Politics UK: Culloden

Full Version: Disability Rights Act 1992
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Mr. Speaker,

I want to begin my statement here today with a story. When I joined the frontbench in 1981 as Shadow Health Secretary, I got to know the wonderful people who make up the disability rights movement in this country, as I fought with them to urge better specialized care for them in our NHS. Four years after leaving that position, I again got to work with them as I focused on issues of Employment and Social Security. And perhaps best of all, my parliamentary colleague, the member for the Wrekin, is one of this country's leading campaigners on this issue. As we discuss bills that encourage us to move around and uplift children and families, to name a few topics, it is important that we in this House not forget the rights of the disabled.

As such, I am honored to present the Disability Rights Act 1992 today. We are all here in this House because we want to support the British people. My colleague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, succinctly stated that her vision for this country is that the policy we implement here "will improve the lives of individuals and communities up and down Britain," which our Prime Minister echoed in a recent speech, saying he wanted to champion "aspiration, opportunity and upward mobility." But to fully do either of those things, we must first focus on the lives of the individuals we are the most loath to think about and those who literally cannot attain upward mobility without help.

This bill, once implemented, will seek to ensure that upwards mobility is open to everyone - starting first here, in our Government and Civil Service. It is a shame on us that my honourable friend from The Wrekin has to find a special place to sit because of his wheelchair - both here and in the other place, we can do better about accommodating people of all types. Britain one day soon could have its first disabled Cabinet member, and I hope that they will be as able as anyone else to get in and around 10 Downing and other Governmental properties. But it's not just here - it's about the train stations, schools, hospitals, groceries, museums, and libraries around the country that serve all of our citizens. The creation and use of a Disability Rights Audit will urge us to think about those who do not enjoy the same privileges we do.

I began with a story, Mr. Speaker, and I wish to close with one as well. I recently had the chance to sit down and skim a copy of the biography of Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh, the first wheelchair user to sit in this House, a member of the Conservative Party, who was a member of this body for 14 years, representing first Wexford County, and later, Carlow County in Ireland. Written by his cousin, Sarah L. Steele, she writes in her forward that her object was "to show ... how, deprived as he necessarily was of the usual course of education, his early life of travel, assisted by his own keen observation and self-reliance, made good that loss; how his character thus moulded gave him the high place he filled in the esteem of those whose opinion is of value; how his thoughtful work for his own people and for his country was unweariedly carried on through difficulty and disappointment; and how he strove for no other reward than the approval of his conscience and of his God." In his memory and honor, Mr. Speaker, I commend this bill to the House, so that we might make the fullness of life open to all differently-abled people, not just landed heirs.

As Shadow Leader of the House

Mr. Speaker,

I beg to move that this bill be read and printed a second time as an Opposition Day Motion.
ORDER! Second reading!
Mr. Speaker,

I raise my Order Paper today to speak in strong support of this bill. I also extend my appreciation to my Right Honourable Friend, the Leader of the Opposition, for presenting this important bill to address an important issue that has gone unaddressed for far too long.

When I was wounded in action at the Battle of Mount Pincon in World War II, I thought my life was over. Back then it was a different time for disabled persons like myself. I thought that my future was over, and that there would be no paths available to me. In the midst of depression and sorrow, an opportunity was extended to me to go to Oxford and helped me understand that, no matter what life throws at each of us, each and every one of us is capable of achieving our dreams. For some, this achievement is more difficult than others--but with an iron will and the support of someone who believes in you, you can achieve what you wish to achieve, whatever the adversities.

I am very pleased, Mr. Speaker, that we have made such progress over the past decades in respecting the rights of the Disabled. I have been continually inspired by a Noble Lord who sits in another place, the Lord Ashley, who was one of the first MPs to sit in this chamber with a disability. He--and I hope myself, have not been defined by our disability, but rather through the difficulties that we have each been dealt, have learned so much more about ourselves and our resolve, and have been able to achieve a degree of good in our respective Constituencies. I have always believed, Mr. Speaker, that the best obituary or eulogy one can have when reflecting on the sum of one's life can be "They left their communities in a better place than they found it". I am certain this applies to the Noble Lord from another place--and I continually strive to make it true for myself, as I am sure each and every Honourable Member of this house does as well.

Nevertheless, we would be remiss, Mr. Speaker, if we did not accept that there are greater barriers for success for people with disabilities. This bill takes an important step forward to addressing these issues within our United Kingdom. This bill will ensure that no person in our United Kingdom will be judged on the basis of their disability, but rather on their abilities--and to take important and concrete steps to ensure that disabled people are able to--quite literally--access the public services that so many in our United Kingdom are able to. This bill strikes the appropriate balance between addressing inequalities, while also ensuring that we do not impose undue burdens on businesses. I am proud of the balance crafted in this bill.

We must do more, to be sure, but this bill takes an important first step in addressing an issue that has gone unaddressed for too long, and it gives me great pride to commend this bill to the House and to ask for the House to support it. I am forever grateful to my Rt. Hon. Friend, the Leader of the Opposition, for taking an important step forward to address this issue which is of great import not only to myself, but countless British citizens who have to contend with barriers every day that so many of our fellow citizens do not. I hope the House will recognize the historic and important nature of this bill and join me in ensuring that it is passed.
Mr Speaker,

I thank the Right Honourable Gentleman for presenting this legislation today, the rights of the disabled are sometimes overlooked so it is absolutely correct that we take a moment to pay tribute to the titans that paved the way and take the next steps in protecting and enhancing the rights they fought so hard to secure and protect.

