§ 2 pm
§ Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston)
I welcome this debate, and the inevitable focus on disabled people in both Britain and Europe. In Britain there are 8.6 million people with disabilities, including blindness, deafness, inability to walk or talk, and mental illness. If they were all gathered together, we would not have enough football stadiums to accommodate them. Disability has no boundaries socially or internationally, and it has been estimated that almost 600 million people throughout the world have disabilities.
In the European year of disabled people, the European Union has 37 million disabled people, who are more likely than their fellow citizens to be unemployed and only half as likely to reach further and higher education. Nothing illustrates that discrimination—for that is what it is—better than the recent Scope document, "Ready, Willing and Disabled", which highlighted the predicament of one individual who has 10 GCSEs, two A-levels and one degree, has made 114 job applications, had 24 job interviews, has one disability—but, chillingly, has no job.
The European year of disabled people and the charter for the new millennium offer the opportunity for us to have this debate, which I hope will be open and inclusive. I know that it will be well informed, because of the number of briefings and the amount of advice that I have already received. There is a window of opportunity to discuss what has been happening, what has been achieved, what challenges lie ahead and what discrimination in Britain and Europe still exists and should be removed. I have taken the opportunity to sign early-day motions 1225 on autism awareness and 1269 on the European disability directive.
For the moment, I shall focus my comments on some of the significant developments for people with disabilities. Motability must rank as one of the most important developments ever. Currently, 400,000 people in this country are enjoying mobility in a way that was not thought possible, but that has not been emulated elsewhere in Europe. More generally, under this Government, it must be acknowledged that last year alone, £11 billion was paid to 4 million people to help them to meet some of their needs and to cope with the cost of disability. For example, in 1997, a disabled child drew £21 a week in income support. That has now almost doubled to just over £41 a week. Families with a disabled child have received an increase in average family income of more than one third since 1997, and I warmly welcome that focus on children with disabilities.
There have been positive initiatives on jobs, but employment for disabled people is still one of the major hurdles to be overcome. A disabled person in Britain is seven times more likely to be out of work and on benefits. I am delighted that the Government intend to implement a key employment directive, thus ensuring that even the smallest companies will no longer be able to discriminate against disabled people.
Housing for disabled people is far more accessible than at any time in our history. Of total Housing Corporation expenditure, 13 per cent. is allocated for people with special needs, although I can tell the House 285WH that I seldom attend a constituency surgery without at least one constituent enquiring about aids and adaptations, which are very important. In Scotland we have a prosthesis clinic in Glasgow that is the most modern in the UK. I want to see more such examples of best practice. We should be proud of many such achievements.
It has not been a journey without obstacles. As far back as 1986, I piloted a private Member's Bill through the House. Nothing has given me more satisfaction than successfully introducing the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. In all humility, let me cite the main features of my Act, which had a modest impact on the lives of many people with disabilities, but which even today has not yet been fully implemented. The Act addressed the importance of services and access to such vital services as transport, housing, leisure and art facilities, and the health service. Those goals could not be delivered properly in the absence of a strategy for that access.
Advocacy was at the heart of the 1986 Act, and remains of the utmost importance. Representation was part of the Bill's title, and the reason for that was clear. When we talk today about people with brain injuries— many of those are young people—and about elderly people with Alzheimer's disease and those with physical disability, it is clear that there is still a role for advocacy, whether that be one individual representing another as we have seen in so many successful cases, or advocacy groups, which exist in many parts of the country and are very effective.
The Act also rightly drew attention to the needs of carers. Of course it was right that there should be assessments of the needs of disabled people and the services that ought to be available, but we are also bearing in mind today, as we did in 1986, the fact that so many carers all over Britain are doing an excellent job 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They, too, are entitled to assessments if that means a couple of afternoons to do a bit of shopping, give them a bit of respite, and allow them to meet friends. Otherwise, we find that relationships break down and two people can end up institutionalised, so that we meet with no degree of success.
When the 1986 Act was going through, the huge number of letters that I received, in one question raised again and again by carers—often elderly people—as their offspring grew and became difficult to handle, was what would happen to their son or daughter after they had gone. I want to be part of a society that is able to answer that question. That is why consultation is important, and if we are to have an inclusive society, carers and advocates should feel that they are part of it. At that time, I had excellent support from two advisers in particular. One was a young man called John Healey, who then became my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth, and is now the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. Given his sensitivities, he will listen very carefully to the growing demands for proper resources, not least from local authorities, and, given his knowledge of disabilities, we can look forward to more funding to deal with the problems of people with learning disabilities, as I believe Lord Rix suggested in another place a few weeks ago. We also admired the support of Peter Mitchell, who worked for Radar and whose drafting abilities were exceptional.
286WH The 1986 Act and so much of the legislation that followed would not have been possible without the outstanding support of many organisations of and for disabled people, whose sole purpose is producing a better quality of life for people with disabilities. An organisation that I want to mention, and which I know my right hon. and hon. Friends would want me to mention, is the all-party group in this House, which is one of the most influential and effective of its kind.
We have support, too, from organisations outwith the House, such as Enable in Scotland, Mencap, Radar, Mind, the Royal National Institute of the Blind and the Royal National Institute for Deaf People, and, of course, we are supported by the input of local voluntary organisations and disability forums. They constantly remind me to advance the case for proper joint planning, which is nowhere more relevant than in mental health. I find it extremely worrying that, notwithstanding all the legislation and all the commitment to care in the community, there are still mentally ill people who leave long-stay hospitals and find themselves in hostels or, perhaps, even in the streets. We still have what has been described for many years as the revolving-door syndrome, and such people simply do not know where to go.
I feel bound to refer to one very unpleasant aspect of that situation: many mentally ill people and people with learning disabilities are sent to prison in every part of the British isles because the courts simply do not know where to put them. That is unacceptable in the new millennium.
I have referred to the 1986 Act, but since then we have also had the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which was introduced under the previous Conservative Government by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague). It was very much a step in the right direction, but some of us who followed its proceedings said that in many respects, welcome as it was, it was flawed. I hope to refer later to some of the flaws.
That Act dealing with disability discrimination did manage to address the issue of definition. I am glad that that debate continues and that, if the information that I have is right, the Government of today are considering adding HIV/AIDS and cancer to the definition. That would be very welcome.
