HL Deb 11 October 2004 vol 665 cc77-89

7.40 p.m.

Lord Addington

rose to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the order, laid before the House on 1 September, be annulled (S.I. 2004/2149) [18th Report from the Merits Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Prayer to annul this order and the two following it is one that has a history to it. The principal fact is that they do not stand alone. Apparently some 50 such orders have been brought before the House since December 1998. A little mental arithmetic tells me that that means an order at the rate of one every six weeks. Taken individually, these orders do not seem very significant, but together they form a steady stream.

Why do I think that this is important and why am I taking up your Lordships' time on this issue? I should make it quite clear that the noble Lord will have to be on particularly combative terms to get me to press this Motion to a Division tonight, but I think that we must have some answers in public about why there have been 50 of these orders.

The importance of this is that the Government are allowing small exemptions to legislation that has been passed, presumably on grounds of practicality, often saying that these exemptions should not be regarded as precedents. Indeed, DPTAC says of all the three orders—starting with the first one, SI 2004/2149—that next users must sort out the problems with no further applications for exemption with respect to these vehicles.

We must take this on and say that the body that is supposed to be looking at this has said that this shall not happen in the future. But it has been happening in the past. There are more orders in the pipeline. How do I know that? It is because of my membership of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee. I wear two hats on this as a member of the committee and as spokesman on disabilities.

If memory serves, when we first received one of these orders, it was about a reconstruction of a classic railway line, which wanted an exemption from having disability access. As it was a 1920s vehicle, I felt that it was quite reasonable to grant the exemption for something that was a pleasure ride. The next time this matter came up it was a case that someone in a wheelchair would not have a handgrip available to them. It was a one-off deal and in a collision somebody in a wheelchair is probably more stable than someone who is standing, and a grip that would stop one being thrown around would have limited impact for someone in a wheelchair. Then the third order came up within the space of a couple of months.

I said to myself that this was happening too often. Then, before I opened my mouth, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in his capacity as chairman said that this should not happen, it is too frequent, it is occurring on a regular basis and we should not be allowing it to happen, at least not without notice being taken. The committee took the step of writing to the Secretary of State who replied stating that there were technical reasons and responding to our concerns about the length of time—15 years—before the refit of vehicles. I do not agree with that, but that is not really the question. I felt that the most worrying part came in the last couple of paragraphs in which he said that he hoped the committee would agree that it is better for disabled people to be able to use new trains with minor non-compliance than to prolong the life of old, inaccessible stock and that, by taking that decision, he was satisfied that the breach was minor and disabled people would not be prevented as a result of it from using the vehicle. That sounds okay in itself.

7.45 p.m.

South West Trains, the subject of the first order, receives £116 million from the Government. That is the figure that I have established. They said that these are minor technical concessions. The Government are prepared to say that the law can be changed on minor levels in respect of a vehicle that they are effectively funding. So the work that we do in Parliament, and particularly in this Chamber, is okay up to a point but it is not the absolute that we think it is. It has limits, for reasons of convenience.

Let us take this matter in context. Somebody who has a small corner sweetshop, which does not receive a government subsidy, now has to comply. As of 1 October, he has to comply, as the menacing adverts show. The Government are pumping money into companies and are then allowing them not to comply in very minor matters. We have over 50 of these orders. A series of minor matters might mean that a train journey becomes impossible or is interrupted for somebody who has a disability and does not know that the next train has a problem and they may be inconvenienced. That is potentially the situation.

When one looks at the idea of a display screen being 2 mm too small, it is a minor matter. But if that is the standard that has been applied and agreed and it is easy to change, why are we not saying it should be changed? That is the point of this discussion.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some firm guidance about what will happen in the future, because there have been 50 of these orders and I am reliably informed that there are more in the pipeline. It is too much. As they come through in ones or twos, it does not seem to be that big a deal. For instance, it was suggested to me in the briefing that stopping the Gatwick Express because it has one wheelchair place too few may be an excessive reaction. But we will have to draw a line in the sand somewhere on this if it is not effectively to become the case that corporate lawyers can say they can present a case that engineering has not been done or has been forgotten. That is what we are doing. We are creating precedents. I beg to move.

Lord Snape

My Lords, I declare an interest in this matter. I act as a consultant to, among others, the National Express Group, the operator of the Gatwick Express Service, which is the subject of one of the orders before your Lordships' House tonight. I have listened to the noble Lord and I agree that, on the face of it, 50 or 60 exemptions is—as he would probably put it, but did not—50 or 60 too many. But I feel that we ought to have some degree of common sense about the application of some of these regulations.

