Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Disabled Persons) Bill - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 11:26 am on 1st April 2022.

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Lord McLoughlin:

Moved by Lord McLoughlin

That the Bill be read a second time.

Photo of Lord McLoughlin Lord McLoughlin Chair, Joint Committee on the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, Chair, Joint Committee on the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

My Lords, this Bill completed its stages in the House of Commons on 18 March. It was introduced to the House of Commons by Jeremy Wright, the Member of Parliament for Kenilworth and Southam, a colleague who I served with in the Opposition Whips’ Office from 2007 and in the Government Whips’ Office until 2012. He then went on to become Attorney-General for four years. When he decided to take this particular measure forward, one can say that it had had detailed legal scrutiny, which a number of other Bills perhaps do not get.

The provisions in the Bill should have been written into law many years ago. Its intention is simple: to amend the Equality Act 2010 so that any disabled person has specific rights and protections when accessing a taxi or private hire vehicle. Its provisions are reasonable. The duties in the Bill are those which we would expect drivers and operators already to fulfil; indeed, I am confident that the majority already do so.

Its impact will be great, as it would offer rights and protections to more than 13.5 million disabled people in England, Scotland and Wales. It would simply amend the Equality Act 2010 in two ways. First, it would address the inconsistencies in the current provisions, providing greater protection for wheelchair users. Secondly, it would introduce new duties, so that any disabled person can expect reasonable assistance when using a taxi or a private hire vehicle without being charged extra for doing so, and confident that they will receive the assistance they need. Collectively, those two changes would strengthen the taxi and PHV section of the Equality Act 2010 so that the rights and protection of disabled people mirror the range of scenarios and outcomes which disabled people can encounter when accessing a taxi.

I shall speak first of how the Bill will amend the current provisions, as this will also give an illustration of the taxi and PHV section of the Equality Act 2010 as it currently stands. Section 165 of the Act places duties on drivers of designated wheelchair and accessible taxis and PHVs to carry wheelchair users and their wheelchairs, to give them reasonable mobility assistance and not to charge them extra for doing so. On the face of it, that all sounds perfectly reasonable. However, it is only when looking at the detail of this section and Section 167, relating to the designated list of wheelchair-accessible vehicles, that it becomes clear that the manner in which Section 165 duties are applied to drivers allows for an inconsistency. Section 167 is worded so that the local licensing authority “may”—an important word—maintain a list of designated vehicles, not that they must.

So even if a taxi or private hire vehicle is designated to carry wheelchairs, if it is not on the local licensing authority’s designated list—the authority does not have to maintain such a list at all—then Section 165 does not apply. How can it be that a wheelchair user in one part of the country has specific rights and protections when using a taxi or PHV and another wheelchair user, who has no influence on the actions of the local licensing authority in its decision not to maintain a designated list, does not? This Bill will put that anomaly right.

The Bill addresses the anomaly by requiring local authorities to maintain and publish a list of designated wheelchair-accessible vehicles, thereby ensuring that the Section 165 duties apply consistently across the country. Wheelchair users should be able to access any wheelchair-accessible taxi or private hire vehicle knowing that they will not be discriminated against. This Bill will make that happen.

The Bill also amends the driver exemptions. Currently, local licensing authorities can issue exemption certificates to drivers on medical grounds or because of physical conditions. However, this exempts them from all the duties in Section 165. Although it is only fair and reasonable that drivers have the right to apply for an exemption, it is not right, fair or reasonable that they are exempted from the duty to carry disabled persons and not charge them extra for duties on which their disability or physical condition has no bearing at all. New Clause 164A, inserted by this Bill, therefore amends the current exemptions so that drivers are exempt only from the mobility assistance duties in Section 165. New Clauses 165A and 167A, inserted by this Bill, create duties so that rights to access and assistance apply not just consistently across the country but fairly and reasonably for any disabled person.

Although Section 165 ensures that the specific needs of wheelchair users travelling in designated wheelchair-accessible vehicles are met, as I just mentioned, driver exemptions would be amended to cover the mobility assistance duties in Section 165 and new Clause 164A. New Clause 164A places duties on drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles to carry disabled persons and their mobility aid or wheelchair, provide reasonable assistance and not charge extra for doing so. This includes, for example, if a wheelchair user intends to access a non-wheelchair-accessible taxi by transferring to the passenger seat or storing their wheelchair in the vehicle, or if a disabled person who does not use a wheelchair requires assistance accessing a taxi, regardless of whether it is a wheelchair-accessible vehicle.

