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House of Lords

Tuesday, 11th February 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

European Year of People with Disabilities

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their policy in relation to the European International Year of People with Disabilities.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, we propose to use the European Year to raise awareness of disability issues—especially rights and participation—throughout the United Kingdom.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that disability policy in Europe and in some other parts of the world is moving into a wider framework of human rights and full citizenship, focusing less on the limitations of disability and more on the potentiality of disabled people? Will the Government do what they can to accelerate this trend? Does my noble friend agree that the Government's decision to introduce a new disability Bill will be warmly welcomed and will help millions of disabled people and the European Year, providing it is comprehensive and not unduly delayed? Will she tell the House what is in the Bill, and what effects it will have? Disabled people will be furious if there is any undue delay.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend asks five questions, two of them unanswerable and three illegal. I shall have a go at answering those left over. My noble friend's first question was whether the UK Government will give a lead in this European International Year of People with Disabilities. Yes, I hope so. Not only have we had half a million pounds allocated from the European Commission, but the UK Government have added a further 2 million—thus financing more projects involving disabled people than any other European country. Such projects range from the sexual health of young disabled people to a Mencap project that features coaching in writing, performing opera and the like. I am sure that my noble friend is right: we are far and away in the lead in terms of income support for disabled people, civil rights for disabled people and access to work for disabled people compared to any other European country.

On the second point, yes, I am delighted to confirm that we expect to be able to offer a draft disability Bill for consultation later in the year. However, my noble friend knows perfectly well that I cannot comment at this stage on its content.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall the world-wide International Year of

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Disabled People in 1981 which was thought to have contributed effectively to the public's understanding and knowledge about disabilities? I remember it particularly because I was appointed UK chairman for that year. It achieved a great deal for disabled people. Will the Government give strong support to this European effort?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I hoped that I had answered the noble Lord's point in my original Answer. Yes, we are delighted with the focus of the European year for disabled people in the UK, which is about rights and responsibilities on our part, but also about rights and participation. So far we are funding some 170 projects across the country, reflecting a range of disability organisations. The dominant idea is that disabled people will be running their own projects for themselves—sometimes with mentoring, sometimes with coaching, sometimes with skilled support. I do not personally recall the events of 1981, but other noble Lords may.

Lord Addington: My Lords, is it not appropriate in this year for disabled people that we should try to project the debate about the civil rights of disabled groups into other civil rights areas? For example, their rights could be on a par with legislation relating to discrimination on grounds of sex and race. One central body and one central thrust surely make sense. Is not this a good opportunity to push the argument a stage further?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, the noble Lord asks a pertinent question. He will know that there is a document out for consultation, under the name of my honourable friend Barbara Roche, from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. The consultation period ends, I believe, on 23rd February. Following that, we shall have a better sense of the degree of support for such a single body. Of course, there are wide, good and strong reasons in support of such a single body. Many people may be affected by a variety of civil rights issues. For example, they may simultaneously be a member of an ethnic minority as well as having a disability. At present, these matters are divided up and we do not have comparable legislation across the board. However, it is fair to say that reservations have been expressed by the Disability Rights Commission about a single equality commission. As my noble friend said, it is anxious to protect the very good work done so far by the DRC and to ensure that it is not swamped by a single rights commission. We shall wait for the consultation process to be concluded. In the light of that, Mrs Roche will put forward the Government's position.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am delighted to see my noble friend so well recovered in health and warmly congratulate her and her ministerial colleagues on marking EYDP in the best possible way by winning parliamentary time for a new disability Bill which promises further to enhance the well-being and status of disabled people here and, by example, in many other

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parts of Europe. Will they, however, do all they can, with other departments and statutory agencies involved, to avert any repetition elsewhere of the tragic closure of the Greater Manchester Brain Injury Vocational Centre, leaving many severely disabled young people unable to complete their rehabilitation?

Is my noble friend aware, in particular, of all-party concern in both Houses about the threat now to the Tyne and Wear centre?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, my noble friend was kind enough to give me notice that he intended to mention the Tyne and Wear centre. I have checked on the situation. My department has a good and sensible relationship with that rehabilitation centre for people suffering from brain damage. Our position towards the centre, and our funding for it, has not changed. There may be a question about the financial support from other organisations, which we are exploring. I regret that my department cannot extend or increase its funding without taking it away from other forms of disability.

On the wider point about the rights of disabled people, I welcome his comments, as I am sure does the whole House. There is leftover business from the original DDA, and I am sure that all of your Lordships will work to ensure that the draft Bill and the subsequent legislation pick up those loose ends.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, would it be possible to pop St John's, Smith Square, into the agenda for the international year and get some facilities for the disabled there? The noble Baroness knows that that is something near and dear to both our hearts.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, following the helpful—I was going to say "wise"—pressure exercised by the noble Baroness in your Lordship's House, I had a meeting with the general manager of St John's, Smith Square, and organised discussions with English Heritage. I understand that the possibility of a heritage lottery grant is being explored, so that the beauties of St John's, Smith Square are available to disabled people, not only as audience but as performers. I hope that we see progress on that matter.

King Edward VII Hospital, Midhurst

2.44 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have a view about the impending closure of King Edward VII hospital at Midhurst, and whether they will take action to restore or increase National Health Service funding in order to maintain the clinical services which the hospital provides.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, NHS managers are co-operating with the liquidator, who is seeking to find a solution to the hospital's difficulties. Increased funding for NHS work, to be undertaken by the hospital between now and April 2003, will provide some more time for further discussions to take place.

I should inform the House that I am personally acquainted with Mr Martin Long, the chairman of the board of trustees who ran the hospital until the liquidator was appointed.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that the hospital, which was originally established with, and is still supported by, charitable funds, has functioned very effectively in partnership with the NHS for over 50 years? It has provided outstanding services in cardiac and orthopaedic surgery and in oncology and radiotherapy. Is it not a facility which the NHS cannot afford to lose and which demands much longer-term support and funding from the NHS, beyond the end of the financial year?

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