Transport Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 9th November 2000.

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Photo of Lord Ashley of Stoke Lord Ashley of Stoke Labour 5:15 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, I support the amendment. However, I must confess that I am most puzzled by this whole debate. If ever I saw an open-and-shut case, this is it. Yet the Government seem to be resisting it time and time again. My noble friend Lord Whitty seems to be digging in his heels and insisting on rejecting this amendment. I have read the Hansard reports on the previous debates very carefully. I am sorry that I was unable to be present for them.

As I say, I am most puzzled because I begin from the premise that disabled people today are no longer living in back rooms and afraid to go out. They have raised their expectations and now travel wherever they want to go. Increasing numbers of them travel by train and visit all sorts of places because they are entitled to do so; they want to do so; and, indeed, they are going to do so. So the picture has changed. It is not a matter of a few eccentric disabled people travelling around: many disabled people are travelling by train. There is no point in beginning a journey if you cannot complete it. Goodness knows, enough people have been deterred from travelling by a few floods because they have made the trains late. People have decided not to travel because of the delays--some have said that they could not come to this House--and so on. But here we have the Government expecting disabled people to travel on a train and, on arrival at their destination, find that there is no accessible licensed taxi. I do not understand that kind of thinking. It is beyond me.

There is evidence to show that these station organisations are in fact creating such contracts with firms that cannot carry disabled people. What is the point? What is the reason for it or, indeed, the rationality? My noble friend Lord Whitty says that the Disability Discrimination Act will cover the situation. I fought for years for the DDA. In fact, if I may say so, I brought forward the first Bill in the House of Commons that led to the introduction of that legislation. I had great hopes for it. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, the DDA is not the solution because it is cumbersome and controversial. Moreover, any time that people to go to court under the legislation--it is, by definition, almost controversial--they cannot be sure of winning. So, in the minds of disabled people, that increases anxiety instead of certainty. Why cannot the Government accept the amendment? It would ensure that accessible taxis were available outside railway stations. It is as simple as that.

I do not wish to take up too much of the time of the House, so I shall conclude my remarks. There are 8.5 million disabled people in Britain. If my noble friend is not careful, he will find that every time a disabled person takes a train and finds that he cannot get off without encountering difficulty and problems--like carrying suitcases to distant taxis--I am afraid that his name will be taken in vain. He will be held responsible for all these difficulties because, as has been said, we shall not have another transport Bill for some time. This is the time for my noble friend to think again.