawyers.

With regard to the smaller employers, I understand that there is a feeling that small firms should also bear the costs of what we are proposing, but we have to draw a balance. We know that it is the small firms which are the seedcorn in creating this country's wealth. Therefore, we do not wish to overburden them. I understand that in America the disability legislation does not apply to small firms. We believe that we too should go down that road and exempt them from some of the burdens.

Our figures do not marry with those given by the noble Baroness. Indeed, 83 per cent. of employees would be covered by the new right. We believe that the figures given by the noble Baroness include self-employed people, and that distorts the figures.

With regard to education, we must wait for the accessibility audit that is now being carried out. We shall then look critically at what needs to be done and discuss the phasing of that with local education authorities.

We hope to make a policy statement before Christmas and therefore we are anxious to press ahead with the Bill. The policy statement will take up many of the detailed issues that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. It will also take into account the phasing.

We believe that this is a good Bill and we wish to see it go forward. The costs will not be exorbitant. The figure of £17 billion was given when the Berry Bill was introduced. That was the cost of that Bill—

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, no, it was not!

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, we costed the proposals in that Bill. This is a different Bill and the costs will be different. Noble Lords must wait for the compliance cost assessment once the details are worked out.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I welcome this first legislation coming from a government and aiming to tackle discrimination. One of the reasons is that I was the Member of another place who introduced the first Private Member's Bill on the subject. That was in 1968 after I had been successful in the ballot. Is my noble friend aware that early in 1969 my Bill was defeated after a two-line Whip had been imposed by the Labour Government of the day? I feel obliged to mention that because the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, referred critically to the present Government and even used the word "outrage". She may not remember the incident, but I can assure her that in 1969 there was much greater outrage among the disability groups about my Bill being voted down. This is, therefore, an historic occasion which I welcome.

The quota system is now 50 years old and it was intended mainly for war disabled. Does my noble friend accept that, if replacement does not find favour, major reform is necessary and that that was agreed on all sides of this House during my debate on 13th April? It is now mathematically impossible for all eligible employers to employ the present quota of 3 per cent.

As regards direct payments, I supported the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord McColl because I had understood that the system of direct payments applies in Scotland. Therefore, I have argued that it should apply to England and Wales too. I should be grateful if my noble friend could confirm that in Scotland there is already a system of direct payments.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend's patience has at last been rewarded. We strongly agree that the quota system needs major reform. As he said, it was introduced towards the end of the war and for a different purpose. It has proved to be unworkable. We believe that the measures that we have put forward will vastly improve the situation.

I am delighted to hear that the House welcomes direct payments. I am not sure about the situation in Scotland. Perhaps I can write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, the last thing that I wish to do is to bandy party political points. However, is the Minister aware that the first anti-discrimination Bill, as distinct from the general Bill that was brought forward by the noble Lord, was brought forward by a Labour Member some 12 years ago? I have forgotten his name but he represented Stoke-on-Trent! There has been a series of Bills ever since.

It would be churlish not to welcome the Statement and I so welcome it. The proposals are an advance for disabled people. However, I wish to make a particular point. The Minister spoke of burdening small employers. That is the wrong language to use because the whole object of anti-discrimination legislation is to release the talents and skills of disabled people. The Minister in no way excused the Government's failure to include firms of fewer than 20 employees but we hope to convert her and her colleagues on that issue.

I wish to ask the Minister to reflect on two related central issues. First, for the past 12 years the Government have resisted anti-discrimination legislation. Indeed, there have been 13 Private Members' Bills. The Government have now bowed to pressure from disabled people, the disability lobby and parliamentary and public opinion. There is nothing wrong with that; it is democracy at work. The Government have done well to respond. Secondly, the people and organisations which discriminate against disabled people will resist guidance and advice. They are the very people who require pressure. That pressure can come only from a strong disability rights commission which can investigate, monitor and enforce the law. Will the Minister and her colleagues consider putting forward a strong commission? If not, the legislation will go the same way as the quota system—it will be disregarded and discredited.

Baroness Ctunberlege

My Lords, I recognise that the noble Lord has been a doughty fighter for the needs of disabled people and I cherish his comments on welcoming the Statement. I take his point about small businesses. I am sure that many employers see enormous benefits in employing disabled people. Often they are the most loyal and reliable employees. Of course, there is nothing to prevent employers from employing disabled people if that is their choice. We are not making it mandatory for them to alter their buildings, introduce new systems and seek what could be expensive advice in order to do so. Perhaps we can take the Bill as it stands and see what progress is made. I am sure that small businesses will look to others and see some of the benefits.

