Disability Rights

– in the House of Lords at 11:38 am on 5th June 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Morris of Manchester Lord Morris of Manchester Labour 11:38 am, 5th June 2008

rose to call attention to the 30th anniversary of disability rights legislation covering the whole of the United Kingdom and the progress of disability rights; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, this is a deeply evocative occasion for me, marking as it does the 30th anniversary of the coming-into-effect in 1978 of all the provisions of my Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act throughout the United Kingdom and the centrality of rights in any debate on the status and well-being of disabled people.

When the Act became law in 1970, it applied only to England and Wales. It was not until 1972, in response to insistent pressure from disabled people north of the border, that it was extended to Scotland and then, responding to disabled people there, to Northern Ireland 30 years ago.

That we are marking this anniversary is due primarily to the inflexible commitment to making life better for disabled people of my noble friends Lady Royall, Lady Massey and Lord Grocott, and my noble friend Lord Corbett with whom I have been closely associated since 1964 when, already in government, I was with Fred Peart at the Ministry of Agriculture and Robin—that is, the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, not Robin Hood—was an ever-foraging reporter with Farmers Weekly.

As so often before, I am hugely indebted also to my noble friend Lord Ashley for his fellowship, long and true, ever since he entered Parliament in 1966. It was of course hoped that he would open this debate but, most regrettably, he is not well enough to do so. He phoned me this morning and, naturally, my thoughts and heart-felt best wishes are with him. Without him—and there can be no higher parliamentary tribute—our proceedings seem strangely unofficial.

He kindly describes me in his autobiography, Journey into Silence, as,

"the most considerate man in the House of Commons", and said that it was his role in the proceedings on my Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill that convinced him,

"beyond doubt that [he] could make a contribution in Parliament despite total deafness"— to which my response is that no one ever had a more considerate friend than him, nor did anyone work with more enthusiasm for the enactment of the Bill than he did.

I spoke of this being an evocative occasion. Sadly for many of us it is also a most poignant one, for there is another missing voice that we would have loved to hear—that of the late and revered Davina, Lady Darcy de Knayth, who made her maiden speech in your Lordships' House in the Second Reading debate on my Bill 38 years ago. Although I knew of the cruel injuries that she sustained in the appalling tragedy that had so devastated her young family, I was not prepared for the grievous extent of her disabilities when I first met this new kind of parliamentarian, as she was lifted from car to wheelchair at the Peers' Entrance. Yet her speech was mainly about prioritising help and provision for severely disabled young people whom she saw as more needful than herself. I shall always treasure the honour that Davina and my dear friend Sue, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, conferred on me in making their maiden speeches on my Bill.

It seems incredible and outrageous now, but from 1945 to 1964 there was no mention in any party manifesto of anything specifically to help disabled people. Between 1959 and 1964, there was not one parliamentary debate on disability. No one even knew how many disabled people there were in Britain. They were mostly seen or heard only by their families or, if they were in institutions, by those who controlled their lives. Legislation on access for them to the built environment was unknown in this or any other country, while autism and dyslexia were dismissed as figments of parental imaginings.

The notion that disabled people had rights was regarded as absurd, just as it had been for peasants, slaves, religious minorities, black people and women. To talk of as-of-right cash benefits for services for disabled people was to invite ridicule, while local authority services were mostly discretionary and often non-existent.

That was how things were when, against all the odds, my Private Member's Bill became law in May 1970. It was, said Marcel Napolitain, France's foremost campaigner and a world figure on disability rights, "un moment critique" for disabled people everywhere.

My Bill became law as an Act of 29 sections, imposing new duties and responsibilities on 12 government departments and quickly became the model for legislation in many other countries. It amended 39 existing Acts of Parliament in the interests of disabled people, including such major statutes as the Public Health Act 1936, the Education Act 1944, the National Health Service Act 1946, the National Assistance Act 1948 and the Housing Act 1957.

In the decade after the Bill's enactment, huge leaps were recorded in the numbers of people identified as disabled. Millions received help in the home from a wide range of aids, including the installation of a telephone; adaptations to their homes; purpose-built new housing provision; and free parking and extended parking rights. Official estimates showed that by 1990 there were 12 million cases of assistance under Section 2 in England alone, while in Scotland, over a shorter period, there were 1.7 million. These were minimal figures, since they did not include the then 1.3 million orange—now blue—badge holders in England, or those helped by radical improvements in the care of young long-stay hospital patients in the 29 small purpose-built new hospitals opened for them under the Act, by its provisions on autism, dyslexia and deaf-blind children; and those for expediting the payment of pension entitlements to the war disabled and bereaved.

Public spending on related benefits and services rose from £330 million to £3.3 billion in the Act's first decade. Yet wide-ranging as its provisions were, its impact went far beyond its stated purposes. Thus it was in direct consequence of its enactment that I became Minister for Disabled People in 1974, and that by 1976 legislative provision had been made for four entirely new as-of-right cash benefits: the severe disablement and mobility allowances, as well as those for carers and disabled housewives. The Warnock committee had been appointed and set in motion; Motability had been conceived and, although relief for its beneficiaries from vehicle excise duty had still to be negotiated with the Treasury, would soon be operational.

Even more important in the longer term, I was poised to appoint a committee of inquiry on disability rights—the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People, CORAD—with terms of reference wide enough to allow it to recommend legislation for making disability discrimination unlawful. CORAD was chaired for me by Peter Large, and its membership comprised identifiably representative disabled people, parents of severely disabled children and voluntary workers of distinction. Colin, now the noble Lord, Lord Low, who assisted Peter Large so ably, was among them, as was the late Audrey Callaghan in recognition of her unrivalled services to children at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

CORAD's historic report, from which all subsequent legislation on discrimination lineally descends, was superbly crafted by Peter Large. Often reliant on an iron lung to stay alive, he had intellect to spare and excelling integrity. It is said that he witnessed in his lifetime a revolution in the status of disabled people. The truth is that he had a pivotal role in creating that revolution. A towering figure in the disability movement, he will be honoured wherever discussion on the history of disability rights legislation is even moderately well informed.

In 1991, Peter was much involved with me in drafting my Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. Alan, now my noble friend Lord Howarth, having described the 1970 Act as

"a rare, creative achievement in politics", and an

"epoch-making measure", said, in 1995, that so, too, could the then Government's legislation on disability discrimination have been had they modelled it on my Bill; but it was not to be, notwithstanding the skill and success of my noble friend Lady Lockwood in twice taking my Bill through all its stages in this House. More effective legislation had to await the arrival in 1997 of the Government in which my noble friend—who had crossed the Floor over the treatment of my Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill and the implications for social policy as a whole—was such an exemplary Minister.

Other outcomes of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act included its impact on Parliament itself. Here its Second Reading had to be preceded by changes in conventions, and even the seating arrangements in this Chamber. Thus the first row of the Cross Benches were removed to make space for what rapidly became known as the "Mobile Bench" of Peers confined to wheelchairs, and from which Davina and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, among others, made their maiden speeches.

In the House of Commons, too, the Act's impact soon became visible. It was there that the decision to adapt the whole of the Terrace originated and, among other changes, large and small, the offensive practice of detaining guide dogs at St Stephen's entrance, leaving blind visitors to be escorted by police officers, was ended. Another change, seemingly small but hugely encouraging as a sign of Parliament's growing acceptance of its duty to lead came when Alan Beaney, a miners' MP, was suddenly afflicted by throat cancer, leaving him capable of little more than an intermittent whisper that could barely be understood even by life-long friends. I discussed speculatively with Selwyn Lloyd, then Speaker of the House of Commons, whether it might be possible for Alan still to make some contribution in Parliament.

Since time immemorial, of course, Members of both Houses engaged in debate only by the spoken word, but Selwyn, reflecting that Alan's must be what he called "the ultimate parliamentary disability", now agreed that I could move from the Front Bench and sit by Alan's side, as he rose to speak, to help him to convey his words to the House in a debate about the future of the mining industry of the highest importance to his constituents. So together on 3 December 1970, each with a copy of the speech, Alan and I attacked, in concert, the Coal Industry Bill, describing it as,

"a sinister Bill", that would,

"rend the mining industry in two",—[Hansard, Commons, 3/12/1970; col. 1534.]

and much more to the same effect. Sadly, his cancer spread and it was Alan's final speech, uniquely eloquent in its way, and a timely further reminder that Parliament must never again accept easy excuses for excluding people from its proceedings.

One of the penalties of longevity in parliamentary life is the loss by attrition of close and valued colleagues. The longer one survives, the more colourful and crowded one's gallery of old and trusted friends. Many of the most honoured in mine are those who laboured with me to enact the 1970 Act. They were not all of one party. They were of all parties but one mind and united by a shared determination that laws affecting disabled people must be based on statutory rights.

As well as Jack Ashley—presiding then over the All-Party Disability Group, as he has done ever since—the Back-Benchers who worked most closely with me to enact the Bill included the honourable John Astor, Lewis Carter-Jones, Dr Michael Winstanley, Fred Peart, Sir Richard Body, Laurie Pavitt, Dame Irene Ward, Fred Evans, Neil Marten and Will Griffiths. Outside the House my collaborators included Duncan Guthrie, then director of RADAR's predecessor, Mary Appleby of MIND, George Lee of MENCAP, Michael Flanders, Leonard Cheshire, Sir Harry Platt, Douglas Bader, Lady (Pix) Hamilton, Dr Ludwig Guttman of Stoke Mandeville, Field Marshal Lord Harding, the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, Mary Greaves who led DIG after the death of Megan du Boisson and my fellow co-operator Mary Stott, a Guardian columnist said by Megan to have inspired her proposal for a campaigning Disablement Income Group.

While we have come a long way since then, there is still, as all of us know, a long and daunting agenda of unmet need, but in facing the future today we are strongly fortified by the UN Convention on Disability Rights. We also have Rehabilitation International's globally acclaimed Charter for the New Millennium drafted by leading disability campaigners from the north, south, east and west of the world and launched in 1991 in the Church of St Mary Undercroft in Westminster Hall, on the basis of which Davina secured and led the debate on disability rights here on 14 July 2000, after Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, had described the charter on 5 July as,

"having set the global agenda on disability for at least the next decade".

