Equality Bill

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Clause 160

Lists of wheelchair-accessible vehicles
Amendments made: 287, in clause 160, page 118, line 32, after ‘authority’ insert ‘in England and Wales’.
This amendment is consequent on amendment 288.
Amendment 288, in clause 160, page 118, line 35, leave out ‘In this subsection’ and insert—
‘(3A) A licensing authority in Scotland may include a vehicle on a list maintained under this section only if it is being used, or is to be used, by the holder of a special licence under that licence.
(3B) In subsections (3) and (3A)’.—(The Solicitor-General.)
The effect of this amendment is to restrict the application of clauses 158 to 160, as regards Scotland, to vehicles used under special licences within the meaning of section 12 of the Transport Act 1985: that is, “taxibuses” and “PHV-buses”.
Clause 160, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 161 to 164 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 165

Amendments made: 289, in clause 165, page 121, line 19, after ‘authority’ insert ‘in England and Wales’.
The purpose of this amendment, together with amendments 290 and 291, is to make separate provision regarding appeals in Scotland.
Amendment 290, in clause 165, page 121, line 21, leave out ‘or, in Scotland, the sheriff’.
See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 289.
Amendment 291, in clause 165, page 121, line 22, at end insert—
‘(1A) A person who is aggrieved by the refusal of a licensing authority in Scotland to issue an exemption certificate under section 159 may appeal to the sheriff before the end of the period of 28 days beginning with the date of the refusal.’.
See Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 289.
Amendment 292, in clause 165, page 121, line 23, after ‘subsection (1)’ insert ‘or (1A)’.—(The Solicitor-General.)
This amendment is consequent on amendment 291.
Clause 165, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 166

Amendment made: 293, in clause 166, page 122, line 16, leave out ‘except in sections 161 to 164’ and insert
‘in sections 155 and 158 to 160’.—(The Solicitor-General.)
This amendment prevents clauses 154 and 156 from applying as regards taxis in Scotland; in relation to clause 157, the amendment is consequent on amendment 286.
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Boswell: I think that it would bore the Committee to tears to go into the detail of an interpretation clause. However, I would like the Solicitor-General’s assurance that the list of categories of assistance dog is sufficiently comprehensive. It begins with specific types and goes on to mention prescribed charities. I think that that will cover all types.
I have a constituency interest because a marvellous charity called Dogs for the Disabled, which does excellent work, is located at the edge of my constituency, near to Banbury in the neighbouring constituency. That charity provides dogs for people with wider disabilities than the conventional disabilities of deafness or blindness. Will the Solicitor-General assure me that she will nudge her colleagues in the relevant Department to ensure that the definition is sufficiently comprehensive, as I believe it is, so that any dog that is trained to help a person will be admitted?
The Solicitor-General: The category of assistance dog is widening all the time. The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on an important point, but the clause allows the Secretary of State to provide for further categories of assistance dog as it becomes necessary.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 166, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 167 to 174 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 175

