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The Minister for Housing and Planning (Mr. Nick Raynsford): The Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Bill, which was introduced in another place on 20 December last year, is currently making good progress through its Committee stage.
Maria Eagle: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the feudalism that underlies land law in this country is an inappropriate basis on which to deal with the law of property in the 21st century? Given that his Bill is languishing in the other place, which has a more recent affinity with feudalism than this democratic House, will he confirm that his Department will prioritise it when considering whether there is time to debate it here?
Mr. Raynsford: I have to tell my hon. Friend that it is not for me to determine the allocation of time when the Bill comes to this place. However, I am pleased to tell her that that important measure, which gives effect to the Government's commitments to achieve fundamental reforms in the antiquated and unsatisfactory leasehold tenure, is making good progress in Committee in the other place. I hope that, with a fair wind, it will complete that stage in the near future.
Mr. Raynsford: That is pretty rich coming from a party that spectacularly failed to honour its pledge to introduce commonhold in the previous Parliament. We will take no lessons from the Conservative party on leasehold reform and commonhold. The Bill is the most comprehensive measure for several years on the subject. It gives new rights to leaseholders to take over the management of their homes if that is unsatisfactory, extends their opportunities to buy the freehold of their homes and introduces a new commonhold tenure to enable current leaseholders in flats to own the property collectively. It is an important reforming measure that shows the Government's commitment to leasehold reform, in contrast to the abject failure of the Conservatives.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned an organisation that has been campaigning on this matter. Many of its alleged facts are inaccurate. I do not accept its criticisms; nor do the vast majority of leaseholders, who recognise the enormous progress that the Government are making.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Beverley Hughes): We have made significant progress since 1997. Regulations requiring disabled access to new trains, buses and coaches have been introduced and similar regulations for taxis are planned. In addition, the 10-year transport plan introduced a new commitment to ensure that access for disabled people is a condition of all new public investment in transport.
Joan Ruddock: I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Government's progress, in contrast to the Tories who failed to introduce the regulations necessary to provide increased access for people with disabilities. Although those improvements are welcome, does she agree that many railway stations, such as those operated by Connex in my constituency, present huge problems not only for people with severe disabilities, but for elderly travellers and parents with baby buggies? Does she have any proposals to deal with existing inaccessible infrastructure?
Ms Hughes: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Vehicles are only part of the equation, and enabling disabled people to negotiate stations and transport premises is obviously equally important. In 1997, we established the disability rights taskforce, which led to the formation of the Disability Rights Commission. Those bodies, along with transport industry representatives, are working to produce the guidance that is necessary to ensure that providers can meet the requirement that the Act laid on them, which is that by 2004 they will have taken all reasonable steps to remove, alter or avoid physical features that make it impossible or unreasonably
Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Does the hon. Lady realise that it is almost impossible for disabled people to get on to the platform at most underground stations, and even if they were able to do so, they would need the strength of a British Lions rugby forward to get on the trains in the rush hour? Why, after four years, have the Government not fulfilled their commitment to initiate the public-private partnership for the tube, to modernise the system and to give proper access to disabled people?
Ms Hughes: I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that although the Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 1995, the previous Government did absolutely nothing in their remaining two years to introduce any of the necessary regulations to implement its proposals. This Government have systematically worked since 1997 not only to make vehicles accessible but, as I have just explained, to make the transport infrastructure accessible.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): I applaud what my hon. Friend said about disabled access to public transport. May I draw to her attention Tilbury Town station in my constituency, where all the residences are on the down side towards Southend? If my disabled constituents want to board a train to London, they have to travel an additional mile.
When the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Hill), makes his journey to visit my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) to look at the parlous railway line c2c--which in my parlance stands for cancellation to cancellation--will she ensure that he has all the relevant documents and is fully briefed about that appalling station? Will she get her officials to consider that matter in advance of his visit?
Ms Hughes: I assure my hon. Friend that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is equally concerned about disabled access, and he will ensure that he has all the necessary information before he makes that visit.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South): I congratulate the Government on the steps that they have taken, and applaud those steps taken by the industry, such as bus manufacturers that have been equipping buses to take disabled people. Is this not also a question of changing thought patterns, particularly in the aviation industry, where people with disabilities can travel on some planes but certain companies can refuse to take them? Surely the Act should cover them all.
Ms Hughes: In principle, I agree. The hon. Gentleman will know that while we have taken many steps to improve the situation and to introduce regulations for national transport systems, it is more difficult to deal with methods of transport with an international dimension, such as aeroplanes and ships from other countries that come here. We need to work with countries in Europe and more widely to make sure that we can set standards with
Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland): My hon. Friend will be aware of the several reports from the Employment Sub-Committee pointing out how crucial public transport is in getting people to work and, indeed, in getting them to participate in the new deal. Obviously, that is especially true of disabled people and those in rural and semi-rural areas such as Bishop Auckland and Teesdale. Despite the Government's best efforts, will she now say what further measures they will introduce to enable disabled people to get to work and to participate in the new deal?
Ms Hughes: My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out how crucial the question of transport is to issues of social inclusion, in terms of ensuring that when jobs become available everyone, including disabled people, can access them. I think that he would acknowledge the additional resources that have gone into providing transport in rural areas. As I pointed out earlier, the transport plan includes a commitment to make access for disabled people a condition of future public investment. That initiative has been welcomed by the disabled persons transport advisory committee, which will monitor our performance on it.