HC Deb 28 March 1995 vol 257 cc852-69

'(1) The Secretary of State shall amend the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 and such other regulations governing other forms of public transport to provide for prescribed standards of accessibility for disabled people in all new public transport systems.

(2) Regulations may prescribe different standards for different classes of vehicle and may prescribe dates for different clsses of vehicle by which the standards must be met.

(3) In preparing or revising the standards referred to in this section the Secretary of State shall consult the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee established under section 125 of the Transport Act 1985.'.—[Sir John Hannam.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Sir John Hannam

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)

With this, it will be convenient to discuss also the following: New clause 13—Door-to-door transport'The Secretary of State may issue regulations requiring Local Authorities to make provision for door-to-door transport services for disabled people unable or not reasonably able to use other forms of public transport.'.

New clause 18—Design of means of public transport (No. 2)'.—(1) The Secretary of State shall, by regulations, set standards of accessibility for disabled persons for means of public transport designed to be brought into use after the dates set in those regulations.

  1. (2) Means of public transport include, but are not limited to—
    1. (a) buses and coaches,
    2. (b) taxis,
    3. (c) trains, including light-rail,
    4. (d) trams, trolley-buses and underground trains, and
    5. (e) ships.
  2. (3) Regulations under subsection (1) may set different degrees of accessibility for different means of public transport and different degrees of accessibility to be achieved by different dates.
  3. (4) In this section, "public transport" means any means of transport provided in return for payment, or, where no payment is required, on request.'.

Amendment No. 2, in clause 12, page 9, line 4, at end insert— `(aa) any service so far as it consists of the use of any means of transport, subject to the provisions of section (Design of means of public transport);.'.

Amendment No. 3, in page 9, leave out lines 26 and 27.

Amendment No. 24, in schedule 6, page 36, line 40, at end insert— '8A. In section (Design of means of public transport) for "Secretary of State" substitute "Department of the Environment (Northern Ireland)".'.

Sir John Hannam

I wish to speak in support of the inclusion of transport in the Bill, and specifically to new clauses 11 and 13, in my name and those of hon. Friends and colleagues.

Having fought hard to persuade the Government to adopt anti-discrimination legislation last year, I was extremely disappointed about the exclusion of transport vehicles from its provisions, because I believe that it is no use talking about making it possible for disabled people to obtain employment or to have access to places of entertainment or education if they are not able physically to get there.

As a member of the Government's Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, I was anxious to find a way of amending the Bill to ensure that transport is included and that regulations are updated to provide standards of accessibility for disabled people in all new public transport systems.

The extent of a disabled person's mobility will affect his independence, employment and integrated life. Lack of access to transport means a continual restriction in someone's ability to go outside his front door independently. The more severe the disability, the greater the restrictions. Buses and coaches are, in general, inaccessible to wheelchair users, and those with walking or mobility difficulties often find it difficult to wait around for long periods for transport to become available.

Recently, on television, a camera crew followed two young men in wheelchairs who came from the midlands and who decided to apply for job interviews in London. What, for any of us, would have been an hour and a half or a couple of hours on a train, with a transfer to a tube and a taxi, turned out for them to be a nightmare six-hour series of frustrations as they tried to find station staff with ramps, local trains or buses that were accessible to them and taxis that were suitable for wheelchairs.

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Certain inter-city trains now have only one designated space available, which means that two wheelchair users cannot travel together on the same train. Recent reports in the press show that Eurotunnel has accepted that it is wrong, and has agreed td provide extra space. That is a worthwhile move, and I am pleased to hear about it, but, generally, train travellers have to book 24 hours in advance of travelling in the hope that arrangements can be made for them. As we all know from our constituency cases, those arrangements often fall down on the day. All those problems increase the sense of isolation and separation from the rest of us felt by disabled people.

A further problem is the lack of accessible toilets, which are available only on certain trains and stations. Disabled people have to become experts in bladder control. As the Bill is currently drafted, if discrimination occurs on a transport vehicle, that will not be covered by the right to non-discrimination. But if the same offence occurs at a station, it will be. Surely the act of discrimination should be covered, not just the location.

Everyone welcomes the Department of Transport's review of taxis, but taxis cannot be considered as a substitute for generally accessible public transport. It is time that we made public transport—certainly all new forms of public transport—accessible to all the public. A low-floor bus, with easily operated ramp access and no steps inside the vehicle, allows all passengers to get on and off much faster. By "all passengers", I mean not just disabled people, but elderly people and mothers with children. More than 3,000 low-floor, accessible buses are in service in Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Greece has plans for 1,600 such buses to be put into service.

Mr. Alan Howarth (Stratford-on-Avon)

Does my hon. Friend agree that, quite apart from the obvious rightness of introducing as rapidly as possible accessible vehicles and public transport systems, such adaptations have important advantages for the whole of society and the economy? Traffic moves more quickly because of improved accessibility, not only for disabled people but for others, and the environment benefits, because there is less pollution as a result.

Sir John Hannam

That is absolutely right. My hon. Friend consistently points out the cost benefits of such actions, and he has just given us another example.

