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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:48 am on 24th November 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 11:48 am, 24th November 2017

My Lords, I support the “innocuous little Bill” of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. It is remarkable that every single person who has spoken so far is in favour of the Bill, which raises the question of why the Government are so obstinate on this issue when so many of us agree, particularly on the government Benches. I spoke to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, before the debate to explain that I have to catch a train at lunchtime, so I might have to leave before the summing-up, but everybody—almost everybody—has been so concise that I think I can stay until the end. He gave me his full pardon and forgiveness; I also checked with the Minister, who was slightly less willing to give me her forgiveness but I think she was joking—I hope so.

I wanted to speak today not because I or anybody in my family is disabled but partly because I wanted to join in such a wonderful cross-party debate. For me, the Bill touches my sense of justice about what the world should look like and how we should include absolutely everybody possible. As many noble Lords have said, it is not just wheelchair users who will benefit from this. Even I—and I consider myself still relatively healthy—will benefit when I, like the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, have a heavy shopping trolley. This will enable so many people. As our population ages, it is essential that we think ahead on issues such as this to make it easy and possible for people to access every single building and every single home. I, too, salute the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, to make things fully accessible. That is what we should be aiming for. I subscribe to the social model of disability, which is based on the view that society disables us; it is not we who are disabled but society that forces it on us if it does not make things easy. We have to adapt society if we are to achieve equality.

Those of us in this House who see a six-inch step as a small or negligible obstacle must not allow our good fortune to inhibit the possibilities for people for whom it is a huge obstacle. The current regime of making reasonable adjustments is clearly inadequate. Ministers have previously said that the current duty is quite powerful and should be used more effectively rather than bringing in new legislation. Fine, but what do the Government propose to do about it? What are they going to bring in to make it possible?

I commend the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for his persistence in promoting this Bill. I believe that this is its fourth reincarnation, which shows considerable persistence. I think that the Government have to go away to consider this very deeply. In fact, I am hoping for a change of heart. Perhaps the Government will be able to accept the Bill and do the open and transparent deal that has been offered and make a statement about improving society here and now today.