Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Disabled Persons) Bill

– in the House of Commons on 18th March 2022.

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Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.

Third Reading

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam 9:48 am, 18th March 2022

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I begin by thanking all Members—some of whom, I am pleased to say, are present this morning—who have been involved in the development of the Bill during its earlier stages. I am also delighted to see in the Chamber both Front Benchers—the Minister and Gill Furniss, who speaks for the official Opposition—who have been involved throughout. I appreciate that some who are present this morning have not followed the Bill throughout in detail, so it might be helpful if I explain what it is intended to achieve.

It is no easy task to create legislation that is intended for millions of people. The Equality Act 2010 made very significant progress in very many areas, but it was not perfect, and I do not suppose that anybody involved in its drafting or implementation would claim as much. We as legislators should always be prepared to look again at our work and consider whether it can be improved on. At present, the taxi and private hire vehicle sections of that Act do not work well enough for all the 13.7 million disabled people in Great Britain.

The fundamental intention of the Bill is to ensure the protections envisaged in that Act work effectively and comprehensively when a disabled person uses a taxi or a private hire vehicle, so that any disabled person has reasonable rights and protections enabling them to book, access and travel in a taxi or private hire vehicle at no additional charge.

As it stands, only wheelchair and assistance dog users have specific rights and protections under the Equality Act in relation to taxis and private hire vehicles. The existing Equality Act taxi and private hire vehicle measures do not, for example, provide clearly expressed rights for a wheelchair user intending to transfer from their wheelchair into the passenger seat of a non-designated taxi or private hire vehicle. They do not provide a visually impaired person with a right to guaranteed assistance to find and locate a booked private hire vehicle. Indeed, current measures fail to sufficiently protect disabled people who do not use wheelchairs or assistance dogs from discriminatory treatment at all.

Currently, section 165 of the Equality Act places duties on drivers to carry a wheelchair user

“in safety and reasonable comfort”; to carry their wheelchair if they sit in the passenger seat; to provide reasonable mobility assistance; and, of course, to not charge extra for doing all of that. However, in order for those duties to apply, the vehicle must be on a local licensing authority’s designated list of wheelchair-accessible vehicles, and crucially, there is no requirement to maintain such a list; it is a local licensing authority’s choice. As such, if a wheelchair user intends to use two wheelchair-accessible taxis on the same day in different locations, and the first is on a local licensing authority’s list but the second is not, that wheelchair user will have specific rights and protections in their first journey but will not in their second, even if the vehicles and journeys are identical in all other respects. This Bill would rectify that by amending section 167 of the Equality Act to require that all local licensing authorities maintain and publish a list of wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is making an important addition to the safeguards in this area. Would he note, though, that back in 2018, Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq made 34 recommendations on the wider set of issues, of which this was one? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it is time for the Government to bring forward a more comprehensive package of measures to deal with the taxi and private hire trade?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who I know has shadow ministerial experience in this area. He is right: there is more to be done in relation to the taxis and private hire vehicles that we all use, not just those of us with disabilities. However, the Government have already taken steps in this area. I hope and expect that the Government will support this Bill, and I think there is more to come. I hope, for example, that my hon. Friend the Minister will say something about the training that taxi and private hire vehicle drivers ought to receive in order to ensure they have basic disability awareness that will help to reinforce some of the duties that this Bill seeks to set out. I do not think the hon. Gentleman should take our advocacy for this Bill as an indication that we believe this is all that needs to be done. Clearly, more does need to be done.

As I have already said, the duties in section 165 of the Equality Act only apply if a passenger is a wheelchair user and is accessing a designated wheelchair-accessible taxi or private hire vehicle. Those are two specific criteria that exclude many. This Bill would level the playing field for disabled people by creating new duties at section 164A for drivers to carry and reasonably assist any disabled person without charging extra. It would also place duties on drivers to carry a disabled person’s wheelchair and mobility aids and provide reasonable assistance. Those duties would therefore apply to a wheelchair user who intends to transfer to a passenger seat of a non-wheelchair-accessible vehicle and, beyond that, to any disabled person who is not a wheelchair user who wishes to access any taxi or private hire vehicle.

The objectives of this Bill would, of course, be diminished if a disabled person were prevented in practice from accessing the vehicle because they could not easily find it when it arrived. Therefore, the Bill would create new duties at section 165A for drivers to assist a disabled person to find and identify a hired vehicle. That would apply to any taxi or private hire vehicle and to any disabled person, provided that the driver is aware that the person requires assistance to identify or find the vehicle.

This Bill would also create new duties for private hire vehicle operators at proposed new section 167A of the Equality Act 2010 by creating offences for refusing or failing to accept a booking from a disabled person.

Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South

I very much commend the content of my right hon. and learned Friend’s Bill. For balance, does he agree that, while this Bill is vital, a great many people running taxi and private hire vehicles actually go out of their way to help disabled people? What we are doing is building on the generosity and kindness of that sector to further improve the service provided to disabled people across the country.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who made that point with great force and clarity during the Bill’s previous proceedings, for which I am grateful. He is absolutely right: it is necessary to recognise that a huge amount of good work is already being done by taxi and private hire vehicle drivers. No part of this Bill’s provisions is designed to suggest otherwise but, as he will recognise, a minority of drivers and operators do not yet comply with the expectations that we would all have as legislators and, frankly, that the good taxi and private hire vehicle drivers he talks about would also expect as a basic provision for their disabled passengers and clients. It is no reflection on those who do a good job, particularly those who moved people around over the pandemic when they would otherwise have been unable to be moved. I hope my hon. Friend will be reassured that we are seeking to strike that important balance, and I will come on to talk about that.

Before I do, I will finish my earlier point about sections 165A and 167A, which provide rights and protections to ensure that disabled people are not, by default, prevented from benefiting from the rights and protections provided in sections 164A and 165. To reiterate an earlier point, the fundamental intention of this Bill is to ensure that the Equality Act 2010 works more comprehensively for the millions of disabled people in this country.

To come back to my hon. Friend’s point, the Bill must also work for taxi and private hire vehicle drivers, many of whom already do what this Bill will require of them. The Bill simply would not work if it did not consider the range of people and situations that it could have an impact on, from both a passenger and a provider perspective. I believe that the duties, offences, defences, and exemptions in this Bill effectively balance the rights and protections for disabled people with the reasonable duties on drivers, operators, and local licencing authorities.

For a driver to assist a disabled person to identify or find their vehicle, the driver must be made aware before the start of the passenger’s journey that the passenger requires assistance to identify or find that vehicle. In order to carry a passenger in safety and reasonable comfort, the driver must reasonably have known that the passenger was disabled. For a driver to carry a disabled person’s wheelchair or mobility aid, it must be possible and reasonable for the wheelchair or mobility aid to be carried in the vehicle. The House can be satisfied that where a driver has a genuine reason why they could not fulfil the duties specified in this Bill, the defences provided would be adequate to avoid their being penalised unfairly.

This Bill would also amend driver exemptions from duties under the Equality Act. Currently, drivers can apply for an exemption on medical grounds or grounds related to their physical condition, which exempt them from all the duties in section 165. This Bill would ensure drivers are exempt from the appropriate sections by expanding the exemptions to cover some of the duties that would also be applied in proposed new section 164A.

It would also amend the driver exemptions so that they apply only to the mobility assistance duties in proposed new sections 164A and 165, thereby directly closing a loophole that enables a driver issued with an exemption because they cannot provide mobility assistance, to accept the carriage of a wheelchair user none the less, but to then, in theory at least, charge them more than they would other passengers. That cannot be right or the purpose of the exemption.

It is, as I said, a daunting task to create legislation that impacts millions of people, but the provisions in this Bill intend to do just that, ensuring disabled people have rights and protections when accessing taxis or private hire vehicles that work practically and across a multitude of scenarios. The Bill has been developed with disabled people’s step-by-step use of taxis and private hire vehicles at its core, from the booking stage, to finding the vehicle, to accessing and travelling in that vehicle.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton

My right hon. and learned Friend has clearly worked incredibly carefully with disabled groups throughout the development of the Bill. The issue comes into my inbox and I hear from constituents facing these types of problem. Was it a personal issue in his own constituency that first raised his awareness of the issue?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and she is right. I have spoken to a number of different disability campaign groups, advocacy groups and charities, and I am pleased to say they are all supportive of the Bill’s intention. As she represents a rural constituency, she will recognise, along with those others of us who represent rural areas, that taxis and private hire vehicles may be the only way for people with disabilities to get around. They are an important lifeline, so the provisions of the Bill will have effect particularly in rural areas, such as the ones that she and I represent.

I have come across, as she will have done, constituents who rely on that vital lifeline, not just during the covid pandemic but all the time. They will want to know that they have these rights, that drivers are aware that they have these rights and that they can be carried without additional charge and with the basic consideration that, as my hon. Friend Simon Baynes mentioned earlier, good drivers already provide, but that all drivers should.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

My right hon. and learned Friend raises an important point about availability and accessibility of vehicles for disabled people. In my very urban constituency, availability of wheelchair-accessible taxis is a continuing concern for people who want to be able to get out and about. Will he comment on the idea of a national database—a central record—of where these vehicles are, so that our disabled communities can easily access information about where they can get such vehicles?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend because I know he is in the process of taking through other important legislation in relation to taxis and private hire vehicles, which will contribute to the better environment that Daniel Zeichner referred to earlier.

