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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. In his way, he made precisely the point that I was making. I do not want to get into trying to discuss what our relationship might be--that would lead to complete confusion, just as it would between myself and the Minister--but it does make the point.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her comments. There is a danger that in reading the Bill one could misinterpret the word "efficiency" and leave out "environmental". The Minister did not answer that specific point.

I am well aware--as I should be after serving a long time in local government--of the statutory duties of local government. I am completely in favour of not rewriting legislation that is already written elsewhere. However, I return to my point: one needs to keep all

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the ideas flowing together. That was the reason why I brought those thoughts together in the amendments. Local authorities do this in their management structure, disregarding the guidance that is provided by government. They recognise the need for this.

I am not convinced that we have got the balance of this legislation completely right. However, I hear what the Minister has said. For now--indeed, as we are finishing the Bill, for ever--I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 3:

    Clause 108, page 67, line 24, at end insert--

("( ) In developing policies in respect of transport facilities and services of the kind mentioned in subsection (2)(a), each local transport authority shall take account of the need to secure that proper arrangements are made--
(a) to enable persons who are disabled to transfer in safety and comfort between different modes of transport; and
(b) to ensure that such persons have safe, comfortable and effective access to stations and other transport interchange facilities.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 14. I shall leave the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to address Amendment No. 26, which has also been included in this group. I moved a similar amendment to Amendment No. 14 in Committee on recommitment but subsequently withdrew it. At that time it was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, who, unfortunately, cannot be here this afternoon. I understand that he is in Australia.

Amendment No. 3 is purely a paving amendment for Amendment No. 14. However, it would clarify Clause 108 as regards people with disabilities. It would ensure that local transport authorities must consider the particular safety and comfort problems caused by disability when developing their policies. It would also ensure proper access for disabled people where there is interchange between different types of transport.

Amendment No. 14 requires that train station operators provide facilities for licensed taxis at their stations. Licensed taxis either already, or soon will, provide spacious wheelchair facilities for all passengers, as well as a regulated fare and a well-trained driver, who must have local knowledge. They are a vital part of the transport network, not just for disabled people but also for many sections of the community, as the Government recognised in their integrated policy.

The amendment is a straightforward measure that has widespread support among the disability community and would ensure consistent and fair treatment for all those who need to use an accessible vehicle as part of their public transport journey. The amendment would prevent train station operators from signing exclusive contracts with minicab operators. As the House may know, although licensed taxis are subject to the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, minicabs are not. Already, in areas such as Cambridge and Eastbourne, passengers can get off a train to find that the services

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of a licensed taxi are not available within the station, as exclusive contracts have been signed with minicab operators.

In Committee on re-commitment the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, argued that this proposed new clause is unnecessary, as, in the Government's view, the implementation of Sections 21 and 33 of the Disability Discrimination Act will ensure that there are wheelchair-accessible vehicles available at railway stations. My understanding from advice that I have received is that that is not the case. The Government seek to rely on the implementation of the DDA through individual court cases being brought against specific station operators. This would clearly be costly and ineffective; indeed, it could lead to inconsistencies across the country. I have been advised by parliamentary agents to the London Taxi Board that, to quality as an offence under Section 21 of the DDA, it must be shown that it is "impossible or unreasonably difficult" for disabled passengers to make use of a service. The board advises--not surprisingly--that on account of this wording a successful claim under the Act is,

    "only likely to occur in the most extreme cases".

Section 33 of the Act states that the Minster has powers to designate transport facilities where a station operator has entered one of these inclusive contracts. But the implementation of that section will not be sufficient. Unless the Minister concerned is aware of all the cases where there are no accessible vehicles available and is able immediately to designate facilities to provide similar services to the local taxi fleet, there will be inconsistencies across the country. The situation would surely be unacceptable. Therefore, this amendment is the only way that an equality of service for the elderly and disabled can be guaranteed.

If the Government are genuinely committed to ensuring that accessible transport is available to those who need it, when they need it, surely the obvious solution is to accept this simple amendment and thereby guarantee a universal provision of wheelchair-accessible vehicles at railway stations throughout the country. The Government's proposed solution to the issue is really no solution at all: it will leave elderly and disabled passengers with no guarantee that there will be a suitable vehicle for them on arrival at train stations. That surely goes against the spirit of the Disability Discrimination Act, which is intended to provide equality for all.

The Government are also aware that there is tremendous support for this measure from all sides in both Houses, and from many disability organisations. The amendment also has cross-party support in this House, as well as the support of members of the All-Party Disablement Group. An Early-Day Motion on the issue was signed by 124 Members of the other place, many of whom, I understand, have written to the Minister urging him to accept this amendment. It is also supported by a number of disability organisations, whose names I shall not mention this evening. I beg to move.

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5.15 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I support the amendment. However, I must confess that I am most puzzled by this whole debate. If ever I saw an open-and-shut case, this is it. Yet the Government seem to be resisting it time and time again. My noble friend Lord Whitty seems to be digging in his heels and insisting on rejecting this amendment. I have read the Hansard reports on the previous debates very carefully. I am sorry that I was unable to be present for them.

As I say, I am most puzzled because I begin from the premise that disabled people today are no longer living in back rooms and afraid to go out. They have raised their expectations and now travel wherever they want to go. Increasing numbers of them travel by train and visit all sorts of places because they are entitled to do so; they want to do so; and, indeed, they are going to do so. So the picture has changed. It is not a matter of a few eccentric disabled people travelling around: many disabled people are travelling by train. There is no point in beginning a journey if you cannot complete it. Goodness knows, enough people have been deterred from travelling by a few floods because they have made the trains late. People have decided not to travel because of the delays--some have said that they could not come to this House--and so on. But here we have the Government expecting disabled people to travel on a train and, on arrival at their destination, find that there is no accessible licensed taxi. I do not understand that kind of thinking. It is beyond me.

There is evidence to show that these station organisations are in fact creating such contracts with firms that cannot carry disabled people. What is the point? What is the reason for it or, indeed, the rationality? My noble friend Lord Whitty says that the Disability Discrimination Act will cover the situation. I fought for years for the DDA. In fact, if I may say so, I brought forward the first Bill in the House of Commons that led to the introduction of that legislation. I had great hopes for it. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, the DDA is not the solution because it is cumbersome and controversial. Moreover, any time that people to go to court under the legislation--it is, by definition, almost controversial--they cannot be sure of winning. So, in the minds of disabled people, that increases anxiety instead of certainty. Why cannot the Government accept the amendment? It would ensure that accessible taxis were available outside railway stations. It is as simple as that.

I do not wish to take up too much of the time of the House, so I shall conclude my remarks. There are 8.5 million disabled people in Britain. If my noble friend is not careful, he will find that every time a disabled person takes a train and finds that he cannot get off without encountering difficulty and problems--like carrying suitcases to distant taxis--I am afraid that his name will be taken in vain. He will be held responsible

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for all these difficulties because, as has been said, we shall not have another transport Bill for some time. This is the time for my noble friend to think again.

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