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 Baroness Darcy de Knayth Baroness Darcy de Knayth Crossbench 5:15 pm, 9th November 2000

My Lords, I support warmly Amendments Nos. 3 and 14, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, so clearly and comprehensively. As we now all know, these provisions would ensure that accessible taxis are available at stations for elderly and disabled passengers. I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, says, but the agreements he talks about are all individual, are they not? It is not an overall policy. I feel that it is necessary to ensure that accessible taxis can use station forecourts. This amendment is necessary to avoid a break in what would otherwise be a seamless door-to-door journey. As I understand it, this amendment would not stop any other arrangements being made with other cabs as well.

My noble friend Lady Masham supports wholeheartedly these amendments. I am glad to say that she was transferred yesterday to Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where I hope she will make a good recovery following her accident which, as your Lordships probably know, was precipitated by canine interaction rather than by a road traffic accident.

The fully accessible black cab--I am delighted that the whole London fleet is now accessible--has made a huge difference to the lives of many people with disabilities, particularly those with arthritis and those who are wheelchair users. Many, including myself, simply cannot manage to get into a minicab unaided. It may be possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and others have said, that, given an easy car, various bits of equipment and given a strong, good-tempered driver, you may be able to transfer with help; but you cannot guarantee that such a person and car will turn up.

I do not like talking personally, and I try very hard never to overstate the case, but it does need to be said that we are not just talking about comfort and convenience: we are talking about health and safety. If a paraplegic, for instance, gets a bruise or a scrape from a bad transfer when getting into or out of a car, it may take a long time to heal and it can turn into a pressure sore. That will cause problems for many months.

I turn now to Amendment No. 26. A clear case has been made for the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I was rather dumb not to add my name to it as it concerns a matter close to my heart. I find that many taxi drivers do not know how to use the small y-shaped strap which anchors a wheelchair to the floor. Usually they claim that they have not seen it or do not have it. I try to persuade them to find it. Someone told me that a taxi driver had at first claimed that he did not have such a strap. He then found it and was shown how to use it. He said, "That is fine. Now that I understand how to use it I shall use it with other people". It is simply ignorance and, therefore, fear that prevents people using these straps.

If accessible taxis cannot enter stations that will scupper the idea of the seamless journey. I do not think that Theseus would ever have got out of the labyrinth if his ball of string had a break in it. "Seamless" means just that--without a break. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is a listening Minister, and has shown that on other disability issues. I very much hope that he will be able to accept the amendments. If not, and if the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, decides to test the opinion of the House, I urge noble Lords to support him.