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The Minister did very well when he was talking about the objective as regards synthetic cannabinoids. The Explanatory Notes state:
"The ACMD advise that the potential harms of synthetic cannabinoids are broadly commensurate with those of cannabis",
which I think should be followed with a full stop because the ACMD agrees that synthetic cannabinoids are fully commensurate with the harms caused by cannabis. If there was a full stop, it would continue with, "which" the Government chose to reclassify,
That would be against the scientific advice, which the Explanatory Notes do not say. I do not believe that classification is the key; education is the key, and that can begin with children as young as is reasonably possible so that they are not a sitting target for marketing.
There was no population or household survey data collection on BZP so there was a pretty limited insight into usage. Although we know when tragedies happen and someone takes something and dies, do the Government have any idea of how widespread the use of most or all of these products is? It is difficult to apply for a budget for education if we do not know how widespread the problem is. It is also a problem in health terms. We do not know how many people are likely to have health issues. Ultimately, that prevents a proper debate taking place.
Lord West of Spithead: I thank noble Lords for their contribution to the debate. There is no doubt that we all agree that drug misuse wastes lives, destroys families and damages communities. We have to face the problem head on. We know that we can succeed in tackling drugs and reducing the harm they bring. In the past 10 years we have seen some progress and
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The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, referred to things such as Spice and so on, which are a way for unscrupulous people with shops to get round the drug laws and sell things to people who feel they need them. The noble Baroness mentioned the issue of date rape, which is important, and particularly unpleasant. The ACPO forensic science service and sexual assault referral centres conducted a 12-month study into DFSA, which is drug-facilitated sexual assault-yet more acronyms-in a number of police areas in England. It found that GHB, which is a like drug to GBL, was detected in only two out of 344 cases. It is quite a small number but that does not mean that it is not important. We have to be aware that some of the assessments may not be correct, but it is not as great an issue as we thought it might be.
The noble Baroness touched on how long it has taken to do this, and she was a little hard on us. The ACMD recommended control of GBL in August 2008, not 2007. As the noble Baroness alluded to, it was not straightforward because of the number of legitimate uses. We remain committed to protecting people. The consultations had three options, with a view to ensuring a better understanding before moving down that route. We are working with the ACMD to expedite our response when we have better evidence of harm. For example, advice on the synthetic cannabinoids was received in August 2009. We laid the order in Parliament in October and we are debating it now. We may have been a little faster than was said, but I would not be complacent because it is important to act quickly. The people who do these things are willing to move quickly to try to get round all our attempts to protect people.
On classification, the ACMD clearly advised us that harms for GBL are equivalent to class C. We accepted that advice in full and the current evidence in relation to societal harms suggests that it is less harmful than some other drugs, but there are still a number of risks. That is why we agreed with its view. We could debate and talk about the issue, but we have made a reasonable assessment. My honourable friend Alan Campbell, the Minister responsible for drug policy, made a commitment in the other House to keep classification of GBL under review, and we will take steps to do so. If we have got it wrong, we will review it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked what other steps we could take to prevent misuse. There is no simple solution to the misuse of drugs-that is why we need a drugs strategy that encompasses enforcement, education and treatment. Often the education and treatment achieve more, but you must have enforcement as well, not least because of the unpleasant people who push the drugs. When we face the complications of responding to the misuse of a chemical, and the clever changing of chemicals that I can hardly pronounce, it adds to the complexity. However, as the noble Baroness said, we must look at this across the board.
I do not know the precise budget of FRANK, but I will write to the noble Baroness. There was concern about the FRANK helpline giving out wrong information.
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One question touched on paying attention to the ACMD. Since the advisory council was formed, on three occasions the Government in power-whether the Conservatives or ourselves-have not agreed with one of its statements. That is a tiny number when one considers all the recommendations that it has made. Other factors are in play. The council members are scientists who provide brilliant advice. Generally we listen to it, but on occasion there are policy issues that they are not best placed to judge-it is up to Ministers to make the decision. That is correct, and when one looks at the hundreds of recommendations that the council has made and realises that only three times has the advice not been taken, one can see that the balance is about right.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, touched on concern that chemists change the chemical nature of substances outside the law. That is absolutely right. Pronouncing the names of the substances is difficult enough, and they keep changing them. That is why we are applying generic definitions to control these drugs. Again, we cannot be complacent. This is a dangerous area. However, it is super that we will be able to get hold of the people who run shops for potheads and stop this happening. That is important.
