Examination of Witnesses (Questions 106
WEDNESDAY 25 FEBRUARY 2004
Q106 Chairman: Thank you very much
for coming in this afternoon. Would you like to introduce yourselves?
Ms Bates: My name is Ann Bates.
I am the Chair of the Rail Working Group, DPTAC. I am a member
of the Rail Passengers Committee for Southern England, and I am
involved in the Accessibility Working Group at the Rail Passengers
Council. In short, I am the trainspotter!
Mr Betteridge: My employer is
Arthritis Care but I am here today representing DPTAC as its Chair.
Mr Lawson: I am also a member
of DPTAC and have been since 1996. I am head of Planning and Transportation
with North Lanarkshire Council local authority.
Q107 Chairman: Would you like to
start with an opening statement?
Mr Betteridge: Thank you. I would
simply like to say that in our view the importance of transport
to the disability rights agenda is difficult to overstate and
that the disability rights issue for disabled people is equally
difficult to overstate, so while many disabled people would say
that the measures contained in the Draft Disability Discrimination
bill are long overdueand they may be rightwe have
a view in DPTAC that we warmly welcome the package of measures
as a whole contained in the Bill, and are delighted to see, now,
opportunities to implement the Disability Rights Task Force recommendations.
Q108 Chairman: To what extent do
you think the draft will achieve the DRTF's recommendations that
the DDA "access to services" duty should be extended
to transport operators, and are there any ways in which the bill
could be improved in terms of achieving this recommendation?
Mr Betteridge: I think the answer
to both questions is "Yes". Clearly there will be a
lot of importance in the detail which accompanies the way in which
these recommendations are carried forward, monitored and evaluated,
and this is why I think it is so important that we do take time
to ensure that regulations and the accompanying codes of practice
are developed with the input of all relevant stakeholders, disabled
people, industry, transport providers and so on to make sure we
get it right. We have waited an awfully long time for these measurescenturies,
some would sayand in this window now over the next year
or two we have the opportunity to make sure that the spirit behind
these welcome measures is effectively implemented. That will only
be effective if all parties can begin now to agree what would
be reasonable in some of the specific circumstances, for example,
that you have been discussing already today. So we do agree, I
think, with the previous witnesses that the advantage to some
of the regulations is the flexibility it provides in allowing
specific modes of transport to be given due consideration individually,
and equally share the view expressed that the disadvantage or
danger attached to that is one of slippage whereby we may see
further delays which could otherwise be avoided. So there is a
balance to be struck there but on the whole we believe that the
advantages for transport service providers at this point is that
there is an awful lot of learning to be had from the way in which
Part 3 of the Act has already been applied in other service provision
areas. There is a lot of sensible extrapolation we can do from
that, I believe, in order to determine what would and would not
be reasonable, which of course is the key concept in all of this
in future circumstances which are specific to transport.
Q109 Chairman: When you refer to
"flexibility" you are, I presume, referring to timetable?
Mr Betteridge: Both timetabling
and the differing modes of transport because, as we know, in terms
of timetabling, in terms of agreeing how service provision can
be described as reasonable, what is true about trams may be very
different, for example, with small private hire vehicles.
Q110 Chairman: In terms of operation
you would find the code of practice more flexible than a parliamentary
Mr Betteridge: I did mention that
the two needed to be developed in conjunction with each other,
absolutely. They need to be complementary so we all have more
clarity and consistency about what the Act requires in terms of
both rights and responsibilities.
Q111 Miss Begg: On the difficulties
that I would like to explore I am assuming you think there should
not be any difficulties but I suspect that the transport operators
think there will be difficulties. What difficulties do you think
they are going to bring up about extending Part III of the DDA
to them, and what do you see are the solutions to those difficulties?
Mr Betteridge: Mr Levitt has already
raised the notion of some Aunt Sallies which exist in the way
in which the existing Act is perceived and understood, and I think
that is right. There is a fear largely born out of ignorance,
I believe, because many of the important aspects of getting this
new set of measures right relate simply to bringing transport
into existing auspices of the DDA. Referring back to my previous
comment about learning from our recent past and looking at hotel
accommodation, for example, and arriving at your first point of
departure on your journey, many of the issues around those and,
indeed, employment have already been addressed by the earlier
stages of the Disability Discrimination Act. We are really looking,
therefore, at fear around some of the issues to do with staffing,
training and disability awareness, but we do know that in many
other areas of legislation, whether it be race relations or health
and safety, staff that need to be trained in those areas to understand
their responsibilities have been successfully trained. What we
need to ensure now is that operators and providers of services
generally in transport understand the law, understand that it
needs to be applied consistently, and then train their staff to
deliver on that because many of the other infrastructure aspects
have, as I said, been picked up by the early parts of the DDA.
Q112 Miss Begg: Some transport operators
are probably already fulfilling the new obligation that will be
put on to them by the draft bill because they are already fulfilling
what would have been an obligation under Part 3 had it included
transport. Have you examples of that kind of good practice, or
of operators that are already there, who are not going to be affected
by this bill because they are already doing it? Conversely, have
you examples of where there is a long road to travel because the
operator really has not addressed any of these issues at all?
Ms Bates: In the train world there
are some really good examples of good practice and one of my worries
is that the train operators have known since 1995 that this was
coming, and I am very keen to see that people who have been working
since 1995 who have been putting in the time are not penalised
against the sort of companies that are leaving it to the very
last minute. South West Trains in particular have got very robust
disability awareness training. They work very hard on wheelchair
access on their trains; they have tried to do disability awareness
training that covers the whole range of disabilities; and in some
ways they are very far forward because they have been working
on this from 1995.
Q113 Miss Begg: Can you give examples
of the bad practice? I could probably give you half a dozen myself!