New Clause 165A also creates a duty on taxi and PHV drivers to assist a disabled person in identifying and finding the vehicle at no extra charge. This is an important provision. If a person has a learning disability or disability and struggles to differentiate between a pre-booked taxi or PHV and a private car parked nearby, the law should ensure that they receive the support they need by means of the driver helping them identify their booked vehicle and taking them safely to where they want to go, thus reducing the anxiety such a passenger may face—not to speak of the potential danger in approaching an unknown vehicle and attempting to enter it.

Section 170 of the Equality Act 2010 places a duty on operators of private hire vehicle services not to refuse a booking because the passenger will be accompanied by an assistance dog, yet that Act currently fails to provide adequate protections for other disabled persons. In practice, this means that a wheelchair user might be refused a booking, not because there are no suitable vehicles but because the driver does not want to provide the assistance required by law. New Clause 167A would address this inconsistency by adding a new offence for a private hire vehicle operator to fail or refuse to accept a booking from any disabled person because of their disability or to charge extra for fulfilling any of the disability-related duties in the relevant sections of the Equality Act.

A Bill is not robust if it provides only duties, no matter how reasonable, without considering the people responsible for carrying them out. I am pleased to say that this Bill anticipates further scenarios from both a disabled person’s perspective and that of a driver or operator. As such, it will provide reasonable defences for drivers and operators of private hire vehicles to allow for situations in which they could not have known that a passenger was disabled or needed assistance, or when it would not be reasonable or possible to carry their wheelchair or mobility aid in the vehicle. I believe that the Bill strikes a careful balance between upholding the rights of disabled passengers and ensuring that drivers with a genuine defence will not be penalised.

I conclude by reiterating a point made many times during this Bill’s passage through the other place: the majority of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers are a great credit to this country. During the height of the Covid pandemic, they provided a vital lifeline for key workers—doctors, nurses and shop workers, to name but a few—by ensuring that they could reach their places of work on time and in safety. This Bill is not intended to penalise or place undue burdens on such drivers. It is intended to give disabled people legal rights to ensure that travelling by taxi or private hire vehicle need no longer be a source of anxiety, physical discomfort or embarrassment—or a case of not being able to travel at all.

On other occasions, your Lordships’ House has heard about times when disabled people have found themselves greatly embarrassed about not being able to hire or get a taxi. That needs to be addressed. The rules need to be clear across the country. I believe that this small Bill, with its small amendments, will help to secure that. I commend it to your Lordships’ House.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 11:37 am, 1st April 2022

My Lords, I feel that this is one of those Bills that makes us ask why we need to do this. The noble Lord has covered that, but, at its heart, it is because when we debate a big subject—such as when we debated the Equality Act, which followed on from the Disability Discrimination Act—we need something that we can grab hold of, and in that case we grabbed hold of wheelchairs. This has never been a definition of disability for people travelling; it is merely about those people who are at the most obvious end, and often, people who use wheelchairs do not use them all the time. The Bill goes to those who have a movement impairment or other form of impairment but are not always in a wheelchair. This is an incredibly important step that we should have taken long ago. I ask the Minister, when she comes to respond, to tell us whether her department will look to see where other changes like this should be made, because it is the gaps that destroy.

When the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, was speaking, he said that it is about the journey for those who have a movement impairment. The only time I have experienced this is with sports injuries—suddenly you cannot walk as fast, walking is much more tiring and you cannot carry a bag. When that type of difficulty applies to somebody, they are often dependent on private hire vehicles or taxis for irregular journeys that they cannot plan that well for—particularly if they are doing something unusual. This Bill gives such people a better chance of fulfilling those types of journeys and of acting with independence, as everybody else does. If we take that on board, the importance of this Bill becomes apparent. I salute all those who are taking it forward. It will make sure that the chain is a reasonable one to plan for.

I also endorse what the noble Lord said about the fact that a polite, reasonably well-mannered person will probably fulfil some of these secondary duties anyway—but not everybody is like that. People have bad days; they get stressed and they make mistakes. The legal duty makes it clear that this is something they should do and that there will be a price to pay if they do not. That is important because we are not all saints: we all snap and we all feel under pressure. There is also a defence in the Bill that it might be unreasonable to expect certain people to do certain things, and that is a very considered amendment.

I understand the Government have given this amendment a very clear path through, but I would like to hear—from the noble Lord who initiated it or the Minister—that they are looking to see where else this legislative change should take place. When you are doing a big Bill or taking a big step forward, little gaps will be forgotten. We have had time, so are we having a look to see what other small changes can be made? Making those changes will mean that the system works better and, in some cases, will mean that it works at all.

