Documents considered by the Committee on 22 November 2017 Contents

1European Accessibility Act

Committee’s assessment

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 Digital, 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

1.1People with disabilities are often hindered in their access to products and services. The ‘European Accessibility Act’ is a proposed Directive which aims to improve disabled persons’ access to products and services, minimising existing and potential differences between Member States—such as in the design of cash machines—as they implement the accessibility requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).

1.2Our predecessor Committee last considered the proposal at its meeting of 25 April 2017, when it granted a scrutiny waiver in advance of a possible General Approach in June. The Government has since written to the Committee on three occasions. Writing on 5 July, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Lord Prior of Brampton) explained that a majority of Member States, including the UK, considered that further changes were required before a General Approach could be agreed. In a letter of 26 September, the Minister for Energy and Industry (Richard Harrington) noted that the Estonian Presidency hoped to reach agreement at Council on 7 December. This was reiterated by the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Lord Henley) in the most recent letter of 8 November.

1.3The content of the various letters are set out below. The Government supported most of the changes achieved under the Maltese Presidency, particularly the removal of public procurement from the scope of the Directive, removal of disproportionate product safety legislation provisions and amendments that mitigate the high cost of replacing self-service terminals. On the latest state of play, the Minister is frank in his assessment that there is still substantial work to be done if agreement is to be reached in December. While many improvements have been achieved, the UK is still actively engaging to make further changes. In the final weeks of the negotiation, the Government’s priorities include:

1.4On the UK’s exit from the EU, the Government told the predecessor Committee that the UK would continue to meet its obligations under the UNCRPD and would continue to draw inspiration from across the globe, including the EU, in order to maintain high standards in this area.

1.5The amount of information provided by the Department on this proposal has been exemplary. We report these latest letters to the House due to the substantial changes negotiated to the text and the potential agreement in December. We support the Government’s approach and are content to waive the scrutiny reserve in advance of Council to allow the UK to engage actively in negotiations. We retain the proposal under scrutiny whilst awaiting an update on the outcome of the Council and on the prospects for agreement with the European Parliament.

1.6We note the Minister’s concern that there is potential for overlap and inconsistencies between the text on electronic and emergency communications and the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC), which is being separately negotiated. In the event that there is further refinement of the provisions on electronic and emergency communications, it would be helpful if the Minister could set out how they are covered instead by the EECC, with respect to specific articles of that Directive.

1.7Given 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 Digital, 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

1.8Details of the Commission’s proposal, the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum and our predecessor Committee’s views were set out in the Reports of 13 January and 25 May 2016 and 1 February and 25 April 2017.

1.9In 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; audio-visual media services (AVMS) and related equipment; air, bus, rail and waterborne passenger transport services; banking services; e-books; and e-commerce.

1.10When our predecessor Committee last considered this proposal—at its meeting of 25 April 2017—it noted the continued uncertainties over the likelihood and nature of any General Approach, but granted a scrutiny waiver on the condition that the Government negotiated according to the principles it had already set out and on the understanding that the Committee would be updated following the Council meeting in June.

The Minister’s letter of 5 July 2017

1.11On the progress of negotiations, Lord Prior noted that, at the June Council, a majority of Member States, including the UK, were of the view that the Council was not yet ready to reach a General Approach, The Presidency therefore presented a Progress Report setting out the key changes and developments regarding the proposed Directive.

1.12The Minister enclosed a copy of the progress report1 and summarised the amendments in the following terms:

“During the Maltese Presidency a number of substantial changes to the text have been made. The most significant amendments are summarised below:

1.13The Minister indicated the Government’s broad support for the changes, in particular the removal of public procurement, the removal of disproportionate product safety legislation provisions, and amendments that mitigate the high cost to service providers of replacing self-service terminals. Many of the amendments to the scope, he said, provided useful clarification.

1.14The Government also supported the attempts to reduce the burden on small businesses and to avoid legislative overlap, although the Government considered that there were further improvements that could be made on those objectives.

