HL Deb 14 July 2000 vol 615 cc552-74

5.32 p.m.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have made any response to Rehabilitation International's newly promulgated charter for disabled people world-wide.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, last week, on 5th July, the Charter for the Third Millennium, which calls for the human rights of disabled people everywhere to be recognised and protected, was received by the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street. It seems therefore the appropriate time to be asking whether Her Majesty's Government have made any response to the charter and to urge that they do so positively. I emphasise that it is the right time to ask the Question. We could not put it off and I greatly appreciate the tolerance of the staff and officers.

Perhaps I may sketch briefly the history of how the charter came about and then give a broad-brush description of its aims, leaving other noble Lords to fill in the finer detail of their chosen areas. I am appreciative of all those who have put their names down to speak and I look forward to hearing their contributions, especially to the Minister's reply.

I look forward to hearing the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, who in a sense could almost claim paternity of the charter. It was because of Alf Morris's achievements in the field of disability legislation—from promoting his Private Members' Bill, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 which was taken through this House by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to being the world's first Minister for the Disabled—that in 1979 he was invited to open the UN General Assembly's debate, which led to the International Year of Disabled People. He chaired the World Planning Group, which drafted for Rehabilitation International the Charter for the 80s for disabled people world-wide.

Rehabilitation International (RI) is the coordinating body for disability organisations in more than 100 countries, working to improve life for people with disabilities. That earlier charter was RI's contribution to the International Year of Disabled People in 1981. Its goals were full participation and equality for disabled people everywhere. I speak about this charter as well because the two form part of a whole.

The charter had a major impact on the provision for disabled people in many countries. It was the basis for the UN Decade of the Disabled Person and influenced the drafting of the UN standard rules on disability. It provided targets for the 1980s at community, national and world-wide levels and set out how every nation could translate the charter's aims into reality.

Many people believed that it was over-ambitious; for example, the proposal for a Minister for disabled people, or the equivalent, with responsibility for developing and co-ordinating a national plan for disability prevention and rehabilitation. Yet, I am told that that now happens in most countries.

In the UK the national members of Rehab International, RADAR and Rehab UK, chaired by George Wilson, who is also the treasurer of Rehab International, have been responsible for advancing the Charter for the 80s and, equally, have played a leading part in the Charter for the Third Millennium. The Charter for the Third Millennium came about because most of the proposals of the previous charter had been achieved and there was a need to set out how future priorities would be met. Once again, Alf Morris—now the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester—chaired the international group which drafted the new charter. I pay tribute to the way in which he continues to work unstintingly for disabled people world-wide.

The Charter for the Third Millennium was approved by Rehab International's governing body in September 1999 and has been presented to heads of state and of government, as well as to the UN and the Commonwealth Secretariat. Some of your Lordships were in the Crypt Chapel just before Christmas when the charter was presented to the Lord Chancellor and the Deputy Speaker. As I said at the beginning, it was presented to the Prime Minister on 5th July. It has also been presented to heads of state in countries as diverse as China, Russia and South Africa.

What does the charter say? Its goal is world-wide recognition and protection of human rights for people with disabilities. It updates the original charter, takes account of the benefits of information technology, stresses the need to prevent preventable diseases and expresses concern at the failure to treat treatable conditions. It calls on countries to show the political will to ensure programmes to prevent disability and provides services so that people with disabilities can live, work and support themselves and their families and play a full part in the community. It acknowledges that technology can do much to improve the lives of people with disabilities but that there is still a huge need for greater understanding and awareness. It recognises the importance of the media in informing and changing attitudes and it contains emphasis on social inclusion and the importance of rehabilitation and independent living.

I find the charter itself quite difficult because it uses rather poetic language. However, the attached draft plan of action gives a more detailed outline under eight headings, including ethical issues, childhood disability, access and technology. I hope that other noble Lords will say more about them. There are huge questions about ethics, genetics and the impact of AIDS.

Perhaps I may give one detail from Childhood Disability to demonstrate how much has been achieved and how much is still to do. This paper contrasts the achievements, for example, of the near eradication of polio, the reduction of mental impairments due to iron deficiency and of blindness due to Vitamin A deficiency. Yet international estimates are that only approximately 3 per cent of children world-wide are in school, and of those only one-third are girls. Therefore, our global disease and disability prevention strategies have intensified. International and national commitment to address the basic needs of children who are born or become physically or mentally disabled lag far behind.

I believe that we would all acknowledge that education opens up opportunities in life. Most of us would agree that inclusive education provides the best way and I am glad to see the heading, "Inclusion and Equity". Inclusion is viewed as the most powerful tool available to implement the equalisation of opportunities. Again, in this field much has been achieved but there is still much to be done.

I should like to quote from the plan of action: While many countries have made great strides in reducing illiteracy, opening up education opportunities for all around the world, it is still the pupils and students with disabilities who are the last to be let in the schoolroom door, and more often than that are sitting at home. Exclusion from school is the equivalent of a lifelong sentence of poverty and dependency-.

Three years ago, on a wonderful visit to India organised by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, II visited a remarkable school on the campus of the Indian Institute of Technology in south Delhi. Equality is paramount, physically and mentally disabled children are welcome, there is no caste prejudice and all religious festivals are celebrated.

I met a 16 year-old girl sitting in her wheelchair with her legs folded on the seat. Her name was Mamta and she had been locked up in her room for years because she could not use her legs on account of polio and the neighbours thought that she was evil. Her parents were not unkind; they were just helpless because they could not take her out.

The school gave Mamta a tricycle and her brother helped to push her to school. She started in the kindergarten at 14 and she was so bright that she had caught up by 16 and was looking forward to going to college.

