Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970: 40th Anniversary — Debate

– in the House of Lords at 2:58 pm on 17th June 2010.

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Moved By Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

To call attention to the 40th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970; and to move for Papers.

Photo of Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Labour 3:16 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, it is a privilege to be asked to open this Back-Bench Labour debate. I am just sorry that the remarks I made about that earlier are still not reflected on the Annunciator, but there we go. It is a great pleasure to see so many dedicated, determined and experienced people from all the fields of disability lined up to speak.

Over the past 40 years, the eight pages of the Act have changed the lives of literally millions of people in the United Kingdom and around the world. There cannot be many Members of Parliament who, having come first in a ballot for the restricted time to launch a Private Member's Bill, can have had such a profound and long-lasting impact. The author of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act did more than leave a footprint in the sand; he made history. His was the first legislation in the world to enshrine the belief that people with disabilities had rights which should be respected and enforced in law, and to set out a detailed framework of what those rights were and remain. From the bleak, ignored existence of those whom society hid away, this Act offered liberation, recognition and a start on the long road towards equality with all other citizens.

Some might say that this was enough of an achievement-not, however, the father of this Act. He went on in 1974 to gain another first-to become the world's first Minister for Disabled People. As noble Lords already know, I refer to my much respected noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester, whose determined and passionate commitment has achieved so much over this past 40 years. It was a Labour MP and a Labour Government who put this groundbreaking legislation on the statute book, but I quickly acknowledge that, over the years, others of all political colours and none, in both Houses, have also promoted legislation to bring people with disabilities in from an isolated cold.

The words of my noble friend, in moving the Second Reading of what was then the Bill in another place on 5 December 1969, stand proudly. They are as passionate, dignified and inspirational now as they were 40 years ago. I will not quote the whole of this passage, much as I wanted to, because I suspect at least one other speaker may do so before we have finished, but the ambition he set out for the Bill included that,

"if years cannot be added to the lives of the most severely disabled, at least life can be added to their years".-[Hansard, Commons, 5/12/69; col. 1863.]

What a beautiful use of language to express such an important, although simple, thought.

The Act unlocked doors which had kept people with disabilities ignored, isolated and unheard. It asserted their fundamental right to be assisted to participate fully in society and, crucially, the ways in which this was to be achieved. The Act required local councils for the first time to listen and talk to people with disabilities about their needs and then-this was the important bit-to set out how they were going to meet them. No longer would young people with disabilities be hidden in long-stay geriatric hospital wards, nor elderly people left, ignored and forgotten, in substandard residential homes. The special educational needs of people who were deaf, blind or dyslexic, or those with degrees of autism, would be acknowledged and met. All buildings open to the public would be, for the first time, just that-open to all of the public, including people with disabilities, with toilet facilities for them.

As opposition disability spokesman, I helped the Labour candidate in Nuneaton in the 1997 election. He put me in a wheelchair and took me round some shops to buy a suit. The first was easy to enter but had two steps in the middle of the shop which were impossible to navigate in a wheelchair. The assistants and manager were more puzzled than anything else by why anybody in a wheelchair should want to buy a suit; presumably, they had not seen people in wheelchairs wearing suits before. We made our excuses and left. The second shop had steps at its entrance, which again made wheelchair access impossible. The third had an almost vertical flight of stairs up to the gents' suit department on the first floor. The owner, to his credit, offered to bring down some suits for me to try on and then did so. However, this had to be done in the women's changing cubicle, with him holding the curtains across the back of the wheelchair. The candidate and I explained what we were about. Again, to his credit, the owner acknowledged that he had never even considered access for customers using wheelchairs and would do so.

Ignored and forgotten, in 1970 no one accurately knew how many people there were with disabilities. There was little research into their needs or plans to meet them. It was estimated in that year that there were, perhaps, 1.5 million. A survey in 1996-97 revealed that there were 8.5 million. The scarring offence to people with disabilities-sadly, some of this remains-is that they were told what they could not do, rather than being asked what they could. In my experience, people will often do more than is expected of them, but it makes huge sense to ask them before any decisions are taken.

These assumptions about people with disabilities led to a denial of the right to work where this was possible with assistance from employers. We all know that the ability to work, with training for skills and assistance with adaptations, expands life chances, helps individuals to fulfil themselves and makes society stronger. It adds up to the cement and bricks of community building.

Much is changing in the employment available to people with disabilities. Since 1998, there has been a 10 per cent increase in the number of people at work who have disabilities-up from 38 per cent to 48 per cent in 2008. Nothing must be done by this coalition Government to slow this progress. It is also perhaps a recognition that we should think much more about people with different abilities than people with disabilities.

The previous Government's Access to Work budget was due to rise by £138 million by 2013-14. Last year, this scheme helped around 32,000 people with different abilities to help or get jobs, assisted in part by the IT revolution. One of the challenges for this coalition Government is to understand the importance to people's lives and our economic health and prosperity of protecting and promoting the opportunities for people with different abilities to help build our future. I assume from the rhetoric of the coalition's programme for government that this is what the proclaimed aims of freedom, fairness and responsibility imply. It must be the freedom for people with different abilities to access the new jobs that must be created in our low-carbon economy. Fairness implies that they will get all the access they need to get these jobs. All I can say is that they are ready and willing to take this responsibility.

But it is not only about money. Attitudes towards people with different abilities must continue to change, not least as regards people with learning disabilities and mental health conditions. I said earlier that people with different abilities need assistance to help get them into work to gain dignity and self-respect. We need also to help create and sustain the small and medium-sized enterprises that provide 96 out of every 100 jobs in our economy. People with different abilities deserve and demand their place in this process. Some are doing just that. I was told about a woman in her 40s working as a sales rep, who discovered that she had epilepsy. She was her family's main earner and was anxious about what would happen to her job. At her local hospital, an epilepsy nurse told her how to contact the Government's Access to Work scheme. Her adviser arranged for her to have a paid driver so that she could keep her job and feed her family. That is why I say that this Government should keep their hands off the Access to Work scheme. There are broader backs who can help than this woman's.

I much applaud the charity, Sports Leaders, and know that many in the House do so. It seeks to change lives by encouraging and motivating young people to create and run sports activities in their communities. In schools, colleges and universities, more than 200,000 people a year, including some in prison, learn how to help their local communities to flourish and grow. For example, Sally Wallace is a school sports co-ordinator who fell badly off her bike and spent six months learning how to adapt to life in a wheelchair. She now lives independently at home, has got her job back and works for Priory Sports and Technology College in Preston and five linked primary schools, helping students to achieve Sports Leadership awards.

Reuben was involved in a hit-and-run car accident, resulting in traumatic brain injury, and spent five months in hospital with cognitive and physical difficulties. After rehabilitation at a brain injury centre, he started a 35-hour, level 2 award in community Sports Leadership. He completed the course, and the 10 hours' volunteering that went with it, last summer. He now lives independently in sheltered accommodation, and coaches in a local gym and, in his spare time, the local football team. He is now training for the 2012 Paralympics, his goals being the 100 metres and the blind seven-a-side football. As somebody said, it can be done.

Emma is profoundly deaf, worked as a daycare assistant and wanted to get more involved in sports. She attended a five-day Sports Leadership coach course, joining a group of deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Since completing the course, Emma has learnt to use her own initiative when creating and administering training sessions. She organises activities, leads and motivates others and, with the skills gained from the course, has secured a work placement at Ramsgate Leisure Centre, if anybody is passing those doors. These are just some examples of what people with different abilities can achieve when their determination is matched by the assistance that they need, the pathway to which was so well laid by my noble friend Lord Morris.

I mention these people because they illustrate how, with assistance, they can overcome medical conditions and go on to succeed in paid and fulfilling employment. The previous Government planned to guarantee 3,500 places on the Access to Work programmes for people with learning disabilities and mental conditions. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, will tell me that the Government will honour these plans as part of their fairness agenda. The scaremongering of the Deputy Prime Minister about the severity of cuts needed in public expenditure has been shown to be hollow. The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, who is no longer in his place, does not seem to have understood this either. The truth-which the Office for Budget Responsibility has confirmed-is that borrowing will be £10 billion less than forecast in March by the previous Government, and next year it will be £8 billion less than forecast. That is enough to protect people with different abilities from the impact of savage cuts.

I want to say this clearly-it repeats what I said in my maiden speech in the other House in November 1974-there is no possible reason or excuse to take away assistance from people with different abilities for whom we have the legal and moral responsibility to assist in becoming fully equal citizens. I have no doubt that I carry the House with me on that.

I turn to some of the challenges ahead. The Government's Office for Disability Issues published Roadmap 2025, which set out plans across government of how it would seek to assist disabled people to achieve equality. It listed 14 steps, but I shall not list them because I do not have time. They aimed for better service provision for disabled children and set aside £370 million to support short breaks for these children and their families. I hope that the Minister can confirm that that money will not be stolen. The Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health are developing plans to help access to mental health services including learning disability services for offenders. This will partially implement the recommendations of the report of my noble friend Lord Bradley to divert offenders with mental health problems or learning disabilities away from prison into more appropriate services.

