European Year of Disabled People

– in the Scottish Parliament at 3:10 pm on 27 February 2003.

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Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 3:10, 27 February 2003

The next item of business is a debate on motion S1M-3956, in the name of Margaret Curran.

Photo of Margaret Curran Margaret Curran Labour 3:32, 27 February 2003

In the European year of disabled people, it is fitting that the Parliament has taken this time to focus on key issues relating to disability.

It is welcome that we are making the connections between disability in the equality context and work that is going on in other portfolios. Given the focus that Mike Watson and I have been trying to bring to disability over recent months, in discussing it in relation to the arts and sports, it is helpful that we have the opportunity this afternoon to give the discussion some focus.

I will talk about the European year of disabled people. I will also discuss disability itself and how, in the broader sense, the Executive is dealing with the matter.

I am sure that many of my colleagues are aware that the European year of disabled people is not only about holding a few events or distributing a few leaflets, but is a programme of systematic activities. It is also about raising awareness of the needs and experiences of disabled people. The year can drive a significant shift in attitudes and practices. It can help us to form a launch pad so that we as a nation can give focus to the complex discriminations that many disabled people face.

The participants in the European congress on disability have outlined a vision for the year, which sees disabled people not as objects of charity but as people with equal rights, and not as patients and dependants but as independent citizens and consumers. The vision emphasises what a person can do and what needs to be done to support active engagement and participation. The vision is not about policies that focus on what a person cannot do; it looks to create a flexible world for the many, not a restricted world for the few. It sees disability issues as part of the mainstream.

More than 50 million disabled people throughout the European Union will look to see the vision become a reality. We all have to play our part in the delivery of that change. I would argue—I am sure that many members would agree—that we have made much progress over many years in tackling disability, but we must be honest and recognise that challenges remain. Sixty-eight per cent of households that include a disabled person have an income of less than £10,000. The unemployment rate for disabled people is almost double that for non-disabled people. Disabled people are three times more likely than non-disabled people to have no qualifications.

People tell us about their experiences and about trying to live and work in a society that is not structured to enable their participation and how frustrating and soul destroying that is. They tell us about living in a society in which some of the most ordinary events of human life—reading the newspapers, visiting the cinema, getting money from the bank, meeting friends—have to be extraordinary achievements, sometimes against the odds, for far too many disabled people.

If someone is visually impaired, is a wheelchair user, or has a sensory impairment or a learning disability, they will come up against barriers, both physical and attitudinal. Those barriers relate not only to access to buildings but to employment, leisure, information, services and life's widest experiences. Many barriers continue to exist because attitudes, policies and practices have not shifted sufficiently to enable and promote a supportive and accessible environment. Disability is a key issue for the Executive and we are committed to ensuring that the European year of disabled people is a success.

As we reported last week, we are making good progress in the implementation of our equality strategy. Recently, I announced a significant increase in funding to the equality programme budget, from £3 million in the first spending review, to £17 million in the coming three years. The Executive has also undertaken a range of measures to improve the position of disabled people and all ministers have considered that issue seriously.

Last month, the Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning announced additional funding of £26 million to increase the access of disabled people to higher and further education. New provisions in the Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act 2002 will make direct payment more widely available from June 2003. Local authorities will have a duty to offer direct payment to eligible disabled people. In April, we will introduce our supporting people framework, which is a new integrated policy and funding framework for housing support services. The aim is to allow vulnerable people to live independently in the community in all types of accommodation and tenure. We are funding an access panel steering group to take forward the recommendations of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations review of access panels that was undertaken last year and to develop a structured and sustainable approach to the work of Scottish access panels.

Further, under the Education (Disability Strategies and Pupils' Educational Records) (Scotland) Act 2002, education authorities and grant-aided, self-governing and independent schools must prepare their first accessibility strategy by 1 April 2003.

We are providing funding of £200,000 for grass-roots, disability-led organisations to develop structures to facilitate the inclusion of everyone who is affected by disability in informed, responsive and effective decision making in policy and practice. Further, in closing this debate, Mike Watson will refer to his announcement yesterday of additional funding being made available to Scottish Disability Sport.

Those activities complement what we plan to do during the European year of disabled people. We will encourage links between Scotland and other countries in Europe. For example, a conference in early March will bring experts from Finland to Scotland to discuss linguistic access for deaf people. The conference, which has been organised by the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters, will enable us to learn from the Finnish approach to linguistic access, including sign language provision.

I thank everyone who has participated in the work of the steering group in the run-up to the European year of disabled people. Their expertise has been of great value and I am sure that it will continue to be so throughout the year. The success of the group is testimony to the good working relationships that we have attempted to foster, but also to the effort of the disability sector to engage with us and apply itself to the significance of this year.

That partnership approach characterises our work in this area. We are working with disability groups to develop our shared agenda across a range of other issues. For example, the British Sign Language linguistic access working group, which was established by the Executive, involves the organisations in Scotland with an interest in BSL. We recognise that there are complex issues to consider and we are determined to make progress.

The group is considering the proposals in the report by the Scottish Association of Sign Language Interpreters and I know that the Parliament, through the Equal Opportunities Committee and other members, has displayed a keen interest in BSL. We hope that the working group will help us to reach a position on BSL shortly.

The motion

"calls upon other organisations to recognise and celebrate the European Year of Disabled People", and I am pleased that that is happening already. The Scottish Trades Union Congress in April will debate disability as part of its mainstream agenda. The Scottish Arts Council will celebrate the year with a programme of events and activities to promote the arts for disabled people.

The national institutions are making a strong and positive contribution. For example, the National Galleries of Scotland are initiating a new pilot programme to raise awareness of the positive benefits that art can provide for children with autism. They are also initiating an access and disability audit and a new series of discussion sessions for all gallery visitors led by deaf people. Large print versions of exhibition texts will be available for people with visual impairments.

A lot of work is being undertaken, but there remains much more to do. One of the biggest challenges for the European year of disabled people is to change the attitudes and break down the barriers that prevent disabled people from participating fully. All too often, the biggest barrier that disabled people face is others' ignorance and prejudice. We can play some part in tackling that. We hope that the activities that we, our cultural agencies and a wide range of other bodies have planned for this year, as well as today's debate, will go some way to breaking down that barrier and tackling the other barriers that disabled people face.

This is the first time in the Parliament that I have made such a speech without an intervention, so I will finish early, as I normally plan for interventions.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the European Year of Disabled People and reaffirms our commitment to ensuring equality of opportunity for disabled people; recognises and celebrates the European Year of Disabled People and the contributions that disabled people make to Scottish society at all levels; recognises the role of the arts, culture and sport in promoting social inclusion and equality of opportunity, and calls upon other organisations to recognise and celebrate the European Year of Disabled People.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I commend the minister's good practice to all speakers in debates.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party 3:41, 27 February 2003

I was listening to the minister with due deference.

The Scottish National Party welcomes the debate and the opportunity through the European year of disabled people to assist where possible in promoting and communicating equal opportunities for people with disabilities. At present, consideration of the needs of disabled people in Scotland is unfortunately patchy at best. As our amendment suggests, much more needs to be done to ensure that Scotland is ready to meet the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 over the next few years.

What is disability? The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 defines a disabled person as anyone with

"a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities."

