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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, where do the minicabs in London fit in? They are not licensed in the way minicabs are in every other part of the country. It is very important for us to be aware of that. I think that to have every vehicle available for disabled people or for wheelchair access would be too much. The black cabs in London had that imposed on them by the Department of Transport and they must all be accessible by the year 2000; but we have this extraordinary situation where the minicabs do not even have to be roadworthy. They are not assessed in any way. I want to know where they fit in.
Lord Carter: My Lords, before the Minister replies, I wonder whether he can deal with another aspect of the problem which is similar to the one raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). I refer to the taxis which refuse to stop because they see that a person is in a wheelchair and they cannot be bothered to stop and pick up the wheelchair user. There is another problem with a mixed fleet which concerns a person who rings up and specifies the type of taxi he needs without saying he is a wheelchair user. However, by specifying the type of taxi, it is clear that he is a wheelchair user. Such people just do not get a taxi because the taxi cannot be bothered to put on the ramps and so on. If local authorities had the freedom which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, proposes, would not the problem be even worse?
Lord Renton: My Lords, perhaps I may answer that question. I hope I am in order in doing so. My daughter is cared for at a place 100 miles from my home. I fetch her from there several times a year and I normally take her in my own car. She sits beside me, the driver, on a swivel seat and travels comfortably. She is a marvellous traveller. On an occasion when I put her in a black cab she did not have to be in her wheelchair, because I can get her out of it, but she did not sit comfortably on the back seat of the black cab and she did not have a happy journey. That is the simple answer.
Baroness Stedman: My Lords, I ask the House not to accept the amendments. If they are accepted they will go a long way to ensuring that we make very little progress on the question of accessible transport. As the Bill stands, the Secretary of State has the power to introduce regulations to enable disabled people, including wheelchair users, to use taxis. There is the provision for the regulations to be modified, if it is appropriate, for different parts of the country and DPTAC must be consulted, half of whose members are disabled people. Disabled people will therefore have some say in the regulations that are brought forward. However, under the noble Lord's proposals the local authorities would decide whether they wished to have accessible taxis instead of the local authorities having to make a case to the Secretary of State to justify not following the national rules. That means that disabled people would have to make their case to the local authorities that they should be able to use accessible taxis. They would probably then come up against the organised opposition of some of the taxi trade.
These amendments are completely out of place in a Bill that is designed to help disabled people. The amendments would allow mixed fleets. Some would be accessible but many or most of them might turn out not to be accessible. Surely a fully accessible fleet of those that ply for hire must be our goalthat is what we are striving for in the Billso that a disabled person, like any one of us in this House, can use the first taxi on the rank or on a street, as do those of us who are not disabled. Private hire vehicles are not included in the Bill. There are twice as many taxis for private hire available as there are Hackney cabs. So those people who prefer to use a private hire car or saloon car would still be able to have one without any difficulty.
I cannot help feeling that the noble Lord's Amendments Nos. 113 and 114 are designed more to protect current drivers from having to cater for disabled passengers. They mean that only new licence holders
There is no dispute that not all disabled people can use the London taxi, but that is already addressed in the Bill. There are new taxi designs in the offing to meet the needs of the population and they are under consideration and going ahead. Further improvements are being made day-by-day to the traditional taxi. It is also the case that in some parts of the country disabled people are unable to use taxis at all because there are not any that they can use with their disabilities. If these amendments are accepted, I believe that they will ensure that that situation continues into the future. If Clause 29 is also omitted, that could lead to the taxi policy that we are trying to create here being killed off.
I am advised that Fish Insurance in Preston insures over 50,000 electric cars, which are used by disabled people and over 80,000 people use a wheelchair all day and every day. Those are the figures which I have been given. It depends on the sources as to which figures one uses. The Government have listened and their amendments have been a notable success in this Bill. As it now stands, the Bill will do much to promote the independence of, and give mobility to, disabled people. If these proposals are weakened, then there will be significant undermining of the whole concept of accessible transport.
Accessible trains are very useful, but they would be much more useful if people could reach them by an accessible taxi and if they could complete their journey at their destination in the same way. When the whole fleet of local taxis is accessible it will exemplify the principle of integration which my organisationPHABof which I am proud to be a vice-president, and many other organisations under the umbrella of RADAR have striven to achieve for so many years.
The Government have been co-operative and helpful. We are very grateful to the Minister and his colleagues for the help that we have received. I do not believe that we should let this possibility and opportunity for advance be weakened here and now. I hope that, if the noble Lord presses his amendments to a vote, the House will reject them.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, for the kind remarks she made about the transport provisions which we have inserted into the Bill. As I said about a previous group of amendments perhaps I may do a bit of "sweeping up" before I get down to the substantive points which my noble friend raised in his amendments and those taken up by other noble Lords. It would be quite sensible to get one or two points out of the way.
As regards Amendment No. 108, which I have just moved and about which I responded to my noble friend Lord Balfour, the definition of "taxi" is there, as it is elsewhere in the Bill. It clearly says what we mean by "taxi". I make it absolutely clear that private hire vehicles are not in fact covered by the provisions of the Bill because they do not fall within the definitions of taxi in the Bill. That is the first point. The provision regarding the carriage of guide dogs will not refer to private hire vehicles, but taxis as defined.
My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes asked me about minicabs in London. We are aware of their position in London and it is totally unsatisfactory. In a recent Command Paper we made clear our intention to license minicabs, which will require legislation. That is not for this Bill because it goes a good deal wider than the problem of disabled people.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, asked me about changing cars and whether the licence carried on in a seamless way. I can confirm that, under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, it is the taxi which is licensed and the licence is not granted to an individual. The licence must be renewed annually. The same provision exists for London in the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act. I hope that that answers her concern that a taxi driver might be able to evade the law into the future by continuing with a new car and does not obey the law as regards his old licence. I do not believe that that will be possible.
Perhaps I may now deal with the question of taxis at Gatwick before I reach the question of taxis in the countryside. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, asked about this. I am advised that the terms which the airport has negotiated with hire car companies include the provision that a wheelchair-accessible vehicle is quickly available when required. There is no power to force Gatwick to do more than that because the service operates from its private property. I hope that that is helpful and that the answer I have given about the terms imposed will be of help to any disabled person who needs a taxi from Gatwick.