There is always more to do, but the progress achieved in the past 40 years must have been unimaginable, even to my noble friend Lord Morris when he set out on his journey. Since then, successive Governments and parliamentarians have worked towards equality for people with different abilities, and that mission remains incomplete.

Photo of Lord Rix Lord Rix Crossbench 3:32 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, I speak in this debate to celebrate the Private Member's Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, which, with the support of both Houses, became an Act of Parliament some 40 years ago.

As I said during the debate 10 years ago to mark the 30th anniversary of the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, the years 1970 and 1971 were particularly good for advancing the interests of people with a learning disability and their families and carers. Not only did we have the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, but we had a White Paper on learning disability, better services, attendance allowance and invalidity benefit, and the Education (Handicapped Children) Act, which ensured the provision of education for children with severe learning disability, who had hitherto been excluded from the education system.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act focused on three principles: the identification of disabled people, their involvement and their rights. The Act enshrined in law these very important principles and laid the foundations upon which subsequent legislation in the field of disability has been made.

I am delighted that since the Act's inception some 40 years ago, significant progress has been made to improve the quality of life for people with a learning disability. I welcome the important steps made in these areas. However, the often stark and shocking reality is that too many people with a learning disability, their families and carers continue to suffer the consequences of prejudice and discrimination as a direct result of their disability.

People with a learning disability want to make the same choices about where they live, how they spend their leisure time and what relationships they want to form, in the same way as everyone else, but all too often are denied the opportunities to do so. Ensuring that the right resources are in place is vital, but on its own this is not enough. People with a learning disability do not want choices and assumptions made for them, but are entitled to expect that they are at the centre when any decisions are made about their future and their quality of life. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act helped to establish this very important principle.

One area where people with a learning disability continue to suffer from such prejudice and discrimination is employment. At a meeting last week of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Learning Disability, of which I am co-chair, we discussed this very issue and the ways in which it can be tackled. People with a learning disability are the disabled group most excluded from the workplace. Of those known to social services, there are just 6.8 per cent in paid employment. Even where people with a learning disability do work, it is often for low pay and for part-time hours. Too often, the work carried out by people with a learning disability is described as work experience and does not lead to real pay or a real job. This is despite the fact that many people with a learning disability want to work and can make a significant contribution to the workplace.

Among those who spoke at the recent APPG meeting was Ismail Kaji, who has a learning disability and is a campaigns and media spokesperson for Mencap, the royal society of which I am proud to be the president. He works full time in Mencap's campaigns and policy department, and indeed I was on the phone with him only this morning. Ismail gave an excellent presentation to all those who were present and spoke with real passion about his personal experiences in relation to achieving paid employment. Without a job, Ismail felt that he was always being told what to do, that he relied on benefits and on other people, and that he did not have control over his life. His search for a job was very hard. He did not receive the help and support that he needed at the jobcentre with things such as CVs and application forms. He found interview questions difficult to understand and found it hard to express himself.

Ismail decided to go to a local college to complete a basic skills course. A Mencap staff member in our employment service came to the college and worked with him to find the right job to fit his needs and skills, as well as helping him with applications and interviews. The outcome was positive. Ismail has now worked for Mencap for 14 years and in the campaigns and policy team for four of those years. His life has changed for the better. His only benefits are tax credits and disability living allowance. Ismail feels that he has control over his life and can take care of his wife and children. He feels an active member of society-something that most people take for granted.

During the APPG meeting, we also received a presentation from Kathy Melling, who is the national employment lead for Valuing People Now, working in the cross-government Valuing Employment Now team. She is also the employability development manager for Kent adult social services. She spoke about the fact that, while 47 per cent of disabled people overall are in paid work in this country, the figure is only 6.8 per cent for people with moderate and severe learning disabilities, rising to about 28 per cent for people with mild learning disabilities.

Kathy also talked about the importance of supported employment, or the place-and-train model, which is widely regarded as the best way to help people with learning disabilities to get and keep jobs. The evidence is that investing in supported employment can lead to cost savings. Work in north Lanarkshire and Kent indicates the potential for savings, in both service costs and welfare benefits, when people move into employment of 16 hours or more per week. The challenge for national and local government is how to bring together the money already in the system-in areas such as day services and education-to ensure that it is spent on things that actually help people with a learning disability to get a job.

The final speaker at the APPG was Jacqui Henderson, who is currently Director of Creative Leadership and Skills Strategies and co-chaired the National Skills Forum inquiry with Gordon Marsden MP. Jacqui talked about the NSF report and emphasised that employability does not depend on qualifications alone. The importance of so-called "soft skills", such as interpersonal, communication and teamwork skills, which are often valued highly by employers, must not be overlooked and can be of even greater importance when considering people with a learning disability. Work experience and supported employment courses are crucial in helping disabled learners to develop these soft skills. There is a need for more opportunities for learning to take place in the work environment for disabled learners, particularly through the use of supported employment agencies, which, the research found, are currently underfunded.

As your Lordships will be aware from my brief synopsis of the all-party parliamentary group meeting, we covered a great deal and made a positive case on the effective contribution that people with a learning disability can make to the workplace. That is why opportunities for apprenticeships are vital for people with a learning disability.

I welcomed improvements made to the previous Government's Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, particularly amendments tabled in my name and those of my noble friend Lord Low designed to make it easier for disabled students to take an apprenticeship. The previous Government agreed that they would make entry requirements for would-be apprentices more flexible, with the previous Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, the noble Lord, Lord Young, accepting my proposal to allow students with learning disabilities to submit a portfolio of evidence to show that they are ready for an apprenticeship. I understand that discussions have already begun with key stakeholders, such as representatives from Mencap and others, and government officials, to work out the practical details of implementing my proposal. Needless to say, I hope these discussions are fruitful for all concerned.

Another amendment to the Bill, accepted by the previous Government, extended the entitlement to an apprenticeship for suitably qualified students with a learning disability up to the age of 25, rather than the previous limit of 18. It is practical steps such as those outlined in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Act that will help to improve opportunities for employment for people with a learning disability.

In conclusion, I have no doubt that much of the progress made in improving the lives of those with a disability over the past 40 years has its origins in the inclusive and empowering agenda first set out in the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. That Act set the benchmark by which future progress would be judged and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and pay tribute to his success in making sure it was placed on the statute book in the first place and, in 1974, for becoming the first ever Minister for Disabled People. He deserves the grateful thanks of each and every one of us.

Photo of Lord Morris of Manchester Lord Morris of Manchester Labour 3:41 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for doing so much to secure and for having opened this, for me, deeply evocative debate. A parliamentarian with integrity to spare and an abiding commitment to social justice, he made plain again today his concern for the value of things as well as their cost. We first met a week or so after I entered the House of Commons in 1964. He then worked for Farmers Weekly, and I was Fred Peart's Parliamentary Private Secretary at the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He was a trusted friend then, and I am delighted to be calling him my noble friend today.

One of the penalties for longevity in parliamentary life is the loss, by attrition, of so many close and valued colleagues. The longer one survives here, the more colourful and crowded one's gallery of sorely missed friends becomes. Many of the most honoured in my own gallery are those who laboured with me to enact my Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill 40 years ago: the honourable John Astor, David Weitzman QC, Sir Neil Marten, Lewis Carter-Jones, Dr Michael Winstanley and, of course, the late and revered Davina, Lady Darcy de Knayth, among many more.

They were not all of one party. They were of all parties-and of none-but they were all of one mind. What united us was a shared determination that Westminster and Whitehall must no longer be allowed to ignore the rightful claims of long-term sick and disabled people. They must be free to live their lives as normally as possible in their own homes and their own families, to have the same opportunities to contribute to industry and society as everyone else and to receive support based on statutory rights.

Those who helped me to enact the Bill included, first of all, Jack Ashley, who was of inestimable help throughout. I rejoice that we remain in such close fellowship today. That he will be speaking in the debate is heart-warming and I very much look forward to hearing him. Happily Sue, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, who made her maiden speech in this House in the Second Reading debate on my Bill in April 1970, is also with us to participate in this debate and I am delighted to see her. I know that the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, very much wanted to be with us today but, sadly, it has proved impossible for him to be here.

For Back-Benchers in the House of Commons, winning first place in the annual Private Members' ballot is the most coveted prize in the lottery of parliamentary life. That was the prize I won in November 1969, giving me the right to parliamentary time to introduce a Bill of my choosing. Not every honourable and right honourable Member felt that it was fair for me to have won the prize. Even Manny Shinwell, for whom, as a young, new Member I could do no wrong, felt that it was a little unfair. He had been in Parliament since 1922 and told me, "You know, it wasn't your turn, Alf: you've only been here five years", before adding, "but on reflection, I don't think that it was mine either, just yet".

Very few Members have a Bill ready to introduce, which is why some who win the ballot take one off the shelf, fully drafted and complete with offers of help with speeches, secretarial and other support from some well-heeled pressure group. While I too had no Bill drafted, I knew what I would do. I was resolved to try to legislate on the problems and needs of long-term sick and disabled people as, in my view, the most deprived and neglected minority in Britain, but more realistically, perhaps, I wanted at least to put that policy area firmly on the parliamentary agenda.