In Scotland, approximately 800,000 people live with disabilities. That represents almost one sixth of Scotland's total population. The definition is broad enough to encompass not only people with physical disabilities, but those with learning disabilities and hidden disabilities, such as epilepsy and cancer, which may not be immediately obvious but can have a dramatic impact on the day-to-day lives of those who are affected by those illnesses.

As we have an increasingly elderly population, it is extremely important that disability be viewed without negativity. Many older people in Scotland put their day-to-day difficulties down to being old and therefore miss out on benefits for which they are eligible, because they do not want to be considered to have a disability.

Of course, as we know, equal opportunities and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 are reserved matters, but observance and recognition of equal opportunities matters are devolved to the Parliament. The European Commission has declared 2003 to be the European year of people with disabilities, with the following main objectives: to raise awareness of disabled people's rights; to encourage equal opportunities for disabled people; to promote the exchange of best-practice strategies at local, national and European Union level; and to improve joint working between Government, social services and the voluntary sector in helping people with disabilities, while promoting a positive image of people with disabilities.

There are many different disabilities. Children and younger people with disabilities must receive equality in education and be fully integrated in our society. For the purposes of the European year of disabled people, the Executive has provided a steering group, as the minister stated. That steering group involves representatives from many of the voluntary organisations that deal with disabled people in Scotland. However, the real impetus for the year comes from Westminster.

The European Union funding that has been set aside works out at £550,000 for the United Kingdom, plus another £2 million from the UK

Government. Twenty-two of the 97 Scottish projects that bid for resources were successful and will receive a share of the £300,000 that has been allocated to Scotland. That works out at approximately 38p extra to help each disabled person in Scotland.

We must be cautious of what Bert Massie, chair of the Disability Rights Commission, once highlighted:

"Public appeals for greater understanding of disability issues are often well received, but rarely translate into specific action."

I am heartened by the action that the Executive pledges to take and has taken to date.

In recent years, two pieces of legislation have helped to provide legal rights for people with disabilities. The Disability Rights Commission is an independent organisation that was set up under the Disability Rights Commission Act 1999 to stop discrimination against disabled people, to provide information and advice to disabled people, to investigate cases of discrimination, to provide codes of practice and to advise all Governments in the UK. The commission's annual budget is £11 million.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 was passed to protect the rights of those with disabilities and to prevent them from being discriminated against with regard to employment. Part II of the act, which covers employment, will be enforced in 2006. The provisions of part III, on facilities, services and goods, will be enforced in 2004, as will those on the letting, buying, selling and managing of land and premises. Part IV, which requires educational institutions to provide information and to improve physical access for disabled people, will be enforced in 2005. Part V allows the Government to set minimum standards in relation to helping disabled people to use public transport.

Capability Scotland's recent "1 in 4" study found that only

"13% thought the government had done a good job in improving awareness and tackling discrimination".

Furthermore, only 22 per cent of people were aware of the enforcement in 2004 of part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Only one in six cases that have been brought to tribunal under the 1995 act have been successful.

According to RNIB Scotland:

"Disabled people are deterred from making claims because the system is so complex and they could face enormous costs if they lose."

Research that was carried out by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that one in six disabled people lose their jobs in the first year following the start of their disability. Employers often find, however, that disabled employees stay in the job longer and have a strong commitment to work, good punctuality and low absenteeism rates. Many disabled people fear losing their benefits and becoming financially worse off if they take on employment. Some people with disabilities are suspicious that the Department for Work and Pensions' pathways to work scheme, which is designed to help those on incapacity benefit return to work, is merely a way to reduce the number of benefit claimants and save money.

There are a number of issues that the Executive could deal with more directly. The enterprise strategy, "A Smart, Successful Scotland", does not mention disabled people once. Unfortunately, some employers consider it a hassle to have to make reasonable adjustments, such as lowering light switches for wheelchair users or providing people with disabilities with scribes or drivers to help them in their jobs, because they fear that that may cut into their profits.

Disabled people or those who live in a household with a disabled person are more likely to have a lower income than the rest of the population, as the minister stated. They also have extra costs to meet because of their disability. That includes extra heating costs, dog food for guide dogs, stairlifts and car adaptations.

I hope that the Executive will address the issue of access to housing. More needs to be done to match the availability of housing for the disabled with the need for such housing, to ensure that disabled people are not living in unsuitable homes while non-disabled people are living in homes that have been adapted for those with disabilities. Although the homes of only 34 per cent of disabled people have been adapted to accommodate their disability, 60 per cent of wheelchair-accessible homes are occupied by people who do not currently use them.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Mr Gibson is at the end of his time.

Photo of Kenneth Gibson Kenneth Gibson Scottish National Party

I am sorry—I am just about to finish; I would have liked to let Jamie Stone intervene.

Many people care for people with disabilities and, according to the carers manifesto that all MSPs received recently, 91 per cent of carers said that caring affected their health; almost half of them said that it affected it greatly.

According to Capability Scotland's "1 in 4" study, only 9 per cent of carers have access to respite care or short breaks; only 15 per cent receive home care; and only 10 per cent receive direct payments. Unfortunately, only 18 per cent of carers who wanted to work were able to do so.

I wanted to raise many other issues, but unfortunately lack of time has prevented me from discussing, in particular, issues around disabled people's difficulty in accessing transport. I agree with what the minister said at the end of her speech. To paraphrase new Labour, much has been done, but much more has to be done. That is why I hope that everyone will support the Scottish National Party's amendment.

I move amendment S1M-3956.1, to insert at end:

", accepting that much more needs to be done to ensure that Scotland is fully compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995."

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative 3:49, 27 February 2003

I welcome the Executive debate on the European year of disabled people, which we support whole-heartedly. The main aim of the year is to raise awareness of the rights of people with disabilities to protection against discrimination and to full and equal enjoyment of their rights. I hope that the year can make a difference to that end for the 800,000 disabled people in Scotland and for all disabled people in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Many barriers, both physical and attitudinal, exist in society and need to be removed to ensure that we can all benefit from the wide range of skills and talents that disabled people have to offer. It is encouraging to note that in a Eurobarometer survey that was conducted in January among a sample of 16,000 Europeans, a huge 93 per cent felt that more money should be spent on dismantling the physical barriers that the disabled face.

Let us be honest about the fact that even the best people—even the Scottish Parliament—make mistakes. When the Parliament met in Aberdeen last year, one of the committees hosted an event for interested parties. It was embarrassing for members of the Equal Opportunities Committee to find that the accommodation for the meeting was not wheelchair accessible. Members had to intervene to carry wheelchairs up stairs and over doorsteps into a theatre-style meeting room where our wheelchair-bound visitors could not see the presentations that were being made. I rest my case.

I hope that the European year of disabled people will have an equally positive impact on the barriers to employment that disabled people currently face in Scotland. In Scotland, the unemployment rate for disabled people is almost double the rate for non-disabled people. Alarmingly, 68 per cent of households that include a disabled person have an income of less than £10,000. If the statistic sounds familiar—I have no doubt that members will hear it repeatedly—that serves merely to emphasise how important this issue is.

I urge the Executive to ensure that there is a high level of business participation in the year's events, so that business plays its part in taking down the barriers to which I have referred. I endorse the suggestion by Stuart Duffin of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce to the Equal Opportunities Committee that there should be business representation on the Executive's European year of disabled people steering group. We agree with Mr Duffin that more co-operation is needed to get the message across in a bottom-up rather than a trickle-down fashion. I know that the minister is aware of the problems connected with persuading departments to take responsibility for this matter. Responsibility cannot be allocated to one department or another—it is everyone's responsibility.

