HL Deb 15 June 1995 vol 564 cc2034-54

Accessibility regulations

.—(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations ("accessibility regulations") for the purpose of securing that it is possible—

  1. (a) for disabled persons —
    1. (i) to get into and out of taxis in safety;
    2. (ii) to be carried in taxis in safety and in reasonable comfort; and
  2. (b) for disabled persons in wheelchairs—
    1. (i) to be conveyed in safety into and out of taxis while remaining in their wheelchairs; and
    2. (ii) to be carried in taxis in safety and in reasonable comfort while remaining in their wheelchairs.

(2) Accessibility regulations may, in particular—

  1. (a) require any regulated taxi to conform with provisions of the regulations as to —
    1. (i) the size of any door opening which is for the use of passengers;
    2. (ii) the floor area of the passenger compartment;
    3. (iii) the amount of headroom in the passenger compartment;
    4. (iv) the fitting of restraining devices designed to ensure the stability of a wheelchair while the taxi is moving;
  2. (b) require the driver of any regulated taxi which is plying for hire, or which has been hired, to comply with provisions of the regulations as to the carrying of ramps or other devices designed to facilitate the loading and unloading of wheelchairs;
  3. 2035
  4. (c) require the driver of any regulated taxi in which a disabled person who is in a wheelchair is being carried (while remaining in his wheelchair) to comply with provisions of the regulations as to the position in which the wheelchair is to be secured.

(3) The driver of a regulated taxi which is plying for hire, or which has been hired, is guilty of an offence if—

  1. (a) he fails to comply with any requirement imposed on him by the regulations; or
  2. (b) the taxi fails to conform with any provision of the regulations with which it is required to conform.

(4) A person who is guilty of such an offence is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

(5) In this section— passenger compartment" has such meaning as may be prescribed;

"regulated taxi" means any taxi to which the regulations are expressed to apply;

"taxi" does not include a taxi which is drawn by a horse or other animal.").

The noble Lord said: I am now where I thought that I was a moment ago. In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to the other amendments in this group (Amendments Nos. 94 to 99, 143, 144 and 147). These amendments deal with taxis. I know that this is a subject of some concern to this Committee. A number of powerful points were made on this subject during the course of the Second Reading debate.

Over the past decade taxis have increasingly provided an invaluable form of transport to disabled people. But one can only provide quality and freedom of opportunity to disabled people in this field if all vehicles are indeed accessible. Some areas have tried to achieve accessibility through the introduction of a mixed fleet. But that is simply not sustainable in the reality of taxi licensing and operations. We have evidence from areas like Stockton on Tees, where such a system was tried and failed.

It is therefore the Government's clear intention, as part of the package of measures covering all forms of domestic, land-based public transport, to bring before this Chamber, in the course of our deliberations on this Bill, provisions to require that, from days to be determined, taxis newly licensed must, as a condition of licence, be accessible to all disabled people, including those who use wheelchairs.

Let me make it absolutely clear that we are not talking about a universal requirement for the current purpose-built taxi design. I make no apology for stressing the point because I feel that it has been widely misunderstood and misinterpreted by sections of the trade. It is vital to the proposals that I now want to put before the Committee that that point is understood.

Amendment No. 93 is the first of a number of new clauses which set out the powers we propose to take to ensure both that the vehicles themselves are accessible and that the drivers of those vehicles play their part in offering a service to disabled passengers.

Amendment No. 93 is proposed so that the Secretary of State can make regulations defining standards of access which new taxis will be required to meet and so that taxi drivers can be required to carry disabled passengers in a safe and appropriate manner. Full accessibility is an important concept. There has been criticism of the current models of wheelchair-accessible taxi that, while they can satisfactorily accommodate the vast majority of wheelchair users, they are difficult —or indeed impossible—for many elderly and disabled people; for example, those with arthritis who are not wheelchair users.

This point is fundamental to the proposals I am now putting before the Committee. The regulations which will follow from this enabling power will focus clearly on the needs of all disabled people and will be drawn up in close consultation with the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. We will be defining design parameters based on research and experience to provide optimum levels of accessibility. We will expect a range of manufacturers to address the market that will be created.

The second part of this clause is simply to ensure that, once accessible vehicles are widely available, taxi drivers recognise that it is a fundamental part of their duties to carry disabled passengers using the relevant equipment in the correct and safe way. While most taxi drivers are only too willing to provide a service for disabled passengers, I am sorry to say that it is not unusual to hear reports of drivers who have refused to pick up a passenger in a wheelchair on the pretext, for example, that they are not carrying the ramps.

The purpose of the new clause in Amendment No. 94 is to ensure an orderly transition to the new requirements without damaging the viability of the taxi trade. That, of course, is the last thing we want to do. Subsection (1) provides that a licensing authority may, after a certain date, only license taxis which comply with the construction requirements that will be set out in the regulations.

We are also mindful of the need to protect the interests of the cab trade, much of which comprises small businesses. While it is reasonable to expect new taxis to be fully accessible, it would, I believe, be unreasonable to require someone who had recently purchased and licensed a new non-accessible vehicle to dispose of it prematurely. Subsections (2) and (3) therefore provide that, where a non-accessible vehicle is already licensed as a taxi, it may be re-licensed as such. That does not mean that we should allow non-accessible vehicles to go on indefinitely. Subsection (4) provides for the Secretary of State to set an end date beyond which no non-accessible vehicle can be re-licensed. That date will only be set after full consultation with the trade.

The Committee will be aware that there are a number of cities and towns which have already set dates by which all taxis must be accessible—London, Edinburgh, Liverpool and Manchester. It is important, both to protect the investment already made by the trade in those areas and to safeguard the interests of disabled people, that there is no slippage from those dates. Subsection (5) provides for dates earlier than those set in regulations to be applied by orders made by the Secretary of State.

