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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, before the noble Viscount sits down, perhaps I may respond to his suggestion that I may have--even inadvertently--misled the House. Let me remind him that on 25th February 1993 Mr. Roger Freeman said to the standing committee that Railtrack, at least for the foreseeable future, would be in the public sector. That is consistent with what I said and not consistent with what the Minister said.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, it is worth saying that I in no way suggested that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, misled the House in any way. I merely pointed out to him a factual quotation made on 15th July 1993. That quotation was made by my noble friend Lord
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, during the passage of the Railways Bill, no Minister said that the Government had changed their mind about the status of Railtrack. Why was no statement made regarding that change of mind?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the question of when Railtrack is to be privatised is a matter of judgment for the Government. I would not dispute the comments made by my right honourable friend Roger Freeman. Subsequent to that, further statements were made which merely re-emphasised the policy. That policy is very clear.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many of us who have had connections with the railways over many years welcome the Statement? The indication that Railtrack is now being put wholly into the private sector we find extremely encouraging. In the private sector there will be a freedom in respect of both investment and administration which is impossible under state ownership. Many of us feel that Railtrack will therefore have a much brighter future than it appeared to have up to the making of this Statement.
Perhaps I may add a personal comment. As one who was a Member of the other place when the Bill to nationalise the railways was taken through Parliament, it is a matter of particular pleasure to me to see that silly job being undone.
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend is so happy today; indeed, I am happy too. My noble friend is right. The privatisation process offers great opportunities for the railway system of this country. He is right also that Railtrack is currently constrained under our PSBR rules from borrowing money and operates under a number of other constraints in that regard. Railtrack is also constrained in not having access to private sector initiatives in funding and private sector management. I am entirely confident that the new privatised railway will be a great success and that my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter will continue to be proud of it.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I must first declare an interest in this question, in that I am a rail user. One of the interesting things we learnt this afternoon is that the Government's perspective of the "foreseeable future" is less than a year. If that is so, what hope have we that the investing public will take an even longer view?
Bearing in mind the lack of investment over many years in the infrastructure of British Rail by this Government, and bearing in mind that Railtrack will probably be bought by private sector investors with a view to making short-term profit--that appears to be the only perspective available either to the Government or to the City--what confidence do we have that the new owners will see fit to invest real money in improving the track facilities on which trains are currently run? To
If investors in the City pay for Railtrack with a view to making a short-term profit, what confidence can we in Parliament have that they will invest vast sums of new money to improve our railway system?
Viscount Goschen: My Lords, the statements and questions of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, are based upon a misconception. I do not believe that the sole purpose of any investor, coming into what is a long-term deal, does so just to make what the noble Lord suggests is a "quick buck". What can be seen are long-term finance streams and the benefits of long-term investment. We are talking of contracts of a substantial length with train operating companies. It is not at all as the noble Lord suggests.
In terms of investment, the new privatised Railtrack shareholders will have considerable incentives to invest in the network in order to provide better network services for the company's customers and to develop a better business base. Privatisation will enable Railtrack to explore more widely available sources of private finance to fund infrastructure investment schemes in which hitherto it has not been able to participate. Railtrack will publish annually a 10-year investment plan which will be approved by the regulator after privatisation. Railtrack's investment programme will be commercially driven and will derive from its discussions with its train operating customers and with the franchising director, who will determine service levels and, therefore, subsidy provision for specific services. I believe that all that adds up to a privatised infrastructure operator who will invest for the future of the network.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, I should like to repeat a Statement about measures to tackle discrimination against disabled people which my honourable friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People has made today in another place. The Statement is as follows:
"Earlier this year the Government published a wide range of proposals in a consultation document. I pay tribute to my predecessor, my right honourable friend the Member for Chelsea, not only for his work on these proposals, but also for his tireless efforts over seven years as Minister for disabled people. We have received a large number of responses to the consultation document and I am grateful to all those
"Over the past 15 years, the Government have taken a series of measures to help disabled people live with dignity and independence. We have trebled the amount spent on benefits for long-term sick and disabled people and introduced new benefits like DWA; the recent reform of community care which has given local authorities additional resources of £1.27 billion in 1994-95; the new access to work programme, which enables more disabled people to take up employment; the introduction of Part M of the building regulations, which will ensure access for disabled people to public buildings; the new Education Act, which improves schools' provision in meeting special educational needs; and action to build on widespread achievements in the field of transport. These initiatives, combined with the efforts of local government, the voluntary sector, the private sector, and disabled people themselves, have led to major advances in the opportunities open to disabled people and the attitude towards them of the rest of the community.
"A process of change has been taking place. It must continue. An ageing population will bring an increasing number of people with some form of disability. It is wrong and it is wasteful for many of them to be restricted or excluded from many aspects of life. One way or another, our society must meet the aspirations of disabled people by ensuring that they are included on an equal basis in our work, travel, study and leisure.
"Our objective is clear: to eliminate discrimination against disabled people so that they can take a full part in society. But changes cannot happen overnight, as most disabled people themselves recognise. It is vital that the action we take has a realistic timetable, is practical, and takes account of the impact on service providers.
"I am therefore announcing today a series of measures and legislative proposals which have been conceived in conjunction with my colleagues in the Departments of Health, Transport, Education and Employment, and the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Taken together they will represent the greatest advance for disabled people in the history of this country.
"We will shortly publish a Bill which will deal with employment, rights of access and the establishment of a National Disability Council. Similar legislation is proposed for Northern Ireland. We will also be taking new action on education and transport.
