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Lord Swinfen: Surely when the rail operator has delivered the disabled person by rail to the station, and that disabled person is ready to leave the station, the rail operator is then discharged of his responsibility. There is a difficulty if the station operator has a contract with a local car hire firm or minicab firm that only its vehicles can wait at the station forecourt. This is why I want this new clause in the Bill so that taxis can be there specifically for disabled and elderly people. It will also help people with large amounts of luggage, which very often do not fit easily into small minicabs.
Lord Whitty: The noble Lord is again mixing up the two issues. The responsibility is on the station operator to provide access to and from the service he provides. If his contracting arrangements with a local minicab firm cut across that, it is his responsibility; there is a potential claim against him and he must put it right.
Moreover, as the DDA comes into play from 2004, station operators will have to take reasonable steps to remove, alter or provide reasonable means of avoiding any physical features that make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use a facility. That means that station operators should start looking now at their infrastructure to make sure that it is reasonably accessible to disabled people, however
It may be the case for other reasons that the station operator has made an exclusive contract, but if that contract cuts across that duty then the DDA makes provision for that circumstance. Section 33 of the Act will allow the Secretary of State to designate transport facilities where an operator has entered into such a contract. The result of that designation would be that any provisions relating to accessibility requirements for taxis would have to apply equally to the private hire vehicles which fulfil that contract. In that way, passengers arriving at a station can be sure that they can call on an accessible vehicle to take them on their way.
I have sought to explain that the DDA ensures the accessibility of taxis, as we discussed earlier; it also makes a provision for disabled passengers to move between taxis and trains. Where the station operator is failing in his duty to provide either an accessible taxi or an alternative, the responsibility is on the station operator, and the Secretary of State has reserved powers in this respect. I do not think it would be appropriate to tackle the issue the other way round, as the noble Lord's amendment seeks to do--that is, to define what is and is not in the appropriate contract for the station operator.
I return to the amendments standing in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. Amendment No. 308 would require the SRA to seek competitive tenders before securing the provision of substitute services by road. Such services will normally be procured by train operators. Procurement in these cases is a commercial matter for train operators. The SRA will procure substitute road services only if it is acting as an "operator of last resort". Frequently, the provision of substitute services will have to be done at very short notice as a result of an emergency. Circumstances could arise where substitute rail services need to be secured by the SRA in an emergency if it is operating as an "operator of last resort" and there is an accident or emergency engineering work. In such cases, there clearly would not be time to seek tenders.
We debated the issue in Grand Committee when my noble friend Lord Macdonald tabled Clause 246. He said then that Clause 246 was an attempt to find a happy medium between the practical concerns of the train operators and the need to ensure that in emergency circumstances a suitable vehicle is there to transport disabled passengers in an appropriate manner. That statement was correct. I hope that the clause we inserted in Grand Committee--Clause 246--is an honourable and acceptable advance. I hope that the noble Earl can accept those explanations and withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I am at a loss to understand why the Minister is so emphatic in his rejection of the idea of providing accessible taxi services away from stations. There is no confusion in the minds of noble Lords who have put forward the amendment as to what is being talked about. The amendment is about having available in the station forecourt, for hire, a vehicle which is accessible to people with mobility problems. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, added a few other subjects which arose in the course of Question Time recently.
I do not understand the accusation of confusion. We are not confusing means with ends or ends with means. The end is to have accessible transport. The means is to make it possible for accessible taxis, which in most cases means black cabs, to pick up passengers at stations. These exclusive deals between station owners and mini-cab services make that impossible. It is the exclusivity of the deal which makes it impossible. Anyone who has been to Cambridge knows exactly what I am talking about. Anyone who has arrived at Gatwick also knows what I am talking about. If you arrive at Gatwick on an aeroplane and are wheeled, you had better have a huge bus-type minicab, which I am sure costs twice as much as an ordinary minicab, to meet you, because one will not be there waiting. I do not think that this is such a difficult issue. I wish the Government would give some ground on it.
Lord Swinfen: Before my noble friend decides what to do with his amendment, perhaps I may say that, because it is so late, I shall not press my Amendment No. 330 when we come to it later on. However, I did get the impression that the Minister's reply was somewhat muddled. I am not sure that he did not contradict himself while he was replying to my amendment. I shall read with considerable care what he said. I warn the noble Lord that I will be returning to this matter at the next stage of the Bill. In my view, it is an extremely important matter. There are stations--I suspect that it is an increasing number of stations--which have come to exclusive contracts with minicab firms to the detriment not only of disabled people but people who have mobility problems of all kinds, including people travelling with large numbers of children and a great deal of luggage.
Earl Attlee: I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have spoken in the debate. I refer in particular to the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Addington, who spoke to their Amendment No. 330, which raises important points about station forecourts. The groupings on this issue seem to be rather peculiar. I blame myself. I did not check them carefully enough this morning. Perhaps it is a smokescreen to cover my Amendment No. 308. However, I am sure that we will return at a later stage to Amendment No. 330.
I was rather disappointed with the Minister's response. I thought that he was converted to the market. I was thinking in terms of model contracts negotiated by the SRA which could then be drawn on by the train operating companies. It is important that we have these contracts in place so that the necessary contractual arrangements are made, especially for the disabled. We need to ensure that the right kind of transport equipment is available. There is no point in contracting for a coach that is too big to enter a station forecourt. Does the Minister not want to move at all? He does not. I beg to move.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.