I am reluctant to sound a discordant note, but there is a view that the Labour party's policies on incapacity benefit and the new deal are failing to help disabled people gain employment. Labour made two damaging changes to incapacity benefit in the Welfare Reform and Pensions Act 1999. The entitlement rules, to which Kenny Gibson alluded, led to tightening and the introduction of means testing. The contribution conditions have, in practice, discouraged people from leaving their benefits. As a result, the number of people claiming benefit for incapacity has risen, from 1.1 million in 1980 to 2.3 million today. Today's figure shows that 6.6 per cent of the working-age population of Great Britain are claiming incapacity benefit.

Labour's policies for assisting disabled people to find work sometimes fail. The new deal for disabled people—a voluntary scheme in which disabled people refer themselves to a jobs broker—was rolled out nationally in July 2001. However, just 14,000 disabled people found sustained employment through the scheme between July 2001 and September 2002. In short, the programme has had little impact on a total incapacity benefit case load of 2.3 million people. I urge the minister to encourage her colleagues down south to ensure that failing policies are reviewed and that newer and more suitable approaches are introduced.

More could be done in Scotland to improve education and lifelong learning for disabled people. Thirty-five per cent of disabled people of working age have no qualifications. That is yet another familiar statistic; we have heard it before and we will probably hear it again. Disabled people have a limited ability to find employment. The Executive's lifelong learning strategy must be made more inclusive so that disabled people have more opportunity to retrain and work.

More focus could also be given to the education of disabled children in Scotland, to ensure that they have proper access to the facilities and supplies that they need, which are not always available. For example, while it is beneficial that 70 per cent of Scotland's blind and partially sighted children are educated in their local schools, it is deplorable that one in four of them does not receive text in a format that they can read.

I congratulate the organisations on the Executive's steering group on all their hard work in seeing that this year achieves as much positive change as possible in Scotland, and on all the work that they will do beyond this one year. I agree with the steering group's aim of engaging young people in the events, in order to raise awareness of the difficulties that face disabled children in the education system, and the difficulties that will face them as adults—[Interruption.] Do I have one minute, Presiding Officer?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

You are already one minute over time.

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative

In that case, I have one or two other points that I will bring to members' attention when I sum up.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 3:56, 27 February 2003

I would like to preface my speech with two short thoughts. First, in my experience, although it does not lie directly at the hands of the Scottish Parliament, disability living allowance is quite a difficult beast. I am sure that all MSPs have had to deal with cases—or at least have forwarded cases to Westminster. An awful lot of barriers seem to be put in the way of people who try to access that vital benefit. Secondly, coming from the Highlands, I know that the tackling of disability issues is patchy—I am sure that John Farquhar Munro and other rural members will agree with me. Great efforts are made in some areas, but the approach varies quite a bit. Work lies before us.

I will make a more personal contribution today. I want to bring to the notice of the chamber a particular case, which highlights just how bad things can get. It is the case of Donald Munro, aged 22, who comes from the village of Bettyhill, on the north coast of Sutherland. I spoke to his mother, Linda, today to get permission to tell members what has happened to Donald. He suffers from generalised dystonia. At a fairly early age, it started in one of his wrists. In quick time, it spread to the whole of his body, so that he suffered from permanent convulsions. In fact, the only thing that he could control was his eyelids. He had a wretched style of life.

He then had brain surgery, and was given a deep-brain stimulator implant, which has made an enormous difference. He is now able to get around in a specialised wheelchair. I have a smudgy photograph of it from a piece in Aberdeen's The Press and Journal. His further education takes place at Treloar College in Alton, Hampshire. Nothing equivalent is available in Scotland, so he has to go there.

Six times a year he makes a return trip—12 trips in all—from Inverness airport to Gatwick. During one of those trips, British Airways dropped his wheelchair, causing £3,000 worth of damage. It paid for the damage, but stipulated that the wheelchair must be crated for it to be carried. That is unworkable, because a carrier would have to go to the house in Bettyhill, which is far from Inverness, crate up the wheelchair, and get it to Inverness. Because of that, the family has no choice but to get the wheelchair lifted by carrier to Gatwick, where it is picked up by the college. That means that on each trip, Donald Munro is without his wheelchair for some days. British Airways is not willing to give an inch.

I will try to read this rather bad copy, so that I can put the issue in Mr Munro's own words. He said:

"Before the operation, I was always on a bed or on a mat. Now I like to go shopping and to the cinema, pubs and 10-pin bowling.

Without my chair I am stuck. I have got no other way of getting around. I can't sit in an ordinary chair. I have to stay inside and just watch the television."

The report stated:

"A spokesman for British Airways CitiExpress said that they had looked at this issue again, but were unable to accommodate the chair."

The spokesman said:

"Very regrettably, we can find no way to resolve the situation and apologise to Mr Munro and his family that we cannot accept the wheelchair for carriage."

The railway cannot help. The family is completely stuck.

Margaret Curran spoke about breaking down barriers, and Kenny Gibson was correct to hint at the issue of transport. I put it to the Parliament that Donald Munro's case is horrific. That young man of 22 is trapped. His case shows that, in spite of all our efforts, there are occasions on which a company such as British Airways just will not help.

Why, out of the goodness of its heart, could not British Airways package up the chair and put it on a cargo aeroplane, so that the lad would have his chair when he reaches the other end? In the name of humanity, that would be the right thing to do.

Although it would be perfectly easy to do that, it is not being done. I rest my case.

The example of Donald Munro illustrates a problem that all members will have come across. Bureaucracy and rules can sometimes wreck someone's life—or at least make it pretty miserable. That is the Hydra, the heads of which we must try to cut off.

I deliberately brought the Parliament's attention to the case, to shame British Airways into doing something for poor Donald Munro. We should remember his case and other, similar cases.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

We come to the open part of the debate. Seven members wish to speak and it should be possible to call them all.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour 4:01, 27 February 2003

It is a privilege to be able to speak in the debate. This is the second time this week that I have participated in debate and discussion on the European year of people with disabilities, as I had the opportunity to speak on that very important initiative in Brussels on Monday. I was able to share experiences with Committee of the Regions colleagues on the Economic and Social Committee. It was useful to hear at first hand what the European Commission's aspirations were for the year and to find out what sort of projects are being introduced across Europe. I was impressed by some of the work that is going on in Ireland.

I was pleased to note that €12 million will be made available for the year, two thirds of which will go to member states. I note from the minister's speech that considerable match funding will be available in the United Kingdom. That is very important. It is also important that, in our local communities, we encourage groups to think about how they can develop projects.

I welcome the work of the steering group. Although Lyndsay McIntosh is right—a great deal of effort has been put in—I did a trawl round my local area yesterday and found that a significant amount of work has not yet permeated down to local level. It is important that that happens, and I hope that today's debate will assist in that process.

The European year of people with disabilities is about moving forward on disability policy and enshrining the fundamental values of equality, respect and diversity in our strategy. Above all, it gives us the opportunity to review whether those core values are reflected in Scotland's communities.

