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Lord Higgins: My Lords—

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I beg to move.

Lord Higgins moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 6, Amendment No. 7:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am always troubled by false starts. Nowadays, one gets disqualified after just one.

The Minister was too modest: this group of amendments is very large and groups together three somewhat separate issues. The first is the question of whether exemption orders between now and 2020 should be made by affirmative resolution. Those noble Lords who have been involved in the Bill from the beginning will know that we have made a great deal of progress. When we started, they could be dealt with by diktat, effectively. The Scrutiny Committee and the Merits Committee came down against that, and it was agreed that exemption orders should be made by negative resolution. Then the Minister, in her usual flexible way, agreed that, in some cases, it would be more appropriate for orders to be made by affirmative resolution, because we all know that there are many negative resolutions and they are unlikely to get the attention that they deserve on matters such as this.

The Minister has now come up with Amendment No. 9, which proposes a two-stage procedure. As she said, an order that sets out the conditions in which one method will apply rather than the other will be made by affirmative resolution. We had a great deal of discussion on that, together with the Liberal Democrat Party. I am grateful to officials and to the Minister for those discussions. At one stage, we thought that the right answer was to have affirmative resolutions if the exemptions are important. That was the purpose of my Amendment No. 10. But I think that I am now persuaded that the procedure that the Government are proposing is a great deal better than that in the original Bill and, indeed, than that in the Bill at earlier stages. That is something about which we can all be satisfied. I thank the Minister for producing the amendment with regard to the procedures in your Lordships' House and the other place.

The other subject which arose was annual reports. That is dealt with in Amendment No. 11 and we—and, I think, the Liberal Democrat Party—are glad that those proposals are made.

We then come to the more difficult issue, which the Minister spent most of her time dealing with. We all agree that the Bill must not be endangered in any way
 
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by the proceedings in either House and that it should receive Royal Assent as soon as possible, consistent with us looking at the detail in the right way. This is the main outstanding item on the transport agenda.

The amendments are a little complicated. The Minister tabled the government amendments after we had tabled ours because we were not sure what was going to happen. I feel bound to say that, on reflection, we came to the view that the Government's Amendment No. 6 is not satisfactory because it will effectively create a situation after 2020 that is the same as that before 2020. Therefore, 2020 does not become, in any realistic sense, a deadline. We—and, I think, the Liberal Democrat Party—are anxious to have a genuine deadline so the rail industry knows that that is it and that further exemptions will not be granted. The problem is that, as it stands, the Government's amendment enables them to go on making exemptions exactly as before 2020. Given the considerable air of suspicion that has been generated outside about the way in which the rail industry has complied in the past, it seems to us that that is a dangerous way of proceeding.

The Minister put forward two arguments about why it would be necessary to continue to have exemptions after 2020. One of them is a very strange argument although, as she said, the Disability Rights Commission and some other organisations appear to have accepted it. It is the strange argument that it is necessary to have exemptions in case technology for making provision for the disabled improves. I asked for specific examples and the only one that they could come up with was the example of the Gatwick Express where exemption was granted for two years so that the company could discover whether a better system of enabling the disabled to see various steps and so on could be devised. But that was based on the fact that the situation was not already compliant. It was necessary to make an exemption so that the experiment could be carried out. But if the situation is already compliant, there is nothing stopping the industry or organisations for the disabled putting forward new proposals. An exemption is not necessary to do that.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I gave the example of a company seeking to have back-of-seat displays instead of a common denominator board, electrically illuminated with a 35mm display, in each carriage. It would not be compliant if it did not do that. A company cannot be asked to have the common denominator board and back-of-seat displays when it is introducing new vehicles to see whether that is an improvement in service. Therefore, the company would not already be compliant. It is not just a question of upgrading compliance; it is that the company would not be compliant without an exemption. If the pilot scheme is successful, it might improve facilities for disabled people across the board and be adopted for future new vehicles.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, an exemption is not necessary. If there is a situation where, for example, the Jubilee Line annunciator system is in existence and is compliant and the company then wants to introduce a system in the back of seats, there is no reason why it should no do so. It does not need an exemption in order to do so. That is the situation.
 
