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Lord Carter: My Lords, this has been an interesting debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for observing that the Government have 15 years to get this right. I am delighted he thinks a Labour government will still be in power in 2020.
We have had a series of debates in Committee and on Report. Your Lordships will remember that the Joint Select Committee that I chair recommended that the consultation on the setting of the end-date was begun
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immediately. There was no justification for further delay. That has happened, because we now have the Government's acceptance of 2020. The report said,
"The Committee's analysis of the evidence we have received, together with the Department of Transport's own data, leads us to suggest an end-date of the end of 2017. We conclude that this, together with a limited exemption system which would itself expire in 2025, would be an appropriate compromise between the needs of disabled people and the industry's current replacement programme".
Your Lordships will note that we have moved on since then, and I think we all accepted that what we wanted was 2020 on the face of the Bill, which we have, and a robust exemption procedure when we get to 2020, but an exemption procedure implies that there will be exemptions. It seems the whole argument is turning on the robustness or otherwise of the exemption procedure that will be available in 2020. We now have the annual report, which is a good step forward, and the need for any change after 2020 to be dealt with through the affirmative procedure.
Let me remind your Lordships that in the Joint Committee report, the figures we had from the Department for Transport indicated that, under the procedure as it was then, in 2020 there would be 2,080 rail vehicles not regulated. That number has changed slightly since then, as the numbers have been updated. The government amendment clearly states:
If I read that correctly, it means that the 2,080 vehicles that would otherwise have been exempt will not be, except for the robust exemptions procedure. The argument simply turns on whether there should be any exemptions after 2020.
The Minister referred to the Disability Rights Commission, which understands the situation. We have all seen its briefing, but it is worth reminding ourselves of what it says. Under a heading about amendments to prevent any exemptions from RVAR after 2020, the commission says that it cannot support them, as it accepts that there may need to be some exemptions after 2020 in exceptional circumstances. In particular, the DRC is concerned that such amendments could inadvertently prevent short-term exemptions geared towards testing important innovations in rail vehicle access, with a view to later amendments of the RVAR to incorporate innovations which work well for disabled people. That is a clearly expressed view of the Disability Rights Commission, which I am sure has discussed it with the DPTAC. In any event, the DRC would expect the Government to use provisional procedures to ensure that exemptions which are not considered beyond 2020 are dealt with by the affirmative procedure.
We have gone a long way and persuaded the Government to accept a number of substantial changes. The matter turns on whether you feel that in 2020 there will be very limited and robust exemption proceduresfrom all that we have heard, it seems that there will be. There will also be the double lock. We will not have to wait until 2020 to find out whether the rail companies have expensive lawyers to gain themselves exemptions, as
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an annual report will tell us what is happening every year. It will be presented to Parliament and I am sure can be debated, which will show how well everyone is performing.
If I understand matters correctly, the Government have moved towards accepting 2020 as a firm end-date in the Bill. By doing so, they are substantially reducing the number of exempt vehicles that would otherwise have been there in 2020. The question turns on whether you feel that the exemption procedure in 2020 will be robust enough to ensurethrough the affirmative procedure and the annual reportthat for a couple of years things will work. The operating companies will be taking a very big chance if they go in for expensive changes without knowing whether they can get an exemption after 2020. The Minister made that point.
We have achieved a great deal from the Government and made progress. I take their word and argument on the exemptions procedure. If it comes to a vote, we should reject Amendment No. 7, which suggests that the exemption procedure in 2020 will not work, and accept the Government's amendment.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I have been as critical of the Government throughout the progress of the Bill as anyone, and certainly have been critical of the Bill. I have also been very suspicious of the railway industry. On Report, the noble Lord, Lord Davies, disagreed with me about the industry, indicating in no uncertain manner that I was too cynical about and critical of it. He defended it.
Having said that, and although the argument has been finely balanced and well argued on both sides tonight, I must say that my noble friend Lady Hollis wins the argument hands down. I do not say that in a debating sense, but my impression from the words spoken, the facts adduced and the arguments put forward is that we are in danger of overlooking the fact that we have 2020 in the Bill. That is a considerable step forward. It sends two key messages. One is to disabled people that the Bill lays down the law in no uncertain manner for progress at that time. The second is to the railway industry to get on with things, which it has not done so far.
In a very well argued speech, the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, was concerned about the exemption procedure. Frankly, at first I was against all exemptions, because I was suspicious of them. The danger is that they could be exploited. The Minister has given the explanation that the exemption procedure is very strictly limited. There is no possibility of the railway industry sticking its neck out and campaigning ardently for such a procedure. It is unrealistic.
My next point is about realism. Both sides have done very well. At this stage of the Bill, we will not get major changes. We need to accept what we have achieved so far and what the Government have given; the Government have given a very great deal.
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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I am delighted to respond to that. I thank your Lordships for a well informed, good tempered and interesting debate. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Ashley, who has so much experience in these matters, is very clearly behind the Government's case.
My noble friend was right to say that the real question was whether the proposals for any exemptions for 2020 were sufficiently robust to be in the best interests of disabled people. Is there adequate scrutiny to ensure that any exemptions are robust? Yes. As he said, 2020 is not only in the Bill, but the procedure is affirmative. Government may propose; Parliament will determineParliament, not government. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, kept talking about government, but it is Parliament which will determine by the affirmative procedure.
The second question is whether the matter can be handled in any other way, so that we do not stifle innovation, close down heritage lines or have problems with charter servicesthey will be eliminated if the opposition amendments go through. No, it cannot.
Thirdly, do the Government have consent for what we are doing? I have certainly not been lobbied by any railway company, but by the DRCcited extensively by my noble friend Lord Carterthe Disability Charities Commission, and the members and supporters of the New Spirit Coalition. That coalition comprises some 30 organisations, ranging from the Black Disabled People's Foundation, John Grooms, Arthritis Care, Habinteg, the Stroke Association, the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, the National Centre for Independent Living, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, the Disability Alliance, MencapI could go on and on, listing dozens of organisations which support the Government's position.
I invite Members of the Opposition to name one organisation of or for disabled people which supports the opposition amendments. One will do. I wait. I do not doubt that there has been telephoning around, so are the Opposition saying that no disability organisation supports their case? I can list almost every major player in the area as supporting the Government's position, as described by my noble friend.
Lord Addington: My Lords, the simple reason is that I had thought we had decided this. Experience tells me that the organisations have accepted a deal from outside. I thought the basis on which they bought the deal was wrong.
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