There are 37 million people with disabilities in the European Union—that is one in 10 of us. Every one of those people will have experienced discrimination at some time, in some way. They will have suffered travel restrictions, difficulty with job opportunities, problems with access to education or social rejection. Social rejection is the worst form of discrimination. Such treatment and barriers have no place in a modern, civilised Scotland. Today's debate must send out the message that, just like the rest of us, disabled people make up a valuable part of our society. They are taxpayers, workers, consumers, parents, neighbours and friends, and they should be given the same opportunities. They must not face discrimination at every turn simply because of disability.

Kenny Gibson discussed what the term "disability" means, and I agree with much of what he said. The term covers a whole spectrum of difficulties that people face during the course of their lives. Such disability can be physical or psychological, permanent or temporary. People can suffer from a stroke that disables them for a period of time—it can be a temporary state of affairs, from which they recover. Disability can be visible or invisible. Invisible disability can be the hardest form of disability to deal with.

The European year of people with disabilities will go some way towards raising general awareness of all aspects of disability that the European Commission is keen to promote. The real measure of the year's success will be whether disabled people feel that they can access their rightful place in society. We all have a role to play in making that a reality, whether as politicians and legislators or simply as individuals.

I congratulate the Executive on the work that it is doing. The European Commission must also be congratulated on its cohesive and inclusive approach to promoting equality for people with disabilities. It has encouraged the member states to take action, as well as the regional and local authorities in those member states.

On Monday, the European year of people with disabilities was spoken about as a year for disabled people by disabled people. It is important to make the point that it should not be about us deciding how things should be done—disabled people should be part of the process.

I realise that I am running out of time, but I would like to take a moment to speak about mental health problems. They are not always visible and mental illness is often forgotten, but a great stigma is attached to it. People who suffer from mental health problems suffer the same discrimination as the physically disabled. In fact, the consequences are often worse.

It is of some concern that, every year, approximately 1,000 young Scots are diagnosed with schizophrenia, about 10 per cent of whom end their own lives through suicide. It is crucial that such people are included in our society. The general public must be educated about conditions of disability. That is also true of professionals.

In one case in my area, someone who had a history of four suicide attempts went to the accident and emergency department and was told by the consultant to pull his socks up. He tried to hang himself 48 hours later. It is important to realise that it is not just the general public who need to be educated about the issues; professionals should also be educated.

I have an awful lot of other things that I wanted to say.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I am afraid that you are already two minutes over your time.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour

I understand that, so I will just wish all the groups that are involved in the European year of people with disabilities every success.

I support the motion.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

There is a degree of latitude and I am assuming that people will go a minute over their time. However, if we all overindulge, we will squeeze out the final speaker. Members have roughly four and a half minutes.

Photo of Gil Paterson Gil Paterson Scottish National Party 4:07, 27 February 2003

"Get on board" is the slogan of the European year of people with disabilities. It is an invitation to us all.

People with disabilities should be at the centre of the year, which is about raising awareness of disabled people's rights to full equality and participation in all areas. It is about tackling the barriers that people with disabilities face, wherever they occur.

The European year is also about raising awareness that disability is an issue of concern to us all. I am confident that the year will provide a strong impetus to set long-term goals and to develop new initiatives through Europe. I encourage everyone to get on board the campaign.

Recently, I was in Greece as the reporter on disability for the Equal Opportunities Committee. At the launch of the European year of disabled people, it was hoped that the awareness raised by a year of events would lead to new legislation, initiatives and alliances that will improve access for all those with disabilities.

The key priorities of the European Commission during the year are to improve access to employment and physical access to buildings. We could do with working on those two areas in Scotland. I was recently informed about a young girl with learning disabilities who was offered a work placement by the college that she attends. She was given the option of working in a charity shop or collecting shopping trolleys for Tesco. Although charity work is extremely valuable, as is the work carried out by those who work in our supermarkets, I do not believe that either of those options would have made the best use of the young girl's skills.

We have to work on developing employment opportunities for our disabled people. I commend the work of the Moving Into Work project in Edinburgh, which takes a people-centred approach, and I call on the minister to ensure that employment is an area that is developed and resourced. As a business owner, I understand the costs that are involved in upgrading premises to ensure that they are fully accessible. It costs money to make the changes, but that does not mean that it is impossible to do so.

There is no excuse for not ensuring that new-build properties can be accessed by all. It is estimated that ensuring that buildings are accessible to those with physical or non-physical disabilities increases project costs by 1 per cent. That is not too much in my view.

Given the representations that I have received over the past three years, it is essential that the Executive takes action to ensure that our public transport providers improve their performance on disabled access. I would be interested to hear the Executive's response to the Strategic Rail Authority's suggestion that the Executive will be liable for financing improvements to our railways.

All in all, this year should help to increase the focus on issues that affect those of us with disabilities. It remains to be seen whether that will lead to changes. It will be up to us all in the Parliament to lead the charge and get on board.

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 4:11, 27 February 2003

I am sure that we all agree that a disability can prove to be very difficult, but living with a disability in the Highlands can be particularly difficult. The problems for people with disabilities who live in large towns and cities receive national attention. I will use the debate to highlight the fact that a large proportion of people with disabilities live in the more rural parts of the country, and to outline a number of the particular difficulties that they face.

Although disabled individuals in more remote rural areas share many of the frustrations and problems of their counterparts in the larger towns and cities, they face many additional challenges.

For instance, there is restricted access to housing—most of which is of poor quality and unsuitable—a fiercely competitive labour market and limited transport options. All those factors have a major impact on the lifestyles of people in the Highlands living with a disability.

The massive expansion of second-home ownership in the Highlands has seen the cost of housing rise such that it is barely possible for able individuals with good jobs to afford homes. It is widely recognised that many disabled people are, unfortunately, in lower-paid jobs and face a number of barriers to employment. In the Highlands, that simply makes it even more difficult for them to afford housing.

To make matters worse, there is a significant amount of old and poor-quality housing in the Highlands, particularly at the lower-priced end of the market. The fact that there was such high uptake of the warm deal central heating programme in rural parts indicates that many homes have inadequate heating, as well as inadequate plumbing, waste disposal, electricity and, in some cases, water sources. Put simply, that means that many people with disabilities who live in rural areas have had and still have no choice but to live in substandard conditions.

The lack of transportation and community infrastructure in rural areas also poses significant problems for people with disabilities, such as isolation and social exclusion. A young man of 40 years of age suffering from severe multiple sclerosis applied to the local health board for assistance to buy a motorised wheelchair and was told that there was a two-year waiting list—that is no comfort at all.

Most rural areas lack adequate public transportation. Without easy access to either public or personal transport, disabled people face major barriers when it comes to accessing frontline services, such as medical and social services, banks, education facilities and leisure and recreational facilities.

I am aware that many of the points that I have made are rather negative in tone. However, I argue that the one strength and advantage that we have in rural areas is a tremendous amount of generous community spirit and a real spirit of helping others in the local area. Many community groups and charities in my constituency do excellent work to fill the gaps in centrally provided services.

