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Lord Swinfen: My Lords, grouped with Amendment No. 345 are my Amendments Nos. 358 and 363. I say at the outset that I welcome Amendments Nos. 345 and 346. They go a long way to satisfying those disabled people who are interested in Transport for London.

I am delighted to hear that there is to be a clear timetable and proper consultation with organisations for and of people with disabilities. I am also delighted that the Government are committed to fully accessible transport. I know that that will take a few years to come through, for obvious financial and practical reasons. I am also delighted to learn that the new authority will be responsible for producing a scheme

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for door-to-door transport. However, I hope that the Government will ensure that a proper Taxicard scheme is running and is maintained between now and the time that Transport for London is up and running or the new situation is in place. The so-called “millennium borough" of Greenwich has, I understand, no Taxicard scheme at all. It is not a policy for the third millennium. If we were starting the second millennium, it probably would not allow chariots on its streets!

Perhaps when he replies the Minister can respond to one further point, which will avoid my having to move Amendment No. 469 later on; that is, what will the position be on public transport with regard to the freedom pass for elderly people and those with severe disabilities? Will there be a comprehensive criterion for the pass throughout the whole of London, or will it still be the responsibility of individual boroughs with a disparity of treatment throughout the metropolis and consequent unfairness on different people, often with the same degree of mobility disability?

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: My Lords, as my name is also attached to Amendments Nos. 358, 363 and 469 (the freedom pass, which comes a little later), I warmly welcome Amendments Nos. 345 and 346 and thank the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, for the way in which he introduced them. I thank the Minister also for being so willing to listen and for the helpful meeting we had with the department the week before last. He came up with sensible and practical solutions. He said that it was right to give a clear signal. He has indeed given a clear signal. The Bill presents us with a great opportunity for improving public and door-to-door transport for people with disabilities. The Minister seized that opportunity most appropriately.

I welcome what the Minister said in relation to Taxicard. It is important to ensure that it continues. I am not a Taxicard user because I am not a resident of London, but I use accessible taxis and it changed my life enormously. I welcome the amendments.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I was grateful for the letter sent to me by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and am glad that he read the contents out to the House. I was not able to attend the last meeting, but the previous one was of great help in discussing this issue. We have had considerable co-operation from his department which we all appreciated.

I particularly like Amendment No. 346. If we have consultation, then the genuine problems will be aired and people will be made aware of whether or not things are working. The timetable in Amendment No. 345 is a practical matter. We all hope and expect to see equal access, on which my noble friend Lord Swinfen commented--Amendment No. 358--but difficulties will arise. For instance, it may not always be possible to install a lift at an underground station.

I draw the Minister's attention to the speech made earlier today by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, when she went into the question of how disability can occur at any age, but is very often linked with old age.

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The basic freedom passes for everyone are one of the real essentials. They have saved the boroughs an enormous amount of money in terms of social services because they have kept people mobile and enabled them to get around on their own. They are therefore very worthwhile. I believe my noble friend Lord Swinfen, when he referred to freedom passes a moment ago, was speaking of freedom passes for younger people with disabilities or who were disadvantaged rather than those of retiring age.

I have one question for the Minister about freedom passes for people of ordinary retiring age. Some of the boroughs that I have come across are definitely not issuing these passes to men at the same age as applies to women. I know that the European Court took a decision in this respect as regards swimming pools, and so on, and said that equal benefits should be available to men and women at the same age. However, certain boroughs have been a little reluctant to implement the policy. I hope that the GLA will change that and make the age of eligibility for these passes the same for men and women.

I know that there is talk about the retirement age for women being extended to 65, so it is possible that the age of eligibility will go up rather than come down; but it is really an issue of equality. Nevertheless, I support the amendments and thank the Minister again for what he has done on this issue.

6 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Darcy de Knayth and Lady Gardner, are really the experts in this matter. Those of us who have tried to help them in their efforts have never ceased to be astounded by their persistence and endurance in putting forward such matters. I believe that they and those whom they represent have now, to some extent, got their reward for the long hours of hard work. I join with other speakers in thanking the Minister for having listened to these concerns and for having reflected them in these amendments.