Photo of Lord Borwick Lord Borwick Conservative 11:40 am, 1st April 2022

My Lords, I want first to declare my interests in the taxi industry as the holder of a London taxi proprietor’s licence, the owner of a licensed London taxi and the employer of a London taxi driver. My experience is of very many years in the London taxi industry, as manufacturer, distributor, financier, developer and driver. I welcome this Bill, proposed by my noble friend Lord McLoughlin. He has such experience and wisdom in politics that the only thing I would dare to challenge him on is driving and being driven in a taxi. As much of my speech and this Bill is about disability, I should declare that my son has a learning disability.

In the mid-1990s, when I led the project to produce a new, traditional London taxi that would carry wheelchairs, I never thought that 27 years after the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 it would still be necessary to do something about discrimination. Alas, it is, and this Bill will do it, where perhaps it still rarely exists. My plan was to carry wheelchairs in the taxi without the majority of passengers even being aware that the taxi was wheelchair-accessible; you cannot discriminate against wheelchair users if you do not even know the vehicle is wheelchair-accessible. That is why I argued successfully that all London taxis should be accessible. Many of my sales staff told me that we could get away with only a few of our taxis being accessible—perhaps 3% or 5%—but I wanted 100% of our production to be like that.

In her speech on 4 March, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, told a story of being refused by two taxi drivers in the rank at Watford station, but that those were the only wheelchair-accessible ones on the rank at that time. All the others refused by being designed not to take her—or to be fairer, not designed to take her wheelchair. This is the problem that a lot of taxi systems in the world have found when they try to make only a small percentage of the fleet accessible. In London, we have a great system, because 100% of the fleet is accessible—that is, 100% of taxis but only a few of the private hire vehicles or minicabs. In 1995, there was a lot of agreement with my noble friend’s department that we would move to a system of 100% accessibility in the taxi fleet countrywide. This has not yet happened, and it results in a lottery as to whether a travelling wheelchair user gets to a rank that has an accessible vehicle at the front. This is wrong in my opinion.

There are other things about the Bill that could be improved, not least Clause 3, on providing lists of wheelchair-accessible vehicles. I am still confused. Does that mean lists of vehicle types or actual vehicles? Such lists are no doubt valuable. Google has achieved great things by producing lists of the obvious and making them free. But perfecting the way that separate licensing authorities produce and, in the future, publish the same list is not a great step forward for accessibility for disabled people. We need accessible taxis, and we are being provided with lists of accessible taxis. I would like to request a meeting with my noble friend, and perhaps also with the Minister for Disabled People, to discuss how the Department for Transport, which used to be a crusading champion for practical accessibility, could renew that proud ethos.

Lastly, I would like to wholeheartedly welcome the Bill. It is not a shot at the goal of universal accessibility; it is barely a shuffle in that direction, coupled with dire warnings that we must not amend it to make it actually do something useful. But it does no harm to the cause, and therefore I welcome it.

Photo of Lord Mann Lord Mann Non-affiliated 11:45 am, 1st April 2022

My Lords, I draw attention to my declaration of interests in the register and specifically the fact that I chair the Leeds United Supporters Club, a member organisation of 11,000 people.

In welcoming this Bill, which I wholeheartedly support, I draw attention to what Minister Wendy Morton said in the House of Commons about how the Government see it as an important step in expanding protections to all, regardless of their disability or impairment, and regardless of the type of taxi or private hire vehicle in which they travel.

Every weekend, a significant number of people who have a disability or impairment of some kind travel to sports venues—in this country, to football venues in particular, and in very large numbers. That is every weekend, and sometimes weekdays as well. Those who are disabled or have other impairments do not necessarily wish to have to travel in their own vehicles and then park at the small number of pre-allocated spaces. The vast majority of my members—a significant minority of whom have disabilities and other impairments —wish to enjoy the full ambience that all football supporters do and to travel point to point by coaches that we organise, which are excellent and fully inclusive, picking people up on the way in many cases and, where possible, depositing people at the sports stadium they want to attend.

However, not all stadiums are accessible, and in London, this is a particular problem. This January, I negotiated with West Ham United—at the Olympic stadium—a shifting of where the coaches would park. It resulted in seven coaches and one minibus being able to park by the disability entrance, with around 25 people who would be covered by this being able to be dropped off there, rather than what happened previously, where they would have to attempt to locate a hire vehicle for a half-mile journey or attempt to walk.

That was a significant improvement, but the Olympic stadium was well designed and the land around it is significant. Take other football and sports stadiums—a good example would be the Chelsea stadium. There is no such space around it, and the people we organise transport for do not have that facility. Yesterday, I made a call to all the potential new owners of Chelsea Football Club to get a guarantee that they would ensure to continue the excellent work of the last few years on anti-Semitism and give a public commitment. I would add to that a commitment to ensure that those who have a disability or impairment are facilitated to be able to get to the stadium. Perhaps the government Minister who will have to sign off the sale of Chelsea Football Club might build those two things into the requirements.