Moreover, we are strongly reinforced on the "Mobile Bench" by my everywhere-respected noble friend Lady Wilkins and, in the last year, by my longstanding friends Lady Campbell and Lord Low. Again, in Anne McGuire we have a Minister totally committed to tackling unmet need. My noble friend Lord McKenzie will, I know, want to respond to this important debate both positively and with all his customary care and concern.

I conclude with the final words of a speech made to parliamentary colleagues the day before the Second Reading of my Bill on 5 December 1969. I told them:

"If we could each bequeath one precious gift to posterity, I would choose a society in which there is genuine compassion for long-term sick and disabled people; where understanding is unostentatious and sincere; where needs come before means; where if years cannot be added to their lives, at least life can be added to their years; where the mobility of disabled people is restricted only by the bounds of technical progress and discovery; where they have the fundamental right to participate in industry and society according to ability; where socially preventable distress is unknown; and where no one has cause to be ill at ease because of her or his disability".

That is what the legislation that we are met now to recall was all about. I beg to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Deputy Chief Whip, Spokesperson in the Lords (Sport), Culture, Media & Sport, Spokesperson in the Lords, Defence 11:56 am, 5th June 2008

My Lords, I have become accustomed to following the noble Lord in debates on disability over the years that I have been here. There are very few days when one feels that it has already been said, as it has been today. The noble Lord was in at the start on the first effective step of a long journey; there had been previous attempts. It is an odd journey, because it has diverse paths. When I asked the Library to give me a list of all the major Acts since the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 that refer to disability —I understand why we have the 30th anniversary today—it gave me three lists of 15, seven and 17 Acts. I looked at them and said, "No, there should be others here as well". I then read something from the Employers' Forum on Disability that mentioned many health and safety Acts. I would have included many education Acts.

My joining of this diverse series of paths came in 1987, when I made my maiden speech on the problems of dyslexia. That was blatant self-interest, of course, but that is where I started from. I received assistance through the state system directly as a result of the noble Lord's Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. That was because a teacher at Brooke School in the county of Norfolk said to my mother, "The reason why your son cannot write is because he may well be dyslexic. I have just heard about this new thing, and apparently it is accompanied by an Act of Parliament". So, if I bore the noble Lord today, it is his fault.

I believe that some people have said, "Not another debate about various Bills on disability". When this started out, it went to places that we did not think it would go, because we did not have the mindset to make those sideways steps. We did not realise that effectively everything has a disability aspect to it. Everyone then got frightened about the prospect of a disability aspect to every single Act. Every single Government and lobby group have said at various times, "We cannot do that; it will be too expensive. It will stop everything happening. We will be sued if we put ramps in shop doorways. We cannot have those. They will be far too expensive, and if people skateboard on them we will be sued and go to prison". I heard that on numerous occasions. If that has occurred anywhere, I have not heard about it. There has frequently been the panic factor or fear factor of the unknown and of the expense. "We do not do it this way, so it cannot be done this way", has always been said.

Indeed, many disability groups have had to go through some extremely painful development—more than that, evolution—to tangle with the new worlds that they are dealing with. Many organisations which started off as fairly paternal, patting people on the head and literally asking questions such as "Does he take sugar?", have become groups which empower people to go out and live their own lives as independently as possible by removing barriers up front; and most things that help someone in a wheelchair also assist someone wheeling a pram or carrying heavy luggage.

If you put lifts in you have fewer people with back injuries. Other small measures are being taken in various businesses. There are savings to be made by design factors. You can be walking down a corridor at a party conference and be grabbed by an official who says, "Will you host something on design?". When that happened to me, I did not know anything about it and made some comment, asking if design was useful. Someone said, "You are a disability spokesman. Did you know that including disability factors in design have become commonplace—they are legion?" I did not. The fact that this goes on and spreads is massively important to the development of what goes on here.

Has everyone got the legislation right yet? No. Is there much more legislation and does it cover many more parts of our lives? Yes. Has that become something of a lawyers' feast, if you let it get that far? Yes. Legislation should cross-reference with other legislation. The previous disability Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, who one feels should be here today, but is not, insisted that we should take that path by trying to cross- reference the various pieces of legislation. All Governments have taken brave steps on their own. The cultural starting points of the various political parties have meant that their approaches have been different and the inertia of government has been there for all of us. The way that style has changed has meant a different approach; each rosette will have a slightly different take on this.

As the noble Lord said, the various stages and developments have come from all around the House, but we are far too dependent on the courts, which effectively excludes large groups from taking action if someone feels that they are discriminated against. That should go on the record. This really is not the best way forward. It may have been a way forward, and more may have been hoped of it, but it is not the best way forward—or if it is, we are in trouble.

We have to try to integrate everything more closely with the current legal structure and get in there early. The distance we have travelled is underlined by the fact that a very small piece of legislation was referred to when we were taking our places for this debate—the Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Interoperable Rail System) Regulations 2008. I believe that this is a disability issue—if I am wrong, it does not matter. The fact is, it could quite easily be. How are we going to approach this issue and deal with the lobby groups which still feel that other priorities need to be addressed first and that this basic human right is not fully integrated yet into the mindset? That is the big challenge. Do we do enough to encourage people to ensure that in the initial planning stage disability-friendly legislation should be there right up front? We are pushing things that way, because if you not, there is a potential legal threat. Unfortunately, the legal enforcement system means that that threat is seldom delivered or is delivered with difficulty.

We have to try to take steps forward. Indeed, the present planning and accessibility duty at one point seemed to be threatened by the proposed Single Equality Bill. I hope that the Minister will confirm that all future planning regulations will be strengthened and not rolled back on the grounds of expense. We can probably enjoy that confirmation today; it will put certain people's minds at rest if that approach can be gone ahead with. If we do that, we are taking steps towards addressing the real problems here, without having to come back again and again to Parliament—without having to try to put a disability amendment or new clause into every Bill. Some have mentioned that we always seemed to do that in the past but do it slightly less often now. Another good point is that it can be done automatically without any fuss. If we can get away from having to do that, we will have finally arrived.

The timeframe of which the noble Lord spoke is long, and we may be getting towards a comprehensive answer. It will never be perfect and the diversity of conditions, what is needed to help them and emerging technology will probably mean that it will have to be systematically reviewed. We have come a long way, but I am afraid that we can never take our eyes off the matter totally.

It is a happy and sad occasion for me. I am not doing the sum-up today because my noble friend Lady Thomas will normally lead on this subject for the foreseeable future, I hope. It is not so much passing the baton as changing the runners in the relay, because I am sure that I will still be around. However, as she was responsible in her back-room days for instigating many of the things that I did, I do not think that we need worry too much about losing a grip from these Benches.

I deeply congratulate the noble Lord on his starting the process and his championing of making sure that it carries on.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench 12:06 pm, 5th June 2008

My Lords, I declare an interest as president of the Royal Mencap Society. After that declaration, I was expecting to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, on holding the debate. Instead I am saddened by his absence. He is certainly a tireless campaigner on behalf of people with a disability, as is shown more recently by his efforts on the excellent independent living Bill. I am sure that we all wish him well. However, I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, as his understudy. He is the original reason for this debate and I pay tribute to him for stepping into the breach.

The debate is an opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved in the last 30 years—since Northern Ireland was included in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act—and of course what is still left to do. Thankfully, we have come a long way in our attitudes since the Mental Deficiency Act 1927, which defined people with a learning disability as "idiots" and "imbeciles". As the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, indicated in his Motion, it is now 30 years since the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act of the now noble Lord, Lord Morris, was fully extended to cover all those in the United Kingdom with a disability. He was ahead of his time and I am sure that everyone in the House will join me in paying tribute to the determination and foresight that he showed in 1970, and in the intervening years, in campaigning on all the issues affecting those with a disability.

The 1970 Act, affectionately know in another place as the Alf Morris Act, ensured that our country led the way on changes in attitude towards people with a disability. Sadly, we might be hard-pressed to make the same claim now, for no fewer than 27 countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities before the United Kingdom, the latest being Kenya on 19 May. Despite that unfortunate delay, I am delighted that the Government are apparently still on track for our ratification by the end of the year.

Another crucial year for disability legislation was 1974, when the post of Minister for Disabled People was created. What better way to ensure that Parliament passed laws to improve the lives of those with a disability than appointing the noble Lord, Lord Morris, who was the natural candidate for the position? It was also the first year that Mencap held what was then Mencap Week and is now known as Learning Disability Week. In fact, this year's week is nearly upon us, starting as it does on 15 June. This will stress that, despite there being an estimated 800,000 people of working age with a learning disability, many of whom could make a significant contribution to the workplace, fewer than one in 10 known to social services is in paid work. It is hoped that the week will remind the Government to ensure that employers know that specialist help and support are available for those wishing to employ people with a learning disability.

Over the past 30 years, there have been Acts and statutory instruments galore, all with the aim of improving the lives of those with a disability. For that, we have to thank Governments of both political persuasions. However, the most important has been the Disability Discrimination Act, introduced in 1995 and strengthened in 2005. One of the new requirements under the 2005 DDA is that each school must have a disability equality scheme in place to help it to improve and change its practices to accommodate disabled pupils and staff. Secondary schools were due to have this in place by December 2006.

Last year, Mencap carried out a survey to see how these schemes were working. The results showed that many schools have a lot further to go before they fully understand and implement a disability equality scheme. The recent report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, A Life Like Any Other? Human Rights of Adults with Learning Disabilities, supported these findings and commented that, due to inadequate pressure from central government, the DDA and the disability equality duty were being "insufficiently understood and applied" on the ground. However, I am told that the Government have recognised that there are problems and that they have at least committed to strongly promoting the new guidance to tackle the bullying of disabled young people.

We are in the middle of a government-led consultation on the shape of future social services and expect a Green Paper on the subject next year, yet the Government are still working from an extremely low evidence base and do not have sufficient information to deliver their aspirational policies. I can give some figures now. The number of people with a learning disability is set to rise by 20 per cent between 2001 and 2021. A survey from the Commission for Social Care Inspection has already found that 73 per cent of councils are willing to support only those people whose learning disability is, in their opinion, severe or critical. All the others will be hung out to dry.