I shall confine my remarks to the Class 460 vehicles operated on the Gatwick Express, partly because they are the ones that I know best and partly because Gatwick Express does not receive any subsidy from the taxpayer. It is one of the few parts of the privatised railway that still makes money and makes a contribution to the Treasury.

The Class 460 EMUS were specified and ordered in the late 1990s, before these regulations were properly formulated and placed before us, in fact before the Act of Parliament came into being. The noble Lord said that it might be trivia but that is not an excuse—I paraphrase him—for not applying the regulations. But as far as the Gatwick Express vehicles are concerned, there are two matters that fall foul of the regulations. The first involves the visual destination screens inside the coaches that are, I understand, 32 mm, which is 3 mm less than the regulations lay down.

The Gatwick Express is a unique train in many ways. It starts at Gatwick and ends at Victoria, or vice-versa. So there are only two destinations to be shown on the internal train information. The train is either going to Victoria or it is going to Gatwick. There is at least one member of staff on every train. Part of his duties is to check tickets and issue them where necessary, as well as providing information to passengers on the train. During the course of the journey, up to half a dozen announcements are made in various languages about the facilities at the destination, regardless of whether that destination is Gatwick Airport or London Victoria.

While appreciating the sincerity with which the noble Lord spoke, I wonder whether we are seriously saying that the trains should be taken back to the depot in order to alter visual displays which, as I said, are three millimetres smaller than the regulations provide.

The noble Lord also touched on the second point about the vehicles—that each eight-coach train is short of one wheelchair space. There should be three spaces, but there are only two. As I understand it, however, one of the coaches is primarily for luggage and has only 10 seats. Gatwick Express management informs me that, since 2001, there have been about 3,000 complaints from passengers about various matters, but none of those involved either the visual display in the coaches or the lack of a wheelchair space. In those circumstances, I think that it is eminently sensible not to say that these vehicles have to be taken back to the depot to have an extra wheelchair space fitted and be replaced by older trains that do not have any of these benefits at all. The older trains do not breach just two of the regulations, they breach them all. I hope it does not annoy the noble Lord too much, but that does not appear to me a sensible way of interpreting the regulations.

I repeat that not a single complaint has been received by the Gatwick Express management about this matter. Indeed, the Gatwick Express has twice in as many years been voted the best train service in the United Kingdom. Surely if there were great problems in disability access or problems caused to people with disabilities travelling on these trains, at least one of those people would have made a complaint. None of them has done so.

I appreciate the noble Lord's concern about these matters. I understand that he frequently repeats this concern, and all credit to him for that. However, I think that there has to be some common sense in the interpretation of these regulations. I hope that the Minister will show some sympathy for train operators who are themselves trying to provide a service despite what they feel are the ever changing demands laid on them not only in disability matters but in other matters concerning the carriage of passengers in the UK.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining the orders in the light of the Select Committee's report on these issues. I welcome the opportunity to discuss them further. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for this opportunity.

With your Lordships' patience, I will read out the committee's conclusion in its 18th report, published on 17 September. It said: By putting or keeping rail vehicles in service, these instruments achieve the objective of avoiding delay to the travelling public, but we believe that they may do so to the detriment of the objective of improving access of the disabled. The House may also wish to consider the duration and cumulative impact of such exemption orders". In short, there is express concern about the number and length of some of the exemptions granted", so much so that the Committee put the issue to the Secretary of State for Transport. However, the committee was not fully satisfied with his answer. As we heard, South West Trains and Gatwick Express have already been given five years to rectify problems with their visual information display units. Although the technology to do so already exists, these operators, for some reason, require further exemptions.

The Committee also stated that it did not see how the length of exemption—until 2019—for Hull Trains to rectify problems with its nappy changing facilities could be reconciled with the Secretary of State's response to questioning. It seems that parents will have to wait another 15 years to be able to change a nappy on those trains.

