My Lords, like all noble Lords who have spoken, I sympathise greatly with the sentiment behind the amendment of my noble friend Lord Swinfen. I hope that the Minister can reply to a few questions on this issue. First, what are the advantages--the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, has to some extent already mentioned this--and disadvantages to the travelling public of the contracts which have been drawn up between train operating companies and local taxi operators? No doubt all of us, whether disabled or not, have arrived at a station only to find that there are no taxis available. The travelling public, whether disabled or not, need to be certain that taxis will be available at stations. My understanding is that the contracts I have mentioned impose requirements upon the taxi operators concerned to make taxis available at all times of day, not just at peak periods. I hope that the Minister will comment on that matter and say whether those arrangements have helped both disabled and non-disabled passengers.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, also mentioned the situation at Eastbourne and Cambridge. I have received briefing from the Association of Train Operating Companies. The briefing informs me--as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said--that licensed taxis (that is, those which are wheelchair accessible) are certainly not prohibited from entering station forecourts and must be issued with a permit if they apply for one.
Further, I understand that the rail regulator is in the process of providing a code of practice on train and station services for disabled passengers. Will that code of practice--which must be obeyed by the train operating companies as a licence condition--be expanded to cover facilities for accessible taxis? That would be a totally secure means of solving the problem as the issue of the licence is dependent on abiding by the code of practice.
The amendment would guarantee the provision of accessible vehicles at stations. Reference has been made to the powers of the Disability Discrimination Act. Does Section 33--I understand that that is the relevant section--apply to railway stations? If that is the case, surely it would meet the problem. I am sure that we all have great sympathy with the case that has been made. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response to my questions and to other points that have been made.