The Minister may remember that on 20 November last year I asked him whether his department would assess the number of people with a learning disability who are being denied services because of this tightening of eligibility criteria. Sadly, the Minister did not make such a commitment. Perhaps today when he rises he will be able to do so, for ignoring this problem will cause untold misery for tens of thousands of people with learning disabilities and their families.

The health inequalities faced by people with a learning disability is another crucial issue on which the Government must make progress. We are awaiting the findings and recommendations of the independent inquiry that was set up after Mencap revealed the unnecessary deaths of six people with a learning disability while they were in the care of the NHS. We expect the independent inquiry to find many more such cases and to call for annual health checks for all people with a learning disability. These were originally suggested by the Government back in 2001, yet they have failed to make progress on this most tragic of issues, despite evidence from Wales, where the introduction of such health checks has proved to be effective. In the last year in Wales, these checks picked up new health needs among 68 per cent of people with a learning disability, 11 per cent of which were serious. How many more patients with similar problems in the rest of the UK have to face death by indifference before government action is taken to ensure that the NHS is truly a health service for everyone, irrespective of their intellectual capacity?

The Government certainly took the initiative on the Children and Young Persons Bill when they placed a new duty on local authorities to provide short breaks for children with disabilities, but if the Government are to meet their stated ambition to have equality for all people with a disability by 2025, we need to see more of this praiseworthy type of legislative change.

I pay tribute to all noble Lords here today, as well as to Members in another place, who have made such a difference to the lives of all people with a disability. Now we are joined, most effectively, by disabled people themselves. Together, we are a formidable force that is capable of making even greater progress in the ongoing battle for disability rights and that faraway 1970 Alf Morris Act.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop 12:16 pm, 5th June 2008

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for initiating this debate. It is one of those occasions when there is—myself excepted—a galaxy of experts.

I want initially to try to find my own road into this whole area. I shall offer two personal examples. First, I am suffering not from a disability but from an impairment to do with my treatment, which means that I cannot read very well, I cannot hear very well and I cannot eat very well. I know that not being able to hear very well—a partial hearing limitation—is a very isolating and sometimes irritating experience.

My second example is rather more related to disability. In the village in which I was brought up, there was an old man who could neither hear nor speak. I do not know what his domestic circumstances were but he had a habit of going to the village ice-cream shop of an afternoon. After school, some of us would go and buy ice-creams and see him conversing through sign language with the Italian ice-cream maker. It was a shock and would defy every conceivable health and safety regulation today but we are talking about the 1950s. What the experience of seeing those two conversing did to a whole generation of children in the village is incalculable. We saw them both as complete persons in themselves conversing in their own way. There was no patronising compassion from the ice-cream maker. You could see in the way in which they related to each other with their eyes a kind of total equality and normality. I shall never forget that.

A lot is, quite rightly, being made so far of the progress—or lack of it—of legislation; it has been very informative to hear that. Since 1978, there has been slow progress. One result of that is heightened public awareness; but when you have heightened public awareness of a group that has been marginalised, you have got to be ready for the unlocking of a marginalised collective memory. That happens with any group of this kind, and not just those with disabilities. It becomes much more complex to deal with as awareness moves from ignorance, through patronising benevolence, to seeing the group as part of the whole of society and not an abnormality. It is our fault—the rest of us—for having a rather warped view of normality.

The public debate in recent years has helped us towards greater sensitivity of language. One sometimes hesitates to take part in such discussions in case one uses language that is seen to be offensive. Much more should be done to enforce legislation, which brings me to my third point. Perhaps I may use the cloak of anonymity. I know of two excellent parish priests with disabilities: one with spina bifida and the other with cerebral palsy. Both were appointed to parishes, and the parish representatives, with great delight, saw them as people who would, with their particular conditions, bring something to the rest of the community. That is something over which I can rejoice and which I realise might not have happened 10 or 15 years ago. One of them writes very strongly about making public places more accessible:

"The problems I face are not often related to the fact that I have a physical disability but the way society creates an environment that limits my involvement. People who use wheelchairs cannot enter buildings with steps. It is not the using of the wheelchair that limits, but the steps of the building".

That brings me on to the question of public places. As noble Lords have already mentioned other public places, it is perhaps appropriate that I should mention churches. Access to churches is often very difficult, often because of history. When I was rector at a parish in Guildford I had probably the least accessible church in Surrey. It was put there to be at the top of a hill. The present parish church in Bishops Waltham, for example, was built in the 13th century on the site of a building from Anglo-Saxon times. We are lumbered by this legacy and it is sometimes a negative one. We are doing our best to keep up with legislation but it is a slow process. At the General Synod last year there was a debate on disability which recommended that each diocese should appoint a local adviser on disability issues.

Like all the world religions, Christianity has a rather mixed history in its teachings about disability. That is why every religion needs its own critique. It is sometimes a rather irritating process for some of the faithful but I would say that it is a necessary one. There have been some rather warped understandings of the New Testament: for example, disability has been linked to sin; it is seen as a travesty of the divine image; it has been said that people with disabilities are spiritually enhanced through virtuous suffering; and, worst of all, charitable action is viewed as benevolence rather than justice.

The trouble is that we have these two words in the Christian vocabulary which, for obvious reasons connected with our history, have passed into public discussion—miracle and healing. I am rather relieved that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham is no longer in his place because I suspect that in the next few minutes he would be jumping up and down correcting what I am saying, although I did clear some of this with him before he left. The word "miracle" has a very loaded understanding within Christianity and outside it. The word used in the New Testament is the Greek word dynamis, which is about power rather than miracle—the two are not quite the same. Similarly, the word "healing" is not about cure but about wholeness. During my illness I was anointed a number of times. I was not expecting to be "cured" of the disease but to be calmed, to steady me and to give me a time of rest before the next stage.

Another negative aspect of Christianity, if I may put it that strongly, is that people with mental disabilities have only recently been allowed to be confirmed. Now it is normal practice, but I remember being asked by anxious parents early in my ministry whether their children could be confirmed. Only recently I confirmed a severely autistic young lad who brought his mother along to be confirmed alongside him.

Here I am speaking on behalf of a historic voluntary organisation that has an important part to play in the life of the community. I am sure that other noble Lords have similar stories to tell about the heightened awareness that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech. There have been repeated calls, for example from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and Rabbi Lionel Blue, about extending this public awareness and enforcing legislation. That is one problem: the legislation needs to be more incisive and developed. However, many of the problems arise because the current legislation is not being enforced.

I shall conclude on a more general note about the way in which discussion is held, and here I want to echo what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said. In a recent lecture in Cambridge, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, spoke movingly about the place of people with disabilities in the rest of society. She put it in five words: "Nothing about us, without us".

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench 12:25 pm, 5th June 2008

My Lords, I am sure we must all feel the shadow cast over this debate by the absence of Lady Darcy de Knayth, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, reminded us, made her maiden speech in your Lordships' House during the passage of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act in 1970. The sense of shock and loss was palpable throughout the House on the day that her death was announced. Following that maiden speech, she became one of the most persistent campaigners in your Lordships' House for equal rights for disabled people. In May 1990, she was responsible for defeating the Government by 87 votes to 86 on her amendment to grant deaf and dyslexic students the right to claim income support and housing benefit. One of her greatest victories came in March 1991 when she helped to kill off the Government's attempt to abolish the Independent Living Fund.

It is remarkable how much you learn about people at their funerals that you never knew before and wish you had. Davina was a woman of many parts. In her youth, after a period in Florence, she attended the Sorbonne. She was also a keen sportswoman. As well as playing table tennis, she became an archery champion and was active in the Paralympic movement. She was a strong advocate for involving disabled people in sport and won a gold medal for swimming in the Israel Paralympics. As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, reminded us, she was injured in a serious car crash in the mid-60s which left her widowed and severely disabled with three young children to bring up. It is not the done thing these days to speak of disability as a tragedy but, as misfortunes go, I should have thought that would take some beating. Yet I never heard Davina complain even as, towards the end of her life, her need for assistance grew greater. She seemed to me to just get on with things. She was kindness itself to me when I entered the House and far too self-deprecating about her own abilities. As we all know, she was held in the highest regard, so that when hereditary Peers' automatic right to sit in the House was removed in 1999, she topped the poll to see which 10 per cent should remain. A fellow Peer told me that he did not even bother to vote for her because he knew that this would be the outcome.

In a debate on the United Nations convention last June, the noble Lord, Lord Morris, referred to the small fellowship of disabled Peers who typically spoke in debates of this kind and came to support one another. Indeed, he described it as one of the more endearing and charming features of your Lordships' House. I am sorry that the small fellowship is not quite as strong today as it normally is, and that the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Wilkins, are not here because they are not well. I am sure that we all send them our best wishes and hope for their speedy return to the fellowship. I am sure that we could all do with their support.

I was very taken with the reference of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, to the assistance that he gave to a fellow MP who had difficulty delivering a speech in the House of Commons. He vividly described the double act which they performed. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, also has difficulty speaking for a long time without assistance, and I very much hope that, with your Lordships' help, we may be able to find a way of helping her to overcome that disability when performing in your Lordships' House.

I am sure that we are all particularly sorry not to see the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, in his place today to introduce the debate, as was originally planned. I join everyone else in wishing him a speedy recovery so that he can return to his rightful place in the fellowship to which I have referred.

As has been said, however, there could be no more appropriate person to introduce the debate than the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, for in truth he started it all with the introduction of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, the 30th anniversary of whose application to the whole of the United Kingdom we are celebrating today. He demonstrated his unrivalled skills as a parliamentarian in steering it through as a Private Member's Bill right up against a general election. Shortly after that, as Britain's first Minister for Disabled People, he played a seminal role in the development of rights for disabled people in his country. He also played a key role in chairing Rehabilitation International's world planning group, which drafted the Charter for the Third Millennium, which called for a United Nations convention, the fruits of whose labours have been realised only in the past year or so.