I very much welcome the timetable for the implementation of the proposals contained in the transport strategy. That is a small but important addition to the duties of the mayor when proposing and carrying out his strategy. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, mentioned the fact that men and women should be able to obtain a bus pass at the same age. I should point out that this question will be raised later when we reach Amendment No. 468A.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, we on these Benches also believe in comprehensive, enforceable civil rights for all disabled people. The challenge is to ensure that proper provision is made. Therefore, we welcome the Government's amendment, which was moved by the Minister, and the way in which the noble Lord has paid

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attention to the concerns expressed by my noble friends Lord Swinfen and Lady Gardner of Parkes and by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I appreciate the comments from noble Lords about these two amendments, which are widely acceptable and which will, undoubtedly, send a clear signal to the mayor about the priority that he needs to give to those with mobility and accessibility problems of all sorts, especially the disabled. I believe that both amendments were generally supported, although the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, drew us into an area which will actually be addressed later in our proceedings with his own amendment and, indeed, with others from the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas.

Perhaps I may say a few words here in that respect because, clearly, there is an overlap. There is indeed concern about the future of concessionary travel arrangements and the freedom pass. The Bill provides for the existing scheme to continue. Decisions on eligibility are currently with the boroughs. I understand that GLAD has undertaken research on this to ascertain where there are differential areas, and it will be necessary for us to consider the outcome.

However, the Bill also provides for the boroughs to set up a joint committee on the future of the scheme which will, of itself, lead to a more comprehensive and integrated approach. Such a committee will take votes by way of qualified majority voting, but I shall explain that in more detail when we reach that part of the Bill. Although we are not directly imposing a single scheme through the authority, the boroughs will still have the prime responsibility. I believe that that mechanism may well prove to deliver many of the objectives sought by the noble Lord and by other speakers who have taken part in this debate.

I turn now to the question of the retirement age. This is a somewhat wider question and one to which we shall return. In this particular scheme--probably in all schemes--it is the case that eligibility is linked to retirement age. That is probably a wider problem, which can be resolved either now or when we come to deal with the appropriate amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Whitty moved Amendment No. 346:

Page 70, line 28, at end insert--
(“(3A) In preparing or revising the transport strategy the Mayor shall consult--
(a) the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, and
(b) such other persons or bodies which represent the interests of persons with mobility problems as he considers it appropriate to consult;
and this subsection is without prejudice to section 34 above.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 128 [Directions by the Secretary of State]:

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 347:

Page 70, line 36, leave out (“direct") and insert (“request").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 348 and 349, all of which relate to making the

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Secretary of State's powers a matter of “request" rather than of direction. Amendments Nos. 350 and 351 tabled by the Conservative Front Bench are included in this grouping, the first of which proposes to make a direction by the Secretary of State subject to a veto by the assembly. The second amendment, Amendment No. 351, proposes to delete Clause 128 entirely. I should say that I fully support their approach to the clause.

We moved a similar amendment in Committee. At that stage, I asked why it was necessary to have such a provision in the Bill given the fact that the provisions of Clause 33(5) require the mayor to bring national policies into his strategy. Clause 128 deals with the situation where the transport strategy is inconsistent with national policies relating to transport and that inconsistency is detrimental to an area outside London.

I also pointed out in Committee that, if areas outside London were affected by the mayor's strategy, it seemed to me that he should be negotiating directly with those concerned. We would expect adjoining local authorities to undertake neighbourly discussions--I do not believe that other local authorities are subject to specific direction in quite this way--if one starts on a course which might affect its neighbour. I make this point quite seriously. It seems to me that the very process of negotiation is part of policy development. I do not believe that it is healthy for a local authority to be subject to direction by some other body or person who says, “You shall not do that". It would be much better if authorities which have to live together, or live next to one another, were to work out a way of doing so. That view may be regarded by your Lordships as naive, but I prefer to think of it as optimistic.

The Minister responded in Committee by saying that there is a responsibility on central government to act on behalf of the nation as a whole. He also said--and no doubt will say again--that these are reserve powers. Throughout the course of our proceedings on the Bill we have often heard that it is “inconceivable" that the mayor could do a certain thing, or fail to do so. However, I think it is only inconceivable when we on these Benches, or other opposition Benches, conceive of it. If the mayor and the assembly are so little to be trusted, are the Government really wise to be creating them? I beg to move.

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