Last week, I was thinking of Mamta in the context of this debate. The same day, a lady came up to me in the Peers Lobby and said, "Didn't you come to my school in Delhi?" It was extraordinary, because she had come to visit the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. I learnt that Mamta is now 19, doing a university degree and going back to teach computer skills at the school.

Coming back nearer home, I welcome the fact that a Bill on special educational needs and disability rights in education is coming soon. I hope that it will facilitate and ensure successful inclusive education. We must work hard to get it right.

Many of your Lordships have spent hours—even years—discussing transport, accessible housing and access to work in this Chamber. By now I hope that we understand the problems and how to solve them, even if we have not yet wholly eliminated them. However, for most of the world, those are the problems to be faced today—or even tomorrow for those countries that have not yet considered the place of disabled people in society and need to be encouraged towards a more enlightened policy. We have to deal with huge questions of ethics and genetics.

There have been many useful initiatives and much progress since the Charter for the 80s was drafted, but even the UN standard rules are not compulsory. Time has shown that we need something with a bit more clout, underpinned by international standards and the experience of rights-based national legislation.

The Charter for the Third Millennium calls on member states to support the promulgation of a United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities, which it sees as vital to achieving its goals. I very much hope that the Government will give their wholehearted support to a convention and, if necessary, will argue and push for it in the United Nations so that the human rights of people with disabilities may be recognised and protected worldwide.

5.43 p.m.

Lord Morris of Manchester

My Lords, I most warmly congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, on her speech in opening the debate. The conventions of the House do not allow me from these Benches to call her, as a Cross-Bencher, "my noble friend". What I can say, however, is that she is indeed a long-standing friend, that her parliamentary record is one that I hold in high admiration and that it was enhanced both by the manner and the content of her speech today. I feel sure that her colleagues in all parts of your Lordships' House will think it most fitting that it was the noble Baroness who opened debate from the Cross Benches. For no specific party interest arises in commending a statement of consensus on international priorities for action to improve the status and well-being of disabled people worldwide.

The noble Baroness explained the origins of my interest in the debate as chairman of the world planning groups selected by Rehabilitation International—RI—to draft both this new charter and its predecessor, the Charter for the 80s. But, like my Bill on which the noble Baroness made her maiden speech 30 years ago—the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill—both documents were the product not of individual but of co-operative effort.

The world planning group selected by RI to draft the Charter for the Third Millennium had among its members many highly distinguished people from the north, south, east and west of the world. They included HE Chief Emeka Anyaoku, then Commonwealth Secretary-General; Justin Dart, who formerly chaired the US President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities; Deng Pufang, chairman of the China Disabled Persons' Federation; Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa; Ms Jameela Al-Qasimi of the United Arab Emirates; Shri D K Manavalan of India; Anatole Ossadchikh, a Minister in the Russian Federation; Prince Ra'ad Bin Zeid of Jordan; Professor Stephen Hawking; and Sir Harry Fang of Hong Kong, a former President of RI. I am most grateful to them all and also to George Wilson, a senior officer of RI and chairman of Rehab UK, for his dedication to promoting the new charter here in the UK. The noble Baroness's and my acknowledgement of all his help will, I am sure, be endorsed by other speakers in this debate.

The new charter updates its highly acclaimed predecessor of 20 years ago, whose impact can be seen in the statute books of scores of countries and which became the basis for the UN World Programme of Action for the Decade of Disabled Persons. The Charter for the 80s was about basic rehabilitation services; full representation for disabled people on all public bodies making decisions affecting their lives; equal opportunities in education and the workplace; a basic income; and access to the built environment in a world where most countries had no disability legislation of any kind. The new charter is mainly about basic human and civil rights: those of the world's 600 million people with physical, intellectual and sensory disabilities.

Today millions of people, children and adults alike, more especially among the poorest of the world's poor, live with the effects of disabilities that were easily preventable at minimal cost. Failure to protect them was a problem not of resources but of political will and priorities. In the same way, purposeful action to reduce the handicapping effects of disability is still pitifully inadequate. Indeed in most of the world the problems of disabled living, far from being reduced, are multiplied by wholly unmerited but still lawful discrimination against disabled people.

The Charter for the Third Millennium offers new hope and a new vision for a new century: one of full empowerment and genuine social inclusion for disabled people across the world. Its emphasis is on value as well as cost and its plea to governments is for acts not of compassion but of enlightened self-interest and moral right. The knowledge and skills now exist to enable all countries to remove the barriers which exclude people with disabilities from the life of their communities. It is possible now for every country to open all of its institutions and systems to all of its people. Again what is too often lacking is the political will to proclaim and translate into action the policies necessary to bring this about. And the new charter makes it plain that a nation failing to respond to this challenge fails to realise its true worth.

The new charter states: In the 21st Century, we must insist on the same human and civil rights for people with disabilities as for everyone else". It insists too that disabled people should have a central role in planning their own rehabilitation and support programmes and that disabled people's organisations should be empowered with the resources necessary to share responsibility in national planning for rehabilitation and independent living. It calls on: Every nation to develop, with the participation of disabled people's organisations, a comprehensive plan with clearly defined targets and timetables for implementing the aims set out in this Charter". Other principal aims of a new charter are, first, to promote action in every country to create on-going, countrywide programmes to prevent risks that may lead to disability and early intervention programmes for people who become impaired; secondly, to achieve a UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities as a key strategy; and thirdly, to ensure that international development assistance programmes should require accessibility for disabled people in all infrastructure projects, including technology and communications, to vouchsafe for disabled people full inclusion in the economic and social life of their communities.