However, I have a specific question for my hon. Friend the Minister about ME, which was examined in the very significant and well informed Donaldson report. Some of my colleagues may recall that about 15 months ago, on 6 February 2002, I was able to initiate a debate on the report in this Chamber. In responding, the Minister said that the Government were considering taking that report to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence and asking it for recommendations. Time has passed. The issue is extremely important, particularly for those who suffer from that draining condition, and I would very much like to hear from my hon. Friend the Minister what the Government's thinking is now.
One of the major defects of the Disability Discrimination Act, to which I referred earlier, was the absence of a disability rights commission. It was not that some of us did not fight for that; we did, and came within 13 votes of getting it. It is to this Government's credit that the Disability Rights Commission does now exist, and I congratulate it on its work. However, I had not 287WH expected that we would so soon be turning to the proposed single equality body. Three statutory bodies are currently charged with promoting equality, but our concern in today's debate is the Disability Rights Commission, which covers discrimination on the grounds of disability under the Disability Rights Commission Act 1999 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995—the DDA. An advanced debate on the possibility of a single equality body is being driven by an EU employment directive requiring member states to implement legislation banning discrimination.
Many people are concerned, as am I, that the specific problems relating to disability could be lost or marginalised by a single all-embracing body. However, the Government seem to favour such an option, at least in the longer term. From a Government perspective, it is difficult to quarrel with the notion that a statutory commission offering advice, guidance and support principally on equality matters makes sense. However, my friends and colleagues in the Disability Rights Commission naturally view with healthy scepticism the prospect of their organisation being subsumed into a much larger body, particularly as theirs has been operational only since April 2000.
I accept that there is always a danger of becoming bogged down in processes and organisations when what matters most in the end is the outcome for people with disabilities. However, the TUC and organisations such as the RNIB have said that a single body would not work unless there were a single equality Act. We should consider those representations carefully. Whatever the outcome of this process, whatever the final structure, the acid test is neither the process nor the structure but the model that best delivers the most effective outcome.
I return to employment issues of substantial importance to people with disabilities. The Government may wish to consider a few changes, given the priorities set by the Disability Rights Commission. In its document, "Disability Equality: Making it happen", it gives a considered and powerful response to the DDA and how it works. I should like to draw the Chamber's attention to four major points that it makes on employment. The first is:
Employers should be subject to a duty to anticipate the requirements of potential disabled employees and applicants, and to take reasonable action to remove barriers in advance of individual complaint.In practical terms, that means that employers should proactively examine their policies and practices to determine whether they inadvertently disadvantage people with disabilities. Although employers are required to make reasonable adjustments, there is a weakness in the DDA, which does not contain an explicit prohibition on indirect discrimination. Implementing that proposal would not create new sources of litigation, but simply improve and encourage best practice among employers, thereby benefiting people with disabilities.
The DRC's second point on employment is that employment inequality 288WHon the grounds of disability should only be justifiable where there is a genuine occupational requirement i.e. a person can be shown not to be competent, capable or available to perform the essential functions of the job, even after allowing for reasonable adjustments.The DRC again points to the weaknesses of the DDA, under which, it claims, it is too easy for employers to evade responsibility for what would otherwise be considered an act of discrimination. It backs that up with an independent case study. In one particular case, Heinz v. Kerick, the employment appeal tribunal stated that the threshold for the justification "is very low". It went on to say:This is not a conclusion we reached with any enthusiasm but as the language of the domestic statute is clear, the remedy for the lowness of the threshold, if any is required, lies in the hands of the legislature and not the courts.I am sure that the Minister is aware of the Disability Rights Commission case between Surrey police and Ms Marshall. Ms Marshall has a first class degree in genetics from the university of St. Andrews, and succeeded at the interview, but was rejected on medical grounds. Clearly, that is not acceptable.
The DRC's third point was that at present tribunals have no power to recommend that employers change their practices, even after it has been demonstrated that a case brought by an individual reveals the employer's shortcomings. An individual, in the main, seeks only a remedy to their complaint. However, the DRC will always work towards a broader solution. That may include getting the employer to change working practices where appropriate. The point is that tribunals have no formal power to make policy recommendations to employers. Perhaps the Minister will consider the representations that have been made by the DRC. I understand that the Commission for Racial Equality has made similar representations.
Fourthly, the DRC states:Disability related enquiries before a job is offered should be permitted only in very limited circumstances.That is one of the most worrying of the DRC's points. In the Department for Work and Pensions research, disabled people identified recruitment as the most common source of discrimination. To be blunt, the Disability Discrimination Act cannot address that problem. Employers are still asking medical questions about applicants' disabilities prior to job interview and selection. Employers who want to discriminate reject disabled applicants at an early stage.
I know only too well that that is difficult to prove. However, let me highlight the problem in another way. In a Mind survey, 39 per cent. of mental health services users felt that they had been denied a job because of their psychiatric history. In the same survey, nearly 70 per cent. of mental health services users had been put off applying for jobs for fear of unfair treatment. We must ask ourselves whether those fears are well founded. In order to test the attitudes of major UK companies towards people with mental health problems, 200 personnel managers were asked to assess the employment prospects of two almost identical candidates. The only difference between the two was that one had had depression and one had had diabetes. I am afraid that the applicant with depression was thought to have significantly reduced chances of employment. Surely that cannot be acceptable.
289WH Employment for disabled people is the gateway to a fulfilling life, and that is what people with disabilities want—that opportunity, without discrimination. I am sure that the Government agree with that objective.
Lord Rix and I are in the process of forming an all-party group, and we intend to pursue vigorously the aims and objectives of people with learning disabilities.
The Government, of course, have wider and welcome objectives, as we saw in the document, "Valuing People". However, I have some final pleas for them. In the European year of disabled people, let the new disability Bill be radical, comprehensive and practical. Let it not be piecemeal. As Radar and others suggest, let it be subject to scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses. Let it offer a beacon of best practice not only to Europe but to the rest of the world.
§ Angela Watkinson (Upminster)
I welcome this afternoon's debate, and congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) on securing it. I hope that the European year for people with disabilities will be an opportunity to secure funding to solve some of the long-running problems in my constituency, which I am sure are reflected in other constituencies. I am delighted that the terminology has changed over the years and that we are discussing "people with disabilities" rather than defining people by their disabilities. We discuss people who happen to have disabilities rather than, as used to happen years ago, referring to "the disabled" or "the blind".
§ Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)
Does my hon. Friend agree that what has happened in Northamptonshire, where the Northamptonshire Council for Disabled People has been renamed Ability Northants, is even more positive? That modern title stresses what people can do rather than what they cannot do.
§ Angela Watkinson
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I hope that the European year for people with disabilities will not be limited to raising awareness and that there will be some practical outcomes. People who are not disabled can only imagine the everyday inconveniences and difficulties for people with disabilities and their carers. I was once taken ill on a plane, and was taken off it and through the airport in a wheelchair. It was interesting to see that no one looked at me when I was in a wheelchair. I know that I was not at the same eye level as everybody else, but I felt that I had become a non-person. People who use wheelchairs have to be more assertive than others to gain attention and to participate in the activities going on around them.
I spent many years working in a school for physically handicapped children. Because the school was very small, the staff became familiar not only with the pupils but with the pupils' families, and therefore also became familiar with the difficulties that the families experienced in their everyday lives. I ran a group providing riding for the disabled. It is difficult to get heavily handicapped children into a minibus, to the stables, out of a minibus and mounted on horses. It requires lots of volunteers to make such activities happen—but to see the face of a child who is not mobile 290WH because they are unable to walk, but is enjoying a ride on a horse and acquiring equestrian skills, is worth every bit of effort. If only such organisations had greater opportunities to raise their profile and get more volunteers—the volunteers also get a lot out of the activity.
My mother was blind, and when her sight was failing, she had difficulties with the simplest things. For example, when we went shopping to buy clothes, I had to describe whether a garment had buttons or pockets, and whether it suited her. The things that we take for granted are enormous hurdles for people who have disabilities. One of my constituents who has an adult son with learning difficulties recently approached me. She is elderly and is concerned about what will happen to her son when she dies, because her property, which she had deliberately chosen to avoid inheritance tax, has risen in value much faster than she anticipated. The property will be subject to inheritance tax when she dies, and she is worried about how it will be paid because she has no surplus savings and the property will be her entire estate. There are all sorts of hidden problems, of which people who do not have disabilities are not even aware. It is important to raise awareness, and we have the opportunity to do so this year, with local authorities and organisations participating in making people aware of the long-term and everyday problems faced by people with disabilities.
I contacted my local authority to find out what it was doing for the European year of people with disabilities. It is launching a range of events and initiatives to raise awareness. I asked whether there was a source of funding that it could tap into, so that by the end of the year there would be some practical improvements. The European Commission allocated £8.5 million, of which the United Kingdom received £500,000. I understand that the Government added another £2 million. However, £2.5 million nationwide is not very much.
Grants are awarded by the national co-ordinating committee. Unfortunately, my authority, the London borough of Havering, was unsuccessful in its application, which was made on behalf of local organisations, in particular the Havering Association for People with Disabilities, which does good work for a range of groups. So here we are in the European year of people with disabilities, raising awareness by using the council's budget, with no additional money to do anything practical, such as ensuring that Upminster station has disabled access by the end of the year. We are confined to making awards. My local authority will award disability awareness awards in a range of categories. However, those awards recognise improvements that groups throughout the constituency and the borough have already put in place. I would have liked more funding to have come from Europe to back up a worthy and well intentioned year.
§ Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood)
May I first say that it is a pleasure to contribute to the debate, and may I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) on securing it? 291WH The overriding objective of the European year of disabled people has been clearly stated. It is, in its organisers' words,to drive progress towards achieving equal rights for disabled people".This debate comes at an interesting time, because it was only a few weeks ago that we celebrated the third birthday of the disability Rights Commission. Also, it was only a few weeks ago—indeed, it may have been on the same occasion—that we received the first review of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 by the DRC, in which it pointed out that it had several significant proposals, some of which were referred to by my right hon. Friend, to clarify and strengthen disabled people's rights in legislation.
The Government have given a commitment to introduce a draft disability Bill that will, among other things, plug the final holes in the DDA, because the DDA was a very flawed piece of legislation, with many omissions and ambiguities. The Government should be congratulated on their commitment to introducing a new Bill to put that right.
This debate on disabled people's rights takes place at an exciting time. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston who, throughout his political life, has made the interests of disabled people central to much of what he has done, but particularly in the two years before the 1997 general election, when he was the shadow Minister for disabled persons' rights. He was instrumental—indeed, key—in developing the policy for the incoming Labour Government; that is what shadow Ministers do. That policy included Labour's commitment to having a disability rights taskforce to address issues, and to introduce comprehensive and enforceable civil rights. My right hon. Friend deserves credit for ensuring that when that election victory came in 1997, the incoming Government had a policy in place to establish the foundations for what has happened since then.
I would also like to congratulate the Government on doing more to promote disabled people's rights in six years than anyone has done in the past 60—or, indeed, 600—years. They set up the disability rights taskforce, established the Disability Rights Commission, introduced the Special Educational Needs And Disability Act 2001, published the first learning disabilities White Paper in 30 years, introduced the new deal for disabled people, and put record amounts of funding into access-to-work programmes. The Government deserve our congratulations for what has happened over the past six years.
There were two preconditions for the progress that has been made over the past few years. The first was that disabled people should speak for themselves. Over many years, organisations representing disabled people have campaigned for equal rights, and disabled people have become increasingly effective in expressing their view about their entitlement to equal treatment. Without the lobbying from the disabled community, I am certain that progress would not have been as fast. The second precondition was for there to be a Government who were committed to doing something about the issue, and that is why I believe that the present Government deserve credit.
292WH The present Minister and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions also deserve credit for what they have done in the short time in which they have been in post. They are both highly respected for what they are doing, not just by their colleagues, but by the wider disabled community. I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that we look forward to the draft disability Bill, which I am sure will be forthcoming very soon. I hope that the consultation on the Bill will take place rapidly, so that its provisions can be included in the next Queen's Speech.
I shall also say some warm words about the Opposition's stance on this issue— I shall not talk about the past, because in politics the future is more interesting than the past. Since the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) has held his present post—and, for all I know, before that—he has been supportive of what the Government and some of us on the Government Back Benches have said about the need for further rapid progress on rights for disabled people.