Prior to 1970, there was very little state provision for disabled people, apart from those who became disabled in the Armed Forces or through injury at work. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which was extended to Scotland in 1972 and to Northern Ireland in 1978, was a landmark Act that required local authorities to publish statistics of disabled people in their area, to provide information about how to obtain the help available and to develop comprehensive services to meet their needs. It made authorities provide practical assistance in the home, undertake adaptations and provide additional facilities to ensure greater safety, comfort and convenience. Public buildings had to make some provision to ensure easier access, better toilet facilities and parking spaces designated for disabled people.

Following his appointment as Minister for Disabled People in 1974, the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, went on to lay the foundations of the disability benefits system that we have today in the attendance allowance and the mobility allowance, and he laid the ground for the trailblazing disability rights legislation that was later to flower from the mid-1990s onwards by establishing the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People, to which he has referred and on which I was privileged to serve.

It is customary today to place the emphasis on rights rather than services, but it is important to remember that without services "to have a right to", there would be no rights worth having. It is therefore fitting that, in our debate today, we should take a moment to look back and celebrate the seminal achievements of those who laid the foundations of the system of disabled people's rights that we have today. It is, however, important to look forward as well as back. As soon as we do, we immediately see that there is much more to do.

The comprehensive services that local authorities were encouraged to develop by the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act are still anything but comprehensive, and of course expectations change with time so that local authorities are for ever chasing a receding target. As soon as one need is met, another emerges. Currently, many disabled people are not getting the support they need to live independent lives. Some groups, such as blind and partially sighted people, are by and large excluded from local authority support because their needs are not judged to be critical or substantial under fair access criteria. In drawing the attention of the House to this fact—not for the first time—I immediately declare my interest as chairman of the Royal National Institute of Blind People.

To make disabled people's right to independent living a reality, future changes must deliver choice, flexibility and levels of support that meet people's needs. The current consultation process under way in advance of the expected Green Paper on the reform of adult social care is therefore likely to have a profound impact on disabled people's rights. We now eagerly await the Single Equality Bill promised for the next Session. When the discrimination law review Green Paper was published in February 2007, there was great concern among disabled people and their organisations at the proposal to streamline the disability equality duty, which was introduced by the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, which had come into effect only a few months before and which, even within those few months, proved to be a powerful instrument for advancing disabled people's rights. The proposal to replace this with "principles" to,

"underpin effective performance of public sector duties", was widely seen as a serious watering down of the current requirements.

The Disability Rights Commission undertook research into the views of staff across government departments on the benefits gained from developing disability equality schemes. Overwhelmingly, departments felt that the process, particularly the requirement to involve disabled people in such schemes, had been positive and productive. The process of drawing up a disability equality scheme was felt to focus minds across complex organisations with competing priorities.

The DRC's conclusions have been reinforced by recent research, undertaken by Schneider-Ross, into the public sector equality duties from November 2007. One of its key recommendations to the Government Equalities Office, which partly funded the research, was to retain the involvement and outcome-focused aspects of the equality duties. It is therefore welcome that the Secretary of State recognised these concerns and, at the end of September last year, withdrew the Green Paper and pledged to review this and other issues, coming back with draft clauses for consultation in a number of areas this summer. This intention has been re-affirmed in the Government's draft legislative programme, and in the Secretary of State's remarks made as recently as Tuesday at a TUC and CBI that:

"Further details on the Equality Bill will be published in the summer".

I urge Ministers to ensure that these further details are as full as possible and that there is wide consultation to ensure that we move towards a consensus before a possible Bill in the autumn.

The conferment of rights by legislation is important, but the effective enjoyment of such rights presupposes effective mechanisms for their enforcement. For many years, concerns have been expressed by disabled people and organisations which provide advice and legal support in relation to the Disability Discrimination Act that challenging discrimination in relation to goods and services under Part 3 of the Act is very difficult and, effectively, denies access to justice for individuals who experience discrimination. Anyone seeking to challenge discrimination relating to services must use the county courts in England and Wales or the sheriff courts in Scotland. Research evidence shows that a major reason why more complaints about discrimination are not translated into legal cases is the expense and complexity of the court process.

In contrast, in employment tribunals, there is no cost for starting proceedings or making subsequent applications. Costs are not awarded against the losing party except in exceptional cases and procedures are considerably less complex. In consequence, thousands of disabled people are able to bring cases challenging employment discrimination each year.

It has been proposed by many organisations that all discrimination cases should be commenced in employment tribunals, with the tribunal being designated as an equality tribunal when considering non-employment cases. The UK review of anti-discrimination legislation concluded,

"that there is usually more in common between employment and non employment discrimination cases than between these cases and other county court and sheriff courts jurisdictions".

The Joint Committee of both Houses, which considered the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 in pre-legislative scrutiny, cited evidence from Mind, RADAR, RNIB, RNID, Scope, Mencap and Leonard Cheshire and asked the Government to look at this proposal. I hope very much that in framing the single equality Bill they will give it most serious consideration. Now we have the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and we all hope to see it ratified by the British Government, who contributed so much to the agreement of the text with the minimum of reservations and further delay.

Perhaps I may be permitted to enter a tiny note of reservation. It may be unwise to insist that the convention is ratified with no reservations whatever. If it can be, that would be wonderful. But, as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said when we debated this last on 24 April this year, a modicum of reservations which do not undermine the object and purpose of a convention can facilitate ratification. Such reservations as there are tend to fall away over time.

As I said in my maiden speech in November 2006, one size does not necessarily fit all. A monolithic uniformity of provision may not always be the most appropriate; for instance, there are few who would want to say that there is no place for special schools. Last summer, the discussions over Remploy revealed that there is a continuing role for specialist factories for those who find it difficult or difficult immediately to hold down a job in the open labour market. Organisations of blind, deaf and deafblind people had to fight very hard in the convention negotiations to keep open the possibility of specialist provision where that might best meet the needs of those groups. I am glad to say that one result of the growing maturity of the disability movement is that there is room for a variety of views on questions such as these.

Photo of Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Labour 12:43 pm, 5th June 2008

My Lords, let me immediately thank, congratulate and applaud my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester for making this debate possible. I have a small complaint, of which I will not make much. He has already repeated to the House his closing remarks from the Second Reading debate in December 1969, which I was going to use today. However, what my noble friend could not say is that, over the years, he and my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke, whose absence today we deeply regret, have been giants in this field. Not alone, but principally, they have led all that has been achieved in disability legislation over the past almost 40 years, much of which has had support from all sides of this House and all parties in the Commons.

The noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, reminded us of what has been achieved through the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. In its brief for this debate, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights acknowledges:

"Disability is a relatively recent addition to the equality family. It is easy to forget that before 1995 disability rights had not found expression in UK law. But one would not know that by looking at the sheer scale of achievements of the disability movement and the progress that has been made. A decade of change between 1995 and 2005 was bookended by two Disability Discrimination Acts, with developments in the areas of education, transport, our planning system, independent living and a new Government Office for Disability issues, to name a few coming in-between. The ... Commission's predecessor—the Disability Rights Commission—was at the centre of those developments".

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, who is the distinguished and experienced chair of the commission's disability committee. I hope that she makes a speedy recovery.

In the House of Commons, during the passage of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill, my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke said that,

"we have now laid the basis for an entirely new departure and it is on this basis which has been created by the Bill that we shall see what the Americans would call a new deal. It is only a beginning, but it is a very important beginning and it is one that disabled people all over Britain much appreciate. I believe that people all over the world will look to the Bill because it is a pioneering Bill, that will set an example which will be emulated throughout the world".—[Hansard, Commons, 20/3/70; col. 928.]

How prophetic those words were. Just four years later, my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester became not only the United Kingdom's first Minister for Disabled People, but also the first in the world. As has been said, an enormous amount has been achieved. It is right that we should take a minute to celebrate all that has been achieved while recognising that there is much more to do.

In 1994-95, I was proud to be the opposition disability spokesman in the other place. When referring to people with disabilities, I sometimes used the expression, "people with different abilities". I really believe that that is a better way to look at this. It responds to those people with different abilities who say, "Do not tell me what I cannot do; ask me what I can". Much has changed in public attitudes in the past 30 years and, by heavens, they needed to. That expression, which I have heard so often, makes the point in a nutshell.

As has been pointed out, we are promised a single equality Bill for the next Session. In its helpful brief, RADAR states that the Bill will,

"streamline disability discrimination legislation, ensure comprehensive rights, remove disparity between equality strands and strengthen enforcement. It is an opportunity to close the gap from the Disability Discrimination Acts (for example, the aviation and shipping industries are exempt from the DDA), and an opportunity to strengthen the public sector duty ... There are specific changes that the single equality bill has the potential to bring into effect. Now is the right time to address the anomaly that the armed forces, with over 300,000 members, are still not required to adhere to disability discrimination law. Since the introduction of the DDA in 1995 the government has gradually brought areas into the scope of the Act. In employment, small businesses, fire services and providers of vocational training, are no longer allowed to discriminate against disabled people. The DDA does not require any employer to take on a disabled person who is not able to carry out the essential requirements of a function".

We look forward to that Bill in the next Session.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission gives examples of the challenges that we face, some of which have been mentioned today. As the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, the unemployment rate among people with mental health issues is 80 per cent and costs the economy an estimated £10 billion a year. Of all the people in Britain without formal qualifications, more than one-third are disabled, and disabled people in work are disproportionately in low-paid and low-status jobs. Just as there is a need to upskill everyone in this country, so there is a need to make it possible for those with different abilities to add to their skills so that they can break out of the cycle of being at the bottom of the employment heap.

I welcome the fact that James Purnell MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has said that the Access to Work scheme, which provides equipment and support for people with disabilities both into and at work, will carry on. Plans to replace invalidity benefit with employment support allowance for new claimants are meant to put the focus on assisting disabled people into jobs. Mr Purnell told the magazine Disability Now, published by Scope:

"We definitely want to get a new consensus with the medical profession around the importance of work. Ten years ago, people might have thought that signing someone off sick was probably the most compassionate thing. But if you look at the medical evidence that can have bad results for people. It is more likely that they're going to become ill, get mental health issues".

