§ Mr. David Mitchell
I beg to move amendment No. 19, in page 7, line 14, leave out'at the request of any traffic authority' and insert 'If a traffic authority asks him to exercise his powers under this section in relation to a particular traffic problem'.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 22, 29 to 32 and 44 to 46.
§ Mr. Mitchell
I hope that the House will welcome these amendments, which have been tabled in the light of the lengthy Committee discussions on the traffic regulation provisions of the Bill. I would draw attention particularly to the specific mention now made of road users— which I can assure hon. Members includes the important group of pedestrians—and of the interests of elderly persons and disabled persons. I would point out that this provision is not confined to the interests of elderly and disabled passengers.
The amendments in this group also give new rights to traffic authorities—that is, county councils in England and Wales and regional or islands covered in Scotland — other than the one which requested a traffic regulation condition. Such authorities may of course be very much affected by a condition restricting the use of a road in a neighbouring county which diverts buses across the border. Such an authority affected may, under the amendments, get the traffic commissioner to hold an inquiry at which it can make representations.
The remaining amendments are consequential or for clarification. One, for example, puts it beyond a peradventure that the traffic commissioner has discretion to impose different conditions from those originally requested by the traffic authority, although directed to the same problem. Accordingly, I commend the amendments to the House.
§ Mr. Wareing
Although I do not believe that Government amendment No. 22 should be opposed, serious reservations ought to be expressed about the Government's failure to do far more to meet the needs of the elderly and the disabled. They are treated as an afterthought. No matter what the Government may say in support of their amendment, the disabled not only should be safeguarded from danger on routes and at predetermined stopping places but should be consulted about their overall needs before routes and stopping places are deternined. The amendment is totally inadequate 972 because it fails to meet the needs of the disabled. Competition means that the needs of the disabled will, all too often, be ignored.
During the proceedings in 1984 on the London Regional Transport Bill the Government decided that a separate clause should be included to protect the needs of the disabled in London. I see no reason why the disabled on Merseyside, in Tyne and Wear or in any other part of the country should not be treated in the same way as the disabled in London. The disabled do not expect facilities for wheelchairs to be made available on the buses, but they expect the needs of partially disabled people to be taken into account. The opportunity should not be missed not only to ensure that the disabled are catered for on existing routes but to provide a code of practice which will make appropriate provision for those who are partially disabled.
§ Mr. Brandon-Bravo
I am sure that all hon. Members were hoping that, just for once, a little graciousness would be shown by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), who pressed in Committee the cause of the elderly and the disabled. But when something is done there is not one word of congratulation. The Government have paid regard in particular to the needs of the elderly and the disabled. At this late hour there ought, surely, to be one word of enouragement from the hon. Member for West Derby.
§ Mr. Wareing
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member. This amendment refers only to the routes and stopping places of registered services. There should be a similar provision covering the rest of the country as the Government were pressed, even by their own back-benchers, to provide for London. I am not referring to a minority of the population but to an estimated 10 per cent. —5. million—of the population, many of whom are disabled or partially disabled. A considerable number of others—for example, people carrying heavy shopping bags and mothers with young children—have difficulty in getting on and off buses.
In terms of easy access, I understand that ordinary buses cater for 74 per cent. of the population. However, using the provisions of the London Regional Transport Act, a double-decker bus is being designed to which 90 per cent. of disabled and partially mobile people will be able to gain access. In other words, London is being dealt with differently from the rest of the country. The Minister should announce his intention to add a provision in another place to improve the Bill because the amendment will not adequately provide for the needs of the disabled.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
The hon. Gentleman referred to his remarks being directed to non-registered services. What did he have in mind?
§ Mr. Wareing
The amendment is not concerned with all services. During the passage of what is now the London Regional Transport Act, the Government inserted an amendment which covered all services.
The disabled people's organisations regard this part of the Bill as completely inadequate, and if they have not written to the Minister telling him that, they have certainly written to me. More is required than the amendment permits. The disabled are being threatened with apartheid, as it were, in that they will not be able to enjoy the facilities which the rest of the community enjoy.
No matter what the Minister says, the amendment does not deal with all their problems; it deals only with routes 973 which are predetermined. Indeed, the disabled are included only as an afterthought. May we be assured that all services will be covered? The trouble is that there has not been consultation with the bodies representing the disabled. Because of that, the Bill does not cover their needs.
§ Mr. Gregory
I should like to develop the arguments of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) who, sadly, was not heard with sympathy by the House. Government amendment No. 22 does little to make adequate provision for the elderly or disabled. Under the provisions of the amendment, their interest will be taken into account with regard to the routes and stopping places of registrable services. They will be accounted for only if the traffic commissioner is satisfied that the laying down of traffic regulation conditions is necessary, first, to prevent damage to road users, and, secondly, to reduce severe traffic congestion. Any reference to the interests of disabled and elderly persons will take place at a late stage and in a restricted manner. It will not affect the provision of transport in the first place, nor will it ensure that the needs of the elderly and disabled are taken into account as a matter of course.
It is important to distinguish between facilities that provide access for wheelchair users and those that provide access for people who are partially mobile. It is not realistic for every mainstream transport service to be fitted for the former—I take on board the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) in his usual lucid way — but it is realistic for the mainstream transport services to provide facilities to accommodate the latter. I am principally concerned with the latter in relation to this amendment.