However, I am sorry to say that last Friday, a Bill that would have given public bodies a duty to promote equal opportunities for disabled people was talked out. That Bill was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice), and had Government support, and I do not understand why it was talked out. I hope that we will return to a position in which the Opposition are broadly supportive of the Government's actions in this respect.
In this European year of disabled people, there must be further significant advances in legislation. I welcome the Government's promise of a draft disability Bill, and I am optimistic that we will see that Bill soon. I would like to refer to some aspects of that future legislation. A range of areas need to be covered. The Disability Rights Commission listed the necessary legislative changes in its report, and other organisations have suggested similar changes.
In the brief time remaining to me, I shall address one or two of those issues. In legislation such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the definition of disability matters. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston said, there is an ongoing debate about who should be included in the definition of a disabled person, in order to secure rights under the DDA, which defines a disabled person as someone who hasa physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out day-to-day activities.There is a powerful case for a fundamentally different definition that reflects the social model of disability rather than the more medically based approach. However, I agree with the Disability Rights Commission that now is not the time to have a new debate about the definition, because we must ensure that we do not delay extending the protection in the DDA.
That said, I am not happy about the definition and I should like to extend it to embrace other people who are currently not covered by the Act. I shall give two examples. My right hon. Friend referred to people with HIV or cancer. It is essential that all progressive conditions be covered under legislation. Currently, people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and so on are not covered by the Act unless they satisfy the 293WH condition that I read out. To be covered by the legislation, they must have the physical or mental symptoms. However, if it is wrong to discriminate against someone with MS when they have a physical impairment, it is wrong to discriminate against someone with MS when they have been diagnosed with MS but have no physical impairment.
How can it be right for an employer to say, "I can get rid of this employee now, before they fall within the definition under the DDA"? It is manifest nonsense to say that an employer can get rid of someone who has been diagnosed with cancer when they have no symptoms, whereas if they had sufficiently serious symptoms, they would have protection under the DDA. Progressive conditions must be embraced exclusively, or perhaps I should say "inclusively". I am pleased that the Government have indicated sympathy, indeed support, for such an approach.
Let me give the second example of a way in which the legislation is a bit odd. Years ago, a number of us pointed out that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, there was protection for people who had been discriminated against because they were mistakenly perceived to be disabled. Yet in this country, bizarrely, it is perfectly all right for an employer to discriminate against an employee if the employer thinks that that person is disabled but it turns out that they are not. It is perfectly possible for a service provider—a transport company, school or anything else—to discriminate against someone because it believes that they are disabled, so long as it turns out that that perception was wrong. We cannot allow people to be discriminated against because they are perceived as disabled. That needs to be sorted out.
The DDA must also apply to private clubs, as the Race Relations Act does. I think that the Government have made that point, too. The DDA should embrace all the currently excluded occupations, including the armed forces. This is an interesting issue. To their credit, the Government have said that they will extend DDA coverage to police officers, who were excluded under the original Act, and to prison officers, firefighters and so on. However, they will not extend the Act to cover those in the armed forces. I have tried hard to work out what is special about the armed forces that might justify their exclusion from the employment provisions of the DDA, but I have to confess that I have failed to think of any rational reason whatever.
Perhaps that position is based on the notion that disability discrimination legislation is about requiring employers to offer people jobs—but of course it is about nothing of the kind. The DDA allows for recognition of genuine occupational requirements. It is perfectly lawful, as it should be, for a disabled person to receive less favourable treatment in employment if they do not meet the occupational requirements of the job. Of course that is the case, but if we apply that to the prison service and firefighters, why can we not apply it to the armed forces? For the life of me, I cannot understand that. Nor, I believe, can my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. It is no great secret that, in an effective speech at a public meeting in Blackpool last autumn, he pointed out that he would be distressed if a member of the armed forces were automatically kicked out because he had become 294WH disabled. I have discussed this with my right hon. Friend, and others are lobbying hard. It is nonsense to have any excluded occupations.
The legislation is clear. It is worth repeating that point. The argument is not that people who do not have the necessary skills should get the job, but that people who have those skills should not be denied the right to apply for the job or to apply for promotion. When they apply they should be treated fairly. The Disability Rights Commission has received phone calls from service personnel who claim that they are being discriminated against because they have cancer, diabetes and other conditions. This is a serious matter. All the currently excluded occupations must be brought within the framework of the legislation.
Finally, there is a need to bring disability rights into the mainstream. I am second to none in my praise for what the Government have done with legislation and other matters, but there are difficulties in applying disability equality policies across the board. I will not go into my concerns about the Communications Bill now, but I have made representations about it. There are real issues here for disabled people, which the Government have not yet taken on board.
I shall give another brief example. As a member of the Trade and Industry Committee, I spent most of yesterday hearing evidence on the effects of direct payment of pensions and benefits on post office business. That used to be done by automated credit transfer—ACT—but we now call it direct payment. It is a bit confusing because there is another kind of direct payment. People who have a Post Office card account can now access that account with a piece of plastic and a PIN. The only problem is that PIN pads come in various shapes and forms.
The Select Committee heard how for 12 months or so the Disability Rights Commission, the Royal National Institute of the Blind and other organisations had been warning that the accessibility of the PIN pad was an issue. For example, the figures have to be a decent size for people with sight impairment, and the height should not be fixed, because that would be a problem for wheelchair users. I hope that all those who gave evidence yesterday were wrong, but what I read in the press leads me to believe that they were probably right, and that this has been a bit of a shambles.
Apparently the Post Office simply bought an inaccessible off-the-shelf PIN pad system from Fujitsu, and is now busy trying to work out how to modify it to take the needs of disabled people into account. I use that example to illustrate my point. I do not think that anyone will dispute the point, but it is still worth making. Disability is about mainstreaming those rights, too. We must ensure that the concerns and interests of disabled people are taken into account across the board.
Much has undoubtedly been done. I celebrate all that has been done to make progress along this long journey to equal rights. But we still have a long way to go before disabled people can participate as equal citizens. We must use the opportunity presented by the European year of disabled people to make further progress towards comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for all disabled people. The Government are committed to that. I look forward to the draft Bill—and I also look forward to seeing a Bill in the Queen's Speech in the autumn.