We have some small pockets of provision in this country, but they are not widespread. The Government have announced that all new buses will be of low-floor construction, but that is no reason to exclude transport vehicles from the right of access to goods, facilities and services. The 1986 survey of the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys showed that 1.1 million people did not use buses because of their disabilities. Our new clauses do not seek to achieve the impossible but, if accepted, would put us on the right path. More importantly, they would give reassurance to disabled people who are worried about the gap in the legislation.

New clause 13 is a probing measure related to local authority schemes. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People will be able to give reassurance on that.

I have tabled the new clause in the hope that the Government will see that transport should be included in the anti-discrimination legislation.

Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)

I am sure that we all welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) has introduced an important subject. I find it difficult to understand why the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People is not rushing to accept the practical measures contained in the new clause. Perhaps the Minister has even more rabbits to pull out of the hat—his demeanour does not seem to suggest that today.

The new clause is interesting and helpful, as one would expect from the hon. Member for Exeter, given his contribution to the all-party disablement group. The new clause invites the House to consider the subject of transport. Many people have said to me that, in some ways, the subject is the forgotten, yet essential and pivotal issue, in relation to disability.

I shall concentrate my remarks on new clause 18, but I do not intend that to reflect on the excellent contribution of the hon. Member for Exeter or the advice from many sources that the Government have received, including the famous red book. If my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) has a chance to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that he will use that book and add yet more glowing information to our consideration of the issues.

Once again, we are considering a gateway of opportunity for disabled people to play their full part in society. Once again, the Government have intentionally and specifically obstructed that gateway by excluding transport vehicles from the Bill. For many disabled people, mobility issues are the most important aspects in their everyday lives. Their first request of Parliament is to provide the means to tackle those problems to achieve their mobility. That is a perfectly reasonable request, and I have heard no arguments against it. Even in Committee, the Government did not advance an argument against it, but merely said that if we waited long enough, the aim might be achieved. The Bill avoids those important matters.

I commend to the House the publication by Scope last year of a document entitled, "Disabled in Britain: A World Apart". I would find it difficult to believe that anyone reading that document would say that the hon. Member for Exeter was asking for too much. He is not a parliamentary Oliver Twist; he is ahead of the Government, but not ahead of our times. Some might even say that the hon. Gentleman asks for too little. If the new clauses are passed, we shall have made some progress.

The interesting document "Disabled in Britain: A World Apart" contains many insights into the ordinary lives of people struggling to overcome extraordinary difficulties. One comment is particularly revealing about what disability brings in its wake. The document states: One day you might lose your passport to everyday society. You will have no visa to travel in certain places. Those are restrictions that millions of our fellow citizens experience day after day as part of their ordinary daily lives. They include restricting the right of disabled people to come to today's debate or participate in other, more interesting and compelling activities.

There is no reason why, given the opportunity and parliamentary time, if not in this Bill—although I find it extraordinary that the Government are not grasping at the opportunity—in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), we should not reach conclusions on one of the most serious problems that disabled people tell us they face.

I think that the descriptions in the document issued by Scope present an incredible image. We see that people in this country are trapped because of their disability and are unable to play a full part in the everyday life of our society. I have spoken to many disabled fellow citizens who have confirmed that image.

Last night, I mentioned my recent experiences in Leicester and Birmingham, and I am pretty sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House could give similar examples from elsewhere. Disabled people are barred from entering British life not by border controls but by the fact that the means of mobility do not exist. They are trapped behind their own front doors.

One might think that the Government would jump at the chance to improve access for our fellow citizens who are trapped in that way, and would view it as a challenge to which they could respond in a practical manner. I hope that the Minister is thinking along those lines today. The hon. Member for Exeter, the House and I wait patiently to hear whether the Minister will respond positively, if at all, to those transport questions.

That is one of the disabilities that the Bill should seek to tackle—not the physical disability of lack of mobility, but the social disability and immobility that comes from inadequate transport provision for disabled people which has been identified clearly in the speeches in this and in earlier debates and in all the responses to the Government's document, including those in the famous red book.

It is up to the House—if hon. Members have the will—to provide a visa to enable disabled people to travel in British society and to give them a passport to areas of life from which they would otherwise be excluded by disability. Many people—not just hon. Members who are in the Chamber or those members of the public who are observing the proceedings from the Gallery—must be asking why the Government do not appear to have the will to do that. We must remove the exemption of transport vehicles from the terms of the Bill.

It has been said many times in debate on the legislation—but it is worth saying again for the benefit of any hon. Members who may have missed the point—that one of the most ludicrous aspects of the Bill is that it obliges railway and bus operators to make reasonable adjustments in order to achieve equal access for disabled people to train and bus stations, but it avoids imposing any such duty in the cases of individual buses and trains.

Under the legislation, disabled people gain the right to access the station, but not the right to catch a train. That situation is patently absurd and unacceptable. We pleaded with the Government time after time in Committee to respond to that problem and to offer us some hope of a practical approach which has been missing from our deliberations so far.

