HL Deb 28 October 2002 vol 640 cc5-7

2.46 p.m.

Lord Addington

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they are satisfied with the current arrangements to ensure equal opportunities and civil rights for disabled people in policy-making and legislating throughout Whitehall.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, we have an excellent record in this area. We consult widely and take on board the views of disabled people. As major employers, government departments place the recruitment and retention of disabled people at the heart of equality and diversity policies. As a service provider, the Government aim to make services as accessible as possible. Disabled people and their representative organisations influence policy-making and prospective legislation. They meet Ministers and officials frequently to ensure that their interests are at the centre of policy development.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. It is undeniable that things are better than they were, but that could have been said at any time during the past 10 or 15 years. In this parliamentary year, 681 Questions have been tabled. Another Bill on disability matters will be before your Lordships' House today. Much time has been taken up by a Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke. Does that not suggest that, whatever we are doing in government, we are wasting vast amounts of parliamentary time but are not dealing with all the needs of the disabled? From his position in the Whips' Office, would the Minister like to suggest how much the need for parliamentary time would be eased by introducing a Bill or series of Bills over a Parliament that dealt with half of those problems?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am severely tempted to say that parliamentary time would be saved if more Members spoke briefly and to the point—on any given volume of legislation. Some measures can be enacted by secondary legislation under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Indeed, we plan to do so, as we announced last week. But some matters require primary legislation—for example, imposing a duty on the public sector to promote equality of opportunity or applying duties to public bodies, not just to services. Such things can be done only by primary legislation.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the problems of disability to which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred are so vast and complex, covering many departments, that the Minister for Disabled People should be a senior Minister dealing solely with disability? Does he further agree that the best way to ensure equal opportunities and civil rights for disabled people is for the Government to undertake to implement all the recommendations of the Disability Rights Task Force?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the Minister for Disabled People, Maria Eagle, is extremely able and I do not think that her rank affects her work. The recommendations of the task force are widely respected in government and are taken seriously. For example, I note that the Disability Rights Commission welcomed the White Papers on equality and diversity published last week.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I hope my noble friend does not insist too often that we should be brief and to the point because that would make life very difficult for a number of us. Will my noble friend emphasise the particularly important point here; namely, the role of your Lordships' House, which, I should have thought, compared with any other legislative assemblies in the world, has a remarkably large number of people suffering from physical disabilities who make a point of contributing on this subject in a very constructive way?

Is my noble friend aware that many noble Lords do not share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, of the failure to speak up for the disabled'? Quite the contrary—this House does a remarkable job in making absolutely certain that nothing to do with the disabled is ever ignored in any piece of legislation that I have listened to in all my time here.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I share the experience of my noble friend Lord Peston. I agree with him that the quality of debate and decision-making on matters affecting disabled people is very high in this House. That is, at least in part, because of the presence in the House of large numbers of people with disabilities. As to what that means for the future of the composition of the House, I leave that for the moment to Mr Cunningham and his colleagues.

Lord Morris of Manchester

My Lords, can my noble friend say what special arrangements are made to ensure that severely disabled people are fully and meaningfully consulted on policy-making on equal opportunities and civil rights, bearing in mind their difficulties often in securing even equality of access to the consultative process?

Let us reflect, for example, on the daunting difficulties of young people who are blind and prelingually deaf. Who could be more crucially affected by policy-making outcomes than them?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, my noble friend's record in this area is evidence of the changes that the Government have made and the contribution that he has made to them. Our document Towards Inclusion, published in March last year, which was itself a response to the Disability Rights Task Force, is evidence of that; as is the existence of the Disability Rights Commission, the very active part it plays and the close co-operation it has with government.

Lord Addington

My Lords, the point I was trying to make is that many of us who speak on disabilities are getting fed up with doing so. I am calling for the Government to try to get this right by taking on some major legislation, so we do not have to keep coming back and asking these questions.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is an idealist. All these things move on at best in an asymptotic curve. One never gets to the position where one does not need any more legislation and everything has been got right. My experience of politics is not like that.

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