HL Deb 03 February 2005 vol 669 cc408-50

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 3.

Lord Addington

moved Amendment No. 16: Page 9, line 2, at end insert— ( ) A public authority for the purposes of subsection (1) includes a body responsible for a school as determined in accordance with Schedule 4A to the Act. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope I will not have to detain the House too long with this. This amendment is an attempt at clarification. I spoke to a similar amendment during the Grand Committee. It may just be the fact that I am not that quick on the uptake or that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. was going a little too fast for the rest of us to catch up. But the amendment comes down to the fact that schools do not seem to be caught within specific duty.

If it is just that we missed it earlier on, and we did not quite get the reference that brings them into the whole purpose of specific duty, then that is fine. But could the Minister please tell us where we have missed it? If schools get it wrong, the people who actually suffer—the pupils—will have an incredibly slow start in life. If the Minister could tell us where this is covered I will quite happily withdraw the amendment. If she cannot give a clearer and more defined answer which someone with my slow uptake can follow, I think we have a problem. I beg to move.

Baroness Wilkins

My Lords, I apologise for being slightly late. I would very strongly like to support the intention behind this amendment. The Government can be very justly proud of the introduction of the public sector duty in this Bill. It will have a major impact on disabled people's lives. Over half of public authorities are schools, so unless the Government make a specific commitment to place specific equality duties on schools then half of public bodies would be excluded from the public sector duty.

The school system is not delivering equality of opportunity for disabled people. For instance, the number of disabled people who go into higher education at the age of 18 is less than half of their non-disabled peers. I do hope that the Minister will be able to assure the House that schools will be subject to the specific disability equality duties in Clause 3 and that schools will be required to publish disability equality schemes.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, we discussed this issue in Committee and I had hoped that I was able to assure noble Lords that an amendment of this nature is unnecessary.

In July 2004 the Government issued their consultation document, Delivering Equality for Disabled People, on extending the Disability Discrimination Act to the functions of public bodies, and in particular on the introduction of a duty to promote equality for disabled people. This duty applies right across the public sector, including schools and other educational bodies.

What we are debating is whether the regulations mentioned in Section 49D(1) will prescribe the duties that will apply to public bodies in order to ensure better performance of the general duty to promote under Section 49A(1). It is not so much whether the duty will apply to schools, but how the duty applies in schools. That is the only difference between us.

I explained in Grand Committee that we are putting a range of measures in place to improve schools' performance for disabled children. For example, we are actively looking to improve data in relation to disabled pupils, and will use the accountability mechanisms of the new relationship with schools. This will include annual self-evaluation reviews, a single conversation with a school improvement partner, and three-yearly Ofsted inspections to identify and clarify areas of weakness and underperformance and equity gaps in attainment between different groups of pupils.

The recent Ofsted report Special Educational Needs and Disability—Towards Inclusive Schools found that the revised inclusion framework we introduced through the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 had contributed to a growing awareness of the benefits of inclusion and to some improvements in practice. The report highlights the need for further progress and acknowledges that we are taking action through our policies—in particular our special educational needs strategy, Removing Barriers to Achievement—to bring about further improvements.

I believe that the SENDA duties need time to bed down and that our policies to improve provision for disabled children require time to take full effect. In that context, as we all recognised at Committee, we need to think carefully about whether it is appropriate to place further specific duties on schools at this point.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Addington's question, there is no specific duty imposed on schools in this Act as it is at the moment. However we are keeping the matter under review and new Section 49D provides us with exactly that flexibility. We already have the power in the Bill and we can impose further specific duties at a later date, should it become clear that it is necessary to achieve the improved outcomes that we all seek for disabled people.

The effective implementation of the duty to promote equality in schools is an issue that the DRC wishes to see resolved. They share the concerns of the noble Lord and say: "We firmly believe it can be resolved without any amendment to the Bill". They say this because we have powers within the Bill to take that action by amendment.

Within that context, where we are still working with schools, we have come a long way. We still have some way to go but we have the powers already there. The Bill does not need changing but we obviously have to bring all parties into a common understanding of what needs to be done. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Addington

My Lords, in listening to the Minister's reply I am convinced that the Government's intentions are good on this. But I am afraid that it is one of the ones that we will need to have a watching brief on to make sure that it works properly. I would prefer it on the face of the Bill because it would be much easier to refer back to. Having said that, if the Government invite us to keep a watching brief then we shall do it. Let us hope that we do not have to call back to this subject at a later date. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Higgins

moved Amendment No. 17: After Clause 5, insert the following new clause—


The provision of the 1995 Act, this Act and the regulations made under them shall apply equally to school buses regardless of whether they are provided by local authorities or privately."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 17 which stands in my name, which inserts a new clause on school buses as it stands on the Marshalled List.

We are all anxious to make progress and I hope not to delay the Committee for too long, but there does seem to be a considerable amount of confusion about the position of school buses. The DRC, for example, in one of its briefs, says the position under the DDA as far as school buses are concerned is complex. School buses may be of three sorts. They may either be operated by the local authority; by a private company acting on behalf for example of the parents; or there may be a situation where the bus is operated by the local authority but it charges fares to some of the passengers because there is excess capacity beyond the amount which they are to provide for free, which is a convenience.

I am sure that we are all anxious that school buses should be appropriately designed or modified to cope with the problem of disabled children as it is important that they should be able to get to school without any form of discrimination. Where the problem seems to arise is that it is not entirely clear whether a school bus whose fares are paid for by the parents is a public service vehicle because it has fare-paying customers. Do the Government regard them as fare-paying customers, or not?

The situation also appears rather disturbing in the light of an article in the Sunday Telegraph on 12 December 2004, which arose from a conference which apparently the Department of Transport held. The article suggested that school buses will now be regarded as public service buses and subject to the regulations. It may or may not have misunderstood the situation. Consequently, they will have to have a destination board on the front, for example, and meet other requirements that do not seem wholly appropriate for school buses.

There is also a problem, as I understand it, because of the age of the bus. If a bus is new and it is operated by the local authority, apparently it is exempt; whereas if the same bus is used by school children whose parents are paying for the use of that bus, it appears that they may be committing an offence under the DDA.

The other problem is timing. It is suggested that if an operator goes out and buys two bangers built before 2000, they are legal, but if he uses a new coach under the new provisions, that is illegal. I would be grateful if the Minister could quickly clarify the situation of school buses. The DRC goes into all the legislation and references back and forth. We do not need to go into that. We just need to deal with it in general terms.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his keen interest in this issue, which is important. I am also grateful for the way in which he moved the amendment. I shall try to respond in the same spirit. The amendment has some technical deficiencies, but I do not want to debate those at this stage. We are looking at the real issues that concern school buses and I will address my remarks to those. School buses are already required to comply with the relevant accessibility regulations under the DDA when they are operated as public service vehicles. The question of who operates them is immaterial.

A public service vehicle is defined in the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 by reference to whether separate fares are charged. The accessibility regulations apply to new public service vehicles of a prescribed description used in prescribed circumstances. The current regulations apply to new public service vehicles introduced into service on or after 31 December 2000 with a carrying capacity of more than 22 passengers which are used on local and scheduled services. Any bus used on school service that meets those requirements in terms of size and date is caught by the accessibility regulations. That applies whether the service is provided by a local authority or a private operator—that makes no difference at all.

I mentioned that there is a technical problem in the amendment. In effect, the amendment fails to define what is meant by "school buses". Either buses or coaches can be used to provide a school service, but both have different meanings in construction in use in legislation and in terms of the DDA. We would be in real difficulty if the amendment were pressed and accepted. I assure the noble Lord that where fares are charged and the bus comes within the framework of a public service vehicle, it is caught by these requirements.

We are looking at the more general issue. We are carrying out an inquiry. We are commissioning a research project to examine the case for the application of accessibility regulations to school buses, and a contract for that is being put out across the field. The noble Lord will recognise that there are competing points of view on these issues. Many of these vehicles would need to be used for other purposes in public service, and they are likely in due course to be sold on. If they are not compliant, they cannot be used as public service vehicles in any other context. There is a built-in dynamic.

2.45 p.m.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He referred to the definition of a public service vehicle as a vehicle with more than 22 seats. Am I correct in thinking that, particularly in rural areas, it is not unusual to find so-called minibuses that are much smaller than 22-seaters? Are they brought in, in any way, by this legislation as it stands or by the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Higgins?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise why a concept of size is related to this. If one must make provision for the disabled in such a way that the number of seats is reduced, the impact on the service and the vehicle will be different according to whether the vehicle has 22 or more seats, and very different indeed if it is a minibus. If it is one as small as an eight-seater, you could easily halve the capacity and make the concept somewhat unrealistic. Every figure is arbitrary, but we have a figure of 22 seats to take account of that.

In our survey, we will look at the issues raised by the noble Lord. School transport raises specific issues, as noble Lords recognise, but the Bill makes watertight provision for cases where it applies to public service vehicles. We have a dynamic that relates to the fact that the owners of such vehicles often want to use them in other contexts, when they would have to meet these requirements. If they wanted to sell them on to be used in other circumstances, they could be sold on only if they met these requirements. The issue of specialist school buses is not easy to resolve, but we are carrying out a full inquiry on it.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I seek to clarify something. My understanding is that local authority vehicles are described as "exempt". Do they none the less still have to conform to the provisions of the DDA? Secondly, is it the case that a bus that is effectively chartered by parents who pay for it is a fare-paying bus? Does that mean that it must be regarded as a public service vehicle and consequently have to have a destination board and everything else?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I sought to make clear that the local authority fits into the same category as all the others. It is not a question of who operates the vehicle. It is a question of the specifications of the vehicle. As for examining the issue with regard to vehicles with fewer than 22 seats, we could prescribe for that in the regulations in due course and make requirements for those vehicles. I discussed that a moment ago with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit. We would have the powers to do that, but at this stage we are identifying public service vehicles with 22 seats or more. That is the category that we are dealing with.

On the issue of charter buses, the question is the fare-paying passenger. As the noble Lord has just identified, the crucial issue would be how the parents raised the resources for the charter bus. Certainly, if any of the students on the bus made a contribution by dint of their travelling on the bus it would come within these requirements, providing that it met the other specifications that I have identified.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can I be clear that if a bus is run around south London and so on by a group of parents—or perhaps the school—and they cover the costs, does that make it a fare-paying bus and does it mean that it is a public service vehicle, and will it have to have a destination board and everything else?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the noble Lord is pressing the issue further than I can go. That is a detail on the way in which the parents would draw in the resources to make the charter impossible. If they are charging students on the bus and the students are obliged to pay, there is no question. I hear what the noble Lord is saying that there may be other arrangements that I have not addressed so far. I will write to him about that fairly narrow and technical point and make sure that he is fully apprised of the situation before Third Reading.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, this is a good example of the way in which legislation can become extremely complex to achieve something reasonably sensible. That worries me enormously—I believe it worries the Minister a little; that involves trying to knit together and make sense of the various provisions so that we do not find a judge at some stage asking what is a public service vehicle and finding that the legislation does not give him clear guidance.

