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Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, last Sunday I visited my grandchildren, one six years old and one three. They explained to me what a CD-ROM and a mouse were. I felt rather old-fashioned. I have the feeling this evening that the Minister is revealing himself as being old-fashioned because he said that if we had 100 per cent. subtitling it would mean that news flashes and unscripted programmes should be subtitled. With modern methods of subtitling, that is a piece of cake. Just as a child can use a CD-ROM with a mouse and the rest of it, so people in broadcasting can subtitle anything within one-and-a-half seconds, whether it is unscripted or news or whatever. So the Minister should not reveal himself as being old-fashioned, as he did. That is a fact. I suggest he watches any BBC programme which is high quality, with unscripted interviews, tomorrow night at six o'clock or nine o'clock, and then I shall accept his apology.

The Minister mentioned the cost of subtitling for all programmes. I am afraid that there is a cost, but it is necessary. I am speaking only for profoundly deaf people now, but the alternative is for them to be denied television, and that is discrimination. This cost should, and must, be met in order to do justice to the very small minority of deaf people. It is done in other countries. There is absolutely no reason why it cannot be done here. Why must we always find excuses for lagging behind, not being able to do this, not being able to do that?

The Act to which the Minister referred is very limited indeed. It speaks of 50 per cent. This new clause speaks of 100 per cent., and that is the difference. We want subtitling, but we want signing as well, for the even smaller minority who rely upon sign language. I hope that the Minister will reconsider his reply. I shall return to this subject; I am laying down a marker. In the meantime, I thank the Minister for his reply, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 74:


Before Clause 18, insert the following new clause:

("Requirements as to consultation in respect of community care developments

. The Secretary of State shall issue guidelines on good practice in establishing homes and other resources for people with disabilities in the community which shall include guidance on—
(a) the extent of the information to be provided to neighbours and other interested parties in order to accord with the principles of this Act; and

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(b) the rights of intended residents or of users of services as to the disclosure of personal details to third parties.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in view of the lateness of the hour, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I take only a couple of minutes to move Amendment No. 74. It touches on a new subject for this time of night, "nimbyism"—not in my back yard.
Very few of us have been so fortunate, or unfortunate, as never to have moved house. I think I am safe in assuming that, while we may on occasions have looked the neighbours up and down to see whether we want to live next door to them, none of us has invited the neighbours to look us up and down to decide whether they wanted us living next door to them as well.
People with learning disabilities, however—and I speak only for them, recognising that exactly the same applies to people with other disabilities—commonly have little choice as to where they live, but are by convention exposed to a process of public consultation which gives others the chance, and indeed the encouragement, to object to their living in the same street. Parliamentary commissioners have been known to criticise those developing homes in the community for not consulting the neighbours. Minister have not to my knowledge ever criticised this requirement and this practice. Although there is no legal basis for it, it has come to be commonly accepted—though not, I am glad to say, universally adopted.
I do not complain about the normal process of planning applications under which, where a property is to have bits added or taken away, the aesthetics are quite rightly exposed to public scrutiny. I am raising questions about the additional consultation which often takes place in advance of planning applications. It seems to me that if a family with a large number of teenage children, each cherishing a ghetto-blaster and a motorbike, is building a house or moving in, no additional consultation is required; whereas if a group of quiet, middle-aged people with learning disabilities moves in, there may be public meetings, door-to-door questionnaires and so on. Indeed, I am sure that noble Lords would like to know that in the Surrey Comet only two weeks ago there was a headline about housing in Hampton:
"Psychiatric patients move from hospital into supported home: despair at plans for rehousing".
Noble Lords will see, therefore, that it is very much a current subject.
I definitely challenge what I regard as the wholly unjustified convention, encouraged by those who ought to know better, of knocking on doors and saying, "Would you mind if Miss Smith moves in next door? Miss Smith has a learning disability". I regard that as grotesque discrimination and entirely contrary to the principles of this legislation.
MENCAP and other similar organisations have had the painful experience of public meetings and individual consultations which provide a platform for the nastier elements of the local community to scare the rest into believing that the character of the local community is to be destroyed forever. Sometimes the head of steam is such that project managers or local councillors take fright and people lose the home into which they might

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have moved. In other words, it is about real life discrimination, which in turn leads on to, and indeed invites, further discrimination. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): My Lords, as my name is to this amendment perhaps I may say very briefly that I support it most warmly, but in view of the lateness of the hour and the clear explanation that my noble friend has already given, I shall say no more.

12.45 a.m.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I also should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who has spoken eloquently on what is a real problem. Despite the fact that the great majority of people with learning disability have always lived with their families in the community, there is a popular impression that they used to live in large hospitals and are now being dumped in the community as a result of a change in government policy. That impression is reinforced by a process which, as the noble Lord pointed out, involves asking neighbours whether they mind if someone with a learning disability lives next to them.

Change of use requirements are less onerous than they used to be but still raise questions about residents' rights. However, a parliamentary commissioner has, in the past, gone beyond that in commending consultation with neighbours as good and required practice. Consultation implies that if neighbours do not like it, it will not happen. It is not surprising that neighbours, given a power in relation to neighbours with learning disabilities that they do not enjoy in relation to any other neighbours, both anticipate problems and take the opportunity to object. Even a hostile minority can doom a project to failure.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I do not suppose that the Minister will accept this amendment. But he would save himself an awful lot of trouble if he did.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, let me first welcome the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I thought that my day was going to be totally incomplete, but there you are!

I turn to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I appreciate the concern which has led him to table this amendment. It seeks to offer some protection to disabled people moving into the community. I hope that I shall be able to alleviate his fears sufficiently to enable him to withdraw the amendment.

The Government's policy on development control recognises the right of local residents to have their say about planning applications in their neighbourhood. Indeed, as my noble friend said, that is even encouraged. Both statutory and non-statutory bodies which are responsible for planning such facilities are encouraged to involve potential neighbours and take account of their views. But we have made it abundantly clear that a council cannot reject a proposal simply because a lot of people are against it. Opposition to a proposal simply does not count unless it is founded upon valid planning reasons which can be substantiated, including such things as parking and traffic problems. The effect that a development might have on property values, for

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example, is not a planning issue. Indeed, the planning authorities' own representatives at the National Development Forum said:


    "Care must be taken to see that it is the matters of general community interest that are given weight in decision-making, not those private, narrow or sectional interests which many organisations or individuals with a particular perception are inclined to express on their behalf".

That advice is relevant to comments made by local residents after an application has been made. But it applies with even greater force to comments made in ignorance of the specific project in question.

If a planning application is refused by a local planning authority, the applicant has a right of appeal to the Secretary of State for the Environment. A council that has refused an application just because of local prejudice can have no doubt that the Secretary of State will not support it. The council will have wasted public money on rejecting a proposal that it should have allowed. It may even have to pay the appellant's costs if the appeal is decided by public inquiry.

All that is familiar ground to local planning authorities, both officers and members. That being so, we do not believe that the guidance proposed in the amendment is necessary. But I hope that my firm restatement of the policy will in fact be of assistance. I hope that, in the light of my firm restatement, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will feel that he can withdraw his amendment.


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