§ Annabelle Ewing (Perth)
I, too, congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) on securing this timely and important debate. I am well aware of the assiduous way in which he has sought to champion the rights of disabled people during his many years in the House. It is a pleasure to be called to speak in the debate. The European year of disabled people is an excellent initiative, not least because it serves to focus attention on the position of disabled people in our society, and the way in which they are treated by that society—including the Government.
I accept that progress has been made over the years in furthering the rights of disabled people. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned many positive developments. However, like other hon. Members, I agree that much more still needs to be done to ensure that disabled people enjoy the rights that the rest of us take for granted.
One area that has not been dealt with in detail is that of social security benefits. As far as disabled people are concerned, there is a pressing need to review the operation of the disability living allowance. I see that the Minister is looking at me; she will not be surprised that I raise that subject in all sincerity. In my experience as a constituency MP, albeit brief, I have reached the conclusion that the operation of that benefit has been, to put it politely, extremely problematic.
Problems include the complexity of the forms, which is still an issue, notwithstanding improvements; the lack of information available to those seeking to access the benefit; and the curiously high number of applications that are rejected at first but are successful on appeal. We must examine the quality of the state medical examination and report system. Its reports are frequently at odds with the medical reports prepared by the applicant's GP, who presumably has much greater knowledge of the applicant's situation than a third-party stranger. Those issues must be addressed. When an award is reviewed, or a claim assessed, why is no assessment made of the likely effect of removing the benefit or reducing its level? An assessment should look at the effect of such a reduction or change on the applicant's health. That would improve the operation of the disability living allowance.
I turn to another benefit, the winter fuel payment, of which we have heard much recently. The increase announced in the Budget was welcome, but most pensioners, certainly those in Scotland, will not benefit from that because they have not yet reached the age of 80. However, I wonder what thoughts the Minister has on extending that benefit to disabled people, in certain circumstances. It has been suggested by some organisations that an extension could easily be made to those in receipt of the middle or higher-rate care component of the DLA, and to those on the higher rate of the mobility component. The case for such an extension is unarguable, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's thoughts on that.
In many other areas, as has been mentioned, there is an urgent need to make progress. Problems of access are still, regrettably, very much part of everyday life for disabled people. Employment problems have been mentioned by several hon. Members. The right hon.
296WH Member for Coatbridge and Chryston gave a pertinent account of the problems that disabled people face in securing employment, as well as the problems that they experience in the workplace. He put it very well when he said that employment for disabled people, as for us all, represents a gateway to a fulfilling life. I entirely agree. As I said at the outset, the European year of disabled people should facilitate a refocusing of attention on those issues that are of such importance to disabled people. I am sure that everyone will agree that that can only be a good thing.
I take the opportunity to raise an issue that could benefit from being put under the spotlight again. I speak of the Government's treatment of thalidomide sufferers. In 2002, contrary to the expectation that had been legitimately established over many years by previous Governments, the Chancellor refused to continue a tax concession that had operated with respect to the Thalidomide Trust. In effect, it means that the Treasury is making a profit from the compensation payments paid to thalidomide sufferers.
Surely the money is meant for those suffering disability; it should not go into the Chancellor's coffers. Other European countries do not tax payments made to thalidomide suffers. The question must therefore be asked: why do the Government continue with that shameful policy? On the grand scale of things, the impact of changing the Treasury's policy would be tiny, but the benefit to individual thalidomide sufferers would be enormous. Fairness and basic notions of justice dictate that the Chancellor should reconsider his decision and grant the Thalidomide Trust tax-exempt status.
In conclusion, I know that it is not within the remit of a Minister from the Department for Work and Pensions, but I urge the Minister for Disabled People to impress on the Chancellor and the Treasury the fact that they must change their position on the Thalidomide Trust. I hope that she will stand up for the rights of thalidomide sufferers.
§ Paul Holmes (Chesterfield)
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) on securing this important debate. The European year of disabled people is important for three reasons. First, it sets a marker for future aspirations for equality for disabled people; secondly, it celebrates the achievements of disabled people; and thirdly, it raises awareness of the issue among the wider public.
A great deal has been done by member states to make society more inclusive for people with disabilities. For example, there is a move in some member states, including the UK, to integrate children with disabilities into mainstream education—a welcome development that I took part in as a teacher—and barriers to training are coming down.
Sweden is opening its training programmes to people with disabilities. Finland has reformed its benefits system to allow better access to vocational training. Denmark has introduced a new wage subsidy to encourage more young people with disabilities into the workplace. Luxembourg has modified its payment system better to support the autonomy of young people with disabilities. Progress has been made in making 297WH public spaces, including the workplace, more accessible. Greece has developed an inclusive approach, designed for all concepts, by removing architectural barriers to make its cities more disability friendly. Austria and Denmark are implementing measures to promote disability-friendly environments in the workplace and in public buildings. Significant commitments have been made on transport for disabled people in Spain, Ireland, Greece and the Netherlands.
Those measures all support the principles behind the European year of disabled people. The UK Government, too, have taken measures in support of the year. They have at last announced their intention to publish a draft disability Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny, a major step in providing a legislative base from which we could continue to build an inclusive society. The Government recently gave legal recognition to British sign language as a minority language, with extra Government support. They have also contributed another £2 million, on top of European funding, for a total of 171 projects.
The theme of the year deserves and has gained widespread support. However, having praised the European year of the disabled and the Government's contribution to it, I risk once again making myself a little unpopular with the Minister by raising some questions. In terms of both raising awareness and setting markers for the future, the Government have missed a golden opportunity this year. The European year of the disabled would have been an ideal time for them to announce the introduction of the long awaited and long promised single equality Act. Discrimination on grounds of disability is still legal in some categories where discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or gender would not be legal. As a result, at least 10 per cent. of the cases taken to the Disability Rights Commission cannot be dealt with.
The Government have announced that, later in the year, they will close some of the loopholes in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and that they propose to set up a single equality commission. However, that is in part setting the cart before the horse. A single equality Act to unify anti-discriminatory laws is essential first. During its passage through the Lords, Lord Lester's Equality Bill has shown how that can be done. Early-day motion 1217 called for such an Act; the motion was introduced only last Wednesday and in just seven days it has earned the support of 205 Members of Parliament, nearly a third of the House. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the Government intend to introduce such an Act.