Turning to Amendment No. 95, it is in no one's interests—least of all disabled people—to see the trade reduced or destroyed. The Government believe that the effect of this Bill will in fact be to open up significant additional new markets to the trade. We have nonetheless listened carefully to the trade and taken full note of its anxieties. We therefore intend to make regulations that will enable the Secretary of State to grant an order exempting an authority from the requirements that I have outlined, provided a number of clear criteria are met. Those are, first, that because of the specific circumstances of an area it would be inappropriate to impose the requirements and that to do so would result in an unacceptable reduction in the number of taxis in an area. The legislation will put the onus on any authority wishing to apply for such an exemption to carry out appropriate consultation with all sections of the local community (including, as a matter of course, disabled people and the taxi trade), to publish and make known their proposals and to consider representations made before making their application. Once the application has been made, the Secretary of State must consult his statutory advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. He may then grant or refuse the exemption on the basis of the application, subject to such terms and conditions as he thinks fit.

This clause is a recognition of the enormously wide variations in types of area and of taxi use in this country, from a densely populated urban area with a substantial transitory as well as resident population to a very rural area where the taxi driver may in many cases be part-time.

The strong presumption must be that, whatever the area, there will be now, or may be in the future, disabled people whose mobility would be enhanced by the availability of accessible vehicles. We must recognise and allow for the possibility, however, that the requirements set out in these clauses could jeopardise the viability of the trade in a particular area to the point at which there ceased to be taxi provision for anyone. That is not our intention.

In Amendment No. 96, it is one thing to provide for taxis to be designed or adapted to be able to carry a passenger in a wheelchair but we need also to ensure that the drivers of those vehicles are then required to convey those passengers. The new clause, Amendment No. 96, sets out the duties which will apply to drivers of regulated taxis when they are hired by a disabled person. These duties not only extend to the carriage of disabled persons, but also to the manner in which those persons should be carried. Any driver who fails to comply with these duties will be guilty of an offence.

For those drivers who are concerned that all of this will be a burden on taxi drivers, let me assure them that there is protection. For example, we are not proposing that the driver should be required to carry someone who is disabled in circumstances when he would not legally be required to carry any other passenger.

We have also made provision for a licensing authority to exempt a taxi driver from these duties on either medical grounds or on the ground that his physical condition makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for him to comply with these duties. This provision is particularly important in ensuring that we do not discriminate against any disabled driver who wants to work as a taxi driver and who otherwise fulfils the criteria for that type of employment. We do not, of course, want this exemption provision to be abused and so we have provided a number of safeguards to that end.

In Amendment No. 97 we are concerned not only with the needs of wheelchair users but, just as importantly, with the needs of other disabled people, including those with sensory impairments. There have been reports from across the country that blind and partially sighted people have been refused access to taxis because they are accompanied by a guide dog. The same discrimination is faced by people who use hearing dogs. Refusal may be justified where the driver has a medical condition which is aggravated by dogs—for example, some form of asthma—but for the most part there can be no justification for a taxi driver refusing to carry someone with a guide or hearing dog in circumstances when he would otherwise take other passengers.

This clause deals with such practice by imposing duties on taxi drivers to convey a disabled person accompanied by a guide dog or hearing dog. It will affect all taxi drivers, not only those who drive regulated taxis. Drivers will have a duty to carry the passenger's guide dog or hearing dog and to allow it to remain with the passenger. The driver will not be allowed to make an additional charge for carrying the dog in his taxi. Where a driver fails to comply he will be guilty of an offence. There will be provision for licensing authorities to exempt taxi drivers on medical grounds—for example, they may be allergic to dogs—and to issue them with exemption certificates.

On Amendment No. 98, I have already mentioned that under Clauses 22G and 22H it will be possible for licensing authorities to issue exemption certificates to drivers and exemption notices for display in the taxis concerned to the effect that the named driver is exempt from the duties imposed by those clauses. The purpose of the new clause is to safeguard against the possibility of forgery and the fraudulent use of these certificates and notices.

In Amendment No. 99 we have the legislative provision governing taxis in Scotland which is to be contained in the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982—an Act which I remember well in its passage through another place. The framework of the Act is such that this one short clause will enable the taxi provisions in the Bill in respect of England and Wales to be introduced for disabled people in Scotland by means of regulations.

Amendments Nos. 143 and 147 are simply provided to cover the definitions of the additional terms "accessibility regulations", "licensing authority" and "taxi" introduced under the principal amendments, Amendments Nos. 93 to 98.

I hope that I have explained, if at a little length, the purpose of the amendments and new clauses that I am introducing which arise as a result of undertakings given in another place. I beg to move.

Lord Gladwin of Clee

The proposals have received a somewhat lukewarm welcome from the taxi trade and organisations representing taxi drivers. They are not convinced of the practicality of the proposals and are concerned about the cost to them of the adaptations that will be required to provide disabled access to their vehicles. To a large extent, the trade is composed of single-owner drivers. If all licensing authorities required all taxis to be wheelchair accessible, the trade would be decimated in many provincial areas. I understand and appreciate that that is not the Government's intention, but there will be pressures on licensing authorities to require at least a percentage of taxis to be wheelchair accessible. The risk is that a number of owner-drivers would defect to the private hire sector which, of course, is not covered by this legislation.

For a number of disabled people, a taxi is their primary and, in some cases, only means of transport. It would therefore be tragic if, as a result of this legislation, the availability of taxis was to be curtailed. In order to allay the anxieties felt by the trade, can the Minister say whether the Government will consider the following? First, as wheelchair-accessible taxis or taxis with swivel seats will become the disabled person's public service vehicle, should not they be treated in the same way as other public service vehicles—that is, as far as the level of value added tax is concerned and the rebate on fuel excise duty?

Secondly, could regulations be issued requiring local authorities to introduce taxi-card schemes? Thirdly, will the Government think about including the private hire sector in this legislation? While there is a clear legal distinction between taxis and private hire vehicles, outside London there is considerable operational overlap. Taxis are often saloon cars, indistinguishable from those operated by private hire companies. Bookings of private hire vehicles are often made in exactly the same way as for taxis, by telephone for immediate use, and that is the way that severely disabled people and wheelchair users get their transport.

