SIR PETER BOTTOMLEY: The Mobility Unit: transport and disability

Sir Peter wearing a turban on the Sikh TV channel
Sir Peter wearing a turban on the Sikh TV channel

Younger people should listen to the family favourites of earlier generations. At the Drop of a Hat was the two-man musical revue or after-dinner farrago that ran for more than 800 performances at the Fortune Theatre from January 1957, overlapped by Julian Slade’s Salad Days at the Vaudeville.

Kenneth Tynan described Donald Swann as bent over his piano like a small mad scientist agog over some wild experiment, matched by the bearded suavity of Michael Flanders who exuded from his wheelchair the robust authority of a guest at dinner.

Donald and my parents were neighbours in Battersea. When on respite at home from Trinity hospice, he wrote to me a lovely letter about not fearing death.

Decades before, he had served in a Society of Friends’ Ambulance Unit in Egypt, Palestine and Greece. Never think pacifists are scared of war.

Michael and his family holidayed locally. The first line of the second verse of his The Gnu song memorably goes: “I had taken furnished lodgings down at Rustington-on-Sea.”

His delightful forceful American wife Claudia did much to make mobility possible for wheelchair users and for many with other mobility difficulties.

When roads minister, I took her advice when she was a member of the Department of Transport Advisory Committee on Disability, later rightly renamed positively as the Mobility Unit.

For years from 1987 she ran Tripscope, giving telephone advice to disabled people planning trips anywhere around the world.

She recalled her husband’s words: “Nobody is interested in how you got here, but, for a disabled person, that you got here at all is an achievement.”

By January 2020, all buses, coaches and trains must be accessible to disabled people; most are already.

More than 30 years ago, I ordered that by the millennium every London taxi should be able to take a wheelchair passenger.

Now we wait for the government to respond to the consultation on the draft Transport Accessibility Plan. There should be further progress on railways, taxis, air travel and buses and coaches.

One of my initiatives at the Palace of Westminster could usefully be replicated in every town and city.

So-called dropped kerbs should pass the marble test – if a marble would roll up the slope, it is sufficiently smooth.

As we move through Holy Week to Easter, I want to mention a religion other than my own.

Too often people who are Jewish, Muslim or Sikh are threatened.

In solidarity, this week I accepted the Sikh TV channel invitation to wear a turban.

Six metres of fabric were wound around my head.

On Wednesday I received a letter thanking me for raising a justice issue affecting a Sikh friend in a question to the Attorney General.

The accompanying letter kindly acknowledged my support for giving child refugees the same rights as adult refugees.

In my Worthing office, I listened to an impressive young Syrian refugee. I am grateful to the foster households and to Worthing for Refugees for their caring hospitality. My wife and I later shared a meal with the son of a Kinder transport Jewish child refugee.

• Apology and correction: last week I wrote about the death a year ago of PC Keith Palmer. I was also thinking of WPC Yvonne Fletcher, sadly killed at the Libyan Embassy in 1984. I wrongly combined the names as Keith Fletcher. I am sorry.

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