However, a clear need remains for more investment and action to help to raise the living standard of many people with disabilities. If we have a challenge, we have a duty to make certain that people with disabilities in rural areas get their fair share. It is vital that the disability community team should learn what resources are available, particularly to meet housing need and to access services. The Scottish Executive must focus on establishing affordable housing programmes that focus exclusively on rural areas, and it must manage those housing programmes to ensure that the distinct housing needs of disabled people are met.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 4:15, 27 February 2003

I was delighted to be at the Renfrewshire launch of the Madrid declaration in January. The declaration is a framework within which all actions for the European year of disabled people should take place. My motion on the Madrid declaration, which has received cross-party support, calls on the Parliament to endorse the Madrid declaration and on the Executive to pledge its support. I ask Margaret Curran whether I have got that right.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

Good. I ask the minister to pledge her support for the declaration and I ask the Parliament to accept the Executive's motion.

Disability is a human rights issue. We should ensure that disabled people enjoy the full range of human rights—civil, political, social, economic and cultural. Disabled people want equal opportunities, not charity. They want to be allowed to exercise control over their lives. Our aim should be an inclusive society for all. That vision will benefit not only disabled people, but society as a whole.

How do we achieve that vision? I will pose one question that has not been asked today: how many disabled people does the Executive employ? Do they form 2 per cent, 20 per cent or 0 per cent of Executive staff? I do not know, and it would be interesting if the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport could give us an idea of the number of people whom we employ who are disabled.

As Gil Paterson said, all employers should increase their efforts to recruit, retain and promote disabled people in their work forces. Employers' organisations should share existing good practice, to encourage others.

The Renfrewshire launch was undertaken in partnership with the local Jobcentre Plus. A scheme has been established to encourage employers to employ more disabled people. It involves a job introduction scheme to help employers to assess a new recruit's potential and whether they are suitable for the job. Employers are given help towards costs. Expert advice is offered on developing good employment practices in relation to disability, recruiting disabled people and retaining employees who become disabled. The Scottish Trades Union Congress is to be congratulated on its campaign to get more disabled people into decent jobs with good terms and conditions.

The Parliament is serious about social inclusion. For me, that means non-discrimination plus positive action. For disabled people, that will mean integration, independence and participation in community life, all of which we take for granted. We must move away from professionals and others taking decisions on behalf of disabled people and towards independence and disabled people taking responsibilities. We must move away from labelling and towards an emphasis on ability and away from unnecessary segregation towards integration.

Much has to be done. It is right and proper that we have had motions, questions and debates in the Parliament about disabled people, but now it is time for action.

I will finish with a quotation from Henry Ford of all people. He said:

"Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, working together is success."

We must work together to ensure that all disabled people have the opportunities that they so rightly deserve.

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party 4:19, 27 February 2003

I welcome the debate and the minister's opening speech.

I confess that I have become a little cynical about special awareness days and weeks and their potential to create change. However, when this year is seen alongside the Madrid declaration, there is a real chance to make it one that delivers real change for disabled people and for it not to be yet another example of tokenism. We do not want the year to heighten awareness but deliver little by way of change. Its success is largely dependent on everyone—MSPs, non-MSPs and the Government—taking a role in ensuring that we promote the needs of disabled people.

If there is one thing that I hope happens as a result of the year, it is that we end the talk of "special provision". There is no need for special provision for disabled people. Disabled people are different because of their disability. Being different, however, is normal; it does not mean that someone should be marginalised within our society.

Too often, our debates about disabled people focus on their limitations rather than on the faults in our society. Why should some 37 million people across Europe find themselves dependent upon special provision in order to lead their lives? The real challenge for us and for our society this year is to live up to the standards that have been set down by the United Nations in article 1 of the universal declaration on human rights:

"All human beings are born free and equal in right and dignity."

We are talking about an issue that affects the human rights of 37 million people across Europe.

It would be a mistake for us to allow the year to become one that focuses upon the physical barriers that disabled people often experience or the problems that they have with the present systems that support them as disabled people. In saying that, I mean no disrespect to members who highlighted problems with the benefits system. However, I hope that the year will focus more on the need to ensure that disabled people have control over their own lives.

I am talking about providing opportunities for employment and education. If someone is disabled, they are twice as likely to be unemployed and less likely to have a qualification. If we give disabled people an opportunity to receive education, attain qualifications and so gain the right to employment, they will be able to take control of their lives. That would mean that they would no longer have to be dependent on special provision or on the benefits system, which creates so many problems for them.

I am sure that it is not lost on members that not only is this year the European year of disabled people but it is also an election year. I am sure that the irony is not lost on members that we are espousing warm words in the chamber about the needs of disabled people when many of them have difficulty in participating in our electoral process. I hope that the May elections do not act as a repeat of the previous election in which some 60 per cent of our polling stations presented difficulties for disabled people who wanted to participate. In the European year of disabled people, we need to ensure that we set the benchmarks that will ensure that disabled people can participate effectively in the electoral process.

I know that a considerable amount of work is being done on that issue by the vote2003 project, which is being run by Capability Scotland with the involvement of the Executive. Unfortunately, I suspect that disabled people will continue to have their human rights infringed in the election, as they will not be able to access polling stations on an equal footing or without considerable difficulty. The real challenge for us this year is to ensure that this is the last time that that happens.

We must also ensure that we do not infringe the human rights of disabled people in future. We need to allow disabled people to participate effectively and on an equal footing with everyone else in our democratic system.

Photo of Dorothy-Grace Elder Dorothy-Grace Elder Independent 4:24, 27 February 2003

I apologise to members, as I have to nip out after my speech to see someone urgently, but I will return.

I want to express my gratitude to the European Committee for its strong backing for the initiative. Indeed, I also want to express gratitude to the European Community for taking the initiative to have a European year of people with disabilities. I share some of Michael Matheson's cynicism about years for this and that, but they can sometimes produce positive results. I hope that this year will be one of them.

It is exactly a year ago to the day that many people with disabilities told this Parliament what they most wanted. They wanted their pain relieved—most people with physical disabilities suffer physical pain, whatever the condition. There were 130,000 hits on that issue on the Parliament's website—the highest previous response on any issue was just 3,000 hits—from people suffering pain and from relatives who live with them. They all said that they wanted their pain relieved, which meant that more pain clinics were needed. However, we do not have those clinics yet. It is essential that Mrs Curran has a word with her colleague, the Minister for Health and Community Care, to see what is happening.

We have heard that there are 37 million people with disabilities in Europe. If we could survey them, the largest proportion of them would probably say that the biggest problem with their disability is pain, not the condition itself. Those people are brave enough to accept that their condition may not be cured, yet they know that their pain could be, but is not being, relieved Jamie Stone and John Farquhar Munro were correct to refer to the plight of people living in the Highlands. Constituents in that area no doubt feel that they are being geographically, and unnecessarily, discriminated against. The worst cases that I have seen have come from the Highlands, Lanarkshire and Glasgow. However, I must pay tribute to Greater Glasgow NHS Board for being the only health board that has returned the Health and Community Care Committee's questionnaire so far with mention of improvements to services—it is trying to stop crinicity setting in through lower back pain clinics.

I am haunted by the e-mail from a young women—a-20-year-old—living in the Nairn area who does not have a terminal condition but must be referred to a hospice for pain relief every other week, simply because there is nowhere else to send her in the Highlands. It is dreadful that the Highlands is a completely blank area.