The noble Lord called for a commission. The National Disability Council will be a powerful body and will be independent. It will advise the Government on issues relating to discrimination, suggest measures to reduce them, review the effects of the new rights of access and draw up codes of practice. It will also be required to report annually to my honourable friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People and to lay that report before Parliament. I have no doubt that it will be conscientious, particularly as its membership consists of 50 per cent. disabled people or their carers. I am sure that it will perceive as one of its duties to monitor what is happening and to report back to my honourable friend.

Lord Rix

My Lords, I welcome this Statement, and in particular the additional references to education, financial services and transport. The journey that the Government have travelled on this issue has been marathon. I am certain that the degree of shift in their position and the most welcome acknowledgement of the need for wide-ranging legislation could not have been achieved without great efforts and strong arguments on behalf of the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People. Therefore, congratulations are due to the Minister, to Members in another place and to Members of your Lordships' House. But above all, congratulations are due to disabled people and their organisations. They have pressed the case so hard for so many years.

But, not unnaturally, the Statement indicates a number of areas where the Bill may need to be improved when it eventually comes before us. As already hinted at by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, of grave concern to MENCAP is the suggested abolition of the employment quota, at least for the time being, for I must stress that our Pathway scheme, which has placed thousands of people with a learning disability into employment, relies heavily on the quota as a mechanism to persuade companies to consider employing people with learning disabilities. What reassurance can the Minister offer that the new proposals for employment will address the particular needs of people with learning disabilities?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for his work with MENCAP and other disability organisations. I understand what he says about the abolition of the quota scheme but we really do think that it is unworkable. I am sure that the new council will take a special interest in those people who have a mental handicap or learning disability. I have absolutely no doubt that, if there is any faltering, MENCAP will put enormous pressure on the Government.

Lord Renton

My Lords, perhaps I may congratulate my noble friend on the Statement that she has made. I remind her that the largest group of disabled people are those who suffer from various kinds of mental impairment. In that context, following what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, will she bear in mind that there must be some flexibility in the administration of the employment provisions of the scheme? There are those who are utterly unemployable and then there are a very large number, some of whom have been trained by MENCAP, who can do a wide range of unskilled jobs which nevertheless require a bit of training. They do those jobs well and continue to do them.

Will the Minister bear in mind that it would be a mistake to write into the Bill too great an emphasis on integration of those who are mentally handicapped into ordinary schools? It can be a disadvantage to them and to other pupils of those schools.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend, who I know has had very close associations with MENCAP and other organisations. With regard to flexibility in employment, perhaps we should leave that until we have the policy statement. I am sure that my noble friend will wish to comment on that. When the Bill is published, I am sure that he will put forward his views very strongly.

With regard to integration into ordinary schools, it has been our policy to integrate as many young children, teenagers and students, when they go to college, into normal schools and colleges. But we take the point that there are some children and young people who do not thrive when they are taught in mainstream institutions.

Of course it is a question of local judgment. One always has to take into account the comments and wishes of parents and carers of those children.

Viscount Tonypandy

My Lords, we have listened to noble Lords who have spent a lifetime fighting for the disabled. I believe that the conscience of the country has been disturbed. But, at the beginning of the Minister's Statement, she paid a quiet but gracious tribute to the right honourable Member for Chelsea and I wish to underline that. He fell victim because he was the spokesman at a difficult time but I believe that he had fought within the administration to the utmost of his ability for disabled people and I am very glad that the Minister paid that tribute.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I was very interested to hear what the Minister said and welcomed what she had to tell us. Local authorities up and down the country are doing a good deal to try to ensure that disabled people have access to various forms of transport. Therefore, I was interested in her remarks about access to the rail network. In Surrey we know that it would cost about £2 million in order to make the 20 busiest stations fully accessible. Upon whom would those costs fall? Would they fall upon the newly privatised Railtrack?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I do not believe that I can fully answer the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. The whole question of costing will be addressed when we come to the cost compliance assessment which the Government will run, so we shall be looking at the detail of that.

I pay tribute to those transport undertakings which have already taken that very seriously. One can see the Docklands Light Railway and the tram systems in Manchester and Sheffield, where already there is total accessibility, and, of course, British Rail has its 125 system throughout the country.

I believe that transport is absolutely crucial. It is everything for disabled people in terms of independence. Seven thousand London taxis are now accessible to disabled people. We are getting there—a true British Rail term, I believe.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I welcome the Statement. Will my noble friend tell us when we can expect the proposals by the Secretary of State for the Environment on new domestic dwellings? Will the changes which he is to put forward be made by a straightforward change to the building regulations or will there be a specialist discussion document beforehand?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, as to the timing, it will be shortly. I cannot say exactly when. I did not hear my noble friend's second question.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, I asked whether the matter would be dealt with by changing the building regulations or whether there would be a discussion document which builders, who will have to put the proposals into effect, will have an opportunity to consider beforehand.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, there will be discussions with the construction industry.