HL Deb 11 January 2000 vol 608 cc527-9

2.47 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 relevant to the carriage by taxis of guide dogs accompanying blind persons will be put into effect.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions: (Lord Whitty)

My Lords, Section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act covers the carriage of guide and hearing dogs in licensed taxis. We have been unable to progress these provisions as quickly as we had hoped. However, we plan to consult on them by March.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Why have four years passed while Section 37 still has not been brought into effect by a Minister appointing a date? Is the noble Lord aware that the Disability Discrimination Act was the first on disablement ever to be introduced by a government, all the others having been the product of Private Members' Bills? Furthermore, Part V of the Act was introduced in this House and should already be helping the blind.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, we all recognise the importance of the Act and of bringing it into effect. As regards regulations that apply to transport, we have initially directed resources to buses, coaches and railway transport. Noble Lords will be aware that regulations covering trains were introduced in 1998 and those for buses and coaches will be introduced this year. As regards taxis, for many historic reasons these are the most complex regulations, and we have run into some difficulties, in particular in relation to the question of medical exemptions for the drivers of taxis. However, I hope that the consultation will proceed within the timescale that I have outlined to the House and that within a few months we shall have a clearer picture.

Lord Addington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that bringing other private hire vehicles into this process would be much more appropriate? Will the government give an undertaking to make sure that local authorities include the provision when granting any local licence?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the regulations relating to private hire vehicles other than taxis are not covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. We are currently implementing a system of regulation for London's PHVs covered by the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998. It is clearly for local authorities to make this a condition of their licensing. It would be very much in the interests of blind and other disabled people were that to be the case.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, does the Minister agree that guide dogs are so well trained that they are mostly much better behaved than the average person? Will he send a regulation to taxis drivers stating that they should accept these dogs in their cabs?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I am not entirely sure with whom the noble Baroness shares taxis; however, it is clear that taxi drivers are frequently faced with problems caused by humans and, very rarely, guide dogs. The intention is to begin consultation by March, and then to make the kind of provision referred to by the noble Baroness. It is also important that we protect taxi drivers and other drivers who are subject to a medical condition which might be aggravated by dogs. I refer in particular to asthmatics.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, is the Minister aware that Section 37 runs to only one page of 40 lines? There are no regulations to be drafted, the Act is clear, and there are specific exemptions for medical problems. How many taxi drivers are thought to have dog allergy problems? Surely all that is required is a certificate from a driver's GP stating that the driver has a problem.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I cannot give an estimate of the number of drivers in that predicament. Nevertheless, we have to take such people into account, as we do in other situations. The noble Earl is correct to say that the provisions on the face of the Bill are clear and explicit, but the regulations covering taxis in particular are some of the most complex that Parliament has ever passed. It would require some unravelling to ensure that this particular provision is there, is robust, and is observed by taxi drivers across the land.

Lord Campbell of Croy

My Lords, in the process of consultation are the taxi drivers raising difficulties or objections, even though the Act includes special measures for exemptions in various circumstances and an appeal procedure?

Lord Whitty

No, my Lords, taxi drivers in general are not raising any objection in principle to the provisions of the Act or the regulations. What they are saying is that the exemption has to be clarified and the grounds for appeal must be clear. That will be taken care of in the terms of the consultation to which I have referred.