Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Darcy de Knayth: I support these amendments. In particular, I make a strong plea for the adoption of Amendment No. 286. As the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, said, in effect if one refuses to carry an assistance dog one also refuses to carry the owner. Taxis will not be able to do that when the relevant part of the Disability Discrimination Act comes into force. I urge the noble Lord to have a big think about this matter and perhaps try to meet the point between now and Third Reading.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, since my Amendment No. 260 is in this group perhaps I may speak briefly to it at this stage. Clause 213 gives the authority power to secure road transport where railway services are temporarily disrupted or discontinued. This amendment imposes a requirement

30 Oct 2000 : Column 731

to tender out such services not only where services are discontinued, as provided in subsection (4), but where they are temporarily disrupted. Competitive tendering is the most appropriate way to secure an efficient and cost-effective service. It is a transparent process which is not only fair but is seen to be fair and it should be adopted in these circumstances.

At Committee stage we pointed out that it would be good business practice to have enabling contracts in place just in case such services were required. If not, there would be two consequences: first, any contract would be made on the basis of a distressed purchase, not a willing buyer and willing seller; secondly, if the contractor had no experience of dealing with the authority he would probably be well advised to factor in the difficulty and delay in being paid. Finally, it would avoid the development of over-cosy arrangements and the possibility, unlikely though it might be, of any of the authority's employees being tempted off the straight and narrow.

I do not believe that it would be necessary to have an enabling contract with every operator at each and every locality. It would be necessary to have only a few contracts with substantial operators which allowed for subcontracting based on the use of existing bus and coach industry arrangements to deal with breakdowns and accidents. This is a slightly different point from the main thrust of the arguments advanced by my noble friend Lord Swinfen in his amendments. However, I believe that as my amendment is in this group it is appropriate to make these points now.

Lord Addington: My Lords, the first two amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, call for consultation. Consultation must be worked into the arrangements to deal with the disabled. I hope that the Minister will tell your Lordships that consultation is already taking place; if not, it will leave holes in the overall coverage.

As to the carriage of assistance dogs, if people are denied this facility effectively their powers of movement are restricted by their disability, whether it be hearing or sight. If one is to give people full equality one must ensure that that extension of their senses is available to them. That is all that one asks for in this narrow context, and one hopes that the Minister will be able to provide an affirmative answer.

Lord Freeman: I support my noble friend's amendment. I do so by anticipating the only credible argument that may be advanced against it by the department; namely, that the Secretary of State should have the right to appoint individuals rather than delegates or those who seek to represent a particular organisation. My noble friend argues that someone who is disabled should be a member of the authority and, therefore, should not be a delegate but represent the needs of the disabled. I commend to the House the amendments in the name of my noble friend.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I support the amendments. I make a plea to the Minister. I reached

30 Oct 2000 : Column 732

York station today and the place was in absolute chaos. There was no communication with the public. If trains break down and trees fall on the lines the public should be able to get through to the station to find out whether trains are running. What happened to me was that I arrived at York station with someone who was going to take my car back. I then had to ring up and get someone else to fetch him while I drove to London. I now have two cars in London. It is a difficult situation. Please will the Minister do something to let the public know what is happening when there is this state of chaos?

Amendment No. 249 is particularly important. We live in a commercial world and our caring world seems to be disappearing. It is important to highlight the needs of disabled people. We are now in a population which is growing older. Many disabled people are old, blind, infirm and need help. Therefore, I think these amendments are important.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I should like to speak in support of Amendment No. 237. Clause 201 states that the SRA should include a representative of disabled people. I think the Minister will respond by saying that, if the SRA puts a disabled person on the board, it will have to include a whole list of other people.

I therefore should like to ask him to look at the matter in a slightly different way and think of the phrase "mobility impaired". Many people are mobility impaired. A woman pushing a child in a pushchair is mobility impaired. There are a whole range of other people. An important part of the Government's strategy for transport is that it should be available to everyone. Perhaps it would be a wise move to have someone on the SRA whose remit it is always to remind the SRA of its duty to the mobility impaired.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty : My Lords, the basic framework on which the SRA will be operating includes the fact that it is a condition of passenger and station operators' licences that they comply with a statement of policy which is designed to protect the interests of people who are disabled in their use of trains and stations. That is a central part of this whole section of the Bill and an essential provision on the requirements of operators and station managers throughout the system. In future such policies will be approved by the SRA. Compliance with those policies will be enforceable by financial penalties or any other appropriate sanction for breach of licence conditions.