People who are in pain, some of whom have severe disabilities, are being shunted round Scotland as if they were displaced persons or refugees from the national health service. They are sent from one area to another to try to find pain relief. People from the Highlands are crowding out the clinics in Dundee and the centres of excellence in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Those centres have doctors, nurses and physiotherapists who are becoming stressed out from coping, out of the goodness of their hearts, with patients from other areas, and the waiting lists in those areas are increasing.

The Health and Community Care Committee—which I thank so much for its backing—has received returned questionnaires from health boards in Scotland that point out that most health boards send patients in pain almost anywhere—for example, to Manchester and London. A patient who suffers from a particular condition could be sent some distance to a centre of excellence, but a patient in pain should not. They return from centres in England and elsewhere having received good treatment that is largely negated by the long journey back to Scotland. We should not do that to people with disabilities. The Executive can help us to create more pain clinics.

Westminster has taken up one of the Parliament's ideas. During its many years, Westminster never had a cross-party chronic pain group, but it now has one. Our group is proud that we may have inspired Westminster.

Let us involve the European Parliament and see whether we can spread the campaign throughout Europe. The information system in the European Parliament is marvellous and that Parliament would be willing to help all the way. After our campaign was launched, I received responses from 17 different countries, most of which were member states.

We are delighted that Mr Cox was here today. Through such events, we can move forward in unity with the European Parliament.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 4:29, 27 February 2003

I am glad that the Parliament is giving the European year of disabled people serious consideration. All too often in our lives, we leave the issue on the sidelines. That sort of attitude is wrong. We should congratulate the disabled people who came together just over a year ago at the European congress of people with disabilities and decided to produce the Madrid declaration to focus our attention on the subject.

The congress suggested that organisations should take particular actions, such as reviewing "legal frameworks" aimed at

"combating discriminatory practices in ... education, employment and access to goods and services".

Furthermore, organisations should investigate barriers to disabled people's freedom to participate fully in society, take action to remedy that situation and review services

"to ensure that these policies assist and encourage disabled people to remain and/or become an integral part of the society wherein they live".

Finally, the congress said that organisations should investigate

"violence and abuse committed against disabled people", particularly those in "large institutions", and strengthen accessibility legislation for

"all public and social facilities".

Last night in the chamber, Linda Fabiani, John Home Robertson and other colleagues cited an example of good practice in relation to the new Holyrood Parliament building, which we all hope will be opened later this year. [Interruption.] Perhaps we should not go into that subject. However, as I understand it, Linda Fabiani and her colleagues have set up a specific working group of disabled people, and no architect's or builder's proposals will be put forward unless the group has sanctioned them. It would be really good news for disabled people across the land if local authorities, police authorities and all other organisations that make spending decisions on the construction of buildings were to follow such good practice.

At this point, I must plug Fife Council and the work that I used to carry out for it on this issue. The Labour-led administration introduced a policy that no council buildings would be constructed unless the proposals were passed by a particular review group. That group ensured that the proposals were proofed against any subsequent claims that the council had not addressed issues in relation to disabled people.

After all, we should remind ourselves that any one of us—from the highest to the lowest position in the land—could leave our homes in the morning and be grossly disabled by the end of the day. At a church reception that I attended along with colleagues just before the Christmas recess, I met a lady who was a member of the social responsibility committee. She said that, after feeling a trickle down the back of her neck, she ended up on her back and was able to communicate only by blinking her eyes. I am glad to say that that lady is now back on her feet and is playing an active part in society. Indeed, she can walk unimpeded.

However, that is not the case for all of us. I have had two hip replacements and know what it is like to be in a wheelchair for a period of time and totally dependent on colleagues. We must remember that society makes us disabled: it is not that we are disabled, but that certain barriers are put in our way.

Because of that life experience, I went to a village called Kelty—I believe that some famous footballers come from there—and helped to set up a project that could be emulated throughout Scotland. Through that project, people could adopt shops in the village as a way towards securing disabled access in all of them. Although the project is nowhere near completion, it demonstrates the commitment of local people, many of whom are disabled. They cannot even get into the chemist shop in the village because of a step; instead, they have to ask someone to go into shops and buy the products that they need. The Parliament really needs to address such issues.

I realise that I am abusing the chair now. I will sit down, Deputy Presiding Officer, but I feel very passionate about the issue and I strongly believe that we need to move it much higher up the agenda. If I were in my colleagues' shoes in the Executive, I would not allow past my desk a spending proposal that would guarantee provision for disabled people and bring other considerations to the fore. I plead with the Executive to do that for disabled people and not to allow a penny of spending for their care go by.

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 4:35, 27 February 2003

I appear to be alone on the Liberal benches. I am indeed the alpha and the omega of the debate. It has been a good debate and I have taken enormous interest in it. I compliment all the speakers and I will mention on or two in particular.

The minister, Margaret Curran, was absolutely correct when she said that we should not regard the disabled as being objects of charity. She said that ours should be a "flexible world for the many", rather than the opposite. I take heed of her warning that disablement is an issue for the poor and unemployed. Sadly, that is a fact of this world. She also mentioned the Scottish Executive's important work with disability groups.

In his generous remarks, Kenny Gibson mentioned the £300,000 for Scotland. He also flagged up the positive attitude of the disabled towards work, although he added the caveat that there might be a slightly blacker reason behind that, which we should remember. Both he and John Farquhar Munro mentioned the important issue of housing, to which I will return in my concluding remarks.

Lyndsay McIntosh wittily and elegantly pointed out exactly how we can all—including the Scottish Parliament—get it wrong. She was quite correct to mention that day in the Equal Opportunities Committee, which I remember well. It was a complete embarrassment, but was not the fault of anyone in particular. However, that shows how we can collectively go in completely the wrong direction without knowing it and how such situations can become extremely embarrassing. In fairness to her party, Lyndsay McIntosh was perhaps being critical of the action taken by the Executive, but that is for others to consider.

Irene Oldfather is not in the chamber, but I felt that in her contribution about the potential of getting the disabled back to work, she was really telling us that the disabled represent a resource for the country that we can use. Returning to work would benefit the disabled as well as each and every one of us—disabled or not—by allowing us to give our best for the good of others.

Dorothy-Grace Elder properly referred to a subject that is close to my heart—chronic pain and the problem of trying to get a suitable number of pain clinics set up in Scotland.

I thank Helen Eadie for mentioning the Holyrood project—I was not sure that I had the courage to do so. Her points were well made and noted by all of us. It is a project that Linda Fabiani, John Home Robertson and I are proud to say is disabled-friendly. We are showing the way, and that is right and proper. Helen Eadie's second point about no one knowing what is waiting round the corner for them is so true. It could be anyone—it could be me next.

I am sorry if this is slightly boring for members who were councillors, but I have always believed that the decision that was taken some years ago to un-ring fence block B of capital—a chunk of capital that was put aside for private housing—may have been a mistake. Many local authorities were understandably tempted to lay hands on that capital and put it into general services. That means that the pool of money that could be used for disabled adaptations has shrunk. That remains a problem for Scotland's 32 local authorities, but perhaps it is an issue for another day.

In my opening speech, I told a story about Donald Munro from Bettyhill and how the railway could not help him. I am going to abuse the chair and take a last moment to add to that story:

"The family explored the possibility of going by rail. The chair is too big to go in the wheelchair place in Scotrail's coaches. Their insurance will not cover Donald travelling in the chair in the guard's van. He cannot travel in a normal seat and put his chair in the guard's van as the chair then becomes unaccompanied baggage."