For many people—disabled or otherwise—the car is the best answer to mobility needs. However, for disabled people, the cost of buying, adapting and running a private car often exceeds the support provided by mobility allowances—and, as we know, even they are under attack. Two in three households in Britain have access to a car. However, for disabled people, the equivalent figure is only two in five. Therefore, we must address the specific mobility problems that disabled people face.

Taxis and private hire cars can be the next best thing to having access to a household vehicle. Encouraging progress has been made towards the target involving wheelchair access to taxis in London. I said in Committee, and it is fair that I should repeat it now, that, despite the views of the Cabinet and the right-wing approach adopted by the Secretary of State for Employment, the practical measures that we propose are confirmed by history.

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As a junior Transport Minister—before the dogmatists got hold of him—the Employment Secretary introduced into London transport a measure whose aim was to adapt all taxis for people with disabilities by 2000. In 1995, he has achieved nearly 50 per cent. of that objective. The Secretary of State for Employment—a former junior Transport Minister—should be proud of that achievement. I am surprised that he is not in the Chamber listening to the debate and encouraging the Minister—whom many consider to be up and coming, as the Secretary of State for Employment once was—to do something practical and achievable in the transport field, not in order to advance his career but in order to be helpful.

We want to extend that London objective to Edinburgh, Belfast and other cities. We want all taxis to be wheelchair accessible by the end of the century or before. That is a welcome, perfectly reasonable and helpful objective, which could be achieved. I welcome the assurances given in Committee by the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People that steps will be taken to improve wheelchair access to taxis throughout the country. I am rather disappointed that he has not brought forward the promised new clauses in that regard at this stage. I look forward to seeing in the next few minutes whether there is a hat under the Front Bench with many rabbits in it.

I take the opportunity to encourage Ministers to have regard to the different taxi transport requirements of people with varying mobility problems. Despite some excellent progress, the London hackney cab is not invariably the best vehicle for disabled people to use. I welcome Ministers' assurances that there will not be a blanket requirement for a single type of vehicle throughout the country. Ministerial indications that the necessary work will be done on vehicle design are helpful to disabled people and to taxi operators alike.

I do not wish to diminish the significance of what the Government have said. The important thing is that action has been promised and that the principle of making taxis accessible to disabled people has been established. That sends out a very clear signal that, once the principle has been agreed, it cannot be reversed and should be applied elsewhere. But it brings us sharply to the question: if that principle can be made to work for taxis, surely it can be established for other vehicles as well.

Let us not refuse our disabled fellow citizens a permit to travel. Let us instead extend permission to enter society through the gateway of public transport. Let us establish the principle of freedom of movement, and let us plan how disabled access to the means of travel can be achieved. As a means of so doing, I commend new clause 18 to the House.

Mr. Hague

I know that a number of hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, but as the new clauses have been introduced I think that it would be unfair to allow hon. Members to speak in ignorance of the Government's response.

At all stages in the preparation and progress of the Disability Discrimination Bill, we have made clear our commitment to achieving fully accessible transport. We have also made it clear that we believe that progress towards accessible public transport is best achieved by technical legislation or by regulations, codes of practice and so on—in other words, by targeted action rather than by blanket legislation. In the past few weeks I have listened carefully to the arguments advanced by organisations such as the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation and the Royal National Institute for the Blind as well as those put to me on many occasions by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) and the points that were raised in Committee. I have been considering, with my colleagues at the Department of Transport, how best we can meet the requirements for soundly based technical standards within the framework of the Bill.

The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter take a similar approach. New clauses 18 and 11 propose a requirement through regulations for the introduction of access standards for new public transport vehicles and systems. New clause 18 would require regulations to be introduced setting minimum access standards. New clause 11 seeks a similar result by amending existing regulations. Both new clauses are flexible in that they allow different time scales and access solutions for different modes of transport. That flexibility recognises the Government's concerns that the operation of the various modes of transport will require different access solutions to ensure that the approach adopted provides, as far as practicable, effective and sustainable transport for all passengers, including those with disabilities.

We would have no difficulty, as new clause 11 suggests, with charging the Secretary of State with a specific duty of consulting the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee on the detail of regulations. As it is the statutory adviser to the Department of Transport, the Secretary of State would as a matter of course consult on an issue of such major importance for disabled people, as indeed he does regularly on a wide range of issues.

On the specific examples of the transport modes that would be covered by new clause 18, for the most part we have no difficulty with them. On shipping, however, and equally on aviation, although the latter is not cited in the new clause but could be interpreted as being covered by it, we do not consider that it is right to introduce domestic regulations. In both cases, the international dimension of those transport operations would mean that domestic legislation would be of limited value, not least to disabled people, who would not have the assurance of access throughout the journey. In addition, United Kingdom operators would be commercially disadvantaged if they were subject to additional regulatory control in advance of similar measures in other countries.

On aviation, international guidelines on the accessibility of aircraft to disabled people are already well advanced.