Could the legislation, in particular for smaller vehicles, specify having to make provision if there is demand for it? That is, we do not want every 22-seater bus that might conceivably be used for the purpose to be required to be able to carry severely disabled passengers when there may be few passengers to be so carried. We can stumble too easily into making provision for which there is no real requirement.

Perhaps it would therefore be better to have legislation to specify—and perhaps the Minister could consider the issue in this light—that if there was a requirement for a 22-seater bus or smaller, it should be met but, if not, we should not impose such an obligation on the makers and operators of every bus, however small.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, no doubt the Minister will take that point into account in correspondence and we can make progress on that basis and if necessary return to the matter at Third Reading. I fully accept that the amendment was probably defective: it had the terrible crime of being understandable. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Rail vehicles: application of accessibility regulations]:

Lord Higgins

moved Amendment No. 18: Page 12, line 40, at end insert— ( ) In section 46 of the 1995 Act after subsection (5) there is inserted— (5A) The Secretary of State shall set a date in regulations by which time all rail vehicles must be regulated rail vehicles and this date must be no later than 1st January 2017." The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 26. The House will recognise that Amendment No. 18 is important. Some of the representations that we have received, for example from the Disabilities Charities Consortium, suggest that regardless of age, social class or impairment, inaccessible transport is still the single most important issue facing disabled people.

We have examined in considerable depth the compliance or otherwise of railway carriages with regard to the disabled provisions. The amendment contains two elements: first, it specifies a deadline for the arrangements to be concluded; secondly, it specifies a specific date. I shall take the second point first.

There is widespread agreement by outside bodies—almost every disability body takes this view—that an end date should be specified in the Bill rather than in regulations. They have put forward a number of reasons: for example, the sooner the end date is known by the industry, the sooner we will be able to plan for compliance. Previous experience has shown that the activity of complying with such regulations can be left until the last minute, and so the earlier the date, the earlier plans will be put in place.

The stability of the end date is also vital. If it is written in the Bill primary legislation will be necessary to alter it. That will prevent the date from being altered nearer the deadline, which could happen if the process were carried out solely by regulation. The industry will be clear as to its obligations under law and disabled people will be aware of what they can expect to happen and when. There has been massive consultation, including by the task force and the formal consultation by the Department for Transport; and the Joint Committee looked into the matter. There is clearly a lack of confidence on the part of some disabled organisations as to the way in which the arrangements would be carried out or whether they have been carried out as expeditiously as they might have been in the past. It is therefore essential if not today then at Third Reading that there should be a specific deadline date in the Bill.

The date that I have put in these amendments is 2017. We debated that point at great length in Committee and I do not want to go over it again. The 2017 date was supported by the DRC, the DPTAC, the DCC, the Joint Committee on the draft Bill and the House of Commons Select Committee on Transport, so there is a great deal of pressure for 2017. None the less, as matters have proceeded through the House I have detected some change in attitude towards that date and 2020 is now being bandied around. It is sooner than the date 2025 that was originally suggested by the Government.

In Committee we became clear that, as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, will bear out, we were either going to have 2017 with lots of exemptions or 2020 without exemptions. Therefore, if we are going to go for 2020, we need to be assured that the list of exemptions will be carefully monitored and regulated. There are later amendments from the Liberal Democrats as well as us that deal with that matter; I shall deal with them when I come to them.

If we can make progress on that issue, it would be appropriate to go for the later date rather than the earlier date at Third Reading. We will need to consider the matter in the light of all the discussions we are having today. The crucial point is that there should be a date. The exact date we should select will depend on how far we are reassured with regard to the control over the exemptions, which I am told amount to a large number, although their individual importance may vary a great deal. We will come to that in relation to later amendments.

I hope that the Minister can respond positively. I beg to move.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

My Lords, I would like to make it clear that we support the official Opposition in their view that a firm date should be in the Bill. For all the reasons that the noble Lord gave we believe it is important. It is vital that everyone involved knows that the date is clearly nailed down with no wriggle or room to be amended. On balance, having considered carefully the Government's explanations and our discussions with the industry about cost, we feel that the right compromise for the date is 2020.

3 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I wish to add a few words but I shall be extremely brief. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, summed up my position exactly, which is that if the 2020 date is adopted—which is now the Government's declared intention, so they should have no problem putting it on the face of the Bill—with a robust exemptions procedure, everyone concerned with the matter will be very pleased.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, will the Minister clarify the position so that we can consider these clauses against the wider framework? I understand that the provision calls perfectly properly for accommodation for disabled people. That would mean the elimination of about three seats. Therefore, on a 12-coach train that is normally full, 36 passengers would have to stand who would otherwise not have to do so. I query whether we have the proportionality right as regards the obligation we are placing on the future design and construction of these coaches and whether adequate thought has been given to ensuring that we have the right balance as between the interests of the disabled and those of the "abled".

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, for once, I agree with every word spoken by the noble Lord. Lord Higgins. He put the case extremely well and was well briefed by the Disability Charities Consortium and I agree with its views too. I believe that it has now come round to the date of 2020 rather than 2017. 1 believe that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, recommended the former date to my noble friend, or certainly will do so on Third Reading. However, the concomitant of that—this is a very important reservation—is that there should be no exemptions. I know that we shall discuss exemptions when we debate Amendment No. 19 and other amendments, but it is very important that the message goes to the Minister that the acceptance of the later date of 2020 is conditional on there being no exemptions.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, if the Minister has difficulty in accepting the measure, whether it involves the date of 2017 or 2020, there is another way to skin the cat; that is, to put in the Bill a requirement that the regulations be made by a particular date. That would put the pressure on government to get going. They would have to flag up what they were going to do in those regulations which we could say would have to be made by, say, 2009. If the Minister cannot accept the broad thrust of these amendments with either of the dates that have been discussed, that would be another way to skin the cat.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords. I have very limited experience of skinning cats and therefore I shall not follow the noble Lord too far in that analogy, not least because I hope that I shall be able to persuade him that the strategy that we are adopting makes sense. After all, we spent considerable time discussing this issue in Committee, which has resulted in brief speeches being made today, for which I am grateful. I recognise the strong sentiments behind those speeches. I shall try to keep my remarks to the minimum but, as the noble Lord indicated, this is an issue of considerable importance.

Up until now attention has been focused on what the date should be, and whether it should be on the face of the Bill. This amendment addresses one of these points by requiring regulations to be made which would set the end date, but at the same time it ties our hands by placing on the face of the Bill the latest date by which all rail vehicles must be regulated.

Before I turn to the detail of the date itself I would like to say that we welcome the acknowledgement in this amendment that placing the date in regulations is a more practical approach. It is consistent with the approach we have taken for buses and coaches, and which we propose to adopt in respect to taxis in due course.

However, the existing provision in Clause 6 already enables us to set the end date in regulations. We have made clear that we will do so to honour our commitment to implement the DRTF recommendation. I suggest therefore that there is no need to place an explicit requirement in the Bill provided the date for compliance is clear regarding the Government's strategy on implementing the Bill. As the noble Lord indicated, I am tempted to stray towards the debate that we shall have on later amendments on the regulatory procedure. I would be out of order if I did that, but suffice it to say that during the discussion on the regulations I hope that I shall establish exactly what he has indicated he needs satisfaction on; namely, how we propose to implement the measure in regard to a definable date.

We realise that there is considerable support for making an end date of 2017, but as I explained in Committee, the Government consider 2020 to be a more reasonable end date. The noble Lord recognised that a considerable difference in costs was involved as between the two dates. We have set an end date of 2020 for coaches. The most obvious competitor and comparator of rail vehicles are long-distance coaches. We would face a very considerable cost—a sum of nearly £170 million—if we brought the relevant date forward to 2017. 1 believe that the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, asked me to be explicit on that point.

I make it clear that you do not have non-compliant vehicles on one date and compliant vehicles on the next. By definition this is a process of working towards a date. It is all about new build and refurbishment where vehicles are taken off the lines to be brought up to standard and to meet the requirements of the Bill. I make the obvious point with regard to the 2020 date. We expect 1,742 non-compliant vehicles to have been replaced by the end of 2018 out of the 2,200 vehicles that would be caught by the end date. The task could not have been done unless the work had been carried out earlier. Noble Lords will recognise that no intelligent rail company, or manufacturers who undertake the new build and refurbishments, will cram all that work into the last six months resulting in every rail vehicle being off the lines with a consequent collapse of the service. This is bound to be a planned process involving a considerable amount of investment.

Once we know what the end date will be, work will begin to meet that date. I refer to the somewhat arbitrary distinction that was drawn with regard to the 2017 date. It is not a matter of making a three-year distinction; the process will have been put in train to make the vehicles fully compliant for 2020. Inevitably, a great deal of work will have been carried out prior to that date. We have given a firm commitment to use the provisions that would be afforded by Clause 6 of the Bill. We have demonstrated that by consulting previously on our initial policy proposals and indicating that the next stage will be to consult on the draft regulations themselves, which we will debate later. We are not backing away from setting an end date. We simply believe that it is too inflexible to put it on the face of the Bill. In addition to the question of' costs, I emphasise that the date of 2020 is set in regulations with regard to coach transport.

Amendment No. 26 is somewhat unnecessary. When we have made regulations to set the end date it will be a statutory requirement for all rail vehicles that continue in service after that date to comply with the regulations unless an exemption is in place. We shall discuss in a later amendment, which we shall discuss shortly, how those exemptions will be controlled by the parliamentary process in regulations.

We remain concerned about including any date in the Bill because that would be too rigid. But we do believe that the package of proposals we have presented—

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, let us suppose we accept the date of 2020, but it is not in the Bill. Let us further suppose that the railway industry typically drags its feet and then, closer to the time, finds that it cannot meet the date. The pressure on the then government, whoever it is, to defer the date will be enormous. The railway industry could again be recalcitrant, resulting in the date being pushed further and further back. If the date is set out in the Bill that cannot be done.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the date will be set out in the regulations which, so far as the industry is concerned, will have the same effect. My noble friend will recognise that we will be working towards a date that is some distance away—15 years ahead—which gives us time to develop the regulations and put them in place. We have done that for the coach industry. We intend to tackle the issues regarding that industry in regulations.

I am not sure that it is entirely fair to say that the rail industry typically drags its feet on these matters. Investment in new rail build has grown apace over recent years. Indeed, my noble friend will recognise the degree of compliance with the issues under debate already reached in our modern rolling stock even though the industry is not yet subject to regulation. So I defend the rail industry as regards its intentions in this regard. I can give him an assurance on that.