My hon. Friend Peter Gibson is right that this is a problem in urban as well as rural areas, and that one thing we can get better at is giving people with disabilities, particularly those who need wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles, better information on where to find them. That is why in this Bill the expectation that local authorities maintain a list of such designated vehicles will change from being optional to being a requirement. That will be more consistent across the country so that wherever people live—in urban or rural areas, wherever they are in the country—they will be able to get that information more clearly and easily, to help them move around. I agree with my hon. Friend that that will make a significant difference.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill

I commend my right hon. and learned Friend for his excellent Bill. Does he have any messages for members of the industry who already fulfil these requirements? I believe we have to give credit to those who are already pushing ahead in this fantastic way. May I ask his advice on how the Bill might not be seen as a blunt tool by those who are already carrying out these requirements?

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

My hon. Friend makes a good point. In addition to speaking to charities that advocate on behalf of people with disabilities, I have taken the trouble to speak to those who operate in the taxi trade. I have tried to make it clear to them that we do not seek to penalise the drivers that my hon. Friend refers to, and that my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd South mentioned earlier, who are doing all they possibly can to facilitate the travel of people with disabilities, and to whom we owe thanks and commendation. Rather, we want to ensure that the provisions of the Bill will bite for those who are not doing so. The Bill will, frankly, make no difference whatsoever to the drivers that my hon. Friends spoke about, who already do what the Bill will require of them.

The Bill will not simply make requirements of drivers; it will also require local licensing authorities to maintain and publish a list of wheelchair-accessible vehicles to ensure consistency across the country. The Bill will prevent private hire vehicle operators from refusing or failing to take a booking from a disabled person because that person is disabled, subject only to a limited defence where there is a lack of suitable vehicles. The Bill will place reasonable duties on drivers to carry and assist disabled people without, crucially, charging extra. This Bill will change lives for the better, and I commend it to the House.

Photo of Gill Furniss Gill Furniss Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:06 am, 18th March 2022

Once again, I commend Jeremy Wright and all other Members involved in taking forward this Bill. Its aims are laudable and have the Opposition’s support. I also pay tribute to the hundreds and thousands of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers across the country. During the covid-19 pandemic, they went above and beyond to ensure they provided safe travel for those who needed it.

Taxi drivers still face unacceptable working standards. The Government must tackle head-on the low pay, poor job security and lack of workers’ rights associated with the gig economy. I am pleased to hear that future legislation is in the pipeline, and I know the Opposition will be happy to co-operate on that in Committee. I welcome the agreement between Uber and the GMB, which will provide a vital boost for Uber drivers, but we all know there is much more left to do. Labour would implement much-needed reforms to taxi and private hire services. That would include a review of licensing authorities’ jurisdiction, setting national minimum standards for safety and accessibility and updating regulations to keep pace with technological change.

The barriers that disabled people continue to face on transport are downright scandalous. According to a 2019 survey of disabled people for Scope, 30% said that difficulties with public transport had reduced their independence, and as many as four in five said that they felt stressed or anxious when planning or carrying out such a journey. Those figures sadly come as no surprise when we look at what has happened on the Government’s watch. The costs of public transport have continued to rocket upwards ahead of wages, and services have become less and less reliable. The failed privatised model means that bus fares are projected to be 60% higher by 2024 than they were in 2010. Not only that, but bus routes are projected to fall by more than 5,000. That has led to a reduction of nearly 26% in the number of elderly and disabled passengers. The stark shortfalls in public transport mean that for many disabled people, a taxi is their only option when they go about their everyday lives. Disabled people make, on average, twice the number of taxi journeys each year compared with people without disabilities.

This Bill will give people with disabilities more rights when travelling by taxi and private hire vehicles. We welcome those ambitions, so we will support this Bill today, but the proof is well and truly in the pudding. We must ensure that new rights on the statute book are matched by tangible improvement in the experience of disabled people. For instance, I support making it mandatory for local authorities to make and maintain a list of wheelchair-accessible taxis. However, a decade of cut after cut to our local authorities means that some may struggle to maintain their lists. In my constituency, Sheffield City Council has seen its spending power cut by £215 million since 2010—almost a third of its total budget. If the lists are not regularly updated, disabled people will be unable to rely on them.

For this legislation to successfully meet its aims, it is imperative that the Government work with taxi and private hire drivers to ensure that they are fully aware of their responsibilities. For instance, training on how to assist people with a range of disabilities before, during and after their journeys could help to ensure that drivers have the confidence to provide safe and comfortable transport for all their passengers. We must also ensure that disabled people are fully aware of their rights. Although for many years wheelchair users and those with guide dogs have been protected under law from being denied a taxi service or charged extra, sadly, instances of this do still occur.

Many charities and organisations do excellent work on this, but the Government must ensure that these new changes are given the publicity they deserve. Unfortunately, the Department for Transport seems to have a track record of taking a back seat when it comes to publicity campaigns. The highway code fiasco makes this abundantly clear.

We support this legislation today, which we hope will make a real difference to the lives of disabled people, but there is still so much left to be done by Government to combat the lack of accessibility in our transport network.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton 10:10 am, 18th March 2022

I rise today to speak in support of the important Bill promoted by my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright. Too often, pockets of our society do not have true equality, or true access, and the Bill will fundamentally change that. Some people may think that this is just a small change, but for disabled people in my constituency and beyond, this will make an enormous, life-changing difference.

We talked earlier about rural areas in particular and how they will benefit from this Bill. Rutland and Melton is an incredible constituency of 462 square miles. I have almost 140 villages and just three towns, so taxis make a fundamental difference to the lives of disabled people living in our communities, but I can attest that we do not have enough taxis. On a Friday, should a surgery run over and I do not have a car, I have sometimes had to wait up to three hours to get a taxi. On a Friday evening, I will be sleeping in my office; I will not be getting home to my family because there is insufficient taxi access. That is how it is for me, as an able-bodied individual. For my disabled constituents, things are made all the more difficult.

At this point, I will talk briefly about how, in future considerations by the Government, this Bill could go further and support women and men who are parents. All too often, I have had a taxi turn up to pick me up and the driver has seen that I am a mum with two children and a pram and they have turned and run—I would like to think that they do this because of the children and not because they have seen my face—and refused to take me. I do not know whether my colleagues have had similar experiences, but the fact is it does happen. I point out, however, that such drivers are a small minority; the vast majority of taxi drivers want to do everything they can to support those whom they carry. However, some are happy to turn around and leave a mother in the rain with two small children under three. That has happened at least four or five times in my lifetime and my children are only three now, so perhaps we could look at this in future revisions of the Equality Act.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

My hon. Friend is making an important speech. I am very concerned to hear that she has been left by taxi drivers. When my private Member’s Bill, the Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill, was passing through the other place, Baroness Brinton gave a very moving speech about how she, as a disabled wheelchair user, had been turned away by a taxi and had had to use her motorised wheelchair in the rain, and how the battery had run out a short distance from her home. Clearly, this is not acceptable.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton

It is absolutely not acceptable. The fact is that this Bill is being introduced because we have disabled people in our country being charged extra for the liberty, for the joy, for the privilege of being carried, and that is absolutely shameful.

We are very fortunate in Rutland and Melton, because we have two specific companies that are expert at providing support for the disabled. I pay tribute to Claire’s Taxis and Elaine’s Taxis, both in Melton, that do a great deal to support our disabled community. They are truly wonderful. This matter is important, as it affects so many people, not least in rural areas, because of the absence of bus services. In both Rutland and in Melton, Centrebus has put up the costs for its buses, so we will now lose the only bus service—the No.19 bus—between Melton and Nottingham. That bus is so important because it carries people between two major centres of work, it carries people for healthcare needs and it ensures that anyone who supports Nottingham Forest or Notts County football clubs and wants to get to Trent Bridge is able to get there—something everyone should have the right to do, including our disabled friends and family.

It is really important that this Bill will help those who are now suffering from an absence of bus services, although I make clear that I will be fighting for the No. 19 bus service and fighting for the buses within Rutland, and Centrebus will be hearing from me. I put this on the record, and I hope their lobbyists and public relations team are listening: Centrebus, I will be in touch, because it is unacceptable that you are stripping 460 square miles of decent bus services.

The Bill is also important to me for a reason that many of us in the Chamber will have experienced. I, too, have a loved one who has recently become reliant on the use of a wheelchair. She means everything to me, and she is currently suffering from cancer that has riddled the entirety of her body, particularly her bones, meaning that she is unable to stand or to do much travel.

This Monday, I hope for the first time in two and a half years to take my loved one somewhere that is not the hospital. I hope to take her to the British Museum to see the Stonehenge exhibition, but I have been ringing around trying to get a taxi to take her there. It is not far—it is only about a half-hour journey—yet every taxi firm I ring says, “Oh, sorry, we don’t have much disabled provision,” or, “We can’t promise you there’s going to be a disabled-friendly vehicle.” I say, “Do we need to bring a foldable wheelchair? Do we need to use an electric wheelchair? What do I need to do to make this happen?” I want to get her out of the house and to the British Museum for the first time since she had this appalling diagnosis, given the effects it will have on her in the long term.