Rail vehicle accessibility regulations
The Solicitor-General: I beg to move amendment 87, in clause 175, page 127, line 38, leave out ‘194(3)(a)’ and insert ‘194(4)(a)’.
This amendment would correct a cross-reference. The correct reference is to the power of the Secretary of State to make different provision in regulations for different purposes. The incorrect reference relates to sex discrimination in schools.
This is to change 194(3)(a) to 194(4)(a), which, I am afraid, was a drafting error.
Amendment 87 agreed to.
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Harper: This, I hope, will not take too long. Again, it relates to our friends in the Department for Transport. Given what the Solicitor-General said about timing, the issue may well fall within that category as well. In April, the Department for Transport issued a consultation on rail services for disabled people under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Specifically, the consultation is about improving the accessibility of light rail vehicles—those used on metro, underground and tram systems and other prescribed modes of guided transport.
I ask about the matter again to see how it interacts with what is being proposed in the regulations under the clause. The Government are carrying out their consultation. There are European standards on heavy rail vehicles—what we commonly call trains—and the appropriate stations. To ensure that the new regulations do not impose a double regulatory burden, the Government are consulting on light rail vehicles and are also considering two draft regulations. I am sure that the Solicitor-General is not terribly familiar with them, because they are a bit convoluted. The Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Non-Interoperable Rail System) Regulations 2009 is not the most catchy and snappy of titles.
The regulations are quite technical. Ministers occasionally bring out rail vehicle accessibility regulations, both general and specific, and, anorak that I am, I faithfully get them from the Vote Office and read them to ensure that they are in order. Although they always have been, it is worth checking such things.
I want to check that the provisions that the Government mention here, which are to continue to have the right technical specifications in place but to have a less onerous regulatory system, are to be introduced on or before 31 December. Will the Solicitor-General update the Committee on how the consultation is proceeding? Moreover, will she tell us whether the proposed changes are purely regulatory and whether the way the DDA has been transferred into the Bill will have any impact on them? Will anything need to be done on Report or can these regulations be added to the existing powers and then transferred across into the Bill?
Mr. Boswell: Briefly, and rather in the spirit of my earlier intervention, I would like the Solicitor-General to have a word with her hon. Friends about the implications in practice. This is about rail accessibility, which will vary depending on whether the train is travelling or coming to rest at a station.
Let me sketch out a particular dilemma. As we improve the provision for disabled people on rail, which we should, there is bound to be pressure on space for fully abled passengers. It requires a sensitive design to make the spaces as flexible as possible to accommodate the needs of disabled persons with wheelchairs or for other passengers if that is appropriate.
One of the by-products of that is that if capacity is cut in the carriage by making provision for wheelchair access, another carriage might be needed in order to carry the same number of passengers or to meet the same demand. I promise that I will not go into a debate about the economics of the rail system, because that would take us into very unsatisfactory territory. Another carriage would be fine, although not without cost.
A concomitant effect at very small stations—I have two in my constituency—with short platforms is that if the configuration increases from six cars to seven, some may overshoot the platform. That may not be a problem for people who are fully abled and agile, but it would be more of a difficulty for wheelchair users or those who are not nimble in getting off trains, such as older people, because they may find themselves in the wrong place on the train. I suspect that many of us have had that experience on a crowded tube train—one suddenly finds that the door at the end of the carriage will not open and one has quickly to shimmy down to the next door, which is not always easy.
All I am suggesting—I am not proposing that this should be tied down in law—is that merely saying that carriages should be wheelchair accessible is not quite the same as saying that wheelchair users should be able to access the whole length of the train for safe egress and ingress to the platform. A little conversation, at least, with the Solicitor-General’s sister Department might be useful, because it is important in the general framework of what I know is intended to be an enabling and encouraging clause to get it as practically right as possible.
For example, when the accessibility issue is being cleared in relation to new rolling stock and if there are limited-access stations, which are better than closed stations—we had the same dilemma about hackney cab services—it may be sensible if they have to produce an operational plan to ensure that wheelchair users are notified, put in a suitable part of the train, escorted, provided with more time or whatever is appropriate. Those are largely operational matters for the Solicitor-General’s sister Department, and I leave those thoughts with her.
The Solicitor-General: The hon. Gentleman is right: it is hard to legislate for the practical problems he foresees. In the example he sketched out, I suppose that the train would have to move up a little. We hope that in the longer term the legislation will change attitudes and make people more aware of the need always to think about the possibility of disabled people being present. He makes a valid point, as ever. He is a devoted supporter of disabled people and I praise him, not for the first time, for that commitment.
The clause deals with the fairly technical rail vehicle accessibility regulations, and I am not such an anorak as the hon. Member for Forest of Dean that I check whether they are in order, so I must take that on trust. We are consulting, as he said, and that consultation closes on Friday, so if the hon. Member for Daventry or anyone else wants to add anything, time is short.
The clause replicates in the Bill the provisions of section 46 of the DDA, and any new regulations that emerge from the consultation will be enacted under this provision. We do not believe that anything more will be needed on Report. Having probed the issue, and with the assurance that a couple of days remain to contribute to the consultation, I hope that the hon. Member for Forest of Dean is content to allow the clause to stand part of the Bill.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 175, as amended, accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 176

Exemptions from rail vehicle accessibility regulations
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
9.30 am
Mr. Harper: I have a brief question arising from our previous debate. If the Secretary of State is asked to make provision for an exemption order, after consulting the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee and any other person whom he thinks appropriate, he has the options of making an exemption order, refusing to do so, or doing so with specific conditions and restrictions. In the past, would those conditions have included the sort of communication that the operator had to undertake to make people aware of particular rail networks or trains that were not accessible?
A criticism that is often raised with me by constituents is that they are not only annoyed when a particular rail network is not accessible; they are most annoyed when they do not know that it is accessible or they think, or are led to believe, that it is accessible. In such circumstances they may be surprised and may end up with a lot of problems once they are on the train, including finding that they have to go to another station that they did not expect to go to. If the Secretary of State is to make exemption orders and rail vehicles are not accessible, one useful condition could be included relating to what the operator has to do in terms of proper communication, so that disabled people using that service are aware not just that it is not accessible, but what other options are available that they might use to maximise their mobility.
Mr. Boswell: My hon. Friend’s comments on the clause have helped to satisfy me in relation to my previous point. It is terribly clear that we should not simply stamp that provision on the physical spec of the rolling stock; we should look at how the process will work in practice. We are establishing some understanding about that and, I hope, encouraging the Minister’s departmental colleagues.
I should like to return to a point that was in my mind when we were talking earlier about Hackney carriages: the basis on which orders can be made on exemptions or derogations from regulations. I remember, as a Minister, facing the dilemma of the extent to which a Secretary of State would specify the grounds for their decision to confirm, modify or refuse an exemption order. I suspect that disabled people and their organisations would want to build up a corpus of views about whether that was done reasonably and not simply as an economic cop-out. It would be interesting to know whether there will be something beyond the bald rubric that the Minister has decided on, so that people could begin to understand the rationale for a growing—one hopes it is not too fast growing—corpus of decisions for exemptions.
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