Employment of the Disabled

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:18 pm on 16 October 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 8:18, 16 October 2001

My Lords, this is one of those debates that it is rather difficult to sum up. One might be restricted to saying that one agrees with proposals X, Y and Z, which were said previously. I could go through the entire debate doing that.

We have come to one conclusion; that is, that in this context there is a real problem and real opportunities. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, put her finger on something very important when she said that although things may be going badly in the industry at the moment the way in which our economy is switched and geared means that the service and hospitality industry is an important and growing sector.

There is a danger when we make speeches that we think that the present is permanent. We all make that mistake from time to time but governments tend to make it more often than most. We assume that everything will carry on as it currently does. This sector of the economy is bound to grow.

Virtually every noble Lord who has spoken referred to the fact that it will probably be easier to deal with those people who are one's potential marketplace--I refer to those with disabilities--if one employs those who are disabled. An excellent briefing that I received from the English Tourism Council pointed that out and said that the disabled are not an homogenous group.

A number of different types of disability have been mentioned. That suggests that we must look everywhere. The problems of a wheelchair user are not the same as those of a person with hearing loss or sight deficiency. We must remember that some people use wheelchairs because they become tired and their legs are weak; others are totally dependent upon wheelchairs. The same principle is true of other types of disability. We have a difficult exercise to perform in lateral and cross-thinking.

The Government's role is thus doubly difficult. I have every sympathy with them, but I shall keep pushing for them to take action. I am trying to think of debates in this Chamber in which aspects of disability have not been mentioned. Apart from Treasury debates, I cannot think of one. However, I believe that that has more to do with constitutional arrangements. Every aspect of government policy contains a disability issue. That has become clearer over time. We may sort out the "great dragons" and have our great achievements, but it is only when we look at the fine detail that matters become apparent.

I shall try to drag myself away from the wider sphere back to the matter before us. We must encourage the industry to take on board and employ disabled people. If not, we shall take away the most natural way into the workforce for many such people. For better or worse, there is a degree of low status attached to comparatively easy-access jobs. That may be due to our cultural attitude towards service jobs. Indeed, English waiters have ruined more meals for me than I care to mention.

However, it is the case that we do not take these issues properly on board. All noble Lords who have been to party conferences will be familiar with the small, quaintly-organised hotels in which we have stayed. Such hotels often have umpteen stairs and incredibly small rooms. That leads us to believe that the tourism and hospitality industry has major problems at the smaller end of the scale. That must be addressed. The Government must give information to businesses on how to deal with such problems. We always knew that the structure and nature of the Government approach, taken way back in connection with DDA and case law, would be difficult. This will all take time.

The long run-in period has led to complacency in certain areas. However, I shall defer my remarks until next year. I would bet that there are people who will say, "Our budgets are tight. We shall put off making decisions about finance". The Government have to be seen to move forward.

I shall ask the noble Baroness what the Government will do. The noble Baroness will then be perfectly justified in listing a series of initiatives, often from her department or perhaps from other departments. I should like the noble Baroness to give me an idea of the Government's overall philosophy on this issue, because that is ultimately more important. Initiatives come and go; some work and some do not. All are stepping stones towards something else. If the noble Baroness is able to give us an idea of the overall philosophy, we shall have taken another step forward. That is not an easy task. I hope that the noble Baroness will not curse me too harshly as I sit down. Unless we get right the philosophy, the issues surrounding disability will not be properly addressed. We have to get our lateral vision working strongly on this matter.