What that means, of course, is that—I hope that my noble friend can give the House an assurance on this—as people already on invalidity benefit are transferred to the new scheme over time, the Government must give a clear commitment that there will be no losers in the process. As I said, disabled people are already at the bottom of the employment heap, so it would be unfair to make anyone seriously out of pocket over this.

The Social Market Foundation, in its report Disability, Skills and Work: Raising Our Ambitions, which was published last year, found that improving the skills of disabled people and increasing job prospects would add an estimated £35 billion to the economy over 30 years. Around one in four disabled people aged 19 are not in any form of employment, education or training, which is three times the national average, although, by the way, the national average is nothing to be proud of. The foundation strongly makes the point that I have made about the urgent need to try to upskill people with disabilities.

The Government are investing an extra £430 million over the next three years on transforming services for disabled children and their families, including £370 million on improving short break services. They are creating a new duty on local authorities to help parents caring for disabled children by giving them breaks from their care responsibilities, which is extremely important. They are also extending the Family Fund, which helps the families of disabled children by offering support up to the age of 18.

A consultation has been launched to find the best way of increasing the reach of the disabled parking blue badge scheme to include more people who need it and to make it easier to take action against those thoughtless people who park in reserved parking places, not least in those next to supermarkets. I hope very much that the major supermarket outlets across the country will now start to take this responsibility as seriously as they should. I regret the need for that, because people ought to recognise that those spaces, although they may be empty when the person pulls up, are absolutely vital to those who are entitled to use them. I look to the supermarkets to respond, collectively if necessary, by getting together to see what can be done to improve enforcement. It is all very well having bouncers on the supermarket doors, especially late at night, but let us have some bouncers patrolling the car parks to show people that we mean business.

My feeling is that the biggest challenge for electors, citizens and the Government is the reform of adult social care. It is a joint challenge. RADAR tells me that the Government know, and BBC Radio 4's "Today" reports this week have demonstrated, that adult social care is in urgent need of change. The reports have uncovered some shocking stories of neglect, abuse and lack of respect, as well as the need for better staff training in places of refuge where people live.

The critical point revealed by the reports is the dreadful lack of systematic enforcement after inspection by the Commission for Social Care Inspection. Indeed, I heard someone say on the "Today" programme this morning that the commission simply does not have the resources necessary to get into the enforcement business. Although I am tempted to, I will not ask why, if you cannot properly enforce the putting right of what has been found to be wrong, you inspect in the first place. I would rather turn it around and say that there has to be a clear duty on someone, after inspections reveal what prove to be extremely serious problems, of enforcement. I want to suggest that it is done either by local authority social services departments or possibly—and why not?—in partnership with the care home owners' associations. They, too, have a responsibility here and I suggest that, if they do not have powers to expel members who do not respond properly to the findings of inspections, they should consider getting them. That would underline the point that they, too, are on the side of proper respect, care and treatment in these homes.

On the issue of social care, RADAR says that the Government's independent living strategy, published in March this year, acknowledges the growing gulf between the real experiences of disabled people. The strategy sets out a five-year cross-government plan for closing the gap, so ensuring the right of all disabled people to live independently. The argument for extending choice and control for users of social care through developments such as self-directed support, independent advocacy and individual budgets has been won. As I said, this is not simply a matter for the Government or for local government. These are hugely complex and important issues that the public themselves have to get to grips with and try to find the answers to. If we want proper levels of care, sustained and increased over time, someone will have to pay the bill; there are no ifs or buts about it. The public have to engage in the discussion and try to sort out where to draw the line between what used to happen donkey's years ago when families lived closer together and were able to take more responsibility for looking after elderly relatives in need of help—that has long since fractured in many areas of this country—and what is done by the taxpayer.

I said at the start that this debate is about celebrating the successes. I believe that in many ways we lead the world in this area. Let us just keep doing that, because we are not there yet. A great deal has been done to transform the lives and life chances of people with different abilities, but there is a lot more to do. However, let us for a moment celebrate what we have achieved in order to spur us on to do even more.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench 1:00 pm, 5th June 2008

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, not only on initiating this important debate but on his long parliamentary struggle on behalf of disabled people and his personal contribution to legislation over the years. In the 1970s I found myself as an assistant director of social services in the difficult borough of Lambeth trying to implement some of the legislation, so some of the things that I am going to say later will not be said without knowledge of what it is like to try to put services on the ground in a local authority. My great regret is that some of the work done in those early years in the 1970s—particularly in collating information—was not systematically carried on for the next few years. If that had been so, we would be in a much better position today with that baseline information to provide strategic services for the future.

I came into this debate rather under the bar. When I came to sign on I was told that the list had been frozen—it was the first time I had found myself with hypothermia—but a helpful young women helped to get me on it. That was because I discovered that many of what the noble Lord, Lord Low, calls "the fraternity" would not be here today. I had always felt that they would speak with greater authority than I and, with everyone else, I wish them all well. I particularly wish to mention my dear friend, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, because he has helped and mentored me down they years. He is not in his place today but, were he here and had I had a chance to speak to him before the debate, he would have said, "Valerie, keep on harassing the Government". I cannot harass the Government with his charm or find myself in fits of giggles while telling them off, but I shall do my best to raise the issues that he would have raised.

As many other speakers have already indicated, there has never been a better time to campaign for genuine change for disabled people. A 20-year vision has been published; there is new disability discrimination legislation; and a new Commission for Equality and Human Rights has been established, together with the new Office for Disability Issues. I have no doubt of the good intentions of the Government or of their wish to improve the quality of life of disabled people, but, as Jack Ashley would have done, I shall keep on harassing and ask this question: if all of this is in place, why do we continue to have a yawning gap between these aspirations and implementation on the ground?

I declare an interest as chair of Livability, the charity formed from the merger of the long-established Grooms and Shaftesbury organisations. Earlier this year we produced a report entitled Freedom to Live about the lives of severely disabled young people. It tells how these youngsters hope for the same things as other young people—to travel, to get a good job, to start a family and live independently. They want a voice, leisure and a social life. They want to be involved as active and valued citizens and to make their own contribution, as I have found they can when I have shared platforms with severely disabled people and they have managed the situation as well as I.

However, the stark reality is that for far too many of them, their hopes and dreams are thwarted by a system that denies them their basic human rights. Because huge strides have been made in the past 30 years in raising the aspirations of disabled children and young people—we have encouraged them to aim higher—when they face the cruel reality of the battle to make it happen, it is no wonder they are disappointed and frustrated. Becoming an adult should open a world of opportunity and excitement; for most disabled young people their world becomes smaller and more limited. As one young man put it "It is less a move from childhood into adulthood and more a move from childhood into retirement". Many severely disabled young people leave the security of educational establishments to sit at home for days on end with no services.

Let me give some more facts. As I said previously, after 30 years of legislation, there is still no reliable evidence as to where young disabled people are currently housed, meaning that transition plans from youth to adulthood are not based on fact. Only recently have reasonable statistics begun to be collated again. It is estimated that 40 per cent of young disabled people are inappropriately accommodated. The local authority of one young man for whom my organisation is responsible thinks that it is appropriate in the holidays not to pay the fees that would keep him active in his school but to place him in an old people's home on the basis that it is an alternative—but actually it is much cheaper.

At 17 years of age, young disabled people are twice as likely as their able counterparts to be unemployed or not in training. By the time they are 26 it will have risen to four times as likely.

The most vulnerable point in the lives of young people is when they make the transfer from education to adulthood; from childhood services to adult services. This bears repeating because there is, to say the least, patchy advice as well as poor support and information about life choices for many of them. I have spoken directly to them about this. They will have little or no choice over where they live, who they live with and how they spend their time. What would we think of that? Packages of care and support should be in place well in advance of the transition so that the process does not become a nightmare from which the young person takes years to recover. They should have access to independent advocacy and not be forced to fight the system alone or with their parents. The transition process is complicated enough but there is a lack of clarity about who is responsible and who makes decisions. Given all the agencies involved, this can lead to considerable confusion.

What are the Government doing to ensure that this happens? I do not want them to tell me that there are lists of guidance and enactments—I have them—and that there is plenty of information available; I want them to say how that becomes reflected in the experience of these young people. I do not underestimate the difficulty of making these changes and I realise that the Minister may say that this is the responsibility of the local authority, but what are the Government going to do to try to change the culture to ensure that a person is treated with dignity and respect?

I can give other examples of local authorities and other agencies not carrying through legislation. For example, the legislation on direct payments was not being consistently implemented by councils across the country. In one of our reports we found that regulations that came into force in 2003 requiring all councils to offer direct payments to all users of community case services had been patchily implemented. At the time of the study, only 32 of the 75 authorities participating had a strategy in place to ensure that all eligible groups were able to access direct payments. I hope the Minister can tell me that the situation has now seriously improved.

Despite legislation and guidance dictating that the young person's views must be sought and recorded during transition planning, a fifth of the disabled people questioned in one study said that they left school without a transition plan. Time and time again I have spoken to young people who have been engaged in a conversation with someone but found that it was not really an engagement. As one young person said to me, "They had their plan in their mind when they talked to me and that was the plan I was going to end up with". However, it was not the plan she ended up with because she fought for a different plan.

My final example of poor implementation is the GLA's strategy on accessible housing. It stipulates that all new housing must be built to the lifetime homes standards, with 10 per cent to the higher wheelchair standard. However, research conducted by John Grooms just before our merger revealed that only four of the 31 London boroughs had accurately recorded the target in their housing strategies. It is particularly disappointing to note that two of those boroughs included the target in their housing strategies only when faced with legal action. Again, I hope we are seeing some improvement in that area.

Another reason I may feel not quite as prepared as I would like, having come late into the stocks, is that I spent some time last evening at a briefing on the Education and Skills Bill. I was rather disappointed, having looked forward to new legislation, that disabled people seemed not to feature at all. Yet our Freedom to Live campaign calls for training programmes for disability employment advisers; those programmes should contain specific modules on meeting the particular needs of disabled young people. Steps should be taken to ensure that young people in their local schools receive proper advice and that they should also have access to the same kind of training programmes that the Bill proposes for young people from 18 to 19 and onwards. For young people with severe disabilities, that usually has to go on for even longer.

