HL Deb 24 October 1995 vol 566 cc1045-54

(".—(1) The owner of a transport facility shall be under a duty to admit regulated taxis to that transport facility for the purpose of taking up or setting down persons who have hired or may wish to hire such taxis.

(2) Subsection (1) shall only apply to the extent that a transport facility is suitable for use by motor vehicles and at such times as it is ordinarily open to persons travelling to or from it otherwise than by taxi.

(3) Subsection (1) does not apply to a transport facility which is situated in the area of a licensing authority in respect of which an exemption order made in accordance with section 30 is in force.

(4) Subsection (1) does not apply to a transport facility where, prior to the passing of this Act, the owner has entered into a contract or agreement granting another person the exclusive right to provide taxi or private hire car services at that transport facility.

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

(6) Separate orders may be made under subsection (5) with respect to different areas or localities or transport facilities.

(7) Where taxis are admitted to a transport facility in accordance with subsection (1) the owner may:

  1. (a) charge such fees for their admission as may be authorised by the Secretary of State;
  2. (b) designate places at that transport facility at which persons may be taken up by or set down from taxis; and
  3. (c) impose such conditions for the maintenance of safety or the control of traffic at that transport facility as in all the circumstances are reasonable.

(8) Nothing in this section shall be taken to authorise a taxi to ply for hire outside of the area for which it is licensed.

(9) In this section— owner" means a person who—

  1. (a) is the owner of, or who has any right over, or interest in, a transport facility, and
  2. (b) whose consent is needed for taxis to be admitted to that transport facility;
private hire car" means a vehicle used for the carriage of passengers for reward, whether or not licensed as such, other than a taxi or public service vehicle; public service vehicle" has the same meaning as in Part II of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981; and transport facility" means any land which forms part of any port, airport, railway station or bus station including the forecourt or roadways of or approaches to any such facility.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to close a loophole in the Bill which in my opinion and that of RADAR would allow discrimination against disabled passengers, in particular those in wheelchairs, when they arrive at airports, seaports, railway stations or bus stations and then require a taxi to complete their journey.

Noble Lords may recall that I raised this anxiety at Committee and Report stages of the Bill when I sought assurances from the Minister but, regrettably, without success. I therefore must apologise to the House for going back over old ground.

Briefly, the story starts with the Department of Transport's 1993 Green Paper on Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles when views were specifically invited on the desirability of requiring all vehicles plying for hire at airports and stations to be wheelchair accessible.

We then move to March 1994 and the House of Commons Transport Committee Report on Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles. In paragraph 148 the committee stated: Land, including roads, at airports and stations is usually privately owned and can be controlled by the airport operator or station owner. This gives them the right to regulate the use of their premises by taxis and PHVs and, in some cases, to levy charges. Sometimes, … the concession is granted to a single taxi or PHV company. While we note that the Government is 'not entirely convinced' of the merits of granting this type of concession, as opposed to allowing any locally licensed taxis to operate at such premises, there may on occasion be arguments for such an arrangement, for example in order to avoid congestion. Sole concessions should only be awarded after an open competition, which should give preference to companies which undertake to provide wheelchair-accessible vehicles".

However, the Government's response to this recommendation, published in February of this year, was that while they appreciated the sentiment behind the recommendation it would not seem appropriate to control the situation by regulation. The Secretary of State for Transport stated: Hire vehicles at airports and stations (taxis and private hire vehicles) are there to make access to and from the station or airport attractive to passengers. It is therefore in the interest of the owning authority or company to ensure that appropriate facilities are provided".

That is quite right. Obviously the owner of a transport facility will wish to make it as attractive as possible to passengers. But what if he decides that it would be in the best interests of the majority of his passengers to enter into a contract with a private hire company to provide a taxi service from his station, airport or seaport? Those taxis would not be covered by this legislation.

Therefore a disabled passenger in a wheelchair, having travelled in an accessible train, bus, aeroplane or ship, arriving at the station or port, and wishing to complete his journey by taxi, will not have the same freedom to do so as an able-bodied passenger; and that is discrimination. It really is not good enough for the owner of a transport facility who has entered into an exclusive contract with a private hire company simply to exhibit a notice stating how an accessible taxi can be obtained—probably by telephoning some other taxi company in the next town—or to say to a disabled passenger in a wheelchair (and I know that it is said), "It's a pity you didn't warn us in advance because we could have had an accessible taxi waiting for you".

The amendment would not prevent the owners of transport facilities from entering into exclusive contracts with providers of taxi services. However, it would ensure that such services did not discriminate in any way against disabled passengers, in particular those in wheelchairs.