This is a message to civic society. The powers in the Bill will, without question, strengthen mine and others’ hands in negotiating. Although this is kind of a one-off, those who enjoy such pastimes will go to football matches 20 to 30 times every season, and the number of complaints I get about the inability to get to stadiums with ease and comfort is, frankly, something of a disgrace in this day and age.

I welcome this. I hope that football, other parts of society and other sports might listen, particularly regarding the problem of big events and people attempting to get to them. If one has ever been to Chelsea, although it is certainly not the only example, one sees there how drop-off at an immediate venue can be very difficult. This will strengthen it. We have a little bit of leverage here with Chelsea Football Club, so I hope that the relevant Minister can ensure this. It is only a minor point but an important one that could be built in, as could the point about anti-Semitism.

Photo of Lord Boateng Lord Boateng Labour 11:50 am, 1st April 2022

My Lords, I am speaking in the gap, and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, on this Bill. Its proponents and supporters were fortunate indeed to have steering it through Parliament such a past master in the art of securing legislative support for any measure. I do not rise as a result of the practice of his arts but as a result of a chance encounter that I had at the beginning of this week, at the memorial service for His Royal Highness, the late Duke of Edinburgh, who was a patron of Disabled Motoring UK. No one put a greater emphasis on the environment and—another of his great causes—including the marginalised in society, so that they might realise their potential and contribute fully to it.

It is to such an issue, related to this Bill but not arising directly from it, that I draw the House’s attention. A real problem has arisen for disabled drivers, in accessing electric vehicle charging, and in design and infrastructure inadequacies of that charging which make it particularly difficult for disabled people to contribute as they would wish to in tackling climate change. Research in this area reveals that today, only 61% of disabled people would consider buying an electric vehicle unless charging was made more accessible. Many disabled people find that their experience of the existing infrastructure is such that there is difficulty in terms of lifting the charging cable from the boot and then having to close it, and manoeuvring the cable to the charging point, with 66% of respondents to a survey conducted by the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers finding that the space or trip hazards and barriers around the car and the charger were making it either difficult or very difficult for disabled people to navigate access to the charger.

All this arises from a lack of consultation with disabled people in the course of the design of this infrastructure. Indeed, it was at the beginning of 2022 that the first fully accessible electric charging point in the UK was unveiled, representing just 0.003% of charging locations in the UK designed to be accessible to disabled drivers. In the same year, the institute undertook research into electric cars on behalf of a disabled organisation and found that the charging infrastructure as a whole showed a clear lack of consideration of disabled motorists as users or potential users of electric vehicles.

Can the Minister take back to her department the importance of this issue? Can she meet with me and other representatives of Disabled Motoring UK so that we can further explore this issue? Access to transportation and to the means to participate in the full range of activities that disabled people are entitled to engage in within our communities is essential. On that basis, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, for all that he has done to bring that about, and wholeheartedly support this measure.

Photo of Lord Haskel Lord Haskel Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is taking part remotely. I invite the noble Baroness to speak.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health) 11:55 am, 1st April 2022

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, for introducing this Bill, and echo the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Boateng and Lord Borwick, on the exceptional parliamentary skills and abilities that the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, has. I also thank the Minister for her very helpful letter.

From these Benches we support this Bill, even though its scope is necessarily limited. I absolutely echo the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, who really understands the problems facing wheelchair users attempting to access taxis. I thank him for his work over three decades in improving the system in London. He spoke of Hackneys, but as a wheelchair user, Uber and other similar private hire vehicles are a total disaster. It is long overdue that disabled passengers are not charged more than other passengers, so I am pleased to see this in the Bill. On the thorny issue of disability training of taxi and PHV drivers, which is also important, it is not a perfect answer to the problem that disabled people face at the hands of the few unthinking taxi drivers, whether trained or not.

The issues that visually impaired and other assistance dog users face with drivers are appalling. As with problems that wheelchair users face, the continuing rejection of assistance dogs remains a disgrace. Disability training is part of the solution to this, as well as the clear and simple duty to carry passengers with assistance dogs. Some local authorities insist that all taxis and PHV drivers that they license undergo disability training, while others will just encourage it. It must be compulsory, but they also must train drivers on how to think, rather than giving them one solution to each different type of disability.