As we have also heard, no fewer than 50 orders have been made so far. Despite the Government's current review of the RVAR, it is still clear that the cumulative effect of the exemptions works against, not with, the principles behind the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the aims of the Government's current draft Bill to improve disabled transport facilities. In fact, the end of the Select Committee's conclusion sums up by saying: Against the background of wider discussion on the draft Disability Discrimination Bill and the current review of the RVAR we believe that it is timely to draw these Orders to the special attention of the House on the ground that they may imperfectly achieve their policy objective". We on these Benches support the principles in the draft disability Bill published at the end of last year. In fact, we were disappointed that the Bill was only in draft form, particularly as it will be the first since 1995 when the Conservative government ensured that people with disabilities had legal entitlement to civil rights.

The concerns surrounding these orders within the context of the Joint Committee's report on the draft disability Bill prompt me to question what is going on with disability civil rights. Can the Minster inform the House when the Government plan to introduce the full Bill? Will it be introduced with an indicative timetable for the prompt introduction of the regulations and the dates by which each sector will be required to comply? Has the noble Lord's department already been in discussion with the sectors on this matter? Can he indicate to us now the progress they have made? Can he assure the House that the Government will get on with the process as quickly as possible?

These exemption orders suggest that the opposite is happening. They are presented against the background of a Government who talk about "a new age of achievement"—which is what the Prime Minister would love us to believe. However, very many concerns have not been satisfactorily answered. I hope that the Minister can put some of them to rest in his response and that he will write to me on those that he cannot.

8 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw

My Lords, I rise to disagree with the comments made by my noble friend. I believe that one of the Government's essential duties is to address the issues of cost and practicability in whatever they set their hand to.

I am sure that the intentions of those who supported the Disability Discrimination Act were perfectly laudable. However, the vehicles concerned often were built before the Act and are extremely difficult vehicles to modify. They also often belong to companies that are about to transfer them to other places. In the case of Hull Trains, the vehicles are leased by Hull Trains but will go to someone else. They are used by companies with very short remaining franchise periods in which to modify them. In fact, if the companies started the modification process, it would scarcely be finished by the time they had to give up the vehicles. Unfortunately, modifying vehicles needs to be addressed in the long term, not in the remaining two years of a franchise when you do not know who will take it over or whether you will continue to enjoy the franchise or with those vehicles.

Railway rolling stock lasts a long time—which is one of the issues that was probably not properly addressed when the law was passed. If the compliance date is moved by 10 years and a vehicle goes out of use within the time that compliance will be necessary, I believe that the cost of compliance moves by £50 million.

Every decision has to be based on value for money. If a great deal of money is spent on achieving absolute compliance, it cannot be spent on anything else. Money does not grow on trees and some £50 million or £100 million will be taken away from elsewhere.

I do not believe that disabled people are being disadvantaged in each of the three cases before us. I agree that the trains do not meet the letter of the law as they should have done. It may be that the mobility and inclusion unit should have realised this before the regulations were drafted, but mistakes were made. The number of orders relates, in many ways, to the number of different kinds of rolling stock on the railway.

Perhaps the Minister will write to me on another matter. The noble Lord opposite may agree that huge sums of money have been spent in the bus industry on vehicles which secure mobility laws—there is room for wheelchairs on buses; we have kneeling buses; we have low steps—but nothing has been done to keep bus stops clear of parked cars. I have asked the Minister to write to me because I have not warned him about this and I cannot expect him to answer today.

This is not a matter of spending money. There are supposed to be regulations in regard to clearways and bus stops under which it will become an immediately endorsable offence to stop in a bus stop. The bus industry has spent hundreds of millions of pounds complying with these orders, and yet a disabled person cannot with confidence make a journey by bus because the bus has to stop in the middle of the road and the disabled person has to get down from the bus and up on to the pavement. That negates the whole purpose of the money that has been spent. This is not a big legal question but it could bring immediate benefit to disabled people.

I cannot believe that if these orders are passed today disabled people will really suffer.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, I support the comments of my noble friend Lord Snape and endorse totally the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. Both are very experienced former railway managers and it would be in the interests of the House to listen to what they have to say on the subject.

The whole question of disabled access to our railway is very important and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is right to draw attention to it. However, he might have perhaps given the railways more credit than he did in his opening remarks, particularly bearing in mind that every one of the 4,000 new vehicles which are coming in under the latest investment programme is compliant with the disability access regulations. These three orders deal with vehicles which were ordered before the 1995 Act came into effect, and the infringements in each case are so minor that I am amazed that we are spending so much time discussing them.

