Clause 11

– in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 24th April 2008.

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Duty to have regard to transport needs of disabled persons

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I rise not to question the motives behind the clause, but to probe the Minister on a couple of points arising from it. The provision is absolutely right and appropriate. Section 112 of the 2000 Act rightly places a duty on local authorities to have regard to the transport needs of persons who are elderly or who have mobility problems. The clause develops that from a duty of development to one of implementation, and it tidies up the obvious problem of the reference to elderly people or those with mobility difficulties by expanding the duty to include all disabled people as defined under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.

In relation to the duty of implementation, one of the reasons why the 1995 Act has been so successful is that local authorities have been given time to comply with it. Although a lot of people would have liked the implementation period to be shorter, it has allowed local authorities and other bodies to put meeting the requirements of the 1995 Act into their normal replacement cycle and therefore absorb some of the extra costs that have clearly been incurred. Will the Minister say whether the same intention is reflected in the Bill, so that that there will be a period of implementation rather than a set date, and that the period will be similar to that specified under the Disability Discrimination Act?

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

Clause 11 imposes a duty to have regard to the needs of disabled persons, but the 1995 Act is already on the statute book and its provisions must be adhered to, so what would be the actual effect of not having the clause in the Bill? To use the favourite word of the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley, is it not otiose?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Let me explain a little background to the clause, which will also help to answer the right hon. Gentleman’s question. The provision will amend an existing duty under the 2000 Act to reinforce the message to local authorities that they must consider the needs of all disabled persons not only when planning, but when delivering local transport in their areas. The clause was added to the Bill in the other place by a Government amendment in response to calls from Lord Low of Dalston to see what more we could do to disability-proof the Bill.

The 2000 Act already places a duty on local transport authorities when they are developing their local transport policies, whereby they must have regard to the needs of persons who are elderly or who have mobility problems. However, the wording of that duty should now be brought more into line with the latest disability discrimination legislation.

Clause 11 will clarify two points. First, it will make clear that local transport authorities must consider the needs of all disabled people. The needs of some people—for example, those with hearing impairments—might not be covered by the 2000 Act duty. There might be a case for expanding the provision of audible facilities on pedestrian crossings or audible travel information. Indeed, some disability groups have raised concerns that the current duty is too focused on physical mobility problems at the expense of other forms of disability, such as hearing or visual impairments.

Secondly, the clause will make it clear that the needs of disabled people must be considered not only when drawing up local transport plans, but when putting those plans into practice. For example, the needs of disabled persons should be considered not only when writing local transport plans, but when designing a new bus station or negotiating the terms of a voluntary partnership agreement with bus operators. A local transport plan might also be the right place to review parking provision for disabled motorists.

To answer the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire, the 1995 Act places a general duty on public authorities in relation to disabled persons, but there is some inconsistency in the provisions of that Act and the Transport Act 2000. We believe that the clause will bring greater consistency and provide greater clarity. I am sure that the Committee agrees that everyone will benefit from legislation that is as clear as possible. The clause also provides a useful opportunity to reinforce the message that local authorities have no excuse for not taking account of the needs of all disabled people when planning and delivering local transport.

To answer the hon. Member for Wimbledon, if local authorities see a particular problem in meeting the provisions of clause 11, we will listen to representations. However, we believe that there should not be a problem. As the right hon. Member for East Yorkshire said, it is something that they should be doing anyway, so there should not be a long delay before implementation.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport) 9:45 am, 24th April 2008

I understand entirely what the Minister says, but one of the benefits of the DDA is that is allows implementation periods to vary. Do the Government have in mind a set implementation date, or is it variable?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

In a sense, the implementation date will be one that is considered reasonable in the circumstances. For example, when considering setting up a new bus station, if the current one has particular problems, implementation will obviously be subject to a variety of time limits. However, the requirement should not be over-burdensome. We believe that it is something that local authorities should be doing, but we wanted to use this opportunity to reinforce the message.

Photo of Ian Stewart Ian Stewart Labour, Eccles

My right hon. Friend is articulating the justification for the clause. In the city of Salford in my constituency, we have an active disabled drivers association. The council has sensibly co-opted a delegate from the association, Mr. Jim Wheelton, on to the planning committee, and he attends all visits. There is good practice in Salford, but the clause will bring consistency across the country. That must be to the benefit of all our disabled constituents.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend is right. Once again, his constituency is leading the way in best practice, and I congratulate it on taking the needs of disabled people fully into account.

As I said, clause 11 is to be welcomed. We expect the commencement order to state a specific date for its provisions to come into force, but when setting that date, we will consider local authority views on implementation. The Government included the clause as a result of representations made in the other place, and it has been warmly welcomed by representatives of older and disabled people, including Help the Aged, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and the chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People. I hope that the Committee will accept it.

Photo of Greg Knight Greg Knight Chair, Procedure Committee

I am sure that the Committee will agree with the Minister. Indeed, every reasonable person would agree with her.

May I ask a question for clarification? Will the right hon. Lady confirm that the duty to look after the needs of disabled people will be complied with as an overall policy, and that the clause will not mean that every seat on every vehicle must be disability compliant? I am thinking particularly of local authorities based in tourist areas, which may often have a tourist feature as part of their transport system. We have all seen the trains that run up and down the seafront of many seaside towns, and I believe that Scarborough uses a 1920s steam bus as part of its transport provision. The bus has steep stairs to the upper platform which no disabled person could possibly negotiate. Will she confirm that the overall provision must be disability compliant, but that historic vehicles or tourist vehicles will not be forced off the road?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Minister of State (Regional Affairs) (Yorkshire and the Humber), Minister of State (Department for Transport)

I believe that that consideration is covered in other parts of the DDA, where operators in such circumstances are expected to make reasonable adjustments. That is the bit of the DDA that would cover that kind of operator. The duty in the clause is to have regard to the needs of disabled people. The specific point raised by the hon. Gentleman is covered in other parts of the DDA which refer to “reasonable adjustments” that need to be made in such circumstances.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.