My Lords, it is probably sensible if I concentrate most of my remarks on Amendment No. 14. There has today been a wide range of representations in favour of the amendment from inside and outside the Chamber. I recognise the strong feelings. I do not believe that any noble Lord is against the objectives of the clause: effectively to provide guaranteed accessible transport at stations for people with mobility problems. However, there is also a significant degree of misunderstanding and, in some cases, misinformation in relation to how the contracts against which the amendment is directed would work.
I need, therefore, to address some central points. The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, asked me to indicate the advantages and disadvantages of allowing such exclusive contracts. I bow to no one in my respect for the taxi trade and the efforts which the taxi trade in London and elsewhere have made in converting their vehicles into accessible vehicles. There is a clear trade interest here, as well as the interests of the disabled. They do not always entirely overlap although they have much in common. But in relation to the exclusive contracts, there can be significant benefit, whether that is for the licensed taxi operation or a minicab operation. Although there are not many of these exclusive contracts around the country at present, banning them would deny the public as a whole, including disabled people, possible improvements in service.
First, a contact can ensure that taxis or minicabs would be available at all times of day--not just the peak hours which suit most drivers. At the busiest times there will always be a decent supply of taxis. However, as we all know, off-peak that is not the case. Yet passengers, in particular disabled passengers, need to be guaranteed that there is a vehicle present. These exclusive contracts are one way--it is probably the most effective way--to ensure that every time a train turns up at the station there will be a vehicle available for that passenger.