The package of proposals we are putting forward represent a balance between the needs of disabled people and the operational concerns of the rail industry. No one underestimates the costs involved in the adaptation of existing rolling stock and the demand for new build. On the certification and enforcement regimes that we propose for rail vehicles, the Government recognise the need to strengthen the existing arrangements. When I reply to the debate on the later amendment. of which the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, has given notice, I will attempt to show how strong those are in order to allay the concerns voiced by my noble friend Lord Ashley.

On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Vinson

My Lords, will the noble Lord respond to the question I put to him? I do not query in any way the desirability of the regulations, rather I query their proportionality. I am also not querying the date by which they should be introduced. But if, as I am led to understand, the full implication of these regulations would mean that on a long-distance journey some 36 more passengers would have to stand, have we got the proportionality of the degree of modification required to meet the requirements of the disabled balanced properly against the need to seat as many ordinary passengers as possible? That is the root of my question.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord is straightforward. We are talking about each individual rail vehicle. We intend that each vehicle should offer access to disabled passengers. If not, the danger is that a train could be composed of a dozen carriages, none of which complies. We are not in a position to estimate the provision for disabled people who may want to avail themselves of the service offered by particular lines or individual services. However, we will guarantee that every disabled person seeking access to a carriage will find that it provides that opportunity. It will also have a toilet appropriate to accommodating their needs.

The noble Lord is right to say that these provisions will be made at some cost to other passengers in the sense that seats will be given up, incurring a cost implicit to the rail system. But of course good is never achieved without cost.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Carter

My Lords, will my noble friend answer a simple question? At the back of the Government's response to the Joint Committee report is set out a provisional implementation timetable of the main provisions in the Bill. For June 2006 it states: Rail commencement plus revised Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations". Will those regulations include the date of 2020?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am going to indicate that we have some flexibility with regard to the regulations. We want to engage in a discussion on that and, indeed, I am tempted not to tread on the ground of the forthcoming amendment. I want to demonstrate to the House how open we are, but there is a danger that if I make that speech now, it would be entirely inappropriate. If my noble friend exercises a little patience, I shall be able to reassure him on his point.

Perhaps I have been rather more emotional about this issue in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, than is entirely proper. However, it should be recognised that this Bill makes substantial progress so far as concerns disability rights. I want also to emphasise that certain aspects of each rail vehicle will have to be adapted. If a carriage is equipped with a toilet, provision must be made for disabled passengers. That is not to say that every single railway carriage will need to be fitted with proper disabled access, but we will ensure that, as far as possible, disabled passengers seeking access to our trains will know that provision is made on each train to meet their needs. However, should someone ask me what will happen if a very large group of passengers all with the same needs should board a train, obviously I cannot answer that question. Within the bounds of reasonable intention, however, we are seeking to ensure that rail vehicles are adapted in such a way that we can guarantee that disabled people are able to exercise their rights to travel as much as anyone else.

Turning to the regulations, my noble friend is dragging me down a path where I ought not to go because I am supposed to be addressing these issues a little later. However, in response to his direct question, it is the case that the regulations to be produced in 2006 will include an end date. He has already stolen most of the lines that I would have used in response to a later amendment.

Lord Higgins

There is a slight sequential problem here, but the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, is right to reinforce the point. If we are aiming for a later rather than an earlier date, it is crucial that the exemptions should be very carefully constrained. As the Minister has just pointed out, it is hoped that we will be able to clear up the matter when addressing subsequent amendments.

On the question of whether there should be a date in the Bill, I am somewhat concerned by the noble Lord's reply. I thought that the amendment was drafted quite well. Now I am worried whether it is not drafted rather too well from the Government's point of view. The Minister seemed to imply that my amendment as tabled in the Marshalled List would confer a degree of flexibility. That was not our intention and will certainly not be our intention at Third Reading. For all the reasons I gave in my opening remarks, it is crucial that there should be a specific and inflexible date in the Bill. That is a separate issue from what the actual date should be. No doubt we shall touch on the issue again at Third Reading. At this stage of the debate, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Addington

moved Amendment No. 19: Page 13, line 15, at end insert—

"( ) In section 40(7) of the 1995 Act (PSV accessibility regulations), after "Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee" there is inserted ", Disability Rights Commission".

( ) In section 46(11) of the 1995 Act (rail vehicle accessibility regulations), after "Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee" there is inserted ", Disability Rights Commission".

( ) In section 47(3) of the 1995 Act (exemption from rail vehicle accessibility regulations), after "Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee" there is inserted ", Disability Rights Commission"."

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 21 and 25 are tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay. They have a central theme, which is to ensure that it is easier to monitor what is actually happening in terms of exemptions for railway carriages, and their compliance.

I shall start at the beginning and work my way towards the most substantive amendment. Amendment No. 19 would ensure that the Disability Rights Commission is brought closer into the process of granting concessions. The commission is the most knowledgeable body and, in my experience, by far the best representative of the interests of the disabled. It should be brought forward in this process.

Amendment No. 20 puts a limit of five years on the length of time for which any exemption can be granted. I have looked at the problem, and am one of the people who came across it first as a result of my membership of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee. I discovered that very long exemptions were being granted. They should be five years and, if there is still a problem at the end of five years, people can come back and get an extension.

Before the Minister started speaking on the previous group, I thought that Amendment No. 21 might have been the weakest, but then he said that progress targets must come through when we get towards a final end-date. The amendment proposes a series of end-dates and progress targets for various types of rolling stock. If those are not acceptable, there should be some points of progress. In any form of long-term exemption, the great way to prolong something is to say, "Let's put it off, because it's a long-term problem. Let's not worry about it now—it's not on my shift". Then if it is a medium-term problem, people just tinker around with it and put plans in place but do not do anything. Then it is a short-term problem and is too difficult. In the Merits Committee, I discovered that 64 exemptions had been made under that process. Since 1998, more than 50 per cent of carriages have broadly had some form of exemption. Something should he done to stop that process going on.

Amendment No. 25 might have stood by itself. It states that there should be an annual report to Parliament. I hate to go back to the Merits Committee again, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, is not in his place. In that committee, it is okay to get an individual exemption—that is a one-off—but two means you are getting to a problem. If you have three, four or five, that is a big issue. Then you suddenly realise that there will be great holes in the amount of accessibility on a train journey, and people in wheelchairs or who have problems moving can start to feel that they may well not be able to plan train journeys. That is why we tabled the amendment. There has been movement from the Government, or at least interest and concern displayed by them, since the committee gave tongue to the fact that the problem was happening too frequently. I happened to be the torchbearer on this occasion. There must be a report to Parliament. A Minister must be brought to account for the matter.

As we seem to be splashing into later debates, I have to say that Amendment No. 23, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, would enhance the process. When he speaks to it, I hope that he will take on board that I support him. It deals with the affirmative procedure for the matter. Individually, there is still one motion. If we bring the two together we will probably have a process which the Government will have real trouble ignoring. I am afraid that the rail industry has struck me as coffin-waving. It says that things are all too difficult, that it will have to pull trains off, and so on. That will not be allowed to happen. We will actually have an idea of what it is doing overall. If there is inactivity, we will know.

That cannot be totally removed from the idea of the end-date, but making sure that Parliament is regularly made aware of the matter is important. It is important for the future as well. Many of us involved in the Bill will remember it for a long time, but it is conceivable that no one involved in the process now in Parliament will still be here in 15 years. That may be a slightly extreme example, but there will not be that many of us. We have to make sure that the matter is regularly brought before Parliament so that it knows what is going on. We pump lots of money into the rail system: we are at least entitled to see that it enacts the intentions of Parliament. I beg to move.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, I will not go over the9 ground that the noble Lord covered adequately so far as Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 21 are concerned. I look forward with interest to what the Minister says. However, Amendment No. 25 seems very important against the general background of being reassured that the exemptions granted are not excessive. I hope that the Government are able to accept that amendment. If not, we will have to consider what we can do about it subsequently, or indeed today. It is important in combination with the next group of amendments.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I hope that the Government will be sympathetic to the amendments. Unless the Minister knows something that we do not, they are literally the only way in which we can monitor the exemptions. Without them, the railway industry can do as it wishes.

I have some figures from the Disability Charities Consortium. Those state—as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said—that there have been 64 exemptions, which involved 2,328 vehicles. That is an awful lot of exemptions; I had assumed that there were very few. If we know about such matters, we can object. We do not know where the railway industry is going, to go back to my old point, so if those matters are left to it, it will act in what it sees as its own interests. The consequence is that disabled people's rights take a back seat.

In Committee, my noble friend Lord Davies mentioned information on the website. That is fine; my grandson is wonderful at reading websites. However, that will not make it compulsory reading every morning, or indeed every evening. Millions of disabled people simply do not read websites. I am afraid that my noble friend sounded convincing, but his point is not really convincing when you think about it. I hope that he will be able to lend an ear to that point.

Ministers have said a great deal about heritage railways. Of course we cannot ignore those minority railways and their problems—we should not ride roughshod over them. However, my figures are that only 77 of the 2,328 vehicles are heritage railways, which means we are speaking of a very small minority. In other words, the tail is wagging the dog. When my noble friend replies, I hope that he will make sure that, this time, the dog wags the tail.

Lord Carter

My Lords, I have two brief points. The first is on Amendment No. 21. Under its paragraph (b), there are seven classes of dates for various sorts of rail vehicles. I am not a train buff and would not pretend to know what all those classes of vehicle were. However, I have a question about the total that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, or perhaps the Minister, may be able to answer. The last class will be regulated by 31 December 2014. It would be interesting to know how many vehicles would be regulated in total by 2014, and how many would be left to be regulated after 2014 if we accepted 2020. If that information were available, it would be helpful.

My other query is on the annual report in Amendment No. 25. In Grand Committee, I was persuaded of something. When the Government accepted the recommendation from the Delegated Powers Committee that the Orders in Council in the Bill should be replaced by parliamentary regulations, it seemed as though regulations would come forward regularly. The wait for an annual report on regulations would be slower than seeing the actual regulations. However, although the information on exemption orders for rail vehicles is on the website, I was not aware that information about special authorisation for buses is not. Nor are the details of requests for exemptions listed on the website, so the website is not as informative as I thought it might be. We received that answer in Grand Committee. When the Government consider the matter it is important that there is a source of information that is easily available which gives all the information required on the subject.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Tebbit

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, put into my mind the fact that whatever the end date is—perhaps 2020—most noble Lords will probably have to declare a lack of interest. I expect to be here, but at the age of 89 I might have difficulty getting here if th[...] railway carriages are not fully accessible.

On Amendment No. 25, it would be great to have an annual report, but I am aware of the number of annual reports from government departments that pile up and are in the main unread. Of course, the problem is not obtaining the information—with some persistence that can always be extracted through Parliamentary Questions—but as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, a former Chief Whip, knows, the difficulty is finding the time to debate the report.

