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Personal Oxygen (Public Transport)

Part of Petition — Mobile Telephone Mast (West Midlands) – in the House of Commons at 3:50 pm on 17th March 2010.

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Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Transport 3:50 pm, 17th March 2010

I accept what my hon. Friend is saying. Perhaps I should make it clearer that the assisted passengers reservation service was introduced to help people with physical disability-those in wheelchairs, for example-rather than to address issues about portable oxygen supplies and so on. Having said that, I must add that our "Access for All" programme to improve railway stations the length and breadth of the country is trying to make sure that that is not a necessity, so that those people have the same freedom to move about as any one of us in this Chamber. That work continues and we continue to make that investment in the transport infrastructure so that they have access at any time, like everybody else.

In respect of buses-I shall discuss my concerns about Stagecoach in a moment-it is fair to say that the issue is one of safety. The carriage of oxygen tanks on buses and in taxis would not normally be considered hazardous in the small quantities that we are talking about for personal requirements. That is covered by the Public Service Vehicles (Conditions of Fitness, Equipment, Use and Certification) Regulations 1981, which are very clear. Obviously, no person should use a public vehicle with something that might be highly inflammable or otherwise dangerous. Provision is set out in those regulations, but my hon. Friend was right to say that our guidance makes it clear that there should be no such problem regarding the quantities that we are talking about. I am distressed to hear of the incident to which he referred that involved a mum and son being turned away from a bus, run by Stagecoach in that case. I believe that he also mentioned a story involving Arriva. I certainly give him an undertaking that I will take up that issue and I shall correspond with him accordingly. That incident should not have happened and we want to ensure that people in such a position have the opportunity to move as freely as anyone else.

Finally, on the subject of ships and ferries, I am not aware of any difficulties that have arisen in using personal oxygen on board ferries or on cruise ships. Indeed, passenger needs are often met efficiently. On ferries, passengers who require medical oxygen may carry a limited quantity of up to 60 litres, provided the passenger has a letter from a doctor. I am not aware of any such issues. As this debate affords me the opportunity to do so, I shall put on the record the fact that if there are similar cases of people being turned away on such a basis-particularly from those forms of transport that make up the backbone of our transport system, with buses in particular being involved in some 5 billion journeys a year, or from ships and ferries-we would be grateful to receive that information. We will continue to ensure that UK-based operators recognise the code, use it and work with it, and we will continue to work with our colleagues who work in the charities on this matter. They have done a sterling job in raising its profile. My hon. Friend can rest assured that we will continue to work on that basis.