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Lord Swinfen: My Amendment No. 118 is grouped with this amendment. I am not sure why. However, for the convenience of the Committee, I should like to speak also to my Amendment No. 149, which deals with the same subject as Amendment No. 118. It will save the Committee time in the long run.
The purpose of both amendments is to ensure that, in their consultations over local plans, local authorities include and make the consultations accessible to the range of disabled people--those who are blind, deaf or with learning difficulties--for whom ordinary printed material will not be effective.
Under Clause 108(4) an authority must publish the plan or the plan as altered in such a manner as it sees fit. Under subsection (4)(c) it must supply a copy of it (or any part of it) to any person on request, either free of charge or at a charge representing no more than the cost of providing the copy. We would also expect that the provision of the information would be in the preferred format of the individual requesting it, thus ensuring that service providers meet their obligations under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995.
Disability organisations are concerned that blind, deafblind, partially sighted people and those with learning difficulties are excluded by the requirement to consult on proposed bus strategies, quality partnership and contract schemes through publishing a note in newspapers only. That is in Clause 135. This excludes people for whom print is inaccessible. Adding a "talking newspaper" would at least ensure that blind and partially sighted people have the opportunity to be involved.
If one is trying to convey information it makes sense to ensure that everyone can understand that information. If the Government do not do that, they will be failing in their own objectives. Merely making sure that the information is available in formats other than print should not be beyond the wit of man in today's technological age.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: Before speaking to the amendment, perhaps I may comment on the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Howie, has left his place. It was only minutes ago that he was referring--I thought with pleasure--to the fact that he could see my noble friend on the Front Bench, my noble friend Lord Swinfen who sits behind me and even myself. I am concerned lest the experience was too much for him and has caused him to withdraw. I can only hope that if he is unwell he will quickly recover.
As to my noble friend's amendment, I believe that it verges on the unkind to tempt a local authority into allowing a plan which will be imperfect from its very beginning to remain in existence and open to the public gaze for five years. In a very fast moving world, I should think that any plan of this kind would need to be given a decent burial after a minimum of five years, and probably less. Therefore, I would find it extremely difficult to go along with my noble friend.
Baroness Hamwee: The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, which we support, draws attention to the importance of making all government, local and national, accessible. It raises some interesting points, not just for those who may have difficulty in reading print. All spheres of government need to think hard about how to present plans on which they want to consult. The world is changing. The use of modern technology, as well as old methods, needs to be kept under constant review. The language that we all use also needs to be kept under review. Those of us who spend too long in this Chamber trying to find the right format for "parliamentary-speak" and those in areas of government outside tend to lose sight of the fact that the language we use is not very accessible.
I turn to the amendment standing in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Dixon-Smith and Lord Brabazon of Tara. In proposing a period--it is a short period at that--within which local authorities must replace, not merely review, their plans, the Government are suggesting a backward step. We are now in the area of best value, rolling plans and performance plans. To propose that authorities might publish a plan, put it on the shelf and then take it down and dust it off five years later, or indeed 10 years later, is to overlook the way in which the Government would like to see local authorities conduct their business. I am sure the Minister will say to me, "That is not really what we mean. We do mean a rolling review". If that is the case, should we not say so? Should we not also
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Amendment No. 117 seeks to alter the requirement for a local transport authority to produce a five-year local transport plan to a requirement to produce a 10-year plan. Amendment No. 118--I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, for explaining it--seeks to place a requirement on an authority, when asked to supply a copy of its local transport plan, to do so in the format of choice of those seeking a copy. I am sure the noble Lord will acknowledge that the amendment could be read as being the format of choice of the authority, but I am glad to know he does not actually mean that. However, I would advise the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, not to pray in aid the Deputy Prime Minister regarding the amendment. The noble Lord would do well to wait until the Government actually announce the 10-year transport plan later this month rather than rely on the latest piece of press speculation. There have been many items of press speculation. They conflict with each other. Some of them, or indeed all of them, may conflict with what actually happens.
Local transport plans are a move away from the previous annual bidding round under the transport policies and programmes--I am reminded of my time in local government--which meant that central government was often faced with making decisions on very small schemes. That wasted time and resources and meant such decisions were taken in isolation, often on purely financial grounds, rather than on the contribution such measures would make to a wider strategy. The intention is that local transport plans will change that. The system is built around five-year integrated transport programmes, devised at the local level in partnership with the community. That will provide local authorities with both more discretion and greater certainty than under the previous system.
The guidance to authorities on local transport plans makes it clear that the plans need to contain objectives; an analysis of problems and opportunities; a long-term strategy to tackle the problems and deliver the plan's objectives; a costed and affordable five-year investment programme; and a set of targets and indicators to measure performance. In setting their objectives authorities need to provide a mix of both short and long-term objectives, with short-term objectives for the five-year plans set in the context of a longer term strategy looking 15 or 20 years ahead. In that sense I suppose one could say that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is modest in its horizon in comparison with what the Government are planning. It must be, and it is, the detailed investment programme which is limited to five years.
I turn to Amendment No. 118. I am sure that in drafting his amendment the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, meant that a local transport authority, when asked to provide a copy of its local transport plan, should do so in the format requested by those seeking the copy. That would ensure that the needs of those requiring copies in alternative formats such as Braille or large type were catered for. The noble Lord made that explicit in his speech. Local authorities, like other service providers, are already subject to the duties placed on them by the requirements of Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act. Since October last year, service providers have been under a duty to take reasonable steps to provide auxiliary aids or services to disabled people which make it possible, or easier, for them to access the service. Advice for service providers on this and the other duties under Part III are covered in a code of practice published last year by the National Disability Council. The code explains that the range of auxiliary aids or services which it might be reasonable to provide to visually impaired people could include documents in Braille or large print, on computer diskette or on audio tape. The noble Lord's amendment would duplicate the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act.
The sentiment behind the amendment is admirable but we need to strike a balance. Already, under Clause 107(4)(c) we place a requirement on local authorities to supply copies of the local transport plan, either free of charge or at a charge representing no more than the cost of providing the copy. Crucially, authorities also have to discharge their general duties under the Disability Discrimination Act to provide information in alternative formats.
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