Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Masham of Ilton: I do not know whether my question falls under these amendments, but it is an extraordinary situation. Disabled people in wheelchairs have ramps at stations to get them on and off the train. Sometimes, in an emergency, the train stops and people have to get off—it has happened to me twice. Could the trains carry ramps? That would make it much easier in the circumstance when the train stops and people have to get off.

Recently, when my husband was in intensive care, I had to get off at an unmanned station, and the guard said that the ramp was locked up, so due to health and safety regulations I could not get off. I had some ramps in my car and I got the person who brought my car to the station to use the ramps. I told the guard to go up to the other end of the train and make himself scarce. A young doctor, another guard and the person who came to fetch me got me off the train. If the train had been carrying the ramps, there would have been no problem. They could be strapped on, because there are
13 Jan 2005 : Column GC112
only two seats on each train that are acceptable. Those small things would make a huge difference, and they are not expensive.

Lord Higgins: Does the provision apply to Blackpool trams?

Lord Davies of Oldham: Yes—I meant to include Blackpool trams in the definition of light railway.

In response to the noble Baroness, I recognise the force of her point. She will recognise that by the very broad definition which we are seeking to achieve for railways, I could not give her an assurance that we could insist on ramps being carried by every conceivable rail vehicle that we describe in the framework of this provision. Of course, some trains do carry ramps. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that it is an obvious additional facility for the disabled, which is to be welcomed. She will also recognise that there are certain vehicles under this category where that would be very difficult indeed to achieve. Therefore, we would have to deal with it with some understanding of the problems of the definition.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: It could probably go into regulations, as an advice.

Lord Davies of Oldham: Yes, indeed, it is the case that a train must have access to a ramp. I hear what the noble Baroness is saying about emergency stops, when the provision is not there. That raises some interesting issues, and it is a point to be pursued. She would recognise that I am not able to give a general assurance at this stage when we are discussing the widest category of rail provision.

Lord Higgins: That was a helpful clarification of the situation, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Higgins moved Amendment No. 29:

"( ) The Secretary of State may not make an exemption order after the end of the year 2017."

The noble Lord said: This is the amendment that the Minister was so keen to comment on. It is arguable that in some respects the drafting is not perfect, but it includes the magic number 2017. This is an important amendment, which has had widespread comment, not least in the Joint Committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Carter. It is extremely important that the railway industry should have a clear deadline by which it is required to comply with the requirements regarding accessibility of rail vehicles; I hope that the Government can go along with that view. Whether where the amendment is at the moment is the best place for it is open to consideration, but one of the advantages of dealing with the matter in Grand Committee is that we can rehearse the arguments before we come to a view as to where an amendment should be made in the Bill and what it should say, should we wish—as I think we will if we cannot persuade the Government—to vote on it.
13 Jan 2005 : Column GC113

As I understand it, the Government have in mind 2020. The Joint Committee—the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will correct me if I am wrong—came down in favour of 2017, with exemptions for one or two items to 2025. The year 2017 would be the same as the bus deadline, and there is some case for consistency there. There has been a great deal of discussion on the matter, back in the Disability Rights Task Force in 1999, the DTI in 2003 and the Joint Committee in 2004. Clearly, we are about to reach the point where we make decisions on the matter, and there seems to be a strong case for 2017. The crucial issue is the costs, and to what extent the date is practical.

It was pointed out in one of the other reports that the calculation of costs in the impact assessment is virtually double what it was being said last year on bringing the date forwards. No doubt the Minister can give us a clear assessment of the extent to which the costs of compliance will be increased if the date is earlier rather than later, both with regard to refurbishments, to which he referred, and new rolling stock.

I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, and others will have points to make on this. As I said, it is an important point. I do not fully share the views of some of those outside who say that if we do not have a firm date, there is a danger that it will be put back later, whereas if it is in the Bill it will be more difficult to subsequently change it without primary legislation. Nonetheless, the case for clarity is considerable. I beg to move.