I do not think any noble Lord would suggest that that should appear on the face of this Bill. I certainly do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Carter, from his previous experience, would regard that as a very good idea. I am not too fussed whether we have a report or not, but I am fussed about whether anything will happen during my lifetime. Of course, I accept what the Minister will say—that it is happening and that we are looking only at the terminal date—but we keep coming back to the fact that the terminal date will decide the rate at which things happen. Unless I have gone completely or been thrown out by a new constitutional reform, I hope that I shall be here to see that happen.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I imagine that the whole House hopes that the terminal date for implementation of this legislation precedes the terminal date to which the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, referred. Early in his remarks, he indicated that some matters are being dealt with now and, of course, they are. New build is directed by the requirements to meet the specifications that will be imposed on the industry.

I hear what my noble friend Lord Ashley says about compliance, that the industry may be looking for ways to evade its responsibility and that the existing record gives no cause for confidence, but for obvious reasons the existing record is the most difficult record. At present we are dealing with refurbishment of vehicles that are already in use. We are influencing and determining new build, but we are at the point in the process where the vast majority of vehicles were planned or brought into use before these requirements come into use. Therefore, this is the most difficult phase.

I tried to express some optimism to the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, when replying to the earlier debate. As we move towards 2017 we shall be down to the last 2,000 or 3,000 vehicles. They cannot all be dealt with in the last year so there will be phasing. By that time the regulations will be well established and everyone concerned with the construction of rail vehicles will have had a substantial degree of experience of the adjustments that are necessary within the framework; we shall have the whole industry geared to meet the requirements.

At present, we have had difficulties. The exemptions are for five years and they have to be renewed if they go beyond five years. There have been difficulties in that the efforts by the constructors to meet the requirements have not matched up to inspection. Consequently, there has been a delay in vehicles coming into service at considerable cost.

In a sense, those are the engineering challenges and difficulties that are bound to be at their most acute in the early stages and we can, with confidence, anticipate that they will reduce in time. I am trying to allay the concerns of my noble friend Lord Ashley and others. I believe that the noble Lord. Lord Addington, would also agree with the sentiment that there is suspicion about the degree to which the railway industry is moving towards compliance. There is a reason why exemptions, which should decrease over time, should be sought now: exemptions will not be as necessary in future as we gain experience in meeting the requirements.

I suggest that technical factors are involved and it is not a matter of the industry being unwilling to comply. That does not gainsay the obvious fact that we need legislation in this area. The scrutiny of the exemption orders that have been made over the past five years would support our argument that the system is robust and rigorously applied and that huge improvements in accessibility to the rail network have already been made, but we have a considerable way to go.

The more recent exemptions are, by and large, for minor non-compliance and have been granted for a shorter period because it is realistic and reasonable to expect the industry to be able to put certain matters right. We are seeing steady progress on these issues and that has been achieved, in part, by working closely with the industry on new build to ensure that they fully understand the requirements of the regulations. The new certification regime that we have in Clause 7 will strengthen that process by ensuring that not only are new build and refurbishment projects monitored throughout, but that there is also a sign-off process in the form of a compliance certificate that strengthens scrutiny of the process.

These new measures will provide certainty, not only for the industry but also for disabled people, that the industry is meeting its obligations. We have listened carefully to the arguments, not only those presented so cogently today, but also those made in Committee, when we had fruitful exchanges on these issues. We recognise that some further measures could be introduced that would strengthen the process further. I hope they will also go a considerable way to allaying the concerns expressed in the course of this debate.

On exemptions, we recognise that despite the arrangements that we have made to ensure that the system is transparent and that all the relevant papers are in place in the public domain, there is a call for a composite document that brings together the details of the exemption orders that we have made. Although we do not accept the amendment on the annual report, we shall introduce a government amendment at Third Reading which will provide for an annual report on exemptions.

We shall also address our minds to the points made today and with great force in Committee on the affirmative resolution procedure for exemption orders. We recognise that it would be appropriate to use it for those that relate to vehicles used on particular systems. We have made it clear that it is our intention—

Lord Higgins

My Lords, has the Minister moved on to the next group of amendments?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am sorry. In the course of the debate I have perhaps strayed to show how constructive we want to be. I stand chided by the noble Lord and I shall keep my remarks to the absolute minimum.

We have concluded that it would be entirely appropriate for certain orders to be open to more detailed scrutiny and we recognise that there is a case for affirmative resolution orders with regard to certain aspects of these developments. We are resistant to affirmative orders in all cases. These measures are the steps we intend to take to meet justified anxieties expressed in Committee and again today. I could go into very great detail but with regard to Amendment No. 21 I think that my noble friend Lord Carter will recognise the difficulties we have over the question of rigour and inflexibility.

Let me give one illustration of the problems we face. Refurbishment of the carriages used by GNER on the East Coast Main Line started last year but the whole project, involving over 300 carriages, will take up to three years. GNER will have them refurbished but it must continue to run its train timetable. Clearly, it cannot do that if it has too many vehicles undergoing refurbishment at the same time. The problem with a rigid deadline is that if a project timetable slipped for any reason, there would be a real risk to timetables. I shall give way to my noble friend.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the Minister should address that question to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who actually tabled the amendment. I was hoping that he might have the figures.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, that is a fair point. My noble friend is right. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, wants to draw on this experience. We shall support him when he recognises the difficulties with this issue. There does need to be some flexibility because projects can slip and if things are too rigid, effectively the rail vehicles are taken out of service and the timetable is wrecked, which no one wants.

I wanted to comment on that point because my noble friend had alluded to it. My response to this group of amendments is to accept the argument for the annual report, to accept the argument on affirmative orders and to hope that the House will recognise that within that framework we have gone a considerable way to meet the points made in Committee and today to fulfil the requirements of the House.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. He has gone quite a long way to recognise my concerns but I should like to press him further on some technical information. What exactly is it about this amendment that the Government find difficult at the moment? A reply would help us in further preparation. May we have a little more detail please?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that we have appreciated the concerns of noble Lords on these issues both in Committee and today. We are eager to be responsive and flexible. We recognise that points are being made but we cannot accept the amendments as they currently stand. I cannot engage in dialogue across the Dispatch Box but I should be very happy to arrange a meeting after Report and before Third Reading between any noble Lords who wish to participate. I hope we can reach a common objective on these proposals. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, recognises that we are seeking to make progress and that he can withdraw his amendment.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. I will certainly take him up on that offer. This is a difficult matter and the noble Lord, Lord Carter, seemed to catch some flak on my behalf.

This was an attempt to square a very difficult circle. This was an approach to ensure that we make progress and not put things off until the last minute which means giving an exemption or taking out half the transport system. That was what concerned me. As has been shown, this matter is difficult but all those involved in this should have an ongoing look at it. I thank the Minister for his remarks. I thank all those who have supported me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 not moved.]

3.45 p.m.

Lord Davies

of Oldham moved Amendment No. 22: Page 13, line 16, leave out subsections (3) and (4). The noble Lord said: My Lords, we spent some time in Committee debating the proposals for exempting rail vehicles from requirements of the rail vehicle accessibility regulations. I explained that we had considered carefully the implications of our proposals on both the operators of rail vehicles and on disabled people and had accepted the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee to retain the requirement for all exemption orders to be made by statutory instrument. I also explained that we intended to bring forward an amendment on Report to give effect to that, which is what this amendment seeks to do.

The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, would go further by requiring all exemption orders to continue to be made by SI but would also make them all subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I have some reservations about that to which I shall return later. As I indicated previously, we have recognised the need to provide for the affirmative resolution procedure for exemptions relating to rail vehicles used on particular systems.

The change to the procedure which Amendment No. 23 seeks is unnecessary and unduly burdensome not only to the operators but to Parliament itself. It would add to the time taken for an exemption order to be made and in doing so it could delay new, more accessible trains entering service in a timely manner. This very substantial number of orders subject to the affirmative procedure would raise issues with regard to parliamentary time.

There are important considerations to which we will return later in this debate. However, I must point out that the amendment as drafted is defective. I am sure that was an oversight in the drafting but the amendment is technically flawed to the extent that Paragraph 32 of Schedule 1 to the Bill amends Section 67(4) of the Disability Discrimination Act. In so doing, it renders this amendment meaningless. Through our proposals we are already covering that aspect.

I recognise the sentiment behind the noble Lord's amendment. I am saying that we are meeting him a very considerable way. We recognise the necessity for affirmative orders in some clear cases where parliamentary and public interest will be significant. However, to put affirmative orders across the whole field of this legislation would be costly and unworkable. I hope the noble Lord will recognise that our amendment meets the obligations which we expressed in Committee. I hope that he will be reassured about his own amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Carter

My Lords, this is extremely welcome and reflects on the recommendation of the Deregulated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It is as well that the Government have removed Clause 6(4) which gives the power to revoke by Order in Council a statutory instrument which had gone through Parliament. If that is not Henry VIII behaviour it is certainly Henry VII and a half.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, we need to put this in the context that we mentioned earlier; namely, if we go to a later date, we have to be sure that the position is clear regarding exemptions. We debated this matter in Committee. In its fourth report the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee made it clear that it did not think that the arrangement the Government were proposing involving no parliamentary scrutiny at all of exemption orders was appropriate and that they ought to be dealt with by the negative resolution procedure in line with various precedents elsewhere.

As I expressed during later stages of Committee, I thought there was real danger, even if we adopted the negative resolution procedure rather than the Government's original proposal. If we are realistic—anyone working in the area covered by the Department for Work and Pensions knows this only too well—the impression that in practice one can properly scrutinise the mass of negative resolution orders which comes before the House is wrong. However assiduous any one person or group of people, it is an impossible task for anyone outside the official government machine to monitor. Therefore, there was a danger that there was not adequate parliamentary scrutiny in practice and it seemed advantageous to move towards the exemptions covered by affirmative resolution orders rather than negative ones.

I am grateful to the Minister and her officials, who may receive news of my appreciation of their efforts, for arranging a meeting last night when we discussed the matter in considerable detail. I have reached the conclusion that to make all the exemptions by positive resolution procedure would not he practical. We would probably do nothing else because there is a huge number of trivial exemptions concerning particular items, carriages and so forth. However, I understand that at Third Reading the Government are prepared to table amendments so that important exemptions can be immediately drawn to the attention of the House by positive rather than negative resolution. If so, together with the undertaking given on the Liberal Democrat amendment about the report, we appear to have tightened up the procedure as far as we can.

