HC Deb 18 November 2003 vol 413 cc595-7
1. Linda Perham (Ilford, North)

What recent discussions his Department has had with (a) other Government Departments, (b) transport network operators, (c) transport authorities and (d) passenger groups on measures to ensure that public transport networks are accessible for disabled people. [138853]

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Kim Howells)

The Department has frequent discussions with industry, passenger representatives and other stakeholders about improving access to transport for disabled people. In addition, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), is giving evidence tomorrow to the Transport Committee inquiry on disabled people's access to transport.

Linda Perham

The Minister may be aware that the recent "Mind the Gap" report by the disability charity Leonard Cheshire demonstrates the difficulties that disabled people face in gaining access to work and public services as a result of inaccessible transport. When will the Government announce their response to last year's consultation on the removal of the current exemptions for transport providers from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995? Can he assure the House that the Department is moving quickly to ensure that transport does not continue to be a major barrier to the social inclusion of disabled people?

Dr. Howells

I thank my hon. Friend for raising that and know that she has done a great deal of work with the Leonard Cheshire Foundation on the issue. The recent consultation on applying part 3 of the DDA to transport services was intended to help us formulate the necessary changes in legislation to implement the Disability Rights Task Force recommendation, which we have accepted. Those changes will form part of the draft disability Bill that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions will publish before the end of the year for pre-legislative scrutiny. We will not publish a separate response to the consultation.

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire):

Does the Minister accept that the Opposition will support genuine and workable proposals to make public transport more accessible to the disabled? Does he share my anger, however, that earlier this year two disabled pensioners travelling together had to cancel a holiday in my constituency because the train company concerned would take only one wheelchair at a time on each train? Is not that a disgrace? Will he join me in congratulating another train company, First Great Western, on implementing its disabled persons protection policy, which covers problems facing the disabled while travelling and will improve facilities at every one of that company's 14 railway stations?

Dr. Howells

First, I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new position on the Front Bench. It is good to see him there. We need jazz drummers in every position that we can get them.

I share the right hon. Gentleman's anger and concern at the behaviour of the train company in question. He makes a good point in raising that. I also share his pleasure in seeing First Great Western take that very important initiative. Between 9 million and 11 million people are registered with some form of disability in this country. In addition to the duty to ensure that they have access to transport, companies should wake up to the fact that there is a huge commercial market to serve.

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood):

My hon. Friend referred to recommendations by the Disability Rights Task Force that transport should be included in the Disability Discrimination Act. I welcome his assurance that that will be done. Another recommendation was that there should be end dates for all rail vehicles to be accessible to the disabled. What are those end dates?

Dr. Howells

My hon. Friend is well known for his work for many years on behalf of disabled groups, and he raises an important issue. He knows that the Government have already introduced regulations under the DDA to ensure that new buses and trains are accessible to disabled people. Last month, we announced our proposals for implementing the taxi provisions. Significant progress has already been made. For example, in the past two and a half years, 1,400 fully accessible new vehicles have been introduced on the railways, and there will be more than 1,000 more in the next 18 months. More than one third of buses are already accessible, and the proportion is much higher in many major towns and cities. However, I take his point: we must ensure that access is as complete as is possible and practicable.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

Does the Minister think it appropriate that a vehicle should be described as wheelchair-accessible when a constituent of mine, who is a sixth former at Cowes high school and 5 ft 10 in, has to bow his head to sit in it in his wheelchair? Peugeot Eurotaxis have only 54 in of headroom, Volkswagen Transporters have 53.5 in, Mercedes Vitos have 52 in and the standard Ford Transit has only 52 in. Does not he believe that anyone in a wheelchair should be able to sit upright in a wheelchair-accessible vehicle?

Dr. Howells

If the hon. Gentleman will do me a favour and send me those details, I shall try to take up the matter with the manufacturers.

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