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I welcomed too the Government's earlier decision to issue the consultative document on disability. I do not want to cover the ground so ably covered by my noble friend Lord Ashley or to dwell upon what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, described as the best known Whitehall farce of 1994. Now is the time to look forward.
I hope that the Government's decision to engage in a consultative process demonstrates that they will in future be more willing to consult and not to rush in with off-the-peg, reach-me-down and knock-down policies for everything from industrial relations to education. It is obvious that the Government are having to relearn how to consult. The consultative document on disability illustrates that. It is described as a consultation on government measures. It could have done with a bit more emphasis on consultation and a bit less on government proposals and measures. It could have been a bit heavier on open-minded deployment of the options, and a bit lighter on suggestions and implications, to many of which my noble friend Lord Ashley referred, that the Government's mind is already made up.
That may not have been the Government's intention. If so, the Minister has the opportunity tonight to demonstrate their open-mindedness and to show that the Government have become the listening Bench--listening not just to disability organisations but to the ordinary people who say that 6 million disabled people should have a fairer deal.
I want to concentrate briefly on an issue raised eloquently by my noble friend Lord Attenborough at the end of a marvellous maiden speech. He referred to access to arts venues--theatres, art centres, museums and galleries, concert halls and cinemas, and historic houses--visits to all of which are very much part of a civilised way of life. I do not pretend to be an expert on access to such venues. To be a real expert one needs to have been turned away from a cinema because, unlike one's friends, one is sitting in a wheelchair, or to have been denied the chance to enjoy a piece of sculpted granite because of a prohibition on touching it and one is blind. So I shall draw in part on the views of the disabled members of the trust with which I am involved: Access for Disabled People to Arts Premises Today. ADAPT's claim to being representative derives not from the fact that I am a trustee but from its origins in the inquiry into arts and disabled people carried out by my noble friend Lord Attenborough in 1985. It is a report which established the parameters and standards upon which the whole of the discussion needs to take place.
The inquiry was funded by the Carnegie Trust, which contributed well over half a million pounds into ADAPT's work. The trust's objective was endorsed by the then Minister for Arts, Sir Richard Luce. The
I doubt whether the consultative document will go far enough or fast enough towards meeting the objective commended by Sir Richard Luce. The consultative document pays far too little attention to the problem of access to places of leisure and entertainment. As a result, the proposals set out by the Government would leave many loopholes for those who are resistant to the need for change. Indeed, the document is far too complacent in assuming that the existing building regulations meet their purpose of assisting disabled people; for example, they make quite inadequate provision for those whose vision and hearing are impaired. As was said by my noble friend Lord Ashley, many of the existing requirements suffer from inadequate monitoring to ensure that what the regulations intend to achieve is carried out, and is carried out uniformly.
Furthermore, the consultative document is unclear as regards goods and services. It is not clear whether goods and services include arts services. The comment that those providing goods and services should not be required to carry out modifications to existing premises appears to conflict with the aspirations for widening employment opportunities, as expressed elsewhere in the document.
I make those points to illustrate that the emphasis needs to be on the Government listening to people with expertise and knowledge in the field and to those who have suffered from inadequate access. Existing inadequacies can then be put right and we shall be able to move forward towards the target of reasonable access by the year 2000.
I should be delighted if the Minister would assure the House that access to arts venues will be made mandatory. The least that will do is an unequivocal assurance that the Government have an open mind on this issue and that they will consider seriously the arguments put forward by ADAPT and others--for example, by the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon --that mandatory action must be taken in this field.
Since the Minister, Sir Richard Luce, gave that pledge a new and potentially important source of funding for the arts has become available in the form of the National Lottery. It is a sad commentary that as regards our attitude to arts and charities we should make their public financing a by-effect --and a minuscule by-effect at that--of a flutter on the numbers. Leaving that matter aside, the least that we can expect is that the Government should insist that the arts councils and the other bodies which will be distributing the National Lottery profits should make grants to arts premises conditional--I repeat, conditional--on their improving access for disabled people.
There is a sharp distinction between that statement and what the Government have done. There is a sharp distinction between, on the one hand, the policy directions issued to the distributary bodies relating to matters which they must take into account and, on the other hand, the mere guidance on disability issues. I accept that even guidance on matters such as access, awareness and the involvement of disabled people in decision-making, represents an advance in government thinking. If it is right to set out in the form of directions presumptions for capital spending, it is surely right that the bodies distributing National Lottery funds should be directed to make grants to arts venues conditional on their improving access for disabled people.
Perhaps I may add a brief postscript. Your Lordships' House can hardly be described as an arts venue, although it is an historic building and, on occasion, takes on some of the characteristics of a theatre. People come here hoping for information and stimulation, perhaps even for entertainment. They come to listen and they come to see. But if they come in wheelchairs they cannot see our proceedings. I am not alone in having made practical proposals for improving access to our Chamber for members of the public who use wheelchairs. It is time that we brought our facilities up to the standard of any third-rate football club and created a space in which citizens who come in wheelchairs have the same facilities as others to see what goes on here.
Many disabled people and organisations for the disabled believe that, far from helping people to live with dignity and independence, all we shall have is a watered-down version of earlier Bills and that it will be presented to salve Ministers' consciences about the way they connived to defeat the Bill last Session.