It seems illogical to licensed taxi drivers that the private hire sector should have no responsibility for providing disabled access to their vehicles, particularly when I understand that the Government envisage that private hire companies will be granted sole concessions at stations and airports. I am told that, for instance, unless you order a taxi with wheelchair access in advance, you cannot get one off the rank at Gatwick because a private hire company has the sole concession. That position will not change in the future because private hire vehicles are not included in the legislation.

When introducing the amendments, the Minister referred to consultation with the taxi trade. Perhaps I may ask him for an assurance that there will be consultation with the organisations that represent taxi drivers. I should be grateful if the Minister could comment either now or at a later stage on some of the concerns that I have raised.

Lord Addington

I have already ensured that the Minister should have in front of him a list of objections to—or rather, questions about—these amendments. The questions have been raised by my noble friend Lord Winchilsea and Nottingham, who cannot be present. They are questions which have been raised about these amendments by taxi operators. They sound sensible to me, but the people operating the service have questions and concerns. It would be helpful to the Committee if we had answers to those questions.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

On these Benches broadly speaking we welcome the Government's proposals. About 4.5 million people have a mobility problem and 500,000 people are wheelchair users. In London, as we all know, we have the two extremes. We have hackney carriages (the black taxis) licensed by the police, which have ramps for wheelchair access until, as the taxi drivers tell us, they are awfully sorry, but they have been stolen. In London we also have private hire cars—the minicabs—which are unlicensed, unregulated, inaccessible and too often unsafe. In other words, in London we have the extremes.

Outside London there are no such extremes. We have hackney carriages which, especially in the cities, are increasingly black taxis, but they can be saloon cars, which may be preferable in rural areas where one travels long distances. We have also private hire cars which are almost always saloon cars. But unlike London, as my noble friend Lord Gladwin said, because both are licensed and regulated by the local authority, the safety of the car and the character of the driver are checked. So there is considerable overlap between the two services.

The problems inside and outside London are very different. Inside London, black taxis are safe and accessible. Minicabs are neither, but should be. Outside London, hackney carriages and private hire cars are safe but both may be inaccessible. They should be accessible.

The Government's amendments, which recognise the difference between London, the cities, suburban areas and rural areas, are welcome, but I believe that the Minister has some questions put to him by my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, which need to be answered. Until my noble friend talked about Gatwick and the minicab concession and the fact that an integral part of public transport would be outside the requirements of public transport accessibility, I was not aware that the problem existed. The Minister must come back, if he will, with some ways of solving that problem.

As the amendments stand, we welcome the phasing in for existing operators. We welcome the agreement that, in rural areas especially, swivel seats in a saloon car may be more appropriate than running a black FX cab, although it should perhaps be remembered that the driver of a saloon car with a swivel seat may have to lift someone from a wheelchair into that swivel seat. At 16 stone, a disabled person may be too heavy for a driver. I recognise that the Minister has emphasised that taxi drivers who are themselves disabled will have some protection, but we are getting into difficult areas in which protection for the taxi driver is to some extent bought at the expense of rights of access for the disabled user. There are no easy solutions, and clearly there must be consultation. We share the Minister's concern that this is a very difficult area.

Of those disabled people who prefer black cabs, some 30 per cent. say that they could not manage a saloon car, whereas of those who prefer a saloon car, only 3 per cent. could not manage a black cab. So it is clearly right to impose accessibility on hackney carriages. Any customer who prefers a saloon car can always hire one by telephone. As my noble friend Lord Gladwin said, it may be right to expect government assistance to make hackney carriages more physically accessible.

I realise that there are difficulties, especially as the trade is seeking to maintain a distinction between hackney carriages and private hire cars. I respect those views. I realise that outside London many hackney carriage drivers with saloon cars do not want a black FX imposed upon them as new ones cost about £24,000. Even secondhand ones—a Metro, for example—cost between £8,000 and £10,000. Having a black taxi cab often stops the private owner using it for private purposes when not plying for trade.

In my city some 10 years ago, we required all hackney carriages to become black taxis within 10 years as they were replaced. There was huge resistance from the taxi trade and a number of insults were thrown around the place. Now virtually all licensed hackney carriage drivers are delighted with the change. The reason is that when the Government deregulated the quota system for hackney carriages at places such as railway stations anyone could then buy a plate. It was not limited by the local authority estimate of the trade available. That meant that many people came in and bought a plate in order to skim off the cream of the trade in the few weeks preceding Christmas.

However, by requiring all hackney carriage plate drivers to drive an FX we have kept out the cowboys. The trade has been "professionalised" and the existing hackney carriage drivers have substantially benefited. Most of them now welcome the change that we imposed on them, although they resisted it furiously at the time. Of course, local people retain the choice between black cabs and private saloon cars and they wish that choice to remain.

Perhaps I may make an additional point that has not been mentioned—the need to train the taxi drivers who will be required to have vehicles which are fully accessible. Too many taxi drivers are rough, quick and impatient with disabled people. They do not know how to handle them, in an almost literal sense. Even the best intentioned face a dilemma: the longer they take and the more careful they are, the more the meter ticks up, the more the fare rises and the more displeased the disabled person will be.

Those are the dilemmas and the Government are doing their best to tackle them. We all accept they they are delicate and difficult issues. However, we broadly welcome the amendments. We welcome the phasing, the exemptions, the timing, the flexibility and the promise to consult. We hope that with these amendments hackney carriages will become what they should become—a recognised part of public transport, networking disabled people with able-bodied people and with full access. We support the amendments.

12.45 a.m.

Lord Renton

I listened carefully to the noble Baroness and was most interested in what she said.

However, I believe that her conclusion is inconsistent with her earlier arguments. We shall have a chance of considering that further at the Report stage.