Mr Betteridge: Only half a dozen?
In the following examples the purpose is not to cite or point
the finger at individual companies because I think most companies
would have distance to travel to improve practice, etc, but I
can give some specific illustrations. At the moment, for example,
DPTAC and the Department for Transport are in informal consultation
with Brittany Ferries over a policy of not carrying assistance
dogs unless the dog is confined to the car for the whole journey.
Now, clearly this is an area not covered by the existing legislation
but it would seem somewhat unfair and potentially discriminatory
not to allow someone who has a need to be with the dog for a journey
to do so. There was the Ryanair case recently, where the case
was taken on behalf of the Disability Rights Commission of the
man who has arthritis and cerebral palsy who was one of many people
charged by that company for use of a wheelchair at the airport.
That has attracted a lot of national publicity recently and does
highlight some of the glaring weaknesses in the Act as it stands
now, something which this bill really has the opportunity to put
the spotlight on to identify that this is one area where we can
generate consistency and clarity, so this would be illegal in
Q114 Miss Begg: I realise you have
other examples but can I be clear that the draft bill we are considering
today will not include aircraft themselves; that is still outwith
the scope of this bill?
Mr Betteridge: Correct. Aviation
and shipping at the moment are subject to voluntary codes. The
Government have indicated that they will move to legislate in
those areas if the voluntary codes are not found to be working
effectively, and DPTAC believes that by the end of 2005 we should
have enough evidence to know whether it would be necessary to
legislate in those areas. You are quite right to point that out.
Q115 Chairman: Would you assume then,
at the end of the voluntary code, that the bill should include
a regulation-making power, because you would not want another
Act of Parliament to do it presumably? If it is shown at the end
of 2005 that it needed legislation, you would expect the bill
to provide a regulation-making power to enable that to happen?
Mr Betteridge: I think at this
point that would look like the most likely and reasonable way
forward, yes, because we need to move as quickly as we can and
as practicably as we can, and given we are here with this bill
that would be a logical next step. I do have just one or two more
examples where policy and practice, which at the moment is legal,
may not be in the future if this bill has the teeth that many
would like. British Airways, whom many disabled people describe
as generally excellent in many aspects of its service delivery,
recently were the subject of a court case whereby a disabled person
who had requested extra leg space for the duration of the journey
was told their ticket allocation procedures could not allow that
sort of flexibility, and that prevented the person making the
journey. Similarly, with easyJet, the media reported that the
pilot asked a group of deaf people to leave the plane because
he considered them to be in some way obtrusive or a nuisance for
the purpose of the journey and that seemed to be based, going
back to the point on whether it is behavioural or the impairment,
largely on assumptions about behaviour than facts. So there are
a number of areas where we are looking to this bill to really
make a difference to strengthen the law we already have.
Q116 Lord Rix: There was a question
in the Lords, I think just before the recess, as to whether, once
you stepped off British Airports Authority tarmac where regulations
might apply, they would continue to apply on a particular aircraft
whilst on the ground. I believe the answer was that because this
was an overseas carrier operating from Heathrow, they were told
that the regulations could not apply once they stepped on board
that aircraft. Would that continue to be the case?
Mr Betteridge: Clearly the national
Government in the United Kingdom can only legislate for its own
Q117 Lord Rix: But once the aircraft
is on English territory or British territory, does that not apply?
Once you have gone through the door you are on foreign territory,
as it were?
Mr Betteridge: It is a little
bit like the question previously about holiday and coach tourism.
What the company can do is fall within the requirements of United
Kingdom legislation, and that already applies to the physical
design of various modes of transport so aircraft could be tackled
in that way in terms of physical access, but what we are specifically
looking at here, I think, is service provision. So a British company
would be subject to the British law and would therefore need to
have trained its staff to make them aware of what is expected,
reasonable and responsible in terms of the new legislation. On
those issues it will even be irrelevant as to where geographically
that took place if discrimination occurred.
Q118 Lord Tebbit: Do you regard it
as reasonable for an airline operator to place a limit on the
number of people either incapable of walking or walking only with
great difficulty being put on any one aircraft?
Mr Betteridge: We have had very
similar discussions in relation to trains. We do have to constantly
return to the key, first principle of reasonableness which underpins
everything in the Disability Discrimination Act. I would say that
it is not reasonable for any employer or service provider to incur
significant and severe financial loss as a result of some concepts
of adjustment, but at the same time what is reasonable is something
which needs to be explored practically and with those issues in
mind. Again, we had many of the same concerns raised by, for example,
companies who ran hotels, restaurants and so on before the 1999
and, indeed, this year's, parts of the Disability Discrimination
Act took force. The codes of practice which initially the National
Disability Council and the Disability Rights Commission have produced
have taken great pains to highlight what would and would not constitute
reasonableness. That is the sort of process that DPTAC can help
facilitate in this next period. We need to talk to disabled people
and industry to get some shared sense of what would constitute
reasonableness, and that I think would answer your question, so
at this moment one could not reasonably put a number on it but
that discussion needs to be had.
Q119 Lord Tebbit: I am quite clear
that would differ for various aircraft but you must clearly be
aware that there is a requirement on the operator to demonstrate
that the aircraft can be evacuated in an emergency in a given
period of time. Do you think if the operator feels that that ability
would be impaired by carrying such passengers, he would be discriminating
against such passengers by refusing to carry them?
Mr Betteridge: No, because that
would be reasonable. It is already a fact that the Disability
Discrimination Act cannot overrule existing legislation such as
health and safety legislation, and therefore it would be entirely
reasonable not to make a particular adjustment if it in any way
compromised health and safety. That is not the sort of thing disabled
people want out of the new measures. We want what is reasonable.