William Hague

Twenty Years On: The Spastics Society to Scope – a celebration in Parliament

On Monday evening, Scope hosted a Parliamentary reception to recognise the twenty year anniversary of the name change from The Spastics Society. Twenty years ago, “The Spastics Society” wanted to challenge attitudes by saying something positive about disability.

To recognise the events of twenty years ago, we brought together several former Ministers for Disabled People from across the two decades for a group photograph. The reception also featured a curated display of items to reflect Scope’s work over the past two decades.

We were honoured to be joined by Rt. Hon William Hague MP – who was the Minister that launched Scope in 1994. William delivered a speech at the reception, the text of which can be found below:

Group photo

It’s a great pleasure to be marking this anniversary, twenty years on. I remember it very well – standing out there on the terrace of the House of Commons, watching the largest flag in the history of the country being unfurled on St Thomas’ Hospital.

Thank you for putting a photograph there of me with a lot more hair than I have today – you can really date it!

There are a few of us here who can remember that event twenty years ago. And it was the right thing to do – the name change. It symbolised what we all hoped was a change in attitudes, of opportunity, of expectations for disabled people at that time. And it was an exciting time to push those things along. It was also the year, as it happens, when we set out to pass the Disability Discrimination Act.

I became the Disability Minister that year in 1994. Like many ministers, I had not asked for or expected to be the Minister for Disabled People. One day I wasn’t, and the next day I was. That is how ministerial reshuffles work.

But it turned out to be one of the most rewarding and fascinating tasks that I’ve been given in politics. And there was intense pressure at the time to have a major landmark piece of legislation – and I pay tribute to everybody across parties – many in the Labour Party – who pressed for that at that time. There was intense pressure and campaigning, and the question was how to respond to that and what sort of legislation to create.

WIlliam Hague looking at photos from 1994

The first thing I did when I was appointed was I went back to my constituency and met disabled people there and talked to them about what would really help. Then I consulted many of the organisations including this one – and including Mencap – also represented here tonight – about the shape that legislation could take.

And then I went to the United States to study what they had just done. Because in 1991, the US passed the Americans with Disabilities Act. This was signed into law by President Bush but with the support of people across American politics. And I wanted a situation where across parties we would pass a piece of legislation that would have enthusiasm across the House of Commons. So starting with the US, as they had become world leaders in this field of disability legislation, we should learn about them.

I spent about a week in the US, and on the plane on the way back I sketched out the framework of what became the Disability Discrimination Act – with a lot of hard work by some very good officials, Parliamentary counsel and by people who draft legislation. And then it took shape in Parliament with huge pressure for such legislation from the Opposition, from the Labour Party, and with many uncertainties and debates that we had to have in the Government – just as a Minister of State trying to persuade the Cabinet we should do this.

But I had a secret weapon – the Prime Minister. And the Prime Minister was Sir John Major – and he was very much in favour of disability legislation. So every time I hit a problem, the little Minister of State – me – in only his second job in Government – was able to call on the Prime Minister to remove all the roadblocks, to persuade the rest of the Cabinet. And this, by the way, is how I recommend to all future ministers how you do this. As I have done for the last twenty years – I’ve done the same in all my ministerial jobs. Don’t waste time arguing with the others – get the Prime Minister to tell them that is what we are going to do!

And indeed it was what we were going to do. I’m not sure it took a lot of courage, but it did take a bit of cunning to get it through in the right form, to make it far-reaching enough and to create a piece of legislation that is a milestone. And it’s been added to successfully since then, including by the Government that followed.

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So it is across Parties that we have worked on this over these twenty years. But its basic concepts and structure have stood the test of time. And I hope, created many more opportunities for tens of thousands of disabled people.

Before it had finally gone through the House of Lords and finished its passage through Parliament I had already moved on to another job that I didn’t expect or ask for – being Secretary of State for Wales.

In fact it tells you something about politics that, all the jobs I did in the 1990s that I didn’t expect or ask for, turned out to be fascinating and rewarding things to do.

And when I did something that I did ask for – being leader of the Opposition – it was an absolute nightmare! So just remember that when you’re asked to do something by the leader of your Party.

Alistair Burt took over and finished the progress of that legislation, and I hope since then that it is something indeed that we’ve been able to build on, which I’m absolutely convinced that it is. Greater enforcement of the legislation was added a few years later. Legislation is sometimes necessary to force change – to accelerate change. And it certainly was necessary in this case.

But the work of organisations like this one makes sure that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else – or that is what we’re trying to ensure by working together. Not just through the growing force of regulations, but through the permanent changing of attitudes and through practical assistance.

And you are concerned with making sure that people are valued for what they can achieve – not judged by what they can’t. And that is an extremely important objective. You say at Scope that aspirations should not be limited and that by recognising that a diverse workforce that helps individuals fulfil their real and full potential makes sense in every way – makes business sense as well as common sense – as well as being right in principle.

Stands with key dates around the room

So this was an important time, twenty years ago, and at that time Scope played an important role – and it continues to do so today.

The work of Scope over the last twenty years – as we see along the room here, the major campaigns displayed on these panels – are testament to the range of work carried out to remove barriers, to encourage engagement in democracy, to improve the representation of disabled people in the arts and in society in general.

So I think we’ve come a long way in twenty years and I know that the work of Scope has changed a lot over the last twenty years. But we must make sure that over the next twenty years that the enormous change in attitudes and substantial change in opportunities is continued.

And I think you can be sure that the members of parliament here across all political parties are absolutely determined to work with you to make sure that is what indeed what happens.

So congratulations to Scope on these twenty years, and thank you very much indeed for having me back.