Noble Lords will also be aware that infrastructure and rolling stock accessibility issues are all covered by the Disability Discrimination Act and regulations made under that Act. So we are talking about a situation where there is a very strong basic requirement to provide access for the disabled to trains and stations.

Given that background, we need to consider the proposed amendments. Amendment No. 237 deals with the nature of the SRA board itself. I would

30 Oct 2000 : Column 733

underline the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, that the board is not a board of delegates; it is a board of people with expertise and experience which is appropriate to carry out its function. It is a board which is relatively small--between eight and 15 members. That board must act as a team rather than as a group of representatives. That does not mean that the members should not have a wide range of experience. The approach to the membership of that board would need to include assessment of the need to reflect experience of dealing with the disabled, or being disabled. In practice, the British Railways Board has a member who has experience as chairman of the National Disability Council. He will automatically be offered a place as one of the first members of the SRA. In that context, he will undoubtedly bring welcome expertise on the needs of disabled passengers.

The approach for all future arrangements would tend to fetter the discretion of the Secretary of State in making future appointments. But nevertheless I can assure noble Lords that in making such future appointments the Secretary of State will need to bear in mind that the membership of that board needs to reflect a wide range of expertise and interests, including the whole interest of accessibility, access for the disabled but also access for others such as those referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, just now.

I turn to Amendment No. 238. So far as concerns consultation, there is a problem of starting to list on the face of the Bill all those organisations which should be consulted. The natural effect would be others feeling that they were excluded and indeed deemed to be excluded. Some organisations would be left off, giving rise to doubt about their status. However, I can repeat the assurances that the SRA will consult and that directions given by the Secretary of State will require the SRA to consul DPTAC in all cases where that is appropriate. We will also consult that committee and other interested parties before the Secretary of State gives directions to the SRA.

Amendment No. 249 would seek to make all agreements entered into by the SRA comply with the code of practice. While I recognise the sentiment behind the amendment, it would be inappropriate here. The power in Clause 210 includes a power to channel grants to the passenger service operators through franchise agreements. That raises a whole wider range of issues; for example, it could extend to agreements making land available to the railway network or making freight grants, where there is no obvious involvement with disabled people as passengers.

The authority needs to be able to target the most appropriate mechanisms for protecting the interests of disabled people. But it is not appropriate to have the general power to enter into agreements constrained by a provision which does not discriminate between the various types of agreement in which the SRA may be involved. Some agreements of the SRA would not be appropriate for this stipulation. In any case, the provisions which require the SRA to have regard to the interests of disabled people are fully protected through

30 Oct 2000 : Column 734

its duties, including Clause 206, which operates through the licence conditions, as well as the various provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act and its regulations. These are the most appropriate ways of securing protection for disabled people's access to rail transport.

Amendment No. 286 primarily deals with the substitute services. The national conditions of carriage which relate to all rail services also apply to any substitute services which are operated or provided by the train operator. What is at issue here is not the type of road vehicle, but the fact that it is a substitute for a train service. Therefore the conditions of carriage for these substitute services are the same as those which apply to train services. Those already provide for dogs to be carried free. Train operators can enforce that requirement on those vehicles they use for substitute services.

Therefore, I think that the anxieties raised by the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Addington, are unlikely to arise, since the train operators have to ensure the same facilities as they do on their trains. There will also be national conditions relating to that. The national conditions list possible situations arising on substitute services which must be avoided where they may cause injury, inconvenience or damage to property and so on. Those conditions cover luggage and dogs. It is unlikely that under those provisions the carriage of a highly trained assistance dog would be reasonably refused. Therefore, the issue of substitute services is covered, certainly in terms of general provisions. Emergency situations may not always comply fully with those provisions but, in relation to the normal provisions for substitute services, the requirement that those substitute services are equivalent to those provided by the carrier must ensure the provision both for disabled people and for the carriage of dogs.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page