We are making considerable progress and I am sure that we are anxious to move on to other matters. Perhaps I might therefore add one postscript. I have been critical of the Minister for anticipating subsequent debates or reverting to earlier ones. The next one is on heritage lines. In the light of our discussion last night, I was convinced that to try and get this issue out of the way and outside the broad range of exemptions was not helpful. Therefore, I shall not move the next amendment.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, in his anticipatory mode. I also welcome his support for the way in which we intend to go about this matter. We recognise that there are unresolved issues and we need further discussions on where the division occurs between the exemption orders which require affirmative resolution and those which require negative resolution. However, the amendment ensures that the procedure is in place, as was the undertaking we gave in Committee. I hope that that, together with the annual report, goes a considerable way towards allaying the concerns expressed in Committee. I hope also that we will be able to take up the opportunity of meeting again before Third Reading in order that amendments which the Government intend to table to consolidate these issues receive the full support of the House.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 23 to 25 not moved.]

Clause 7 [Rail vehicles: accessibility compliance certificates]:

[Amendment No. 26 not moved.]

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

moved Amendment No. 27: After Clause 8, insert the following new clause—


In the 1995 Act, after section 47 there is inserted—



  1. (1) The Secretary of State shall make regulations for the purpose of securing that it is possible—
    1. (a) for disabled persons—
      1. (i) to get on to and off regulated bus vehicles of 22 seats or more in safety and without unreasonable difficulty;
      2. (ii) to be carried in such vehicles in safety and in reasonable comfort; and
    2. (b) for disabled persons in wheelchairs—
      1. (i) to get on to and off such vehicles in safety and without unreasonable difficulty while remaining in their wheelchairs; and
      2. (ii) to be carried in such vehicles in safety and in reasonable comfort while remaining in their wheelchairs.
  2. (2) Regulations shall in particular create an offence of parking a motor vehicle at a bus stop clearly delineated on the road during the normal hours of bus operation contrary to the purposes set out in subsection (1).
  3. (3) A person found guilty of such an offence, as set out in subsection (2), is liable to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale and up to 3 penalty points on their drivers' licence.""

The noble Lord said: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Addington and I are delighted that on this amendment we are travelling together with those doughty campaigners for the disabled, the noble Baronesses, Lady Darcy de Knayth and Lady Wilkins.

The hour is late and we are all keen to make as much progress as we can on the Bill before it is possibly overtaken by an election. Therefore. I do not propose to rehearse the good, detailed discussion we had in Grand Committee. Let me make it clear that the purpose of the amendment is to have effective penalties and deterrents against motorists parking at bus stops which has the effect of nullifying so much of the investment in making buses "disabled friendly". It is no use having a bus with the best facilities in the world if the person at the bus stop cannot reach it.

The excellent report which Leonard Cheshire produced just over a year ago was called Mind the Gap and "mind the gap" is the key to this amendment. I listened carefully to the Minister's constructive and helpful response to the similar amendment we tabled in Grand Committee. He made three points of substance on why it was technically defective and needed to be rewritten. We have carefully sought to deal with all three points.

His first point was that we needed to limit the scope of the amendment so that it was restricted to vehicles with a capacity of more than 22 passengers, a point which has arisen on previous amendments. We have done that. We have also dealt with the point that the provision should not mean a draconian limit for 24 hours a day, even when buses are not running. That is why our amendment limits the effect to normal bus operation hours.

Finally, the Minister made the perfectly fair point that we would need to create a specific offence so that the penalties we seek to enforce can be brought in. I am sure that again we will be told that in a sense the powers already exist. However, the key point is that local authority powers—parking-ticket-type powers—are just not working. That is why we believe the only effective way to protect people's right to bus access and bus travel is by making parking on a bus stop subject to a fine of up to £1,000 and up to three penalty points on a driving licence. That is the only effective sanction.

I am grateful for the support of Leonard Cheshire on the amendment. The organisation believes that it is a good idea and worth while. It makes the powerful point that it is a criminal offence for an operator to use a regulated vehicle not compliant with the regulations, but these regulations apply only to the vehicles and not to the outside environment. It seems ridiculous on the one hand to enforce these expensive but proper modifications to vehicles but on the other hand not take this simple step to ensure that disabled people can travel. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

My Lords, I want briefly to support the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, said, if you cannot get on and off the bus because it cannot reach the pavement to lower the ramp, it totally emasculates all the expensive provisions. And just to wind up the Minister mildly, I cannot help drawing the parallel with communal areas where you cannot access your flat because you cannot cross them.

Baroness Wilkins

My Lords, I, too, added to my name to the amendment and greatly support the spirit behind it. The addition of ramps to buses has so liberated disabled people that it seems necessary that buses should be able to park at stops empty of cars. I support the spirit behind the amendment.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, it is important to take account of the DRC. Its latest correspondence suggests that it is not seeking substantive amendments to the Bill in this respect for two reasons.

First, the Bill will already help to improve enforcement. Up to now, those responsible for bus stops were not covered by the DDA. Clearly, the police would have been carrying out their public functions, rather than providing a service, and would have been exempt and local authorities would probably have attempted to mount the same defence. As I understand it, the Bill will remove that defence for both. Secondly, the public sector duty will require them to review the impact of their whole approach to highways management, in consultation with disabled people. So it would seem that the Bill already goes a considerable way to meet the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, subject to any points that the Minister may make.

4 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, we are sympathetic to the concerns that underlie the amendment, but we recognise that it is a genuine attempt to deal with a problem that is not readily and easily confronted.

1 am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, who has, in many respects, anticipated my speech by making exactly the point that I would seek to make, that other parts of the Bill increase enforceability regarding these issues and place obligations on local authorities which will ensure that we improve the situation.

I do not wish to discuss the technical defects of the amendment. The problem is that at the moment a bus is defined as one which carries more than 22 passengers, and the question is how we can guarantee smaller buses the same access to certain bus stops. The problem with the amendment is that it would be exclusive, rather than inclusive.

However, I wish to deal with the point at issue, which the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, articulated so well when he moved the amendment. The crux of the matter, as he rightly identified. is the obstructions caused by other vehicles which prevent buses, including those regulated under the DDA, getting to the kerb to give access to disabled people.

As I indicated in Grand Committee, we have discussed this matter in some detail with the bus industry and local authorities. We have also held two public consultation exercises on making all stops "bus stop clearways", which is the traffic management measure already available to protect stops. Responses to those consultations raised significant concerns about making all bus stops subject to bus stop clearways. That would not be appropriate on every bus route as they might not be used intensively enough to justify it. It would not be acceptable to local residents and to local businesses, particularly if the clearways were operational 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We concluded that it would not be appropriate to designate all stops as bus stop clearways, but we recognised that they would be appropriate at busier locations. Consequently we simplified the procedures for introducing them and made changes to the enforcement arrangements. They can now be introduced without the backing of a traffic regulation order, and local authorities which undertake decriminalised parking enforcement are able to enforce them.

In addition, a new duty to promote equality introduced by Clause 3 of the Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, referred, would require local authorities to consider the needs of disabled people when carrying out their functions, including designating bus stop clearways. The Bill will also ensure that, in general, all the activities of public authorities are covered by discrimination law, including the exercise of any public functions relating to the highway not covered by the Act.

We will certainly continue to promote the importance of accessible public transport infrastructure with local authorities, but the real issue is effective enforcement.

Lord Higgins

My Lords, if I am correct, the noble Lord is proposing to have bus stop areas that will not necessarily be in bus lanes. That would be highly dangerous. You would be travelling on a non-bus lane and then have to pull out, then back in again. You would proceed by a series of zigzags. You could take approximately an hour every morning to drive seven miles. It would be extremely dangerous.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, road safety would certainly be at the forefront of any proposals to adjust the roads. I do not fully understand the nature of the difficulty described by the noble Lord. You cannot stop in a clearway. You may drive through it—it is not a bus lane—but you are not allowed to stop. It is the stopping of vehicles that create obstructions that we seek to encourage local authorities to tackle more effectively. We are not encouraging them to create additional bus lanes, which may or may not be advantageous in other circumstances. We are talking about clearways to prevent cars stopping and creating an obstruction, preventing a bus taking on or unloading passengers.

The Disability Rights Commission has recognised, as the noble Lord said, that the other duties that this Bill would introduce in respect of public functions would affect this issue. It is recognised outside this place that the broader issues in the Bill will affect public authorities, of which local authorities are an important element.

On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, will recognise that we have responded to his concern with care. We have anticipated these issues through our consultations. We have sought to tackle the issue of obstruction at bus stops. But a balance must be struck. I assure him that local authorities will have these new obligations and a greater facility to insist on clearways and other measures. We will improve enforcement of the freedom for buses to access bus stops without parked cars obstructing them.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses who have spoken in my support and I thank the Minister for his characteristic and courteous reply. I am afraid that I am not impressed. My feelings are similar to those I expressed in Grand Committee. We debated the DRC response, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, in Grand Committee. I said then and I repeat now that the DRC pointed out that the powers are there. but Clauses 2 and 3 do not seem to produce an effective deterrent. We still come back to the point, which the Minister has not really answered, that although technically the powers are there for local authorities to enforce it, unless one accepts an amendment like mine creating a specific offence with much more serious penalties, local authorities, in practice, will not be effective. So, effective deterrence—effective enforcement—requires my amendment.

I turn to the other two points. As regards the numbers of passengers in the vehicles, I feel that whatever I do I run into a brick wall. I changed my original amendment in Committee to take account of exactly this point. I have the proceedings in Grand Committee here. It is too bad if the Government now turn round and say, "No, we were wrong after all; it should be eight". I am just trying to respond to the detail of the answer the Government gave in Committee. If they are now changing their mind, I am afraid that it is not a satisfactory situation.

As for the point about bus stops—I do not think we are talking about bus lanes—and whether it is allowed to park in a bus stop, I thought that the Minister used a bit of a diversionary tactic by talking about clear ways and so on. You can have something that clearly states when you are allowed to park at a bus stop and when you are not, just as you can state anything else. That seems quite clear. It is allowed for in our amendment. There will be times, say, in the middle of the night when this would not be effective. We have dealt with these points. I am not persuaded by the Minister's arguments. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the House.

4.10 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 27) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 36; Not-Contents, 100.