"We propose to introduce a statutory right of non-discrimination against disabled people. It will be unlawful for an employer to treat a disabled person less favourably than he would treat others, unless there are justifiable reasons. In combination with this, employers will be required to make a reasonable adjustment where that would help overcome the practical effects of disability.
"There will be a power to make regulations to ensure that adjustments do not involve excessive costs. The duties will apply to employers with 20 or more employees. Employers will continue to be able to recruit the best person for the job.
"A code of practice and guidance will be produced to promote clear understanding and reduce the likelihood of disputes arising. Should recourse to an industrial tribunal be necessary, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service would be able to offer the services of their conciliation officers.
"The Government's consultation document aimed to ensure that service providers did not deny access to disabled people because of prejudice or ignorance. In the light of responses to the consultation document, the Government believe that this proposal does not go far enough. Where practical, we also need to remove those physical and communication barriers which prevent the access to goods and services most of us are lucky enough to take for granted. The new right of access will therefore require service providers to make their premises and services accessible to disabled people as long as this is 'readily achievable'.
"It is vital that the new right is framed in such a way that it leads to genuine and lasting progress. We will therefore give businesses the option of providing their services by alternative means; and require modifications only to the extent they are readily achievable and subject to a financial limit; we will also ensure that there is a proper phasing-in period. We will consult on the length of the phasing-in period, the financial limit and the possibility of other exemptions from the right; for example, older or listed buildings. We will arrange to provide advice and conciliation with respect to this new right and, where legal action does take place, we are considering measures which will ensure that redress can be obtained without undue difficulty or expense.
"These provisions will ensure every business and service provider takes action to meet the needs of disabled people. They will leave no-one in any doubt that the fair treatment of disabled people is a responsibility placed on us all.
"In addition, within the next few weeks my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will be issuing his own consultation document on making domestic properties more accessible.
"The consultation document made clear the Government's intention to exclude financial services from any right of equal access. But as a result of responses received, I propose to include financial services in the new statutory right. We shall be looking closely, in consultation with the insurance industry, at how legislation could best be framed to prevent discrimination while recognising the legitimate need for insurance companies to distinguish between any customers on the basis of likely costs entailed in meeting their insurance claims.
"All these new rights will apply to all those persons with a physical or mental impairment which is long-term or recurring. The impairment would have to have a substantial effect on the person's ability to carry out normal activities.
"The Bill will also establish a National Disability Council. This will be an independent body to advise the Government on how existing and new measures to help disabled people are working; and recommend further measures where necessary. It will therefore be a new powerful voice for disabled people in the decision-making process. It will present an annual report on its activities and findings so that we can continue to make progress. This report will be laid before Parliament.
"The consultation document was limited to the employment right, the right of access and the establishment of the National Disability Council. But we now propose to go further--by bringing forward proposals on education and transport.
"The more it is possible to educate disabled children with their able-bodied peers, the less we shall see adults avoiding, ignoring or feeling embarrassed by disabled people. We must ensure that this new approach is not frustrated by the physical inaccessibility of mainstream schools.
"The Education Act 1993 was a major advance in meeting special educational needs. It re-enacts the requirement on local education authorities to find a suitable place for every child with a disability and enhances parents' rights of school preference and appeals against decisions. Next year the Department for Education will conduct an audit of accessibility of all schools. Once its results are available, local education authorities and the Funding Agency for Schools will have an up-to-date picture of facilities, helping to inform their work on the supply of suitable places.
"In addition, the Department for Education will shortly consult on the revision of their constructional standards to bring them in line with those set out in the current building regulations. This would mean that all new schools and extensions would be fully accessible to disabled people.
"Scotland has its own extensive provisions in the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 for pupils with special educational needs. The Scottish Office will be considering further ways of encouraging authorities and schools to improve access for pupils with disabilities through the normal capital allocation arrangements. In Scotland, schools are already subject to the relevant requirements of the building regulations.
"All these measures will consolidate the improvements for children with special educational needs set out in the 1993 Act. They represent this Government's firm commitment to ensuring that every child with a disability gets full educational opportunities and to steadily improving access in schools.
"Transport is another crucial area for disabled people. The new right of access will cover transport infrastructure--for example, railway stations and bus terminals--but it will not apply to transport vehicles. The sensible way to improve accessibility here must be to do it when new vehicles are purchased. Huge progress has already been made in this way, for example, by improving the accessibility of InterCity trains, airports and London taxis. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport is anxious to ensure that progress continues. In addition, he will strengthen the guidance issued to local authorities in preparing their annual transport policies and programmes to give greater weight to the needs of people with disabilities.
"It is vital that we take further steps towards making fully accessible the most commonly used form of public transport --the bus. The Government intend to ensure that all new buses will be of low floor construction, as far as this is technically feasible. The effect will be that, over an agreed time-frame, an increasing proportion of buses will be fully accessible to wheelchair users as well as more readily accessible to all other passengers with mobility problems. We will, of course, need to take full account of European legislation. A draft directive on bus construction is already under discussion and we will be making our case vigorously.
"The objective of our package is to give disabled people more power over their own lives. So I am delighted that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health will be announcing today that we intend to take a new power for social
"Madam Speaker, in presenting this package, the Government are building on an already impressive record of helping disabled people. The steps I have announced today will involve millions of people in taking positive action to tackle the frustration which disabled people encounter in attempting to do the things many of us take for granted.
"We are guided by one over-riding belief: that it is the duty of society as a whole to enable disabled people to play a full part in national life, and to help them and us to make the best use of their talents. Recognition of that makes good sense for disabled people, good sense for the economy, and good sense for the nation".