A disabled peer has warned that the decision to move discussion of the government’s controversial welfare reform bill to a less accessible committee room could put her safety at risk.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell told fellow peers that holding the committee stage of the bill in “committee room 4a” – rather than the main chamber of the House of Lords – was potentially “dangerous” for her.
Her Lords office is just three minutes from the main chamber, so that during debates she can return there quickly if she needs help to breathe.
Baroness Campbell – who later in the debate clarified that she was not “at great risk” and that it was “a risk I am happy to take” – also complained that she had not been consulted about the access in committee room 4a.
She said: “No one asked me what it was going to be like for me to participate in this room. No one came to us, and that is the lack of consultation that we often complain about outside this building to local authorities.
“I wanted members to think about that and remember that consulting the person who experiences impairment is the number one rule.”
The Labour peer Lord McKenzie said he was “very disturbed” to hear that Baroness Campbell had not agreed to the arrangements.
He said he and fellow Labour peers made it “clear that we could settle on an alternative room only if it had the noble Baroness’s agreement. If that has not happened, it is a real failing.”
Baroness [Delyth] Morgan, the former Labour minister, said: “Getting this committee right is important, not just for noble Lords who wish to participate but for building confidence among communities outside this House that they are being taken seriously and that their concerns have been raised and heard within this House too.”
The crossbench peer Baroness Meacher added: “I do not believe that any work can be done by this House if a member is at risk and feels that they may not be able to breathe.”
Lord Freud, the Conservative welfare reform minister, said: “I do not have an answer for [Baroness Campbell] now, but I will go back and get one and make sure that her concerns are addressed in the most thorough way possible. If things have not gone appropriately, I apologise unreservedly.”
Baroness Campbell and other disabled peers – as well as many disabled activists – were unhappy when government whips decided last month that the next stage of the bill should take place in a committee room – in “grand committee” – rather than in the main Lords chamber.
As well as causing access problems, having the bill discussed in grand committee means peers will not be able to force votes on key controversial issues until the bill returns to the main chamber for its report stage.
6 October 2011