The question is posed as to why so many people now acquire preventable disabilities and the new charter's authors share the view of the UNICEF report The State of the World's Children which states: When so much could be done for so many and at so little cost, then one central, shameful fact becomes unavoidable: the reason that these problems are not being overcome is not because the task is too large or too difficult or too expensive. It is that the job is not being given sufficient priority because those most severely affected are almost exclusively the poorest and least politically influential people on earth". Look, for example, at the incidence of blindness in the world today. Four out of five blind people live in the third world and four out of five of them are preventably blind. Yet as that inspired crusader against avoidable disability, the late and widely mourned Sir John Wilson, so clearly demonstrated, the cost of saving people in the third world from preventable disability has been falling as dramatically as the incidence of preventable disability in many of the poorest countries has increased.

What is so moving about working with leading representatives of disability organisations from across the world, irrespective of where they live, is their readiness always to prioritise the claims of the world's poorest disabled people. That was strongly reflected by members of the World Planning Group that drafted the Charter for the Third Millennium, as it has been in every statement commending the document at presentations to heads of state and of government.

The new charter has already been presented, among others, to state leaders in China, Russia, Ireland, Jordan, Greece, Lebanon and South Africa, and was received by our Prime Minister, as the noble Baroness said, at 10 Downing Street on 5th July. It has also been received with approbation by the United Nations and the Commonwealth and there is already wide backing for the charter's call for a UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities.

Chief Emeka Anyaoku said of the charter: I am proud to be associated with this humane document. While much has been accomplished, there is very much more still to do, not least in challenging failure to prevent preventable diseases and to treat treatable conditions. I take pride most of all in the Charter's insistence that disabled children everywhere must now share the rights of all humanity to grow and learn, to work and create, to love and be loved". Dr Arthur O'Reilly, the current President of RI, who spoke so movingly at the service held to celebrate the new charter in the Chapel of St. Mary Undercroft last December, states: Disabled people have waited too long for their rights to be fully recognised and protected: it is now time to move on to the UN Convention we are recommending". My noble friend who will reply to this debate showed his interest and concern by attending the service held in St. Mary Undercroft last December; and I know he will respond positively to the charter's recommendations, as the Prime Minister did so memorably when it was presented to him on 5th July.

The Charter for the Third Millennium looks forward to a world where all citizens with disabilities are seen as giving as well as receiving; where their potential is understood and valued; where needs come before means; where if years cannot be added to their lives, at least life can be added to their years; where disabled people have an undoubted right to participate in the work and life of their communities; and where no disabled person has cause to feel ill at ease because of her or his disability.

That is the precious gift this charter can bequeath to the new millennium and I commend it to the House.

5.51 p.m.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to take part in this debate to welcome the charter for the new millennium. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, for that opportunity. The charter represents 20 years of hard work by Rehabilitation International. It represents a lifetime of leadership by Alf Morris. We are all in his debt.

Disability is, more than ever, a key development issue. It is a hugely challenging one, as it means linking prevention and rehabilitation with empowerment and changes in attitudes. The charter for the new millennium is optimistic about the progress that has been made; it is also realistic about the challenges to be faced, new challenges that surround and compound the difficulties that face disabled people across the world.

Among those challenges I believe that none is greater than the failure to remove disabled people from the ranks of the poorest and the most dependent. Despite all the progress that we have made in articulating human rights, in science and in medicine, we have not solved the problem of poverty because the disabled have been left out of education and employment.

The fact is that unless we are more pro-active their children will be left out of those rights as well. For them, the fact that the international commitment to education is a fundamental right that has been enshrined in so many international charters has a hollow ring. I believe, therefore, that one of the most effective responses that our Government could possibly make to the expression of equal opportunities in the charter is to recommit itself to more pro-active policies for the education of disabled children.

To concentrate on that point, the figures given by the noble Baroness make a truly shocking story. There are 150 million disabled children of whom 3 per cent are in school, and yet, as UNICEF has made clear, 70 per cent of them could be in school. What keeps them out of school and what keeps them out of jobs is not their lack of talent, but the negative cultural and professional attitudes, inaccessible schools, inflexible curricula, untrained teachers, family poverty and the failure to provide early intervention that can help children to thrive.

Those figures also reflect other shocking facts as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has said. Many diseases and disabilities are entirely preventable. In the decade since the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, more than 6 million children have been injured in armed conflict.

That is not to say that good things are not happening within developing countries or indeed through development assistance programmes. They are. Within the past year, for example, India has made a specific effort to include disabled children as of right in mainstream schools, and those schools which are good practitioners are leading the way and helping many other schools to follow their example.

But what shocks me about the briefing we received from Rehabilitation International is the statement that disabled children are still, routinely excluded from international development programmes"; even those which are focused specifically on children themselves, such as health and literacy. I believe that the international expertise and commitment represented within RI will not only focus concern on the root causes of poverty, but could also drive new inclusive education policies for children with disabilities. Our own Government, with their development policy, have already committed themselves to the goal of universal access to primary education as a means of reducing extreme poverty by 2015. They also recognise, however, that that cannot be done without ensuring that all schools attempt to meet special educational needs through a more inclusive approach to education. The countries which need help cannot do that without international assistance. The Government have already said that that is an area where further work is required.