Not a single taxi company that I have rung so far, in London of all places—it is not rural Rutland and Melton—has been unable to promise me that they will help me to get my loved one just a half-hour’s journey. This Bill will make a difference for all of us caring for loved ones who unfortunately have life-limiting or other conditions.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam

I am very grateful for my hon. Friend’s support. She will know that this Bill will come into effect two months after it is passed by this House and the other place and receives Royal Assent. Does she agree that it is not necessary for any taxi driver or private hire vehicle driver to wait for this legislation to be passed to offer the kind of service she describes? They can do that now, and many already do. I hope that this Bill will change the atmosphere, so that more and more drivers are prepared to offer the kind of services she describes.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton

Absolutely. That is why the Bill is so important. As Conservatives, we do not want to have to pass legislation to require service providers to provide services to all people. People should not have to sit there and think, “When will Jeremy Wright come and save us all and ensure we can get the access we deserve?”

My right hon. and learned Friend is right; I am sure we will all be speaking in support of this important legislation, and the message should go out from this place today: step forward now. You have a choice, and you can ensure that anyone who is disabled, or partially sighted, or has any other needs is able to get to where they need to. It is welcome news that in two months’ time that will be a requirement, and perhaps I will not be struggling so much to provide basic access and equality of rights to those whom I love so greatly.

During the pandemic, many of our taxi drivers did great things, and I recognise that they have probably become more disabled-friendly as a result of that work. I am grateful for that. It is also important that my right hon. and learned Friend has sensibly included a clause that if a driver can argue that they could not have reasonably known a passenger was disabled, it will not be held against them, because we do not want to see that held against good, hard-working taxi drivers if they did not mean to do it.

Ultimately, however, the point stands that this is an important Bill for rural areas, to give equality of access to all disabled people and those of us who care so much about ensuring that companies step up and do what is right and do their duty. I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for all his work on this Bill.

It is sad that it has taken so long to get here and sad that it has required legislation, but it is absolutely the right thing to do. For my loved ones, I thank my right hon. and learned Friend. Let us hope we can look at what more we can do to ensure that, as I mentioned earlier, no mother or father is ever left in the rain with their children with a taxi driver driving away from them.

Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South 10:19 am, 18th March 2022

It gives me great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Alicia Kearns, who spoke with great eloquence, and to speak in this debate in support of my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright and his Bill, which I supported in Committee on 9 February.

My right hon. and learned Friend made the point that there has been significant consultation on the Bill—not least by him, in person—and I think that adds great authority to what he has said and what we are considering today. He observed that the Bill will come into effect two months after it is passed, which is an exciting prospect: we are not talking about some Act of Parliament in the distant future, but about an imminent change. Therefore, it is all the more to be welcomed.

I thank Gill Furniss for her remarks and her support for the Bill. It is always much appreciated when there is consensus across the House for such a measure —albeit with a few reservations on her part, which is to be expected and is quite understood—and I am pleased that we can all unify in support of the excellent measures in the Bill.

I am keen, in expressing my support for the Bill, to highlight and recognise the fantastic service that many taxi and private hire vehicle drivers have provided. I covered this point in my intervention on my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam, but it is nowhere more applicable than in my constituency of Clwyd South, particularly in the rural areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton spoke forcefully about rural areas, and I strongly support her point. My constituency contains urban areas but also a lot of rural areas, so I have seen for myself how important it is to have a taxi and private hire vehicle service to provide help to people, often in remote areas.

Taxis and private hire vehicles have been a lifeline for many disabled and vulnerable people, not least during the covid crisis. Despite that, the Bill is very necessary, and I am proud to support it. In practice, many operators of taxis and private hire vehicles in Clwyd South and elsewhere in the UK already go out of their way to facilitate travel for disabled people, so I suspect that implementing the Bill in full will not be as difficult as some might expect.

We have talked about some of the statistics already, but let me reiterate one or two of them. In 2019-20, 14 million people in the UK—around 22% of the overall population—were reported as having a disability. It is very important to bear that statistic in mind. Around 1.2 million people who are disabled use vehicles in the UK. Another point that has been made already but needs emphasising is that disabled people make twice as many journeys as non-disabled people by taxi and private hire vehicle each year.

Despite that, some disabled people continue to face discriminatory behaviour from a minority of drivers, including outright refusal of service, overcharging, and failure to provide assistance to enable them to board and travel in vehicles in reasonable comfort and safety. Clearly, that cannot be allowed to continue. While the Equality Act 2010 provides disabled people with some protection, it applies inconsistently and only with respect to certain disabilities.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw

The point has been made very succinctly that we do not have to wait for the Bill to come in before some of these changes can be made. Does my hon. Friend agree that one thing that taxi companies can do is to improve the communication with their drivers when people book taxis—especially in advance—when there are additional needs to be catered for, to ensure that they can provide the service?

Photo of Simon Baynes Simon Baynes Conservative, Clwyd South

I thank my hon. Friend for making that very valid point. I strongly support what he says. We have heard already that the communication between taxis and private hire vehicle operators and their customers is vital. It is extremely important that disabled people know what services they can obtain from taxi companies so that there is not a tragic misunderstanding.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton, in a slightly different context, has alluded to how dispiriting and upsetting it is for someone to expect a taxi journey and then have it taken from them at the last minute because the taxi driver deems them not to be the kind of client they want to pick up at that time. That level of distress is something that we should go out of our way to avoid, as she rightly said.

Daniel Zeichner, who is no longer in his place, made an important point about the holistic approach to travel. The Government have said that by 2030 they want to support the creation of an inclusive transport network that enables disabled people to travel to work or for leisure easily, confidently and without additional cost. That is part of the Government’s broader efforts to close the 30% gap between the employment of working-age disabled and non-disabled people. It is really important that we see the Bill in that broader context. It is not just about ensuring that taxi drivers perform in the way we are talking about: it is also the broader subject of how we ensure that disabled people can play as full a part in the life of this country, especially in the workplace, as other members of the population. It is that equality that lies at the heart of this.

As a former member of the licensing committee of Powys County Council, I am particularly interested in the measures in the Bill. One of the many reasons I support it is that it aims to reduce discrimination against disabled people and to address the barriers they face in accessing services. We have talked about the Equality Act, and it is good that the Bill will amend the sections of the Act that relate to the carriage of disabled people by taxi and private hire vehicles. As a Welsh Member, I welcome the fact that that will apply to both England and Wales. It also aims to address the inconsistencies in current legislation and expand the protections currently afforded to wheelchair and assistant dog users to all disabled people, regardless of the vehicle in which they travel. It will create a new duty to ensure that drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles do not refuse carriage to a disabled person, and a new duty will also be created for drivers to assist disabled passengers to identify and find the vehicle they have booked, without making any additional charge for doing so. In a sense, that is related to the point that my hon. Friend Brendan Clarke-Smith has just made, which is that that will be on the condition that the driver is made aware before the start of the journey that the passenger requires assistance to identify or find the vehicle.

That leads on to another point that I am keen to make, which comes from my experience in my constituency: that taxi drivers become friends to people, especially the disabled, the lonely and the elderly, because they play an incredibly important part in their lives. Many such drivers do a fantastic job already, as we have heard, and they have a close relationship with the people they help, particularly in rural areas.

The point about communication and ensuring that expectations are met, so that people have the service that they require, is vital, and lies at the heart of the Bill. It is one of the key reasons I support it. I would also expect that the provision will be especially helpful for visually impaired passengers and those with learning disabilities or cognitive impairments.

In conclusion, I fully back the Bill and will support it in the remaining stages, as it will safeguard disabled and vulnerable persons from unfair discrimination and will properly address the barriers they currently face in accessing taxi and private hire vehicles. I have great praise for the sector, as others have already said, especially in rural areas, and the Bill will enable us to create an even better service for people. I warmly congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam on his worthy Bill.

Photo of Chris Loder Chris Loder Conservative, West Dorset 10:29 am, 18th March 2022

It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate. I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright for bringing the Bill forward. I hope that it will make progress and become law. I am delighted that the Opposition are supporting it.

The Bill makes some important changes and improvements to the Equality Act 2010. Those who are wheelchair-dependent or who have assistance dogs have expressed rights in that Act, but others who are in need do not. I am delighted that the Bill will look to address that point. There is currently no requirement for a local licensing list to register and only 70% of local authorities have registered lists. That is a cause of concern for me so I am also delighted that the Bill will make progress to fix that.

Specifically, I draw the House’s attention to proposed new section 167A of the 2010 Act, which brings forward new offences where drivers fail or refuse to accept a booking from a disabled person because of a disability, which is important. I listened intently to my hon. Friend Alicia Kearns and the experiences that she shared. Many hon. Members have also had those experiences shared with them by constituents. It is important that we look to address that and put it right. I cannot commend my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam enough for addressing that.

A theme that has come through so far in the debate is the effect that the Bill will have on those living in rural areas, where taxi drivers have a considerable impact. In many cases, it is regrettable that there is such a high dependency on taxis. It is incumbent on the Government to take note of the fact that bus services in rural areas have not been the highest priority for a while. I hope that that will be fixed through the recently announced White Paper and the work that the Government are doing. When the Minister responds, I hope that she will update us on that, particularly on the effect on disabled access and those needing it.

