Transport Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 9th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Swinfen Lord Swinfen Conservative 5:00 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 14. I shall leave the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to address Amendment No. 26, which has also been included in this group. I moved a similar amendment to Amendment No. 14 in Committee on recommitment but subsequently withdrew it. At that time it was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, who, unfortunately, cannot be here this afternoon. I understand that he is in Australia.

Amendment No. 3 is purely a paving amendment for Amendment No. 14. However, it would clarify Clause 108 as regards people with disabilities. It would ensure that local transport authorities must consider the particular safety and comfort problems caused by disability when developing their policies. It would also ensure proper access for disabled people where there is interchange between different types of transport.

Amendment No. 14 requires that train station operators provide facilities for licensed taxis at their stations. Licensed taxis either already, or soon will, provide spacious wheelchair facilities for all passengers, as well as a regulated fare and a well-trained driver, who must have local knowledge. They are a vital part of the transport network, not just for disabled people but also for many sections of the community, as the Government recognised in their integrated policy.

The amendment is a straightforward measure that has widespread support among the disability community and would ensure consistent and fair treatment for all those who need to use an accessible vehicle as part of their public transport journey. The amendment would prevent train station operators from signing exclusive contracts with minicab operators. As the House may know, although licensed taxis are subject to the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, minicabs are not. Already, in areas such as Cambridge and Eastbourne, passengers can get off a train to find that the services of a licensed taxi are not available within the station, as exclusive contracts have been signed with minicab operators.

In Committee on re-commitment the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, argued that this proposed new clause is unnecessary, as, in the Government's view, the implementation of Sections 21 and 33 of the Disability Discrimination Act will ensure that there are wheelchair-accessible vehicles available at railway stations. My understanding from advice that I have received is that that is not the case. The Government seek to rely on the implementation of the DDA through individual court cases being brought against specific station operators. This would clearly be costly and ineffective; indeed, it could lead to inconsistencies across the country. I have been advised by parliamentary agents to the London Taxi Board that, to quality as an offence under Section 21 of the DDA, it must be shown that it is "impossible or unreasonably difficult" for disabled passengers to make use of a service. The board advises--not surprisingly--that on account of this wording a successful claim under the Act is,

"only likely to occur in the most extreme cases".

Section 33 of the Act states that the Minster has powers to designate transport facilities where a station operator has entered one of these inclusive contracts. But the implementation of that section will not be sufficient. Unless the Minister concerned is aware of all the cases where there are no accessible vehicles available and is able immediately to designate facilities to provide similar services to the local taxi fleet, there will be inconsistencies across the country. The situation would surely be unacceptable. Therefore, this amendment is the only way that an equality of service for the elderly and disabled can be guaranteed.

If the Government are genuinely committed to ensuring that accessible transport is available to those who need it, when they need it, surely the obvious solution is to accept this simple amendment and thereby guarantee a universal provision of wheelchair-accessible vehicles at railway stations throughout the country. The Government's proposed solution to the issue is really no solution at all: it will leave elderly and disabled passengers with no guarantee that there will be a suitable vehicle for them on arrival at train stations. That surely goes against the spirit of the Disability Discrimination Act, which is intended to provide equality for all.

The Government are also aware that there is tremendous support for this measure from all sides in both Houses, and from many disability organisations. The amendment also has cross-party support in this House, as well as the support of members of the All-Party Disablement Group. An Early-Day Motion on the issue was signed by 124 Members of the other place, many of whom, I understand, have written to the Minister urging him to accept this amendment. It is also supported by a number of disability organisations, whose names I shall not mention this evening. I beg to move.