I hope that this charter will galvanise the Government in finding new ways to do that and to ensure that special needs education as well as early intervention strategies become a requirement rather than an exception within every international assistance programme directed towards children and help them to support developing countries into making inclusive education part of their mainstream provision as a matter of course. Above all, I hope that the response of the Government, following the warm welcome the charter has already received from the Prime Minister, will be to take a lead in supporting in principle and practice the prospect of a United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities to match the other conventions in this field. For the 150 million children who are still waiting to be offered a place in school and a place in society, this charter is the beginning of practical action. No country can afford to waste the intelligence and resourcefulness of people with disabilities, least of all developing countries with little economic capacity.

Rehabilitation International has led the way. I hope its work will have the support that it fully deserves.

5.57 p.m.

Lord Rix

My Lords, appalling descriptions of institutions and conditions for disabled people are sadly commonplace around the world. They make us only too aware of the importance of charters such as Rehabilitation International's Charter for the Third Millennium which, as we have heard, was presented by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, to the Prime Minister last week and which he and my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth described so well.

The charter ends by stating that, in the third millennium, it must become the goal of all nations to evolve into societies that protect the rights of people with disabilities by supporting their full empowerment and inclusion in all aspects of life. As we heard from my noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth, in particular it calls for a United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities as a key strategy to achieve those goals.

Noble Lords may already be familiar with the statement made by the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Mrs Mary Robinson, in August 1998 when she said, Disabled people frequently live in deplorable conditions owing to the presence of physical and social barriers which prevent their integration into and full participation in the community. Millions of children and adults world-wide are segregated and deprived of their rights and are, in effect, living on the margins. This is unacceptable". I hope I will be forgiven if, as President of Mencap, I mention our work in the countries of east and central Europe, which has been growing over recent years and which may illustrate some of the problems facing us. Working in partnership with a number of different national and local organisations in those countries we have been seeking to ensure that the rights of people with a learning disability are protected, not least their rights for personal safety and growth. Those are countries seeking to move on from a situation we ourselves have long left behind.

In the week when a seminar in South Africa is focusing upon the issues related to HIV/AIDS, I am pleased to remember a small group home in Bucharest, set up by Mencap, Health Aid UK and Romanian Save the Children, where a group of children with HIV/AIDS and additional disabilities can enjoy what little time they have left before they die. It is in startling contrast to the infectious diseases hospital where the children used to live.

Moreover, the Government welcomed this week a visit by the President of the Republic of Macedonia and Mencap was able to announce its participation in a United Nations-led project in that country. The project has the full backing of Macedonia's Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and will work towards the closure of a large institution in that country, which presently houses some 460 children and adults who all live in grim conditions. I should mention that one little girl is in the institution simply because she has a squint! A journalist wrote the following description of a visit to the present institution: In February, when I visited the institution for the first time, the children were mixed with adults. They lay or crawled all around the halls and stairs. Wind and cold was everywhere. A large number of them were partly or completely naked. Others were 'dressed' (if that is the word to use) in straitjackets. Now the children are more or less divided from the adults and we didn't see many straitjackets". Of course, we should not forget that institutions like this also existed in the United Kingdom and in the USA not so very long ago. What is important is that the Macedonian Government, recognising that the human rights of people with a learning disability are violated daily in the institution, are committed to create alternative community-based services for their residents. Mencap is delighted to be playing a role in that initiative, thanks to the British Ambassador in Skopje and his wife (Mark and Christina Dickinson) who drew our attention to the need for such action.

In view of what noble Lords have already heard in this short debate, and as we have adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, why should we not call for a convention on the rights of people with disabilities? This was also the conclusion of the World NGO Summit on Disability that met in Beijing in March of this year, at which the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, was present. It was attended by five leading international disability organizations— Disabled People's International, the World Blind Union, the World Federation of the Deaf, Rehabilitation International and, finally, Inclusion International. For the sake of clarification, I should tell noble Lords that the latter organisation is a truly international network representing the world's 60 million people with a learning disability and of which Mencap was a founder member in the 1960s.

As I said, the Beijing Declaration also calls upon nations to move forward from the UN Standard Rules on the Equalisation of Opportunity for People with Disabilities and to adopt an international convention on the rights of people with disabilities that will legally bind member countries. It was recognised in Beijing that the UN standard rules were an important landmark and have inspired legislation and programmes around the world to improve the living conditions of disabled people—but they are not legally binding. An international convention would be binding, once governments had signed it. It would also have a monitoring mechanism, although it is recognised, with regret, that this is no guarantee of total implementation, as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child illustrates.

Despite that convention, we read in UNICEF's report, The State of the World's Children in 2000 that hundreds of millions of children throughout the world are still deprived of their rights. This is quite appalling. Rights need to be realised both for children and for people with disabilities.

We now have two very important statements, both of which call for a United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities—one, the Charter for the Third Millennium, and the other, the Beijing Declaration. Therefore, it was a great disappointment to learn that the European Union has blocked the adoption of such an international convention at the UN Human Rights Commission earlier in the year. My noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth asks whether the Government, have made any response to Rehabilitation International's newly promulgated Charter for disabled people worldwide". Perhaps I may in turn also ask the Government to respond positively to the need for such a new United Nations convention, without which we know only too well that the deplorable conditions in which disabled people live around the world will go on unchanged and unnoticed for yet another century. As Mrs Mary Robinson said two years ago, this is unacceptable.

6.4 p.m.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, I welcome and support the charter. I am extremely thankful to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, for bringing this matter before the House. One is, of course, always humbled by the outstanding and continuously imaginative efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, to further the agenda for and on behalf of disabled people.

A Charter for the Third Millennium is a significant aspiration to address the plight of 600 million people world-wide. The temptation to say too much is so great that on this occasion I shall have to concentrate on highlighting only a few good practices.