I hope that I have answered most of the questions. If there is anything that I have not touched on, I would be happy to come back in writing-but I cannot see that I have missed anything. Approval of this order will help us to ensure that necessary controls are in place to protect the public. We all have the same aim. In particular, what is important is to protect the health of our young people from the harm done by these drugs.
Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Networks) Exemption Order 2009
22nd Report Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
Moved By Lord Faulkner of Worcester
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Networks) Exemption Order 2009.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, we introduced mandatory accessibility requirements for all new rail vehicles-commonly known as RVAR-more than a decade ago. Already there are 5,600 compliant rail
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However, in expanding RVAR to capture older rail vehicles used on public transport services, older heritage and tourist vehicles have been brought within the scope of the requirements. Applying modern accessibility requirements to heritage and tourist railways would clearly damage the experience of a train or tram journey from the past which they wish to recreate and in which this country has such a wonderful tradition. We have no desire to destroy this heritage or to restrict the important contribution that this sector makes to increasing tourism and, given the location of many of these networks, to bolstering regional economies. The draft order therefore provides an exemption for these vehicles to ensure their preservation. It may be helpful to the Grand Committee if I briefly summarise its provisions.
The draft order will provide an exemption for all heritage and tourist rail vehicles that were introduced into service before 1 January 1999 and that are operated on any of the many heritage and tourist networks named in the schedule. It will also exempt all heritage and tourist rail vehicles that were introduced into service before 1 January 1999 and that are operated solely within the confines of a depot, whether on an exempt or non-exempt network, and all rail vehicles, regardless of their date of entry into service, that are operated on miscellaneous networks. These networks include those that are used for industrial purposes, engineering or building works in the grounds of a private house, fairground ride and so on that would otherwise be within the scope of RVAR.
Vehicles covered by the exemption will be able to operate on any of the networks listed in the schedule without impediment. However, we also know that some operators occasionally run their vehicles for special events or excursions on networks, such as the Blackpool tramway, that have no exemption as they primarily provide a public transport service. We do not want accessibility legislation to stop this practice, so provision is made to allow individual vehicles to operate on non-exempt networks for a maximum of 20 traffic days each in any calendar year. A traffic day runs from 3 am to 3 am in recognition of the service patterns that some operators adopt. This provision came out of the consultation process.
In preparing the draft order, we considered carefully the interests of disabled people and sought a balance between these and the legitimate interests of railway enthusiasts who wish to preserve our rich railway heritage. I suppose at this point I ought to declare an interest as one of those enthusiasts. We believe that this approach is sensible and pragmatic. It has received
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Baroness Hanham: My Lords, this is a largely uncontroversial order, and I make it clear from the outset that I am not minded to oppose it. We all subscribe to the fact that disabled people should be able to access all public service and leisure vehicles and be in a position to enjoy, as able-bodied people do, the full range of leisure activities, but one has to accept that there may be rare occasions when this is simply not feasible. Heritage rail vehicles surely fall into this latter category. Many are run on small gauges and cannot be adapted, as the order says, in a way that complies with the Disability Discrimination Act or the rail vehicle accessibility regulations, and a valuable and enjoyable attraction would become unavailable to all those who want to take advantage of it if either were enforced.
I have a couple of questions. I see that the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee was consulted on the resolution procedure suggested in the order, but there is nothing to indicate its response to the general consultation on this matter. Given that there was a consultation and that the responses were taken into account, can we take it that this organisation was content on this occasion to accept limited access to this leisure activity for those whom it represents? Will the Minister clarify what its response was to the main consultation? He may also know whether the owners of these pre-1 January 1999 heritage vehicles can give some access to people with disabilities, particularly those who are in wheelchairs, so that they can participate where possible, or is this largely too difficult? Does the Minister know what limited access is provided on at least some of the areas listed in the schedule? Can he also confirm that all vehicles of this type constructed since 1 January 1999 will comply with the Disability Discrimination Act and will therefore not need to be exempted at a later stage?
With regard to the 20 days, we also note that these rail vehicles can have access to the main non-exempt rail networks, and that they will be exempt from these provisions when they do and when they are in their depots-not necessarily for repair and maintenance but for the purpose of "depot days" for visitors. We think that that is a very sensible provision.