Is not that symptomatic of the drivel that we hear about the dangers out there for the disabled?

I thank members for listening to me. I support the motion.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Lindsay McIntosh will have four minutes—perhaps a bit more—for her winding-up speech for the Scottish Conservatives.

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative 4:40, 27 February 2003

Oh, thank you, senior Deputy Presiding Officer. I am convinced that the man who was sitting in your chair earlier was winding the clock forward during my speech.

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative

I am glad that you are back.

I will continue where I left off. I agree with the steering group's aim to engage young people in the events in order to raise awareness of the difficulties that disabled children face within the education system and those that they will face as adults. I hope that they will be made aware of all of the events, and that perceptions towards disabled people change.

There are concerns about whether the message is getting across to young people. Irene Oldfather picked up on that point, and I want to respond to what she said. In her evidence to the Equal Opportunities Committee, Janet Allan of Donaldson's College said that news of the year had not reached her fifth-formers. That little surprises me, in light of the news that the consultation paper forwarded to Donaldson's College about the national debate on education was not in a format that was accessible to all students and staff. When that issue was raised with the Executive, it said that the college had its own subtitling and captioning equipment, and asked whether the college could deal with the matter. That example encapsulates the problem of access.

The Scottish Conservatives fully support Janet Allan's suggestion that young people should be given the power to help themselves in the organisation of events for the European year of disabled people, as they will know better the issues faced by disabled children. It is equally important to ensure that they can contribute to the national organisations that campaign on behalf of disabled people. Work needs to be done to ensure that the theme of the European year of disabled people—nothing about us without us—is extended to include disabled children in Scotland.

I wish the European year of disabled people, its organisers and the participants every success, and I truly hope that many of its objectives are reached to the benefit of disabled people throughout Europe.

I will quote from the Madrid statement of the European congress on disability, which warns:

"A society that shuts out a number of its members is an impoverished society."

We should all bear that in mind.

Having said that, I have to say something about British Sign Language. People who have not come into contact with the minister, Margaret Curran, may not be aware of just how quickly she can talk. I have seen people signing like windmills trying to keep up with the speed of Mrs Curran's speech. I pay tribute to our signer in the gallery today, with sincere apologies—perhaps that is why I slowed my speech earlier and did not quite get to the end of it.

Margaret Curran spoke about a shared agenda, and she is quite right: imposition will not work. Kenny Gibson mentioned hidden disabilities, and he is also quite right. Many people do not want to confess that they have something that may single them out or exclude them, and it is right that we should pay attention to that. The Disability Rights Commission should be a powerful voice when transgressions are found.

Jamie Stone is the alpha-omega man. I am sure that, for Flora, he is the first, the last and her everything. The story that he told about Donald Munro and the wheelchair highlights for everyone just how much exclusion people with disabilities can face. Being confined in one place is almost as bad as being walled in. Heaven forfend that disabled people should have only the television to watch—they might even watch us.

I was touched that Irene Oldfather mentioned suicide. I would have given her half my time if I had thought that she was going to do that. What she said is true: we should recognise exactly how deeply such problems affect people. Some people have made four suicide attempts before finally getting assistance—sometimes, they do not get assistance, because their suicide attempt succeeds. That must be the worst thing that could possibly happen.

I was intrigued by Mr Paterson's comments. It was good to have information from a businessman's point of view, and there is no doubt that we should pay tribute to his work as a disability reporter. There may be a 1 per cent additional cost on new buildings, but adaptations to existing buildings can also be very expensive.

John Farquhar Munro mentioned transport, housing and heating costs and, particularly in rural areas, isolation and social exclusion. Trish Godman said that all people want is a fair chance. She has made two powerful speeches today, particularly the speech that she made this morning. She mentioned the Madrid declaration and spoke about working and staying together, which is the key. She gave a wonderful quote at the end of her speech.

As a result of Michael Matheson's previous career, he knows exactly what he is talking about. He quoted the universal declaration of human rights, which says that

"All human beings are born equal in right and dignity".

That should be emblazoned on all our minds as we think about the year.

Is there an election this year? My goodness me. However, Michael Matheson is right to say that many people are kept out of the system and embarrassed by the fact that somebody has to bring a voting paper to them. I am reminded of the question, "Does he take sugar in his tea?" Such things are hugely embarrassing and we should disown them.

Unfortunately, Dorothy-Grace Elder is not in the chamber. She mentioned pain clinics. What is the point in sending people for treatment in a pain clinic, then—

Photo of Lyndsay McIntosh Lyndsay McIntosh Conservative

Indeed.

I will mention Helen Eadie last, as she was the last to speak of the members whom I have mentioned. She was right to mention accessibility in the new Parliament. I have seen people stuck in doors, too. Even in this chamber, we do not make things easy for anybody with disabilities.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 4:46, 27 February 2003

I thank Helen Eadie—it was a pleasure to hear a member willingly standing up in the Parliament and saying something nice about the Holyrood project without being forced to do so. I am most proud of the accessibility of the building—I know that Jamie Stone, John Farquhar Munro and others are proud of it, too. The building has been judged to be the best public building in Europe, which is a major achievement.

The other day, I was in another new building at the bottom of Holyrood road. I had to get through a heavy door, and I could not see the buttons to press when I got into the lift. I thought that that was appalling. As far as I could see, the building had taken no account of accessibility issues.

It is day 57 of the European year of the disabled and it is right that we should debate the subject. The minister started by giving some facts and a vision of what we should be trying to achieve this year and afterwards. That leads me to the Madrid declaration, which members such as Helen Eadie, Michael Matheson and Trish Godman have mentioned. Between them, Trish Godman and Michael Matheson said everything that I wanted to say—they covered the issue exceptionally well.

I have enough time to deal with only some of the Madrid declaration's vision, which is huge. I urge everybody to go to the appropriate website and register their names to sign up to the declaration. The vision is about moving

"Away from disabled people as objects of charity ... and Towards disabled people as rights holders" and

"Away from people with disabilities as patients ... and Towards people with disabilities as independent citizens and consumers."

Irene Oldfather mentioned that the matter is about moving

"Away from professionals taking decisions on behalf of disabled people ... and Towards independent decision making and taking responsibilities by disabled people and their organisations on issues which concern them."

Benefits have been mentioned. Benefits should be looked at and we should push people to consider further use of the disability living allowance, for example, to help towards that vision.

Another important part of the vision is moving

"Away from a focus on merely individual impairments ... and Towards removing barriers, revising social norms, policies, cultures and promoting a supportive and accessible environment."

That proposal, particularly the need for "revising social norms" has twice struck home to me recently. The first time was during a television programme called "Operatunity". The name and occupation of each contestant was flashed up on the screen and read out as people came on to sing. For one particular contestant, the line stated "Mother of three—registered blind." I thought that that was an appalling thing to do on national television—to state that that woman, who was taking part along with everybody else, was no more than a mother of three and registered blind.

The other thing that made me think of that proposal was a comment on a BBC messageboard on the web, called "ouch!". As part of his answer to the question of whether he minded being called disabled, a chap called Bob Williams-Findlay explained:

"I believe society disables me, not my impairment."

That ties in very much with what members have said today.