No one can disagree with the aim of a society or world where equal opportunity is a natural consequence of policies and legislation supporting full participation, inclusion and access for all people. But, sadly, not everyone is signed up to acting on those principles. That is why a positive and universal response to the charter is crucial. I look forward to a gallant and robust reply to the debate.

In Britain we have come a long way with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995; the setting up of the Disability Rights Commission and the recognition of carers of disabled children. This journey must recognise the outstanding work of many organisations such as Rehabilitation UK and Rehabilitation International and of individuals such as George Wilson, who has already been mentioned.

I always hesitate to make any reference to anything that is going on outside the House as I spend so much of the day inside it. However, Whip or no Whip, I ventured outside last week to witness the launch of the Employers Forum on Disability. I note that the Whip on the Front Bench has just taken in that fact! I was greatly encouraged by the discussion and demonstration of how far we have progressed over 20 years, both here and in the United States. Many individual and corporate experiences were shared and significant progress was made. The message was simply that we need a common-sense approach to achieving equality. Where there is a will there is a way.

The question before us is whether there is global change and how we can ensure that some of our positive advances are also experienced by our international brothers, sisters, mothers and children and, of course, partner organisations. Among the partners supporting the Charter for the Third Millennium are champions such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and my good friend, the former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku.

As a Muslim woman I am particularly proud of the role of my fellow Muslim believers in the contribution that they have made to and the support that they have demonstrated for the charter. Two people who have put their signature on the document are distinguished people in the Muslim world. Both Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia and Prince Ra'ad of Jordan are known to be vigorous champions for the rights of disabled people in the Muslim community.

One of the most exemplary exercises in inclusion, appreciation and respect for disabled people is the way in which the Hajj—the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca—is planned. Despite the fact that the hosts have to cater for millions of people from different parts of the world, as far as humanly possible attempts have been made to cater for the needs of the disabled. The fact that there are more wheelchairs and personal facilities—I did not want to mention toilets—for the disabled within the vicinity of Mecca than anywhere in the world is something to be noted.

Another interesting example from the Muslim world—I have not visited it, but I am reliably informed that this is the case—is that of the Islamic Republic of Iran which has done remarkably well in trying to ensure that equal opportunities for disabled people in that country are the natural consequences of enlightened policies and legislation supporting full inclusion in all aspects of society. Iran has more per capita facilities for disabled people—in terms of vocational and leisure centres and user-friendly transport—than any country in the region. It has more than 2 million officially registered disabled people, who enjoy the same human civil rights as everyone else—under the law.

But, like everything else, the problem highlighted by the charter is one based on attitude and lack of action. Needless to say, I should like to see every country, state and organisation signed up to this charter as a sign of their commitment to changing the lives of disabled people. I believe that we have got to get tough and practical about what our Government can do globally to move forward the agenda for disabled people. I respectfully suggest to the Minister that he should consider what leverage we have internationally. Will my noble friend consider discussing with DfID and the British Council that any future programmes and activities negotiated overseas should have agreed criteria which require the country concerned to sign up to the human rights of disabled people? I suppose I am suggesting that a standard procedure should be drawn up to call into account resource allocation on the basis of a country's track record of work with disabled people, as is the case with human rights and other fundamental principles.

Some of the examples that I have shared about the Muslim world do not surprise me when I consider the intolerance and militancy with which Islam combats discrimination against the disabled. I am no scholar, but research indicates that Allah tells the believers in Chapter 4 verse 61 of the Koran that, It is not fault in the blind Nor in one born lame, nor In one afflicted with illness". The blame is upon those who would deny them their rights and dignity. For, in Islam, frowning upon the disabled is a crime that is unacceptable to God and God's messenger.

I suggest that if emphasis was placed on making the noble teaching of Islam on such matters more accessible to Muslim people in this country and worldwide, the charter would achieve phenomenal results within the Muslim communities throughout the world and bring equality and justice to millions who are now marginalised and discriminated against. I am adding my very small voice in support of the charter and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth.

6.12 p.m.

Viscount Simon

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, has introduced the debate, the subject of which is not only interesting but important for the future of disabled people world-wide. I apologise to the noble Baroness for shortening my speech due to the lateness of the hour.

One of the British members of Rehabilitation International is the Shaw Trust. I first came into contact with the Shaw Trust some years ago when my daughter received a brain stem injury at her first place of work after graduating from university. She was gently and greatly helped by the Shaw Trust to come to terms with her problems and to get back into the workplace. She has now been back in full-time employment for about four years.

Among the aims of RI are the prevention of disability and the rehabilitation of people with disabilities. Disabled people have the same right to life as everyone else, and the last century has demonstrated that it is possible to extend access to every available resource to certain members of the community. This must be extended more widely. Disabled people want to make a contribution to their communities but are frequently prevented from so doing by the disabling factors highlighted in this charter.

But more and more people are being added to the number of those with disabilities simply as a result of the failure to prevent certain diseases and the failure to treat treatable conditions. Immunisation and other preventative medicines are both practical and cost effective but governments throughout the world need determination to end the discrimination which can lead to disablement. When so many people have been disabled by preventable conditions, how can we justify inaction?

It is acknowledged that, in the past 25 years or so, the battle against age-old diseases such as smallpox, polio, measles, river blindness and leprosy can be won. More is needed to overcome other diseases, some of which have come back to haunt us and others which are comparatively new: TB, drug resistant strains of communicable diseases, increased tobacco-related diseases and those associated with alcohol and drugs. But until such time as the scale of the problem is acknowledged there will be insufficient will to address them. Yet the magnitude should he self-evident. The fact that 100 million people are disabled by malnutrition, for example, illustrates with immense power the fact that issues such as hunger, poverty and health cannot be addressed without also tackling the needs of disabled people.