The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, said that nappy changing on the Hull Trains will not now be possible. The situation is exactly the opposite. If this order were annulled, the Hull Trains would have to take out the nappy-changing table because the force required to bring the nappy table down is just beyond what the regulations require. That is why it is seeking an exemption. If this order is allowed tonight, nappy changing on the Hull Trains will, happily, continue for the period of the exemption.

It is not sensible to waste money on things which have very little benefit and which have the effect, as my noble friend Lord Snape said, of bringing back older trains, all of which fail to comply with any of these requirements. That is madness for the railways. I hope very much that we will agree to these exemptions this evening.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who always plays a zealous part in regard to disabled issues. I pay tribute to the work that he has carried out in the House over many years. I take his points very seriously indeed, although he will recognise that, unfortunately, he has been obliged to concentrate on three orders of fairly limited impact. He will also recognise from the responses of my noble friends Lord Snape and Lord Faulkner that such minor factors should scarcely bring the whole service to a shuddering halt, with older trains being brought back into use that would meet none of the requirements.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, will know that it is not only on our Benches that there are some reservations about the main thrust of his argument. His noble friend Lord Bradshaw also indicated that he, too, thought that none of the instances indicated in the orders is sufficiently significant in terms of disadvantage to the disabled to merit annulment of the orders.

I recognise that any exemption at all will disadvantage the disabled to a certain extent because we grant exemptions only when absolutely necessary in terms of the build of train vehicles, and want and expect full compliance with all new build. But, as my noble friends indicated, we are not talking about new build since 1995 and the requirements of the Act; we are talking about vehicles which were designed and in the process of being built before the legislation came into force. Unless we are to lose the whole value of the introduction of these new services and facilities, it must be reasonable that minor exemptions are applied to trains in such circumstances.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Addington—well versed as he is in transport issues—will recognise that the major issue in regard to South West Trains getting rid of its slam-door trains and introducing new rolling stock is that the new rolling stock has an element of imperfection in relation to the regulations, which he has accurately identified. But the new rolling stock takes out of existence slam-door trains which were well nigh impossible for disabled passengers to use, except if they were prepared to be corralled in a draughty guard's van and have all the delights of the noise and discomfort there, because that is all that the old system provided.

Lord Addington

My Lords, of course the noble Lord is right, but I would draw attention to the point about monitors, which is easily put right. There are four points here; DPTAC says you can easily deal with them. That is comparatively easy to do. What I was really trying to get across is that these things could have been done more quickly, even if at some expense and inconvenience to the operator.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the noble Lord might be a bit cavalier in his engineering knowledge with regard to the ease with which these issues can be put right. Let us take one obvious aspect which he referred to, with regard to nappy-changing. Having had a weekend with my new seven week-old grand-daughter in residence, I have become a recent expert again in nappy-changing, so I have a direct interest in this facility. With regard to Hull Trains in these terms, the issue is that the non-compliance with the orders is a non-compliance to protect other passengers, by making sure that the nappy table is sufficiently secured that it cannot be displaced and damage someone who is using the toilet close to which the nappy table is located. There is no easy design factor which takes out this substantial disabled facility, because that is what it is, so that you can at the stroke of a pen or flick of a screwdriver change that situation on the train. What is necessary is that the nappy table is secured slightly above the level which would otherwise obtain for its release, because it is necessary to protect other users of the toilet facilities. This is just to guarantee that we have safe trains with proper facilities—new, significant facilities for the disabled to use toilets on trains—but also the necessary protection with regard to the nappy table, which again is an additional facility which we all welcome on the trains.

The noble Lord indicates that he is not arguing for the whole system to be withdrawn, and he is not going to press this issue to a vote this evening. I am grateful to him for that. But each of the instances he has indicated is marginal to the interests of the disabled; in one case, so marginal as to be almost infinitesimal. What they would of course require is very substantial changes with regard to the trains. Now, we are saying that we do of course expect these changes to be effective.

8.15 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester

My Lords, before my noble friend leaves the issue of nappy-changing, would he confirm that if this order were to be annulled tonight, the effect would be that Hull Trains would have to withdraw all the nappy-changing tables from its trains?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, that is exactly right. That is the disadvantage of this rather draconian proposal, that we have an annulment order before us. My noble friend will recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, is indicating he will not press such a draconian position thus far, but wants to identify a weakness in the process that the Government are following.