Division No. 2
Addington, L. Naseby, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Neuberger, B.
Barker,B. Northover, B.
Beaumont of Whitley,L. Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L. [Teller]
Brougham and Vaux,L. Phillips of Sudbury, L.
Craigavon,V. Redesdale, L.
Dholakia, L. Roberts of Llandudno, L.
Dykes, L. Roper, L.
Falkner of Margravine, B. Russell-Johnston, L.
Garden, L. Scott of Needham Market, B.
Goodhart, L. Sharp of Guildford, B.
Greaves, L. Shutt of Greetland, L.
Hamwee, B. Steel of Aikwood, L.
Harris of Richmond, B. [Teller] Thomas of Gresford, L.
Maclennan of Rogart, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Maddock, B. Vallance of Tummel, L.
Miller of Hendon, B. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Molyneaux of Killead, L. Walmsley, B.
Acton, L. Filkin, L.
Andrews, B. Gale, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Gavron, L.
Ashton of Upholland, B. Gibson of Market Rasen, B.
Bach, L. Giddens, L.
Bassam of Brighton, L. Gilbert, L.
Bhattacharyya, L. Goldsmith, L.
Blood, B. Grocott, L. [Teller]
Borrie, L. Harris of Haringey, L.
Brennan, L. Harrison, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L. Hart of Chilton, L.
Brookman, L. Haworth, L.
Burlison, L. Henig, B.
Carter, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Carter of Coles, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Chandos, V. Howells of St. Davids, B.
Chorley, L. Hoyle, L.
Christopher, L. Hughes of Woodside, L.
Clarke of Hampstead, L. Hunt of Chesterton, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Hylton, L.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L. Kirkhill, L.
Crawley, B. Lamont of Lerwick, L.
David, B. Lea of Crondall, L.
Davies of Coity, L. Leitch, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.[Teller] Lipsey, L.
Donoughue, L. McIntosh of Hudnall, B.
Drayson, L. MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Dubs, L. Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Evans of Parkside, L. Mckenzie of Luton, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L. Marsh, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Maxton, L.
Faulkner of Worcester, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Mitchell, L. Simon, V.
Morgan of Drefelin, B. Sutherland of Houndwood, L.
Morris of Aberavon, L. Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Morris of Manchester, L. Temple-Morris, L.
Murphy, B. Tomlinson, L.
Pendry, L. Triesman, L.
Pitkeathley, B. Truscott, L.
Prosser, B. Tunnicliffe, L.
Puttnam, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B. Vinson, L.
Rea, L. Warner, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B. Warwick of Undercliffe, B.
Rooker, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Rowlands, L. Whitaker, B.
Royall of Blaisdon, B. Whitty, L.
Sainsbury of Turville, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Sewel, L. Woolmer of Leeds, L.
Sheldon, L. Young of Norwood Green, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.20 p.m.

Lord Addington

moved Amendment No. 28: Before Clause 10, insert the following new clause—


In the 1995 Act, after section 14D (practical work experience: duty to make adjustments) there is inserted—


  1. (1) The Disability Rights Commission shall, when asked to do so by the Secretary of State, prepare a voluntary code of practice dealing with the matters specified in the request.
  2. (2) In preparing a voluntary code of practice, the Commission shall carry out such consultations as it considers appropriate.
  3. (3) The Secretary of State shall review after two years of the voluntary code coming into effect whether there is widespread observance of the voluntary code and shall if he thinks necessary, on the basis of the review, consult as he considers appropriate on including volunteers within Part II of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (c. 50).""

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we return to the question of volunteers and whether they should be covered under the Act. Volunteering is a good way into the field of work. I return to the subject because of what the Government have been saying of late about, for example, incapacity benefit.

To volunteer enables you to get back to the workplace and into the work habit with the regulation of your own life. It helps to make a person much more employable and able to have a fuller life. That is why we believe the matter should be covered under the Bill. It is integral to the approach which the Government have brought forward over time. That is why I return to the subject. I shall be interested to hear if the Government have had any further thoughts on the subject especially in the light of the many other developments that have taken place outside this Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Carter

My Lords, this amendment is in line with the recommendations of the Joint Committee. It recommended that the Government should consult and produce a code of practice on volunteers. The committee further recommended that the full Bill should include a regulation-making power enabling volunteers to be brought into coverage should the non-statutory code prove ineffective.

The Government's response was that they were asking the DRC to consider producing a voluntary code of practice, which appears in the first part of the amendment. The Government stated that they would be more certain how to frame a power once a voluntary approach had been tried and properly assessed. This amendment is in line with the recommendation and the Government's response.

The only query I have relates to subsection (3) with the requirement for a review after two years. I believe that is a little on the hasty side. If it is a new area there is a code to be drafted and one has to see how it will work out. I wonder whether two years is a little short for a review period and that it should be a little longer. The principle of the amendment is in line with the recommendation of the Joint Committee and the Government's response to it.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as I understood it from discussions in Committee, the DRC has already been asked by the Government to produce such a code. Looking at subsection (3) of the amendment, I hope that when it is produced it will be regularly reviewed.

I am on my feet because I failed to get an answer from the noble Baroness in Committee or in writing. I asked specifically about those charities which provide services to the NHS for a fee. I mentioned the Stroke Association in which I declare an interest. There are volunteers in that association who help with dysphasia support services. Although they are not paid themselves the charity is paid. I believe that they should be covered under the public duty provisions of the Bill. The code on volunteers should make that absolutely clear and I hope that the noble Baroness will ensure that it does.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I shall be very brief indeed as the noble Lord, Lord Carter, made our points for us. We support the spirit of the amendment. Our only dispute is that we do not believe that it needs to be on the face of the Bill because it is already going to happen in the way described. So in a sense it is a declaratory amendment rather than one which delivers.

The DRC has already agreed to help us to draft a code of good practice as regards disabled volunteers and it will be consulting widely. So, two matters covered by the amendment are already met.

We expect to review the provision regularly. We intend to ask the DRC to do that. We think that two years may well be right. If not, then obviously we shall discuss the matter with it at the appropriate time. But we see no reason why in principle two years should not be sensible.

I take on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, about continuing the review process. That is absolutely right.

On the particular powers of an organisation, where volunteers provide services in such a way that they would count as employees they come within the framework of the DDA, as presently described. I am very mindful of the time. The spirit and principle of what the noble Lord seeks is already embedded; it already happens in the way he describes. We do not need legislation. I hope that as a result of that assurance he will be able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I thank the Minister for saying that we have tabled the right amendment but that it is in the wrong place. I suppose that at least that is still a pass mark, if not an "A". With the Minister's assurances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 [Discriminatory advertisements]:

Lord Higgins

had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 29: Page 24, line 24, at end insert— ( ) It is unlawful for a person to publish, or cause to be published, an advertisement which invites applications for goods, facilities or services which indicates, or might reasonably be understood to indicate, that an application will or may be determined to any extent by reference to—

  1. (a) the applicant not having any disability, or any particular disability;
  2. (b the applicant not having had any disability, or any particular disability; or
  3. (c) any reluctance of the person determining the application to comply with a duty to make reasonable adjustments or (in relation to employment services) with the duty imposed by section 21(1) (duty of providers of services to make adjustments) as modified by section 21A(6).""
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble Baroness has written to me about this matter. I found her letter wholly convincing. I do not propose to move the amendment.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

moved Amendment No. 30: Before Clause 13, insert the following new clause—


In the 1995 Act, after section 23 there is inserted—


(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations imposing on controllers of associated premises a duty to take steps for the purpose of securing that it is possible for a relevant disabled person to install or affix an adaptation or improvement to the associated premises so as to enable him to—

  1. (a) enjoy the premises let, or the associated premises, or both,
  2. (b) make use of any benefit, or facility, which by reason of the letting is one of which he is entitled to make use, or
  3. (c) facilitate his enjoyment of the let premises or the associated premises or his making use of any such benefit or facility, 438 but would be of little or no practical use to the disabled person concerned if he were neither a person to whom the premises associated with the associated premises are let nor an occupier of them.

(2) Regulations made under subsection (1) may (in particular)—

  1. (a) make provision as to what is, or what is not, to be included within the meaning of "associated premises" and "premises associated with associated premises";
  2. (b) make provision as to who is, or who is not, to be included within the meaning of "relevant disabled person";
  3. (c) make provision as to the steps which a duty requires to be taken;
  4. (d) make provision as to the circumstances in which it would be unreasonable for a controller to have to take steps which a duty requires to be taken;
  5. (e) make provision as to the circumstances in which a failure to comply with a duty imposed by this section is to be taken to be justified;
  6. (f) make provision as to the categories of controllers to whom this section does not apply;
  7. (g) make provision as to the arrangements for enforcement of the duty under this section;
  8. (h) make provision for adaptations and improvements to be undertaken at the disabled person's own expense and subject to such conditions as the controller may reasonably require;
  9. (i) make provision for the Disability Rights Commission to prepare and issue a code of practice giving practical guidance to persons subject to a duty under the regulations on how to perform that duty.

(3) Before making any regulations the Secretary of State shall consult such representatives of disabled people and representatives of controllers of associated premises as he sees fit.

(4) The power to make regulations under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument.

(5) Regulations made under this section must not be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing them has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.""

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I return in this amendment to the burning issue of adjustments to communal areas for disabled tenants and leaseholders. It would introduce a reserve power which would enable the Government to undertake consultation with stakeholders before enacting suitable provisions. There is no difference of opinion with the Government on the need to legislate to ensure that landlords cannot unreasonably refuse consent for such improvements; and we agree that some degree of complexity is involved since a number of interests are affected.

My previous amendment showed that the complexity is far from being insuperable and that it is possible to set out workable and fair provisions, which need to be enshrined in the DDA. They need to provide the prospect of clear statutory guidance for landlords and disabled people alike, about what is reasonable and what is not.

The purpose of Amendment No. 30 is very clear, yet it also provides sufficient flexibility to allow for the outcome of discussions across government and among affected parties on how future detailed provisions should be framed. Future regulations would be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure to ensure effective parliamentary scrutiny. I hope that that will get around any objection the Minister may have that the Government are unwilling to take such a power when it is not clear how the eventual regulations will be framed.

There are many such reserve powers in the DDA and, indeed, the current Bill—for example, the Government are currently consulting on the shape and scope of the reasonable adjustments duty for private clubs.

I hope that the Minister will think again on this issue. The amendment is designed to be helpful. Rather than have a bid at a later date for scarce parliamentary time, we could lay the groundwork now by making provision in the Bill.

The Government have today made several welcome responses on amendments to be included at Third Reading. I hope that the Minister might go a little further than I had originally hoped with the amendment and give a more positive response following the example of earlier cases today.

In any case, at the very least, the Minister needs to give a commitment here today on instigating an action plan for improvements to communal areas. I should like very firm assurances that officials will urgently begin effective discussions in Whitehall and with the DRC to draw up a consultation package and draft provisions. I would further urge the Minister to give a clear indication of how soon the Government would propose to act on the results of consultation, if they do not seize the opportunity in the current Bill.