As we celebrate 30 years of disability legislation—I think we should celebrate, despite what I have said—we must now concentrate on making it work on implementation. There are some excellent examples of practice that should become the norm, but there are far too many examples that leave disabled people frustrated and disappointed. I quote:

"Neglecting to take account of the views of young people at crucial times in their lives results in many of them feeling unable to influence their fate. This in turn can lead to a sense of helplessness and distress".

Surely what we are trying to do in the Every Child Matters agenda and through our work with young people is to give them a sense of hope.

As we look forward to plans for the future, let us hope for legislation that not only seeks to change the lives of disabled people but really does so. Rejoicing in what has been achieved, I look forward to it being even better.

Photo of The Earl of Erroll The Earl of Erroll Crossbench 1:11 pm, 5th June 2008

My Lords, I rise in the gap to make a couple of quick points that stem from various speeches that have been made. This is something from the sharp end because I am the parent of a Down's Syndrome daughter, who at the moment is with an organisation down in Yeovil.

The first part of what I have to say stems from some problems that that organisation has hit with the current complexity of the rules. While I can easily empathise with the aspirations of all the disability rights legislation, the trouble is that often the outcome is not what was intended. When it comes to the financing of these people, they get a small payment of about £21.15 a week to live on—that is the pocket money. That goes to disabled people in residential care. That may be fine for an elderly person, but, for a young adult with social needs who can semi-integrate into normal society and who wants to go out for a drink—I do not necessarily mean an alcoholic beverage—with friends once or twice a week, go to a film and indulge in one or two things like that, it is not a lot of money to live on. Everything else is handled elsewhere or dealt with by the local authority.

The next problem is that it helps enormously if such people—this stems from what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said—can work. The noble Lord, Lord Low, also mentioned this. It helps their self-esteem. For instance, my daughter attends college in Yeovil to learn how to work. The trouble is that because she is in residential care, education at the college is not free. At the moment, fortunately, the college can find funding, but that could stop at any moment; in fact, it may stop this year. In our case, we might be able to do something about that, but that will not be the case for a lot of other children. That is very stupid, because that is what we are trying to do.

The next problem is that when they get a job somewhere—this happened when another of the organisation's students had a job at Marks & Spencer, which was very good at looking after them—the national minimum wage cuts in. At the point where that happens, apparently you lose your incapacity benefit. If I have got this wrong, I am sure someone will correct it later. So, suddenly you have a different problem. Sorry, I have got that the wrong way round—you lose your incapacity benefit at that point. Or it may be the other way round and you lose your residential care. It does not really matter. The point is that it is very complex and you lose benefit when you do other things.

If you are an employer with equal responsibilities and you have someone who, to be absolutely honest, cannot do a real person's full work, while on the other hand you can get someone who can do a full job for the minimum wage, which one are you going to employ at the end of the day? The trouble is that if you suggest that disabled people should work at a level below the minimum wage, people will scream, "Exploitation!". But it is not. Some of these people are members of a community. They have friends from work. I heard of a case where one of these people fell ill with cancer and their workmates travelled a long way to see them in hospital. They felt part of society and part of the community. There is a huge value to be had from this.

Somewhere, other well-meaning legislation is causing problems. We have lost our common sense. That is the problem with the whole thing. Sometimes someone needs to stand back and say, "Look, what's the objective? Let's show some common sense. Let's ensure that we can enable these things to happen". The residential care workers are quite capable of knowing if someone is being exploited or not, if they are any good—otherwise they should not be doing the job.

The only other thing I have to say is totally separate. I have done a lot of work with Dr John Gill, who works for the RNIB. Sometimes when we try to do one thing for the disabled, it causes problems for another lot. For instance, we may drop all our automatic teller machines and door access down to wheelchair height, but people with sight or back problems may not be able to stoop down and see the screens properly. Sometimes you have to be careful that you do not do things for one group that cause problems for another. Common sense is required all round.

Photo of Baroness Thomas of Winchester Baroness Thomas of Winchester Spokesperson in the Lords, Work & Pensions 1:15 pm, 5th June 2008

My Lords, I declare an interest as a recipient of the disability living allowance. It is entirely fitting, now that we have come to the wind-up of this debate, that we should have used the debate to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act applying to the whole of the United Kingdom, and to review the progress of disability rights legislation since then. I join others in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, whose Private Member's Bill it was in the first place. I pay my own tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, who I hope will soon be back with us, and to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who has been so influential in this whole field over the past 30 years. Finally, I join others in remembering Lady Darcy de Knayth, a founder member of the powerful and influential wheelchair lobby in this House, who is so much missed today.

Although many issues have been raised in this debate, all the speeches have recognised the progress made in the past 30 years and the importance of increasing awareness of what still needs to be done in the future. In the next Queen's Speech we now know to expect the equality Bill, as others have mentioned, which not only will consolidate legislation in this field but, we hope, will take it further—for example, in promoting independent living and in building on the disability equality duty that requires public sector bodies to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people, a matter raised particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Low. We hope that this legislation will take disability rights further forward and, in doing so, will help the process of lifting disabled people out of poverty. That is such an important thing, as the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, recognised. I am sure everyone here will play their part in working on the new Bill.

There is no doubt that there has been a sea change in attitudes to all forms of disability in the past 30 years, thanks to the 1970 Act. I think all speakers have acknowledged that. As we all know, legislation is only ever part of the answer to any question about people's rights, but it does more than anything else to change the climate of opinion. People instinctively know that the Government are serious about something if they legislate for non-compliance eventually to be breaking the law, even if precious few cases are taken to law, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, has said.

Every day, however, those of us with mobility problems—I am sure it is the same for those with other disabilities—come across examples where the legislation does not yet seem to have made much difference, leading to some disabled people calling the Disability Discrimination Act a paper tiger. Nowadays, for example, we expect public buildings to be accessible to wheelchair users and others with mobility problems as a matter of course, but there are still all too many public buildings with bad access; for example, with steps and no rail, let alone a ramp. Some buildings with poor access are not public buildings such as a town hall, but they are buildings to which a wide variety of people need access. A good example is the headquarters of the Town and Country Planning Association in Carlton House Terrace here in London. It is a beautiful terrace, with gracious steps and lofty columns, but to access the building, which is often used for book launches, one has to hail a passing member of the public for help in mounting steps unadorned by a rail. There is a ramp that can be put down, but one has first to find the person with it. I expect that the body charged with overseeing this London terrace has thrown up its hands in horror at the thought of a disfiguring rail, but is it really beyond our inventive designers to come up with beautiful and suitable rails for this and similar sites?

If one travels by train and books beforehand one will find that railway companies are very good at arranging for a ramp to be put down at the station. However, if one takes an unbooked train—say, from Waterloo, where unplanned visits are expected—one risks arriving at one's destination but seeing the train sail off again with no ramp appearing, keeping one on board even though telephone calls have been put through to the relevant station. The theory is fine—which is that train travel is now possible for disabled people just as it is for non-disabled people—but the practice is very different. It is no wonder that many disabled people cannot bear the hassle of train transport, even if they are in theory able to access a train. This is an area where service users can help shape practice by being members of relevant passenger groups. Their slogan, already quoted by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, is good and worth quoting again: "Nothing about us without us".

I must briefly mention two other matters. The first is access to swimming pools that are part of health clubs. Even the health club nearest to the Palace of Westminster, Bannatyne's, has only a vertical metal ladder going into the pool in spite of many representations for a hoist. As it is in a building that already has wheelchair access, this is a real slap in the face for elderly and disabled club members.

The second matter is a little more cheerful: the provision of lavatories for disabled people. I applaud the fact that there are more of them than ever before, which is of the utmost importance for those with mobility problems. Even many pubs now boast one. There is a simple reason why we should expect the provision of disabled lavatories and accessible hotel rooms to increase: not only is the disabled population expected to grow year by year, but people will expect this provision as a matter of course. That would not have happened without the legislation that we are celebrating today.

I turn to wider disability issues. Many more people now know something about conditions such as autism. The expression "learning difficulties" is now in common usage, lending more dignity to and respect for people with those disabilities. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, there is still disturbing evidence that the rights of many people with learning difficulties are being violated, particularly in the health service, as the Joint Committee on Human Rights found out in its report, A Life Like Any Other? Human Rights of Adults with Learning Disabilities, published on 8 March. One realises that there is no room for complacency when one reads in the report that, for many people with a learning disability,

"the violation of their human rights is seen as a normal part of their everyday lives".

The Government's response was underwhelming. I quote just two sentences from it:

"Several of the Committee's recommendations are around influencing the outcome of the consultation response on 'Valuing People Now', the Government's consultation on learning disability policy. This response commits the Government to revisiting the JCHR report and providing a further response to the Committee when publishing the final 'Valuing People Now' strategy".

Is that really what the Government define as the "practical steps" that they are committed to taking? For the strategy to be more effective, it is vital that it is adequately resourced to provide more of the services that are needed for people with a learning disability.

Finally, I turn to those with recurring mental illness, which is a huge and growing problem in this country. Only a quarter of those suffering from it are in employment. The Government are committed to providing more cognitive behavioural therapists, which is welcome, but I urge them to ensure that adequate support is available for those with mental illness who are being encouraged to find employment rather than be on benefits, and that employers are encouraged to show flexibility. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, also made that point.

I end with a rather good quotation relating to the equality Bill which features in the Government's draft legislative programme. It is as follows:

"Fairness and an absence of discrimination are the hallmarks of a modern decent society, with a strong economy, which draws on the talents of all".

Photo of Lord Skelmersdale Lord Skelmersdale Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions 1:25 pm, 5th June 2008

My Lords, this has been a fascinating and somewhat philosophical debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, on achieving it, although it was unfortunately by accident rather than design. I sympathise with the Minister for having to respond to it.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth talked of unlocking a collective memory. The trouble for the Government and the Minister opposite is that we in your Lordships' House have very long memories, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has demonstrated today—although I suppose that he should be grateful that since the great parliamentary emasculation of 90 per cent of the hereditary Peers in 1999 that memory is not quite as long as it was.