We are at one with him in seeking maximum compliance with regard to facilities for the disabled. This Government have an excellent record on provision for the disabled and of course we are at one across the House in these terms. We recognise that noble Lords and parties in the other place are very committed to the interests of the disabled. I must say that the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, is not going to get a full outline of what is in the Queens' Speech from me. I do not enjoy that privileged status, and if I did he will recognise that he must contain his patience for only a matter of weeks and all will be vouchsafed to him.

This Government has prepared the ground with great thoroughness. We have had a pre-legislative scrutiny committee with regard to the Disablement Bill which guarantees that, before it comes before this House and the other place, the Bill will have had very substantial consideration, debate and discussion and will be a greatly enhanced measure as a result. He will forgive me if I do not meet his full point on that, and will recognise that the Government already have a very sound record with regard to transport and disability.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, managed to introduce into a debate about three rail orders a discussion about buses. I shall probably have to write to him about his point, although I agree entirely that there is not much sense in having buses equipped for disabled access if the disabled cannot get at them because a car is between them and where the bus has stopped. That issue relates a great deal more to parking enforcement regulations than to the design of buses. He will know that 90 per cent of vehicles in London are compliant with disabled requirements, and more than a third of the nationwide bus and coach fleet is compliant already.

That is against a background of vehicles that cost a substantial sum. It is a substantial investment to build a bus or coach, and they are not easy to alter once they have been constructed. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, will recognise that there is perfect justification, so far as the Government are concerned, that with regard to enforcing certain aspects of the regulations we need to give operators some time to affect the changes. I emphasise to him that the Disability Discrimination Act has been in force since 1995, although its regulations did not come in until 1998. We are talking about long lead times of construction for such vehicles. All vehicles fit that pattern, whether buses, coaches or railway compartments.

I would have a little more concern for the noble Lord's argument if he contended that the cumulative effect was effectively to cause the Government and the industry to fail the disabled travelling public. I recognise that he is perforce bound to be selective, based on the orders before the House. However, as my noble friends Lord Snape and Lord Faulkner indicated—they were supported by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw—each instance identified in the orders amounts to an imperceptible impact on the disabled.

Let me take the case of the Gatwick Express. Helpful as ever, my noble friend has largely stolen the best points of my speech in his own excellent contribution to the argument. I shall try to reinforce the message that he put across so graphically. We are talking about trains that go every 15 minutes. Under the regulations, they should have three disabled places for their eight-coach trains. In fact, they have two. Although the trains comprise eight coaches, they are eight coaches only technically in the sense that one coach is almost entirely fitted out for luggage transport. Therefore, the actual number of disabled places on the train is not greatly inappropriate.

What we are talking about is on the margins. As my noble friend Lord Snape asked, would we conceive of withdrawing a service that runs every 15 minutes because the trains, designed before the regulations came into place, failed on such a narrow point? As my noble friend Lord Faulkner asked, has there been a volley of complaints from the disabled about the poor service of the Gatwick Express? I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, probably ought to turn to his supporting colleague who knows a great deal about rail transport. He will tell him, as my noble friend Lord Snape indicated, that the Gatwick Express enjoys a high reputation. It is an effective service and runs frequently. It is also a service about which, when we identify complaints, it is not the disabled who are complaining.

I do not seek to detract from the noble Lord's advocacy of the disabled position. We all know how sincere he is about that and are concerned about such matters too. However, he would accept that disabled people are not backward in coming forward if they think that they are being very severely disadvantaged by such issues. I merely maintain that we are not getting complaints from the disabled about the Gatwick service.

I could identify a range of other issues. I want to give the noble Lord the assurance that we recognise that legislation could effectively be totally transformed if there were a series of exemptions to its enforcement. He said that the local sweet shop had to comply. That is not quite true; it does, but each case is taken on its merits and looked at individually.

All that we say with regard to a train service is that of course the proposition holds for the rail system as a whole. There are bound to be some emendations where a build of trains precedes legislation. If the build were completely out of keeping with the requirements of the Act, we would put a strict limit on the time that we expected to see such rail stock in service. The noble Lord may say that is an extensive period of time. We appreciate the fact that there are very strong representations about this matter, which is not an easy one. One does not throw a switch and easily recreate rolling stock. It is a very big investment indeed. The noble Lord will recognise that one of the developments in the railways in recent years has been the rapid growth of new rolling stock.

