My Lords, this modest Bill should be supported throughout the House. Indeed, my only criticism is that it is too modest. My only declarable interests are as a property developer and housebuilder. I am pleased to say that all houses should now be built without a front step to make them wheelchair-accessible.
Historically, I have had a great deal of interest in wheelchair accessibility. First, I believe that I was the first person to put in a planning application for a large development of 100% wheelchair-accessible houses for the private sector rather than social housing. This was at the suggestion of my late friend the great Sir Bert Massie. He explained that using a wheelchair cost him a fortune in whisky. His friends could get into his house, but he could not get into theirs, so he was always the host. This, for a gregarious chap like Bert, was one of the many extra costs of disability.
Secondly, as chief executive of Manganese Bronze Holdings Plc, the maker of the London taxi, I led the team which made all black cabs wheelchair-accessible. We were designing a ramp for a step rather greater than six inches to access the cab. It was 16 inches high rather than the six and 12 specified in the Bill. It was difficult, but it was done. Once we had designed it, various people in my company said that we should sell the taxi with the ramp as an optional extra, but I demanded that it should be standard equipment and that we should never disclose the extra costs of producing it. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, pointed out that the level of training for taxi drivers could sometimes be better. Accessibility is now just a feature of the taxi—nothing special because it is standard equipment, and the same ought to be true of all shops and buildings.
The thing we learned is that while access for disabled people is very important, we all spend time in a wheelchair. It is normally called a pushchair or a baby buggy. We are very lucky if it is only at the beginning of our lives that we need wheels. Moreover, there are far more baby buggies than wheelchairs in use. A pushchair has a similar turning circle to a wheelchair and encounters many of the same access problems. Any ramp that can be used by a disabled person’s wheelchair is excellent for a pushchair. There must be vast numbers of parents with pushchairs who are discouraged from going into shops because of the task of having to remove the child from the pushchair, collapsing and carrying both it and the child up the stairs, then putting the child back in the chair. Very wise is the simple advice, “Let sleeping babies lie”. When we look at the positive effects of my noble friend’s Bill, it is not only disabled customers who will benefit from these amendments, but parents and children everywhere.
The question should not just be about the number of wheelchair users who will benefit from the Bill, and whether there are 1.2 million part-time or 750,000 to 800,000 full-time users, we should also consider the 3.9 million children under the age of four who will benefit from it, along with their exhausted parents. I therefore suggest that the Government support this Bill with enthusiasm.