Equality Act 2010 (Amendment) (Disabled Access) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:38 am on 24th November 2017.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley of Knighton Lord Berkeley of Knighton Crossbench 11:38 am, 24th November 2017

My Lords, it is a privilege and, indeed, humbling to follow the noble Lord, Lord Shinkwin. I am not in a position to comment on his disturbing speech: others will, I am sure, do so. It is humbling because it is a fact that, until disability directly affects us or a close family member, we simply cannot understand the frustrations of everyday life for the disabled. I sometimes think that if all of us able-bodied people were confined to a wheelchair for just 12 hours we would find it a revelation, and not a pleasant one. That is why those of us who do not need a wheelchair have a responsibility to pursue this fight on behalf of those who do.

As regards my personal experience, the trials and tribulations that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, so brilliantly outlined have been brought home to me by my daughter who, in her early 30s, has crippling arthritis and two lively young children—a challenging combination. Thanks to her mobility scooter, she is able to go to the park with her children, but invariably she cannot go shopping with them. Even when she can, the aisles are often too narrow to take wheelchairs. Unless her husband is there to unload her chair or scooter, she is limited to places which she can, as it were, wheel herself to. If more shopping centres had chairs or scooters that could be hired, disabled people would be less reliant on helpers and more self-sufficient. Self-sufficiency gives greater dignity and that, I suggest, is what the noble Lord’s Bill is all about. Every human being deserves as much human dignity as we can bestow upon them.

If I may digress for one moment from the intricacies of the six-inch or 12-inch step, once you are over that hurdle the disabled, the hard of hearing and the visually impaired face other obstacles. Noble Lords have recently debated in this Chamber not just equality but data control, and it might be useful for the Minister if I pass on a comment that I have received from a disabled group. There is a worry that because of the confidentiality of medical records, which is of course essential, common sense could nevertheless be submerged. In a nutshell, receptionists and doorkeepers might not be able to be properly informed of the needs of the disabled, the deaf and the visually impaired—the need to stand in front of someone who is deaf, or the fact that someone who may sound inebriated has had a stroke. I accept that these are all extensions to the precise problems we are dealing with today.

I entirely support the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. The Minister may need more than a ramp to overcome the determination of the noble Lord, the Select Committee and other noble Lords who seem to be expressing unanimous support for the Bill.