HL Deb 16 September 2004 vol 664 cc1287-9

11.14 a.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to ensure that disabled residents living on unadopted roads will be able to take full advantage of the provisions in the draft Disability Discrimination Bill.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the provisions of the draft Disability Discrimination Bill would place public authorities under a duty not to discriminate against disabled people when exercising any of their functions and would require them to promote equality of opportunity. Local authorities have no mandatory duties in respect of unadopted roads, and the Bill's provisions would not change that position.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord to a certain extent for that Answer. I know that he knows that there are about 40,000 unadopted roads in England, because we have discussed this before. Does he know that many of them, particularly in the north of England, are in such a state of disrepair and are so badly lit that disabled people cannot safely leave their houses? Does he not think that it is time that the national Government should fill this breach in our welfare provisions by taking over responsibility?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, when the noble Lord says that I know that there are 40,000 unadopted roads in the United Kingdom, I do so on the basis of 1972 statistics, which are the latest we have.

In response to the noble Lord's broader point, he will recognise that it is for frontagers on such roads to make up their mind whether the road is sufficiently secure for them to go about their business. If there are disabled people who have particular difficulties, they must get together with their neighbours to approach the local authority. But if local authorities took on every single unadopted road in this country, the cost would be £3 billion. That is a mighty large slice out of the transport budget.

Lord Addington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that such confusion within a major piece of disability legislation is one of the major problems in this field? Are the Government prepared at least to clarify the situation when the Bill comes before Parliament? At the moment, it appears that you are allowed to travel if you are disabled unless you need to go to an address on an unadopted road.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the Bill relates to public transport and the obligations upon public transport to guarantee that disabled people can travel as readily as anyone else. However, public transport does not ply down unadopted roads, in the main, for fairly obvious reasons. I repeat that if we accepted a public responsibility for all unadopted roads, it would be a major cost which would be difficult to justify when we know that very large numbers of unadopted roads are in that state because the frontagers are determined that they should remain that way. That is their decision and their right.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, as the Minister also answered the last Question from the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, on unadopted roads, will he let me add a footnote to my quotation from Betjeman on that occasion, to which he responded? I have since verified that Miss Joan Hunter Dunn was the catering manager at the Ministry of Information during the war, based in Senate House at the University of London, where Betjeman served for a short period.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the whole House is always grateful for any information we get from the noble Lord, but on this occasion we are doubly grateful.

Lord Addington

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the clarification of providers of goods and services might be an avenue for the Government to consider? We do not want to go to case-made law to sort this out.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. He will recognise that the Bill we are introducing has had the benefit of pre-legislative scrutiny, which will aid its passage through Parliament. The House will have its opportunity to consider the legislation, when all these points will be taken into account. However, I understand what the noble Lord says about road surfaces and services to the disabled in our community. We shall certainly discuss those points when the Bill is before us.

Earl Attlee

My Lords, how does the Minister know what the cost of adopting all the roads is when he does not have an up-to-date catalogue?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, that is a fair point. We are in the land of conjecture and guesswork on this issue, because we do not keep an up-to-date register of unadopted roads because they are not of public concern, nor is there any public expenditure on them. They are private roads with private rights. However, we have that figure from 1972. Only a small number of roads move from the unadopted to the adopted category each year. When one speaks of billions, it is from a vague perspective on a large number of roads. When each one is now adopted, we have a yardage cost that gives us a chance to produce a broad instrument. However, I am not of course defending the figures as categorical.