Subsection (1) of the new clause achieves that end. Subsection (2) limits the time that taxis were admitted to the facility to the times that it was normally open to the travelling public. Subsection (3) states that if the station or port is in a town which has an exemption order in force then the owner of the transport facility involved would not be required to provide accessible taxis. Subsection (4) allows current exclusive contracts to continue until their expiry date, but new ones would have to abide by the provisions of subsection (1). If there were any long-term contracts, subsection (5) allows the Secretary of State to set a date when they should come to an end. I hope that the remainder of the clause is self-explanatory and that the amendment is not technically flawed. My final hope is that the Minister will recognise that the problem exists and will agree that the amendment is the way to solve it.

Perhaps I may remind the Minister that during the debate at Report stage on 20th July he stated in a slightly different context, in answer to a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Renton: We want to make sure that disabled people can have exactly the same freedom to travel and to get a taxi as able-bodied people".—(Official Report, 20/7/95; col. 452.]

Without this new clause we shall not achieve that aim. I beg to move.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, several years ago I was the adviser to the LTDA, the major taxi organisation in greater London. Whether I should still declare that interest, I do not know. However, the amendment moved by the noble Lord deserves careful consideration in particular from this side of the House. All my political life I have believed in choice and in not allowing monopolies to exist. Yet in many areas there is no choice of a taxi and there is a monopoly. I should need to be convinced by my noble friend that there is merit in rejecting the amendment.

It is almost certainly flawed. Over the years those of us who sought to move amendments have been told that they are technically incorrect. I always used to say, "Fine, let us accept a technically flawed amendment and then invite the Government to put it right through their highly skilled parliamentary draftsmen at a later stage". As the Bill has to go back with amendments to another place, that could be done. My noble friend may have answers that will convince me, but on the face of it I believe that a case has been made out for further consideration of the point.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, I support the amendment. One may ask: what is the point of making all licensed taxis in England and Wales fully accessible to wheelchairs if they cannot then be guaranteed free access to bus termini, railway stations and airports, all of which are major delivery points for wheelchair bound people? I hope that on this occasion the Government will look more sympathetically on the amendment than they have done at earlier stages of the Bill.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Gladwin, said, it is a serious loophole. As the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, said, it seems a great pity if after all the splendid amendments that we have discussed we do not ensure that wheelchair accessible taxis are available at termini. It is the one hiccup in what could eventually be a completely trouble-free journey on other forms of transport for someone in a wheelchair. I thoroughly support the amendment.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, I wish to ask the Minister a question. If there are no wheelchair-accessible taxis for people using wheelchairs at places such as Gatwick Airport, would that not be discrimination against disabled people now that such taxis are available?

Last Friday I travelled up to Doncaster from London by train to attend a charity race day. When I arrived at the station I found two taxis waiting for hire and both were accessible. That was a pleasant surprise and very welcome, especially as I was travelling with a steward of the racecourse and we did not have to wait; we went straight to the course. I believe that is what everyone wants and I support the amendment.

8 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I can see that your Lordships very much appreciate the aim of the amendment. It is clearly not in the interests of disabled people, particularly those in wheelchairs, to arrive at a station, airport or seaport and then find that they can go no further without a long wait or without other problems in obtaining suitable transport.

Equally, I emphasise that it is very much in the interests of the owner of the facility or those who provide public transport to or from it to provide for disabled people. I have said it before: one thing that we must ensure in addition to the legislation is that we change the culture—and we hope that the legislation will help—so that it is the automatic response of a transport facility owner or operator to ensure that adequate, accessible transport is provided for all passengers' needs.

At the Report stage we heard a great deal about Gatwick. I have looked into the situation there and passengers are normally provided with a saloon car or an estate car. Anyone wishing to travel in a wheelchair can have a suitable vehicle provided, either a taxi sent from Crawley or a vehicle from a specialised firm with premises on the perimeter of the airport.

In practice, people who use wheelchairs do not fly into Gatwick totally unannounced, any more than anyone else does. Therefore, arrangements can be made for them in advance. Gatwick is by no means unique in that regard, although the reason is different from other airports. For example, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Birmingham—through which I flew the other day—are not in the licensing area of the city. The city may have wheelchair-accessible taxis, but the area outside, where the airport is situated, may not. At Glasgow airport—Renfrew, which I know well—the taxis that are lined up are essentially private hire cars. Glasgow taxis, a portion of which at least are wheelchair accessible, may drop passengers off but they are not allowed to pick them up because of the licensing regulations. So there someone who needs help has to make arrangements in advance. That is provided for. The airport has a system which works perfectly well to ensure that if someone flying in gives notice in advance, a wheelchair-accessible taxi will be available.

