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Disabled People: Legislation

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they have made an assessment of the effectiveness of existing legislation to help disabled people.

My Lords, my department undertakes regular research on how employers, service providers and others are responding to their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. In the past year, we have published a research report on organisations’ responses to the Act as well as a compliance audit of the disability equality duty, which shows that organisations and public bodies are responding positively to their duties.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that response. Does he recall the Second Reading debate on my Bill on independent living for disabled people? His colleague, the Minister in that debate, said that she welcomed the principles of the Bill, which was warmly applauded by disabled people. They were delighted that it had such a good welcome from the Government.

Shortly after that, however, the Bill went from this House to the Commons, where the Government did not lift one finger to back it despite what had been said by the Minister’s colleague in this House, so the Bill was lost. After all that effort, all those details and all the trouble taken by disabled people, MPs and Peers, the Bill fell. I am not saying that the Government killed the Bill, but they let it die through neglect. It was neglected because there was no government support for it, despite the apparent unanimity in this House.

If the Government will do that with Bills of this kind, there are real problems. The important thing to recognise now is that if that Bill comes back—as it will, because I am bringing it back in 10 days—the Government should be careful about what they say and do about principles.

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for the tireless and passionate way in which he continues to campaign for disabled people. He will be aware that the Government are fully committed to improving the lives of disabled people. We have introduced a comprehensive package of civil rights for disabled people, and are promoting more independent living through, for example, piloting individual budgets.

The Government support the principles underpinning the Bill to which my noble friend refers, but are concerned that the implementation of all the measures, especially at the pace proposed, would have major cost implications. It would also overlap, to some extent, with what is already under way. My noble friend may be aware that the Office for Disability Issues is about to publish a cross-government independent living strategy at the turn of the year.

My Lords, have the Government assessed the number of people with a learning disability who are being denied services by their local authority simply because the local authority has changed the eligibility criteria? If they have not made an assessment, are they, in the jargon of the day, minded so to do?

My Lords, the Government are always minded to review all aspects of their policy. In relation to individuals with learning disabilities, the “Supporting People Programme” has, since its inception, spent something like £8.3 billion supporting a number of people with learning disabilities. So far as local government is concerned, I remind the House that government funding has increased by £28.4 million—39 per cent in real terms—since 1997. The Government have now delivered an above-inflation grant increase to local authorities for 10 successive years, so they have been resourced to address these issues.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Government’s laudable promise that family carers of those with severe intellectual impairment should be placed at the heart of decision-making is not yet being met at local level? At government level, the Government are making all the right noises, as did the previous Government, but at local level it is still not happening. Is there anything the Government can do to encourage that?

My Lords, I am sure there are still challenges to be met to make sure that disabled people face no discrimination or disadvantage. We are addressing the barriers they face in a number of ways in relation to transport, housing and schooling, and it is clear that we must continue to do that and more.

My Lords, the leader of another place said in July that the Government intend to publish a draft single equality Bill in the 2007-08 Session of Parliament. Given the proposed abolition of the disability equality duty and the fact that no mention of it was included in the gracious Speech, what is going on?

My Lords, we remain committed to our manifesto commitment to introduce an equality Act during this Parliament. The noble Lord will be aware that not long ago we issued a consultation paper and are reflecting on the responses. We will formally respond in due course. The commitment was not for there to be an equality Bill in the Queen's Speech this November, but we remain committed to that endeavour.

My Lords, the Minister seems to have agreed that there is an aspiration to meet much of what was in the original Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, and that most of what was in that Bill is best practice. He then said that it is too expensive to do it all of a sudden. Can he give us some sort of timescale for when the Government expect to do it or at least a time when we will have a timescale?

My Lords, it would be wrong of me to pre-empt the independent living review which is due to report within a few weeks, but, to illustrate the issues that we are addressing and the barriers we are focusing on at the moment, I say that more funding is going into advocacy services, and I have talked about the “Supporting People Programme”. So far as housing is concerned, we have abolished means-testing of disabled facilities grants for families with disabled children, and funding has been increased from £57 million in 1997 to £127 million in the current year. In relation to transport, concessionary fares have been extended. There is a lot going on, so we are not formally awaiting the outcome of that review, but it will set down the path for the next five years.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. I regret to say that my experience of being a disabled person now in London is that hotels, clubs and various other places are not meeting the requirements to which he referred. Will the Minister urge his staff to take a much closer look at the facilities for disabled people in public places, which are not working terribly well?

My Lords, I acknowledge the noble Lord’s experience and I am sorry that he is still suffering the challenges he has outlined. Research increasingly shows that employers, companies and public services are aware of their responsibilities, but there is clearly a considerable way to go.