On shipping, a new group has been set up under the International Maritime Organisation to draw up guidelines for the design of new vessels. We believe that those forums represent the best approach to tackling the access issue for aviation and shipping, and we would not therefore favour including those transport modes in the Bill.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Many Scots living on our numerous islands have no access to public transport other than the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries. The Minister's refusal to deal with passenger ferry services will cause them great dismay. I ask the Minister, where mainland-to-island and island-to-island passenger ferry services are concerned, please think again.

Mr. Hague

The hon. Gentleman raises a point to which the disadvantage of international travel, to which I have referred, does not apply. I will bring the matter to the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Transport. I would merely say for the moment that the IMO discussions that I have mentioned, if they are brought to fruition, would apply to our domestic ferries as well as to ferries for international travel.

We have no general difficulty of principle with the other transport modes listed, although in some cases the practical constraints on improving access to existing systems are considerable.

In relation to taxis, to which the hon. Member for Monklands, West referred, as we announced in Committee, we intend to table more detailed amendments. I had hoped to do so on Report, but the preparation has taken longer, so we shall do so in another place.

On other modes of transport, as the House will have realised by now, the Government certainly support the spirit of the new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter and by the hon. Member for Monklands, West. There are, however, technical and legal difficulties with the clauses as drafted. We would, for example, have to be clear in our definition of public transport. The new clauses as drafted are not precise enough in that area. The issue is not tackled in either of the new clauses. Indeed, we would wish to go wider than new clause 11 envisages by specifically including rail as well as road-based vehicles.

Neither do the new clauses recognise to any significant extent the existing legislative framework for each mode of transport. The House will be aware that transport operates against a complex web of legislation—domestic and, in some cases, European—and regulations. In considering amendments in that area, we would need to ensure that any new transport clauses in the Bill did not cut across existing provisions.

Amendments have also been tabled to remove the general exclusion of transport vehicles and to add them to the specific list of services to which the general right of access would apply. Clause 12(5) already provides for the transport vehicle exemption to be modified. We believe that the most appropriate way to proceed is by separate regulations. Indeed, the new clauses aim to introduce regulations in that area.

We cannot accept the amendments as drafted, for the same reasons that we cannot accept amendment No. 24, which is consequential and applies to Northern Ireland. Therefore, on balance, while we accept the spirit of the amendments, we are not able to accept them as currently drafted. Government policy is already directed at ensuring a fully accessible transport system in the future. In the light of the representations that have been made and the arguments that have been advanced, the Government are preparing to introduce provisions at a later stage in the discussion of the Bill, to amend existing legislation or, where necessary, to introduce new powers covering buses, trains, coaches, trams, taxis, and underground systems—even trolley buses, if such systems are reintroduced in future. Before the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) asks, as he surely will, we will of course ensure that the necessary amendments are tabled to bring appropriate provision to all parts of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Tom Clarke

The Minister is right and what he said is important. He said that the Government will introduce measures. Can he make it clear whether they will be in this Bill and, if so, in what form?

Mr. Hague

I cannot precisely specify the form, because the legal work on drafting such amendments is at an early stage. But I can say that provisions will be in the Bill, and to a large extent will probably modify existing legislation, to introduce new powers where necessary to ensure that the Secretary of State for Transport is able to set minimum access standards, with a timetable and with further provisions as necessary covering the areas that I have mentioned—buses, trains, coaches, trams, taxis, underground systems and so on—satisfying the hon. Gentleman on every point except shipping, over which we had the particular problem to which I referred earlier.

Hon. Members will appreciate the crucial importance of ensuring that such legislation is drafted with the full knowledge and agreement of the transport industries. It is in no one's interest, least of all that of disabled people, to introduce measures that would jeopardise the viability of transport operators. My hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London will be particularly concerned to ensure that time scales for the introduction of accessibility requirements reflect the particular circumstances of individual modes of transport. For systems such as London Underground, for example, we are certainly talking long term. Nevertheless, I hope that the House will agree that the embodiment of those powers in legislation will represent another major step in demonstrating that the Government's policies for tackling discrimination are comprehensive and will allow us to meet in their entirety the points that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter, and almost in their entirety the points made by the hon. Member for Monklands, West.

New clause 13 deals with the provision of door-to-door transport services. Its effect would be for the Secretary of State to require local authorities to provide such schemes for disabled people. In fact, local authorities already have powers to provide excellent schemes such as these which do so much to improve independent mobility for disabled people. We believe that local authorities are best placed to assess their priorities in the light of their available resources and their knowledge of local need. The Department of Transport works closely with local authorities and offers advice and guidance on the effective operation of such schemes. I assure my hon. Friends that it will continue to do so, but it is not desirable for the Government to impose regulations on local authorities in this respect. We would, therefore, resist any move to impose requirements on local authorities.

In this context, it is interesting to reflect on the fact that the increasing introduction of accessible mainstream public transport, to which I have made it clear that we are firmly committed, will over time change the role of door-to-door services. For many disabled people, they have up to now been a substitute for other forms of transport which were inaccessible. In future, they will increasingly become a complement to public transport—for example, by providing local links to accessible main line services.

