Documents considered by the Committee on 25 April 2017 Contents

2European Accessibility Act

Committee’s assessment

Legally and politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; scrutiny waiver granted; further information requested; drawn 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

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

2.1There 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).

2.2The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Lord Prior of Brampton) has now responded to the queries raised by the Committee when it last considered this proposal—known as the European Accessibility Act (EAA)—on 1 February 2017. Those queries are summarised in the ‘Background’ section below.

2.3In response to the Committee’s query about access to Council documents, noting that Council transparency will be particularly important to the UK once it is outside the Council, the Minister confirms the Government’s commitment to transparency. The Government will continue to work with the Council on the implementation of the Interinstitutional Agreement for Better Law-Making.

2.4On post-Brexit UK accessibility policy, the Minister confirms that the UK will continue to meet its obligations under the UNCRPD and will continue to draw inspiration from across the globe, including the EU, in order to maintain high standards in this area.

2.5The Minister helpfully summarises the views of stakeholders before going on to explain the latest developments in negotiations. While the latest text has gone some way to addressing the UK’s concerns regarding the scope of the proposal, the UK continues to have concerns regarding the impact on the relevant sectors’ ability to innovate. In additional, the lack of legal clarity could lead to uncertainty for business and compliance costs could be disproportionate.

2.6The Minister explains that there is willingness to work towards reaching a compromise at the 15 June Council, although many Member States have called for caution. The Government will be monitoring progress very carefully to assess whether enough has been done to address the UK’s concerns ahead of a potential General Approach. The Minister requests a scrutiny waiver in order that the Government can participate fully at Council on condition that he update the Committee afterwards.

2.7The Minister has responded clearly to the queries that we raised in our Report of 1 February. Despite the continued uncertainties over the likelihood and nature of any General Approach, we are content to grant a scrutiny waiver on the condition that the Government negotiates according to the principles it has already set out and on the understanding that the Committee will be updated following the Council meeting in June. The document remains under scrutiny.

2.8Given 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

2.9Details 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 and 1 February 2017.7

2.10In 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.

2.11When the Committee last considered this proposal—at its meeting of 1 February 2017—we asked for clarity from the Government on the following points:

Minister’s letter of 19 April 2017

2.12The Minister begins by recognising that, in the light of the General Election on 8 June, the Committee may not have the opportunity to raise further questions on this proposal before the Presidency pushes for a general approach at Council. He therefore requests a scrutiny waiver in order to participate at Council.

2.13On the question of the legal base, the Minister confirms that the Government cannot see any difficulty, in principle, in using Article 114 TFEU as a legal base for the proposal. The Government continues to work with other Member States in working groups to ensure that the proposal maintains as its object the improvement of conditions “for the establishment and functioning of the internal market” in line with Article 114.

2.14As to the matter of access to Council documents, the Minister explains:

“The Council Secretariat is already obliged to operate within the current deadlines for processing requests regarding public access to European Parliament, Council and Commission documents as set out in Regulation 1049/2001. Article 7 of Regulation 1049/2001 stipulates that within 15 working days of registration of a request for information the institution receiving the request should decide whether to grant access to the document or not; this may be extended by a further 15 working days in exceptional cases. The UK Government will continue to encourage the Council Secretariat to publish documents when possible.”

2.15In terms of how access to Council documents relates to the future UK access to EU documents once the UK has left the EU, the Minister says:

“The UK’s future relationship to the EU, including access to the internal documents of the EU institutions after Brexit, will be determined during the exit negotiations, which are yet to formally begin.

“However, I can confirm to the Committee that we remain committed to the principle of transparency. We will continue to work with the Council on the Inter-Institutional Agreement (IIA) for a Transparency Register and on the implementation of the IIA for Better Law-Making. The Government has supported increasing transparency in the EU legislative process: we see the adoption in May 2016 of the IIA on Better Law-Making as progress in this area, and while we remain a Member State we will seek to ensure that this agreement is fully implemented.”