I have no objection to the new clauses under Amendments Nos. 97, 98 and 99. However, those in Amendments Nos. 93 to 96 inclusive worry me a great deal. What worries me most is that they appear to be in conflict with what was said by my noble friend Lord Mackay in reply to the debate on Second Reading. Several Members had raised the issue of taxis and accessibility to them. My noble friend said: I can assure the House that there is no intention to require every new taxi to be purpose built; nor do we intend to subject taxis to all the requirements in Part III of the Bill on service providers to make reasonable modifications. I can also assure the House that, in framing the new access standards, the Government will be mindful of the problems facing taxi operators in rural areas. Coming from the West Highlands as I do, I am well aware of such difficulties".— [Official Report, 22/5/95; col. 890.]

It is good to hear my noble friend express such understanding.

What worries me is that because of the power being taken to lay down certain standards to achieve uniformity and, in particular under Amendment No. 96 wheelchair accessibility, we would be creating inflexibility. From correspondence and conversation which I have had with the Minister concerned, Mr. Steven Norris, I understand that the Government will use those new clauses in such a way as to ensure that at some future date all licensed taxis outside of London, like those in London, will have to be wheelchair accessible unless exemptions are granted. If that were so, it would be contrary not only to the interests of taxi operators, as the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, said and the noble Baroness rather suggested, but contrary to the interests of disabled people, who require all kinds of taxis to be available to them. Of course, it would also be against the interests of the public in general if we imposed obligations upon the taxi trade which led to there being fewer taxis outside London. That would be very unfortunate.

I do not have the facts and figures, but my information is that in East Anglia a number of taxi businesses have gone out of operation, and that was without anything of this kind happening. Therefore, we must be very careful about imposing obligations on the taxi trade, not only, as I have said, in its own interests but also in the interests of disabled people and the public in general.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

The noble Lord said that a number of taxi businesses in East Anglia are no longer functioning. I am sure that that may be true, because quite a lot of them have been under-cut by extra vehicles in the trade. It must be said that driving is the last resort for unemployed men. When hackney carriage plates became deregulated, it was very easy to move into the taxi trade and under-cut those already in it. Has the number of taxis, as opposed to the number of taxi businesses, reduced?

Lord Renton

I can only go on what I have been told. I am sorry that I do not have the statistics, but I have no reason to mistrust those who have informed me. Indeed, I know that in Huntingdon it is abundantly clear that there are now roughly two-thirds the number of taxis that there were about 10 years ago. I give that as an example within my knowledge.

It will be for the licensing committees of councils outside London to decide whether to grant or refuse taxi cab licences. In doing so, they would have to comply with what is laid down in the regulations. It is regrettable that the Bill does not provide for the licensing authorities to have immediate power to grant exemptions. They are not allowed to grant exemptions unless regulations are made, under Amendment No. 95, by the Secretary of State and he, in making those regulations, cannot do so generally. He can do so only: for the purpose of enabling any relevant licensing authority to apply to him for an order (an 'exemption order') exempting the authority from the requirements of section (New licences conditional on compliance with accessibility regulations)".

There are times, perhaps, when the gentleman in Whitehall knows best, but I think that that is a rather out-moded view. If I may say so, I believe that it would be far better for my noble friend the Minister not to move the amendments, especially the one from which I just quoted. The Government could then consider what has been said tonight and make sure that the undertaking that was given on Second Reading is really fulfilled. That would ensure that we do not lack that flexibility—that variety of offer of service—which is so necessary for disabled people.

One could go on to talk about the subject for a very long time; indeed, I have a file of correspondence on the matter three inches thick which I have received over the past 18 months. I have no interest in the taxi trade, but because of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and I did under the 1985 Act when we introduced some provisions that both sides found acceptable, which ensured that the taxi trade would be fairly treated, the latter has seemed to lean on me ever since. Of course, I have been happy for the trade to do so, but, in this case, I must look to the interests of disabled people, including my own daughter. Therefore, I wish I could persuade my noble friend Lord Mackay not to move Amendments Nos. 93 to 96. It would be far better—indeed, it would save paper, time and much trouble—if he could introduce fresh amendments on Report modifying the current amendments in the light of the views expressed by the noble Baroness and other Members of the Committee.

Lord Templeman

I, too, have had representations made to me although I have no personal interest in the taxi trade. Those representations have not been made by the unemployed or people who throw disabled persons out of taxis; they have been made by long-standing taxi drivers who have large mortgages, large hire-purchase debts in relation to their cars, children at local schools and have experienced a depression over the past four years. On their behalf I would say that, notwithstanding the honeyed words of the Minister, their fears are that the effect of the amendments would be that everyone would have to buy a black taxi, which costs £24,000. Any other modifications would cost the same. Certainly, a London taxi would cost £24,000. That is the figure that I have been given. Therefore, taxi drivers believe that they would be faced with the choice of either paying £24,000 for a taxi or going out of business. I see that the noble Baroness wishes to intervene. I give way.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

I am much obliged. The noble and learned Lord is certainly right about the cost of a new London taxi; but, as far as I am aware, most of the black taxis used outside London are second-hand vehicles the going price of which is between £8,000 and £9,000. Further, I should point out that the amendments would not stipulate black taxis as the only way of holding a Hackney Carriage plate.

Lord Templeman

In theory the amendments would not do so; but, in practice, there will only be one taxi that fulfils the requirements and that will be the black taxi which, notwithstanding its second-hand price, would cost £24,000. Taxi drivers fear that they will either have to pay that sum or go out of business. That would be an onerous burden, but one which they ought to bear on behalf of the disabled if it were necessary and if it were wanted.

However, the trade's point is that there are a large number of disabled persons who do not like taxis. I do not say so myself; indeed, I am very happy with taxis and use them all the time. Many people find that the black taxi is not suitable for their disablement and they prefer the other kind. But, instead of having a choice which is now the case, they will have no choice: it will be a black taxi or nothing throughout the country. That will apply in rural and suburban areas and, even down in Bodmin, we shall be seeing fleets of black taxis, subject to the exemption power which is very limited. It depends on the local authority and is very limited because the Minister wants to produce that effect.

I merely made the point that that is the effect that the trade believes will be produced and that, far from giving more choice to the disabled, it will give them less. Those are the fears of the trade.