I hope that all hon. Members will welcome my statement and that, as a consequence, they will not wish to press the new clauses.

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Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale)

I welcome the Minister's statement, but I wish that we had heard it earlier. He could have made it in Committee, when we repeatedly debated transport but were told that he was not to be moved. Nevertheless, I congratulate him because he has clearly won the day with some of his colleagues. I am sure that he fought his corner to ensure that transport was dealt with.

It always seemed crazy that bus and train stations had to be accessible but buses and trains did not. Such a state of affairs could be welcomed only by a disabled person who was a train spotting enthusiast as he or she would not be able to get on a train. I am glad that accessibility is to be more widely spread to include those who wish to travel. It is the only way forward. I am glad that the Government have at last decided that all the disabled people and their organisations who have been lobbying for months and all the Opposition Members who have been talking about making transport accessible have been proved right and that the Minister has seen the sense of their arguments.

Disabled peopled have had so many problems with travelling. Only yesterday I issued a report on those problems, which include the fact that only one wheelchair is allowed per train. There will be difficulties with the InterCity 125 trains because the doors are not wide enough for an electronic buggy to get through. There are still some horrendous problems to deal with. We must ensure that they are dealt with quickly and that the Government outline some exact proposals.

The Minister said that he agreed with the spirit of the new clauses, but we need some flesh on that statement. We need to know exactly what he is proposing. Further Government amendments will no doubt be tabled in the other place so we shall see whether the Government are going as far as we want and as far as disabled people want. There are more than 6 million disabled people in this country who will be pleased if the Government go as far as they have been asking or, indeed, demanding. They will not be pleased if, despite today's announcement, they suddenly find that the Government are not going to follow through.

Sixty-two per cent. of disabled people have no access to a car, so it is even more important that they have access to trains and buses. I am glad that the Minister has agreed to move on that point. My report said that it would be halfway through the next century before buses and trains were accessible. If the Minister feels like intervening, I shall be grateful to hear what time scale he has in mind for making buses and trains accessible to disabled people: does he envisage it being halfway through the next century, or will it be sooner? I should like him to make a commitment. It is all very fine to talk about making transport accessible, but what is the time scale?

Mr. Hague

I cannot expand further on the announcement that I have already made. Indeed, the new clause is designed to give the Government regulation-making powers to deal with such matters. We shall take the hon. Lady's point on board. Neither those who tabled the new clauses nor anyone else could give a timetable for such things off the cuff. An enormous amount of discussion is needed, but the hon. Lady can be assured that the Government's intentions are absolutely sincere.

Ms Lynne

I am grateful to the Minister. I was not expecting him to say that all buses and trains would be accessible next week or even in the next five years; I was seeking merely to get a rough idea of his estimated time scale.

Some vehicles are easy to adapt quickly and some will take longer, but comprehensive legislation is needed. If the Minister's proposals are comprehensive, the House and the organisations representing disabled people will welcome them.

Mr. Alan Howarth

I, too, warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's announcement and congratulate him on it. He knows that when disabled people are asked what is their highest priority in practical terms as to how we should release them from discrimination, many unhesitatingly cite transport first and foremost because it is the key to their having access to a range of other opportunities in life. My hon. Friend the Minister has been aware of that, and I know how happy disabled people will be that he has been able to introduce this transport dimension fairly and squarely into the Bill. We look forward very much to the specific amendments that the Government will table in another place.

The Minister talked about modifications to a complex area of law and envisaged future adjustment to regulation. However, I hope that when he frames this new element in the Bill he will range as widely and be as declaratory as possible. It is an important principle that the unac-ceptability and illegality of unjustifiable discrimination in transport should be clearly set out.

The Minister talked about the Secretary of State having the power to do certain things. I hope that it will be possible for the Government to agree that the Secretary of State should have a duty in so far as may be reasonable, because that would put the matter in a more positive light, which is important in itself. The Government need not be especially nervous about the implications of reasonable-ness. For example, if it became standard that new public transport vehicles should be designed to be accessible, the output volume would be large and unit costs would accordingly come right down. If one sets the fairly minimal costs against the benefits to the economy and to society of increasing access—benefits which are hard to estimate or compute with precision, but which are undoubtedly very large—it is clear that we do not have to fear the cost implications, which a number of people have used as an argument for not proceeding very far, or very fast, in this respect.

I again congratulate and thank my hon. Friend the Minister.

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood)

I welcome the Minister's statement that, at some stage, the Bill will include provisions on the means of transport. I hope that, in the same spirit in which I welcome that inclusion and applaud that statement, the Minister will recognise that, for a considerable period, a number of hon. Members and many people outside have been arguing for precisely such provision. If I am generous enough in spirit to welcome the Minister's statement, I hope that he will be generous enough in spirit to acknowledge that many people have been arguing for such provision for a significant period.