2.16In respect of alignment between UK law and the UNCRPD and the extent to which a UK outside the EU would be likely to draw inspiration from the agreed EU approach, the Minister comments:

“The provision of accessibility for disabled persons in the UK continues to be world-leading. In fact, the UK has been a source of inspiration for other EU countries over the years. At the EU Commission’s Accessibility workshop, held on 2–3 February this year, UK measures were highlighted as exemplars on multiple occasions. The EU standards for making rail vehicles accessible are modelled on the UK standards and the city of Chester won this year’s EU Access City Award.

“The UK ratified the UNCRPD in 2009 and will continue to meet its obligations under this Convention upon withdrawing from the EU. As such we will continue to participate in reporting processes and seek to progressively implement the UNCRPD in UK policies and practices. This year the UK has its first periodic examination of the UNCRPD, which will consider progress made towards the high-level obligations set out in the Convention articles.

“The UK is a proponent of sharing learning and experience with other countries in the area of accessibility, which we do on an international level through multiple routes including UNCRPD processes and other UN activity. We will continue to draw inspiration from best practice from across the globe, including from the EU, in order to maintain our high standards in this area.”

2.17The Minister summarises the views of stakeholders in the following terms:

“Disability Groups have expressed concern about the effectiveness of the proposal to deliver its potential, arguing its scope is limited, the definitions are unclear, and the transposition times are disproportionately long.

“Business stakeholders have shown concern at the proposal’s overlap with existing legislation. Stakeholders in the transport sector, for example, were concerned by the proposal’s impact on existing EU-wide rail accessibility requirements. Other sectors have put forward similar arguments, such as overlaps with the new Public Procurement Directive (2014) and the proposed Audio-Visual Media Services Directive (AVMSD).

“Business stakeholders have also frequently expressed the view that the accessibility requirements are too specific and are, in some cases, different to existing international standards. They are concerned that the proposal has the potential to act as a deterrent to innovation, and therefore has the potential to undermine the principle it aims to support. For example, stakeholders in the audio-visual media services sector have argued that the proposal, as currently drafted, is likely to encourage a regulatory tick-box approach to accessibility, rather than encouraging companies to deploy new and more effective technologies. Stakeholders recognise the complexity of using future-proof formulations and some have suggested that a sector-specific approach would be more appropriate.”

2.18Explaining the Government’s concern about “disproportionate penalties”, the Minister says that it would be disproportionate to require the withdrawal or recall of products or services that lack a specific accessibility feature but do not present a risk to safety. There is a possibility that the current text could be interpreted as including such a requirement.

2.19Finally, the Minister updates the Committee on developments in the negotiations. In particular, the Maltese Presidency has attempted to improve the legal certainty of the text by trying to clarify the scope of the proposal and the definitions used. For example:

2.20The Minister concludes that the new text has gone some way to addressing the concerns the UK shared with many Member States regarding the scope of the proposal. However, the UK continues to have concerns regarding the impact of the proposal on the relevant sectors’ ability to innovate. He says that the proposal’s continuing lack of legal clarity could lead to uncertainty for businesses. The UK continues to raise concerns about the potentially disproportionate cost of compliance.

2.21Looking forward, the Minister reports that the Presidency and the Commission have demonstrated a willingness to work towards a compromise in working groups and continue to push strongly for a General Approach at the 15 June Council, although many Member States have called for caution. The Minister requests a waiver to participate fully at Council on the condition that he updates the Committee afterwards.

2.22He confirms that UK officials will continue to work with other Member States to improve the text. The UK will be monitoring progress very carefully in upcoming working groups to determine whether enough has been done to address the UK’s concerns ahead of a potential General Approach. The Minister will be writing to the Committee again with another update on negotiations in due course.

Previous Committee Reports

Thirtieth Report HC 71-xxviii (2016–17), chapter 3 (1 February 2017); Third Report HC 71-ii (2016–17), chapter 2 (25 May 2016); Eighteenth Report HC 342-xvii (2015–16), chapter 1 (13 January 2016).


7 Eighteenth Report HC 342-xvii (2015–16), chapter 1 (13 January 2016), Third Report HC 71-ii (2016–17), chapter 2 (25 May 2016), Thirtieth Report HC 71-xxviii (2016–17), chapter 3 (1 February 2017).




27 April 2017