The DRC is most anxious to be able to offer some comfort and prospect of future change to the many callers who are desperate to get through their own front door and live with the basic dignity that others take for granted. It says that there are literally hundreds of people with this problem. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Wilkins

My Lords, I very strongly support this amendment. If we are to fulfil the Government's commitment made in the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report that by 2025 disabled people should have full opportunities and choices to improve their quality of life and be respected and included as equal members of society. Disabled people must be able to get into their houses. As the Minister fully acknowledged in Committee, this issue must be addressed. The Strategy Unit report makes commitments to increasing disabled people's ability to live independently at home. I look forward to hearing positive news of the action that the Government are planning to take to address to this issue.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, put into its most simple form, the argument is that there is no point in having a flat if, as a disabled person, one cannot get into it. If adaptations are not made to the common parts few flats will be appropriate to their needs. It is all very well for the Minister to rely, as she did in Committee, on the Landlord and Tenant Act 1927, which says that a landlord cannot withhold his consent to adaptations unreasonably. But what is unreasonable for an able-bodied tenant would be quite reasonable for a disabled one. That is why the matter should be put right in this Bill rather than in a housing Act.

The Minister found a major stumbling block in the amendment; namely, who pays for the removal of adaptations once the disabled tenant leaves? They may move to another flat—sheltered accommodation perhaps—or, most unfortunately, have died.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, this is the common parts amendment, as opposed to the demised premises one. I agree that they overlap substantially but I wonder whether the noble Lord is talking to the second of those two amendments rather than the first.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right; there is an overlap here. The common parts have to be accessible; it is as easy as that. However, if the Minister would prefer me to make most of my speech on a later amendment I am happy to do that. I do not want her to tell us that it was not part of the Labour Party's manifesto to legislate on this, or indeed on the other matter, as she did before. It is not a good argument. We all know that governments fail regularly to enact legislation that was promised in their manifesto. Look at the Labour Party's reaction to this House over decades as a good example. It is only very recently that it has legislated in this area.

We also know that governments frequently legislate for matters that were not in their manifesto, so that argument does not wash, either. I am sure that it is true that this subject has not been part of the detailed thinking about this Bill. The question now is: has any thinking gone on in government on this difficult issue, which must affect the majority of the 16,000 to 18,000 households in the private rented sector? Like the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, I strongly support this amendment.

Lord Carter

My Lords, the Joint Committee recommended that the full Bill should include a specific provision prohibiting control of premises or unreasonably withholding consent for the making of reasonable adjustment to communal areas. In Grand Committee I pointed out that the response of the Government seemed to be in two parts. First, they said that they were not convinced that tenants should be able to make adjustments to the common parts over which they have only limited rights, or that a controller of the premises should be required to allow a tenant to make changes to the common parts. That sounded as if the Government were opposed in principle. They then went on about the difficulty of doing it, saying that it would be complex and so on. The Government agree that there is a gap in the law and I am hoping that by Third Reading we might be able to have a resolution on this. The amendment is permissive in terms of the regulations. Stating that: The Secretary of State may make regulations", does not requiring a regulatory power to be exercised. It appears that the difficulties that the Government described in their response to the Joint Committee and in Grand Committee of drafting the regulations are dealt with in the amendment. It also appears that it includes everything that would be in regulations to deal with this problem if the Secretary of State were minded to make them.

Lord Addington

My Lords, very little remains for me to say that has not already been said. I merely state that I support this amendment; we must move now or we will leave a hole.

Lord Ashley of Stoke

My Lords, I can understand how the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, made that mistake because the amendments are practically identical. Vitally, our amendment deals with the communal aspect, but because the two amendments are so similar I have always made the same mistake. I wrote my few remarks at the last moment, so I can understand that. The speeches in this debate are almost directly applicable to the next debate. I am surprised that the two amendments have not been grouped together because that would make for ease of debates in the House of Lords.

I remind my noble friend Lady Hollis that there was unanimous criticism of the Government's refusal to accept the amendment in Committee. It was clear that Ministers understood the difficulties and complexities involved; they were carefully explained by my noble friend Lady Hollis. But she seemed overwhelmed by the difficulties of consulting other departments. She even said at one stage that she did not know how far the thinking of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister had got. That is a surprising admission by my noble friend, who knows everything about anything, certainly in this field. She is the best-briefed Minister in the House of Lords, indeed in Parliament. Her admission that she did not know how far the discussions had got was very surprising but showed that the Government cannot speak with authority on the matter because Ministers will speak with separate, perhaps different voices.

My noble friend Lady Hollis described this as a "very important" topic. I should have thought that a very important topic would be given high priority by the Government and that urgent inter-departmental discussion would have taken place. if we miss this opportunity, another one might not recur for a very long time. It is outrageous that disabled people should be confined to abodes whose communal areas are not accessible to them. I hope that my noble friend will find it in her heart to respond constructively.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I firmly believe that I will respond constructively but we shall see whether that view is shared by other noble Lords. We all agree, and the point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that it is unacceptable that disabled people can have a suitably adapted rented flat to live in but then find themselves a virtual prisoner because they cannot get through the common parts. That is where we start.

My second point is that the issue is too big and too complex to be addressed by this amendment on this Bill today. Let me give the example of a not-untypical mixed-use building of 10 storeys in inner-city London. It highlights the variety of interests involved that must be consulted and taken forward, even for something as straightforward as adaptions to common parts for stair-climbers, which account for over 30 per cent of requests, and storage of wheelchairs or mobility vehicles, which is the second biggest issue. In a real-life example of a 10-storey inner-city building, the basement is used for parking, the ground floor for retail, floors one to five are a room-only hotel, floor six is an office and floors seven to 10 are residential. The residents would include freeholders, long-lease holders, tenants and short-term sub-tenants. All of those would have different legal rights towards any enactment on their property. It is not simple; it is exceedingly complex.

In Committee I gave the very simple example of a mixed block of council flats some of which had been sold and others retained. I have deliberately chosen a more complicated, not-untypical example. Noble Lords need only look at how difficult it is, for example, to try to deliver something as seemingly straightforward as commonhold to leasehold tenants to see the complexity involved. Here we are doing something even harder: people believe, misguidedly or otherwise, that the value or appearance of their property may be adversely affected by the proposal. It shows the difficulties with which, I have no doubt, we will have to engage.

I am being pressed on this question today. First, I re-emphasise that there is no way that something as complicated as this can be taken on amendment at this stage in the Bill. It has come up only very late in the consultation processes over the past three years. It was not even raised at earlier rounds of discussions with the Disability Rights Task Force as far as I am aware, but I stand to be corrected on that if I am wrong.

However, I am equally persuaded that we cannot just bank our responsibilities, walk away from it, say that it is complicated and hope that somehow something will happen. As a result, since our last discussions in Committee, we are taking it forward. The DRC has already been invited and has agreed to be a member of a review group. The group's chairman has already been appointed. A senior civil servant from the DWP, who is here today listening to this debate, will head that working party to see how to progress this. Referring to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, it will involve members from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Department for Constitutional Affairs, and the Department of Health. I will see whether we should include the Department for Education. Members from the Scottish Executive have already been appointed also.

The group will investigate the need and evidence for change; for example, the number of disabled people affected by inaccessible common parts, the effect on their lives and the nature of alterations needed. It will identify options for change, assess the regulatory costs and benefits of the options identified, and engage with the tangle of hugely complex legal issues surrounding land law. We expect the chairman to report no later than the end of the year with specific recommendations for resolving those issues. If primary legislation is recommended, that report will include recommendations as to possible legislative vehicles.

We have made a huge move in terms of energy and commitment. We have already set up this working party, and we have got people involved in it. They are raring to go on some of the extremely complex issues associated with it. I had some tangential interest in the commonhold and leasehold reform, which was mind-bogglingly complex; this is harder still. Let no one think that it is easy; it is harder still. By setting up this committee I hope that my noble friends on the Cross Benches, as I call them, will agree that we are going even beyond what I was able to say in Committee, where I was persuaded by many of the arguments made. I will not go into it more than that, merely to say that we are making progress. I hope that noble Lords will recognise the positive commitment that we have made. In the light of that, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, I thank her for cranking the Whitehall machine into gear on this issue.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, particularly my noble friend Lady Wilkins for her strong support. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Carter and Lord Skelmersdale, for their support. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that we have to move. I thank the noble Lord for that push. As the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, said, they are verily similar. From the point of view of the disabled person they are similar, because you cannot use your flat. For the powers that be, this area is apparently much more difficult.

In some ways, I wondered whether the Minister was talking about my previous amendment, because Amendment No. 30 provides a reserve power to bring in regulations. I thought that regulations provided for a huge amount of flexibility. As the noble Baroness showed, that is precisely what you need with very different areas. However, I am pleased with the last part of her response. I cheered up quite a bit. I am glad that the official is here today and I am delighted to hear that they are all raring to go. Let us hope that they continue going and get somewhere by the end of the year. I am delighted that the review group will contain the ODPM, the DWP, the DRC and the others mentioned, that it will report no later than the end of the year and that something will then be done about it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 13 [Discrimination in relation to letting of premises]:

[Amendment No. 31 not moved.]

Baroness Wilkins

moved Amendment No. 32: Page 31, line 32, at end insert—


  1. (1) It is unlawful for a controller of let premises to discriminate against a relevant disabled person.
  2. (2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a controller of let premises discriminates against a relevant disabled person if he fails to comly with a duty under subsection (4) imposed on him by reference to the disabled person.
  3. (3) Subsection (4) applies where—
    1. (a) a disabled person occupies premises under a lease;
    2. (b) but for subsection (4), he would not be entitled to make a particular improvement to the premises;
    3. (c) the improvement is one which he proposes to make, at his own expense, for the purpose of—
      1. (i) enabling him to enjoy the premises;
      2. (ii) enabling him to make use of any benefit or facility, which by reason of the letting is one of which he is entitled to make use;
      3. (iii) facilitating his enjoyment of the premises or his making use of any such benefit or facility;
  4. (4) Where the disabled person, or someone acting on his behalf. makes a written application to the controller for consent to an improvement, the controller shall not withhold his consent unreasonably.
  5. (5) The controller shall be entitled to make his consent subject to reasonable conditions.
  6. (6) Regulations may make provision—
    1. (a) as to circumstances in which it is, or as to circumstances in which it is not, reasonable for a controller to withhold his consent: and
    2. (b) as to conditions which it is always, or conditions which it is never, reasonable for a controller to impose.
  7. (7) For the purposes of this section—
    1. (a) "relevant disabled person" means a particular disabled person—
      1. (i) who is a person to whom the premises are let; or
      2. (ii) who, although not a person to whom such premises are let, is lawfully under the letting an occupier of such premises;
    2. (b) "lease" includes a tenancy, sub-lease or sub-tenancy and an agreement for a lease, tenancy, sub-lease or sub-tenancy and "sub-lease" and "sub-tenancy" have such meaning as may be prescribed;
    3. 445
    4. (c) a person is a controller of let premises if he is—
      1. (i) a person by whom the premises are let; or
      2. (ii) a person who manages the premises;
    5. (d) premises shall be treated as let to a person where they are a commonhold unit of which he is a unit-holder, and "commonhold unit" and "unit-holder" in relation to such a unit have here the same meaning as in Part 1 of the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002 (c. 15).
  8. (8) This section applies only in relation to premises in the United Kingdom."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I should perhaps mention that I have been a landlord for the past 30 years; one of the 40 per cent of private landlords to which my noble friend the Minister referred as having only one property, on which I am dependent for my livelihood in various gaps during my employment. I have also paid for adaptations to be removed when I left rental property, so I have seen both sides of the problem.