The debate is about taxi access, however, and I pay tribute to my local taxi firm Beaver Cabs in Sherborne, which does a wonderful job. Those taxi drivers do much more than just drive someone from A to B: they have a relationship and they are often one of the few people that a resident will interact with over a period of time.

Many hon. Members have large rural constituencies. I listened to some statistics from hon. Friends earlier about the size of constituencies and I know that Conservative Members like to have a bit of a competition, but West Dorset is a constituency of 400 square miles and 132 parishes—it is vast and it has 84,000 electors. It is a considerable rural constituency and there are very high levels of dependency on taxi use. Of course, there are also many hidden needs, some of which my right hon. and learned Friend covers in the Bill.

It is key to build on the generosity and kindness of taxi drivers. We have to take care not to portray all taxi drivers in the same way as the few who are perhaps less kind and less generous with their assistance and help. The majority of taxi drivers already do many things. The good thing about the Bill is that it will legislate to ensure that those who do not do these things as standard will have to do so.

In West Dorset, there is a particular difficulty with disabled access by car and taxi to and from railway stations. There are seven stations in my constituency, only two of which are accessible. The other stations that serve the wider area are not accessible either.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton

My hon. Friend has great expertise when it comes to all things choo-choo, I believe. Why does he think those stations have not been given the facilities that they need for accessibility? We have the same problem in my rural constituency.

Photo of Chris Loder Chris Loder Conservative, West Dorset

As in most cases, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.

I have been actively pursuing this matter at Dorchester West station. Dorchester is the county town of Dorset. Dorchester West is now fully accessible, as a result of one of my many campaigns. However, it has taken far too long. Dorchester South, the county town station from which trains go to London, is not fully accessible. If a taxi for a disabled person pulls up at that station and the train is arriving from London Waterloo, the disabled passenger cannot access the taxi. Yeovil Junction, which is not in my constituency but serves the vast majority of the rural north of it, is not staffed all the time. A disabled person who gets off a train and cannot manage the steps will be stranded. That is unacceptable, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give due consideration to it—along with many other issues that I must share with her and her colleagues in this context.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

My hon. Friend has great expertise and experience in this field, so I hope he will forgive me if I ask him to acknowledge, at least, that the Government are making investments in our railway network and stations to improve accessibility through the Access for All programme, which will result in £350 million of investment between 2019 and 2024. Perhaps his constituency has not yet benefited from that investment, but he should certainly seek it.

Photo of Chris Loder Chris Loder Conservative, West Dorset

I thank my hon. Friend for his kind intervention. I entirely agree with him: I think that the Government’s work in this field is excellent. Regrettably, however, it is not excellent in West Dorset yet. When a county town station is not fully accessible and the second town of Somerset, on the border, is served by a station at which someone who is disabled and arrives after 8 pm will be stranded, that is completely unacceptable. However, I wholly support what the Government are doing through Access for All, and would warmly welcome more of that investment in West Dorset to address this issue.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

While we are on the issue of railways, on which my hon. Friend is an expert and speaks eloquently, and as we are talking about access to them for disabled persons, may I draw his attention to my campaign for the installation of tactile paving, an essential means of ensuring safety for disabled persons, at Darlington’s Bank Top station? May I also be the first to wish the Minister well with the GB Railways headquarters? We learned today that 42 possible locations had been named; I just want to put Darlington’s bid on record, and to wish the Minister well with that.

Photo of Chris Loder Chris Loder Conservative, West Dorset

I would welcome investment in the tactile paving that my hon. Friend will be receiving at Darlington. I understand that it is part of a £100 million scheme to develop the whole station. That is major investment for a wonderful part of the world, but West Dorset is equally wonderful, and I cannot remember the last time we saw major investment in one of our railway stations in rural Dorset. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to make this point. Access for disabled people who need to travel in taxis to and from trains, especially in the absence of rural bus services, is incredibly important, and we often do not pay attention to it.

You may be interested to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that in three areas in rural Dorset one has to put one’s hand out for the train driver to stop. Those train stations have only steps, and they are completely inaccessible to disabled people arriving by car. I hope the DFT and my hon. Friend the Minister will pursue a wider piece of work to develop connectivity for disabled people who travel by car and taxi to get on a train.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Does he take comfort from the fact that Great British Railways will have a statutory duty to make train stations more accessible? And will he support Grantham’s bid to host the headquarters of Great British Railways?

Photo of Chris Loder Chris Loder Conservative, West Dorset

I am open to being lobbied to support bids. I hope my hon. Friend will forgive me for not declaring at this moment which bid I will support. We need to be careful not to stray from the point.

My hon. Friend makes a valid point about the future of GBR. He asks whether I take comfort from the fact that GBR will also have the ability to make progress. Yes, I do take comfort, but I do not take comfort from having to wait for it. There is no reason to wait for this to happen to address the very difficult disabled access issues we have today. Many of us, particularly in rural areas, have already had to wait for decades and we should not continually have to wait. I welcome the GBR initiative, which will do great things for the railways of this country. I warmly commend my hon. Friend the Minister and her colleagues for their work.

I am conscious that we are straying into trains and railways. I am delighted to take interventions and questions from my hon. Friends, but I am conscious that I am not at the Dispatch Box. I hope they will bear that in mind.

The absence of rural bus services means that disabled people are much more dependent on taxis. We have to bear in mind the cost to disabled people. It is sad that disabled people, particularly in rural areas, have to pay more to be connected and to go to places because of the nature of their disability. That is something we should note. I am delighted that the Bill looks to address many of those matters.

Photo of Alicia Kearns Alicia Kearns Conservative, Rutland and Melton

If we are to reduce the reliance on taxis in the most rural areas, perhaps the Government need to consider improving the local government finance settlement and the funding to rural authorities. Otherwise we will have an increased reliance on taxi services, which sometimes struggle to operate in rural areas. We need that funding to ensure that there are adequate buses. The Government should be stepping forward to provide fairer funding to rural areas.

Photo of Chris Loder Chris Loder Conservative, West Dorset

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I looked through the revenue support grant list, but I cannot recall how her constituency benefited or not. Dorset did not benefit at all from the revenue support grant—it was zero. That compounds the difficulties we experience, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities for meeting my Dorset colleagues and I to look to address that.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton that this is a matter of real concern to many of us in rural constituencies. It is important that the balance is now readjusted, as rural areas are important. We have taken them for granted, particularly on disabled access and disabled transport, for too long. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam is making good progress on that in this Bill, and I am sure the Department will take it further.

I am conscious of the time and I am very grateful for the time afforded to me, but I will just conclude by saying that the dependence on taxis, because of the absence of rural bus services, particularly for disabled people, is an ongoing concern. For the past two and a half years, or just under, since I was elected, we have seen a considerable reduction in rural bus services. That has put undue pressure on those who do not have their own car, particularly those who are disabled, who need to get to the hospital, who need to go to the doctors and the dentists, who need to go shopping—the most basic of things. I look forward to progress on that in due course.

Finally, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam has done a sterling job with the Bill, which will make a huge impact and be of huge benefit to many people who maybe do not even realise that we are talking about it today. I am sorry not to see more Members on the Opposition Benches. This House has talked a lot about the issue of accessibility and equality over many years, and I am very sorry that the Opposition Benches are so free and empty. I just say to Gill Furniss that that is not meant to be a political point, but we have talked about this matter a lot in this House. It is important that today we can demonstrate, as the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, that we are making real progress on a matter that will affect a lot of people. I pay tribute, once again, to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border 10:46 am, 18th March 2022

I rise in support of the Bill and I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright for this important piece of legislation which will widen access and improve the Equality Act 2010. I very much welcome that it has support from the Opposition.

As we have heard today, connectivity is a huge issue in rural areas. I do not want to get into Top Trumps on the sizes of rural constituencies, but Penrith and the Border is the largest and most sparsely populated constituency in England. It can sometimes take up to two hours to get from one end of the constituency to the other by car. Having said that I did not want to indulge in Top Trumps, I just have.

Photo of Chris Loder Chris Loder Conservative, West Dorset

We cannot not respond to such points made in the House. West Dorset is 400 square miles and has 132 parishes. I cannot quite remember the statistics for the constituency of my hon. Friend Alicia Kearns, but I think hers is slightly larger than mine. Is the constituency of my hon. Friend Dr Hudson more beautiful than West Dorset? I am not quite sure on that point.

Photo of Neil Hudson Neil Hudson Conservative, Penrith and The Border

Yes, it is more beautiful. [Laughter.] Let us put the Top Trumps to one side now and get to the heart of this very important Bill.

My colleagues in rural constituencies, and also those in urban constituencies, have highlighted the importance of my right hon. and learned Friend’s Bill in connecting people, in getting them from A to B, in equality of access for all people who need it, and in ensuring that disabled people have equality of access. That is so, so important.

Points were made about there being many, many good taxi drivers and private hire vehicle drivers who are doing the right thing. Again, I want to thank those drivers for doing the right thing. The Bill will set the balance and get that to be uniform. For too long, unfortunately, disabled people have been facing behaviour that makes their lives very, very difficult. When there is outright refusal of service, it is incredibly distressing. I welcome the Government’s intention to go further and move towards disability training as part of the standards for licensing. I look forward to hearing from my hon. Friend the Minister on that point.