Returning to Gatwick—as my noble friend Lord Goschen is here as Minister in the Department of Transport I had better put a plug in for transport—anyone coming from Gatwick to London would prefer to use the Gatwick Express, which I am assured is completely wheelchair accessible, as is a similar service from Stansted airport by rail.

As to the amendment, subsection (4) would mean that there would be a requirement to admit regulated taxis. That would have to apply to areas where there was already an exclusive agreement with a person to provide taxi or private hire vehicle services; and that would mean that nothing would change at Gatwick. The amendment looks forward, and I appreciate that looking back is not usually the way in which we frame legislation.

It is worth saying that the great advantage of using contracts to provide taxi or private hire services is that they give the facility owner a degree of control over the fares charged for all journeys and the contract can insist that the passenger be taken where he wishes. That is particularly important at airports. As I mentioned, most airports are outside the area of the city and your Lordships will probably know that sometimes taxi drivers are either not keen to take people across boundaries or are fairly hard in their extra charging if they do. Cross-boundary charging is something of a controversy in certain parts of the country where people cross boundaries quite considerably.

A contract with the owner of the airport can get round that problem because it can insist that passengers be taken anywhere, even outside the area of the licensing authority. The facility owner should have some control over the fares charged. It ought to be pointed out that that is an advantage. It helps disabled people as well because they may want to travel across boundaries and they would wish to know that there is a degree of control over the fares charged for such journeys.

The amendment would give any driver of a regulated taxi—that is, an accessible taxi—the right to enter a transport facility on the payment of an entrance fee in order to ply for hire without any contract. Not that he would be required to confine his attention to disabled passengers; he could pick up anyone who hailed him. If accepted, the amendment would not necessarily benefit disabled passengers, but it would certainly benefit those taxis that are not involved in the contract. They would be able to go in and pick up passengers, not necessarily disabled passengers.

There is a problem with allowing taxis into a transport facility without imposing a contract. Taxis only have to charge what is on the meter for the journey within the area for which they are licensed. Once they go outside that area, first, they are not compelled to take passengers and, secondly, they can charge what they like, often on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Many airports are situated outside the area where the majority of the public wish to go, unlike Heathrow which is situated in London.

There is no reason why taxi or private hire vehicle owners winning a contract for a transport facility, should not be operators of a fully accessible service or a mixed taxi or private hire fleet, which are quite common outside London. There is every reason for a contract of this kind to make provision for vehicles suitable for carrying disabled passengers to be made available quickly.

I do not see why government should be required to interfere in commercial negotiations between facility owners and taxi private hire vehicle operators. The owners and operators of facilities should be free to make the arrangements appropriate for the facility without recourse to the Secretary of State, as the amendment proposes.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way but I wish to press him on the point. He said that he saw no reason why the Government should intervene in what was essentially a commercial transaction between a transport facility and the station to which it applied or wherever it was. Does he accept that transport vehicles—taxis, private hire car vehicles or hackney carriages—are part of public transport? They are, therefore, part of the public service vehicle facility at such stations. Even if my noble friend's amendment may need further amendment in the Commons, nonetheless the point that has been established is that when entering a station or airport one is entitled to expect that those vehicles should act as public service vehicles to which the Bill should apply.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I am not sure whether private hire vehicles could be so considered. I have made my point as to why there are considerable advantages to the travelling public who may wish to use the taxis for a facility owner to have a special arrangement with certain operators, or even one operator, in order to ensure that passengers coming in can take a taxi and cross a licensing authority boundary. They should be able to do so without prohibitive additional pricing. One must bear that in mind.

As I have mentioned, there is a backstop and I have checked on it: if a disabled person flies into Gatwick, Glasgow or any other airport, it is not unannounced and unknown to him. At those airports there is in place a facility for ensuring that the taxi is there, just as that disabled person may have had to make arrangements with the airline and even the airport itself to be met with a wheelchair or to be helped to and from the aircraft. A disabled person in a wheelchair, when travelling by air, already has to make plans and make provision with the airline and the airport. My point is that as provision has to be made, any plans for using the taxi service also need to be made in advance.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene on that point. I often take flights into Gatwick airport. Obviously one has to make arrangements with the airline because one has to be lifted on and off the plane. But the aircraft is often very late, and the process takes time. Any taxi might have to wait two or three hours. It would be important to have a fleet at the airport.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I understand the point that the noble Baroness makes. However, my experience of airline travel is that a reasonable timetable is kept to, except perhaps in the case of transatlantic flights where there are technical problems with the windage up high—

Noble Lords


Baroness Hollis of Heigham

The Minister is really scraping the barrel.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I suspect that I travel in aircraft rather more often than do some noble Lords who are having a little jest at my expense. They travel remarkably well to time, given all the factors that are involved in flying.

