Public services should be available equally to everyone who uses them. The citizens charter calls on public sector organisations to take account of the needs of all their customers—including, where appropriate, those with disabilities—when they are setting service standards.
Nine years ago this very month, I introduced a Bill to outlaw discrimination against disabled people. Almost every Tory Member voted against it. At the time, I was assured that all that was required to overcome the difficulties of disabled people was education and persuasion.
Can the Minister name a single disabled people's organisation that opposes the introduction of statutory legislation to prevent discrimination against disabled people? Does he realise that disabled people are still being treated as second-class citizens, especially in regard to employment? If the citizens charter is to mean anything, should it not include a protection against discrimination of this kind?
As I said in my answer, the charters include reference to people with disabilities where that is appropriate, and they are based on standards that the hon. Gentleman would support.
We need no lectures from the hon. Gentleman about support for people with disabilities, which has featured largely in the Government's activity. Since 1978–79, expenditure on people with disabilities—support for the long-term sick and disabled—has risen by 173 per cent. in real terms.
About a year ago, I particpated in a programme called "Positive Action" for the civil service. Can the Minister tell me what has happened as a result of that programme? Has the civil service changed any of its training methods? Is it employing more disabled people, or fewer?
The civil service has an extremely good record of support for people with disabilities. We employ twice as many disabled people, in proportion to our total work force, as the private sector. Our training, and the course in which my hon. Friend was involved, are part of our support. I have seen one of the Civil Service college courses in operation, and I know that those courses are very successful.
How can the Minister expect us to believe that the citizens charter, and his Department, are acting positively to counter disability discrimination? This afternoon, we heard that the basic benefit paid in the form of disability living allowance has been withheld, in a discriminatory fashion, from many thousands of people with disabilities.
This morning, carrying out a check, I discovered that, in the last 25 cases that I have taken up—three reminders were sent in respect of eight of them—24 have not even been acknowledged. Does the Minister accept that he would not wait six months for his salary? It is discriminating against people with disabilities to expect them to wait six, 12 or 18 months for their small amount of disability benefit.