This amendment makes specific provision in the DDA for landlords not to unreasonably refuse consent to disabled people who need or who are willing to pay for physical alterations and improvements in order to live in safety and dignity. Between 16,000 and 18,000 disabled tenants report their landlords' refusal to consent to alterations as the key barrier to achieving suitable housing.

Reliance on the Landlord and Tenant Act is clearly not working in this area. There is not one recorded case of a disabled tenant using the Act to secure essential improvements to their home. As the Law Society argued strongly in its evidence to the Joint Committee, the LTA fails to recognise the specific needs of disabled people and the sheer complexity of its provisions make it difficult for disabled tenants to invoke.

4.45 p.m.

Furthermore, the absence of any statutory guidance on when it might be reasonable or unreasonable to refuse consent for disabled adaptations is unhelpful for landlords and disabled tenants alike. Both parties need the greater clarity and certainty that my amendment would provide. Clarity would be introduced by the amendment because the DRC is empowered to issue statutory codes explaining the DDA's provisions. The code would provide essential guidance on when it might be reasonable for a landlord to refuse consent, and when it might be reasonable for him to make his consent subject to certain specified conditions. For instance, reinstatement is likely to be a reasonable condition in circumstances where the market value of the property or its marketability is genuinely reduced by adaptations.

Landlords will also be concerned with the quality of the work. It is likely to be reasonable for the landlord to require, for example, that the work should be carried out by a member of a recognised trade body. I emphasise that the amendment does not propose any new obligations on landlords. It simply restates a key principle of the Landlord and Tenant Act in the context of the DDA so that disabled people might access their rights in a way that has proved impossible under the existing regime.

Disabled people are desperate for the provisions in the amendment. Whether they are meeting the costs of the adjustment from their own funds or they are assisted by the local authority, they will expect to have to come to an agreement with their landlord on future reinstatement. In most cases the deposit will cover it and the costs will not be high.

As I highlighted in Grand Committee, some local authorities are so concerned to achieve the adaptation of a property that they have offered voluntarily to meet the costs of reinstatement. I do not propose that there should be any obligation on them to do so. The fact is that in some circumstances local authorities may find it cost effective to fund such reinstatement rather than rehouse in the public sector or pay for extended social care assistance because of unsuitable housing. Indeed, the cost effectiveness of housing adaptation in that way is a point emphasised by the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit report.

I hope that with those clarifications and assurances my noble friend the Minister will be able to give me a positive response to the amendment and return at Third Reading with a suitable government amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Darcy de Knayth

My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. 1 hope that my noble friend meets with success immediately or, at any rate, at Third Reading.

Lord Carter

My Lords, this was another recommendation of the Joint Committee. I shall not repeat all that I said in Grand Committee about it and the Government's response. It reflects a suggestion that a number of us made in Grand Committee that it might be possible to transport into this Bill the provisions of the 1927 Act to provide an answer to the problem.

After Grand Committee the Minister kindly circulated a substantial document about housing adaptations that included a long list, about two or three pages' worth, of all the legislation that might have to be taken into account by a disabled tenant who sought adaptation—all the Acts of Parliament and regulations. The only provision missing from the list was the Landlord and Tenant Act 1927, which struck me as odd when we were told that that was the Act that should be called in aid in the circumstances.

I am not sure about the drafting and all the rest of it, but I am sure that the principle is right to try to get the right to obtain the adaptation—which should not be unreasonably withheld—into the Bill in some way. The amendment might need redrafting for Third Reading but I hope that the Minister will give it a constructive reply.

Lord Addington

My Lords, I support the measure; it is a very brave attempt to square another circle.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I say in my own defence that these two amendments are very similar. The only real difference is that this one concerns paying for the adaptation as opposed to allowing the adaptation to be done.

I was going to speak about what I described as a small niggle, and which I believe the Minister described as a major obstacle, or words to that effect. However, for the moment I simply say that I support this measure very strongly. I hope that the Minister will produce a lot more comforting words than she did in Committee.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, we shall see. We have listened to the debates. We are holding, and have held, discussions with the DRC about all of this. Although I cannot go into detail now, we are proposing to bring forward an amendment at Third Reading, although I cannot say yet what the wording will be. We accept the need to improve the way in which the law works, including the 1927 Act, and we accept the principle that the DRC should be able to issue statutory codes of practice and should be able to support cases concerning disability related adaptations. We are looking at the best way of achieving that. The minor niggle/major obstacles remain; we shall have to discuss how we make progress on those issues and whether they count as reasonable grounds and so on. None the less, with those assurances and mindful of the time, I hope that my noble friend is pleased that we are able to pursue the spirit of her amendments and that we will come back to the matter at Third Reading.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, may I reverse the process and offer the noble Baroness a meeting to discuss the minor niggle?

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, we are working with the DRC on this but, of course, if the noble Lord wishes to have a meeting, I shall certainly not refuse it.

Baroness Wilkins

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that very welcome response. I am delighted that she has accepted the principle that the DRC will issue statutory codes of practice and that it will be able to support cases.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, especially my noble friend Lady Darcy. The noble Lord, Lord Ashley, indicated his strong support, but unfortunately the Palantype has gone down. I thank him for his support.

I am delighted that the Government will bring forward an amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 33 not moved.]

Lord Skelmersdale

moved Amendment No. 34: Page 35, line 21, at end insert—


  1. (1) Each local housing authority must maintain an "accessible housing register".
  2. (2) The accessible housing register must outline—
    1. (a) current accessible residential properties in the local authority area (whether purpose-built or adapted) with details of the access features relating to each property: and
    2. (b) the provisions available for disabled people who require accessible housing.
  3. (3) For the purpose of this section "accessible residential properties" means dwellings, flats and HMOs which provide a reasonable means of access and ease of use for disabled people.
  4. (4) The appropriate national authority may give guidance to local housing authorities about exercising their functions under this section.""

The noble Lord said: My Lords, registers of housing adapted for the disabled were a recommendation of the Joint Committee, which asked the Government to consider whether the Bill would be an appropriate vehicle for introducing such a register. The response was that, we do not agree that this Bill would be a suitable vehicle for introducing a housing register", but the Government went on to say that they encourage local housing authorities to maintain a list of properties that are suitable for disabled people. We established that this "encouragement" was by local authority circular.

I am well aware that the Government are cautious about putting duties on local authorities, and surprise, surprise, that local government associations do not want such a duty put on them. In my experience they seldom want any extra duties as they consider that governments cannot be relied on to subsidise them. They are right to be cautious, and it is not unknown for them to blame the Government for underfunding such duties, and for council tax to have to be raised to pay for them.

However, it has been shown by the local authorities I have contacted that they actually save money. I will not repeat what I said in Committee about Reading Borough Council, which is currently seeking to extend its register, but would like to say a little about Bradford, which established that the use of capital resources is inefficient because when tenants or owners of adapted premises, move on there is no mechanism for directing new tenants or residents … to the vacant adapted dwelling … [thus] expensive adaptations are often wasted or destroyed". That is an extract from the committee which originally discussed this matter in Bradford in December 2000.

I shall not weary the House with too many quotations. Suffice it to say that the report concludes that such a register is a good thing and saves money. It was adopted and, from February 2002, had a permanent funding stream. A similar scheme has been set up in Liverpool called Access Liverpool, and others are to be found around the country. They are prime examples of good practice in this area and we should certainly recognise that.

Unfortunately, not enough councils are setting up registers, even with the encouragement of the local government circular referred to by the Minister. According to the Local Government Association, with which I have been in touch, I understand that there is room for improved practice on the part of local authorities in this area. However, the LGA believes that registers of adapted property would be based on historic criteria applying to the needs of past household requirements rather than the current needs of those who live in a particular neighbourhood. The Minister referred to this in Committee, but that is to miss the whole point of the register. It is there to offer disabled people a dwelling to rent. It is up to them to accept or decline it.

Every list is in essence historic. On the very day that a flat or house is added to the list, it becomes history. That is not a demerit; it means simply that a person has to see the property before they can decide whether it is suitable. Nor does it affect choice-based letting schemes, which are to be introduced in every local authority area by 2010. As I said in Committee, people are not frogmarched into accepting the first property they are offered. The register makes available to people a wider choice—that of selecting from any property that looks suitable on paper. It is for the prospective tenant to make up their own mind.

As for adaptations made many years ago and therefore not up to current standards, there is no reason why an adapted property on the list should not be readapted and brought up to date either at the tenant's own expense or with grant aid.

The position of the LGA is nebulous to say the least. The fact is that the encouragement of a circular is not sufficient. All local authorities must be more than encouraged; they must be made to compile housing registers for disabled people. I have adapted this amendment from the one I moved in Committee to take account of the Minister's implied complaint that my original amendment also covered housing that could be easily adapted for use by disabled people. I accept that that part of the earlier amendment was OTT. This amendment is not. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

Given that we are mindful of the time, my response will be much more abbreviated than otherwise would be the case. No one would challenge the desirability of a housing register if the local authority itself believes that that is the right way to approach this issue. But as the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, has himself identified, the Local Government Association is very reluctant to see this provision made compulsory for local authorities. It would have to be underpinned by requiring local authorities to survey all the 25 million dwellings in Great Britain. That would be a substantial requirement.

However, the noble Lord is absolutely right to point out that the voluntary approach is working well. The example of Reading is being copied and the noble Lord quoted Liverpool, where I think that the scheme is working well. Statutory guidance and the code of practice on the allocation of accommodation is being revised by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister with the help of the Disability Rights Commission. Good practice guidance is also available from the relevant government departments, as well as the National Housing Federation's Level Threshold good practice guidance aimed at housing associations.

Things are going well by adopting a voluntary approach. We do not think that this is a discrimination issue. Even the DRC, which has made accessible housing a central priority, has said: We are very happy with the progress made. We have a commitment to placing Disability Housing Registers/an equivalent service on a statutory footing, but this Bill is not the right vehicle". The LGA is opposed to putting this on a statutory footing, as is the DRC, but we are making significant progress on a voluntary basis which is tailored to the needs of individual local authorities. That seems the appropriate way forward. With those assurances, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I do not myself have the resources to approach every local authority in the country. For the Government, in the shape of the Minister, to say that progress is being made in a satisfactory way I find very difficult to believe. However, at this time of night there is nothing more that I can do about it, so I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned.

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