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Lord Addington: My Lords, I rise to support both amendments. I think the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, was slightly underplaying his amendment, because it is actually a good one, but the substantive amendment does guarantee an important link between the train stations and other forms of transport. It is one link in a chain--I realise it is a cliche--and if you break one of those links, the whole thing fails: end of story. It does not really matter how good the train is if you cannot get from the station to your destination. Certain minicabs may well be able to accommodate certain people, but it cannot be guaranteed.
Also, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen pointed out, if you are in a wheelchair you may just about be able to get into certain types of cab. The same argument applies if you happen to have a bad leg or have a pram with you, but let us leave that aside for the moment. You may just about be able to get into a certain type of cab if you are prepared to go through the indignity of being bundled into the back and having the wheelchair pushed around, and so on. As to trying to go to court over it, I suggest that that might be something of a nightmare. Do we have to feed the lawyers any more?
Let us consider the position of the licensed taxi operators. They have acquired expensive vehicles, which are accessible. They are required to make sure that you can actually get into the cab. That is part of the deal imposed on them. In many parts of the country they originally operated from saloon cars. A little fairness here is justifiable, I think.
My Amendment No. 26 comes towards the end of the group and suggests that the operators of licensed taxis should have sufficient training to enable them to help people in and out of their special vehicles. It was inspired by conversations with several taxi drivers who simply did not know what to do or how to give appropriate help. When a new taxi is acquired, I suggest that a few hours' training, as a condition of the licence to operate, would enable a driver to give appropriate help. I suggest that this amendment is a very useful add-on to the main amendment, Amendment No. 14; but it is consequential.
Amendment No. 14 would guarantee that such a link between stations would apply to everybody and not just to a few. I would suggest that arguments to the contrary are undoubtedly inspired by a degree of commercial greed, or potential greed. I commend the amendments to the House.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I have the most enormous sympathy with what lies behind these amendments. What has been said by the three previous speakers is exemplary and I commend their sentiments wholeheartedly. I am a great fan of the black cab in London--those driven by members of the London Taxi Board--and I agree very much with the first sentence of the briefing paper which the taxi board has
However, I am very unconvinced that Amendment No. 14 achieves what noble Lords seek. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, referred to the Early-Day Motion in another place, which repeated the assertion that licensed taxis had been excluded from forecourts at some stations, such as Cambridge and Eastbourne. Those are rather curious examples. Towards the end of the time that I was working for the British Railways Board I remember a very bitter dispute between the board and the Cambridge licensed taxi owners' association over the level of charges levied for the right to ply on the station forecourt. In 1995 that resulted in taxis moving to a local authority rank 50 yards from the station entrance. That meant they were obviously providing a much worse service than previously.
The situation now is that there is an agreement between the train operating company which manages Cambridge station, the West Anglia Great Northern Company, and the same licensed taxi owners' association, which allows all licensed taxi drivers who are members of the association back on to the forecourt. That agreement specifies that 30 per cent of the taxis have to be accessible to disabled people. I am told by the train operating company that it would have preferred all taxis serving the station to be accessible, but at the moment in Cambridge there just are not enough licensed vehicles to be able to provide such a service.
In addition to specifying a minimum proportion of accessible taxis, the agreement also allows the train operating company to impose other standards, such as controls on fares for longer journeys out of the city centre and the requirement that taxis are there to meet trains during quieter parts of the day and not just at peak times. This last requirement is extremely important and is very much in line with what my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke was saying. By entering into contractual arrangements of this sort, the train operators can attempt to match the provision of taxis to the full train services which they run.
A reference has been made to Eastbourne, where another curious choice has been made, if I may say so. There the train operating company has an agreement with Sussex Taxis Ltd, which issues individual permits in respect of taxis. It provides that the association must provide at least 50 per cent of the permits to taxi drivers other than those who are members of the association, and that any hackney carriage which applies must be issued with a permit. Again, there are minimum standards for the levels of service provided.
I am afraid that if Amendment No. 14 were to be accepted, it would, first, create a statutory regime which would be inconsistent with the Disability Discrimination Act. It would also limit and severely curtail the ability of train companies to control the supply of taxis at stations and to provide or maintain levels of service and reassurances which are already in
Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, I support warmly Amendments Nos. 3 and 14, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, so clearly and comprehensively. As we now all know, these provisions would ensure that accessible taxis are available at stations for elderly and disabled passengers. I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, says, but the agreements he talks about are all individual, are they not? It is not an overall policy. I feel that it is necessary to ensure that accessible taxis can use station forecourts. This amendment is necessary to avoid a break in what would otherwise be a seamless door-to-door journey. As I understand it, this amendment would not stop any other arrangements being made with other cabs as well.
My noble friend Lady Masham supports wholeheartedly these amendments. I am glad to say that she was transferred yesterday to Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where I hope she will make a good recovery following her accident which, as your Lordships probably know, was precipitated by canine interaction rather than by a road traffic accident.
The fully accessible black cab--I am delighted that the whole London fleet is now accessible--has made a huge difference to the lives of many people with disabilities, particularly those with arthritis and those who are wheelchair users. Many, including myself, simply cannot manage to get into a minicab unaided. It may be possible, as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and others have said, that, given an easy car, various bits of equipment and given a strong, good-tempered driver, you may be able to transfer with help; but you cannot guarantee that such a person and car will turn up.
I do not like talking personally, and I try very hard never to overstate the case, but it does need to be said that we are not just talking about comfort and convenience: we are talking about health and safety. If a paraplegic, for instance, gets a bruise or a scrape from a bad transfer when getting into or out of a car, it may take a long time to heal and it can turn into a pressure sore. That will cause problems for many months.
I turn now to Amendment No. 26. A clear case has been made for the amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I was rather dumb not to add my name to it as it concerns a matter close to my heart. I find that many taxi drivers do not know how to use the small y-shaped strap which anchors a wheelchair to the floor. Usually they claim that they have not seen it or do not have it. I try to persuade them to find it. Someone told me that a taxi driver had at first claimed that he did not have such a strap. He then found it and was shown
If accessible taxis cannot enter stations that will scupper the idea of the seamless journey. I do not think that Theseus would ever have got out of the labyrinth if his ball of string had a break in it. "Seamless" means just that--without a break. The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, is a listening Minister, and has shown that on other disability issues. I very much hope that he will be able to accept the amendments. If not, and if the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, decides to test the opinion of the House, I urge noble Lords to support him.
Lord Rix: My Lords, I add my voice to the "heavyweights" in your Lordships' House who have tabled these amendments. The quality of life of many disabled people is, as we all know, dependent on their ability to travel independently. If disabled people are able to access employment, education, leisure and other everyday activities, it is essential that they must have the means to reach them. They must have access to transport services and the choice of services to meet their individual travel needs. The need for accessible services, especially taxi services in rural areas, is particularly acute. Provisions on accessible vehicles should be reinforced and enshrined in this Transport Bill. I therefore support the three amendments and trust that the Government will see fit to accept them.
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