Baroness Celia Thomas writes…Disability rights and Labour wrongs

Who would have thought that a valuable addition to the Licensing Act which would have made life better for disabled people had been scuppered by Labour Peers?  And yet that is what happened on Wednesday evening.

The amendment, which sought to improve the accessibility of licensed entertainment premises (pubs, clubs, restaurants etc.) for disabled people, was tabled by the Chair of the Lords Equality and Disability Committee, Baroness Deech, a crossbencher, and signed by me, as Liberal Democrat Disability Spokesperson, a Labour Peer and another crossbencher.

The Committee, which was set up last year at my suggestion, to look at how the Equality Act was working for disabled people, took evidence from, amongst many others, local authorities and from the National Association of Licence and Enforcement Officers. They were keen to help make premises more accessible but said they needed a small addition to the licensing objectives in the Licensing Act to be able to take action. Without the amendment, a licensing authority can only ‘suggest’ the provision of a ramp, for example, or that a restaurant should not store toilet rolls in the disabled toilet thus making it unusable.  With the amendment, the licensee would be told that if no reasonable adjustments were made, the licence would be in danger of being lost.  

The key words in legislation are “reasonable adjustments”, so that, if a licensed premises is entirely upstairs with no lift, and no room even to put a lift, then the premises would not be penalised.  Or if there were three or four steps, the most the licensee would be expected to provide might be handrails.

Peers from all round the House spoke in favour, with the Labour front bench just waffling.  When the vote was called, 135 Peers voted in favour, including 75 Lib Dems, 38 Crossbenchers, 14 Labour backbenchers and one brave Tory.  The Conservative faithful turned out in droves, but the amendment was only lost by 42, with the majority of Labour Peers sitting on their hands.

So, if anyone wants to know who is standing up for disabled people, it certainly isn’t the Labour Party.

* Celia Thomas is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.

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2 Comments

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Dec '16 - 1:46pm

    Baroness Thomas
    What a sorry state the country is in when what is written is so ! Thank you to you and colleagues.

    I withdrew , with my partner , from the artistic directorship of a very exciting theatrical venture we were beginning many years ago , in the years when the Blair government was constructive and dynamic , because the venue would not put in disabled access, and we would not continue unless they would , as it was not costly , and they were not bothered!

    Where it is easily possible it must be made possible !

  • Tony Greaves 10th Dec '16 - 5:57pm

    We are usually being as kind as we can to the Labour peers, because we know that to win votes in the Lords we usually need their support. But from time to time we should tell it as it is. They are a demotivated, disorganised and too often unprincipled shambles. They hate their own party leadership, they think they are doomed, and too many of them still bear their grudges from the last Parliament. Meanwhile people suffer.

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