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Disabled Persons (Independent Living) Bill [HL]

Volume 699: debated on Monday 25 February 2008

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a third time.

An amendment (privilege) made.

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. In doing so, perhaps I may pay tribute to Lady Darcy de Knayth. She loved your Lordships’ House, and it loved her. She was a devoted Member for more than three decades and was always conscientious in questioning and ready with her help, whoever wanted it. She was devoted to the passage of this Bill and has taken part in refining and passing every piece of disability legislation over the past three decades, ever since the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act in which she gave her maiden speech. She will be greatly missed.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Baroness Wilkins.)

My Lords, Lady Darcy de Knayth was among the first group of female Peers that came into the House of Lords in 1969 following the 1963 Act. In 1999 she came top of the list in the election for hereditary Peers. She was, as we have heard, one of the most assiduous attenders, and we all know what that must have cost her. Her interests were wide and catholic and, time and again, she voted on the basis of conscience. She was especially involved in the rights for the disabled movement, where she was hugely and widely regarded. Having been in the House for so many years, she knew everyone and could count everyone, including the staff, as her friends, some of them very close friends. We shall miss her immeasurably.

My Lords, in wishing the Bill well in its passage, I wish to say that Lady Darcy de Knayth was one of the people who helped me when I first got here. I am happy to have been her ally on many occasions in this House. She embodied the true spirit of the Cross Benches; she struck equally hard at whoever happened to be on the government Front Bench, often very accurately. She went into every piece of legislation honestly. She was open to argument and was not afraid to change her mind. If any of us decided to become more than party hacks and aspired to her example, the world would be a better place.

My Lords, I was telephoned at 8.15 on Saturday morning from my noble friend’s home to say that she had had seizures and had been admitted to her local hospital in Slough, which unfortunately was not equipped to deal with a seriously ill person with spinal injuries. My noble friend had been treated for years at the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville hospital, which, tragically, would not admit her for some reason yet to be explained. As president of the Spinal Injuries Association, I will be asking the Government to review the very inadequate facilities for the 6,000 people living with the results of spinal injuries, especially in the south of England.

On Saturday, I gave my noble friend’s son the home telephone number of Professor Mathias of St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, and Queen Square Hospital. He is an expert on autonomic dysreflexia, a condition my noble friend thought she had. The moment he heard, he tried to help. I pay tribute to Professor Mathias for his sense of urgency, his care and his support for the family and myself. I wish all the doctors had been like him.

Davina died in the early hours of Sunday morning. There will be a post-mortem as there has been an undiagnosed problem since before Christmas. My noble friend will be missed by so many people.

My Lords, Lady Darcy de Knayth’s mother and my mother were step-sisters, so she was my step-first cousin. I think she was the first person ever to be referred to as a “kinswoman” in this House. She did not know the meaning of the word “self-pity”. When the appalling car crash happened in 1964 when her husband was killed and she suffered the most dreadful injuries—she had three little children, though they were not in the car, thank God—she was in hospital for many months. One day, after she came out, she was with her mother, who was berating fate. Davina said, “But Mummy, don’t you see? Life is so much more interesting now. I have to lie there and work out how to turn over. Life is much more fascinating”.

As has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, among others, she used to come here and stay till all hours to move amendments. What many noble Lords may not know is that it took her three hours to get ready every morning. She never complained about that; she just took it as read, in her objective way, that that was how life now was. Sometimes when I am in America I am asked to make speeches. Americans have a way of asking you, “Who is your hero?”, and I always said, “My cousin Davina”.

My Lords, Lady Darcy de Knayth has sat in your Lordships’ House for nearly 40 years as one of only a very few female hereditary Peers. During that time she has been a considerable presence here and has made a notable contribution on behalf of many causes in the field of disability, a number of which she was herself associated with in an honorary capacity. As opposition health spokesman I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to her on numerous occasions and was always struck by her lack of affectation as well as her wisdom. My noble friends and I will miss her and her refreshingly positive approach to life.

My Lords, I wholeheartedly associate the Government Benches with the sorrow expressed by noble Lords at the untimely death of our friend and colleague, Lady Darcy de Knayth. I know that she will be very much missed across the House—her work, her laugh, her attitude and the enormous amount of work she did on behalf of many causes. I will miss her because of her personal kindness and friendship to me in the 10 years I have been in the House. I know that I am expressing the view that all of us feel at this time.

My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have spoken.

On Question, Bill passed and sent to the Commons.