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The Earl of Balfour: My Lords, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me coming in at this late stage of proceedings on the Bill. However, I am concerned about

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some of the rural areas in Scotland. The only way in which any taxi service has been provided is by people using cars which do not have the facilities which are written into the Bill. In discussions in my own county and with county officials, the providers of taxi services said that if we wished to ensure that facilities were provided for the disabled, the people operating taxi services would cease to operate that side of their business. They would carry on with ordinary garage work.

The other point about which I wonder is on Amendment No. 108. It also appears elsewhere in the Bill. I am pretty certain that neither the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 nor the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 applies to Scotland. I feel that it is worth making those comments.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we on this side of the House broadly support the Government's position on taxis. We believe that they are public service vehicles. Taxis are an important ingredient of public service transport and, therefore, they must be accessible to disabled people on a flexible and realistic basis. We believe, as the Bill lays down, that new vehicles introduced must be fully wheelchair accessible.

It is worth reminding ourselves that virtually all existing vehicles can be made accessible at reasonable expense if they are not already so. I understand from the briefing which I was kindly sent that the Fairway, which represents the majority of London cabs at the moment, has additional clip on steps and swivel seats fitted as standard on all new models. The older FX4 can be converted at a cost of about £1,400. Those figures were new to me and I find them interesting. As for the Metrocab, it can be fitted with a powered swivel seat at about £700, while the saloon cars mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Balfour, can, I understand, have a swivel seat at between £250 and £450. I believe that that is a reasonable cost to expect for a vehicle to be made accessible for the broad range of disabilities.

We support regulations that as the vehicles are replaced, the new ones should be fully wheelchair accessible and that existing vehicles should be adapted. We recognise that the situation is different in rural areas where swivel seat saloon cars may be more comfortable and appropriate. It is worth reminding ourselves that of the disabled people who prefer red/black cabs, 30 per cent. could not physically manage the saloon car, whereas of the disabled people who preferred saloon cars, only 3 per cent. could not manage a black cab.

I do not wish to trespass too far on the cluster of amendments standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Renton. However, we also believe that it is right that local authorities should be able to make a case for exemption to the Secretary of State, where there is no unmet need. But we would not and could not support a position where it was left entirely to local authority discretion as to whether there should be a mixed fleet. We believe that otherwise conflicting criteria would apply from place to place. The trade has fought vigorously, but as one who helped impose the black London taxi cab on a fleet that was often of fairly battered saloon cars, as a way of professionalising the service in my city, I know to a modest degree how

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resistant the trade can be to such changes. However, the Government are right to insist on the changes for which they are asking.

I have some questions. Will regulations relating to guide dogs also apply to private hire cars or only to hackney carriages? What are the Government doing about assisting the development of a new design of taxi to meet the needs both of disabled people and of the drivers themselves, some of whom may, for example, be women or themselves be disabled or in poor health and could not reasonably be expected to struggle with a wheelchair? Given that the Secretary of State has the power to give exemptions to local authorities, what criteria, apart from "no unmet need", is he likely to apply?

Turning to other forms of public transport such as buses, in Committee the Minister emphasised that accessibility had to be compatible with viability. How will that be defined and assessed? What sort of timescale is he operating to?

As to rail, and some of the amendments that the noble Lord addressed in his opening remarks, given the splintering of British Rail—to which I believe all of us on this side are bitterly opposed and which the country as a whole bitterly regrets—who will be responsible for ensuring, for example, that ramps onto trains are available? Will it be the train company or will it be the station operators where these are separately owned? There are many problems affecting disabled people so far as the "Balkanisation" of British Rail is concerned, and this is certainly one of them.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I have great respect for the noble Baroness and for the wonderful work she has done on this Bill. I have to tell her that when we come to consider my amendments next, I hope to give her a broader view of the facts of life in this matter, which I hope may cause her to modify her views.

