§ 1. Mr. Barnes
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on his Department's policy on access by disabled people to transport facilities and vehicles.
§ The Minister for Transport in London (Mr. Steve Norris)
We are firmly committed to achieving fully accessible transport systems, and great progress has already been made. Hon. Members have received a copy of my mobility unit's annual review, which details many of the developments. We continue to take forward a number of initiatives to improve access to vehicles and, of course, transport infrastructure has been included in the Disability Discrimination Bill, which received its Second Reading on 24 January.
§ Mr. Barnes
The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, which will be before the House on Friday, applies to all means of transport, including buses and trains. The Government's alternative, however, although it applies to railway stations and bus terminals, does not apply to the 2 buses and trains themselves. How many people will be covered by the Government's legislation compared to the number who would be covered by the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill? Why have not the Government written on the face of the Bill that it will apply to the means of transport as well as to the stations from which people seek to move? It will be nonsense if people can turn up at railway stations, but cannot get on the trains.
§ Mr. Norris
The Government take the view, I think rightly, that targeted initiatives, including specific legislation, guidelines, codes of practice and the setting of technical standards, are the best way in which to achieve workable and sustainable access improvements. Although it is, of course, always possible to set even higher standards than those to which the Government aspire, provided that one totally ignores the cost to the public purse of any possible assessment of costs and benefits, the hon. Gentleman should remember that this country boasts the best provision of disabled access for rail passengers on an inter-city system of any country in the world. He might reflect occasionally on that.
§ Mr. Congdon
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is often easier to build in proper access for the disabled when new facilities are being provided than when old ones are being converted? Does he also agree that the introduction of new systems of transport, such as the light rail proposed in Croydon, will provide not only improved transport for people but, more importantly, good and proper access for those with disabilities?
§ Mr. Norris
My hon. Friend is right. We have made it a principle of new projects that they are fully accessible to the disabled. My hon. Friend is equally right in his implication that simply to require retrospective accessibility for the disabled to our transport infrastructure is high-flown words, but is extraordinarily difficult to deliver in practice because much of our infrastructure is Victorian in origin. It was built at a time when, sadly, the needs of the disabled were simply not taken into account. Realistic Governments understand that and plan a programme of change accordingly.