It may be—we must obviously wait for the details of the Minister's proposals—that, in practical terms, the Minister's suggestion will not be a million miles away from provisions of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill which provoked the Government into making transport cost estimates which, frankly, were mind boggling. I shall be generous and acknowledge that the Government have made progress. I hope that they will include transport provision and that they will be generous enough to apologise and to say that a mistake was made a mere 12 months ago. We must wait for the details.

I am acutely aware of the fact that, if more powers are contracted out to different Departments, provisions may be introduced in the Bill that will mean that someone else will take care of enforcement, which will lead to more difficulty in enforcing the measure. I want to return to enforcement on a future occasion. Notwithstanding the remarks about the inclusion of transport provision in the Bill, I am genuinely worried that the Government do not yet have the means to enforce a proper equal rights approach.

In yesterday's debate on the disability rights commission, to which many hon. Members are totally committed, an hon. Member—he is not here, so I shall not mention his name—referred to the problem of regulation. We heard the argument, which one comes across frequently, that we should not have too much more regulation, and that the terrible thing about having a commission to ensure equal rights for disabled people was that too much regulation would result. I repeat the point that I made yesterday in a brief intervention. We can consider regulation in different ways. We can consider it as a purely ideological matter—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We must consider that matter specifically in relation to transport.

Mr. Berry

Indeed. In relation to transport, I made the point yesterday that, often, public transport access is denied to disabled people. That is the regulation that matters—the excessive and intolerable regulation. Disabled people's lives are regulated by inadequate access to transport. The point which I was trying to make—I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I was not making it well—is that the regulations that limit what disabled people can do are the regulations about which many of us are concerned.

It may be the case, and indeed the Government admit this—it is part of the Bill—that the Government must regulate more so that disabled people's lives are regulated less. That point is no more important in relation to transport than it is in relation to other issues. We must ensure that the Government have a clear policy on Government regulation in public transport so that disabled people's lives may be deregulated.

I support new clause 13. I hope that the hon. Members for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) and for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) did not table it merely as a probing measure. The new clause contains an excellent idea. Only a fortnight ago, I picked up a leaflet in an underground station. It said: If you or someone you know can't use Metrobus, Metrorail or other regular public transit because of a disability, MetroAccess is the answer … MetroAccess provides curb-to-curb services for persons with disabilities who cannot use regular public transportation. It is with regret that I have to inform the House that, as hon. Members have probably guessed, that document was found in the United States of America and not in the United Kingdom. Whatever the future of new clause 13 this afternoon, the hon. Members for Exeter and for Stratford-on-Avon were correct in saying that local authorities or a public transport authority—whatever organisation we choose—should be required to provide reasonable door-to-door transport services for disabled people. However much we improve the rail service, buses and taxis, those people may not be able to have access to a decent transport system. Like other hon. Members, I look forward to the Minister giving details of his new transport provision. I welcome the fact that the Government now recognise that transport needs to be dealt with in their Bill. I wish that they had recognised that 12 months ago.

5.45 pm
Mr. Wigley

I greatly welcome the Government's conversion. We look forward to finding out the detail. In July or whenever, when the House of Lords considers the Bill on Report, an opportunity will exist for us to probe those details more than is possible today. We reserve our position.

Unfortunately, the one matter on which I wanted to concentrate in this short debate was shipping and ferry services—the one aspect that does not fall within the Minister's remit. I wanted to bring his attention to the difficulties facing disabled people using such services. I have been approached by a travel consultant. The Travel Freedom organisation operates in Wales. It is run by Mr. Mike Weston Ashford. He collects advice for disabled people on holidays in the United Kingdom and overseas, and on transport and hotel needs. He wrote to me in the context of the legislation and his letter is worth quoting: One glaring problem is the lack of facilities available within Britain and the need for legislation to enhance the right of disabled people … in respect of travel, accommodation and places of interest. Attached please find a photocopy of just one example. Here, in response to my communication enquiring of Eurolink, who intend to operate a new ferry service between Sheerness and Vlissingen in respect of facilities for disabled persons, is their response. I shall quote the response, which is especially pertinent to our debate. Eurolink stated: We must advise you that, unfortunately, the two vessels which will shortly go into service for the Sheerness to Vlissingen route are not really suitable for disabled travellers. Whilst we do not wish to turn disabled travellers away, the facilities on board do not fully cater for disabled persons, ie there are no lifts on board nor are there any cabins specially adapted for wheelchair users. We are aware of the needs of the disabled and will be looking into this aspect of our service so that, at some time in the future, we will be able to offer all travellers the same access to all our facilities and service. There we have it. That is the sort of problem that is facing disabled people who want to travel by ferry. I remind the Minister that not only is there a ferry service between the islands in Scotland but an internal United Kingdom ferry link exists between Northern Ireland and the British mainland.