Perhaps I may give the noble Lord another illustration of how difficult it is to meet the requirements. The Pendolino tilting trains on the north-west line have refrigerating boxes so that people can take cold drinks in the service car dining area. The door is difficult to open because if it flew open there would be enormous danger and damage to people. It has to be secure in a train which is meeting certain specifications as regards the track. However, at the development stage, the issue of the disabled was not to the fore. How are the disabled to cope with the refrigerator door being difficult to open without the application of a certain amount of power? Like everyone else on the train, such as a child or any other person with limited physical strength, they will ask the staff to help them. The refrigerator boxes are in the same compartment as the serving staff. So, the issue will be readily resolved. But we could not possibly consider saying to Virgin Trains that the Pendolino concept should be withdrawn because the refrigerator cannot be opened easily, given that the Pendolino requires that degree of security.

Against that background, all I am saying is that the Government are not resiling at all from their commitments to the disabled as regards transport. How could we, when we talk about orders under previous legislation? The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, is not going to press me too far on specifying it. In due course we are going to introduce a further disability Bill which will take these issues further. The Government are not going to resile from their main proposition, but they will inevitably take account of certain minor necessary exemptions as regards the obvious requirements of rolling stock.

The noble Lord may tot up a significant number of regulations, but quite a percentage of them relate to heritage lines and rolling stock which, by definition, pre-date everything to do with disability rights legislation and which cannot be rendered safe and meet the requirements of that legislation. We may say that we are not interested in the age of steam and in retaining those facilities. I believe that there are one or two noble Lords in the House who would resent that. Many people outside would certainly regret the end of such heritage trains. But there are bound to be exemptions. A very substantial number of them are heritage exemptions. Therefore, it will not do to tot them up and to conclude from that that the Government are resiling from a position under industry pressure. That is not so.

I recognise that the noble Lord has identified an issue to which we are obliged to respond seriously this evening. I want to give him every assurance that the Government are not in any way withdrawing their commitment to ensure as far as possible that disabled persons in the United Kingdom can avail themselves of public transport on the same basis as all other transport users.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down may I pose one further question? The noble Lord has answered one of them. Do other industries such as the airline industry, the bus and coach industry and the shipping industry have similar problems? Aeroplanes, for example, may have been built perhaps 30 years before these regulations. If they have such problems, will they be treated in the same way as the rail industry?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the Government's job is to keep the transport system operating as efficiently as it can. We all recognise its enormous advantages, not just to those who use transport for leisure, but its essential importance to our economy and those who use it to get to work and in their economic activities. Of course we will have to look at the issues with regard to other modes of transport, with regard to bus travel, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, hinted in his remarks, and at one or two aspects of exemption. That will crop up in other areas. It will be as nothing compared to the benefits in terms of opportunities for the disabled.

Noble Lords will recall a Starred Question five or six months ago, to which I had the great joy to respond, about a foreign airline—Ryanair—not allowing a disabled passenger access because it was not prepared to take the person on board. We could not do anything about that, nor can we do anything about foreign airlines in those terms, but we will certainly ensure that all our airports guarantee the disabled access to aircrafts. If some airlines have different standards from ours, we must cross that bridge when we come to it.

The noble Lord will recognise that with regard to air travel we are inevitably outside national bounds. We must get agreement in the European Community and with the international airline operators to guarantee success.

I want to assure the noble Lord that I am grateful to him for having introduced the debate. It gives me an opportunity once again to emphasise the Government's commitment to the needs of the disabled and to indicate to him that we are not cumulatively disbanding the legislation; very far from it. We are concerned to ensure that there is compliance as far as we can enforce it, but we are well aware that there will be limited and narrowly defined instances, such as in these three orders this evening, where it is only right and proper that exemptions are made.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part. I wish that people would concentrate on what I said. According to the information we have here some of these matters are avoidable. Display screens are just that little bit too small and should have been changed. That point primarily attracted me. According to the experts involved, including the Government's experts, that could have been dealt with. I am referring to that type of drip, drip, drip effect.

I regard disability as a civil rights issue. One needs to get information across properly. It can be done; it should be done; we have said it will be done in Parliament. I was concerned about the volume and the frequency of the problems. In my initial remarks I agreed that the heritage lines may be a justified exemption. I felt that that would be acceptable. If it had only been those I would not have minded.

However, real issues arise, such as compliance dates and long lead-in times which will affect future legislation. I know that, having been on the draft Bill committee. I suggest that the Government look long and hard at this matter. It may be inconvenient to the rail industry, but it is something which the rest of society is having to deal with, and the rail industry will have to do so too. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.