Richard Crossman, then Secretary of State for Social Services, was not best pleased when he heard of my intention. In hard summary, his reaction was that if he had thought that such legislation was needed, he would already have introduced a Bill, not waited for me, with barely five years of parliamentary experience, to teach him social priorities.

Crossman was not alone among Ministers in wanting me to drop the whole idea. The Minister of Education asked me why I proposed to include in the Bill help for people with dyslexia which he said, "simply does not exist", to which, having heard from a ministerial colleague of his that Treasury officials were describing my proposal as unaffordable, I was provoked to reply: "Then at least you can tell the Treasury that, ipso facto, it won't cost them anything".

Official reaction to my proposals for helping children who are both blind and pre-lingually deaf and those with autism was no more supportive; so the Bill's prospects looked grim. Indeed, I was told by more than one organ of opinion that I was being overambitious in cramming my Bill with too much legislative change. To have any chance of success, they said, it must be toned down and made more affordable.

It must seem incredible and outrageous now, but from 1945 to 1964, there was no mention in any party manifesto of anything specifically about disabled people. Between 1959 and 1964, there was not one parliamentary debate nor even a single Question on disability. Westminster and Whitehall always had more pressing things to do than to respond to the claims of people with disabilities. The attitude of both was one of serene satisfaction with the status quo.

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. Even to talk then of as-of-right cash benefits for chronically sick and disabled people or for their carers was to invite ridicule. Local authority services were wholly discretionary and often non-existent. There were countless disabled people with every kind of moral justice on their side, but no statutory right whatever to vitally needed help.

That was how things were when, against all the odds, my Bill became law in 1970. Those who worked with me to enact it will remember how often and how close we came to disaster but, in the end, it was Dick Crossman's main Bill of that parliamentary Session that hit the rocks, while ours sailed safely by.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill became an Act of 29 sections. It imposed new duties and responsibilities on 12 departments of state and became the model for legislation on disability in countries all over the world. 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. It legislated also where neither here nor in any other country was there any existing law to amend: for example, its five sections on access for disabled people to the built environment. Claire Tomalin, a steadfast supporter, described the legislation as the Act that made disabled people visible; and that applied worldwide as one country after another adopted its provisions on access to all buildings open to the public, thus changing the lives of countless millions of disabled people.

Official statistics show that, since its passage into law, the Act has helped individually over 60 million people in the United Kingdom, more than our present population. Leaving aside its access sections, the Act provided, among other forms of help, for the world's first statutory provisions for: purpose-built housing for disabled people; adaptations to their homes; practical help in their homes; transport to and from services outside their homes; and the installation of telephones for housebound disabled people living alone. The blue badge scheme of special parking concessions for disabled drivers, of which there are now over 2.4 million beneficiaries, has also been important in increasing outdoor mobility, just as the Act's provision for the world's first Institute of Hearing Research has been of crucial importance globally in developing new help for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Again, the improvements the Act provided in amending the war pensions scheme have helped countless war pensioners and war widows alike, and their benefits are well recognised by the ex-service community.

Forty years on, I well remember Harold Wilson telling me in the 1970s that there was no cause for me to worry about cuts in help for disabled people when the economy was under such daunting stress and the IMF became involved. He said that his policy would be that "the broadest backs must bear the biggest burden", and he assured me that since my role was to help people with broken backs, among other severe disabilities, he would go on giving it high priority, and he was as good as his word.

Much apart from being cut, my budget increased, enabling me to legislate for the mobility allowance, the carers allowance and many more new benefits during the crisis. When I left the post of Minister for Disabled People after Labour's defeat in the 1979 general election, I told the House of Commons that there remained a long unfinished agenda of unmet need and, sadly, that is still the case today.

I conclude with the closing paragraph of my speech commending my Bill to the House of Commons on 5 December 1969. I said, Mr Speaker, if we could bequeath one precious gift to posterity, I would choose a society in which there is genuine compassion for the long-term sick and disabled people; where understanding is unostentatious and sincere; where needs come before means; where, if years cannot be added to the lives of the chronically sick, 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 people with disabilities 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 his or her disability.

That is how I explained the Act's purpose and why Marcel Napolitan, who represented disabled people in France with such distinction, called that day "un moment critique" for disabled people across the world. Much the best way of marking the 40th anniversary is to recognise that we still have much more to do to turn humane precept into practice and to make it our bounden duty to meet that challenge.

Photo of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Baroness Campbell of Surbiton Crossbench 3:55 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, I very much welcome this debate, which recognises the groundbreaking legislation introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Morris, 40 years ago. It presents us with an opportunity to reflect on how we can continue to build on its legacy. When the noble Lord, Lord Morris, took the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill through the other place, he was a relatively new MP and I was a wee child. I feel like a child now, trying to follow such a wonderful contribution.

The world was a very different place for disabled people in 1970, full of barriers and social prejudice that kept us segregated and excluded. I was a very fortunate child because I would grow up alongside millions of other disabled people to benefit from the provisions of this groundbreaking Act. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, is to many disabled people, including me, what Millicent Fawcett was to women-a visionary leader, who understood how to change attitudes and social policy from within the heart of the establishment, a leader who worked hand in hand with the people for whom he was fighting. In 1970, most disability advocates spoke for disabled people. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, was one of the first parliamentarians really to understand our slogan:

"Nothing about us without us".

He spoke with us, not for us.

In preparing for this speech, I spoke to disabled people who fought alongside the noble Lord, Lord Morris, to get the Act on to the statute book. One of them will be very familiar to your Lordships: Sir Bert Massie, the former chief executive of RADAR. He said to me that the Alf Morris Act-it was never known as the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which was always a bit of a mouthful; we all called it the Alf Act-was a watershed in turning a homogeneous disability culture of handouts and charity into one of entitlement and recognition.

Sir Bert reminded me of the benefits that I inherited from this first major battle for rights in Parliament since the 1940s. It was the first legislation that recognised the existence of autism and dyslexia. It was the first legislation that recognised the importance of buildings and the built environment being accessible to disabled people. It also created the blue badge scheme to enable people to park close to their destination. Finally-and this is very dear to me-it was the first legislation that recognised the desirability of involving disabled people in the decisions that affect our lives. For example, the Act required the appointment of disabled people on a number of government committees. I wish that the Government would remember that now, because we are still not yet there.

Although the Act was groundbreaking, it was not long before disabled people realised that it could be undermined and that there were loopholes and get-outs for people who did not want to comply. It required buildings catering for the public to be accessible, but in the legislation were the words

"in so far as it is ... practicable and reasonable".

As early as 1971, Tesco wanted to build a supermarket on the site of a cinema in Liverpool. The cinema was accessible, but it would have to be demolished. It was proposed to build a new one on top of the supermarket. Liverpool City Council requested that the new cinema should also be accessible, but Tesco and the Cinema Exhibitors' Association resisted this under the get-out that it was not reasonable or practicable.

That gave a clear message that, even then with a brand-new building, it was acceptable to ignore the access needs of disabled people. It took until the mid-1980s before building regulations were changed to require new buildings to be accessible. It was not until 2004 that the requirement for services to be accessible to disabled people, regardless of the building from which they are provided, became law. Even today, as I know from personal experience, many buildings are still a no-go zone for those of us with mobility impairments. In that sense, the Act is still unfinished business, with a long way to go.

Section 2 of the Act listed a number of services that local authorities should provide for disabled people. When the noble Lord, Lord Morris, became the world's first Minister for Disabled People in 1974, he made it clear that, if a local authority determined that a person had a need under the provisions of the Act, it had a duty to ensure that that need was met. Local authorities could not use limitations of resources as an excuse not to act. This enabled many hundreds of disabled people to begin planning for independent living. During the late l970s and the early l980s, severely disabled people, who once only had the choice of living in institutions or in their parents' sitting rooms, began to get local authority support to live independently. Nevertheless, this entitlement to support, enshrined in the Act, was eventually challenged in the courts. Yes, "reasonable and practicable" raised its ugly head again.

At this point, Baroness Wilkins continued the speech for Baroness Campbell of Surbiton.

In the case of Gloucestershire County Council and the Department of Health v Barry, the Law Lords overturned the CSDP interpretation. They ruled that a local authority could take its resources into account when determining the needs of a disabled person. The consequence was inevitable. Many local authorities decided that only the most profoundly disabled people would qualify for help and that that help would be means-tested. The brakes on independent living therefore began to bite.

Today we face the effects of that ruling. Many disabled people who need support do not receive it. The eligibility criteria have been increasingly tightened over the years and some argue that the social care system is in crisis. I agree with them. Direct payments and the personalisation agenda have been immense improvements that I warmly welcome, but to qualify for assistance people face obscenely tough personal assessments of their needs. If they do get through this test, they will receive help only when they have exhausted their personal resources. We need a new approach and new legislation to enable disabled people to face the future with dignity and the assurance that they will not be forgotten by a society that puts resources before need. A human rights approach that recognises independent living support, which has portability and does not age-discriminate, is a care and support solution, not a fiscal burden. I hope that the Minister can reassure us on this later.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act was, like all legislation, a child of its time. It was revolutionary and helped millions of disabled people. It helped to change the way in which people think about disabled people and about disability, but it did not consider equality or human rights in the way that we would today. The DDA and now the Equality Act have taken disabled people's rights to the next level and we are now closer to equality with our non-disabled peers. None the less, we are not there yet.