The key step forward in this Bill in relation to taxis is that we look to requiring that all taxis that ply for hire on the street should be wheelchair accessible. That is the measure in the Bill. That is different from the situation at an airport, where various facilities to help passengers will be available.

I suggest that the vital provision being made in this Bill is—as I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth) mentioned earlier—that disabled people should be able to hire a taxi on the street, making a journey decision as and when they wish, just as the rest of us do. I believe that airline travel is a little different. I at least plan my airline travel a short time in advance. That way I find that I get onto the aeroplane and have a seat waiting for me. We do want to continue—

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

My Lords, it is not only on airlines.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I also plan somewhat in advance the transport that is to meet me at the other end. Clearly I live in a more planned environment than do some noble Lords. I do not want to continue with this discussion. This is Third Reading and we are beginning to behave as though it were Committee.

As I said on Report, we intend to continue to encourage the provision of appropriate facilities for disabled people in the places that this Bill does not reach. Overall, this amendment is likely to cause more problems than it solves and does not address the problem that arises at many airports in the country because of the needs and demands of different licensing authorities.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

We are shocked!

Lord Gladwin of Clee

My Lords, I am speechless! We have moved backwards. I really cannot understand the Minister's response. As I said in my remarks, one can well understand why the owner of a transport facility would want to reach a contract, an understanding, an agreement. It is in the interests of his passengers, for the reasons that the Minister gave this evening.

Why should a disabled person in a wheelchair be discriminated against? The pressure is for the owner of the facility and the provider of the services to come to the best economic agreement. The best agreement will be with drivers and owners of saloon cars. As the Minister told us earlier in the debate, a disabled person in a wheelchair who wants to go to Glasgow airport can get a cab to take him or her there. That is not the problem. The problem occurs when you arrive. I spoke to people at Glasgow airport a few days ago and was told: it would be much better if you would tell us in advance that you are coming; then we could ensure that a taxi was there. That is discriminatory. It must be. If the Government's position is that a person in a wheelchair can go out onto the street, hail a taxi and get a taxi, I see no reason why that should not be so on arriving at a railway station. On arriving at my railway station you cannot get a taxi with wheelchair access because there is none there. I asked this morning what would happen and was told that none is available.

The Minister's response is most unsatisfactory. My noble friend referred earlier to a hole in the Bill. I do not suggest that there is a hole, but this is surely a loophole. Let us forget about travelling by air. We shall face a situation at railway stations whereby people arrive on an adapted train in a wheelchair, go to the taxi rank outside the station and find no wheelchair accessible taxis. What do they do? They ask questions and the reply is: "We do not have one. We will ring somebody up and see whether we can get one for you". I am sorry, but the Minister's response is most unsatisfactory. I thought that we should get a little further. I have no choice but to divide the House.

8.15 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 40) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 33; Not-Contents, 60.

Division No. 4
Addington, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L
Airedale, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Lockwood, B.
Birmingham, Bp. McCarthy, L.
Carter, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Craigavon, V. McNair, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Masham of Ilton, B.
Elis-Thomas, L. Rea, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.[Teller] Robson of Kiddington, B.
Rochester, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L. [Teller.] Russell, E
Graham of Edmonton, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Grey, E. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Tordoff, L
Hylton, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Jeger, B. Wedderburn of Charlton, L
Addison, V. Hemphill, L.
Annaly, L. Henley, L.
Balfour, E. Kenilworth, L.
Blaker, L. Kingsland, L.
3 rain, L. Lane of Horsell, L.
Bridgeman, V. Long, V. [Teller]
Brougham and Vaux, L Lucas, L.
Burnham, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Cadman, L. McConnell, L.
Camegy of Lour, B. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L
Carnock, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Chesham, L. [Teller.]
Cochrane of Culls, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Courtown, E. Marlesford, L.
Crathorne, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Crickhowell, L. Mountevans, L.
Cumberlege, B. O'Cathain, B.
Dean of Harptree, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Rawlings, B.
Dormer, L. Renton, L.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Rodger of Earlsferry, L.
Flather, B. St Davids, V.
Goschen, V. Seccombe, B.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Harmsworth, L. Stewartby, L.
Hayhoe, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Torphichen, L. Vinson, L.
Trumpington, B. Vivian, L.
Wakeham, L.
Ullswater, V. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

8.22 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 41:

After Clause 32, insert the following new clause—