1 a.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I had not intended to intervene, but perhaps as a wheelchair user I could just say how much it has absolutely revolutionised my life and the lives of other wheelchair users to have the accessible black taxi. It makes all the difference having a larger proportion of them available already, because when they were originally introduced one had to give three days' notice if one wanted to take a taxi. Now one can be fairly sure of getting one on the street, but it would be a lot more useful to know that if one hailed a taxi it was accessible and, of course, one would get more and more wheelchair users using them if they knew they could get them.

Lord Monkswell

I hope I may raise a concern that I have with particular reference to Amendment No. 95, whose rubric states, Exemption from accessibility regulations".

Over most of the country we shall have—over possibly a little period of time—accessible taxis, and disabled people will get used to those, and as the noble Baroness has said, it will revolutionise their lives, as it has revolutionised lives where such taxis already exist within local areas. However, what may be applicable and understood as a sort of mechanism for local provision is all very well—the implication of Amendment No. 95 is that in certain areas there will be certain conditions—but we are talking about national legislation which should apply nationally. I would hope that we would arrive, over time, at a situation where a disabled person can leave London and go to any part of the country and know that he or she can get an accessible taxi without any fuss or bother, as can be done in London, Manchester and other major cities.

The concern I have about Amendment No. 95 is that it gives no timescale. I think what may be necessary here is a transitional timescale—it could be five or 10 years—which states that after this transitional period the taxis will be fully accessible. I am concerned also that we should recognise that in certain areas there will be financial difficulties. There are depressed areas, particularly some rural areas, where the trade may not be very strong and where, historically, there has not been a provision. We need to consider how we get over the economic problems of the trade to ensure that the trade is not forced into decline, but that at the same time provision is made that conforms to a national pattern which does not effectively result in some areas of the country being almost no-go areas for disabled people, or where it is more difficult for disabled people to get this provision so effectively disabled people are discriminated against in some areas. I think concern has been expressed in a number of areas about these amendments. It is the first time we have seen them and I hope that the Minister will be able to take on board some of the concerns that have been raised.

Baroness Stedman

I support the amendments and I appreciate the fact that the Government have put them down and that we are getting somewhere with taxis for disabled people. The door-to-door public transport which taxis provide is particularly important for disabled people to enable them to get from where they are to where they want to go. I believe there has been a real misunderstanding of the Government's intention. My reading of the new clause is certainly not the same as that of my noble and learned friend Lord Templeman because, as I see it, it does not involve the complete replacement of a fleet of private saloon cars by vehicles accessible to passengers in wheelchairs.

Much has been made of the problems in rural areas and, as I understand it, outside London it is proposed that all the hackney cabs should be capable of meeting the needs of all customers, including those who use wheelchairs and those who are ambulant but disabled. This does not mean that all the taxi drivers must have London style taxis. Indeed I understand that the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, the advisory committee to the Minister, is already working out and sorting out specifications for suitable vehicles, perhaps even better than the ones that are on the market now.

There has to be a range of vehicles which can provide suitable access for all disabled people. The private hire vehicles will still be available for those who need or prefer to use a saloon car. Indeed, I am told that there are twice as many private hire vehicles in service as there are hackney cabs. I believe that the new proposals take account of the interests of people with disabilities, whatever that disability may be, without any discrimination.

When it comes to engaging a personal vehicle to take one on a journey, personal preference for a saloon car will continue to be met in full in future. People who have to travel in wheelchairs need a vehicle of the dimensions which will accommodate them. That is not one of the standard saloon cars. Their needs have not been met in full under the existing arrangements. So they are still, to some extent, victims of discrimination. The proposals before us will change all that and put an end to such discrimination.

I hate to mention East Anglia again but my city of Peterborough has done the same as the city of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. We have black cabs on our ranks now. There was almost a riot when the city council set a time limit by which they had to be introduced, but I do not believe that one of those drivers would now go back to a saloon car.

The changes will not happen overnight. We are not placing an undue strain on the taxi trade. No one expects new accessible vehicles to be on the roads, in the hands of all taxi drivers, on the day after the Bill receives Royal Assent. I hope that we are reasonable creatures. I believe that the Government have been reasonable. We hope that in due course we shall be able to look back and say that when we brought in this legislation it was one of the best things we did for disabled people in this country. I support the amendments.

Lord Renton

I wonder whether the noble Baroness appreciates that it is the clear intention, as expressed to me, that under the proposed regulations all taxis shall be made accessible to wheelchairs. The only other vehicles the public will be able to obtain which are wheelchair accessible, supposing they and even disabled people want as much room in a vehicle as possible for passengers, are private hire cars. Private hire cars have no obligation to wait at taxi ranks, mainly at stations where taxis are so valuable. Therefore a rigidity will result from the regulations of which the noble Baroness has spoken.

Baroness Stedman

In many cities taxi ranks are normally adjacent to a depot or place where one can call for a private hire saloon car if one wants one. In rural areas, if there is no need for them and the local authorities are satisfied that there is a sufficiently mixed fleet to do the jot that is necessary, they can recommend to the Minister that they have a remission from doing that job, and they will receive a certificate of exemption.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

We have had an interesting debate. It is impressive that Members of the Committee who would have wished long since to have been in taxis on their way home have decided to wait and debate this issue.

I find myself in a rather unusual position in that the Opposition support me on this amendment. As a normal rule of thumb, if the Opposition support me I wonder if I am right. In this case I think that I am right. I was relieved when eventually the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, made some gentle criticisms of the amendments I have put forward. My faith in my rule of thumb was re-established.

Perhaps I may deal with a number of the points which have been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Gladwin of Clee, suggested some budgetary concessions. He will not be surprised when I tell him that those are matters for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I shall go no further this evening.

On the question of putting pressure on local authorities to introduce the taxi card scheme, the taxi working group of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee is drawing up guidelines for local authorities on taxi card schemes. Those guidelines will provide local authorities with valuable information about the operation of such schemes. They will be issued to every local authority in the next month or two.