Disabled people are organising themselves with increasing cohesion and efficiency throughout the world and Rehabilitation International is an important strand in that. This voice needs to be heard and it behoves all of us to do what we can to listen and respond. An important part of this is through community development. It would mark real progress to see disability receiving specific attention in all such transitional programmes.

6.15 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, we are all eager to hear the Minister, whose devotion to the disabled is well known. I shall not stand between noble Lords and the Minister for more than a few minutes.

I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, does not really enjoy my compliments. However, I cannot help repeating the one I paid her previously because it comes so much into my mind. It is a wonderful thing that after 30 years in what seems to be the same wheelchair—I am partially sighted but it seems to be the same wheelchair—she was chosen first in the election of the independent Peers. What a tribute to have! It is something of a tribute to the House that it should choose her as the first one. That was very fine on both sides.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, in her humility in front of these heroes and heroines. I remember what a negro leader said to Abraham Lincoln after his greatest speech. He said, "Mr Lincoln, that was a sacred thing", to which Mr Lincoln replied, "I am glad you liked it". We are in the presence of people who have suffered a great deal but who have devoted their lives to this cause. That is bound to leave a permanent effect on all of us. I have no claim to speak in this matter, although the noble Lord, Lord Morris, did me the great honour of asking me to take his Bill through the House 30 years ago. I have a few more credentials than I used to have. Not many people can say that they have moved about the House recently in six different ways: first, on my own legs for many years until I was 90 or so; then with a stick; and then with a zimmer. I do not know how many noble Lords have used a zimmer. I have never had one on wheels. Next time I have a bad fall I shall get one on wheels. Next I had a wheelchair—pushing myself and then being pushed by someone else; and, finally, pushing the wheelchair itself. I found that the most satisfactory way of moving about that I have ever encountered. I have had those experiences. But they do not amount to much compared with what so many others have suffered and achieved.

I shall offer just one reflection. I have given notice of it, although the Minister may not have much time to deal with all the points raised in the debate. I was personal assistant to Sir William Beveridge—later Lord Beveridge—from 1941 to 1944. We drew up plans—I should say he drew up plans; I was his bottlewasher—for the welfare state. And very fruitful they proved. In those days we spent a good deal of time discussing the position of the old and the sick. They were different categories. Now most people recognise that they overlap. I hope that the Minister will have time—perhaps he will not have time today—to answer my question. Are we giving sufficient attention to the fact that, according to the figures that have been given to me, half the disabled are old people? The position of old people who are disabled is in a way almost more tragic than the position of a young person disabled from birth. I know that many others will speak up for them.

As an old person myself, I think that I qualify. I think that most people over 90 qualify. I hope that we shall be given an indication that the connection between old age and disability will be recognised.

6.20 p.m.

Lord Addington

My Lords, a fairly august company of the House of Lords has gathered to debate this subject. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, leads and the rest of us follow. On occasion, not a few Ministers of various shape and colour have been led to doing what we felt would be a "good thing".

Baroness Uddin

Hear, hear!

Lord Addington

My Lords, I appreciate the acknowledgement of the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin. I should like to congratulate her on her bravery in admitting to being prepared to miss the possibility of a vote. I can only hope that it was on one of the days when the Government Benches had decided not to align themselves with us.

Baroness Uddin

My Lords, only for good causes. Lord Addington: My Lords, I accept that.

On reading the report, I have come to a principal conclusion, one that has been reinforced by the speeches that we have heard today; namely, that Members of this House should not feel too smug or be too happy for the simple reason that whatever we have done, we have done it too late and too slowly. Government Ministers of various parties have had to be pressurised in order to achieve what we wanted. We have constantly had to chase Ministers to ensure that disability issues are brought into legislation. Although things now move a little more swiftly, we still have to snap at heels to move matters along. Pressure has to be applied.

It should be remembered that we have not been such a moral and good society that it was not necessary to set up a commission. We should always remember that we have many problems of our own, many of which can be traced to a theme that recurs throughout the document; namely, that of perception. The philosophy of the normality of disability still has to be learnt. As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has just mentioned, the onset of disability can take place at different stages of life and it is world-wide. We should keep it in mind that all of us have contact with people with disabilities. At various times, different forms of disability become more apparent.

On our own continent, we see areas of incredibly bad practice, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. We need to ensure that we first put our own house in order. In a political system where the democratic element is dominant—that is, we must be responsive to our voters—it still took us an unconscionably long time to realise that people with disabilities should be brought into the political process and that we should listen to them.

As regards international efforts, I felt that any one of my colleagues who has any kind of responsibility in the party could have spoken in this debate. Virtually every form of activity has an international dimension which in turn reflects back on this issue. Overseas aid merely forms the start of the process.

International trade refers back to the issue; and not only trade with what is rather patronisingly referred to as the third or developing world. We shall see the introduction of forms of employment regulation which will cut across the board. When it comes to international links, whether it be through sport or cultural exchanges, we must bear the issue of disability in mind. The huge growth of the popularity of the Para-olympics has been, I felt, a little condescending. I believe that people only came to notice the event because British athletes have been able to win plenty of medals. That is a perfect example of how disability is pigeon-holed in our perceptions.

