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Lord Swinfen: Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether I heard him correctly at the beginning of his speech. I may not have done so because, as he knows, I am rather deaf. I thought I heard him say that Amendment No. 250 was unacceptable. Am I right in thinking that he meant acceptable?
Lord Brabazon of Tara: I heard the noble Lord right; he did say unexceptionable. We on these Benches in general terms support the principle behind these amendments. I am not certain which of the two is the better one. We believe that the facilities which are available to the disabled--there has been discussion on
When I first saw Amendment No. 250, I worried that it might involve the London Underground possibly being made accessible to wheelchairs. Some figures were calculated once on how much it would cost and it amounted to billions of pounds. It is not only at the bottom of escalators where there are usually steps. There are many stations--particularly on the Piccadilly Line--which have no surface structure where, in order to get to the ticket hall, one has to go down steps and where I suspect it would be quite impossible physically to put in a lift. However, we on these Benches would like to support the principle behind these amendments. I do not know which is the better one of the two, but I hope that the Minister will be able to give a sympathetic response.
Lord Whitty: I do understand the concerns behind these amendments. With regard to Amendment No. 250, the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, recognised that it was drafted in such a way that it would run into some of the difficulties which both my noble friend Lord Berkeley and the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, have mentioned. It would imply a very onerous duty--far greater than on any other public authority--but also one which would override other priorities for TfL. One thinks in particular of the physically difficult problem which the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, has graphically outlined in relation to 100 year old London Underground stations.
In its present form, we could not accept that amendment. In one sense, the noble Lord was focusing on a much more limited area but one of absolute essential importance for the disabled; namely, their ability to obtain door-to-door transport and the mayor and TfL's responsibility for that. I shall mention that in a moment.
In relation to new Amendment No. 287, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, is right that it bears a striking resemblance to Clause 169 of the original Bill. My honourable friend Glenda Jackson removed that clause for two reasons: partly because the other provisions in the Bill gave the mayor and TfL all the necessary duties and powers to ensure that transport issues affecting disabled people could be properly dealt with and will be taken into account in all the relevant details with the authority; and because we felt that the clause as it stood would put all responsibility on the Secretary of State to which by and large there has been some objection in this House. The clause as it stands would require the Secretary of State to issue orders and directions, whereas that ought to be part of the mayor's own responsibilities and, through the mayor, TfL's.
Several noble Lords have mentioned activity which is going on to improve the accessibility of transport to the disabled and others with mobility problems; in particular, the new regulations, which will be coming in over the next few years, affecting trains, buses and taxis and new stations. Clearly that cannot be done
Under the present draft, we place the responsibility very clearly on the mayor, who will of course also be bound by the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act, but with an additional requirement which was passed rather late the evening before last--I seem to spend all my time in this Committee--on Clause 124(2)(a), which requires the mayor's strategy to contain the mayor's proposals for transport which is accessible to those with mobility problems. That leaves some flexibility with the mayor. But it is also important that the mayor has that requirement and that it is also reflected in the fact that the London borough local implementation plans must contain proposals for implementing that strategy. Therefore, this is written in the Bill as it stands both at the GLA/TfL and at the London borough level.
This applies in the area of Dial-a-Ride and Taxicard. Dedicated door-to-door services in London are apparently provided by those schemes. Dial-a-Ride is run by six independent companies. Taxicard is a borough-operated scheme covering 29 of the boroughs. Both schemes are very important and need to be developed for disabled people to pre-book door-to-door transport, mainly by telephone. For Dial-a-Ride, transport is provided by small bus. Individual taxis provide services under Taxicard.
As was indicated in our White Paper--I think the noble Lord, Lord Archer, referred to this--responsibility for Dial-a-Ride and Taxicard will transfer to the new authority. Thereafter, we would envisage a progressive transfer of other door-to-door services where this can be shown to be of benefit to the users and with the agreement of the other service providers.
Dial-a-Ride, currently funded by London Transport, will, as an LT responsibility, transfer automatically to Transport for London. Amendment No. 259D, a government amendment, will enable TfL to continue giving grant to the Dial-a-Ride organisations as London Transport now does. The mayor will also be able to take responsibility for Taxicard or operate a similar scheme. However, some flexibility is needed. We acknowledge that Taxicard is not a uniform scheme--indeed that was pointed out--and the mayor will be able to indicate the best development from Taxicard or services similar to it, and the boroughs will have to reflect the mayor's approach in their own local implementation plan as I have indicated.
The mayor will want to consider the benefits of further co-ordination or voluntary integration of other types of door-to-door services. These could include such areas as social services day care transport and indeed transport for children with special needs. It is a big area but it is absolutely clear that Clause 124 places the responsibility on the mayor to provide this kind of transport which is accessible to all of those with mobility problems.
Through that, he therefore will need to decide, among other things, on the exact timing and nature of the transfer of Taxicard and the future development of Taxicard and Dial-a-Ride and to do so in conjunction with the London boroughs.
As it stands, Amendment No. 250 would place too wide, too onerous and too expensive a duty on TfL; but the mayor, under provisions which already exist in the Bill and the particular responsibility set out in Clause 124, has responsibility to take account of and develop exactly the kind of services that the noble Lord and noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, were concerned with. I hope that noble Lords will recognise that there is no need for these amendments given the commitments and the implications of the earlier responsibility.
Baroness Darcy de Knayth: Before the noble Lord decides what to do, perhaps I may ask for clarification. Let us suppose that it does not work out and that, heaven forfend, the boroughs do not do what the mayor is saying. The Minister said that under Amendment No. 287 the Secretary of State was obliged to make regulations, but I believe that it states that he "may" make regulations. Would not the amendment be a useful stop-gap if there were any problem?
Lord Whitty: By putting that clause at this point in the Bill it would appear to place responsibility on the Secretary of State. Our provisions would place responsibility on the mayor and that arises in Clause 134. However, if other procedures are observed, that does not prevent the Secretary of State making other directions.
Lord Swinfen: I shall leave my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes to decide what she wishes to do with her amendment, Amendment No. 287, when we reach it somewhat later in the debate. However, her suggestion of including in the Bill a definition of a disabled person is useful. The definition in the Disability Discrimination Act may be useful, but let us consider that between now and the next stage of the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and my noble friend Lord Brabazon were right to point out the costs of making the whole Underground system accessible to people with all kinds of disability. That was never what I intended. I realise that it would be impractical and that the costs would be horrific.
I am delighted with the support I have received for the amendments from all sides of the Committee and with the Minister's support for the idea which lies behind them. I should like to read what he and other Members have said and possibly come back with them at a later stage. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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