Public Transport (Disabled Access)

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Transport and the Regions – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20 March 2001.

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Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford 12:00, 20 March 2001

What plans he has to increase access to public transport for people with disabilities. [152911]

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

We have made significant progress since 1997. Regulations requiring disabled access to new trains, buses and coaches have been introduced and similar regulations for taxis are planned. In addition, the 10-year transport plan introduced a new commitment to ensure that access for disabled people is a condition of all new public investment in transport.

Photo of Joan Ruddock Joan Ruddock Labour, Lewisham, Deptford

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Government's progress, in contrast to the Tories who failed to introduce the regulations necessary to provide increased access for people with disabilities. Although those improvements are welcome, does she agree that many railway stations, such as those operated by Connex in my constituency, present huge problems not only for people with severe disabilities, but for elderly travellers and parents with baby buggies? Does she have any proposals to deal with existing inaccessible infrastructure?

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Vehicles are only part of the equation, and enabling disabled people to negotiate stations and transport premises is obviously equally important. In 1997, we established the disability rights taskforce, which led to the formation of the Disability Rights Commission. Those bodies, along with transport industry representatives, are working to produce the guidance that is necessary to ensure that providers can meet the requirement that the Act laid on them, which is that by 2004 they will have taken all reasonable steps to remove, alter or avoid physical features that make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use the service. Certainly the commission and the Government want to ensure that the guidance will bite.

Photo of Mr John Wilkinson Mr John Wilkinson Conservative, Ruislip - Northwood

Does the hon. Lady realise that it is almost impossible for disabled people to get on to the platform at most underground stations, and even if they were able to do so, they would need the strength of a British Lions rugby forward to get on the trains in the rush hour? Why, after four years, have the Government not fulfilled their commitment to initiate the public-private partnership for the tube, to modernise the system and to give proper access to disabled people?

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that although the Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 1995, the previous Government did absolutely nothing in their remaining two years to introduce any of the necessary regulations to implement its proposals. This Government have systematically worked since 1997 not only to make vehicles accessible but, as I have just explained, to make the transport infrastructure accessible.

Photo of Andrew MacKinlay Andrew MacKinlay Labour, Thurrock

I applaud what my hon. Friend said about disabled access to public transport. May I draw to her attention Tilbury Town station in my constituency, where all the residences are on the down side towards Southend? If my disabled constituents want to board a train to London, they have to travel an additional mile.

When the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), makes his journey to visit my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) to look at the parlous railway line c2c—which in my parlance stands for cancellation to cancellation—will she ensure that he has all the relevant documents and is fully briefed about that appalling station? Will she get her officials to consider that matter in advance of his visit?

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

I assure my hon. Friend that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is equally concerned about disabled access, and he will ensure that he has all the necessary information before he makes that visit.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

I congratulate the Government on the steps that they have taken, and applaud those steps taken by the industry, such as bus manufacturers that have been equipping buses to take disabled people. Is this not also a question of changing thought patterns, particularly in the aviation industry, where people with disabilities can travel on some planes but certain companies can refuse to take them? Surely the Act should cover them all.

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

In principle, I agree. The hon. Gentleman will know that while we have taken many steps to improve the situation and to introduce regulations for national transport systems, it is more difficult to deal with methods of transport with an international dimension, such as aeroplanes and ships from other countries that come here. We need to work with countries in Europe and more widely to make sure that we can set standards with which a number of countries will comply. That is the only way to make sure that these issues are tackled across the board.

Photo of Mr Derek Foster Mr Derek Foster Chair, Employment Sub-committee

My hon. Friend will be aware of the several reports from the Employment Sub-Committee pointing out how crucial public transport is in getting people to work and, indeed, in getting them to participate in the new deal. Obviously, that is especially true of disabled people and those in rural and semi-rural areas such as Bishop Auckland and Teesdale. Despite the Government's best efforts, will she now say what further measures they will introduce to enable disabled people to get to work and to participate in the new deal?

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out how crucial the question of transport is to issues of social inclusion, in terms of ensuring that when jobs become available everyone, including disabled people, can access them. I think that he would acknowledge the additional resources that have gone into providing transport in rural areas. As I pointed out earlier, the transport plan includes a commitment to make access for disabled people a condition of future public investment. That initiative has been welcomed by the disabled persons transport advisory committee, which will monitor our performance on it.