The underpinning principle for all of us must be that people with an impairment should not be regarded as objects of charity or as patients—they should be independent citizens who are fully integrated into society. That is what the Disability Rights Commission is forcing into the public arena and trying to get us all to take mind of. It is, as many members have said, a human rights issue We must start to see equality as more than warm words. Michael Matheson expressed the worry that we are very good at having the year for this and the day for that, but it goes no further. We must take action to ensure that there is equality of opportunity.

I am thankful that the opinion that people with disabilities can neither speak nor act for themselves is diminishing. However, to a large extent the attitude of charity remains. We must get over that.

I could talk for ever about the matter, but the Presiding Officer will be glad to know that I will not.

I will now address the SNP's amendment. It is lodged as a marker, forcing us all to consider what must be done. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is coming into force. We must push to ensure that we comply with it and must put measures in place to ensure that we comply. I asked some parliamentary questions a while ago about what the Executive was doing to raise awareness of the matter. I ask the minister in his summing up to confirm for us what has been done today and what will be done throughout the rest of the year.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour 4:52, 27 February 2003

I have enjoyed very much the contributions that members have made to the debate. I have to say that I am disappointed that nobody appears to have read the third clause of the motion. With the exception of my colleague Margaret Curran in her opening remarks, no one has mentioned either sport or culture and their role in assisting people with disabilities to move from being disabled to being enabled. That is unfortunate, but I will do my best to make up for it in the next seven and a half minutes.

I understand the sentiment behind the SNP amendment and we are sympathetic to the need to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995—we want there to be compliance with that act. However, I have to say that responsibility for that—as Kenny Gibson acknowledged—lies with the United Kingdom Government. We have a role in encouraging equal opportunities in general and in relation to disability in particular, and we will work with the UK Government to do that and to raise awareness of the act, but it is not the Executive's responsibility to ensure compliance with it. That is why we ask Parliament to vote against the amendment.

I will deal with two other points that I was asked to get information on. One is from Trish Godman on the extent to which the Executive employs people with disabilities.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

I am sorry, I have no time for interventions because I have many points to make.

That information is in "Making Progress: Equality Annual Report", which was published last month. In the Executive, 4.2 per cent of employees in band A are registered disabled; 2.3 per cent in band B are registered disabled; and 1.3 per cent in band C are registered disabled. The target is 3 per cent, but nonetheless that represents an improvement over the past two years and that improvement will continue.

Helen Eadie asked about disability proofing of Executive spending. We are already engaged in gender proofing and we are seeing how that can be achieved effectively across the departments. There may be lessons to be learned from that in relation to disability. I will ask the Scottish Executive equality unit to advise what can be done in that respect.

I welcome the fact that Margaret Curran and I are combining in this debate. That is a practical example of the cross cutting that is a central tenet of Executive policy implementation. Those who suggest that cross cutting is merely a slogan should note that the debate draws from three of our strategies in the Executive: the social justice department's closing the gap and my portfolio's national cultural strategy and sport 21—our sports strategy. All those strategies involve promoting participation and access. The European year of disabled people is an important initiative in bringing equality and inclusion to prominence.

Sport and culture have a clear and key role to play in advancing both. In many other European countries, culture occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of the people. I want more Scots to embrace that notion and to see culture as part of the fabric of their daily life.

The right to take part in any form of sporting or cultural activity belongs to everyone and the European year of disabled people gives us the opportunity to highlight the solid work that is already under way in various parts of the country.

As a particularly notable example of arts and disability good practice I would cite Project Ability, which was established as far back as 1984. It is a Glasgow-based arts company specialising in creating opportunities for disabled people to gain access to the visual arts. Its workshop practice enables people to participate in a long-term programme of local, national and international artistic and cultural events and exhibitions.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

Order. There is far too much prattling going on in the chamber. I ask members to be reasonably quiet for the next few minutes.

Photo of Mike Watson Mike Watson Labour

Another notable example is Sense Scotland's Helen Keller awards, which were launched in 1992. They form part of a development of art-based projects for people who are deaf-blind. This initiative offers compelling evidence that art and creativity can make a real difference to our quality of life, enabling creativity and self-expression in challenging circumstances.

To those who have a tendency to take cheap shots at our national cultural strategy—probably because they have never bothered to read it or our annual progress reports on it—I commend the tremendous work of Project Ability and Sense Scotland in promoting a central priority of our national cultural strategy, which is that the arts should be accessible to all. That is why more than £10 million of the new Scottish budget is invested in widening participation and increasing quality in cultural activities across Scotland.

I am pleased to be able to say that the public sector cultural agencies have responded positively and creatively to my request that they should celebrate the European year of disabled people. The Scottish Arts Council has developed an arts and disability action plan that aims to overcome the physical and attitudinal barriers that limit the involvement of disabled artists and audience members in the artistic interests and pursuits of their choice.

The National Museums of Scotland is running a gallery of the month initiative with tours adapted for deaf, hard of hearing and visually impaired visitors and is already implementing a two-year action plan responding to a physical access audit that was carried out in 2001.

Many of us tend to take for granted our enjoyment of Scotland's monuments, castles and listed buildings. Those national treasures should be accessible to everyone and the steps that Historic Scotland has taken towards achieving that have not been given the publicity that they deserve. For instance, a superb example of an initiative that is contributing to inner city regeneration—and which I expect that no one realises that Historic Scotland was involved in—is the recently refurbished 120-year-old building that houses the St Francis Centre in the Gorbals area of south Glasgow, at which, appropriately, last year's Scottish Arts Council's "Arts for All" conference was held. That is part of Historic Scotland's long-term programme to improve access—both physical and intellectual—to the built heritage. During this year, it will: spend £200,000 on making its properties equally welcoming for all visitors, irrespective of their physical abilities; issue a revised version of the brochure for visitors with disabilities that will explain the levels of access points; and it will revise its technical advice note on access for the disabled to historic buildings. Those plans are important and more people should know about them.

No less than arts for all, the Executive is committed to a philosophy of sport for all and already Scotland has established a reputation as a model of good practice in developing sport for people with disabilities. This week, I announced the allocation of £600,000 to sportscotland to establish a fund that will allow Scottish Disability Sport to provide specialist support to children and young people with special needs. That will form part of the extension of the active schools programme for primary schools and the provision of school sport development officers. Indeed, a number of school sport development officers are already in post with a specific remit for children with special educational needs. As would be expected, sportscotland works closely with Scottish Disability Sport, which organises and co-ordinates sport for people with disabilities in Scotland.

Sportscotland is currently developing a comprehensive equality strategy to address issues such as disability sport and inclusion. That will be distributed to all sport governing bodies and filtered down to club level for implementation. Some of those who aspire to compete at the top level have told me that they draw great inspiration from the recent successes of our special needs athletes and the medals that they brought back from the paralympic games in Sydney in 2000, and last year's Commonwealth games.

I hope that this demonstrates that there is a considerable amount of excellent work going on throughout the country to promote access for people with disabilities. The challenge is to ensure that it continues and that we root out discrimination and remove barriers wherever they exist. The Executive and its agencies are committed to, and will continue to promote, best practice and inclusiveness for the people of Scotland—we will not do so just during the European year of disabled people. Ours is an enduring commitment and the effective cross cutting approach adopted by Margaret Curran, myself, other Cabinet members and our officials will ensure that.

I commend the motion to the Parliament and urge members to reject the amendment.