However, that is the area in which the Government can make the greatest contribution. The Government should take the lead by declaring that disability forms a part of normal life. The very fact of the word "disability"—I appreciate that it cannot be changed; language contains its own iron history and when you try to change it you will get into trouble—needs to be addressed in every sphere of life. If we do not concentrate on changing perceptions, we shall continue to hold high-minded discussions for ever. We will make only token gestures, because unless disability is brought to the centre of life, we shall get nowhere.

On the practical side, the philosophy that has driven the notion to incorporate disability into mainstream education is undoubtedly one of the most important. As regards our own society, we are about to go to considerable lengths to deal with this matter properly in a Bill that will affect our own society. However, once again, "We ain't there yet". The philosophy of introducing people with disabilities into the education system as a part of normal life so that they can progress into a more technologically advanced world and then on into the economic process will mean that they cannot be ignored.

Unless we start to put pressure on people and make sure that they recognise that disabled people are part of society, ultimately we shall not succeed. I look forward to hearing what initiatives the Government propose, either today or in the future.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Astor of Hever

My Lords, it is most unfortunate that this debate is taking place so late in the day. This is an important subject and deserves better. Let us not forget that there are, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, reminded us, 600 million disabled people throughout the world. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, on introducing this timely debate.

I congratulate also the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, who was invited to chair the committee of eminent people from all over the world who updated and redrafted the 1980 charter. It is a great tribute to the noble Lord, the world's first Minister for the Disabled, who was so involved with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in this country's landmark legislation for disabled people, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. This has become a model for other parliaments across the world.

I should like to pay tribute also to Rehabilitation International. Since 1922, RI has a long history of accomplishments throughout the world in improving the quality of life of people with disabilities. From these Benches, I join other noble Lords in welcoming Rehabilitation International's Charter for the Third Millennium. I was interested to read that RI has researched the level of support for a UN convention on the rights of people with disabilities and found a positive level of support by member states. That is encouraging, as earlier attempts to establish a convention were backed by only a limited number of UN member states.

The barriers that disabled people face in any country are considerable but in developing countries they are much greater. One of my daughters has just returned from Cambodia, which is particularly affected by disability: 1.4 million of the 8 million population has been disabled as a result of poverty, war and human rights abuses.

It is important that we in this country realise the connections between the establishment of disability rights as an issue in this country and the promotion of disability rights world-wide. Without that promotion, the difficulties that disabled people face in the UK will only be reflected and amplified many times over in developing countries.

What steps, therefore, are the Government taking to ensure that disabled people in Britain have access to every resource, service and facility to ensure their integration into the community and their ability to be an independent member of society? Will the Government endorse the proposal in the charter that international programmes to assist economic and social development should require minimum accessibility standards to include technology and communication to ensure that people with disabilities are included in all programmes?

The charter rightly points out that in the third millennium we must accept disability as an ordinary part of the varied human condition. Everyone in life is affected by disability in one form or another—the noble Lord, Lord Addington, made the point well—whether family or friends. The charter observes that one family in four includes a disabled person or friend. Last year I broke my leg and had to spend some time in a wheelchair. That experience made me realise how much more we needed to do for the disabled.

Eventually, if we live long enough we all become disabled. That will become all the more evident in this country with its ageing society. I look forward to hearing from the Minister whether the Government will support the promulgation of a United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Bach

My Lords, this has been an inspiring debate, and I join in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, for having introduced it in such a moving and telling manner.

Since its inception in 1922 Rehabilitation International has done much to raise the profile of disability across the world. Nearly all noble Lords have referred to the Charter for the 80s, which was a notable milestone. Governments and the United Nations acted upon its recommendations. That heralded the UN Decade for Disabled People which was followed by the UN standard rules. As a direct result, millions of disabled people throughout the world now live richer and more fulfilling lives. My noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester was a driving force behind that charter. I congratulate him on the key role that he played in drafting RI's Charter for the Third Millennium. As my noble friend pointed out, I was privileged to attend the service in St Mary Undercroft in December of last year and the reception that followed it, which was itself a moving experience.

It is hardly surprising that this debate has been inspiring. Those in this House who speak on behalf of disabled people in Britain and throughout the world form one of the most powerful pressure groups in this Chamber. They do a wonderful job for the disabled. I am sure that I am not the first Minister to stand at the Dispatch Box shaking and nervous at the pressure that they place on government. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, described it very well. On this occasion I do not feel under huge pressure. I have not been asked a great number of questions which are impossible to answer, because in large part this debate has been a celebration of the charter which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister welcomed a few days ago. The charter calls for a world in which policy and legislation support full inclusion of disabled people in all aspects of society. This is an aim with which the Government identify. Noble Lords will be aware that we are committed to ensuring comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for disabled people.

I shall not bore the House by rehearsing the measures that we have brought forward. Noble Lords who have taken part in this debate at this unlikely hour on a Friday evening are already familiar with them. Not least is the establishment of a strong Disability Rights Commission, which I understand has applied to join Rehabilitation International. That is hardly surprising bearing in mind that its distinguished chairman, Bert Massie, a former director of RADAR which is itself a member of RI, has, like other RI colleagues, taken a keen interest in the charter.

Already the commission is beginning to tackle the huge task ahead of it. It is raising awareness of disability. It has also issued a consultation document on a revised code of practice on the duties under Part III of the DDA to consider making reasonable adjustments to make services accessible to disabled people. These duties will come into force in October 2004. This provides an authoritative point of contact for individuals who seek support and guides employers and service providers to meet their legal obligations and implement best practice in combating discrimination, inadvertent or otherwise, in the high street and the workplace. In the few minutes left to me I should like to concentrate on issues identified in the charter and plan of action, the Government's view upon them and what they have done in that regard. Some issues I shall leave out completely because there is not time. Others I shall deal with in a little more detail.

