My Lords, I am delighted to support my noble friend Lord Blencathra at the Second Reading of this excellent, well-crafted and beautifully straightforward Bill. Legislation often asks Governments to take steps but in this instance that is exactly what it is doing. I ask the Minister: if not this step, what step will address this most simple and straightforward access issue?
On Black Friday, no matter how bad the bustle and crush is, how much blacker is it for those wheelchair users and other access-impaired people who cannot even access the stores to get to the bargains? I was fortunate to be on the board of the Disability Rights Commission in the early 2000s when many of the best features of the Disability Discrimination Act came into force, not least those related to access to goods and services. We knew at the time that this cuts across all of civic society—retail, leisure and religion. Tiny steps effectively deny people access to pay, play or pray.
Many of the arguments at the time of the passage of the DDA, and then when Part 3 came in in the early 2000s, were: “It’ll be too expensive” and, “We can’t possibly do this—businesses will fold”. As we have seen, almost a decade and a half later, no businesses actually folded as a result of the regulations and the legislation. Rather than seeing it in those terms, why not just flip it the other way round and see the positive economic boost that businesses can have if they are accessible to all members of society? I know that personally. I am not a wheelchair user but I have experienced what it is like to be denied access to supermarkets, restaurants and minicabs. I went to a restaurant a few years ago and the proprietor actually stood in the door to bar me entrance to the restaurant. He said in very straightforward terms: “We don’t serve dogs”. I said, “That’s okay—I don’t eat them”.
But there is a fundamental point behind this because, when you experience denial of access and discrimination, you do not experience it in a cerebral state, you feel it. You feel it in your heart and in your guts. It is to be denied fairness, with no dignity, no respect and no equality, just exclusion. That is the beauty of my noble friend’s Bill. It is not actually anything to do with steps, it is simply to do with inclusion. Why would a business or building not want to be inclusive for all members of society? Imagine: what could be simpler than taking this Bill right through the Lords and Commons, passing it and enabling that inclusion right across the United Kingdom? Tens of thousands of small steps would be removed, enabling access and economic activity. We are talking only about the removal of small steps. Actually, there is no “only”. It is just the removal of small steps. One small step for premises, one great leap for inclusion.