We are satisfied that the order provides a flexible and sensible exemption to an otherwise firm commitment which all Governments have made to try to ensure that those with disabilities are not disadvantaged in doing what they wish to do due to access being limited.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I have one question for the Minister and one comment. I start with the 20-day exemption under which a heritage vehicle may be used on the main line. Many heritage railways operate where mainline trains operate-in future more will probably do so-and therefore the heritage railway will meet the national railway on perhaps 120 days a year. I am sure that, without my reciting them, the Minister will be able to tell the Committee the number of places where that situation exists. I should like an
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My other point is that, in his introduction, the Minister recited the fact that the Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Networks) Exemption Order provides for all railway vehicles to be compliant with the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act by, I think, 2021. This is probably a leading and contentious question, but how does the Department for Transport propose to meet that deadline, with proper accessibility provision in all vehicles, bearing in mind that there is an absence of orders for new vehicles and you cannot go through a period of famine and suddenly catch up with yourself after a few years have elapsed? I foresee that the Government will be obliged to come back and ask for further exemptions because the vehicles will not be available. I refer in particular to the cancellation by the Government of the order for 200 diesel vehicles. Although that rests on the premise that much of the railway will be electrified, I somehow think that the process of electrification will take rather longer than the Government think and that we will see some pretty old and inaccessible vehicles continuing in use at the expiry of the exemption period.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords who have contributed to this short but excellent debate. They have reflected the interest in the House in the provision of an accessible public transport system, and at the same time they have been very supportive of our heritage railways.
In our commitment to increasing accessibility on public transport services, we do not want to spoil the things that are part of the historical charm of heritage and tourist railways, that make them so popular with the public and that contribute so significantly to the nation's tourism industry. The Heritage Railway Association has advised that heritage railways and tramways employ 17,000 people directly and benefit from the services of 16,000 part-time volunteers. The public seem to appreciate the services that they provide, as they make 13 million passenger journeys a year on these railways and tramways.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said, the vehicles that heritage railways use were never designed with accessibility in mind, and we have to be sensitive to some of the physical and technological difficulties that prevent heritage operators from complying with accessibility standards. Let me give one example. One of the most basic requirements of RVAR is that audio and visual passenger information about route and destination is provided. While it is obviously essential on a public transport service when people are travelling from one point to another, passengers on heritage or tourist networks are usually there to enjoy the journey itself and usually end up at the point at which they started from. If information is needed, increased levels of staffing on these networks will provide that increased information. The idea of putting in wiring that has
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Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I was making the point that adopting accessibility standards that apply to new vehicles in the heritage sector would cause a great deal of damage to the viability of heritage railways, which is why the exemption order has been brought forward. I am very pleased that it has the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw.
They both raised questions that I shall try to answer. I was asked particularly about consultation. The order was subject to public consultation in the summer of this year and was sent to all the networks listed in the schedule, as well as representative industry groups, including the Heritage Railway Association. Crucially it was sent to the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, the Government's statutory advisers on the transport needs of disabled people. Forty-nine responses were received, and a summary of these is available on the Department for Transport's websites. The provisions in the order were widely supported by all respondents as being a proportionate and effective way of dealing with the issue. The two bodies to which I referred were entirely content with the line that we have taken.
The noble Baroness asked about the efforts that the heritage network makes in attempting to deal with the needs of disabled people. It is important that it does so as its clientele tends to be elderly and sometimes disabled. It is an important part of a holiday or tourism experience that they should be able to use heritage railways. I am pleased to say that the great majority of heritage railways and tramways have made a special effort. I mention, in particular, the Kent & East Sussex Railway, the Bluebell Railway and the Severn Valley Railway, which are three very large heritage railways. The National Tramway Museum has also made special provision for disabled people. Sometimes it is a question of adapting vehicles to make them accessible to wheelchairs, which I have seen on a number of railways. With tiny railways, it is obviously difficult to accommodate them, but even on some of the narrow gauge lines in Wales similar provisions are made.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked about the 20-day exemption. I think that he is perhaps confusing two different things. The exemption applies to networks such as the Blackpool tramway, which provides a public transport service. The national railway is subject to the European accessibility regime, which would cover, for example, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway extending down to Whitby on the national railway. Those vehicles will be subject to the end date of 1 January 2020 when the European accessibility regime comes in, but we would hope that there would be consultations and discussions well before then to see how these could best be accommodated. They are not subject to the 20-day rule. If they want to operate on many more days, it will not be a problem.
The noble Lord also referred to whether we can meet the 2020 standards. We are working with the operators to see what needs to be made accessible by 2020 on the older vehicles, and here, too, we are engaging early. We have started the process of discussion and are embarking on something called targeted compliance.
Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt. Will the Minister confirm that when a heritage railway runs into a station into which the national railway also runs, it may use the platform on the station for as long as it runs rather than for 20 days per year?
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. I believe that I have covered the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham. I have pleasure in commending the draft order to the Grand Committee.
The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen): My Lords, that completes the business before the Grand Committee this afternoon. The Committee therefore stands adjourned.
Committee adjourned at 5.50 pm.
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