1.15On the other hand, the Government continued to share concerns with many Member States regarding “the text’s overly prescriptive approach, its lack of legal clarity and the potential costs of compliance to business.” The Government was specifically concerned about:

The Minister’s letter of 26 September 2017

1.16In a subsequent letter, the Minister (Richard Harrington) explained that the Presidency was aiming to secure a general approach in December. He added that discussions had improved Member States’ understanding of many of the technical aspects of the proposal.

1.17Furthermore, the Government had continued engagement with stakeholders. Representatives from the banking, transport and computing industries, he said, welcomed developments such as the proposed inclusion of transitional measures for self-service terminals and limiting the scope to products and services provided to consumers.

1.18The Minister reported concerns relating to the ‘box ticking’ nature of the legislation, which targeted specific aspects of a service, rather than aiming to make the overall service accessible. Stakeholders were also keen, he said, to ensure that the general accessibility requirements were properly tailored to their specific sectors and that it was clear how to apply them in practice.

1.19The Minister went on to summarise responses to issues raised by the House of Lords EU Committee, which he considered might be of interest to the Committee, as set out below.

1.20On compliance costs and innovation, the Minister did not consider that the appropriate balance had yet been found between requirements that were specific enough to allow businesses to understand their obligations, whilst allowing them to innovate and find new solutions to accessibility challenges.

1.21On the overlap with other legislation, the Government remained concerned that the legislative overlap on electronic communications had not yet been satisfactorily addressed.

1.22As to the regulatory burden on small businesses, the Government would like to see provisions which make it easier for such businesses to take advantage of the exemption from accessibility requirements that would pose a disproportionate burden. The Government was also advocating more specific guidance and the clarification of accessibility-specific terminology to reduce the burden on small businesses, which may have less legal and technical expertise. Finally, the Government would also like to see a reduction in the administrative requirements for small businesses, for example by reducing the time documents should be retained.

The Minister’s letter of 8 November 2017

1.23The Minister (Lord Henley) re-iterates the Presidency’s intention to seek a General Approach at the Employment and Social Affairs Council (EPSCO) on 7 December and requests a scrutiny waiver in order to participate actively at Council.

1.24Since the last letter received from the Government, the Estonian Presidency has proposed two revised texts responding to Member State concerns. The UK’s views on the changes are, says the Minister, mixed:

“We welcome a significant improvement in the clarity of Article 12 on disproportionate burdens, with a new Annex IV setting out guidance on how this article is to be used. The new text also provides some further clarity on the accessibility requirements set out in Annex I, which goes some way to addressing our concerns, as set out in previous letters to the Committee. We will continue to press for improvements in this area in conjunction with other like-minded Member States.

“We remain concerned, however, about the text on electronic and emergency communications, where little progress has been made. We want to avoid the potential for overlaps and inconsistencies with the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC), which is being negotiated simultaneously. We are also concerned that the requirements on emergency communications are not proportionate or sufficiently clear and have not been justified in the Impact Assessment.”

1.25The Minister goes on to explain the Government’s priorities in the final weeks of negotiations, which include:

1.26The Minister reports that other Member States share the UK’s concerns about the pace of the negotiations and the overall readiness of the legislation. They also share the UK’s broad concerns around clarity, business burdens, not hampering innovation and avoiding overlap with other legislation.

1.27The Minister considers that there is no consensus in Council over the treatment of emergency communications or the balance between ensuring an effective single market in accessible products and services and not placing disproportionate burdens on business.

1.28Despite the reservations set out, and those of other Member States, the Minister considers that there is “a prospect” of a General Approach being adopted at the December EPSCO. Further iterations of the text will come forward, and the Government will be monitoring progress carefully to determine whether enough has been done to address the UK’s concerns, particularly on clarity and proportionality, ahead of a potential General Approach.

Previous Committee Reports

Fortieth Report HC 71–xxxviii (2016–17), chapter 2 (25 April 2017); 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).





28 November 2017