Lord Gladwin of Clee: My Lords, with the permission of the House, I should like to return to an issue that I discussed late one night in Committee; namely, airports and stations—

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, it would be helpful to me if the noble Lord would perhaps indicate which of the amendments I need to look at at this stage.

Lord Gladwin of Clee: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot do that. I hoped that the Minister would not ask that question. Perhaps I may continue.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some assurances on a point to which I shall come in a moment. In Committee he said that he would look at the issues that I raised, but I have heard nothing since, and there was nothing in the Minister's speech this evening.

This matter begins with the report of the Transport Committee in the House of Commons on taxis and private hire vehicles. In the paragraph on airports and stations, the Committee stated:

    "Land, including roads, at airports and stations is usually privately owned and can be controlled by the airport operator or station owner. This gives them the right to regulate the use of their premises

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    by taxis and PHVs and, in some cases, to levy charges. Sometimes, as at Gatwick Airport, the concession is granted to a single taxi or PHV company".

Perhaps I may interpose here the fact that the contract has been given to two private hire companies. The committee goes on to state:

    "While we note that the Government is "not entirely convinced" of the merits of granting this type of concession, as opposed to allowing any locally licensed taxis to operate at such premises, there may on occasion be arguments for such an arrangement, for example in order to avoid congestion. Sole concessions should only be awarded after an open competition, which should give preference to companies which undertake to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles".

The Government's response to that comment by the committee was as follows:

    "The Government appreciates the sentiment behind this recommendation. However, it would not seem appropriate to control this by regulation. Hire vehicles at airports and stations (taxis and PHVs) are there to make access to and from the station or airport attractive to passengers. It is therefore in the interest of the owning authority or company to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided".

If airports and railway stations decide to invite tenders for the provision of taxi services for their passengers, and those contracts are won by private hire vehicle operators, as they have been at Gatwick, then they are not covered by this legislation and there is no requirement to provide vehicles suitable to wheelchair users. To be fair, the companies that won the contracts at Gatwick earlier this year for three years do have a number of vehicles with swivel seats, but they have no vehicles that can carry a disabled person in a wheelchair.

I return to the concern that I expressed in Committee; namely, that disabled passengers arriving at railway stations and airports in wheelchairs could have difficulty in finding suitable transport by taxi because the monopoly provider of the taxi service is a private hire vehicle operator, not covered by this legislation. Can the Minister give us some assurances on this matter?

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I join the noble Lord in seeking the Minister's assurances, and perhaps I ought to declare an interest. I use the facilities at airports and railway stations, and taxis. It would be very serious if any of these facilities deteriorated. In fact, they need to progress even more. There are still some trains that are very difficult for disabled people to use. It is of concern when one hears that these facilities might disappear.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am in some difficulty in dealing with this issue, as many of the points are not very relevant to the amendments that I have in front of me. Perhaps noble Lords will bear with me, since I can answer some of the points far better in the next debate, to be led by my noble friend Lord Renton, when we shall go into the detail of his concerns, which relate to some of the questions asked. I should be straying well out of order if I began to answer questions about amendments that are not actually before us at the moment. If noble Lords will allow me to do that, I shall return to some of these points, as I fully anticipated I should have to do, when we come to the more relevant group of amendments in the name of my noble friend.

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I shall try to say a few words. One thing I certainly can say is that my noble friend Lord Balfour is quite right: Amendment No. 108 applies to England and Wales in the one case and to London in the second case. The position in Scotland is that Clause 33 allows similar provisions to be made for Scotland by order. Because Scottish taxi legislation, as the noble Lord will know, is more modern, the provision can be made much more simply. So Scotland will be covered via Clause 33 and its more modern legislation.

It might be better for completeness of debate if I answer some of the other points in the next debate. Otherwise, we shall be repeating ourselves in very close order, and that would not be sensible. I undertake to allow myself to postulate on the other questions what my answer would be, as the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees gave me an example this afternoon, if they were in order when we come to that debate.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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