As the hon. Member for West Derby revealed, a considerable proportion of the population-10 per cent. — is disabled in one way or another. I am therefore seeking improvements that will be of direct benefit to 5. million people. It is estimated that between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. of people who need to use public passenger transport require the additional facilities making access easier for people who are partially handicapped. The vast majority of elderly people are assisted by improved facilities, but so are people with heavy shopping and mothers with young children and pushchairs. We should not see that group in isolation.
London Regional Transport has recently launched a new design for a double-decker bus, aimed at meeting the needs of disabled people, except wheelchair users. One feature which I have seen is split-front entrances which make the bus accessible to 95 per cent. of the population, compared with 74 per cent. for current vehicles.
974 I am anxious that provision for people who are partially mobile is not seen as a matter to be dealt with exclusively by the social services. It could become too easy for operators to see disabled and elderly people as the responsibility of local authority services. Facilities can and should be provided on mainstream transport at little cost. Furthermore, such a provision would substantially reduce the number and availability of vehicles open to disabled people. This focus would promote a policy of segregation and not integration. It is not cost-effective to provide separate services for people whose disabilities can be accommodated on mainstream transport services.
A further valid argument for improving transport access is that, in the long run, it can bring financial benefit to the health and social services. It is well documented that people who are house bound, either through age or disability, suffer from depression and other ill-effects. Consequently, they require more medical attention than they might if they were able to lead an independent and more active life. Welfare services need to be taken to people who are house bound. If those people could go to the services themselves the burden on those facilities would be reduced.
A considerable amount has been done by successive Governments to widen opportunities for disabled people. However, full advantage cannot be taken of those opportunities unless disabled people are able to get to them. In recent years various technological advances have been made which could be of great benefit to disabled people wishing to use public transport. It is vital, therefore, to ensure that there is some mechanism whereby operators are made aware, first, of the need to ensure that their buses are accessible and, secondly, of the improvements that can be made to increase accessibility.
In conclusion, this is still a far cry from the general provision for the needs of disabled people to which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland referred in his undertaking in Committee on 23 April. I appreciate that my hon. Friend has been busy since then, but I hope that the Government will take note of the spirit of what has been said by hon. Members on both sides today. The assurances have not been forthcoming in time for the Report stage. I trust that the Government in their inestimable wisdom will provide those assurances in the other place.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
I wish to support briefly but very warmly the views expressed by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory). I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) expressed the views of all who sat through the Committee stage. Time and again amendments about the needs of the disabled were moved and time and again we were told that the Government were sympathetic and that they would consider the points and come forward with proposals either on Report or in another place.
The amendment is simply not good enough. We need more consideration for the disabled long before the point to which the Government's amendment relates. I hope that the Minister will give one simple undertaking today—that if the necessary provisions are not introduced on Report they will be introduced in another place. I believe that hon. Members on both sides would be prepared to accept that undertaking.
§ Mr. David Mitchell
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) seemed to be under some 975 misapprehension as to the scope of the Government amendment. I remind him that all stage fare services outside London have to be registered, so the scope of the amendment is considerably wider than his speech implied. I am glad that he did not seek to oppose the amendment.
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman and with my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) about the importance of the elderly and the disabled, who number some 5. million and constitute a very large part of the market. That figure, of course, includes a huge range of people, from the severely disabled who require special chairs and therefore special transport to people with arthritis and the many elderly people who have difficulty walking very far and negotiating steps but who would certainly not refer to themselves as invalids and would indeed take offence if anyone sought so to categorise them.
The elderly form the largest single group of bus users in this country-followed by the lower paid travelling to and from work and students-and no operator will fail to appreciate the importance of that large section of the market. I assure the hon. Member for West Derby and my hon. Friend the Member for York that the Department maintains a very close working relationship with representatives of the disabled and we shall be consulting those representatives about the review of the construction and use regulations to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred.
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
That is for the future. We want an undertaking from the Minister that he will do something now, before the Bill goes to another place.
§ Mr. Mitchell
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) has mentioned the form in which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to the changes that he proposed to introduce. I have nothing to add to that, save to say that what my right hon. Friend said stands. He said that something would be done either here or in another place. This stage is not yet completed. The hon. Lady will have to wait, but she can be assured that we shall not renege on any undertakings that have been given.
The hon. Member for West Derby said that the disabled were being threatened with a form of apartheid and that the Bill does not deal with all of the disableds' problems. Of course it does not. No one ever suggested that it would. However, we are doing more for the disabled in the Bill than has been done in the past. It is a useful step forward and one which will be widely welcomed.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) talked about cyclists' needs. The amendment refers to road users and apart from the places where there are separate cycle tracks, cyclists are road users. Therefore, my hon. Friend need have no qualms on that score.
I have much sympathy with the aims of my hon. Friend the Member for York. I recognise his deep concern for the disabled. The amendment deals only with traffic regulations and conditions and it is not the place in our consideration of the Bill that my hon. Friend can expect to find the reassurance that he is seeking on the broader front to which he referred, with which, as he knows, I have much sympathy. I commend the amendment to the House.
§ Amendment agreed to.