Documents considered by the Committee on 1 February 2017 Contents

3European Accessibility Act

Committee’s assessment

Legally and politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of Transport Committee; the Treasury Committee; the Culture, Media and Sport Committee; the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee; and the Women and Equalities Committee

Document details

Proposal for a Directive on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States as regards the accessibility requirements for products and services

Legal base

Article 114, TFEU; QMV, Ordinary Legislative Procedure

Department

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Document Number

(37371), 14799/15 + ADDs 1–8, COM(15) 615

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

3.1There are international provisions to ensure that people with disabilities can access products and services. The proposed Directive aims to improve disabled persons’ access to products and services, minimising existing and potential differences between Member States—such as the design of cash machines—as they implement the accessibility requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

3.2The Minister of State for Energy and Intellectual Property, (Baroness Neville–Rolfe), has now responded to the queries raised by the Committee when it last considered this proposal—known as the European Accessibility Act (EAA)—on 25 May 2016. Those queries are summarised in the ‘Background’ section below.

3.3The Minister explains the progress of negotiations, noting that the Slovak Presidency sought to address Member States’ major concerns by improving legal certainty in the text, reducing the administrative and financial burdens and ensuring that the EAA does not overlap with other EU legislation. She adds that the current Maltese Presidency has committed to take discussions forward and the European Parliament has begun its consideration. The Minister will keep us informed as the negotiations progress.

3.4In her letter—details of which are set out below—she explains the work that the Government has been undertaking to address concerns about the potential costs of the proposal. There are also concerns about legal uncertainty for business, including “disproportionate penalties”. She confirms that work is underway to ensure that the proposal does not focus on existing technology to the detriment of developing technology.

3.5On Brexit, she asserts that the applicability of the proposal to the UK post-Brexit is unknown. Nevertheless, the UK will remain a member of the UN Convention and UK businesses selling into the EU market will have to adhere to the agreed requirements. While the UK remains a full member of the EU, it will continue to press for changes that help reduce regulatory burdens and costs for business, whilst supporting the objective to make products and services more accessible for persons with disabilities.

3.6Finally, the Minister is sympathetic to the Committee’s query about the publication of Council meeting documents but claims that the Government has no role over the timing of such publication.

3.7We consider first the Minister’s responses to the queries that we raised in our Report dated 25 May 2016.

3.8The Minister’s reply implies that the Government no longer intends to advocate any changes to the legal base. Does this position mean that the Government is now content with the proposed internal market legal base (Article 114 TFEU)?

3.9On access to Council documents, the Minister shares our concern about the timing of publication of documents, but states that the UK has no role. Given its status as one of 28 Member States represented on the Council, we are surprised by this statement. Does the Government share our hope and expectation that, if the Member States of the Council took a position on the timing of publication, the Council Secretariat would respond accordingly?

3.10There is a Brexit-related context to the matter of access to Council documents. As the Minister notes, negotiations on this proposal are important despite the vote to leave the EU because UK businesses are likely to continue to trade with the EU and will be required to meet the standards applicable within the EU’s internal market. The Prime Minister has made clear her intention to seek a “bold and ambitious” Free Trade Agreement between the UK and the EU. In that light, a substantial amount of the legislation adopted by the EU will continue to be of interest to the UK, but the UK Government will no longer enjoy unfettered access to preparatory documents. It will become reliant on public access to Council documents and may face the same frustrations as other third parties already face. We ask the Minister to tell us whether timely access to Council documents is a matter that has been raised in the Brexit context and to explain what action the Government is taking to improve Council transparency before the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

3.11In relation to Brexit, the Minister also observes that the UK will remain a member of the UNCRPD once it has withdrawn from the European Union. From this, we extrapolate an intention to ensure that the UK is aligned with the requirements of that Convention. We ask that the Minister explain the extent to which its accessibility legislation for persons with disabilities already meets the requirements of the UNCRPD and whether—given that UK businesses trading with the EU would need to apply EU rules—the UK would be likely to draw inspiration from the agreed EU approach.

3.12In a separate letter of 9 November 2016 to the House of Lords EU Committee, the Minister explained the Government’s process of stakeholder engagement. Like the House of Lords, we would be grateful if the Minister would share with us the views of the business and disability groups with whom the Government has consulted.