I have had taxi drivers proudly tell me that they have “done the training” and then insist that they push my electric wheelchair up their ramp, which is very dangerous, to them and to me. I have been pushed off the side by one enthusiastic driver at Euston station and ended up balancing precariously over the edge of the ramp. Then, thank goodness, other taxi drivers came to my aid before my chair fell. This is vital, because if a chair falls on to a user, you can break both legs, as happened to Baroness Wilkins after an accident on the Parliamentary Estate some years ago. I still miss her expertise on disability matters, and hope that she is enjoying her retirement.

I have also had drivers telling me, as they sucked in their breath, “I can’t take you because your chair’s too heavy.” Even when I asked what the limit was for their ramp and said how much my chair and I weighed, which had to be less than 200 kilograms, one still refused to take me, quoting the Equality Act, wrongly. That was at Brighton station. He was confident in his assertions because he had “done the training”. I have had drivers telling me to get out of my chair and that they will then deal with the chair because they are using the training that they have had for manual chairs, not for electric chairs. Therefore, while training is vital, it must be appropriate.

I was a member of the Select Committee on the Equality Act 2010 and Disability, which published its report in 2016. The section on taxis noted that Section 165 and some other sections of the Equality Act 2010 had still not been fully commenced, meaning that there is still no duty for taxi drivers and PHVs:

“to carry the passenger while in the wheelchair; … not to make any additional charge for doing so; … if the passenger chooses to sit in a passenger seat, to carry the wheelchair; … to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the passenger is carried in safety and reasonable comfort; ... to give the passenger such mobility assistance as is reasonably required.”

As the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, pointed out, it is reduced in its powers by Section 167—the list of accessible vehicles—but there is also a practical problem with extending the list of accessible vehicles, which is entirely due to the way that taxi licences work outside London. The problem is that outside London hackney drivers usually buy the cast-offs of London cabbies, which at least now tend to have ramps, even if they are not maintained properly, because taxi drivers outside London have a substantially reduced audience for fares and therefore a much lower income. There is much less private car ownership in London, which is one reason why hackneys have done well over the years. I say sorry to all the cabbies who might read this because I know that they do not believe their income is good, but compared with that of those in rural areas, it is. This means that drivers outside London cannot afford the capital investment required to buy a wheelchair accessible vehicle—a WAV. The other problem is that they do not have the capacity to work together with manufacturers and a group of licensing authorities in the way that happened in London. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, on his work on that because it made a real difference.

Noble Lords will be aware that the deregulation of the number of taxi licenses has meant that in rural areas there are, frankly, too many cabbies touting for business, and they struggle to get a living from it. This is not an apology, but an explanation of the problem because the problem for disabled passengers will not be resolved until there are enough wheelchair taxis available.

I shall focus on the problem we face outside London. The handful of wheelchair accessible vehicles in most areas usually have county council contracts to drive disabled children to special schools. That means that in Watford—and from my travels around the country in my past role as president of my party I know that it happens in many other places—you cannot get a wheelchair taxi between 7.30 am and 9.15 am or between 2.30 pm and 4.30 pm. You cannot get one in the evening either because those taxis work only during the day. That means that wheelchair passengers outside London do not get the choice of when to use a taxi, so frankly it is pretty useless.

The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, made an important point about WAVs being available as well as about the lack of charging points being critical. What he did not mention is that far too many of the motorway service stations that have been adding EV charging units have done so by taking out disabled spaces right next to the service station and literally moving the disabled spaces to the other side of the car park.

The noble Lord, Lord Mann, talked about using taxis to get to sporting venues. I have been a lifelong supporter of Southampton FC. I cannot guarantee getting a disabled taxi in Southampton, for all the reasons that have already been mentioned, but for the past 10 years I have been able either to take a train or to park my car on the edge of the city and get a bus to the St Mary’s Stadium because, ahead of many others, as the new stadium opened, wheelchair access on the bus service was ensured.

My noble friend Lord Addington made the important point that Ministers need to ensure that not only are the remaining gaps in disabled people’s access to taxis and PHVs completed but that all the provisions in the Equality Act are fully commenced and, equally importantly, reviewed to make sure that they are working. I am really concerned that the practical problems I have outlined for drivers outside London will not resolve the issue. We need to monitor this. I applaud the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, for a meeting with the Minister and the Minister for the Disabled. Can I cheekily ask whether I might be able to join that meeting?

Regardless of my concerns, I support the Bill. It is important that these steps are taken to go forward, but we need to be careful in thinking that this is going to be a universal answer to the access issues that disabled people face in getting taxis and private hire vehicles.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 12:04 pm, 1st April 2022

I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, on his sponsorship and advocacy of this Bill in this House. First, I declare an interest as vice-chairman of Level Playing Field, an organisation that promotes, protects and seeks to further the interests of disabled supporters of football and other sports. In that regard, I certainly support the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, about stadia and accessibility. There are also issues inside stadia which can be significant, but I have to say that, overall, the position has improved in recent years.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Boateng on his comments. I hope this comment will not be misinterpreted, but it was nice to hear a speech in this House about electric vehicle charging points and the necessity for them which went somewhat beyond provision on the Parliamentary Estate.

