Joint Committee on the Draft Disability Discrimination Bill Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 106 - 119)

WEDNESDAY 25 FEBRUARY 2004

MR NEIL BETTERIDGE, MS ANN BATES AND MR GRAHAME LAWSON

  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 overdue—and they may be right—we 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 measures—centuries, some would say—and 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 regulation?

  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 the future.

  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 nation—

  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.


 
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