|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, will the Minister clarify one point? Are we talking about taxis that someone can use in their wheelchair in all cases, or about taxis that are adapted so that the seats swivel out, allowing people to transfer into them from their wheelchair?
Some may wonder whether the Secretary of State would designate every station that entered into such an exclusive contract. That is a fair question. I cannot bind every future Secretary of State, because every case needs to be examined on its merits, but I am sure that the various legislative requirements on the Secretary of State to take into account the interests of disabled people would result in Section 33 being used when accessibility was not provided under any contract that excluded other operators providing accessibility. The section imposes a legal requirement on taxis, so the Secretary of State has only limited room for manoeuvre on the requirements that he can frame under the regulations. Noble Lords can be reassured that the Secretary of State will operate in that direction.
The Government fully understand the concerns behind the amendment, but we feel that the combination of measures already provided in the Bill and the DDA meet the interests of disabled people and that in almost all circumstances they should enhance the availability of accessible vehicles. The ability to reach an exclusive contract means that the presence of an appropriate proportion of accessible vehicles can be ensured. The station authority cannot ensure that if taxis are generally plying for hire.
Access to public transport for the disabled is a key part of the philosophy of the Bill and the Disability Discrimination Act. We believe that we have come up with a combination of measures that will ensure the availability of such vehicles.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, will my noble friend assure us that, after the enactment of the Bill, he or another Minister in his department will see the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and anyone else who put their name to the amendment to ensure that the regulations address their concerns, as he has said that they will?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am willing to talk to anyone who is concerned about the issue. We have to take a decision on the amendment today. Passing it might make the situation worse for disabled passengers and travellers and for the general public. We have consulted our statutory advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. It shares our view that the amendment would not achieve what we all want. Your Lordships should take DPTAC's view seriously. It is keen for accessible taxis to be available at stations. We have agreed to explore with the shadow Strategic Rail Authority the scope for ensuring that train operating companies include a requirement on the proportion of accessible vehicles in
The amendment has further defects. It would impose a different duty from that proposed by the DDA. There is also an assumption that the regulator will be responsible for disability issues, whereas that responsibility rests with the Strategic Rail Authority.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, will the Minister consider whether the objectives, instructions and guidance that are issued to the franchising director might be amended to make the nature of the exclusive agreements clear and to ensure that they fully reflect the points made in tonight's debate?
Lord Whitty: My Lords, we shall discuss that option with the SRA. That is one means of exerting SRA and regulator leverage on the issue. I shall certainly take that option seriously in those discussions. There may also be other options, but we shall look at that one seriously.
I have probably said enough about Amendment No. 14 for it to be clear that we share the motives of those who support it, but we do not believe that its full implications have been understood. I accept that the existing provisions are somewhat complex, but the amendment does not take them fully into account.
I have some sympathy with the objectives of Amendment No. 26 on training, which was spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. My department and DPTAC have issued advice to the licensing authorities and the trade on the issue. To answer my noble friend Lord Berkeley, the consultation on the regulations under the DDA will take some time, but we shall engage on it soon. When we introduce them, we shall also issue guidance on meeting the new duties. That will include references to training, subject to consultation with the trade. Training is obviously an ongoing process. We hope that all those who operate in the area have a commitment to training to meet the requirements of the DDA and other interests of the disabled traveller. I hope that that process meets with the noble Lord's approval and that he will not pursue the amendment in its present form.
The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, referred to Amendment No. 3 as a paving amendment. I believe that, on its own, the amendment would have some attraction for us. Nevertheless, without the linkage to Amendment No. 14, it contains problems.
I make two points. First, the wording in the Bill is deliberately wide-ranging--over-arching is a word that I have often used--when it applies to our responsibilities to disabled travellers. The wording applies to all transport policy. Therefore, it would apply to transfer between modes, access to stations, as is covered here, and transport interchange facilities.
Of course, the noble Lord may argue that a few extra words in relation to interchanges would do no harm. However, this wide-ranging approach is quite deliberate. The problem with making specific references to particular points is that it is implied that if a matter is not mentioned at various points within the Bill, it is not relevant. We hope to avoid such an implication. We believe that the broader, over-arching provisions within the Bill in relation to the obligations to disabled passengers should be the vehicle by which we meet the obligations that the noble Lord's amendment seeks to address. Therefore, there could be a downside to accepting Amendment No. 3 as it stands.
As the noble Lord linked the amendment as a package deal with Amendment No. 14, my slight temptation to accept the amendment is probably not appropriate. I should have to oppose that amendment as well. However, the main amendment in this group is clearly Amendment No. 14. I hope that noble Lords will accept both the Government's good will in this matter and the rather complex arguments that I have perforce been required to make in order to explain why I do not believe it appropriate. I hope that the noble Lord will not pursue these amendments.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate on this group of amendments. I was interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, said about Cambridge and Eastbourne. I am delighted that the situation there appears to have been resolved. However, that does not stop such a situation occurring at other stations in the future.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, said that banning exclusive contracts could mean that there would not necessarily be a certain supply of vehicles at stations to collect passengers. However, there is not a certain supply of vehicles to collect passengers at the moment. Last night my wife arrived at Canterbury East station and waited for half an hour. Still no taxi came, and no mini cab would have come either because it happened to be a busy time of the evening. Nothing in life is that certain.
The noble Lord also said that the exclusive contract, particularly in relation to cab firms, would mean that fares could be controlled. Fares for taxis are already controlled by the licensing authorities. So far as I am aware, that includes out-of-area fares. However, controlling fares is not always so easy with regard to minicab firms.
I know that at present not all taxis are accessible. However, more are becoming available as vehicles are replaced by those which are accessiblle. That is the not the case with regard to minicabs or ordinary hire vehicles. There is no way that the Minister can guarantee that in future minicabs will be accessible; nor can he guarantee what will appear in exclusive contracts, either for taxis or minicab firms.
I am always very happy, as the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, suggested, to meet with the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. I enjoy his company and at times he talks a lot of sense. However, I am afraid that I still disagree with him about this group of amendments. He said that they contained technical difficulties. If this amendment is accepted, it will go to the other place where they will have an opportunity to correct any technical difficulties. I am sorry but I am not entirely satisfied with the Minister's reply and I should like to test the opinion of the House.