In 1982 a report was published by the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People. It showed that discrimination was practised in many forms against the disabled. The credit for that wide-ranging report must go to Sir Peter Large, who is well known to many Members of your Lordships' House. That report was the foundation of the 13 Private Members' Bills which have been introduced year after year during the 20 years since it was published. None of those Bills reached the statute book. I console myself with the thought that Parliament has seen this kind of history before--when Wilberforce sought to outlaw the slave trade. After many years of
The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was brought into this House last Session by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. It passed all its stages in this House but in another place, after at each stage it had been shown to command wide support, its progress was halted only at the Report stage, using a procedural point to do so. No Member of the Government can be proud of what happened.
But against this history of negative government attitudes it would be churlish not to welcome the measure to tackle discrimination against disabled people. I shall try not to cover the points so ably covered by the noble Lords, Lord Ashley and Lord Murray. However, I am sure that the terms of the Bill will be eagerly awaited in this House and, as on the previous occasion, there will be the same concern to use the opportunity of government legislation to secure all practicable benefits to people with disabilities and to society generally, because it is the whole of society that will be enriched by the release of so much energy and talent. But the Government must understand that there is considerable apprehension in case the measures referred to in the gracious Speech could be inviting the House to deal with only half measures.
The Government's consultation paper, which was issued in July, is welcome in so far as it recognises that legislation is needed. But in that consultative document, as a main ground for substituting their own Bill for legislation on the lines of last Session's Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, the Government have again invoked their calculation that the cost of phasing in such a Bill will be £17 billion, plus the continuing cost of £1 billion per year thereafter. These figures attract the jargon term "cost compliance assessment".
This is not the occasion for debating the arithmetic but it is an occasion to point out, as did several of your Lordships last Session, that deducing an aggregate cost provides no ground for deciding whether to spend unless there is an understanding of what would result from incurring that cost. We need to measure the cost compliance benefits against what would result from the outlay. If the Government's attitude is still to be that they consider the outlay but ignore the return, that tells us nothing either way about the merits of the investment.
The result of not incurring the compliance costs is to leave people with disabilities frustrated at the edge of opportunities for education, training and employment. They become discouraged by the slanted financial services. They lack the public transport which they can use only with great difficulty or not at all. They are denied access to many buildings in which the social, cultural and economic life of the community is carried on.
The price is at present partly paid by forgoing the product of people with disabilities--and they are counted in millions--and partly by calling on the resources of other people doing for them what they would so much rather have been enabled to do for themselves.
The economic question for judgment is not whether to quail before an apparently large aggregate of gross cost but whether to prefer conditions as they are or in some altered form, with their respective consequences for costs and returns or other benefits resulting from incurring those costs. If compliance cost assessment means anything, it is the measure of the cost currently being borne by the disabled persons and those who try to help them. Even when it is computed with the utmost care, it is no substitute for the methodology addressed to the right question. We have to face the fact that return or benefit may arise on a different account from that under which cost is incurred.
If that is the right way to focus attention--and I believe it is--then the consultation paper provides an example of a government looking the other way. For example, the paper leaves alone the subject of transport, with only a brief reference to the degree to which buses now incorporate the features recommended by DIPTAC. It does not mention that that same ministerial advisory committee advocated buses with low, step-free floors which would enable any passenger, able-bodied or disabled, to board or alight quickly--the nimble, those with a trolley, buggy or pram, those with heavy shopping, the elderly infirm and those in wheelchairs, who would otherwise have no access to a bus unless it had a lift. That would have consequences. There would be less need to depend upon the car in towns; and less time would be spent at bus stops, thus reducing congestion and pollution. Journeys would be faster and, as experience elsewhere in Europe has shown, fewer buses may well be needed for covering the same routes.
Perhaps I may be excused for pointing out what may be the consequences of incurring those costs. I believe that I can more readily do so because I used to have to speak in this House for the then government on both transport and the environment. At the same time, I could not but concern myself with the conditions of life for disabled people. I am glad to see the Government doing that, at least in their reference to them in the gracious Speech.
I must also declare an interest as the vice-president of PHAB, which is the nationwide organisation that encourages the physically handicapped and able bodied to work, live and play together. I am also a director of Tripscope. That is a charity which helps many handicapped persons to sort their way through transport problems so that they are able to make exciting journeys to far away places.
If the legislation of this Parliament can be the instrument by which such general advantage can be secured, then I want to see the Government introducing it. But to be effective it must be specific. An example already before us is the change of regulations which means that the whole fleet of London taxis is now being converted to a design which enables people in wheelchairs to use those taxis as easily as the rest of us can. If we must rely on Brussels for some of that legislation now, I wish to see the Government using all their influence to secure it there in specific form, to take effect with all realistic speed.
We await the Bill with interest, but from the many comments made today by noble Lords, the Government will be aware that there are many of us in your Lordships' House who will argue and fight when the Bill comes before us to ensure that there is no watering down of the proposals. Half measures will not do. Disabled and handicapped people must be enabled to enjoy all the rights which they so much deserve and for which they have waited far too long.
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