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Lord Berkeley: On the amendments on cycling and ticketing I was pleased to hear my noble friend say that the powers already exist. My only question is: why is nothing happening? Could not there be a little bit of enforcement after five or six years? Perhaps my noble friend could helpfully send a copy of the debate tonight to those whose duty it is to enforce the various issues. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Earl Attlee: The Minister found that a difficult point to respond to. The Minister described ticketing as "a problem". The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, perhaps has a better appreciation of the situation. I have certainly seen passengers become almost incandescent trying to buy tickets, particularly at Victoria station. Even at Westminster station the machines that are supposed to take notes are, frankly, pathetic.
The noble Earl said: Clause 213 gives the authority the power to secure road transport where railway services are temporarily disrupted or discontinued. Amendment No. 208 imposes a requirement to tender out such services, not only where the service is discontinued as provided in subsection (4), but also where services are temporarily disrupted.
Competitive tendering is the most appropriate way of securing efficient and cost-effective services. It is a transparent process which is not only fair, but is also seen to be fair. In those circumstances it should be adopted; otherwise over-cosy arrangements may develop.
There should be no objection as regards urgency. The authority should, as a matter of planning, ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place in advance of any disruption and that quotations can, in any case, be obtained from the various potential providers quickly. Clearly, if arrangements have not been made in advance, the contracts would be made "in distress".
Lord Swinfen: Amendment No. 309 has been grouped with my noble friend's amendment, and I shall not be moving it. However, Amendment No. 330, which seeks to insert a new clause after Clause 222, has also been included in the group. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, has asked me to say that had he been present in the Chamber at this hour he would have supported the amendment. Indeed, he is sorry not to be able to be here because he has attached his name to the amendment. Moreover, the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, who has also attached her name to the amendment, has had to go home because her new electric wheelchair is giving her some problems.
Amendment No. 330 requires that train station operators provide facilities for licensed taxis at their stations. The licensed taxi has a vital role to play in an integrated transport policy. It provides the link between termini and the passenger's final destination, be it work or home. For elderly and disabled people the licensed taxi is often a real necessity for it can provide wheelchair accessibility and lots of space. It also provides the customer with the security of a regulated fare and a driver who has local knowledge, so customers are guaranteed that they will not get lost.
At the moment, there is nothing to stop train operating companies offering exclusive contracts to mini-cab firms for the use of railway forecourts. In this situation, licensed taxis are able to drop off passengers at stations but are prevented from picking up passengers or, as I understand they say in the trade, "ply for hire". There are already examples of such an arrangement at Cambridge and Eastbourne where taxi ranks are forced to be some considerable distance from the station. Unless this amendment is accepted, there is a real danger that this trend could develop countrywide.
To understand why this would be damaging to the disabled community, we need only to look at the Disability Discrimination Act. When regulations are brought forward under that Act, all licensed taxis will have to be accessible to wheelchair users. Indeed, this has been the case in London since 1st January. However, as the Committee will know, mini-cabs are not covered by the Act and are subsequently free from any obligation to be wheelchair accessible. This is the central point. If licensed taxis are not guaranteed access to forecourts, what is a disabled passenger to do when he or she arrives at a station and no accessible vehicle is available?
Why should elderly and disabled passengers not be guaranteed, as able-bodied passengers are, a suitable vehicle? Surely, this goes completely against both the spirit and many provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act and of this Bill, aimed at ensuring
There is an even more damaging knock-on impact for the taxi service in local communities. In many small towns, station forecourt work represents the main source of income for the licensed taxi driver. If the station operator or Railtrack enters into one of these exclusive contracts with mini-cab firms, why would a local taxi driver go to the expense of adapting his vehicle to be wheelchair accessible, or go to the expense of buying a completely new taxi?
The net result would be fewer and fewer accessible taxis to serve disabled and elderly members of the travelling public. It is not, of course, acceptable to take the view that as station forecourts are private property, the property owner has the right to deny or restrict access to taxis. The Disability Discrimination Act imposes conditions on other private property; that is, retail premises and places of employment, and taxis have the special qualification of themselves being subject to regulation under that Act.
This amendment has widespread support. I understand that the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation has written to the Minister pressing for the amendment to be accepted. The chief executive of the Disability Alliance has written to the London Taxi Board supporting the new clause and stating,
Lord Burnham: As my noble friend has suggested, the proposed new clause relates to the problems of taxis and parking. Can the Minister help us in any way by giving an assurance that railway stations will be required to produce adequate car parking for all those who wish to use railway station facilities? The right honourable gentleman the Deputy Prime Minister asks us not to use our cars, but unless car parking facilities are provided for those who wish to travel to their destinations by train, that will be difficult.
Lord Addington: My name is also added to Amendment No. 330. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, has done an excellent job of explaining it. We place upon licensed taxi operators the responsibility to ensure that their vehicles are accessible to those with disability problems. However, we do not place such a responsibility upon minicabs. I take the liberty of reminding the Minister of a discussion we had some nine and a half hours ago--yesterday now--at Question Time. It became clear that minicabs are not covered by much of the legislation which has been introduced to make taxis more accessible to the disabled, to wheelchairs, guide dogs and hearing dogs. Surely if we are to place an extra responsibility on a group, they should benefit from that.
In my city of Norwich the forecourt of the station is the main point from which taxis operate. They are the traditional hackney cabs. That forecourt seems to be the main thrust of all activity. If they were not allowed to work there, the whole basis of the local economy for taxi drivers would be removed.
I hope that we shall be given a positive response. Once you have told a group such as taxi drivers that they must help the disabled, they must be allowed to do so; otherwise, we make a nonsense of part of the legislation.
Lord Whitty: There is a danger in this argument of mixing up the question of accessible transport for the disabled with access for the taxi trade to particular venues. There are arguments on both issues but they should not be confused.
We are concerned here with the responsibility within the railway system for the station operators to provide accessible transport. In this instance it is the responsibility not of the taxi firms or the minicab firms but of the station operators--as indeed it is in terms of parking provisions, a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Burnham, although local authorities can have some influence on that.
So far as concerns access for the disabled, since October 1999 Section 21 has required all service providers to adjust any practice, policy or procedure which makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled persons to make use of the service. So if, for example, a station operator's policy on access for taxis prevented disabled people from getting access to or from the station, there would be already the potential for a claim under the DDA.
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