A commonality of service is being developed in Europe. Whatever the general international perspective, standards in Europe should enable disabled people to use ferries and other modes of transport. The Minister has gone a long way in relation to the other modes of transport. I welcome that warmly and look forward to reading the detail. I accept that discussion continues on ferry services, but is it possible in another place to build in regulations to cover ferries? Those regulations could have different starting dates. They could come into effect as and when current international discussions have reached fruition. There could be two parts to those regulations, with some on internal ferries coming on stream immediately. Otherwise the position described in the letter that I quoted will continue and people providing a service, even a new service starting now, will feel at liberty to say, "Sorry, disabled people cannot use this facility." In the spirit of what the Minister has already said about transport, perhaps he would care to consider the possibility of doing something about that later in another place.

Dr. Godman

I thank the Minister for his response to the transport needs of disabled people, and also for the way in which he replied to my intervention about passenger ferry services, especially the Scottish ones, which form an essential link between the islands and the mainland and between different islands.

I ask the hon. Gentleman to think seriously again about the need to provide equality of access for disabled islanders and tourists, and for every other disabled person who travels in the islands, both between islands and between the islands and the mainland. I speak as a former shipwright, and when I next inspect the Isle of Lewis, a passenger ferry ship being built at Ferguson's in Port Glasgow, in my constituency, I shall look closely to ensure that she offers access for disabled people.

That vessel, which will be launched by Princess Alexandra on 18 April, will form an essential link between Stornaway and Ullapool. Islanders have no means of travel apart from either the ferry service or the air service to Inverness and Glasgow; so for disabled people there is little or no choice anyway.

The Minister said that he would bring my remarks to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport, and I should be grateful if he would also alert the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, as the Minister will readily acknowledge, has responsibility for piers, jetties and quays in Scotland.

In his speech, the Minister said that his aim was to achieve a fully accessible public transport system for all. That is a laudable and honourable objective, and we all share it, but with Scotland's train and bus services there is a long way to go before we attain it. ScotRail has a disgraceful record on disabled people, and I hope that new clause 18, or even the Government's amendments, will persuade Dr. Paul Prescott and other directors of Railtrack in Scotland to get their skates on and improve services.

Here is an example for the Minister. If an American tourist arrived at Glasgow airport seeking to catch a train from the nearest railway station—Paisley Gilmour Street—he or she would have enormous difficulty in reaching the platform, and even then would have huge problems in boarding a train.

The same is true of all the stations in Inverclyde. At Greenock central station, Port Glasgow station and elsewhere, boarding a train or disembarking from one requires a degree of agility beyond disabled people. That is a disgrace, and I hope that the Bill as amended by the Government will encourage ScotRail, Railtrack and the Strathclyde passenger transport executive to move things along. Hitherto their record has been disgraceful.

That means that for many of my constituents who are disabled and live on low incomes a trip to Glasgow is out of the question, unless they have a friend or relative who can provide a car. At Greenock central station someone who wants to get on a train has to lift himself up about 18 in, which is too far for disabled people.

We must always remember that, because they are denied access to an impervious labour market, many disabled people have to live on low social security incomes. They are therefore confined to public transport systems, and the system in the west of Scotland is an utter scandal at present. I hope that, in the interests of disabled people throughout Scotland, it will be improved within the next three or four years.

Mr. Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh, Leith)

I welcome the fact that the Government have changed their mind and seen the absurdity of their original position that there should be equal access to bus and train stations but not to buses or trains. I realise that the Minister cannot go into much detail now, but I want to press him a little further on what he has in mind for trains. I raise that subject not only because of the chaos of rail privatisation that the Government are trying to impose on us but because a constituent asked me to raise the matter.

On Sunday I was asked to visit a woman in a wheelchair who has multiple sclerosis. She told me how she and a friend who also has MS had tried to travel from Edinburgh to Grantown-on-Spey, where there is a holiday establishment for disabled people. British Rail had told her that if they wished to go by train they would have to travel in the guard's van. Fortunately, she and her friend had a contact who could take them there in a motor vehicle with disabled access.

My constituent was upset to be told that she would have to travel in the guard's van. However, like me, she already knew that that might happen, because she had several friends who had had the same problem. She told me how three other people had had to pay £100 each to make the journey in a handicab, and how another friend had travelled all the way from Edinburgh to Dorset in the cage of a guard's van. Rightly, she said that was a demeaning experience and that it could also be dangerous if, as was the case, the person concerned was in a manual wheelchair whose brakes were not absolutely foolproof. Furthermore, the doors of toilets on trains are not wide enough for wheelchairs.

Can the Minister give us any guidance on what he intends to do about such matters? I know that the provision in the Bill will be general, but I should like to have something to say to my constituent about how the Minister imagines the problem being resolved. It does not seem to me that it would be inordinately expensive to do something about it. I believe that there is already usually one place on a train where a wheelchair can be clamped. Surely other places could easily be converted for that purpose without great expense. I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some reassurance to convey to my constituent.

Mr. Hague

As I explained to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne), I cannot expand on the announcement that I have already made. But I have given a commitment about taking a power through the Bill to make regulations covering trains and other modes of transport and, of course, the points made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Chisholm) are among those that the Government and others, including rail operators, will want to take into account in the discussions about future regulations.