The noble Lord raised a problem regarding Gatwick. I understand that Gatwick is unusual in having a private hire concession. However, there is nothing to stop private hire firms at Gatwick having accessible vehicles. In practice, wheelchair accessible taxis are available from Crawley after a short delay.

The noble Lord reminded me of an irritation at Glasgow Airport. Because two local authorities operate a most amazing system—both authorities of the party opposite, I may say—you can have a black cab if you travel from Glasgow to the airport, but if you travel from the airport back to Glasgow you cannot have a black cab. You must take a saloon car type licensed by Renfrew District Council. It seems the most amazing situation. But never mind. That is part and parcel of the restrictions which many people seem so happy to have in this trade.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

I believe that the Minister accepts the point so well made by my noble friend Lord Gladwin of Clee about private hire cars having a monopoly of a public transport place, as appears to be the case at Gatwick, if one regards taxis as public transport. In place of those taxis we have private hire cars. The Minister has an obligation to tell the Committee how in that situation the needs of disabled people will be more adequately met.

I do not believe that what he said regarding Crawley is good enough. Whether the answer is a mixed fleet, given the experience of authorities in Stockton and so on, I am not sure. However, he must find a better answer than the reply he gave about Gatwick. Otherwise, we shall harry him about it.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am happy to talk to the British Airports Authority about the situation if the noble Baroness will promise to talk to her colleagues, the socialists on Renfrew District Council, about the monopoly that they have allowed on their taxi ranks outside Glasgow Airport. There is a bargain! I suspect that I may have success more quickly than the noble Baroness will have with Renfrew District Council.

Lord Gladwin of Clee

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. However, my reference to Gatwick was as an example. I understand that the Government envisage that private hire will gain sole concession at airports and railway stations. That is my understanding of a proposal made by the Government some months ago. I cited Gatwick as an example where that is occurring.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am not sure that I can answer that point at this time of night. I sought to answer it in relation to Gatwick. I recognise that there are some problems. I was not aware of that issue, but I promise that I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right honourable and honourable friends and perhaps discuss the matter with the British Airports Authority.

Perhaps I may respond to questions raised by a number of Members of the Committee but referred to in the round by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. Our policy has the full support of our disability advisers, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, which is representative of a wide range of disability interests. I wish to stress again that we are not talking about taxis which are suitable only for wheelchair users—a criticism which has been levelled at the current design of the purpose built London-type taxis. As I said, we are talking about making taxis available for all disabled people.

We envisage that the regulations will cover a wide range of design features to meet the needs of the population as a whole, including the elderly and disabled people with every kind of mobility difficulty. We shall consult fully on the detail of regulations. There are design possibilities coming in, I gather, which could indeed provide an answer to some of the problems in rural areas for a car that is perhaps less of a taxi and more of an ordinary motor car.

The suggestion that we propose to eliminate freedom of choice between saloon cars and wheelchair accessible cars is not correct. The taxi trade works on the cab rank principle. The person at the head of the queue takes the first cab on the rank. Members of the Committee will know that any attempt to go to the nearest taxi, even if the most convenient and on a pouring wet night, is usually not totally appreciated by the taxi driver at that moment at the head of the queue. So there is difficulty if one picks and chooses. Where there is choice—and we do not wish to eliminate it—it is in the pre-booked part of the system. We believe that there the saloon car system will continue to exist.

I said at Second Reading that it was our clear intention not to require all taxis to be purpose built. Nothing has changed. Our only difficulty may be a matter of semantics. The aim of the proposals before us tonight is to set down design parameters for accessibility which can be met in a wide range of vehicles. Some may be designed from the drawing board as taxis, others may be adaptations of existing vehicles or vehicles that are beginning to appear. I am not the greatest car expert, but in my view some of the manufacturers are bringing forward rather odd-shaped vehicles with high backs and the like, which must be fairly readily capable of adaptation.

In either case, we are not talking about perpetuating and spreading the current design of the purpose-built London style taxis or forcing their adaptation on unwilling authorities, on the unwilling taxi drivers or unwilling consumers. I hope that that will help the noble and learned Lord, Lord Templeman.

I know that there is concern about the timescales and we have no intention of introducing requirements over such a period as would undermine the viability of the taxi trade. If it would help to clarify the point, I should be pleased to consider whether an amendment to specify timescales can be brought forward at a later stage.

My noble friend Lord Renton is particularly interested in the matter and he mentioned his concern about Huntingdon and the West Highlands. I thought for a minute that I was surrounded by the East Anglian Mafia, as one Member of the Committee after another gave me examples from East Anglia. My noble friend knows that from my background in the West Highlands I appreciate what he is talking about. On islands where the taxi trade is important, the amount of traffic is pretty limited. We believe that the licensing authorities are in the best position to know when they should apply to the Secretary of State for an exemption.

I would prefer the Committee to pass the amendments tonight rather than for me to accept my noble friend's suggestion. Obviously, as I always do, I shall reflect on the points made and draw them to the attention of my honourable friend the Minister responsible for local transport. I shall discuss with him the various matters raised by the Committee and if I feel there is the need for any fine-tuning or amendment, I shall be happy and more than willing to table it at Report stage. Any other Member of the Committee who feels that I do not see the situation correctly may also put down an amendment for that stage.

There is a difficult balance to find and we would be foolish not to recognise that. It is easy to deal with it in the large cities but I understand and fully appreciate the difficulties in the rural areas and countryside. It is essential that we realise that taxis are an important part of everyone's transport. That includes transport for disabled persons. I therefore hope that the Committee will accept that we in the Government feel that we have a reasonable balance between the interests of disabled people and the taxi trade and of all taxi users. I therefore hope that the Committee will agree with me and accept the amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

1.15 a.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendments Nos. 94 to 99:

After Clause 22, insert the following new clause:

New licences conditional on compliance with accessibility regulations

(".—(1) No licensing authority shall grant a licence ("a new licence") for a taxi to ply for hire in an area unless the vehicle conforms with those provisions of the accessibility regulations with which it will be required to conform if licensed.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply in relation to a taxi if the licensing authority is renewing an existing licence for that taxi.