None the less, none of us, I believe, can remember as far back as the period between 3500BC and 1800BC, when the Rig Veda recorded the world's prosthesis. It tells of the Indian Queen Vishpla who lost her leg in battle, was fitted with an iron leg and returned to battle. I mention this not for effect but because, in the early days after the Second World War, disability legislation concentrated almost entirely on those injured in that war, not only from a curative point of view but, even more pressingly, because of the need to increase employment. We think particularly of the Act which set up Remploy, of which the noble Lord, Lord Low of Dalston, spoke in part.

In general terms, though, nothing much had changed since the great mental hospital building programme in Victorian times. Indeed, as late as 1985, it was written that,

"in the whole field of social policy, there was no disadvantaged group so utterly neglected".

That is an interesting comment, since the core of the problem associated with disability was seen to be social rather than medical.

I suspect that it was their awareness of this fact that the early parliamentary pioneers of disability rights championed. Of the eight MPs involved in pressing the Government, it is notable that five ended up in Your Lordships' House: two doctors—the noble Lord, Lord Owen, and the late Lord Winstanley—the noble Lords, Lord Ashley of Stoke and Lord Morris of Manchester, who as today's debate has proved are still very much with us, and my late noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy.

That brings me to the "Morris Act" of 1970, known technically as the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. I agree with RADAR that it was the first Act to acknowledge disabled people as ordinary citizens, not only covering information as to the need and existence of welfare services but putting new duties on local authorities in the fields of housing and access to public buildings, including schools and universities. These have rightly figured widely in this debate, perhaps more from the physical adaptation aspect than from that of their ability to teach children to respect their disabled peers. Is not time that we settled the argument whether to educate disabled children in mainstream schools or special classes?

The Morris Act became law in the dying days of a Labour Government and had the great drawback that no extra money was given to local authorities for its implementation. The result was that some, indeed many, chose to ignore it, especially Section 1, which required a census of disabled people in their area. Plus ça change. Even those who carried on with the recording, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, told us, stopped after a bit—and the whole thing became out of date really quite quickly. I confess that that was not helped by the fact that it was left to the incoming Conservative Government to implement. They, of course, were short of money, as so often happens after a period of Labour government, so implementation was delayed. Indeed, even when it was implemented, it remained almost totally ignored.

Legislative matters rested there until the next Labour Government of 1974 to 1979, who appointed the world's first Minister for Disabled People, the noble Lord, Lord Morris, himself—a fact of which he should be, and I think is, justly proud. He and his successor, the late Nicholas Scott, who became my guru on disability matters, continually raised the profile of disabled people, asking of virtually every piece of proposed legislation what effect it would have on them. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, is right in saying that there are more pieces of legislation that have references to disabled people than to any other group in society. It was in that period that a general feeling arose that disabled people were people first and disabled second; they had—or perhaps I should say "have"—exactly the same aspirations as able-bodied people, albeit limited, to a lesser or greater extent, by their disability. I am afraid that that attitude wobbles a bit from time to time. I must tell the noble Lord, Lord Low, that I do not think that disabled people should be worried by no longer having their own employment and other tribunals.

To get back to my historical survey, it would be unfair to say that nothing happened to benefit disabled people. However, the focus was on money and disability welfare payments of all sorts, although a rather feeble attempt was made to have workplace quotas. At the same time, the attitude remained with the able bodied that, "You can't do that, you're disabled"—the "Does he take sugar?" attitude to which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred. In my research for this debate, I discovered a saying from Aristotle, who wrote:

"Those born deaf become speechless and incapable of reason".

It took from 355 BC, when he wrote that, until the 16th century, when Girolamo Gardano was the first physician to recognise the ability of deaf people to reason, and therefore that they could be educated along with the rest of society. We might do well to think of that when we listen to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke—though, alas, not today.

How long will this attitude persist? It was not long ago that a severely partially sighted computer operator was selected for a job interview with a local authority, and when he arrived he was told that he should not applied because he had a white stick. That was well after my right honourable friend's Disability Discrimination Act 1995 came on to the statute book. That Act gave disabled people a right not to be discriminated against in employment and a right of access to good facilities, financial services and the transport infrastructure. It involved millions of, usually, able-bodied people taking positive action to make the lives and aspirations of disabled people more liveable. The equal opportunities review described it as,

"the most important discrimination legislation in a generation".

Looking back, it is curious that the two seminal disability Acts came at the end of a Government's term—one Labour and one Conservative. It took another 10 years for the next milestone to be achieved. It was based on the Disability Rights Task Force report, From Exclusion to Inclusion, which concluded that there were gaps in the 1995 Act and said that it had weaknesses that,

"leave disabled people without comprehensive and enforceable human rights".

It is fashion at the moment to think in terms of human rights, something that 30 years ago we really did not understand or think about very much. What will we be thinking of, either in relation to disabled people or anyone else, in 30 years' time? Most of us, by the law of averages, will not be here—but, none the less, I am sure that the discussion will go on.

The review concentrated on a duty on public bodies for the promotion of equal opportunities and the extension of the DDA to cover almost all activities in the public sector. Most importantly, that included transport, which hitherto had been excluded, and local councillors, as opposed to the councils themselves. Just before this, the Government's new deal for disabled people began to get into its stride—or, perhaps, stumble would be a better word. The plan was to have a voluntary scheme in which disabled people referred themselves to a job broker, who then sought to move them closer to the job market. Of the 35,316 people registered, only 2,330 people with disabilities found sustained employment through the scheme between July 2001 and December 2002. Furthermore, the departmental review of the scheme in 2004 showed that only 1.9 per cent of the disabled people eligible had volunteered to take part in the first place.

The scheme's failure must be one of the major reasons the Government produced the Welfare Reform Bill, which we have just finished discussing. Research suggests that 1 million people on incapacity benefit want to work and the Act is designed to help them achieve that objective but, like all disability legislation, it depends not so much on disabled people themselves but the willingness of able-bodied people to accept them into employment and society more generally. Like the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, I believe in the "can do" rather than the "can't do" philosophy, which I hope that I showed in debates on that Bill.

The incremental effect of both Governments' disability legislation has slowly changed the attitude of society. However, as every speaker in this debate has said, there is still a long way to go. I do not see the need for much more legislation in this area, but we should turn our attention to the enforcement of what we have. I certainly agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Howarth and Lady Thomas of Winchester, on that. There are, however, two exceptions to this. The first is to decentralise the role of the state because, in trying to run society from Whitehall, the state takes responsibility away from people, families and communities. Of course, that applies to able-bodied people just as much as it does to disabled people. The Government need to raise public awareness of disability rights and, as I have said repeatedly, that starts in schools. That is a way for disabled people to see a practical difference to their lives.

The second thing we need to do is to conflate the bewildering array of benefits and complicated forms to which many disabled people are subjected. We are, or should be, grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Errol, and, again, to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, for bringing a breath of pertinence into our debates, with their very direct comments on real problems being faced by disabled people. The Government have made a start here with the introduction of the employment and support allowance, which begins in October. But there is much more that could and should be done, and I ask the Minister what further progress is being planned, especially as we are being promised a welfare Bill next Session. Can the Minister tell us something about it? Furthermore, during our debates on the previous Bill, the Minister said that those on the support component would not be worse off that they are on incapacity benefit. It turns out that that is not true of single men, and I wonder whether the noble Lord has anything to add to what he said to my noble friend Lord Taylor in the debate in the Moses Room two or three weeks ago.

My party has called for an annual audit across the public sector of practice towards the employment of disabled people. The Morris Act of 30 years ago should have made that the norm by now, but it is most definitely unfinished business. We have already committed a future Conservative Government to set an example to the private sector by making the employment of disabled people in the public sector a priority in recruitment policy. What example are this Government giving to employers?

Finally, I mentioned Queen Vishpla's artificial leg. Technology has since improved by leaps and bounds, and will always play a significant role in helping people to live independent lives. Too often, however, assessment and procurement processes take too long and people are forced into care. In these straitened economic times, do not the Government realise that it is much cheaper to let people do what they want—to stay in their own homes as long as humanly possible, and to subsidise them to do so, rather than pay for them in residential homes, whether state or private. I am a fan, as I said, of the disabled facilities grant. The Minister must surely agree with me that we need a much more responsive and flexible system than we have now. However, I think that the major message of this debate is enforcement of what we have. I hope that I can persuade the Minister for once to agree with me.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, has allowed us to review what the Americans call the state of the nation as far as disabled people are concerned. I am extremely grateful, as we all are, to him for that.

Photo of Lord McKenzie of Luton Lord McKenzie of Luton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Work and Pensions) (also in the Department for Communities and Local Government) 1:41 pm, 5th June 2008

My Lords, I very much welcome the opportunity provided by my noble friend Lord Morris to celebrate the progress that we have made on disability rights and to have this important debate on the crucial issues around how we achieve equality for disabled people. As we have heard, his Private Member's Bill, which subsequently became the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, was truly groundbreaking in being the first piece of legislation to recognise the rights of disabled people. I pay tribute to his remarkable determination in ensuring that that legislation came into being and to those who worked with him, most notably the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, the late Lady Darcy de Knayth, who was my noble friend and who, as others have said, is greatly missed in this House, and my noble friend Lord Ashley, who had hoped to be here today and whose unceasing efforts over many years have greatly furthered the interests of disabled people, together with others of whom we have heard. They are pioneers and heroes of all parties but of one mind—the fellowship of Peers, as the noble Lord, Lord Low, and my noble friend Lord Morris said. As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said in his rather brave speech, the reach of this legislation has been profound, not least in his own case.

In the 30 years since the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act was extended to the whole of the UK, the disability rights landscape has altered radically. I believe that the Government's performance in extending rights and opportunities for disabled people and for those with long-term limiting health conditions is unparalleled. Over the past 10 years, we have significantly improved and extended rights for disabled people under the Disability Discrimination Act, although we acknowledge that this has been built on what went before.