3.13We note that the Minister raises the issue of “disproportionate penalties”. As the text leaves it to Member States to set the penalties as long as they areeffective, proportionate and dissuasive”, we would welcome clarification on the concerns expressed and the type of changes to the text that the Government will propose.

3.14We retain the proposal under scrutiny and look forward to a response to our queries within three months. This should include an update on the negotiations, including the various changes being advocated by the Government. It would be helpful to understand how any changes negotiated may affect the various sectors falling within the proposed scope of the Directive.

3.15Given the broad application of this proposed legislation and the interest shown by various Committees in the implications of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, we draw this Chapter to the attention of the Transport Committee; the Treasury Committee; the Culture, Media and Sport Committee; the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee; and the Women and Equalities Committee.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Directive on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States as regards the accessibility requirements for products and services: (37371), 14799/15 + ADDs 1–8, COM(15) 615.

Background

3.16Details of the Commission’s proposal, the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum and our own views were set out in our Reports of 13 January and 25 May 2016.58

3.17In summary, the Commission’s proposal sets common accessibility requirements (but not technical specifications) for certain key products and services, which were identified by the Commission in consultation with citizens, civil society organisations and businesses: computers and operating systems; ATMs; ticketing and check-in machines; smartphones; TV equipment related to digital television services; telephony services and related equipment; audiovisual media services (AVMS) and related equipment; air, bus, rail and waterborne passenger transport services; banking services; e-books; and e-commerce.

3.18When the Committee last considered this proposal—at its meeting of 25 May 2016—we noted the Government’s opposition to the proposal and raised the following points:

Minister’s letter of 17 December 2016

3.19On the progress of negotiations, the Minister says:

“The Presidency gave a progress report59 at EPSCO [Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council] on 8 December, which set out the key changes and the discussion in Council working groups. The Presidency has tried to address the delegations’ major concerns by improving legal certainty in the text; reducing the administrative and financial burdens; and ensuring that the EAA does not overlap with other Union acts. The report recognised that a number of Member States have yet to decide their positions. Following the Presidency’s report at EPSCO, there was a brief discussion on the EAA, with interventions from four ministers. While Member States welcomed measures which could improve access to goods and services for people with disabilities, ministers also set out concerns about how these aims can best be achieved. Whilst the Slovak Presidency have concentrated predominantly on the essential parts of the text (scope, definitions, transitional measures), other aspects will require further attention and discussion.”

3.20Responding to the Committee’s queries, the Minister says:

3.21As regards costs specifically, she explains:

“The potential costs related to administrative requirements and compliance are a particular concern for SMEs. The proposal’s lack of legal clarity, combined with disproportionate penalties, will lead to increased legal uncertainty for businesses, who in the UK have demonstrated clear progress toward providing greater accessibility of goods and services. Working with Departments, we have consulted with a number of businesses and will continue to monitor business reaction to this proposal.”

3.22She includes additional information on a Commission stakeholder consultation, noting that there was general support among stakeholders for the objectives of the EAA. Some respondents from industry, she says, asked for a more detailed description of the products falling within the scope of the proposed legislation.

3.23On considerations further to the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU, the Minister says:

“Though we will remain a member of the UNCRPD regardless of our EU membership, we do not yet know what relationship the UK will have with the Single Market upon exiting the EU. It is, therefore, difficult to say at this stage whether the UK will need to adopt this proposal. However, it is likely that UK businesses selling into the EU market will have to adhere to these accessibility requirements, as any other business seeking to do business in the Single Market. Nonetheless, the UK remains a full EU member and we will continue to press for changes to this proposal that help reduce regulatory burdens and costs for business, whilst supporting the objective to make products and services more accessible for persons with disabilities.”

Previous Committee Reports

Third Report HC 71-ii (2016–17), chapter 2 (25 May 2016); Eighteenth Report HC 342-xvii (2015–16), chapter 1 (13 January 2016).


58 Eighteenth Report HC 342-xvii (2015–16), chapter 1 (13 January 2016), Third Report HC 71-ii (2016–17), chapter 2 (25 May 2016).




3 February 2017