This Bill amends sections of the Equality Act 2010 relating to disabled people’s use of taxis and private hire vehicles. Its purpose is to reduce discrimination against disabled people by addressing the barriers, which have been set out all too clearly, that they face when accessing taxi and private hire vehicle services. The Bill creates new offences related to drivers and operators of such vehicles in Great Britain. In saying that, we, like the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, recognise that the clear majority of drivers and operators treat disabled people with the respect and care that they deserve and, indeed, are entitled to expect in a civilised society. Unfortunately, a small minority do not always do so, as has been said during the course of this debate.

The Bill completed its passage through the House of Commons some two weeks ago. It had our support in the Commons and has our support in your Lordships’ House. Only wheelchair and assistance dog users currently have specific rights and protections under the Equality Act 2010 in respect of taxis and private hire vehicles. The terms of the Act exclude wheelchair users who can transfer into a non-wheelchair accessible vehicle and fold their wheelchair from the protections and provisions of mobility assistance when using a non-designated wheelchair accessible vehicle or private hire vehicle. The Act also excludes all other disabled passengers who do not use a wheelchair from such protections when travelling in any taxi or private hire vehicle.

The Bill remedies this deficiency by creating a new duty to ensure that drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles do not refuse carriage to a disabled person who could reasonably travel in that vehicle at no extra charge and a new duty to make every effort to ensure that the disabled passenger feels comfortable and safe while travelling among other related duties, including duties particularly geared to the needs of visually impaired passengers and those with learning difficulties or cognitive impairments. As we know, disability can come in many forms, and that is often overlooked or not fully understood or appreciated.

The figures show that people with mobility difficulties made more than twice as many trips by taxis and private hire vehicles than those with no mobility difficulty in 2020. The Department for Transport’s September 2021 data on transport accessibility and mobility indicated a similar pattern over the past decade, with people with mobility difficulties making more trips by taxis and private hire vehicles than those with no such difficulty.

Disabled people are not a small minority group and, frankly, even if they were, it would not affect the necessity for legislation. Some 14 million people in the UK, about 22% of the overall population, report having a disability. As I understand it from the figures, of those around 1.2 million use wheelchairs with two-thirds of them being regular users.

I want to make some points and ask some questions, to which I imagine the Government will wish to respond since they rightly support the Bill. According to a 2019 survey by Scope, the disability charity, 30% of disabled people said that

“difficulties with public transport have reduced their independence.”

Four in five said they felt

“stressed or anxious when … planning or carrying out a journey.”

Frankly, that situation will not have been helped by the above-inflation increases in public transport fares and the reduction in bus services and routes which, as I understand it, has contributed to a reduction of some 25% in the number of elderly and disabled passengers.

The shortfalls in public transport mean that a taxi is the only realistic option for getting around for many disabled people. As the Conservative MP for West Dorset put it at Third Reading in the Commons a fortnight ago,

“the dependence on taxis, because of the absence of rural bus services, particularly for disabled people, is an ongoing concern. For the past two and a half years, or just under, since I was elected, we have seen a considerable reduction in rural bus services. Official Report, Commons, 18/3/22; col. 1178.]

The need for this Bill, giving people with disabilities more rights when travelling by taxi and private hire vehicle, is clear, although the Government should perhaps reflect on the reality that the need is even greater because of the shortfalls in public transport that have occurred—not least in more rural areas, as the MP for West Dorset said.

Putting new and much-needed rights on the statute book is only part of the equation, though. Unless those rights result in a real improvement in the experience of disabled people, they will not have any impact. To do that, they have to be applied and enforced. As has already been mentioned, it will be mandatory for local authorities to make and maintain a list of wheelchair-accessible taxis—an issue on which the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, raised pertinent questions. How big an exercise do the Government think maintaining the lists will be for cash-strapped local authorities, which have seen their funding slashed since 2010? The lists will be meaningful and able to be relied on only if they are kept up to date. I do not know what workload that will constitute for local authorities. Maybe the Government will be able to assure me that it will not be a significant workload, but it would be helpful to hear the Government’s view on that. How big a job will that be for local authorities that, frankly, are short of resources?