(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), a licence is an existing licence in relation to a taxi only if it is in force immediately before the grant of the new licence with respect to that taxi.

(4) The Secretary of State may by order provide for subsections (2) and (3) to cease to have effect on such date as may be specified in the order.

(5) Separate orders may be made under subsection (4) with respect to different areas.").

After Clause 22, insert the following new clause:

Exemption from accessibility regulations

(".—(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations ("exemption regulations") for the purpose of enabling any relevant licensing authority to apply to him for an order (an "exemption order") exempting the authority from the requirements of section (New licences conditional on compliance with accessibility regulations).

(2) Exemption regulations may, in particular, make provision requiring a licensing authority proposing to apply for an exemption order—

  1. (a) to carry out such consultations as may be prescribed;
  2. (b) to publish the proposal in the prescribed manner;
  3. (c) to consider any representations made to it about the proposal, before applying for the order;
  4. (d) to make its application in the prescribed form.

(3) A licensing authority may apply for an exemption order only if it is satisfied—

  1. (a) that, having regard to the circumstances prevailing in its area, it would be inappropriate for the requirements of section (New licences conditional on compliance with accessibility regulations) to apply; and
  2. (b) that the application of section (New licences conditional on compliance with accessibility regulations) would result in an unacceptable reduction in the number of taxis in its area.

(4) After considering any application for an exemption order and consulting the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee and such other persons as he considers appropriate, the Secretary of State may—

  1. (a) make an exemption order in the terms of the application;
  2. (b) make an exemption order in such other terms as he considers appropriate; or
  3. (c) refuse to make an exemption order.

(5) The Secretary of State may by regulations ("swivel seat regulations") make provision requiring any exempt taxi plying for hire in an area in respect of which an exemption order is in force to conform with provisions of the regulations as to the fitting and use of swivel seats.

(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision with respect to swivel seat regulations similar to that made by section (New licences conditional on compliance with accessibility regulations) with respect to accessibility regulations.

(7) In this section▀× exempt taxi" means a taxi in relation to which section (New licences conditional on compliance with accessibility regulations)(1) would apply if the exemption order were not in force; relevant licensing authority" means a licensing authority responsible for licensing taxis in any area of England and Wales other than the area to which the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 applies; and swivel seats" has such meaning as may be prescribed.").

After Clause 22, insert the following new clause:

Carrying of passengers in wheelchairs

(".—(1) This section imposes duties on the driver of a regulated taxi which has been hired—

  1. (a) by or for a disabled person who is in a wheelchair; or
  2. (b) by a person who wishes such a disabled person to accompany him in the taxi.

(2) In this section— carry" means carry in the taxi concerned; the passenger" means the disabled person concerned; and regulated taxi" has the same meaning as in section (Accessibility regulations).

(3) The duties are —

  1. (a) to carry the passenger while he remains in his wheelchair;
  2. (b) not to make any additional charge for doing so;
  3. (c) if the passenger chooses to sit in a passenger seat, to carry the wheelchair;
  4. (d) to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that the passenger is carried in safety and in reasonable comfort;
  5. (e) to give such assistance as may be reasonably required—
    1. (i) to enable the passenger to get into or out of the taxi;
    2. (ii) if the passenger wishes to remain in his wheelchair, to enable him to be conveyed into and out of the taxi while in his wheelchair;
    3. (iii) to load the passenger's luggage into or out of the taxi;
    4. (iv) if the passenger does not wish to remain in his wheelchair, to load the wheelchair into or out of the taxi.

(4) Nothing in this section is to be taken to require the driver of any taxi—

  1. (a) except in the case of a taxi of a prescribed description, to carry more than one person in a wheelchair, or more than one wheelchair, on any one journey; or
  2. 2051
  3. (b) to carry any person in circumstances in which it would otherwise be lawful for him to refuse to carry that person.

(5) A driver of a regulated taxi who fails to comply with any duty imposed on him by this section is guilty of an offence and liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

(6) In any proceedings for an offence under this section, it is a defence for the accused to show that, even though at the time of the alleged offence the taxi conformed with those provisions of the accessibility regulations with which it was required to conform, it would not have been possible for the wheelchair in question to be carried in safety in the taxi.

(7) If the licensing authority is satisfied that it is appropriate to exempt a person from the duties imposed by this section—

  1. (a) on medical grounds, or
  2. (b) on the ground that his physical condition makes it impossible or unreasonably difficult for him to comply with the duties imposed on drivers by this section,
it shall issue him with a certificate of exemption.

(8) A certificate of exemption shall be issued for such period as may be specified in the certificate.

(9) The driver of a regulated taxi is exempt from the duties imposed by this section if—

  1. (a) a certificate of exemption issued to him under this section is in force; and
  2. (b) the prescribed notice of his exemption is exhibited on the taxi in the prescribed manner.").

After Clause 22, insert the following new clause:

Carrying of guide dogs and hearing dogs

(".—(1) This section imposes duties on the driver of a taxi which has been hired—

  1. (a) by or for a disabled person who is accompanied by his guide dog or hearing dog, or
  2. (b) by a person who wishes such a person to accompany him in the taxi.

(2) The disabled person is referred to in this section as "the passenger".

(3) The duties are—

  1. (a)to carry the passenger's dog and allow it to remain with the passenger; and
  2. (b) not to make any additional charge for doing so.

(4) A driver of a taxi who fails to comply with any duty imposed on him by this section is guilty of an offence and liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

(5) If the licensing authority is satisfied that it is appropriate on medical grounds to exempt a person from the duties imposed by this section, it shall issue him with a certificate of exemption.

(6) In determining whether to issue a certificate of exemption, the licensing authority shall, in particular, have regard to the physical characteristics of the taxi which the applicant drives or those of any kind of taxi in relation to which he requires the certificate.

(7) A certificate of exemption shall be issued—

  1. (a) with respect to a specified taxi or a specified kind of taxi; and
  2. (b) for such period as may be specified in the certificate.