Lord Addington: I have total sympathy with the amendment and one of the reasons why it was mentioned, although I realise that we might have moved on slightly from this. The simple reason is that when the first Bill came through, very long run-in times were granted, which led to initial panic, then people thought that it was tomorrow's problem, they started to think in the medium term or long term, and total inactivity was the result. That is why the point made by the noble Lord about having a definite time period has its strengths. It also has weaknesses, in the fact that everyone will immediately put things off until they have to do them, in the hope that someone else's budget will be the one that is cut. Probably that is a good reason why 2025 would have been such a disaster. Despite such a long run-in time, if you put it off for long enough you cannot do anything. That is one of the things that goes on here.

Will the Minister take this opportunity to make sure that he has an idea of what the state of progress will be in the time scales that are given? What progress will we make in five or 10 years' time? Has any thought been given to that? How much closer will we be? How much further on with the targets will we be? Having targets that are achievable within the time scale is a great way of preventing slip. Have we got anywhere on that, and has some thought been given to it? Although I think the world has moved on from this, I am totally in sympathy with the words down on the Marshalled List
13 Jan 2005 : Column GC114
of Amendments, and I feel slightly cheated by progress and achievement that we cannot have a good old fight on it.

Lord Carter: The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, is quite right. Recommendation 28 was that the Committee's analysis of the evidence we have received, together with the Department for Transport's own data, led us to suggest an end date of the end of 2017. We concluded that this, together with a limited exemption system, which would itself expire in 2025, would be an appropriate compromise between the needs of disabled people and the industry's current replacement programmes. As my noble friend the Minister said, the final proposal of the end date would be included in the draft regulations, which we plan to consult when they are introduced. The Government have now proposed an end date of 2020.

There are two aspects to this: one is the end date itself, 2017 or 2020; and the other is exemptions. Recently, I chaired a substantial conference on this Bill and transport, and there was an official there from the Department for Transport responsible for inclusion and mobility. I took the opportunity to ask her how robust the exemption procedure would be in 2020. I was assured that it would be robust, that they did not see that many rail vehicles would be exempt, except perhaps heritage vehicles and so on. I began to think that it would not be a bad result if we get to 2020 with very few rail vehicles exempt. That is not a bad compromise on the 2017 that we wanted, although that will mean for three years that a disabled person travelling by bus or coach will have an accessible vehicle and then might have to move on to a train without the same degree of accessibility. However, we can discuss that.

I am tempted to say that a railway carriage was driven through the arguments of the Department for Transport, rather than a coach and horses, when I saw only recently the correspondence between my noble friend Lord Hunt of King's Heath, the Chairman of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee. He had written to the Chairman of the Delegated Powers Committee, and they had recommended that the exemption orders under Section 47 of the 1995 Act should continue to be statutory instruments subject to the negative resolution procedure, and not Orders in Council. We have heard from the Minister that, as always, the recommendation of that Committee has been accepted.

Then one reads the previous correspondence between the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and my honourable friend Alistair Darling, the Secretary of State for Transport. There is a long letter about exemptions and the way in which they were working. The last letter from my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, the chairman of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, is pretty strong stuff. It says,

13 Jan 2005 : Column GC115

This is extremely important. If we are going to accept the Government's argument that it should be 2020 on the grounds of cost—which we might if the argument were persuasive—that would be on the basis only of a really robust exemptions procedure. We do not want to be left in 2020 with a large number of rail vehicles still exempt.

In 2020, 2,080 vehicles will still be non-compliant. In 2017, the figure will be 4,256. If we agree to 2017, 4,256 vehicles would still be outstanding, and that figure would halve by 2020. That is a significant change. Fifty per cent more rail vehicles will become compliant.

All this stands or falls by the quality and the robustness of the exemptions procedure. If we are to accept 2020, we need to be convinced that the exemptions procedure will be really strong. I hope that the department will be able to deal with the very strong criticisms that have been made in the letter to the chairman of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page