Mr. Barnes

I have two things to say. The first is about the importance of what we are discussing, and the other is about the Minister's statement, which is also important. A while ago, I tabled an amendment to a social security measure dealing with providing mobility allowance for double amputees. At the time the allowance was not paid automatically, and once a person had lost both legs and had artificial limbs there was a test to see whether he or she was entitled to mobility allowance. I remember that the leader of Plaid Cymru, the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley), was in the House and joined the discussion.

I was concerned about my constituent, the late Melvin Wall, who was a double amputee and found difficulty getting out and moving around. He needed his mobility allowance so that he could get around. He liked to be picked up in a taxi on a fine day and taken to the nearby Rother valley, where he would be placed at the edge of an artificial lake. Throughout the day he liked to move around that artificial lake from bench to bench, resting as he went and, when the day was over, to be taken back. The quality of his life was vastly improved by that mobility allowance. Such a facility is equally important in the new clauses.

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The amendment was not adopted on the occasion to which I referred because it was withdrawn. The Minister's predecessor promised to introduce the mobility allowance later in regulations, and indeed he did so. Unfortunately, Melvin Wall benefited from it for a short time only, because he died soon afterwards. His case is a clear example of the need for people to be able to get around, move about, improve the nature of their lives by so doing and thereby be dealt with as full citizens in society.

I am a little more sceptical about the Minister's statement than some hon. Members—perhaps that is my nature. We are rather in limbo. I am not quite sure whether the bottle is half full or half empty. Such a speech should have been presented as a statement in the House, after which we could have asked questions. Instead, hon. Members have asked questions and the Minister has jumped back in response. The Minister has not been able to say anything else, but he has offered some response to the points put forward. It is as if we have used the House's time on Report for statement purposes, which seems procedurally odd.

After Report is Third Reading, and on Third Reading we should be reasonably clear about the proposed legislation. Even though various changes may be made in the Lords and even if the Bill gets into trouble there, we should have the authority to say that the Bill should be passed as it was on Third Reading, a year after its First Reading. It is beholden on Ministers to try to get us to a stage where we know, as clearly as possible, where we are, apart from a little tidying up which may occur in the other place.

The Bill has not progressed in such a way. Two major statements about changes to the Bill concerning education and transport have been made. I am pleased about those changes, but I think that they are as a result of important pressure, which has been exerted by people outside the House and by the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill in the cupboard. The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill is locked away in the cupboard and will not be released into Committee to progress properly. If we are dissatisfied with what occurs in another place, not only will we have the opportunity to discuss the Lords amendments and whether we think that they are good enough, but we will have an alternative. That alternative should be given the opportunity to see the light of day—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a Third Reading speech and I urge him to stick precisely to the new clauses.

Mr. Barnes

I would especially like to stress the transport provisions in the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, some of which are included in the new clauses and amendments.

Mr. Berry

Does my hon. Friend find it somewhat ironical that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was criticised for being too vague about transport and that was why the Government were unhappy, yet here we are this afternoon, as he says, welcoming even more vague proposals?

Mr. Barnes

Yes, it is ironic and there are strong political reasons for it. It is entirely justifiable to say that the other Bill is helping, together with other action that people are taking, to nudge such provisions forward. The Government's Bill has been improved by some of the Minister's statements, such as the statement on transport. It is difficult to judge, however, by how much it has been improved, whether the statements and promises make it an acceptable Bill and how it measures up to the alternative Bill. The alternative must be present for as long as possible to push the Government's Bill further. In the end, when it comes to transport and other aspects, the provisions of the alternative should be fully operated.

As has been mentioned, the intentions outlined by the Minister could work rather well if a disability rights commission were set up to pick them up, run with them and do a great deal of the work and we could make suggestions and recommendations.

Sir John Hannam

The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) spoke of the Minister pulling a rabbit out of a hidden hat. He has certainly done that, and a whopping Easter bunny it is, too. Yesterday we brought education into the Bill and today my hon. Friend has achieved our other main objective of bringing transport into the Bill. I pay tribute to all hon. Members from all parties who have consistently pressed the case for transport to be brought into the Bill. In view of the assurances given by my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, who, together with our hon. Friend the Minister for Transport in London, deserves our thanks, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Tom Clarke

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am assuming that the new clause which I moved is still before the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The technical position is that if the hon. Gentleman wishes to move new clause 18 formally, he may do so, at which point I shall have to put the Question. Does he wish to move new clause 18 formally?

Mr. Clarke

I had hoped that the rules of the House would entitle me to ask the Minister a few more questions and then to decide whether to move the motion on this important new clause.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has been in the House some while and he must know that new clause 18 was grouped with new clause 11. Once the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) had begged to ask leave to withdraw the motion, I had put the Question and there were no objections, the motion was withdrawn. The only procedure that is now available to hon. Members is to move the new clause formally, in which case I have to put the Question. Formally means just that—not a speech.

Mr. Clarke

Further to my point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is not my intention to move the new clause formally, but I hope that on Third Reading I can respond to the Minister's comments.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that, on Third Reading, he is restricted to addressing what is in the Bill. Within that, he has plenty of scope.

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