It is also necessary to mainstream disability rights by embedding affirmative policies into all legislation. For example, the Royal National Institute of the Blind argues that the Communications Bill will allow exclusion from digital TV, radio and telecommunications to continue and deepen. The Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill lacks requirements to ensure that developers will work to inclusive design principles from an early stage. The Criminal Justice Bill fails to ensure that hate crimes against disabled people will be tackled effectively. The Railways and Transport Safety Bill could offer opportunities for more joined-up policies to increase the safety of disabled people using public transport.
298WH Then there is of course the question of money, which at least one other hon. Member has raised today. Events such as the European year of disabled people are excellent awareness raisers. Measures such as the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the establishment of the Disability Rights Commission and the promised draft disability Bill later this year are all vital steps forward. However, money is needed to turn the new legislation and the changed public attitude to the disabled into real action. I should like to give some examples of that.
In my constituency there is an excellent special school called Ashgate Croft. The school needs a pool because swimming is the only chance for many of the children to get out of a wheelchair and undertake physical activity. It gives those children an enormous boost in self-confidence and has the direct, practical value of preventing their muscles from wasting away. The school had a pool that was paid for by voluntary donations, but it eventually had to be demolished for constructional reasons.
The school is now trying to raise £400,000 for a new pool. Lottery funds could go quite a way towards achieving that, but they come with strings attached, meaning that the pool would be a community pool that the school could use, as opposed to a school pool that the community could use. Wide-ranging community groups across Chesterfield, such as the Sheepbridge cricket club, are undertaking sponsored activities to raise money for the pool. Recently, for example, there was a sponsored walk from Chesterfield to Skegness, and the new mayor of Chesterfield, Councillor June Beckingham, has made the pool the key to her financial appeal for the year.
The appeal for the pool is named for Megan and her friends, and at this mayor's launch last Saturday, Megan's mother, Jane Carver, read out a letter that she had written on behalf of her six-year-old daughter:Hello. My name is Megan. I am in the infant class at Ashgate Croft special school. My mummy and daddy dream that one day I might be able to tell you that for myself. But, for now, I can't. I find it hard to talk and I don't understand a lot that is happening.I don't want much. I don't want lots of toys or dolls or sweeties like most other little girls. I don't know what they are. But there are some special things that I do like: music, television and, best of all, water!—in the bath, the sea, the sink or even puddles! It is great fun but it can be dangerous too because I can't swim.I would love to have a swimming pool at school so that me and my friends could exercise, learn to swim, feel better and have fun! We used to have one, lots of children in Chesterfield used it, but it had to be pulled down. Some children from my school go to the Queen's Park pool, but many of my friends can't because getting to the pool is difficult in wheelchairs and, often, there are not enough people to help us.My class doesn't go swimming at all at the moment … swimming is one of the very few things that I can do as well as my two little brothers can. Being in the water makes me happy, gives me a little independence and, if I learned to swim, could save my life.It will need lots of pennies to build us a pool, but we are hoping that if enough people help us we can get there. So please help us in whatever way you can and make our wish come true.A second example, also from Chesterfield, but with problems that are experienced across Derbyshire and the rest of the country, is a voluntary project in north Derbyshire, based in Chesterfield, called Fairplay. Its 299WH project manager wrote to the Prime Minister on 9 April to say, among other things:Last year Fairplay was successful in receiving funding for an "Inclusion Support Project" from the Department of Education and Skills. The funding has enabled Fairplay to give support to Early Years settings throughout Derbyshire that work with children with additional needs and disabilities. The support offered by the project has included specialist training and advice on disability, as well as "time limited" support to staff members in individual schools and nurseries. This support has been extremely well received and the training so popular that Fairplay has had to establish a waiting list for the many nurseries and schools wishing to take part in the project.The funding enabled Fairplay to establish one full-time and two part-time worker posts to meet the demand for the service.Recently, Fairplay has had its second funding application for £36,000, which would have enabled the project to continue for a further year, turned down by the DfES. The explanation given for this was that the total number of bids received amounted to £6.8 million pounds and that the department had only £2 million pounds to offer organisations. I feel that the very fact so many requests for funding were received by the department indicates that there is a real need for support to be offered to settings working with children that have additional needs and disabilities.The letter goes on to say that the special educational needs code of practice and the extending requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act will result in an acceleration in such demands from schools and nurseries, although the money to meet them will not be available.
Finally, the National Library for the Blind, based in Stockport, is a charity that began in the late 19th century. It houses Europe's largest collection of tactile books and offers a free postal library service to blind and partially sighted people, providing Braille, tape and large-print guides to available books. The latter guides, ?Read On" and "New Reading", began 18 months ago and are issued quarterly. However, the next quarter's issue, which would cost just £10,000 to produce, cannot go ahead because the money is not available. In the past financial year, the charity's operating income was £1.5 million, of which just £133,000 came from the Government and £62,000 from the lottery. That is approximately 13 per cent, of the total.
Somebody asked why the taxpayer should support such a charitable body. Charities do a lot of fundraising, so why is this one different? Kirsty Frost of the NLB argues that it is a human right to read.The taxpayer funds libraries for the sighted, but blind people have to rely largely on charities.The limits on charitable funds raised mean that only 5 per cent. of published material in this country and others is available to the blind. Hon. Members should look at the bookshelves and filing cabinets in their offices and homes and imagine that 95 per cent, of that material is unavailable.
Inevitably, when arguing for money, we have to ask where it will come from. That is an issue for political parties to raise with the public through their manifestos at election time. The public will often give money to charity but say that they are not prepared to pay it in extra taxes to provide a uniform spend across the board. However, in this European year of disabled people, we should put down a marker. Let us look back to the millennium dome project three years ago. It was a flop; 300WH it cost £750 million at the time, and it still costs the taxpayer £250,000 a month to keep it open, policed and maintained. How much better that money could have been used for a millennium project providing facilities for disabled people, such as a swimming pool for Megan in Chesterfield, which would continue to be available for many years to come. Such projects would be regarded as far more worthy than the millennium dome.
§ 3.9 pm
§ Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)
I too congratulate the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) on initiating the debate and on bringing to it his characteristic blend of expertise and enthusiasm. I shall continue the tour of the Labour Benches by commending the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry), too, as he was personally generous to me. That was greatly appreciated, although perhaps unmerited. I noted the barbs that he imparted at either end of his address, and perhaps I can turn them by saying that I have some sympathy with the Minister. I have been in her position in the past, and I know that considerations such as legislative handling and resources must always inform our debate. However, I hope that they will not take it over in this instance; indeed, I do not think that that was the spirit of the debate.