The subject of technology was raised. The Government are determined to see that the rapid pace of technological change works to the advantage and not to the detriment of disabled people. Advances in information and communication technology have opened whole new areas of opportunity for disabled people. They have also raised, of course, the spectre of new sources of exclusion for those who cannot access the new technology as well as for those who become over-dependent on technology which is bound to change.

We have recognised that and have facilitated the work of a cross-Government group on access to information and communication technology which has already resulted in the highlighting of some of the key issues which need to be addressed to ensure that disabled people are neither excluded from nor by—it is equally possible—the remarkable advances which have been made in this field of technology.

I turn to ethics, another subject dealt with in the action plan which underlies the charter. Wide-ranging technological advances also mean that there are new ethical issues to be addressed. Last year we reviewed our advisory and regulatory framework on biotechnology. It concluded that a broader approach was needed for strategic issues. The Human Genetics Advisory Commission forms part of the new strategic framework. The role of the HGC is to consider the potential impact of developments in genetics for humans and healthcare—in particular the ethical, legal and social aspects of such developments. At present we are considering our response to the Human Genetics Advisory Commission's report published last year entitled The implications of genetic testing for employment and will announce our response in due course.

I turn to prevention. Advances in technology have also enabled us to reduce the risks that might lead to impairment. Medical and scientific advances have given us many opportunities to reduce the risk of premature death, ill health and disability. The charter rightly draws attention to the importance of immunisation programmes and other prevention strategies. The WHO has recognised the UK as one of the countries which has eliminated polio due to a wild virus. Indigenous diphtheria and neonatal tetanus no longer occur and measles and whooping cough are now rarities—thank goodness—in GPs' surgeries. Our routine immunisation programme protects children against diseases such as measles, rubella and polio which even today can kill or cause serious long-term ill health and disability, and is provided free to all. But our work to combat childhood diseases must and does continue. The latest development has been the introduction from November of last year of new vaccines to protect against meningococcal Group C infection.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, asked questions very material to this debate. I deal with his second question first, on whether the Government endorse the proposal in the charter that international programmes to assist economic and social development should require minimal accessibility standards to include technology and communication. The noble Lord was good enough to give me notice of those questions. The Government are fully committed to ensuring the full participation of people with disabilities in economic and social development, including access to technology and communications. For example, where development organisations are involved in infrastructure and shelter projects efforts can be made to ensure that programmes are developed on the basis of broad-based participation taking particular steps to ensure that people with disabilities and other marginalised groups are fully included.

The noble Lord asked what steps we have taken to ensure that disabled people in Britain have access to every resource service and facility to ensure their integration into the community and their ability to be an independent member of society. We seek to ensure the integration of disabled people into our society through our commitment to civil rights. There are several examples, but I shall provide just one or two. We are improving transport. The regulations came into force nearly two years ago, and apply to new vehicles entering service from January last year. We have consulted on draft regulations for buses and coaches used on local and scheduled services. Final regulations are in the process of completion. We have extended the scope of provisions relating to building regulations to apply to all new homes. That represents a significant step forward in providing more accessible housing.

We are giving people greater control over their lives, and enabling them to make their own decisions about how their care is delivered. We want to see the full range of benefits from direct payments made available to more people, and recently extended direct payments to people aged 65 and over. This is where the question asked by my noble friend Lord Longford comes into play. The Government appreciate that old age and disability often go hand in hand. We believe that the rights that should be given to disabled people should of course also be given to those who are elderly. The provision to extend direct payments to disabled 16 and 17 year-olds and parent-carers of disabled children is included in the Carers and Disabled Children Bill.

Media information and attitudes are another matter raised in the plan of action. Access to information is crucial, as well as raising awareness of disability in changing attitudes. These are areas where the Commission will be working hard. But we have not been idle. In June last year, we launched our "see the person" campaign, which through advertising and distributing information seeks to challenge people's attitudes to disability and improve awareness of the DDA. We know that the campaign offended some people, and we regret that. But it has been successful in raising awareness and in challenging attitudes, and we make no apology for it.

RI's plan of action, which supports the charter, refers to the need for role models in the media. Disabled people can and must have access to, and participate in, our cultural life. Disabled people should figure in programmes of all kinds, without there being a special issue about their disability. We are pleased to say that guidance for broadcasters and programme makers produced by the ITC, BSC and the BBC speaks of the need to avoid prejudice and stereotyping. Of course the noble Lord, Lord Addington, was right to say that as a country we have been slow to come forward with what now seems obvious, but at least we have clearly moved in the right direction in some areas during the past few years.

Our debate has illustrated some of the barriers that disabled people face in their quest for civil rights. Our aim, and the aim of all, from all parties and none, is for equality of opportunity and a fully inclusive society. The most frequently asked question has concerned the request in the plan for action for support for a convention of the United Nations. On behalf of the Government, I should say that the Government are committed to supporting comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for their citizens, and would wish to see such rights enjoyed by citizens throughout the world.

We shall look carefully at the proposals for a convention. We welcome the charter as a spur for debate and progress on these important issues. I end by using the words which noble Lords who were present at the important meeting with the Prime Minister some days ago may recall, namely, that we are sure that, like its predecessor, this charter will form the basis for global consensus on our priorities for at least the next decade. I thank noble Lords for taking part in the debate.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lady, Baroness D'Arcy de Knayth, and other noble Lords for the fact that the debate took place at a far later time than anticipated. I place on record the Government's gratitude to the staff, including our Hansard writers.

House adjourned at fifteen minutes before seven o'clock.