I also echo the point made by my hon. Friend Peter Gibson on the importance of having a database, so that people hiring vehicles know exactly where and when they can access them. That is a very important point and I look forward to movement on that.

I welcome the important tenet of the Bill to refrain from charging disabled people extra. It is so important to get that on to the statute book.

I very much welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s work on the Bill. Notably, he has consulted widely with disability groups as well as transport groups, and inserted practical safeguard balances into the Bill so that people providing services will not be penalised. It is well-balanced legislation that will move us forward positively.

As the Bill comes on to the statute book—as my right hon. and learned Friend said, that will be a couple of months after Royal Assent—it will be beholden on licensing authorities to become involved, but as has been mentioned, there are many pressures on local authorities. In Cumbria, we face radical local government restructuring to create two new unitary authorities. I have said many times that I am passionately against the restructuring, which is the last thing that a huge county such as Cumbria needs, and it is the worst possible time to be changing everything as we come out of a pandemic. That said, we are where we are and we need to make it work, but there will be pressures on the Cumbrian system to institute such changes.

I have been concerned about how the restructuring in Cumbria is leading to paralysis and inertia in decision making and in acting on legislation that may come through. To illustrate that, the local Liberal Democrat-led Eden District Council is delaying decisions on waste collections, so some villages in my constituency do not get green waste picked up while others do. The Liberal Democrat administration is blaming the previous Conservative administration and local government reform, and it is blaming central Government for the restructuring, which it cannot do anything about. That is not good enough. We cannot have delays in decision making because of such restructurings.

It is so important that we have connections across my constituency, so taxi drivers and private hire vehicle drivers are really important in that. It is also important, as colleagues have said, to have connectivity to other services. Rural buses have been highlighted often, and we have many fantastic local services for which volunteers have stepped up, such as the Fellrunner bus and the Border Rambler bus. Unfortunately, over the years we have seen increasing pressure on the rural bus network, so we have lost services.

Sadly, in 2014, Cumbria County Council took the retrograde decision to stop using central Government moneys to subsidise rural bus routes and, accordingly, some routes had to close as they were not financially viable. I urge local and central Government to ensure connectivity by working hard together and using moneys sensibly. In rural areas such as mine, people depend on the bus network, taxis and private hire vehicles.

Trains have also segued into the debate and, in my part of the world, I very much believe that we must improve train services. I have been campaigning for the reopening of Gilsland station and for the extension of the Borders railway from the borders down through Longtown in my constituency and on to Carlisle. We need joined-up thinking. The Bill is so important in improving equality of access to private hire vehicles and taxis, but I urge the Government to work with local government to ensure that our rural bus network is improved, bolstered and supported and that the train network is supported as well.

I raised many of those issues a couple of weeks ago in an Adjournment debate on support for levelling up rural communities. Bills such as this are very much about levelling up society, are they not? It is so important that such Bills come together, but we also need joined up-government to ensure connectivity across all walks of life. I firmly believe that this is an important Bill, which highlights the need to join up people in our communities, whether they are urban or rural.

We have highlighted some of the pressures in rural communities. Last night, I chaired a roundtable of rural stakeholders in my constituency. The pressures faced by such people, including farmers, due to the cost of living crisis include increasing fuel and diesel costs and increasing fertiliser costs. People in rural communities also have the cost of putting oil into their heating systems. I urge the Government to listen to those concerns and hope that, in the coming days, the Chancellor will try to mitigate some of the pressures that face our rural society.

In conclusion, I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam on the Bill, to which I give my full support.

Photo of James Sunderland James Sunderland Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill, Chair, Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 10:55 am, 18th March 2022

Thank you for calling me to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker. This Bill is a no-brainer, and it is nice to speak in support of a Bill where the issue is not contentious. I commend my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright for all his hard work in getting it this far.

I will be short and sweet. In the UK, 14.1 million people are reported to have a disability, which represents about 20% of the population. Of those, about 1.2 million people use wheelchairs. With disabled people making twice as many journeys by taxi and private hire vehicle each year compared with non-disabled people, discrimination against them appears to be utterly counter-intuitive. The Bill will create a new duty to ensure that drivers of taxis and PHVs do not refuse carriage to a disabled person who could reasonably travel in that vehicle, with no extra charge, and make every effort to ensure that that person feels comfortable and safe while travelling.

Local licensing authorities may currently maintain a list of wheelchair-accessible taxis and PHVs, but only 70% of them have chosen to do so. To address that anomaly, the Bill will require LLAs to maintain and publish such a list. It is also expected that the cost of the changes will be minimal, so what is not to like?

The Bill will mean that licensing authorities can enforce and remove licences from operators who do not comply with the law, and rightly so. In Bracknell, we have a thriving taxi and PHV industry. We have airport runs, the M3, the M4 and runs into London. Taxis and PHVs in Bracknell are busy. However, let us also commend the fantastic work that bus companies and aviation companies are doing in upholding the requirements of the Equality Act and looking after people who are not able-bodied. My thanks goes to all those in my constituency who operate in the transport sector.

I believe that the Bill will enforce the already excellent practices adopted by most operators in the UK, so let us hope that the Opposition and the Government now formally support it.

Photo of Brendan Clarke-Smith Brendan Clarke-Smith Conservative, Bassetlaw 10:58 am, 18th March 2022

It is a pleasure to speak about this Bill today and I commend my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright for bringing it to the House. It will make a huge difference to the lives of a number of people. As we have stated, let us hope that many of the companies start to take action before the legislation comes into effect. This country prides itself on treating people equally. Although there will always be instances where we do not get it right or could do better, we can nevertheless be incredibly positive about that, and there are many great examples that we can point to.

I am glad that we are getting the opportunity this morning to discuss equal treatment for those with disabilities. When the underground was again grinding to a halt the other week because of strikes, despite the Mayor’s past assurances, we all appreciated the fact that we had alternative forms of transport. When buses are not available, as many are not in rural communities such as Bassetlaw, a taxi or private hire vehicle can be essential. It needs to be recognised that access to those services is sometimes not available perhaps as equally as it should be. As has been mentioned many times, disabled people make twice as many taxi and private hire vehicle journeys each year as others, and the Bill seeks to remedy this and put further protections in place. To do so we need to amend the sections of the Equality Act 2010 relating to the carriage of disabled people by taxi and PHV. There are currently some inconsistencies in the legislation and it is worth bearing in mind that we are not simply speaking about wheelchair users; there are other needs to consider such as those of people using assistance dogs. Nobody should be refused carriage because of their disability when reasonable steps can be taken to ensure they are able to travel, and they have a right to feel comfortable and safe when travelling and should not incur any extra charges. It is reasonable to expect this while also recognising that in some cases transportation in certain vehicles may not be possible.

As has been mentioned, 14.1 million people are reported as having a disability, making up 22% of the population, and it is disappointing that many disabled people continue to report facing discriminatory behaviour from drivers, including outright refusal of service, overcharging and failure to provide assistance to enable them to board and travel in vehicles in reasonable comfort and safety. This should not happen, regardless of the proportion of disabled people in the country of course, as one person being treated unfairly is one too many.

I fully support the Government’s pledge to create an inclusive transport network by 2030 and their broader efforts to close the 30% gap between the employment of working age disabled and non-disabled people. Many found it reassuring that this Government’s existing inclusive transport strategy has highlighted the inconsistent application of the Equality Act in terms of the duties it places on taxi and PHV drivers, and that is why I fully support this excellent Bill. The Government’s 2021 national disability strategy also committed to take forward legislation to strengthen the law on the carriage of disabled people in taxis and PHVs so that they are protected from some of the issues highlighted today. It is disappointing that section 167 of the Equality Act provides only that local licensing authorities “may maintain a list” of wheelchair-accessible taxis and PHVs and that only 70% of LLAs are doing so. Drivers in areas without a list should not be able to continue discriminating against disabled passengers even if their vehicle is technically wheelchair accessible, and this Bill will fix that.

Currently, sections 168 and 170 of the Equality Act create offences for taxi drivers and PHV operators and drivers who refuse to carry, or make additional charges for carrying, a disabled person travelling with an assistance dog, and proposed new section 167A creates new offences where PHV operators fail or refuse to accept a booking from a disabled person because of their disability or charge extra for fulfilling any of the disability-related duties in proposed new sections 164A and 165A and section 165 of the Act.

In conclusion, the Bill will help reduce discrimination against disabled people and help further tackle the barriers they have to face in accessing these essential services by amending the Equality Act 2010. It is important to be balanced, too, which is why I am pleased that the Bill includes defences for where drivers could not reasonably have known the passenger was disabled and/or the passenger required mobility assistance. It is of course helpful for drivers to be made aware before the start of a journey that the passenger requires assistance—as I mentioned earlier, there is a communication issue there as much as anything else—so that they can identify and find a vehicle that is suitable for the passenger’s needs, because then everybody will be a lot happier. This will be particularly helpful for visually impaired passengers and those with learning disabilities or cognitive impairments; this is something they have raised on a number of occasions and I am delighted it is being reflected in this well thought-out Bill. This excellent, well-intentioned Bill will contribute to making taxi and PHV access fairer for all.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford 11:04 am, 18th March 2022

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright on producing this Bill and all the work he has put in; the diligence with which it is crafted shows he cares passionately about the subject. Before I get to the content of today’s Bill, let me put on record my admiration for all the taxi firms across Grantham and Stamford that keep us moving across what is a very rural constituency, whether that is ABC Taxis in Stamford, Grantham Taxis, Smart Cabs in Bourne, Starline Taxis in Stamford, or Excellent Cabs—who are indeed excellent—in Grantham. I thank every one of those firms.