I also commend my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) on the expertise and real passion that she brought to bear in speaking of her concerns and on behalf of her constituents. I have considerable sympathy with the comments of the hon. Member for Perth (Annabelle Ewing) about the disability living allowance, and I totally sympathise with and endorse what she said about the Thalidomide Trust. Finally, as this is an inclusive speech, I should also mention the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Paul Holmes), who made some powerful points. The examples that he gave demonstrated the practical problems with delivery.
I have no wish to rubbish the European year of disabled people, although I always have some reservations about what one might term emblem policies. It is easy to package things together, to spend a small amount of public money, which is totally dwarfed by the huge amounts spent on benefits, and then to settle down after a year and say, "We'll move on to something else next year." It is important—perhaps the Minister will deal with this—that value be added by what is done this year, as I am sure that it will be. It is also important that there be a determination on her part, and on the part of the Departments involved, to do more next year and not simply stop after the relevant calendar date.
I want to bring to the Minister's attention two specific issues regarding the European year of disabled people. The first, which I am surprised has not been mentioned, is the impact of tourism and cross-border movements in Europe. Those are huge phenomena, which involve many millions of people—including, by definition, many disabled people. I have concerns about conditions outside the UK, which are not easy to control from this country. In that respect, I have corresponded with Ministers, the Disability Rights Commission and the Association of British Travel Agents. Any solution will probably need to involve a concerted effort by Departments, the European Commission and non-governmental organisations abroad.
301WH I am thinking, for example, of the increasingly familiar problems with access to airline services and damage to wheelchairs in transit. There are also more subtle matters, such as the difficulties in offering travel contracts that include an accessible room. The continental hotelier will not guarantee such a room, and will speak only of his "best endeavours" to provide one. There are other examples. I mean no disrespect to the Greek authorities, which are doing their best—everyone has awoken to that fact—but anyone who has tried to ascend the smart marble steps of a Greek museum will know that it is a lot easier if one is not a wheelchair user.
My second point, which underlines my comments about moving on from this year to next year, is that 2004 will be the crunch year in terms of access to premises under the final implementation of the disability Discrimination Act 1995. I fully understand why the Disability Rights Commission has concentrated on other matters until now—it has been dealing with an important education initiative this year—but it is incumbent on everyone in the field to explore the obligations that will exist next year, so as to increase awareness of an issue that is, sadly, little understood.
I have some concerns, which the Minister may want to relay to her colleagues, about recent announcements by the Department for Education and Skills to the effect that schools could dispose of their capital budgets to shore up their current budgets. That will eat into their provision for special educational needs, and I have considerable doubts about whether it will be possible or practical for many schools to provide the resources for the necessary adjustments that they need to make to their premises. The 2004 deadline does not apply to them—they have a year's grace—but it is very important to get on with that.
I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston when he introduced the debate. The Opposition are glad that the draft disability Bill is at last coming over the horizon. It had been delayed, but I hope that it will now produce a good outcome. When I read the disability Rights Commission's report "Making it Happen", I found it difficult to find many things to which I could reasonably object. No doubt if I read it again I could make minor objections, but it contained many good points, and I hope that the Minister will take the delay as a platform for embodying in the final draft of the Bill suggestions that might not have appeared in the first draft. There is no point in waiting when waiting is unnecessary. Equally, however, I agree that there is no point in rushing into a new theological definition of what is or is not disability and then losing much custom and practice on the way.
On the single disability body, I have much sympathy with the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston. It is extremely important for the DRC to retain its focus on disability, its credibility for its users and a good representation of disabled people in its work. The DRC has suggested ways in which such an organisation could be incorporated as a strand in an overarching body, which is possible. The question would then arise whether we need separate human rights legislation. However, the body needs careful tuning so that we do not lose something in the process of—dare I say it?—rushing on.
302WH Two major factors still affect disabled people in their day-to-day lives. The first is their economic situation. It is right to report that there is still real concern about the very low participation of disabled people in employment and the relatively poor performance at school of children who are not mentally disabled and do not have learning difficulties, but who have an impairment, such as deafness, that prevents them from realising their potential so that they have to keep struggling.
All Members will know from their constituency work that they have to struggle constantly with the benefit system. I recently uncovered the great ducks and drakes exercise that starts with income support and moves on to the higher rate of incapacity benefit after 28 weeks— but after 52 weeks people must remember to go back to income support with the disability premium. We might just be able to understand that, but it is asking a lot of constituents, or even welfare rights workers, to get it all right.
There are also real concerns about the transfer of people under the disabled persons tax credit to the new working tax credit. Treasury Ministers have told me that everything is all right, but from my constituency experience, I do not believe that.
Finally, and perhaps more importantly, there is concern about disabled people's access to services. Over the years, Ministers have always claimed credit for developments, innovations and improvements. I thoroughly welcome the recognition of British sign language as a separate language, which was mentioned today. The hon. Member for Chesterfield referred to the possibility that that would trigger additional resources. The Department for Work and Pensions—the Minister's Department—has produced £1 million. I know that because I asked the Department for Education and Skills what it was going to do, and it was clear that it believed that it was unnecessary to provide extra resources to acknowledge the development.
Last week was autism awareness week. There are real difficulties in establishing the case for disabilities other than physical disability. A case was cited of two four-year-old twins, whom I happen to know, whose mother could not receive a blue badge because the children had no physical disability. That is a very difficult situation, which also applies to many other aspects of mental health.
The major problem with physical disability is that it is still very difficult for disabled people to get about. The weakest part of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 concerns transport—in fairness, the Government are consulting on it—as well as access to premises.
On the other side is what might generically be called training and awareness, and the need for staff who deal with the general public to be aware of the particular needs of disabled people and to treat them decently. However much we legislate, let alone however much we talk here, that is a matter for each individual.