At this point, Baroness Campbell of Surbiton resumed.

We need our legislative watchdogs and regulators to continue pushing for our equality and human rights; otherwise, we will slide back to old practice. There has been some disappointment with the endeavours of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in keeping up the momentum on disability rights in comparison to the efforts of the former Disability Rights Commission. There is a sense that equality for disabled people has been placed on the back-burner. It is my hope that this will right itself soon, as the EHRC learns to effectively incorporate disability rights into its generic equality and human rights agenda.

If we do this well, the result will be disabled people playing a full role in the life of this nation and contributing to the economic health and well-being of the country. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act-the Alf Act-helped to start us on that journey, but we must not falter in completing it.

Photo of The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds Bishop 4:06 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, I add my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, for sponsoring this debate and to all those who have spoken so far and who will be speaking. I feel humbled to speak in the company of those who have played such a major part in the development of the contribution to our life and society of those who are disabled. I hope that noble Lords are aware of the pride that this House has in all that they have given and achieved for us.

I also want to affirm the major progress made in the years since 1970 and the way in which the "Alf" Act has made it possible for disabled people to enjoy a much greater dignity and quality of life, and to contribute so much to the quality of the lives of those with whom they are involved. Nevertheless, there is a real fear among those who are disabled, their representative organisations and those of us who are in contact with them that the principles of the 1970 Act and the Equality Act, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, has just referred, will be undermined by the financial pressures of the present situation.

I want to concentrate on the needs of young people-first, those with learning disabilities. Since 1970, there has been a massive improvement in the educational achievement of those with learning disabilities. This perhaps is particularly dramatic in the case of those with autism who are now enabled to contribute so much more massively to our society and our thinking than they were when I was first involved in schools for the autistic in the 1970s.

At the same time, there is increasing concern about the mental health of children and young people with learning disabilities. The 2002 report, Count Us In, demonstrated that young people with learning disabilities are six times more likely to have mental health problems than the rest of the school and college population. Low self-esteem, social isolation and a sense of insecurity continue to lead to severe mental stress. Those findings were confirmed by the 2008 study, What About Us?, also from the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities working with the Faculty of Education at Cambridge University. The welcome inclusion in mainstream education has not always led to the valuing of disabled children and young people, to their inclusion in student representative groups, in decision-making in their own lives, or the life of the school or college.

In my experience, the pressure for academic achievement can mean a failure to respond to the needs of those with learning disabilities. I hope that there will be a new encouragement to schools, not least through the Ofsted process, to provide better space and opportunities for these students. It is surprising how little is made in many Ofsted reports, and in the reports that develop from them, of the valuing of the contribution made by disabled students in schools. I am aware of a Leeds school, for example, where there has been much debate about its quiet space. Pupils, whether disabled or not, can find respite there from the pressures of their lives. It is a space that is particularly valued by students who are disabled as well as those who are under pressure for whatever reason. There is, however, continuous pressure to requisition the space for what are called "more economically productive purposes", and the debate is ongoing.

Helping young people to make decisions about their lives and to feel a part of the decision-making structures of their institutions are well developed and welcome parts of school life now, but much still needs to be done for those with disabilities to feel similarly appreciated and supported.

Secondly, I want to highlight the needs of those with multiple disabilities and their families. Again, real progress has been made since 1970, not least in enabling such young people to remain with their parents and siblings in the family home. Nevertheless, I know from pastoral experience in our parishes just how much of a fight there needs to be to achieve proper support for the young disabled and their carers. I can think of a teenager who has, three times in his very short life, gone through the multiple testing process to determine his need for one-to-one support-testing that the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, just described as "obscenely tough". He has had to go through it three times because his family moved, and each local authority to which they moved would not accept the assessment of the previous authority. The provision of proper support, demonstrably effective for this young person as for many, takes years to provide-during which he becomes increasingly frustrated and both his educational achievement and health decline. The lack of co-ordination between health and education, the absence, in this case for example, of physiotherapy for years on end, means that we are failing that young person, and that is despite agreement between professionals and parents as to what ought to be done. Continual well intentioned meetings mean that these parents have less time to be with their non-disabled son, and there is no effective provision of respite for them as carers. And this is an articulate, middle-class family, well able to argue its case and with substantial spiritual resources helping them to cope. Life is much harder for many who find that the complexities of our systems simply defeat them.

Into this difficult mix comes the threat of cuts. We are told that everyone, including, maybe, this young person, needs to bear their share of cuts. I hope the Government can make it clear today that those already in pain and under pressure such as I have described will not be required to receive even less opportunity to live fulfilled lives contributing to the community. We remain amongst the richest countries of the world and in our present financial issues we need to remember that. It is immoral for us to fail young people such as this. Many of us are well able to bear a significant share of the cuts rightly pursued by the Government. I am one of them. I do not have detailed knowledge of your Lordships' financial circumstances, but there are many in the House who, in an economic downturn, can shoulder additional burdens. What we must not do is to increase the pressure on those least able to bear it. I hope the Government will be able to assure us that in the field of disability this simply will not happen.

Photo of Baroness Gale Baroness Gale Labour 4:16 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Corbett for securing this important debate today and for his wonderful opening speech. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester; it was a privilege to listen to his great speech and I thank him for it. I also thank him for his dedication to the promotion of rights for disabled people throughout his parliamentary career. It is thanks to his pioneering work that those with long-term illnesses have entitlements such as assistance in their own home, equal access to public facilities and even parking permits. The 1970 Act was groundbreaking and changed people's lives. It placed new obligations on local authorities and helped to transform the way in which the state and society treated some of their most vulnerable people.

I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Parkinson's Disease and as a member of the charity Parkinson's UK. One in eight people in the United Kingdom is affected by Parkinson's, which is a complex, long-term, degenerative condition and for which there is no known cure. Those affected rely on high-quality health and social care, as well as the right to financial support. With the right care their symptoms can be better managed, their quality of life improved and they can be supported to make an economic contribution to society.

As this is Carers Week, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the 6 million people who perform the vital task of caring for others. Part of the legacy of my noble friend Lord Morris is recognition of the invaluable role of carers, but now more needs to be done. The All-Party Group on Parkinson's carried out an inquiry, which I chaired, into access to health and social care services for people with Parkinson's and their carers. Its findings were published last year and I would like to inform your Lordships' House of what we found in regard to the role of carers. The report stated:

"Many carers said they were not getting the respite care they needed due to funding restrictions in many areas".

Denise Maule, a carer providing round-the-clock care for her husband who has Parkinson's disease and dementia, described in oral evidence to the inquiry how she had eventually managed to access a short period of respite care support after reaching breaking point. However, soon after this period of respite, she was informed by social services that she was no longer eligible despite her need being ongoing. Another carer said:

"It is difficult to put into words the feeling of abandonment and loneliness I feel. Carers have enough to cope with without the constant battle to get some attention for their loved ones".

Research by Parkinson's UK has shown that more than half of carers had been caring for five years or more. This is not surprising given that Parkinson's is a long-term condition. More than half of carers reported that their health had got worse as a result of caring. More than a quarter of carers were worse off financially since becoming a carer. Just under half of carers were not receiving any form of break from their caring responsibilities; even fewer-16 per cent-had any emergency back-up. Seven out of ten carers were not aware that they were entitled to an assessment of their needs. The lives of carers are therefore one of dedication and love for those for whom they care. They need help and support, and especially respite care.

As the first Minister for Disabled People in 1974, my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester introduced benefits for disabled people and their carers. I am concerned that the coalition Government plan to retest all those who are on incapacity benefits and that their proposals to change the benefit system may leave people with Parkinson's and other conditions without the financial support that they need.

Research has shown that many people with Parkinson's rely on benefits for all or part of their income. Nearly half of people with Parkinson's of working age are in receipt of incapacity benefit, including 47 per cent of those under the age of 45. Without the right financial support, people with conditions such as Parkinson's will be unable to live independent lives, which was one of the key aims of the 1970 Act.

Under the heading, "Jobs and Welfare", page 23 of The Coalition: Our Programme for Government states:

"We will re-assess all current claimants of Incapacity Benefit for their readiness to work"

This could result in people with Parkinson's and other long-term conditions being wrongly reclassified as capable of work. A lot of these people do work. With the right drugs regime, they can work. However, there are others for whom it would be extremely difficult, and they are very concerned about that.

The assessment for the employment and support allowance introduced in 2008-I know that it was under a Labour Government-has been widely criticised as unfair and inaccurate, especially in terms of fluctuating conditions such as Parkinson's. The coalition Government have said that they will retest everyone on incapacity benefit immediately and either move them on to ESA and keep testing them yearly or, if the test shows that they can work, move them on to jobseeker's allowance and programmes to get them into work. I am sure that many-those who may be capable of doing some sort of job-would welcome that, but those jobs have to be available for them. However, if assessments are inappropriate, if assessors are not properly trained and if medical records are not taken into account, those with fluctuating conditions may be wrongly deemed ready for work. People may then be denied the benefits that they rely upon. Many of these issues have already been highlighted by a Parkinson's UK report, Of Little Benefit and Not Working, which raised serious concerns about the accuracy and fairness of employment and support allowance testing.