What action will the Government take to ensure that taxi and private hire drivers are aware of the terms of this Bill, and their responsibilities under it, before its provisions come into effect? That will be quite crucial. Advice and training on the full range of disabilities and the nature of the help and assistance required in each instance will be needed. The point has already been made, not least by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about the consequences if the training is not meaningful, not understood and not then applied. Who will provide this much-needed training, and who will pay for it? Disabled people will also need to be made aware of their rights under the Bill. Who will be responsible for ensuring that this is done, and how? Who will pay the cost? I assume it will be a bit more than just the production of a few leaflets to be handed around.

Finally, at the beginning of this year the Department for Transport said it would

“develop a new Disabled Persons Passenger Charter for bus, coach, taxi, private hire vehicle and rail” travel in England that would provide disabled people with

“a clear explanation of their rights”.

I am sure that everybody would support that. I ask this question not knowing the answer: where are we with this new charter, which obviously is very relevant to the Bill?

I reiterate that we support the Bill and hope it delivers on its worthy and much-needed objectives.

Photo of Baroness Vere of Norbiton Baroness Vere of Norbiton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 12:15 pm, 1st April 2022

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this thoughtful and wide-ranging debate. I thank my noble friend Lord McLoughlin for explaining the rationale for the Bill and its contents so thoroughly and for taking over the reins from my right honourable and learned friend Jeremy Wright, the Member for Kenilworth and Southam in the other place. He was the one who successfully steered the Bill through to your Lordships’ House.

I am pleased that the Bill has cross-party support and can confirm that the Government fully support it. If passed, it will support our ambition that disabled people should have the same access to transport as everyone else. The importance of the Bill is not to be underestimated. It aims to reduce discrimination against all disabled people, address the barriers they face, prevent overcharging and ensure appropriate assistance when they travel by taxi or private hire vehicle, PHV.

When we talk about disabled people, we are not talking about a small fraction of society. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said it is about 14 million people, and in the figures I have it is 13.7 million disabled people in Great Britain; that is about one in five of the population. The stats say that disabled people make twice as many journeys by taxi and PHV as non-disabled people. They are a lifeline to so many people, so the Bill’s impact could be significant and wide ranging. I am sure all noble Lords will agree that any disabled person should be able to reasonably travel in a taxi or PHV. That so many disabled people remain without these protections is an unacceptable situation that, I am pleased to say, the Bill will correct.

The Government publish data on prosecutions for offences committed by taxi and PHV drivers in relation to assistance dog refusals and wheelchair user discrimination in England and Wales. I was quite surprised at how few prosecutions actually reach the final stages: there were just 14 in the year ending 31 December 2020. Most of those were for failing to accept bookings to carry assistance dogs. However, we know that in 2019, for example, 81% of prosecutions led to a conviction. The message is that if a disabled person feels that they have been wronged, I think all noble Lords would join me in encouraging them to come forward. We really need to make sure that people who are not abiding by the law as it stands, or will stand in future, are held to account. We know that there is an issue there.

We also know that certain disabled people may not be coming forward as much as they could. I take the point from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about ensuring that disabled people are fully aware that the law has changed. It is always of great interest to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, speak on this matter, because she is a wheelchair user and really understands the law. Any taxi driver who crosses her is in for a little bit of a rough ride.

The Bill extends to Scotland and Wales, as noble Lords have pointed out. I would like to reassure noble Lords that we have had discussions with the Scottish and Welsh Governments, who agree to the measures in the Bill. The Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland, in line with the Equality Act 2010.

My officials have also discussed these policy proposals with a wide range of local authorities and taxi and PHV representatives. The responses have been generally positive, reflecting the view, mentioned by so many noble Lords, that most drivers already provide an accessible service; they are happy to do so, and it is a minority we need to bring up to the standards we would expect. I also let noble Lords know that we have engaged regularly with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, the Government’s statutory adviser on the needs of disabled people, and its advice has been added to this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned resources and the impact on local licensing authorities. Local licensing authority functions in relation to taxis and PHVs tend to be self-funded from the system as a whole, rather than from the taxpayer. Our experience is that, while authorities may experience an initial increase in costs relating to the processing of applications for exemption from the new requirements, or when preparing lists of wheelchair-accessible vehicles for publication, the Government do not expect these to be disproportionate.

To answer the point raised by my noble friend Lord Borwick, it is the actual vehicles rather than the vehicle types that are put on the list. To date, two- thirds of authorities have designated vehicles as being wheelchair accessible, and so have implemented the existing Section 165 protections. We are not aware of the implementation cost having been a barrier for them or having been particularly significant. It will be for licensing authorities to decide which accessible formats it would be reasonable to provide for their list of designated vehicles. However, licensing authorities have existing duties under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to enable disabled people to access their services, and these duties of course extend to the provision of information.