We know the importance of today’s debate, because this is about fairness. It is about ensuring a level playing field for everyone who lives in this country, no matter where they come from, what has happened to them in life, how they are born or where they are born. This is about treating everybody fairly and equally. We have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Bassetlaw (Brendan Clarke-Smith) and for Bracknell (James Sunderland) some very interesting statistics that caught my attention, so let me repeat them for additional emphasis: some 14 million people in this country live with some kind of disability—22% of our population in total—and 1.2 million use a wheelchair. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw pointed out, a disabled person is twice as likely to need and use a taxi or private hire vehicle than a non-disabled person.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about a couple of other statistics that arose from some research carried out by the disability charity Scope? It reported in 2019 that two thirds of disabled people had experienced problems using public transport in the previous year, and that four fifths of disabled people felt anxious on public transport. That, I suggest, underlines the reasons why disabled people need to have access to taxis and private hire vehicles. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point; no matter the mode of transport, we should make it as accessible as possible. As I mentioned in an intervention previously, this Government are investing in making our public transport network more accessible, whether that is through the £350 million investment in improved accessibility on our train network or the national bus strategy, which has resulted in 99% of buses being acceptably accessible. However, my hon. Friend is right: we should not ignore the fact that people still feel uncomfortable, and there are still modes of transportation that are not accessible. One of the reasons why disabled people use taxis and private hire vehicles is the level of private car ownership, a point that I will come on to in a moment.

We should also acknowledge that when it comes to transportation for disabled people, some improvements are happening in this country. A recent Department for Transport survey showed that 75% of disabled people are satisfied with taxi services, but that figure needs to be 100%, which is the point of today’s Bill. Taxi driver awareness training is also increasing, but as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam pointed out, we can and should do more. We should never stop pushing for that.

Photo of Siobhan Baillie Siobhan Baillie Conservative, Stroud

A week ago, when I was coming back from Parliament, I got a taxi from Stonehouse station with Apollo Cars, and my driver talked about this Bill. He was very much in favour of it. He has five or six regular clients—a group of Down’s syndrome lads—who he takes to college, and he spoke so favourably about this Bill. As we have heard from my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright and a number of other colleagues, it is so important that we are supportive of taxi drivers. I think I interrupted my hon. Friend before he could go on to that point, but so many taxi drivers provide an excellent service and really enjoy those trips as well.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point, and I pay tribute to Apollo Taxis, just as I did at the beginning to all those taxi firms in Grantham and Stamford constituency.

I also welcome the national disability strategy, which has already been referred to by one of my hon. Friends and is the first cross-Government effort to improve the everyday lives of disabled people. Again, I praise this Government for the efforts they are making, particularly the disability Minister, who has taken to her brief with great passion and motivation. However, there is clearly an issue, which this Bill is seeking to address. Many disabled people face discrimination when it comes to taxi services, whether that is outright refusal of service, over-charging of passengers, or a failure to provide assistance. None of that should be happening; it is completely and utterly unacceptable. To the point of my hon. Friend Rob Butler, only 58% of taxis and 2% of private hire vehicles are wheelchair-accessible, which is in stark contrast to buses of which, thanks to the national bus strategy, 99% are accessible to disabled people, so that gap needs need to be filled.

As mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw, the Government’s 2018 inclusive transport strategy aimed to support the creation of an inclusive transport network and highlights the inconsistent application of the Equality Act 2010 to taxis. I am delighted that this Bill seeks to address that inconsistency by preventing taxi drivers from refusing a journey, by requiring drivers to assist disabled people, and by requiring local licensing authorities to maintain and publish a list of wheelchair-accessible taxis. The point made by my hon. Friend Peter Gibson, backed up my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam, about transparency and having a register is important, and I hope the Minister is listening.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for sharing those statistics. Just 58% of taxis being accessible to disabled users masks the fact that such vehicles are not evenly spread throughout the country. I imagine that many of them are based in here in London, and constituencies such as ours, some distance from London, do not have the requisite number of accessible vehicles. I also thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the register, which I raised earlier.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

Again, I am grateful to my hon. Friend. It is worth highlighting my second statistic: 2% of private hire vehicles are wheelchair-accessible. In a rural area such as Lincolnshire, where I am from, we do not have that many taxis—London has the bulk of them, as my hon. Friend points out—so 2% is an astonishing and, frankly, disturbing figure. That highlights why it is so important that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam has brought this Bill to the Chamber today.

This Bill, this initiative and, indeed, this debate with its many contributions from Conservative Members will be met with great appreciation in my constituency. I pay tribute to the Grantham Disabled Children’s Society, run by the incredible Darryl Blair and his team of volunteers, who do so much for disabled children in Grantham. I have spent a lot of time with the organisation, and Darryl in particular, and it does fantastic work to make the lives of disabled children across Lincolnshire a lot easier. He will welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s efforts today.

If the House will indulge me, based on conversations with Darryl and the Grantham Disabled Children’s Society I will touch on two important related issues facing disabled people in Grantham and Stamford that are close to my heart. First, while we are talking about taxis today, some disabled people—about 4.2% of the population according statistics I have read—hold a blue badge pass, but many report growing issues with non-passholders incorrectly using disabled parking spaces at petrol stations, supermarkets and other venues or, unbelievably, just abusing them, which I have seen happen on countless occasions. Of course, I appreciate that not all disabilities are visible, but Government statistics show that blue badge theft and misuse is a real problem. In 2021, 4,396 badges were stolen, and the most common reason for prosecution for the misuse of blue badges was when someone uses somebody else’s badge following some undetermined action.

Even if disabled people can get around, my second point is that when they get somewhere, there are insufficient places for changing and bathroom facilities. I have spent a lot of time looking at changing places, and I was shocked to learn that in my constituency and across Lincolnshire we have very few changing place facilities for disabled people. I support our local district council in its wish, and the bid it has put in to the Government, to put in place a changing place facility in each of the three towns I represent, Grantham, Bourne and Stamford.

It is right that we debate this subject and that we put on record our thanks to our taxi drivers across our constituencies, while also recognising that much more needs to be done to level the playing field for disabled people. This is an incredibly important Bill, which has my full support and, I am pleased to say, the support of many across the House. The Government have an important role to play in levelling the playing field; I appreciate all the efforts they have made, but we should never be complacent.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury 11:15 am, 18th March 2022

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright on successfully bringing his Bill to this stage. Having been through the same process recently with my Approved Premises (Substance Testing) Bill, I know how much work is required, and I think my hon. Friend Peter Gibson can attest to that with the successful passage of his Bill too.

It takes a great deal of effort to turn a good idea into good law. With a private Member’s Bill, it can only done with a lot of help from officials of the House, from all Front Benches and from Back-Bench colleagues across the House, whose support is so important, particularly at Committee stage. Persuading hon. Members with whom we normally disagree of the merits of our Bills is not always the easiest of tasks, but it ensures that the ultimate legislation has been thoroughly considered and, if necessary, improved to address needs that have been identified across the House.

I must admit I had not quite realised some of the tactics that would be needed to ensure that all the procedural niceties were met. I rather suspect the Government Whips were a little jittery when they saw me lurking near the Opposition Lobby more than once in order to get Labour Members to sign the document agreeing that they would serve on the Bill Committee, but it all worked out in the end. I never walked through the wrong Lobby, they supported me in the Bill Committee and I pay tribute to all of them for their support of my Bill. I also pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam for the endeavours he has had to make to bring this Bill back before us today.

Moving on to the substance of the debate, it is fair to say that not only do taxis and private hire vehicles provide a convenient mode of transport, but they can be a lifeline for many of our constituents. Never has that been more apparent than during the pandemic, when cab drivers were tremendously important in my constituency. At a time when so many were working from home, drivers helped to ensure that people could get to urgent appointments, helped to deliver essential goods and prescriptions, and were an absolutely vital link for vulnerable residents. On behalf of all the people of Aylesbury, I thank our local drivers for all the hard work they have put in in what has been a challenging two years.

As we have heard at length in this debate, taxis are especially important for those members of our local community who are disabled. Having a convenient, door-to-door service helps to give them the freedom to travel locally, enriching their lives and helping to combat loneliness and isolation—in short, it lets them do what everyone else does without thinking about it.

That is even more the case for people living in rural areas. Despite my constituency being called Aylesbury, in honour of the proud and beautiful county town of Buckinghamshire, the seat is in fact quite rural. Almost two thirds of my constituency is nestled in villages and hamlets, and for many elderly and disabled residents in those more rural communities taxis are not just convenient but essential.

Furthermore, many of the taxi firms in Aylesbury provide school transport for children with special educational needs and disabilities, helping them to access the provision they need so they can receive the best education possible, including at the Chiltern Way Academy. I visited the school last week and, as I was leaving, there was a fleet of taxis lined up to take the children home—children who loved being at that school and who were benefiting in a way they would not necessarily have done elsewhere, but who could only get that benefit because of the taxis taking them there every day. Those taxis, of course, needed to be fit for the children they were transporting, and that is a prime example of why my right hon. and learned Friend’s Bill is so important.