However, a great deal has been achieved in the past 40 years. The lives of disabled people and those with long-term conditions have been improved. The Act has ensured that public authorities take responsibility for their well-being, and there has been an increase in equality of access to services. Perhaps above all, we have sought to tackle the stigma attached to those in need of care and support. I hope that the Minister will take note of the great concerns of many people on this matter.

Photo of Lord Low of Dalston Lord Low of Dalston Crossbench 4:24 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, on having secured this important debate. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act must be one of the most celebrated pieces of legislation in modern times. It was unquestionably a landmark Act. We had had legislation concerning disabled people before, notably on employment, but nothing on this scale or so wide-ranging. Indeed, the speech that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, made in moving the Second Reading of the Bill in another place was included as one of the most historical speeches ever delivered in Parliament in a volume brought out by Hansard last year to celebrate its centenary.

I know that a lot was owed to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act but, when I had occasion to flick through the Act recently for a celebration of the 40thanniversary of its introduction into Parliament, I was staggered to be reminded of just how much. As we have heard, for the first time local authorities were required to collect basic information about the numbers of disabled people in their area. The Government were required to produce an annual report on progress, with research and development of equipment designed to promote the independence of disabled people. The orange-now the blue-disabled persons' parking badge owes its origin to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, and so does the Institute of Hearing Research. For the first time in statute, separate provision was made for children with autism and acute dyslexia. But of course the Act was centrally concerned with access, services and representation. Indeed, it did much to entrench the very concept of disability itself in public policy and consciousness. It also revealed the consummate parliamentary fixing skills of its author, the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, to whom I pay my tribute, along with everyone else. As we have had occasion to say close-up recently, it would be no mean feat for a private Member to get a Bill through in the wash-up, but that was exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Morris, achieved in 1970. I have acquired a newfound respect for his skills, but also for his indefatigable energy and commitment in your Lordships' House, as I have watched him campaign for justice for victims of Gulf War syndrome and contaminated blood products. If the Government would not set up an inquiry, undaunted, the noble Lord would simply set one up himself and get the funding for it.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act faces two ways. Like the music of Bach, it was in many ways the culmination of an era, rather than the beginning of one. Within a short time of its passage, a new paradigm would be involved, which thought more in terms of rights than welfare and of banning discrimination than providing services. We have come a long way since the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, and much of the transformation in our thinking is as a result of what the noble Lord, Lord Morris, set in train when he was the world's first Minister for Disabled People. It all goes back to the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which paved the way for many of the changes that we have seen since. The Act has lost none of its relevance, and the services paradigm has never been more important, as local authorities' social services come under threat as never before. But it is important to look forward as well as back, and today's debate gives us a good opportunity to ask the new Minister, whom I welcome to his position, how the new Government's approach to disability issues and policy is shaping up. I have a few questions for him; I do not suppose that he shall be able to answer them all, since the answers to some of them lie outside his department, but it would be good if we could arrange meetings in the near future to follow up on some of the issues that I shall raise in areas where the Minister is unable to provide an authoritative answer this afternoon.

The best summary of the previous Government's policy, as the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, reminded us, is contained in Roadmap 2025 which, building on the 2005 Cabinet Office report Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, set out how government departments were working towards disability equality by 2025. It showed how 14 themes prioritised by disabled people combined to make up the total vision of disability equality. These themes also reflected the commitments made in the previous Government's Independent Living strategy, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the UK ratified last year, and departmental Secretary of State commitments. I suppose that my first question is: does this still represent the Government's policy? Are the Government willing to pick up this ball and run with it, and can they improve on it?

There is a sense out there that the life chances report, and hence the road map, were not sufficiently attentive to the needs of older people. This is a serious omission, given the association of disability with age and the fact that the population is ageing, and it highlights the importance of getting on with the reform of social care. Our society may not be broken but our social care system certainly is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, reminded us.

There is also a sense that the road map is lighter on some disabilities than others. Organisations representing visually impaired people-I declare my interest here as a vice-president of the RNIB-certainly feel that more needs to be made of the right to have information made available in accessible formats for people unable to read ordinary print. The Minister will know that, just before the election, we amended the Equality Bill when it passed through this House to strengthen the right to information in accessible formats. I would like to think that the Government would now work with the Equality and Human Rights Commission and organisations representing visually impaired people to ensure that this right is effectively enforced. We also need to maintain the focus on ensuring the availability of textbooks in accessible formats, because children are notoriously ill served in that area at present. The audio description targets for television need to be raised from 10 to 20 per cent and we need a help scheme for the switchover to digital radio, such as there was for television. Ofcom has left the decision on the audio description target to Ministers, so I would very much welcome an opportunity to explain to Ministers why it needs to be raised.

Venturing further afield, will the Government review the reservations which the previous Government entered upon their ratification of the UN convention, as the JCHR has recommended? The so-called equal treatment directive is making heavy weather in Europe. More enthusiastic support from the British Government could make a significant difference to its prospects and would be very welcome-especially in relation to the accessibility of manufactured goods, which can only be secured through European legislation. Similarly, we look to the British Government to support the European Parliament's extended list of non-exemptible rights under the proposed bus and coach regulation when that comes back to the Council. Coming closer, finally, to the Minister's own sphere of responsibility, where he might be able to give us some more answers, will the Office for Disability Issues remain as the vehicle for ensuring that disability is mainstream right across Government? There have been rumours that it is under threat.

One area where disabled people have the greatest need is employment, and nowhere is imagination on the part of Government more necessary. We are lucky in having the Minister responding to the debate this afternoon, because he has already brought a great deal of imagination and analysis to bear on the employment problems of disabled people, and it would be very helpful if he were able to respond to one or two questions in this area. How will the pledge on assessing people for access to work prior to a job offer be taken forward, and what plans do the Government have to make sure that employers and disabled people are made aware of this important new right? Will the Minister assure us that the previous Government's commitment to doubling the Access to Work budget is secure? Any move to cut back spending here would directly undermine the Government's efforts to move disabled people off benefits and into work.

In terms of supporting the most vulnerable and marginalised groups into work, the Government's focus on meeting individual needs is very welcome, as are the proposals for differential payments, through which funding will be directed to sustaining in work those with the greatest needs. When can we expect more detail on the new work programme and the future of work choice contracts? How will work choice fit within the overall work programme-assuming, of course that work choice contracts will be progressed?

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds has told us, disabled people are anxiously awaiting the Budget next week, with the possibility of cuts in their income through means-testing and restrictions on benefits such as the disability living allowance and attendance allowance. Two-thirds of blind people, for example, are not in work and live on fixed incomes so that their finances are extremely fragile. The Government must honour their pledge-this is a theme that has resounded throughout the debate today-to ensure that the most vulnerable in our society are protected from the sharp reductions in public expenditure that we all know are coming.

Photo of Lord Ashley of Stoke Lord Ashley of Stoke Labour 4:36 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, it is difficult at this stage in the debate to avoid repetition. Inevitably, much of what I wanted to say has already been said, but I warmly endorse the praise for my noble friend Lord Corbett. I thought that his was a brilliant speech, and he said much of what many Members would want to say.

So far as the powers of the poet are concerned, the noble Lord, Lord Morris, was a marvellous guide and driver, combining the two functions in one set of activities. We are all very grateful to him for his marvellous work on that. The Bill will be a perpetual monument to his hard work in piloting it through all its stages in the House of Commons. In retrospect, that was far more difficult than it appeared-I appreciate that.

Of course, it was a team effort, which was one of the main reasons for the passage of the Bill to an Act. I add my tribute to some of the team players mentioned by my noble friend Lord Morris. In addition to the Labour MPs Lewis Carter-Jones, Laurence Pavitt and Fred Evans, there were Conservative activists who worked extensively, such as John Hannam, Neil Marten, John Astor, John Page, Jim Prior and the late Davina Darcy de Knayth, who my noble friend Lord Morris also mentioned.

We worked harmoniously during the passage of the Bill-there was no friction-and yet I would not want people to think that we were sentimental. One of the problems about disability is that some people tend to speak in dulcet, sentimental terms about the subject. They say, "We support the principle of your Bill but regret we can't support the Bill itself". Even the present Prime Minister, David Cameron, fell into that trap. In correspondence with him a few years ago, when I tried to persuade him to support my Bill on independent living for disabled people, he said,

"although we are unable to support your Bill, we fully share your aims and aspirations and would hope to play a constructive role in realising them under a future Conservative government".

It is good that there is so much good will there, but when it comes to the crunch where do we stand? I will write to the Prime Minister following this debate to ask him how far he has got in supporting those sentiments.

In the course of the Bill we rejected sentimentality and had a tough, hard-edged argument. One of the many achievements of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which is rarely understood, was that it led to the foundation and success of the All-Party Group on Disability. That group has grown in influence over the years. On a personal note, I served on it for 40 years, until I retired a few weeks ago. It is now in the extremely competent hands of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and carries on with its influential and unostentatious work for disabled people.