To ensure that the changes get out into the system, oversight of and support for taxi and PHV drivers and operators is provided by the local licensing authorities and, if the Bill is passed, the current Access for Wheelchair Users to Taxis and PHVs statutory guidance will be updated to support local licensing authorities to implement the requirements under these new duties. The licensing authorities will be responsible for ensuring that their licensed drivers are aware of the new responsibilities.

A number of noble Lords mentioned disability awareness training and I took the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that sometimes it needs to be improved: absolutely, it must always be improved, but it must also happen. We are looking very carefully at disability awareness training and making sure that it is more widespread. This Private Member’s Bill is narrowly drawn to ensure that we maximise the chances of getting it through, but I also reassure noble Lords that the disability awareness training issue is top of mind. In 2021 about half of local licensing authorities required taxi drivers to undertake disability awareness training and 46% required PHV drivers to do the same.

Noble Lords may have seen—I think it was this week or last week—that we published a consultation on updated best practice guidance for local licensing authorities. We included in it a much stronger recommendation that every driver is required to complete disability awareness training. Noble Lords may say “Well, that’s not enough”, and I agree. This Government will, as soon as legislative time allows, mandate the completion of disability awareness training through national minimum standards for taxi and PHV licensing. We would be very pleased to work with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on how we make it as effective as possible. That will be just one of a suite of measures coming through in future on a range of issues relating to taxis and PHV licensing. I am looking forward to discussing them with your Lordships soon, I hope.

A number of issues were raised, and I will write in much greater detail than I am able to respond today. I am also very happy to meet my noble friend Lord Borwick. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, was speaking, I was thinking that she should join the meeting with my noble friend Lord Borwick—so she is duly invited.

The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, mentioned EV chargers —a topic which always exercises your Lordships’ House, and quite rightly. We take accessibility of EV chargers very seriously, so I offer him a meeting with my colleague, Minister Harrison, who is responsible for EV chargers. She will be able to talk about what we have done, and we would be very interested to hear what we should do to make sure they are accessible.

I take forward the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mann, about transport to football matches. I will take that away; I will look at Hansard to see exactly what he said and where we might be able to do something. It is a really important point. Accessibility in football has improved enormously, but if you cannot get to the match it is pointless the stadium being more accessible. My nephew, who is a wheelchair user, is a massive fan of Manchester City and a season ticket holder. He really enjoys his journeys there. It is a huge boost for him to go to the stadium and I would like to make sure we do as much as we can for transport as well. So I will have a look at that and see what more we can do.

I take the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about the availability of wheelchair-accessible vehicles. It is a very significant issue. There is not necessarily a straightforward solution, but we must look at all the issues she raised and see what we can do to improve availability, because I agree that it is not good enough at the moment.

I am grateful once again to everybody who has taken part in the debate today and I look forward to supporting the Bill as it continues its passage.

Photo of Lord McLoughlin Lord McLoughlin Chair, Joint Committee on the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, Chair, Joint Committee on the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee 12:26 pm, 1st April 2022

My Lords, I echo my noble friend in thanking noble Lords who have taken part so far. A number of points have been made about my experience in getting legislation through the other place. I may have experience in the other place, but I am a mere apprentice as far as your Lordships’ House is concerned. I am learning all the time; I have learned about this little device—the gap—that I never knew existed. That apprenticeship has hopefully taught me a lesson this morning.

Having listened to the debate, I realise I should also have pointed out my interest as chairman of Transport for the North at the beginning. The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, spoke about electric vehicles and made a very important point about future development and rollout. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Mann, for expanding the subject to going to football grounds. I will refrain from saying anything about Derby County, as I have done on other occasions during this debate. We are hopefully becoming much more aware of, and more understanding about, accessibility across the whole piece.

I thank my noble friend Lord Borwick for the vast experience he brings to the debate. I think he said that the Bill was a “shuffle in the right direction”. If it is, I regard that as fair backing, because it is perhaps a journey we have got to get through. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, brought her personal experience to the debate; it is one of the richnesses of your Lordships’ House that we get that kind of contribution from people with wide and broad experience across the whole field. Some of the points she made were very telling and need to be addressed, such as the practical implications, because quite often legislation is passed and we do not always think about the practical implications. Sometimes they are seen only after a Bill has gone through all its stages, and we should reflect on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, gave his support from the Opposition Front Bench with the usual caveats of “We will support this, but this is all that’s wrong with it and everything else you need to do”. The Minister pointed out that licensing is and should be self-funding and therefore that it should not put extra costs on local authorities—but the Bill is putting a responsibility on local authorities, which I think everybody basically welcomes. I thank all those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate for their support.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 12.29 pm.