We introduced significant changes in 2004 when we extended the employment provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act to a further 1 million employers and 7 million more jobs and when we improved rights for disabled people for physical access to goods and services. Through the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, we fulfilled our commitment to introduce a comprehensive and enforceable set of civil rights for disabled people. In 2006, we introduced the disability equality duty, which places a positive duty on all public bodies to consider how their services affect disabled people.

The extension of disability rights is proving to have a real and significant impact on the lives of disabled people. More disabled people are in employment. The percentage of those in work has increased from 41 per cent in 1998 to 48 per cent in 2007. There is still some way to go, with organisations in the public, private and voluntary sectors adapting their working environments or practices to support new employees who are disabled and existing employees who have become disabled. There is greater access to goods and services for disabled people as service providers have put reasonable adjustments in place. Our research shows that 87 per cent of service providers have made or plan adjustments for disabled people. More and more people are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act. Awareness of the Act among the general population increased from some 40 per cent in 1996 to more than 70 per cent in 2007. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, whom we are delighted to see in his place, acknowledged, the significance of public awareness is that it is an underpinning of the journey that society has to make.

We will continue to keep the legislative framework under review. We remain committed to a single equality Bill within the lifetime of this Parliament; indeed, we have included the equality Bill in the draft legislative programme for 2008-09, which we published last month. We remain committed to ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the end of this year. The Government believe that the convention is an important initiative that will help to shape the protection of disabled people's rights for the future around the world. The noble Lord, Lord Low, reminded us of the pivotal role played in this by my noble friend Lord Morris.

While the legal framework has been transformed and has laid the foundation for equality for disabled people, we are not complacent about how much more needs to be done to deliver real change—change in the lives of disabled people themselves and change in the way society reacts to disability—and to stress that this is about justice, not about benevolence. The Government are committed to bridging the gap between national policy and the realities that disabled people face every day. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, who I am pleased to say made the list, reminded us forcefully of this. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, spoke from experience about what more needs to be done, particularly regarding transport.

I will highlight some key steps that we have taken towards achieving that aim. In 2005, we launched the report Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, which clearly set out our commitment to delivering equality for disabled people by 2025. We have established the Office for Disability Issues to co-ordinate work across government. We have ensured that the voices of disabled people will be at the heart of policy development in the future through the creation of Equality 2025, an independent group of disabled people set up to advise government about policy and how services are delivered in reality. We are investing an extra £430 million over the next three years to transform services for disabled children and their parents, in part to fund a transition support programme, the need for which the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, referred to. We are committed to improving such services.

In early March, we published a five-year cross-government strategy for independent living, to which much reference has been made today. I must pay credit to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, who is sadly unable to be with us today, and the expert panel for their efforts in shaping the independent living strategy. The strategy sets out how government will work with disabled people, and their organisations, to enable them to live autonomous lives and to have the same choice, freedom, dignity and control over their lives as the rest of society takes as a given. It focuses on every aspect of a person's life and is about using existing funding better to support independent living. It also brings together initiatives, amounting to over £1 billion of new funding, which will enable people to have more choice and control.

The strategy represents a unique milestone on the road towards our goal of equality by 2025. We have moved away from debating what independent living means to the question of how we make independent living a reality. We have also, through this strategy, achieved a real cross-government commitment to working together across departmental boundaries to address the barriers to independent living. We co-produced the strategy with disabled people, which has set an important precedent in how we develop policy that impacts on the lives of disabled people.

We fully intend to continue this partnership with disabled people as we move towards implementing and monitoring the strategy. Yesterday, we held a major consultation event to hear the views of disabled people on how best to do this. At that event, we also announced funding of £900,000 to support a second wave of action and learning sites from January 2009 as part of the user-led organisations project. This is on top of the funding of £750,000 that has been shared between 12 user-led organisations to help them to become action and learning sites from March 2008. These action and learning sites are a key contribution to delivering on our commitment that by 2010 each local authority area should have a user-led organisation modelled on existing centres for independent living.

We have also confirmed our intention to publish a welfare reform Green Paper later this summer to outline proposals on transforming the welfare state from a dependency culture to an empowering culture to enable people to live independently, building on the Welfare Reform Bill to which the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, referred—several noble Lords referred to the replacement of incapacity benefit with the employment and support allowance as part of this strategy. We are focusing on what people can do—their capacity—rather than on what they cannot. I can confirm to my noble friend Lord Corbett that on transition nobody will face a cash cut in their benefit. The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, talked in his brief intervention about the importance of work and some of the challenges that that brings. The connection between work and health and helping people out of poverty is key to the focus of our policies.

As noble Lords said, the Government have also launched a national debate on reform of the care and support system in England. We believe that a radical rethink is required to meet the challenges of the 21st century to deliver more integrated services that are easy to access, fair, of a high quality and sustainable. While we remain open-minded about solutions, we are clear that there must be three principles for reform. The new system must promote independence, choice and control for everyone who uses care and support services, must ensure that everyone can receive the high-quality care and support that they need and must be affordable for government, individuals and families in the long term.

My noble friend Lord Morris referred to historic levels of spend. Total spending on disability living allowance in 2007-08 was just under £10 billion. We also spent £4.4 billion on attendance allowance and £1.262 billion on carer's allowance. My noble friend Lord Corbett referred to blue badges. There has been an increase between March 2006 and March 2007 and there are now some 2.3 million badges. He also stressed the importance of the consultation that has taken place to ensure that we facilitate the provision of badges to those who need them but do not get them and ensure that those who have them and abuse them are not able to continue to do so.

Noble Lords commented on the need for legislation on independent living. My noble friend Lord Ashley must be commended for his commitment to this agenda, as the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said. The Government's position was clearly set out at Second Reading of my noble friend's Bill and it has not changed. We do not believe that it is necessary or desirable to take a legislative solution to delivering equality and inclusion for disabled people at this time. However, the independent living strategy sets out our firm commitment to monitoring progress on independent living on an annual basis to ensure that measurable change is made. We will review the need for legislation if sufficient progress has not been made.

The National Centre for Independent Living's report on the impact of charging for social care was published yesterday. We have asked officials to study it carefully and to consider what policy implications it has. I assure the House that final decisions on the reform of social care funding will take account of the interaction between charging policies, benefits and employment support programmes and the impact on disability equality.

The Government have acknowledged that we face challenges in our care and support systems. As I said, we have launched an extensive process of engagement on the future of that system, leading to a Green Paper. One of the questions within this important national debate tackles the issues raised here: whether we have the right balance between national consistency and the need for local authorities to respond to local differences. We will consider the issues raised today within that context.

Noble Lords will be aware that the UK was among the first states to sign up to the UN convention on its first day of opening—30 March 2007—at the United Nations. Signing the convention demonstrated the UK's commitment to human rights for disabled people and showed our intention to proceed to ratification without undue delay. I confirm that our aim is to ratify by the end of the year, which is ambitious given that the average time for the UK to ratify conventions of this kind after signature is around four years. We have carefully scrutinised the laws, policies, practices and procedures against the rights under the convention. The process has inevitably taken time, but that phase of the work is now over and we are carefully considering the emerging findings. The position on our progress was set out in the Statement made by the Minister for Disabled People on 6 May 2008, which identified the areas where reservations are still under consideration.

I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Low, noted that reservations can help ratification. For example, the Department for Children, Schools and Families has indicated that there is a need to recognise that the general education system in the UK has a range of provision including mainstream and special schools, which will require an interpretive declaration. A reservation will also be needed in respect of disabled children whose needs are best met through specialist provision, which may be some way away from their home. The Government are aware of the importance that many disabled people attach to the optional protocol and we are carefully considering the position as part of the convention ratification process.

As I said, we have committed to introduce a single equality Bill within the lifetime of this Parliament and have included it in the draft legislative programme for 2008-09. When we launched the consultation document last June, we also gave a commitment that there would be no erosion of existing protection. We remain committed to that. I hope that that reassures noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I am unable to comment on specific proposals while policy discussions continue, but I reassure noble Lords that the Government's response to the White Paper will be published shortly.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, spoke with great authority about the challenges faced by those with learning disabilities. The consultation on Valuing People Now, which sets out the key priorities for people with learning disabilities over the next three years, closed on 28 March 2008. There has been a huge response. We have had more than 2,000 responses, with the total number of people involved in them being more than 10,000. The University of Lancaster is in the process of analysing those responses and we want to give due consideration to both the quantity and the quality of responses received.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, asked when the Government would implement health checks for all people with a learning disability. In Our Health, Our Care, Our Say, which was published in 2006, the Government committed to introduce regular and comprehensive health checks as soon as possible for people with learning disabilities. We are delivering a programme of work to promote a PCT framework to support comprehensive health checks. This is key to achieving our aims of reducing health inequalities. The noble Lord also asked whether we would assess people who have learning difficulties for eligibility for social care. Everyone is entitled to an assessment of need by social care professionals. Should someone not meet the local authority's criteria for financial support, the local authority should signpost that person towards other support. If the condition of the person changes, they are entitled to subsequent assessments. The Government have asked the Commission for Social Care Inspection to review the application of eligibility criteria to make recommendations about how we can improve practice.

I reiterate the Government's commitment to equality and to removing the obstacles that prevent disabled people from having full choice and control about how they go about their lives. I hope that the wide range of initiatives that I have been able to outline in my short contribution today serves to demonstrate that. I will read the record and, if I have not answered any of the points raised, I will write to noble Lords.

My brief does not have quite the historical sweep of the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, but I agree with the thrust of his point that we should now be focused on delivery. There is a strong framework overall and we will have the single Act in the next Session. The noble Lord asked about the employment and support allowance, which we debated when the regulations were prayed against in this House. The Government's position on that is clearly set down. He cannot quite equate the structure of incapacity benefit with that of the employment and support allowance, because that is focused on a different system; it is focused on supporting people, helping people to identify what they can do, as we discussed earlier, and helping people who can work back towards the labour market.

In closing, I reiterate that I am under no illusion about how much more we have to do before we deliver our commitment to achieving equality for disabled people by 2025, but I firmly believe that we are on the right path towards meeting that commitment. We owe it to those pioneers and heroes to do so.

Photo of Lord Morris of Manchester Lord Morris of Manchester Labour 2:01 pm, 5th June 2008

My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.