One of the main achievements of the Act was that it drew attention to the subject of disability, which had hitherto been ignored completely. That meant that disabled people had been ignored as well. The Act became a hallmark and a point of reference that was absolutely crucial to progress. No one can doubt that disability is now a mainstream subject. Plenty of people are determined that it should remain so. Disabled people deserve all the attention that they can get. The Act of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, remains a major contribution to their health and welfare.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench 4:42 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, for introducing this debate, and for his excellent speech. This debate is to mark the 40th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. It is also the 40th anniversary of my becoming a Member of your Lordships' House. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, was in 1970 a Member of Parliament for one of the Manchester constituencies, and was lucky to win the ballot to enable him to introduce the Bill. It took much hard work and persuasion to get the Bill accepted in another place, and the noble Lord must be congratulated on his doggedly determined way of not giving up on such matters.

Looking back over the past 40 years and discussing this Act of Parliament, I am filled with nostalgia. Four of us who were disabled Members of your Lordships' House made our maiden speeches on that Bill. We all used wheelchairs. A Cross Bench was removed and we became known as the mobile Bench. My sadness is that I am the only remaining Member of that first mobile Bench, all of whom were very close friends of mine. They were Viscount Ingleby, Lord Crawshaw and Baroness Darcy de Knayth, all of whom have sadly died.

The Bill was led in this House by the late Lord Longford. Many amendments were moved in your Lordships' House and the Bill was improved. We moved amendments such as one requiring that public buildings with access for wheelchairs should be signposted. The Chief Whip from another place used to come through because he was so concerned about the amendments we were discussing. This was the first significant legislation to improve the lives of disabled people. Many people were uneasy about the Bill, as people who do not understand disability fear the unknown. They thought that we were going to change society. Indeed, the Bill did improve society for many people.

Disability covers so many different aspects of daily living that non-disabled people take for granted. A disabled person, who may be a child, can mean a family being disabled if adequate housing and suitable aids-as well as access to public buildings, public lavatories and transport, including trains, airplanes, buses, taxis and ships-are not available. Disabled people using wheelchairs often had to travel in the guards van. The provision of telephones, the recognition of dyslexia and access to places of entertainment were all in the Bill. Now, 40 years on, we have to look forward. Aspects of life have changed. We have a new mobile Bench with other Members of your Lordships' House who are well qualified to provide their knowledge and expertise on many aspects of life.

So much has improved over the years but there is still a great deal to do, and much of it is due to the attitudes of some people. I give an example. In my local village of Masham in north Yorkshire, the chemist's has a four-inch step with no ramp. Many elderly people with varying disabilities find that step impossible to negotiate without help, but because Masham is not a large town, the chemist was told by the PCT that a ramp was not necessary. That is not satisfactory when many residents and visitors to this most attractive part of Yorkshire have a disability. Legislation is being flouted. I know how hard many Members of both Houses of Parliament worked on this legislation, so it is disappointing when a pharmacist, of all places, takes this attitude.

Many disabled people are living much longer. They are often treated as elderly but their disability is forgotten. When disabled people visit hospitals, they very often find that there is no suitable equipment for their disability. Again, it is often a question of the attitude of staff who need better training about the multitude of different disabilities. Disabled people want to be treated as persons first. However, their disability needs to be taken into consideration and they should be helped when necessary. Police and other professional people need to recognise disability so that unfortunate mistakes do not occur. It is still not possible for disabled people to use many facilities. For example, a passport photograph booth has a fixed stool, so disabled people in a wheelchair have to hunt around to find an accessible booth to have photographs taken for the many passes for which they may have to produce photographs as identification, such as the blue badge scheme.

I visited the mobile X-ray unit in London that takes X-rays of people who may have tuberculosis from among the homeless living in hostels and people in prison. It is a great asset to public health. I was pleased to see that this mobile unit had a lift to enable a person using a wheelchair, or who has difficulty climbing steps, to enter the vehicle. The mobile unit was built in Holland. I was told that the mobile units in Holland all have lifts; not so in the UK. The breast cancer units that travel round all have steps and no lifts. We have a great deal to learn from other countries which remember the needs of their disabled members-sometimes better than us. It can be a major problem for disabled people in a rural area who sometimes have to travel for miles to have a mammogram.

On Tuesday there was a debate on poverty. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said:

"Disabled people are at a substantially higher risk of poverty than non-disabled people. Nearly one in four families with a disabled member live in poverty, compared with less than one in six for families where no one is disabled".-[Hansard, 15/6/10; col. 947.]

I want your Lordships to know that many disabled people have extra expenses for wear and tear to clothes, extra heating, extra equipment that can be very expensive-such as light wheelchairs to help their carers-special food when needed, and extra help to enable them to lead a normal life if they need help getting up, going to bed, dressing and going to the lavatory. Disability can happen at any time to anyone. They can have an accident which leaves them paralysed, a stroke, a condition such as motor neurone disease, or they are born with a condition which leaves them disabled.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 has helped a great deal, but there is much to do to educate new Members of Parliament, councillors, medical staff and educators to understand the very varied and sometimes complex needs of disability.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 4:51 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, I spoke in the debate 10 years ago to celebrate this Act which allowed me to go through the state school system as a dyslexic person. I do not know how many other noble Lords in this Chamber have been directly touched in that way-I suspect that that is the case for many of those who have spoken, if not all. This Act changed the world and it is clear, from listening to those noble Lords who were there at the time, that it scared the living daylights out of everyone who was having their world changed.

Any veteran of these debates, when looking at the issue-I have a little more than two decades-worth-would say, "Wait a minute; we had to discuss that again and again". As noble Lords have said, people do not like having their lives changed. They say, "We don't have to do that; it is awfully difficult; oh, you mean there is a reasonableness test; we have better lawyers than you". I am afraid that such sentiments run through all the debates on this legislation. People in both Houses of Parliament take on these issues, listen to those outside, often have personal experience, enact legislation and then what we are doing is whittled back by those outside who do not want to change. All parties and none have been on both sides of that process. It is a matter of how much better we have become at blocking it off. It is like an ebb and flow. We have gone a long way, but there are always little defeats and there is slowness in implementation.

People usually panic. They say that everything will be terribly expensive. They say: "We can't do anything; the world will change". I remember a discussion about wheelchair access within schools. It was said: "How on earth could we possibly have a lift that brings a wheelchair from one floor of a school to another? It would be used only three times a day and not at all in some weeks". Then you say: "If you buy one that cannot move heavy piles of books and avoid back strain, you really are very dumb". You carry on in that vein and keep going. You approach the fact that people panic and do not want to change.

Another example is the attitude of organisations. The education issue is the first in which I became involved and is regularly raised. People say: "You mean that our class may have to stop or start five minutes early to get somebody who can't move very fast into the classroom?". So no one is allowed to get sick in your classroom, use a loo or occasionally turn up late. They are not supposed to but they do, so you adapt and carry on. I think that this type of thing underpins most of this debate. There is always that fear of the unknown and an unwillingness to change.

The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, described the Trojan horse incident using a wheelchair, getting people to react after a lot of necessary legislation had been introduced. It just goes to show how dumb people are. We have to ask what would happen if the person who wanted to buy the suit went to the shop to buy it. The person in the shop might say, "What do you mean?", to which the answer would be, "They are going to spend money in your shop. They're going to give you profits". The person in the shop would reply, "I hadn't thought of that", and would then try to get the idea into his head.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds put his finger on many of the driving forces in relation to children, including the fact that a child from a middle-class background does much better out of the system than anyone else. After he had finished his speech, I said in an aside to the right reverend Prelate that I thought the best combination was a lawyer and a journalist. People really do not like tangling with those two, and education systems, shops and local authorities have now learnt to back off.

I turn to the bailiwick of the noble Lord, Lord Freud. The real test lies with people whose backgrounds mean that they do not have that degree of access to the media or legal process at their fingertips. This is nothing new and there is a great deal of consensus about it, but it can lead to those nasty arguments that often break out within parties-we all agree on what should happen but we disagree slightly on how it should come about. It is one of those arguments where there is very little room for manoeuvre, so we tend to go for the eyes and throat.

We also know that huge costs are involved in not dealing with situations at an early stage. My own unlooked-for area of specialisation is dyslexia. We know that there are a lot of dyslexics in prison, but why is that? The answer is that if you fail in the education system and cannot fill in forms to get jobs or money outside, then crime is an option. If you do not come from a middle-class background, you do not have the necessary push or support.

We also know-indeed, today we are agreeing quite a lot with the Bishops' Benches-that mental health problems tend to occur in the groups that do not have support. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out-and there is no point in denying it- certain people in these groups are more liable to have problems. The fact is that if you have something to be depressed about, you can become depressed more easily. If the education or benefits systems do not pick up the costs of helping these people, then the problems, which can be short term, will often multiply. This issue also relates to aspects of the health service and Prison Service.

