Documents considered by the Committee on 31 January 2018 Contents

1European Accessibility Act

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

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

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; Ordinary Legislative Procedure; QMV

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).

1.2While welcomed by the Government in principle, a number of concerns about the detail have been expressed by the UK and by other Member States. As the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Lord Henley) explains in his letter, a compromise was agreed at Council on 7 December 2017. The UK abstained due to concerns that prescriptive requirements would hamper innovation, to the detriment of future accessibility provision. In addition, the lack of clarity in some parts of the text and the risk of overlap with sectoral legislation were cause for concern. A written statement was tabled to that effect (see Annex 1).

1.3When we last considered this document, at our meeting of 22 November 2017, we waived the proposal from scrutiny in order that the Government could engage actively in negotiations in advance of the 7 December Council. We also requested greater clarity on the Government’s concern about overlap between this Directive and the European Electronic Communications Code. That clarity has been provided by the Minister, as set out below.

1.4We welcome the information provided by the Government on the outcome of the Council and particularly commend the explanation of the UK position and the submission of a written statement to that effect. We note that prospects for imminent agreement with the European Parliament and Commission are low. With that in mind, we retain the document under scrutiny and look forward to an update on the progress of negotiations.

1.5Given 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

1.6Details of the Commission’s proposal, the Government’s Explanatory Memorandum and our own views were set out in the Reports of 13 January and 25 May 2016 and of 1 February, 25 April and 22 November 2017.

1.7In 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.

1.8At our meeting of 22 November, we commended the amount of information provided by the Department. We noted the substantial changes negotiated to the text and the potential agreement at the 7 December Council. We supported the Government’s approach and waived the scrutiny reserve in advance of Council to allow the Government to engage actively in negotiations.

1.9We noted the Minister’s concern that there was 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. We asked how the provisions on electronic and emergency communications are covered by the EECC, with respect to specific articles of that Directive.

Minister’s letter of 19 December 2017

1.10The Minister thanks the Committee for the scrutiny waiver provided in advance of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) on 7 December. He goes on to provide an update on the negotiations.

1.11The Minister notes that negotiations continued in working groups during November and the Estonian Presidency made a number of further amendments to the text of the Directive. These included some limited alterations intended to clarify the Annex I requirements and Article 12 on disproportionate burdens, the removal of the requirement for communication providers to provide relay services, and additional text in the recitals stating that, in case of conflict with the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC), the Code should take precedence.

1.12At COREPER on 24 November, several Member States, including the UK, expressed support for removing sections of the text that referred to a specific requirement on services answering 112 emergency calls. The Presidency revised the text accordingly and presented it to EPSCO for agreement.

1.13At Council, Ministers agreed a General Approach on the Presidency’s compromise European Accessibility Act (EAA) text.1 The UK, explains the Minister, stated its support for the aims of the proposal and set out its strong domestic record on realising the rights of people with disabilities but registered an abstention, reflecting concerns about the clarity of the text and the risk that it would impede, rather than promote, innovation which might help accessibility. The UK tabled a written statement to this effect (see Annex). All other Member States supported the General Approach. Finland tabled a statement outlining likely problems with implementation, whilst Italy and Spain tabled statements regretting the removal of the 112 emergency number from the scope.

1.14The Minister explains the UK’s position in the following terms:

“As outlined in previous letters to the Committee, the UK raised a significant number of concerns with the approach taken in the original EAA proposal throughout the negotiations. Many of these were shared with other Member States. Some of these have been resolved during the course of the negotiations, including the concern relating to emergency communications described in my previous letter, which was resolved at COREPER with the removal of emergency call answering. However, substantial concerns remained about the compromise text presented at EPSCO.

“From the outset, the UK registered concerns about the text’s lack of clarity, particularly the disproportionate burden provisions (Article 12) and the accessibility requirements which are set out in Annex I. The Estonian Presidency introduced a new Annex IV to provide additional guidance on how to assess whether a requirement is a disproportionate burden; we welcome this. However, it remains unclear how the new benchmarks are to be used in practice, with the risk that different Member States’ market surveillance authorities will assess them inconsistently, hindering an effective single market. Despite attempts by several Presidencies to reorder and clarify the language in Annex I, for example by adding examples (a UK suggestion), we remain concerned that the text here is also unclear and would be difficult to comply with.

“Our fundamental concern with Annex I, however, remains the prescriptive nature of many of the requirements in stipulating particular accessibility solutions, in particular those relating to the user interface of products and provision of information in an accessible form. Specifying very detailed requirements limits the ability of businesses to innovate and find better accessibility solutions than those currently available, to the detriment of the intended beneficiaries of the Directive.

“Throughout the negotiations the UK has been concerned that the horizontal nature of the legislation risks creating overlaps with sectoral legislation that includes accessibility requirements. We have also expressed reservations over provisions which will significantly affect electronic communications networks, considering that these would be better dealt with in the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC). While the overlaps with transport and audio-visual media services legislation have been removed, there remains a real prospect of incompatibility with the EECC. This stems from a cross-reference in the EAA to the EECC which would result in the two Directives placing contradictory requirements on some electronic communications service-providers. The addition of a recital in the EAA which specifies that the EECC should prevail in case of conflict does not in our view fully resolve this issue: it would be preferable to amend the body of the text so that such inconsistencies did not arise, or simply place the requirements in the EECC and not the EAA.

“The UK believes in robust legislation on accessibility and has always supported the aims of this Directive in improving the accessibility of a range of products and services for persons with disabilities. However, given these outstanding, fundamental concerns with the text presented to EPSCO, we considered it had not yet reached a stage where the UK could support it. The UK therefore abstained. The Government’s final position took account of a wide range of views, including those of industry, disability groups and accessibility experts.”

1.15On stakeholder consultation, the Minister adds:

“Disability groups have expressed support for the EAA and are concerned that the UK’s legislative provision will not keep pace with EU standards when we leave the EU. The Government has clarified that, regardless of the outcome of EU exit negotiations, the UK’s legislative framework will continue to promote and protect the rights of disabled people. Industry representatives have continued to express concerns about clarity and prescriptive requirements, similar to those outlined previously. My officials will continue to work with the Office for Disability issues to ensure views on the EAA are sought as part of their ongoing engagement with disability stakeholders on accessibility issues and UNCRPD implementation. My officials will also speak to industry stakeholders about the steps businesses would need to take in order to implement the proposal’s requirements.”

1.16The Minister goes on to address the Committee’s particular query about how electronic and emergency communications are separately covered by the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC). The Code is a recast of existing legislation and is under negotiation at the moment. The Minister explains that the relevant accessibility provisions are included in Articles 23(a)(1) and 26(4) of the existing regulatory framework (Universal Service Directive,2 as amended by the Citizens’ Rights Directive).3 Under Presidency proposals for the recast EECC, Article 103 maintains similar provisions to the existing Article 23a, while Article 102(4) maintains the provisions on access to emergency calls set out in the existing Article 26 (4).

1.17Looking forward, the Government expects the Bulgarian Presidency to commence inter-institutional negotiations early in 2018. Given the length and complexity of the Directive and the divergence between the Parliament and Council texts on a number of substantive points, such as the inclusion of public procurement in the scope, the Minister does not expect the trilogue process to be completed quickly. The Government will continue to keep the Committee updated on the progress of negotiations.

Previous Committee Reports

Second Report HC 301–ii (2017–19), chapter 1 (22 November 2017); 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).


1 Council General Approach 15586/17.

2 Directive 2002/22/EC.

3 Directive 2009/136/EC.




2 February 2018