When I intervened on my hon. Friend Gareth Davies, I highlighted worrying figures from the disability charity Scope: two thirds of disabled people experiencing problems using public transport and four fifths of disabled people feeling anxious on public transport. Those figures again underline the significance of taxis for disabled people, yet sadly we still hear of instances in which they face discrimination from drivers, as my hon. Friend Simon Baynes mentioned earlier.

It is shocking that there are drivers or cab companies that refuse to transport people because they are disabled, say they will take them but then overcharge, or will not help somebody get in and out of a car. That seems astonishing in 2022. Although the Equality Act 2010 provides disabled people with some protection, it is applied inconsistently, so this Bill is absolutely essential.

I was surprised to learn that there is no duty on the driver of any taxi or private hire vehicle to carry a passenger who could transfer from a wheelchair into the vehicle. People who want to show a degree of self-sufficiency where they are able to do so are not being helped by those who could help them, which is quite astonishing. It is absolutely the right time to put that right.

Finally, I want to mention the role of local licensing authorities, because they too can play an important role in helping passengers who need a wheelchair-accessible vehicle to find one. The Equality Act provides that licensing authorities “may maintain a list” of wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles, but it does not oblige them to do so. I am pleased that Buckinghamshire Council does indeed maintain a list of taxis and private hire vehicles that are fully wheelchair accessible and currently operating within the county. I looked at the list yesterday and it is helpfully divided into sections according to the local areas and districts within the county, and includes useful information on available vehicles so that anyone who is disabled and needs to get around can do so with confidence and full information.

The legislation being introduced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam is important, necessary and overdue. Taxis and private hire vehicles are convenient, but we must ensure that they are also accessible to the people who rely on them. This Bill will do exactly that. It will amend the Equality Act 2010 so that inconsistencies in current legislation are eliminated, and it will expand the protection that currently benefits only disabled people in wheelchairs or using assistance dogs, specifically and importantly creating the new duties we have heard about, making sure that every effort is made to ensure disabled passengers feel comfortable and safe while travelling. It sounds so simple; it is right that it is now going to happen.

This Bill represents an important step towards the fully inclusive transport network that I, the Government, the Opposition and surely all Members of the House want to see created.

Photo of Peter Gibson Peter Gibson Conservative, Darlington 11:23 am, 18th March 2022

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Rob Butler. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright on bringing forward this Bill. I commend him for expertly guiding this legislation through Committee stage to today’s Third Reading.

The topic of the Bill is close to my heart. I was privileged to guide through the House my own private Member’s Bill on taxi and private hire vehicles during this Session, and it is a privilege to be able to be here today to assist my right hon. and learned Friend with his Bill in its final stages. From my own experience, I know what a hugely rewarding process a private Member’s Bill can be, particularly when it stands a real chance of becoming law, but it is also a challenging experience and I congratulate him on reaching this stage.

It would be remiss of me not to mention my noble Friend Lord Borwick, who is ably guiding my Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill as it continues its legislative journey. Throughout his career, Lord Borwick has done extensive work to make taxis accessible to disabled people. In his time as the chief executive and a shareholder in Manganese Bronze Holdings plc, the company manufactured, distributed and financed the traditional London taxi and developed the first mobile phone hailing system in the world, which went on to become the first wheelchair-accessible public transport system. He went on to be chairman of the company that adopted the Mercedes Vito to make a wheelchair-accessible London taxi, which was undoubtedly a significant contribution to making taxis and private hire vehicles accessible to disabled people.

It would also be remiss of me not to mention the good work of the all-party parliamentary group on taxis. We have heard in this debate from Daniel Zeichner, who has done extensive work in respect of taxis. I welcome the APPG’s engagement with me on my Bill, and I am sure that it has been assisting my right hon. and learned Friend with his.

There are more than 14 million people in the UK with a disability. For many of them, taxi and private hire vehicles are a vital and sometimes the only means of transport, allowing them to access the daily freedoms that many of us take for granted. Indeed, I understand that research has been carried out by the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, which found that the households of 60% of disabled people had no car, compared with 27% for the overall population. Moreover, 50% of respondents said that inaccessible transport had restricted their choice of jobs, rising to 62% for wheelchair users and 86% for those with a visual impairment.

As a society, we should not accept such figures. It is hugely important that drivers of taxi and private hire vehicles are willing to offer the extra help required to make a disabled person’s journey manageable and ensure that they are not denied opportunities because of something that is entirely outside their control. That reality has been impressed on me by Gordon Pybus, who is the chair of Darlington Association on Disability, an organisation in my constituency that is led by disabled people who are taking a leading role in changing the negative attitudes that prevent disabled people from participating fully as equal citizens. I know that he and the association warmly welcome this Bill as an important step forward for disabled people.

In proceedings on my own Bill in the other place, moving speeches were made by Baroness Brinton, as I mentioned in an earlier intervention, and Lord Holmes of Richmond about their difficulties as disabled people using taxis. I am pleased that the Bill will address some of the issues that they raised. We have a proud history in this country of legislating to put in place protections for disabled people. The Equality Act 2010 was undoubtedly a huge step forward, providing specific protections for those who use wheelchairs and those with assistance dogs.

We can always do more, however. The overwhelming majority of our taxi and private hire vehicle drivers are good, decent, hard-working people, and they would go out of their way to support their disabled passengers, but a small minority still refuse to carry disabled passengers, refuse to take their bookings or do not make available the assistance that disabled people need to use their services. I welcome the fact that the Bill seeks to right this wrong and broaden the measures in the Equality Act to address the discrimination that many disabled passengers still face.

The Bill will achieve that by amending the Equality Act, specifically the sections relating to the carriage of disabled persons by taxi and private hire vehicles. The Bill is designed to address the inconsistencies in the Act while expanding the protections afforded to wheelchair and assistance dog users to cover all disabled people, no matter the vehicle in which they travel.

The Act rightly requires the driver of designated wheelchair-accessible vehicles and private hire vehicles to carry wheelchair-using passengers at no extra charge. That duty does not, however, currently extend to carrying passengers who could transfer from a wheelchair into a non-wheelchair-accessible vehicle while their wheelchair is folded and stored for the journey. It also excludes from any protection when travelling in a taxi or private hire vehicle all other disabled passengers who do not use a wheelchair.

I am pleased that the Bill will right that oversight to ensure that drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles do not refuse carriage to a disabled person who could reasonably travel in that vehicle with no extra charge, and that drivers make every effort to make sure the disabled person feels comfortable and safe while travelling, among other related duties. Those are very reasonable and simple requests to make of drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles. We would not expect a taxi driver to refuse to transport a mother and child with a pushchair, but sadly, as we heard from my hon Friend Alicia Kearns, that does happen. That is simply not acceptable in 21st-century Britain.

The Bill will require drivers to carry more than one wheelchair on any one journey except under certain circumstances. It will also ensure that there are protections for drivers who could not reasonably have known that the passenger was disabled and/or required mobility assistance. The vast majority of taxis and private hire vehicles already seek to ensure that disabled customers are able to travel in comfort and have the support they need. It is likely that many already abide by those measures, but I am pleased that the Bill will ensure that those basic expectations are set out in law and will better protect our disabled citizens.

It is right that offences arising from failure to comply with the duties the Bill establishes will be punishable by fines comparable to those for offences already in law under the Equality Act. The Bill puts in place clear deterrents for those who would seek to discriminate against disabled persons.

The Bill also deals with another issue, arising from pre-booked journeys. It is currently an offence to refuse to carry, or to make additional charges for a disabled person travelling with an assistance dog, but not to refuse bookings. The Bill rightly creates new offences where an operator fails or refuses to accept a booking from a disabled person because of their disability, or charges extra for fulfilling any of the duties placed on it to facilitate a disabled person’s journey.

We must not forget that some taxi and private hire vehicle drivers face disabilities or impairments themselves. It is right that the Equality Act provides for exemption certificates for such drivers from duties under the Act. However, the current exemption provisions are very broad, even exempting drivers with such a certificate from the measures preventing drivers from making additional charges. I am pleased that the Bill amends the operation of those certificates so that a driver with a certificate will be exempt only from mobility assistance duties; other duties, such as to carry the passenger and not to propose additional charges, will still apply to exempted drivers.

My own Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill seeks to resolve a number of issues with licensing. I am pleased that this Bill will complement mine, and that it seeks to right another issue with the licensing system. Current legislation provides only that local licensing authorities may maintain a list of wheelchair-accessible taxis and private hire vehicles, and only 70% of licensing authorities do so. Only drivers designated on those lists are subject to the provisions of the Equality Act, meaning that drivers in areas without a list have been able to continue to discriminate against disabled passengers, even if their vehicle is wheelchair accessible. That is not acceptable, and I am pleased that the Bill will build on other reforms to the licensing system to require all local licensing authorities to maintain and publish such a list.

In the light of my own Bill, I ask the Minister if the Government have considered whether a central database of wheelchair-accessible vehicles might be a prudent move. In Darlington, we face a shortage of available taxis, in large part due to a shortage of drivers, but wheelchair-accessible vehicles for our disabled community are even more scarce. Ensuring the availability of accessible vehicles for disabled people in Darlington remains a problem.