With the current Government, there is one bright spot in this process, and it goes back to an initial part of the legislation. I refer to assessments in education. This does not relate directly to the Minister's department but I think that the idea of departmentalising the whole issue is nonsense. As with many problems in politics, you must look across departments. If all children are assessed to find out whether they have special educational needs, I think that autism and dyslexia will probably come top of the poll, but early identification of other needs will not hurt. Furthermore, even if it is obvious that children have a problem, the fact that it is recorded in the system will help. Can we ensure that this attitude towards carrying out skilled assessments is carried on throughout the whole system? Steps have been taken and, although matters may be better than they were before, they are not good enough yet. I do not directly criticise the Government's intention, but this will probably not be finished in the lifetime of anyone listening today.

We must carry on. We must ensure that we have a greater understanding of people who have missed an initial opportunity for educational support. Showing an adult who has failed or who has not received support how they can survive would be a realistic step. People can succeed. Intelligent people who are active, lucky and have the right parents and an inspirational teacher can succeed. Ultimately, we will have overcome this problem when someone who is not exceptional or does not have the right parents or a bit of luck by birth or by circumstances succeeds. Although we seem to be closer than we were 40 years ago, we still have a long way to go.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Labour 5:01 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Corbett on introducing this debate. I join other noble Lords in paying tribute to my noble friend Lord Morris for the very many wonderful achievements he has to his name over his long and distinguished career-of course, it is still not over-not least his achievements concerning the subject of today's debate. It is 40 years since the passing of the first ever legislation for disabled people, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. I join my noble friend Lady Gale in saying that I thought that the manifesto read out by my noble friend Lord Morris when he introduced that Bill is as relevant today as it was then.

For the second time this week, I am substituting for my noble friend Lord McKenzie and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, I intend to address the future. Yet again, I shall be seeking assurances from the Minister that the Government, perhaps in their enthusiasm for downplaying or finding fault with the work of the past 13 years, do not lose sight of the progress which has been made on disability rights, much of which has already been mentioned.

In preparing for this debate, I was sent the link to the transcript of the debate which took place in your Lordships' House 10 years ago, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. That was obviously on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Alf Morris Bill. I commend it to the Minister if he has not already read it. Some noble Lords who spoke then have also spoken today, including the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, the noble Lords, Lord Ashley, Lord Addington and Lord Rix, whose debate it was and, of course, my noble friend Lord Morris.

Sadly, some who spoke then are no longer with us, such as Lady Darcy de Knayth, who was beloved and respected across this House. In that debate she berated the Government-my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath was answering the debate-on the proposed reforms in disability benefits. The Minister might want to take heed of the effectiveness of the disability lobby on that occasion. She also spoke about mobility, which had been the subject of her maiden speech 30 years before when the original Bill was discussed in the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, also made her maiden speech in the original debate. It was a debate of enormous significance.

Noble Lords might wish to know that two Earls spoke in that debate, the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, and Lord Longford. Lord Longford said:

"When I find myself before St Peter in the near future, he may say to me, 'Did you do any good down there?' I shall be able to murmur a little bit about the honours I have received. And he will say, 'I do not want to know about that. I want to know, did you do any good?' I shall be able to say, 'I played a small part in helping to carry the Alf Morris Bill through the House of Lords 30 years ago'. He will probably say, 'OK, you can take a day off purgatory for that'".

I say amen to that. The noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, reminded the House:

"Fifteen years ago I objected in the strongest possible terms to disabled passengers being shoved into the unheated luggage van with no facilities, not even a lavatory".-[Hansard, 19/4/00; cols. 737-40.]

I reflect that we have come a great distance. Many noble Lords have ensured that disabled people get treated with dignity and have facilities where they need them. A great deal of progress has been made in the 10 years since that debate. I know from my recent experience as a Minister in this House taking through the Equality Act and the Personal Care at Home Act what an important voice the disability lobby is in your Lordships' House and what a valuable and influential role noble Lords have played in shaping and improving both those Acts, and many before.

The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and I shared what I think can be described as a glance when the right reverend Prelate referred to the lack of portability of assessment for the disabled. We got that into the free personal care Bill, but this Government are not enacting it. I urge the Minister to bring forward proposals to this House as soon as possible at least to bring forward that part of that legislation.

It was the Labour Government who legislated to protect people who may be unable to make decisions for themselves under the Mental Capacity Act, which provides safeguards to help people to make decisions about their daily lives and be supported where they need it. It was the Labour Government who gave new rights to disabled people through the Disability Discrimination Act and signed the United Nations convention on the rights of people with disabilities, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Low. It was the Labour Government who made families with disabled children a priority, with a total of £770 million in new funding for local authorities and primary care trusts to support disabled children and their families, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Rix. I join him in urging the Government not to cut that important money.

The Access to Work budget has been increased from £15 million in 1994-95 to £69 million in 2008-09 and £81 million in 2009-10. Access to Work is likely to help about 35,000 disabled people to take up and stay in work in 2009-10. Will it be safe?

The Labour Government introduced free nationwide off-peak travel on local buses for the over-60s and eligible disabled people in England. Will that be safe? We established the Equality and Human Rights Commission to act as a strong and independent champion to tackle discrimination and promote equality for all. Labour in government was determined that the UK should always be a world leader in disability rights, and we legislated to provide protection against discrimination at work while offering new support for people to get into work. We will be carrying forward the campaign to strengthen the rights of disabled people to access to services and work and to be supported to make choices about their lives. Where the Government are also doing that, they will have our support.

The independent living strategy was published in 2008, written jointly with many disabled organisations. It is jointly owned by six government departments and details more than 50 government commitments to deliver choice and control for disabled people. Will the Government be taking forward the independent living strategy and, if so, what progress is being made? Is the disability living allowance to be reviewed? It supports people into work. It is paid to people irrespective of whether they are working. Will the Government honour the previous Government's commitment, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Low, to raise the disability living allowance above inflation this year and, from April 2011, to extend the higher rate of the mobility component of DLA to more than 20,000 severely visually impaired people, allowing them greater freedom to get out and about, either socially or to find work?

As I mentioned, the DWP offers a range of specialist disability employment provision designed to help disabled people with high support needs to find and stay in employment. Remploy will have helped about 10,000 disabled people in 2009-10. What will happen to the new specialist disability employment programme for disabled people with the highest support needs, the work choice programme, which was due to start in October 2010, replacing the specialist disability employment programme? Between 1979 and 1997, the number of people on incapacity benefits trebled and people were left without the support to help them ever return to work. The number of working-age people on employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit is now down by 148,000 since its peak in 2003. What does the future hold for the employment and support allowance?

The Labour Government had planned that, by 2015, £370 million would have been spent on the railways for all schemes to improve the accessibility of our railway stations, including £35 million for immediate improvements to the busiest stations. Will the Government continue to deliver this programme?

We strengthened the Disability Discrimination Act in 2005, fulfilling the then Government's commitment to a comprehensive and enforceable set of civil rights for disabled people, and in 2006 we introduced a duty on public authorities to promote equality for disabled people, known as the disability equality duty. We further strengthened disability discrimination legislation through the Equality Act. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, is completely correct. These initiatives take disability rights to another level. The Equality Act imposes a new duty on all public organisations to consider the needs of disabled people and actively to seek to promote equality. It will allow public organisations and businesses to take positive action to diversify their teams, including by appointing a disabled candidate where that candidate is equally as qualified as a non-disabled candidate, if the disabled are underrepresented. I hope the Minister will be able to assure the House that the Government will be enacting all the provisions of the Equality Act in the timescale that was intended.

This has been a wonderful debate, and it is an honour to respond on behalf of the Labour Opposition. I can pledge our continuing determination to extend disability rights and our determination to join other noble Lords across the House to ensure that the Government do not lose momentum and do not slip back.

Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 5:12 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, for leading this important debate and all noble Lords who have made valuable contributions today. I consider it a great honour to have the responsibility of closing for the Government among such knowledgeable, committed and powerful champions of disability equality. I very much welcome the opportunity that this debate provides to discuss the new Government's approach to equality for disabled people. I also pay tribute, as so many others have done today, to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and to his remarkable determination in bringing his Act-the Alf Morris Act-into being. We have been privileged today to hear a moving, first-hand account of his battle with complacent authority. His unceasing efforts, and the efforts of those who worked with him, brought into being the first legislation, not just in the UK but across the whole world, to recognise the rights of disabled people.

As other noble Lords have highlighted, we have made significant progress since the Act was introduced 40 years ago. We now have a strong disability rights framework, which was most recently extended by the Equality Act 2010 and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This Government are committed to using the UN convention as a driver to achieve equality for disabled people. We are looking at how we can best implement the Equality Act 2010 and we will be making announcements about its implementation in due course.

The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act was also a catalyst to making Parliament more accessible and resulted in many changes, including, as the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, told us, the invention of the mobile Bench, which is so welcome today. There is still more to do before Parliament is truly representative of the disabled population, which is why this Government have committed to introducing extra support for disabled people who want to become MPs, councillors or elected officials.

Since the Act was introduced, we have moved on from a time when disabled people were essentially invisible to society and were hidden or forgotten. We have moved through a long period when disabled people, although finally visible, were treated as objects of pity or charity. Today, the disability equality agenda is part of mainstream discussions and receives the recognition that it deserves. It is an agenda on which, no matter of what political persuasion, we are all determined to make progress.