Mr Speaker this legislation is welcome because it provides for an excellent stopgap between the present day and the Conservative Party's proposed Bill of Rights legislation which shall comprehensively protect the rights of all disadvantage people in the UK. Whether you be discriminated against because of your sex, the colour of your skin, the fact you have a disability, or any other intrinsic characteristic of your personage the Bill of Rights will protect you from both private and public endeavours to deny you your rights.

Mr Speaker the legislation provided for here is on the whole decent legislation but I fear it was drafted in haste and therefore has some issues that ought to be addressed lest this legislation not provide the full cover, or in other circumstances provide for injustices to be committed that ought not be committed. I therefore move that Section 3(a) be amended to read as follows:

Quote:For cases of discrimination in housing, the only relevant justification for evicting a disabled person or subjecting them to other detriment is that the landlord a qualified medical professional believes it would be best for the protection of the health or safety of the disabled person or someone else.

Mr Speaker this amendment would take the power out of the hands of the landlord, who may hold an ulterior motive in certifying that a disabled individual had to be evicted, and puts it in the hands of a medical professional who is far more qualified, and objective, to make such a call. Further to this Mr Speaker I move that Section 5© be amended to read as follows:

Quote:The audit will end once all issues have been reasonably adjusted, or best efforts have been made to rectify them.

Mr Speaker this is a simple amendment that I fear must be made to prevent the public Disability Rights Audit from continuing into infinity. Take for example the London Underground which is over one hundred years old. There are some stations where it is perfectly reasonable, indeed admirable and required, for us to take steps to improve access for the disabled, such as elevators and wheelchair ramps, but there are some stations where this is just not possible. At present this legislation gives us two options: keep auditing until we can wait another hundred years for new technology and techniques to make such an undertaking feasible, or close the station. Mr Speaker I believe that neither of these options should be on the table for public policy grounds and as such I move that the new clause allow best efforts, a legally significant term in its own right, should enable to closure of the audit for the purposes of this legislation. Finally Mr Speaker I beg leave to offer my final amendment that Section 5(d) be amended to read as follows:

Quote:All corporations and public bodies that seek to receive money from the Government must go through a Disability Rights Audit annually before the funds are transferred.

Mr Speaker I believe that this legislative amendment is equally necessary. It is not simply enough that we have a singular DRA and rest on our laurels, we must be ever vigilant in our desire to see injustice and discrimination squashed wherever we see them. This amendment would require that public bodies in the Government undertake an annual Disability Rights Audit to ensure that they do not fall back on bad habits or overlook new possible discrimination as their undertakings evolve. Mr Speaker while I believe such an undertaking may be too onerous for the majority of private contractors to undertake annually I do believe that it is within our capacity as a public sector to do so ourselves. I urge the Right Honourable Gentleman to accept these amendments as friendly and affirm his support for further measures in the future through the Conservative Party's British Bill of Rights initiative.
Oh, Mr. Speaker, we were doing so well! I was so ready to give my full support to the statement of my Right Honourable friend, and then he said that last bit. However, to start I accept the first two amendments as friendly and submit the following friendly amendment to Section 5(d):

Quote:All corporations and public bodies that seek to receive money from the Government must go through a Disability Rights Audit annually before the funds are transferred.

I get what the Prime Minister is trying to do - I understand completely where he comes from. But it is imperative that private actors don't pad their pockets with taxpayer funds while simultaneously engaging in discriminatory practices.

To include those whom we shy away from including everyone must participate in such a measure. This bill, and that requirement, ensures that this country, this Government, and this Parliament is clear - if you want our tax dollars, you have to be inclusive.
Mr Speaker,

I welcome the bipartisanship that is beginning to emerge here and I would like to help this amendment get over the line as it is important that we don't just wash our hands of the situation and declare it done. I propose a final compromise amendment which I feel will make corporations accountable under this Act without placing undue burden on them due to the potentially onerous task of undertaking an audit every single year. I beg leave that Section 5(d) be amended to read as follows:

Quote:5(d)(1) All corporations and public bodies that seek to receive money from the Government must go through a Disability Rights Audit annually before the funds are transferred.

5(d)(2) A corporation which has passed a Disability Rights Audit the previous year may undertake a new audit after the transfer of government funds

Mr Speaker this new amendment would provide security for firms and employees alike. It provides a single year's grace for a company which has had a successful Disability Rights Audit so that they may receive the funding and then have the audit later in the year. This will ensure that if a company is in financial hardship but still providing the Government with a good service they are not pushed over the edge by the dichotomy that is the requirement to have an audit or the inevitable withdrawal of funds protecting the taxpayer's service and the company's future whilst also ensuring that disabled employees are properly looked after. Obviously if the audit is not undertaken or is failed in some way then the rest of the provisions of this section and bill would be carried out according to the law. I urge the Right Honourable Gentleman to consider this new amendment friendly so that we may move to division for this Bill in the spirit of bipartisanship this issue deserves.
Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman opposite for his continued support and spirit of bipartisanship. I'll accept that amendment as friendly as well.
Mr. Speaker,

I move that the bill be adopted unanimously by the House.

If no member objects then the bill shall be adopted unanimously

(12 hours for your silence, then it's adopted unanimously. If any objections before that time then it's a division)
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