(8) The driver of a taxi is exempt from the duties imposed by this section if—

  1. (a) a certificate of exemption issued to him under this section is in force with respect to the taxi; and
  2. (b) the prescribed notice of his exemption is exhibited on the taxi in the prescribed manner.

(9) The Secretary of State may, for the purposes of this section, prescribe any other category of dog trained to assist a disabled person who has a disability of a prescribed kind.

(10) This section applies in relation to any such prescribed category of dog as it applies in relation to guide dogs.

(11) In this section— guide dog" means a dog which has been trained to guide a blind person; and hearing dog" means a dog which has been trained to assist a deaf person.").

After Clause 22, insert the following new clause:

Forgery of exemption certificates

(".—(1) A person is guilty of an offence if, with intent to deceive, he—

  1. (a) forges, alters or uses an exemption document;
  2. (b) lends an exemption document to any other person;
  3. (c) allows an exemption document to be used by any other person;
  4. (d) makes or has in his possession any document which closely resembles an exemption document.

(2) In subsection (1) "exemption document" means a certificate of exemption issued under section (Carrying of passengers in wheelchairs) or (Carrying of guide dogs and hearing dogs) or a notice of a kind mentioned in section (Carrying of passengers in wheelchairs)(9) (b) or (Carrying of guide dogs and hearing dogs)(8) (b).

(3) A person who is guilty of an offence under this section is liable—

  1. (a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum;
  2. (b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to a fine or to both.").

After Clause 22, insert the following new clause:

("Taxis: requirements as to disabled passengers in Scotland

.—(1) Part II of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 (licensing and regulation) shall be amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (4) of section 10 (suitability of vehicle for use as taxi)—

  1. (a) after "authority" insert "- (a)"; and
  2. (b) at the end add "; and
(b) as not being so suitable if it does not so comply.

(3) In section 20 (regulations relating to taxis etc.) after subsection (2) insert— (2A) Without prejudice to the generality of subsections (1) and (2) above, regulations under those subsections may make such provision as appears to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient in relation to the carrying in taxis of disabled persons (within the meaning of section 1(2) of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) and such provision may in particular prescribe—

  1. (a) requirements as to the carriage of wheelchairs, guide dogs and hearing dogs;
  2. (b) a date from which any such provision is to apply and the extent to which it is to apply; and
  3. (c) the circumstances in which an exemption from such provision may be granted in respect of any taxi or taxi driver,
and in this subsection— guide dog" means a dog which has been trained to guide a blind person; and hearing dog" means a dog which has been trained to assist a deaf person.'"').

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 100:

After Clause 22, insert the following new clause:

("Duty of local authority to provide advice

. It shall be the duty of local authorities to provide advice and assistance to providers of services with regard to their duties under section 15.").

The noble Lord said: This is the last opportunity this evening for my noble friend to accept an amendment, so I hope that he will take the opportunity. He has not done so so far on the Bill. The purpose of this amendment is to require local authorities to advise providers on access provision, probably via access officers.

As the Committee knows, Clause 18 enables the Secretary of State to make arrangements for the provision of advice and assistance with a view to promoting the settlement of disputes arising from the Bill otherwise than by recourse to the courts. Access issues are one of the most fundamental causes and manifestations of discrimination against disabled people. The advice given to businesses and service providers in relation to the provision of access is therefore crucial in the elimination of such discrimination.

Expert advice on the provision of accessible buildings is given, and has been given for many years, by access officers employed by local authorities. The Secretary of State for the Environment, in Circular 10/82 following the Disabled Persons Act 1981 stated that, local authorities may consider it desirable that they should designate one of their staff as an 'access officer' to provide a single clearly identified point of contact on questions of access for disabled people".

The first access officer was employed by Leicester City Council in 1981, and there are now over 140 access officers employed by English local authorities.

The duties of an access officer vary from authority to authority to suit the specific circumstances of local need, but the fundamental aim is to promote an accessible built environment to ensure that disabled people are not denied the opportunity to participate fully in all aspects of life as a result of the poor design of our streets and buildings. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My noble friend is certainly keen on his pound of flesh—especially after the very broad hint that we all gave him that taxis were uppermost in our minds.

We recognise that service providers will need advice on the new requirements and how best to comply with the law. That is why we are committed to ensuring that information and advice on the right of access is available to service providers. We will ensure that information and guidance will be available well before the new right of access comes into force. There will be codes of practice offering practical advice on matters such as the duty concerning refusal to serve; the requirement to change practices, policies and procedures; the requirement to provide auxiliary aids and services, where this would facilitate access; and the duty to remove physical barriers to access.

It is that last duty that my noble friend mentioned in particular, and I am aware of the work of local authority access officers. I believe that my noble friend envisages that his amendment would extend that work to every local authority. While I acknowledge the valuable work done, I do not agree that this would be the best approach.

We wish to ensure that there is a wealth of information and guidance available to help service providers comply with legislation. It will be crucial to allow service providers and traders to plan for the changes that they need to bring about if we are to take service providers with us in our aim of including disabled people in all areas of life. Indeed, the guidance—and the certainty it will give service providers about their duties—will help ensure that the right of access works as intended.

The issue of improving access for disabled people is extremely complex. On the one hand we have the diversity of disability itself: different adjustments will be required to meet the needs of people with different impairments. On the other hand, service provision itself is immensely varied. We must consider what is needed to achieve access in such areas as retailing, leisure facilities, historic buildings (discussed earlier this evening), broadcasting and telecommunications, to name a few. Each type of service will need information and advice pertaining to its own concerns. We shall be seeking the input of experts in each field in drawing up guidance and codes of practice and we shall be keen for them to have a role in the advisory process too.

My central point is that I believe that it would be unworkable to put a statutory duty on local authorities to provide such specialist advice in each of the areas of service provision. It would be unrealistic to expect local authorities to fulfil this role. With that explanation, I hope that my noble friend will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Swinfen

I shall withdraw the amendment, but I shall also consider what my noble friend has said. It is possible that I may come back at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Lucas: I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past one o'clock.