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COP 26: Disabled Access

Volume 815: debated on Thursday 4 November 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to undertake an inquiry into the reasons why the COP26 summit venue did not provide equal access for people with disabilities; and what steps they are taking to ensure that similar events in future are accessible to all.

We are committed to an inclusive COP 26 which is accessible to all. The venue was designed to facilitate that. The permanent structures are fully wheelchair-accessible and the venue holds gold-level accessibility status. A complete accessibility audit was completed for the temporary structures and they were fully compliant. There are blue badge spaces for delegates and two fully accessible shuttle routes. Once we were made aware of the situation, it was resolved and Israel’s Minister Elharrar was content.

My Lords, many things can be said about Monday’s incident—overwhelmingly, that it was avoidable. Does my noble friend agree that, had COP 26 been planned and delivered to be inclusive by design, this would not have happened? Does she also agree that, prima facie, it was a breach of equalities legislation? As a result of this, what steps will the Government take to ensure that all their events and services and all departments of state are inclusive by design—sure, for the benefit of disabled people, but more for the benefit of everyone?

I spoke yesterday to my noble friend and the Minister for Disabled People. The Minister is absolutely determined to get to the bottom of this to avoid recurrence in future. We are acting fast by meeting different people so that we can get to the bottom of it and make a difference. On the point my noble friend makes, we are committed to making sure that disabled people have all the access they need. We clearly have more to do.

My Lords, the incident was truly wretched and the publicity that arose from it did a great deal of damage to all the things we are trying to achieve. But can we try to take something positive from that miserable incident? Karine Elharrar, the Israeli Minister, was showing that, just because you happen to be disabled, that does not mean you have lesser rights or abilities. She follows in the footsteps of President Roosevelt, Wolfgang Schäuble and many very fine and senior Members of this House. Can we use this incident to ensure that we do not treat disability as a curse? It is a challenge which so many people, including many Members of this House, rise to magnificently.

I can only agree with my noble friend. I reiterate and support his point that, in this House and in public service, there are fine people who battle against things which would floor most of us. I completely agree with that. We will use this incident to good effect.

Does the Minister agree that, while our Government are firmly committed to best practice for all with disabilities, the gap between that policy and their achievement remains unacceptably wide? Would she agree to a meeting for constructive discussion with one or two Members of your Lordships’ House, whose dissatisfaction is well grounded on practical parliamentary experience?

The Government are firmly committed to best practice for all disabilities. Although progress has been made in recent decades on accessibility and inclusion, far too often obstacles remain. When the Minister for Disabled People was appointed to our team in the DWP, one of the first things I did was ask her to meet Peers. She has agreed to do that. Give her time to get her feet under the table, and noble Lords will have ample opportunity to discuss all those things with her.

My Lords, it is great to be back here at the Dispatch Box dealing with women and equalities issues, which have been added to my very small brief of health. Given that the Paris Agreement, and before that the Cancun agreements, acknowledged that disabled people are disproportionately adversely affected by climate change—of course, this was an organisational and rather shaming failure at COP 26 —can the Minister inform the House whether disabled people have been involved and heard at COP 26? Will their needs be fully integrated into the delivery plans as they emerge and are implemented?

I, too, have had Minister for Women and Equalities added to my responsibilities, which I am very pleased about. On the issue the noble Baroness raises, we have to include disabled people in considerations about climate change. I will ask my colleagues in the environment department to write and confirm that to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, the experience of the Israeli Minister is a day-to-day reality for millions of disabled people in the UK, including myself. But perhaps we should congratulate the Government on completing the hattrick: first, the widely derided national disability strategy, then the removal of the UC uplift from disabled households that cannot work, and now this. What message does my noble friend think this latest example of discrimination sends to the UK’s 14 million disabled people?

My noble friend is understandably critical of the national disability strategy and has made that quite clear. Again, one of the first things I did when the Minister for Disabled People crossed the threshold at the DWP was to ask her to meet my noble friend, which she has agreed to do. It is not good that this incident happened; I cannot hide behind that. We have apologised and we are committed to making sure that it does not happen again.