For the last 10 years of her life, my mother was wheelchair bound as a result of a massive stroke that rendered her unable to walk and dependent on the care of others for the most basic needs. On a number of occasions, it was necessary for mum to rely on taxi transport. I am pleased to report that in every one of those instances, mum received the care and attention entirely appropriate for her situation. To my mind, it passed the “mum test”—that is, it was good enough for my own mother. I believe that the measures in this Bill promoted by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam will help to enshrine the mum test in law for all of our disabled constituents.

Photo of Wendy Morton Wendy Morton Minister of State (Department for Transport) 11:33 am, 18th March 2022

Let me start by saying a huge thank you to my right hon. and learned Friend Jeremy Wright for so expertly steering the Bill through the House. As a Back Bencher, I successfully steered two private Members’ Bills through this place, so I absolutely understand the huge amount of work that he is undertaking.

It is really good to see Members in the Chamber today. I appreciate that Friday is a constituency day, so the fact that Members are here supporting the Bill makes me understand even more how important it is and the amount of support that it has. Members have made it very clear that the Bill will make a big difference to their constituents.

As I have watched the Bill make progress, one key point has stayed with me, which is that disabled people make twice as many journeys by taxi and private hire vehicle as non-disabled people. We were reminded of that by my hon. Friend Simon Baynes. Across all transport modes, just 69% of disabled people surveyed by the Government’s inclusive transport strategy baseline study were confident travelling, compared to 90% of non-disabled people. For many disabled people, travelling is often accompanied by fear, anxiety and stress. The Bill would directly address that disparity between disabled and non-disabled people when using a vital form of transport. It would provide rights and protections for any disabled person intending on travelling by taxi or private hire vehicle. It would place duties on drivers to provide reasonable assistance to any disabled person, and prevent them from charging extra for doing so. It would support the Government’s ambition for disabled people to have the same access to transport as everyone else. Those are the reasons why, I am pleased to say, the Government fully support the Bill. I also welcome the Opposition’s support for it.

Currently, if a passenger uses a walking frame to access a taxi or private hire vehicle, there is no specific duty on the driver to assist them in stowing their frame in the boot of the vehicle. Right now, if a prospective passenger has notified an operator or driver at the booking stage that they have dementia and may not be able to identify or find the vehicle when it arrives, there is no specific duty to assist them. At this time, if an assistance dog user books a private hire vehicle, the operator will not automatically break the law if they decide, simply because the person is disabled, to not send a driver. If a wheelchair user wants to use a taxi or private hire vehicle which is registered to a local licensing authority that does not maintain a list of designated wheelchair accessible vehicles, there is no specific duty on the driver or operator to carry them, either in their wheelchair or in the passenger seat. Those are just a few of the real life scenarios that disabled people up and down the country experience today—hon. Members have given other examples in this debate—and the Equality Act 2010 does not currently provide rights for or protections against them. The Bill would rectify that, ensuring all disabled people have rights and protections to access a taxi or private hire vehicle service, no matter where they are in Great Britain.

The Bill would create new responsibilities and amend existing ones for taxi and private hire vehicle drivers, private hire vehicle operators, and local licensing authorities. In particular, it would place reasonable duties on drivers to assist and carry any disabled person and, if applicable, their wheelchair or mobility aids, ensuring that no driver can make, or propose to make, any additional charge for complying with such duties. It would also require local licensing authorities to maintain a list of designated wheelchair accessible vehicles, thereby ensuring that the duties in section 165 apply to drivers of wheelchair accessible vehicles across the country—a point that several hon. Members have made today.

Additionally, the Bill would make it an offence for a private hire vehicle operator to refuse a booking simply because the intended passenger is disabled, or to prevent a driver from being subject to the duties under the Equality Act 2010. That will provide protections for disabled people, ensuring they are not refused a service before the vehicle has even been assigned. However, the duties simply would not work without the defences and exemptions in the Bill. As has already been highlighted by Members on both sides of the House throughout the Bill’s passage—rightly, I have to say—the majority of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers in this country provide a first-class service. That has been reiterated today. I was struck by the comments of my hon. Friend Peter Gibson about his “mum” test, which was a poignant point, but one that actually resonates with all of us, as we always want the best for our own families and loved ones.

The professionalism and dedication of taxi and private-hire vehicle providers to transporting essential workers during the height of the pandemic ensured that the country could continue to function. The Bill is not intended to penalise or put undue burdens on those drivers who already provide reasonable assistance to disabled people. In fact, those drivers would be unlikely to notice any difference at all in how they operate should the Bill pass. Instead, the Bill is intended to ensure that all drivers provide the level of service that the majority already provide.

Indeed, the Bill would not just benefit disabled people; it is also important to consider the wider benefits that it would bring, too. In economic terms, the disability charity Scope estimated that, based on household, below-average income figures, the spending power of disabled people and their households is £274 billion a year, with businesses calculated to lose £2 billion every month by not meeting the needs of disabled people.

The first barrier to people’s access to society—to work, to leisure, to shops, to cafes and restaurants—is transport. If a person decides not to leave the house because they cannot guarantee that the driver will assist them with stowing their walking frame in the boot of the vehicle, then we all, as a society, lose.

There are a couple of extra points that I want to cover in my comments, because these were raised today in the Chamber. The first one was around disability awareness training. The number of authorities requiring disability awareness training for taxi drivers has increased from 44% in 2019 to 49% in 2021. The number of authorities requiring disability awareness training for private hire vehicle drivers has increased from 41% to 46%. The Bill will not overcome all the barriers that disabled passengers face when using taxis and private hire vehicles, nor should it, because this is an important part of a much bigger picture. Requiring drivers to provide appropriate assistance and to prevent them from charging disabled people more than non-disabled people will only be effective if drivers understand the rights and expectations of disabled passengers and feel confident about providing the help that they need. That is why the Government will continue to encourage local authorities to require drivers to complete disability awareness training. We have also committed, as soon as legislative time allows, to require taxi and private-hire vehicle drivers to complete disability awareness training through new national minimum standards for taxi and private hire vehicle licensing. To support the sector in this, in 2020, the Government published their real disability equality training programme to improve the transport sector’s confidence and skills in delivering inclusive journeys for disabled passengers. This training package is underpinned by two really important values: respect and empathy. It also promotes two important actions: ask and listen. It has been developed with the engagement of transport sector professionals and people with lived experience of disability and it is freely available to any taxi or private-hire vehicle driver or operator wishing to improve their understanding and confidence when assisting disabled people.

The other couple of points that I want to touch on are around the broader issue of accessibility, but it is linked in with this debate, although there was quite a focus on railway stations—perhaps that is because I am the Rail Minister. In terms of access for all, I just wanted to say that this programme was launched in 2006, and, since then, £900 million has been released, about 212 stations have been made fully accessible, and smaller scale improvements have been made at more than 1,500 stations. The programme was extended until 2024 and will deliver more than 100 step-free routes and other important improvements at another 124 stations. I am grateful to Members for raising that issue and reminding us of the importance of accessibility. As ever, there is always more that we can do.

The issue of tactiles is also important. Network Rail estimates that 60% of British mainline station platforms have tactile surfaces. We are committed to making that 100%. It has received an initial £10 million to fit tactile surfaces at priority stations; further funding will be announced in due course. That is all important because it is about making improvements to the overall accessibility for those people who need assistance and a bit of support.

We have had an excellent debate. We have covered the differences between rural and urban constituencies, although many face similar challenges around accessibility. There has also been mention of Great British Railways and its HQ competition. I know that several hon. Members present have bids in for that; I will not name them but they know who they are—I think you are one, Madam Deputy Speaker. There were 42 bids and we await the outcome of the competition but there has been some healthy engagement.

The Government fully support the Bill. It will not only level the playing field of services that drivers provide for disabled people, but make a direct contribution to delivering a fully inclusive transport network. I again congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam on driving the Bill so far and I look forward to following its continued progress.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Kenilworth and Southam 11:46 am, 18th March 2022

I have no wish to hold up the excellent British Sign Language Bill of Rosie Cooper, which I wish every success, but with the leave of the House, I will simply offer a few words of thanks.

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and the shadow Minister, Gill Furniss, for their support for the Bill throughout, which is much appreciated. I also thank my hon. Friends and the Opposition Members who have spoken at every stage of its progress through the House with great wisdom and common sense. I am grateful to them all, particularly my hon. Friend Peter Gibson, who has helped to prove that we wait ages for a Bill on taxis and then two come along at once.

I also thank the officials at the Department for Transport, who have helped tremendously in the Bill’s development, and the officials of the House, who have helped to steer it and me through the processes so far. Finally, I thank those who have contributed to the Bill’s development by offering their thoughts on it, including those who work in the charity sector as advocates for people with disabilities, those who represent drivers and vehicle operators, and those who work in local authorities to whom I have also spoken about the aspects of the Bill that will affect those authorities.

I very much hope that the House will give the Bill a fair wind through to the other place where it will be in the capable hands of a former Transport Secretary and where I hope it will get a little further scrutiny and much more support so that we can improve the lives of our disabled constituents.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.