Clause 51

Local Transport Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 6 May 2008.

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Carrying of passengers in wheelchairs: supplementary provisions

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I beg to move amendment No. 259, in clause 51, page 45, line 6, leave out ‘may’ and insert ‘shall’.

This simple amendment would change the word “may” to “shall”. In my view, a licensing authority ought to maintain a list of vehicles falling within subsection (2) of proposed new section 36A of the 1995 Act if it is serious about undertaking its responsibilities under that Act. It is important that it has an up-to-date picture of which vehicles are available in its area and which are not. If it only has the option of maintaining a list, there may be areas where that information is not available.

In addition, when an authority, either a different one or the same one, is proposing, say, a quality contract scheme it is important to understand the range of vehicles that are available in an area when it draws up conditions that it wishes to see under the quality contract. However, under these provisions, it may not have that information available, which is a gap that ought to be filled. Those are the reasons why I believe that the word “may” should be changed to “shall”.

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

The amendment is to a clause that was inserted into the Bill in another place in response to a very well-argued proposal made by Baroness Chapman, who is certainly a doughty campaigner on this issue. The clause, in conjunction with clause 50, will place certain duties on the drivers of wheelchair-accessible taxi buses—that is, taxis and private hire vehicles used to provide local bus services—when carrying passengers in wheelchairs. The provisions will make it optional for local authorities to maintain a list of such wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Once such a list was in place, the duties in section 36 of the 1995 Act would apply to the drivers of taxi buses designated as wheelchair accessible. Those duties include helping a person in a wheelchair to get in and out of a taxi, carrying them in safety and comfort and not making an additional charge for doing so. Failure to observe the duties could lead to a criminal prosecution and fine.

The amendment would place an obligation on all local licensing authorities to maintain a list of vehicles being used to provide wheelchair accessible taxi buses. However, we do not think that that is either necessary or desirable. As I have said, the Bill allows local licensing authorities the option of maintaining the list if they have wheelchair accessible taxi buses that provide services in their area and they decide to designate them. That is in line with the Government’s general policy on taxis.

Local licensing authorities are normally given particular powers, but they are able to use their own discretion about whether to use them. There are about only 200 taxi buses that provide local bus services, although we hope that that figure will rise as a result of other provisions in the Bill. Only some of those taxi buses will be wheelchair accessible. Also, not all local  licensing authorities will have taxi buses operating in their area, so there will be no need either to designate wheelchair accessible taxi buses or to maintain a list.

I understand the thrust of the amendment, but it would place an unnecessary burden on local authorities. I hope that I can therefore persuade the hon. Member for Lewes to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Norman Baker Norman Baker Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 4:45, 6 May 2008

I am not sure that the amendment would be an unnecessary burden on local authorities if they had to make a nil return each year, which is what the Minister implied in relation to not many local authorities having taxi buses. If there are only 200 taxi buses in the country—she accepts that the number should increase—one way to secure an increase is perhaps for local authorities to realise through the mandatory compilation of a list just how few they have in their areas and how difficult it is for those with disabilities to get around because of the absence of such vehicles.

The Minister has given me no confidence that the current system will engender an increase of the kind that she and I wish to see. She also has not taken account of the other points that I made, such as the need to be able to take a quick metaphorical photograph of how many vehicles there are in an area, for future planning purposes. However, I do not intend to go to the stake over this, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 51 ordered to stand part of the Bill.