There is a lot to do, and there will be a lot to do beyond this year. I do not mind if we return next year to have another go. I am sure that everyone here believes that if the European year of disabled people is to be successful it should function as a powerhouse or engine house for making further improvements, and strengthen our collective resolve to secure an inclusive society for disabled people.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Maria Eagle)
As ever on this subject in this place, we have had an excellent debate and I want to congratulate, in particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) on initiating it. He is well known, as a number of my hon. Friends have made clear, for his interest in the subject and for his expertise. Both showed through strongly in his contribution at the beginning of the debate. For many years he, with others, worked tirelessly to improve the lives of disabled people in this country when it was not fashionable to do so.
The European year of disabled people is about raising awareness among those of us who are not disabled, celebrating the achievements and potential of disabled people, and promoting more participation by disabled people in all aspects of everyday life. It also gives us a chance to take stock of where we are, the progress that we have made and what more we need to do, and to have some exchanges on how to set about doing that.
I shall start by saying a little about legislation. It is easy on occasions such as this to talk about the future, and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) is right to say that the future is always more interesting than the past, but we should also recognise what we have done. Otherwise, we shall look to the future without the context of where we have come from and where we have got to. An enormous amount has been achieved, and legislation is important because it provides a framework around which advances can be made. I am not one of those who think that legislation should follow trends. It should lead and shape trends.
When this Labour Government came to power in 1997, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was on the statute book—my right hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Chryston rightly paid tribute to the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who when he was the Minister with responsibility for disabled people, had to fight to get that legislation on the statute book. It was the first major Bill covering disability to be enacted, but it had gaps, faults and flaws, and not all of it was implemented.
As recently as 1997, when we came to office, only the provisions covering direct employment discrimination in firms with more than 20 employees, and direct discrimination in service provision, had been implemented. We must remember that direct discrimination is saying that someone cannot be employed because they are disabled Talking one's way round that was not outlawed. Since then, we have made significant advances in extending the legal rights of disabled people to employment, access to goods and services, education and transport. We have given effect to many of the provisions that had sat on the statute book but had not been activated.
In 1997 we set up the disability rights taskforce to advise us on how best to make advances and secure our manifesto commitment of comprehensive and enforceable civil rights for disabled people. It made 156 recommendations, almost all of which we accepted. In 1998, we extended the employment provision to employers with 15 or more employees, and next October it will apply to all employers, including those with only one member of staff. When the regulations that I laid 304WH before Parliament on 8 May this year come into force, they will end the small firms exemption and will bring an extra 1 million employers under the employment provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. They will protect an extra 7 million employees, including many in the public sector, and provide protection for 600,000 disabled people already working in those jobs, who currently do not have that protection.
In 1999 we brought further rights of access to goods and services into force, requiring those who provide a service to the public to make "reasonable adjustments" where access is impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people. When the final changes in access to goods and services provisions are implemented next October, they will build on the serious progress we have already made to ensure that disabled customers can take advantage of the things that others often just take for granted.
We also set up the Disability Rights Commission in 2000, and my right hon. Friend and several other hon. Members have referred to that. That body has just celebrated its third anniversary. It is a typical three-year-old—it did not worry too much about my describing it as such—as it is loud, noisy, often right, and infuriating at times, but it does a very good job. Where would we be without it? That is how I like to regard the Disability Rights Commission. There is no doubt about the fact that it has made an extremely good impact, and has done so particularly well in its relationships with employers.
Given the fact that the duties that I have just described come into force next year, it is particularly important that we take the community of employers with us. I do not want disabled people to have to take people or companies to court to access their rights. Their rights should be granted as a matter of course, without their having to ask. We do not just want to create litigation, we want real social advance. The efforts that the DRC has made in that respect have been tremendously important.
In 2001 the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act received Royal Assent. That plugged a major gap in the DDA; leaving education out was a major problem. The 2001 Act is a huge step forward for disabled pupils, students and adult learners. In due course, as it is fully and properly implemented, the Act will make a massive difference in the medium to long term in disabled people's ability to take their rightful place in all aspects of our society. The Act strengthens the right of children with special educational needs to be educated in mainstream schools, but it does not rule out separate special schools where those are appropriate, and it provides protection against discrimination for disabled students and pupils.
The record needs to be considered alongside the action that we are currently undertaking. I have already referred to the employment directive under article 13 of the treaty of Amsterdam, and the regulations introduced on 8 May. Not only was the UK Government instrumental in shaping the agenda in Europe, but we are implementing the directive two years earlier than the required deadline, and ahead of many of our European colleagues. The directive would bring occupations currently excluded within the scope of the DDA. We want disabled people not only to have better employment opportunities, but to have greater access to 305WH a wider range of services and activities that others take for granted. That is why we are tackling barriers in other areas of society too.
I am glad to hear from hon. Members of all parties that the draft disability Bill that was announced in January, which will be published some time this year, is so widely welcomed. I look forward to some constructive contributions to the debate when it comes before the House for pre-legislative scrutiny. Tempted though I might be, I cannot go into any great detail about when that will be, and hon. Members will understand why. I have heard what has been said, and their concern that it should happen sooner rather than later. Such things will make a difference.
I should take the opportunity that the debate presents to say—because it was not possible to do so last Friday in the House—that the Government support the Disabled People (Duties of Public Authorities) Bill, which was unfortunately talked out. For the life of me, I cannot understand why. It promised to make a real difference to disabled people's lives by ensuring that a huge range of public sector bodies—Government, local government and smaller organisations—will have to take account of the needs of disabled people. Such measures will make a difference. They will raise awareness and ensure that in future disabled people do not have to fight for their rights, because their rights will simply be there.
We must address prejudice and stereotypes. My right hon. Friend referred to a super-qualified person who was unable to get a job purely on the grounds that she had a disability. Legislation is not sufficient. We also need to ensure that we raise awareness. I was asked what we were doing about that, and I can say that I have set aside £3 million this year and next for awareness-raising activities. We recognise that, as the law is implemented fully next October, we have to ensure that whom we give obligations know what they are and are ready to comply with them. There is no point in changing the law if the changes are not implemented by those who have obligations.
We will be doing a huge amount. This year gives us a great opportunity to raise awareness, and we are doing that. One of the side effects of the European year of disabled people will be the fact that it gives us an opportunity to raise awareness in this respect, which would not have been quite so easy otherwise. We are taking those steps, and I hope that they will have a big impact. I am sure that they will. The latest research shows a higher awareness of the Disability Discrimination Act in society in general than we have ever seen before. There is up to 62 per cent. awareness, and that is an achievement.
§ Sitting suspended.