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While some outside bodies seem to be persuaded, it seems to me that this is a dud argument. I do not know why the department is going on about it. In all events, it is dangerous to say that after 2020 the Government can go on with the same powers to make exemptions as they have, or will have after the Bill goes through. In that context, incidentally, the Minister said that, if the Government procedures went forward, any exemptions after 2020 would be by affirmative resolution. I cannot find that anywhere in the amendments she mentions but, if the Government's view prevails, no doubt she can clarify that—although I hope their view does not prevail.

6.30 p.m.

The only other argument is that the exemptions may be needed after 2020 because some of the railway tunnels are too small to enable compliance. If that is so, because this is what might be called a permanent exemption, I see no reason why the regulations that decide what compliance means should not be adjusted. The Minister says that is a "clumsy" way of doing it, but it is no clumsier than any other system. In fact, it is to avoid any "clumsiness" that the Government will retain the right to make exemptions after 2020.

We have said all along in the course of these debates that either we can settle for an early date such as 2017 and then have exemptions, or we can set the date of 2020 as a genuine deadline. We do not find—nor, I think, so the Liberal Democrats—that we can support the Government's arguments for maintaining exemptions after 2020. Maintaining them has considerable dangers. The industry, as the time gets nearer, will say, "Don't worry. We don't need primary legislation to make any difference here. We will be able to do this by exemption, because look what they passed back in 2005—they gave the Government just the same power to make exemptions after 2020 as before. Why won't they go and make some changes?".

That being so, there are two sets of amendments that would bring out what I believe ought to be done: Amendment No. 7, which leaves out the tail end of the government amendment, and Amendment No. 12. On balance, if we come to a vote—unless the Minister suddenly produces some new argument by which we are all astonished—Amendment No. 7 is probably the better of the two. I beg to move.

Lord Addington: My Lords, we have gone through a long process on transport exemptions. It started when we were hacking through the 1995 Bill. Although it took a brave step forward, the Bill failed because long lead-in times meant inactivity, which meant nothing, which meant concessions could then be got from the government in the form of a negative resolution.

I ran headlong into this as a member of the Merits Committee. It was then, because of my interest in the field, and with the encouragement of that committee that I brought forward the idea that concessions should not be granted in that way. It was the first time
 
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I had been challenged in a long while. To put it bluntly, it was like being the forlorn hope in an infantry charge. I ran into the government, who did not want to play, and a train lobby that did not want anything to do with the idea.

The Minister has said a lot about the fact that Parliament would be able to give force to the legislation. In 15 years' time it is probable that no one who is involved in this issue, or who is interested, will be in Parliament. This entire Chamber, we are told, awaits the axe. We have to get a whole new group of people interested, excited and prepared to stand their ground on this matter. After a great period of comparative silence, we will run into this issue again. The regulations will be there to be picked off. The lobby outside will have moved on. It is just not going to happen—or at least I am not prepared to take a chance on it happening.

We are really in trouble here if we continue like this, because we are creating something that is not strong enough to stand up. I must thank the Government for Amendments Nos. 9 and 11, which help. However, we would not even have got them without the attention and political heat we have generated. The clauses they amend would just have gone through. A degree of interest has to be created, and we will almost certainly not have that in a few years' time.

I have a nagging suspicion that many train operating companies and banks will reckon that if they get a few good lawyers involved, and if they have a good track record of getting exemptions, they will be able to do so—and they probably will. That will not be as easy as it has been, but after the first two or three exemptions we will find that it just carries on. That is one of my principal objections to the idea that this practice can be extended. I know from practical experience that trying to get enough interest in Parliament to ensure you can stop something that has government and lobby group backing is a "big ask", as all those who have been involved know.

The Government have 15 years to get secondary legislation right. That might be clumsy, but at least it will work. There are no points for elegance in this game. I suggest that the Government get something firm on the ground. If there have to be one or two exemptions, let them be made separately. Anything that will upset the idea of the firm target, however, will not work.

Let us face it—2020 was not the first date chosen or desired by those of us who were involved. We thought it was too far away, while the Government were proposing 2025. Given their track record of putting this issue off for someone else's Budget, I suggest that the amendment spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, is essential.


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