Despite disabled people's voices now being recognised and heard, disabled people still remain, in many ways, the objects of society's benefaction rather than the subjects of their own lives. There are still many disabled people whose day-to-day lives are not within their control. Disabled people remain categorised by labels-even the term "disabled" to me separates them out from the rest of society-rather than being recognised as individuals who deserve the same opportunities as anyone else to succeed.

While preparing for this debate, I was thinking about how, ultimately, we are all seeking happiness or quality of life, a fulfilment that many philosophers argue comes from the ability to contribute, to be fully appreciated for those contributions and to be of value. According to this thinking, not only is society missing out on the value that disabled people can contribute, but we are denying disabled people the fundamental right to lead fulfilled lives. We are denying the right to seek the attributes that lead to happiness and self-worth-attributes such as social interaction, employment, pleasure, income, democratic freedom and meaning, to name a few. For me, the challenge is how we can empower disabled people to make that complete transformation from object to subject and how we can support disabled people to be completely in control of their own lives so that they have the opportunity to be fully involved in a society that recognises them as individuals rather than people defined by disability.

The Independent Living Movement is important here in terms of,

"disabled people having the same choice, control and freedom as any other citizen-at home, at work, and as members of the community".

Those principles-designed by disabled people themselves-are fully signed up to by this Government. I must pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, who have done so much to champion independent living for disabled people.

Building on independent living, the right to control, introduced through the Welfare Reform Act 2009, will provide disabled people with greater choice and control over their own lives. It will empower them to make informed decisions about how they want to receive the support to which they are entitled. We will be testing the right through trailblazers, which will commence later this year.

A key factor in people having independence is having the chance of employment. The importance of work extends far beyond the financial benefits that it can bring. As my forebear, Sigmund Freud, said:

"No other technique for the conduct of life attaches the individual so firmly to reality as laying emphasis on work; for his work at least gives him a secure place in a portion of reality, in the human community".

Some noble Lords will recall that he practised what he preached and wrote some of his most powerful work while in the 17-year grip of the cancer that killed him.

We know that work is generally good for people's well-being, as investigated by Waddell and Burton in their 2006 report Is Work Good For Your Health and Well-Being?. Conversely, long-term worklessness can have negative health effects, particularly for people's mental health. This is true for disabled people, people with health conditions and people in the wider population. We recognise, however, that not enough people are experiencing the benefits of work. Sickness absence remains high, with around 170 million working days lost to illness in 2008. Over 600,000 people flowed on to incapacity benefits last year. While less than half of all working-age disabled people are in work, almost 40 per cent of disabled people who are not in work would like to be.

Right now, we have a welfare state that divides our society into neat segmentswhere the poorest are left to live a life of helplessness, undermining their self-confidence and breeding social exclusion that splinters families and communities. That is why we are starting a radical programme of welfare reform. We will reassess all current claimants of incapacity benefit on their readiness to work. We will also introduce the work programme by summer 2011, which will offer a single integrated package of support, providing personalised help for everyone who finds themselves out of work, regardless of the benefit they claim.

The support offered through the work programme will be based on individual need rather than on the benefits claimed and will radically simplify the complex array of existing employment programmes. It will be designed to meet the needs of a wide range of customer groups, including disabled people, helping to ensure that those with the greatest barriers to work do not get left behind. I hope it will mean that those who have been left behind, referred to by my noble friend Lord Addington, will get a real second chance through this programme.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, who has contributed so much in this area, powerfully pointed out how difficult it is for people with learning difficulties to get a job. We recognise that there are some groups of disabled people, particularly people with learning difficulties, mental health conditions, and autism, who face additional barriers to employment and will need additional support to move into, or return to, work. We are quite clear that everyone who can work should get the support they need to get a job, and we remain committed to tackling the particular disadvantages that those groups face in employment and across other areas of life. I would like to take this opportunity to remind the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds that I was proud to make my maiden speech in this House in support of the Autism Bill. I can assure him that we are committed to addressing the needs of people with autism and their families.

We also recognise that some disabled people will not be able to make the move into employment. If people genuinely cannot work, we will make sure they get the unconditional support they need. As I mentioned earlier, one of the main challenges is changing the way society perceives disability, and that includes tackling the prejudice and ignorance that leads to bullying and harassment. One of the most shocking aspects of today's society is that disabled people are still subject to harassment of the worst kind. All disabled people deserve to be free from bullying, to feel safe in their own communities, and to be able to make their full contribution to society in safety and security. This Government take this issue seriously-which is why we have committed to promoting better recording of hate crimes-in order to work towards eliminating that very destructive barrier to participation in society. The Equality and Human Rights Commission launched an inquiry this week into disability-related harassment, which we welcome and fully support.

One of the concerns expressed by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Corbett and Lord Low, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, was that the financial pressures we currently face will effectively undermine progress in disability equality legislation. I can only emphasise that it is vital that any budget cuts do not disproportionately affect disabled people. We are committed to championing disability equality across government and we have a Minister for Disabled People.

I must admit that as it is early in the Administration my responses to many of the specific questions will be of a similar nature-that we are looking at the issues and will respond as soon as we can. I will give some dates. One of the issues on which noble Lords wanted assurances was the access to work programme. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. We are committed to supporting disabled people to enter and remain in employment, and we are currently undertaking a review on how best to do that. We expect to announce further details shortly.

The noble Lords, Lord Corbett and Lord Low, asked whether we will keep the road map to disability equality. We are committed to achieving equality as soon as practically possible. The road map is a useful guide which we will want to use. The noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Thornton, and the noble Lord, Lord Low, raised social care. We acknowledge that urgent reform of the social care system is needed. It is one of the biggest challenges facing this Government. That is why we plan an independent commission to consider how to ensure sustainable and responsible funding. That will go ahead.

The noble Lord, Lord Low, asked about the work programme and the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about work choice. We are moving ahead on the work programme at great speed, as noble Lords will have seen from the announcement last week. We plan to have that in place in the first half of next year. Clearly, one of the most complex issues in designing that programme is differential payments. I will commit to bringing information on our progress as soon as it is available. We are planning to make an announcement on work choice reasonably soon.

I will effectively ask for a little time on the question from the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, on support for his Bill on independent living for disabled people. An Oral Question is down for that and I shall leave my noble friend Lord Howe to answer that for the Department of Health next week-I have dodged that one. The independent living strategy was raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell and Lady Thornton. We are looking at how to bring that forward and we are discussing it with interested parties and across government. That is work in progress.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, asked about our plans regarding carers' allowance. We recognise that 6 million carers play an indispensible role in looking after friends or family members who need support. Clearly, cash benefits play an important part in that, although a minority of carers, around 10 per cent, receive them. We have set out our commitment to simplify the benefits system in order to improve work incentives and to encourage responsibility and fairness. I can assure the noble Baroness that we will carefully consider the needs of carers as we develop our thinking on welfare reform.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gale, also raised the work capability assessment in the context of Parkinson's. It was developed in close consultation with experts and specialist disability groups. It is kept under review and we are confident that it is working well. We are committed to conducting an independent review of that assessment every year for the first five years and we are currently in the process of commissioning it. We expect the first findings to be reported later this year.

On the concern of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds about the provision in schools for pupils with special educational needs, we are looking forward to the Ofsted review of the issue which is coming forward this summer, and will respond to it then. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, raised the issue of apprenticeships for those with learning disabilities. It is clear that people with learning disabilities should have fairer access to apprenticeships. It is a priority for the National Apprenticeship Service to improve the number of learners from diverse backgrounds taking part, and both categories will be included; that is, those with learning difficulties and learning disabilities.

In closing, I stress that we are committed to equality for disabled people, to empowering them to have the freedom to control and shape their own futures and to live full and fulfilling lives. We recognise that there is still some way to go, and we do not underestimate that, but today's debate has highlighted how far we have come on the journey to disability equality. It has underlined the commitment to a fairer, better Britain with equal opportunities for disabled people so that they can be full and valued members of society.

Photo of Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Lord Corbett of Castle Vale Labour 5:31 pm, 17th June 2010

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response, which I am sure will be welcomed all around the House. He has made some specific and important commitments and I just want to say to him that all who have taken part in this debate, along with many other noble Lords, will be there assisting him to do his very best to make sure that those commitments are carried out. Not the least of those are two that he mentioned several times. The first is to continue to make progress towards full equality. Secondly, and what I most especially welcome, he has taken the point made from all sides of the House that the most vulnerable must be protected from the impact of the cuts that are going to be made.

I have, if I may, a little task for the government Chief Whip. It is a matter of great regret that we have been denied the views of Conservative Back-Benchers in the debate, but I know that there are many on that side of the House who take an interest in these affairs. Over the weekend, the noble Baroness might want to consider whether she should get the naughty bench out and talk to one or two of her colleagues on Monday morning.

At the start of the debate, I said that there was a distinguished and dedicated cast list and I hope that your Lordships will recognise that in no way did I exaggerate. I want to thank all noble Lords who have made the time to take part in what I think has been an important debate. This is a milestone that deserves to be recognised and, again, I pay tribute to my noble and much respected friend Lord Morris of Manchester. Progress has been made and, while we all know that there is a long way to go, I think that we are going to get there. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion withdrawn.