I had the privilege of chairing a Lords Select Committee on Disability and Equality in 2015-16, and wrote about it here – http://lordsoftheblog.net/2016/04/17/a-better-deal-for-disabled-persons/. After a year of work, the opportunity presented itself last week of achieving one of our key recommendations, by securing an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, currently making its way through the Lords. The substance of it was that licensing authorities would be required, when licensing premises such as restaurants, clubs and pubs, to check that they were reasonably accessible to disabled people (elderly people too). Under current law, premises are already checked for the protection of children, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and crime and disorder, so this would add little to the paperwork. In any case, it is a legal requirement to allow for reasonable accessibility. The problem has been the lack of ready enforcement. Currently, if a disabled person finds they cannot access premises, the burden is on them to complain and maybe take legal action, a heavy burden. If applicants for licences had to think about accessibility on a regular basis, and mainstream it into their maintenance of the premises, it would be far less likely that a disabled person would turn up only to discover that they are blocked, with the distress that might cause. The amendment would also have had the result that the enforcement burden would shift to the licensing authority. You can read about it here https://www.theyworkforyou.com/lords/?id=2016-12-07a.737.6#g785.2
Who could possibly not favour such a proposal? Well, the government did not, because of “burdens on businesses” and alleged duplication of the law (not so, because this amendment would have made the necessary adjustments anticipatory, rather than after the fact). Hardly surprising so far. The real shock was that Labour Lords were told to abstain. Why? Apparently their “strategy” is to select which amendments to defeat the government on, and this was not going to be one of them. So we lost the amendment 177 to 135. 14 brave Labour Lords rebelled and supported us. The rest, I suspect, had no idea what was going on, had not understood the impact of the amendment and simply did as they were told. Crossbenchers and LibDems were overwhelmingly on side. A few more Labour or Tory rebels and we would have been there. It passes my understanding that the party that alleges that it stands for “fairness, equality and social justice” (quote from Labour Party website) could not be bothered to go into the lobby for disabled people and their basic human rights of participating in society on an equal footing with everyone else.
I cannot overstate the dismay of campaigners for disabled people and all those who have been trying to get a better deal for them, and for the elderly (we all get infirm in the end). I paraphrase Kinnock’s 1983 speech when he was campaigning against the election of Mrs. Thatcher: If you are relying on Labour, I warn you not to be disabled; I warn you not to grow old; I warn you not to be blind and not to be deaf.
A shameful episode.