The Government are committed to improving station access for disabled people, including those with hidden disabilities. Further funding for the Access for All programme will be made available in the next rail control period, and we are introducing new accessibility commitments as part of franchises. In addition, whenever the industry carries out infrastructure work at stations, it must meet current accessibility standards. I must say “thank you” to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard), who did a huge amount of work on accessibility across all transport modes.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on disability, I have been hearing accounts from people throughout the United Kingdom about a lack of access to both underground and railway stations, which contributes to isolation and social exclusion and also impedes their ability to get back to work—and getting people back to work is one of the Government’s key tasks. Would the Minister kindly agree to discuss with the all-party group the progress that can be made if we work together on the issue?
I am aware of the hon. Lady’s work on the APPG. As she will know, I was chair of the all-party parliamentary group on eye health and visual impairment, and we did a lot of work together.
I believe that 75% of platforms are accessible by steps, but we need to do much more work. All train operating companies and Network Rail are required to have a disabled people’s protection policy as a condition of their licences.
The hon. Lady also contributed to the draft accessibility action plan. There were a number of recommendations, and I look forward to meeting her and ensuring that they are followed through.
At present, bus drivers must undertake licensing training to ensure that they are able to deal with people with not just visible disabilities but invisible disabilities such as sight loss. They cannot obtain their competency certificates without that training. I will ensure that the issue is followed up at local authority level, and if there is a gap, I shall be more than happy to meet the hon. Lady to ensure that it is dealt with.
I recently undertook a journey on our Bexleyheath line service with a disabled person who was using a wheelchair, to demonstrate how inconvenient it will be when the Victoria line link is removed with the new franchise. She would then have to change at Lewisham, and she says that she would not undertake that journey. Is it right that we are designing disabled people out of our rail service? Will the Minister implore her colleagues to change their minds?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this. It is not acceptable, but I believe that it is going to be addressed later on down the line at Charing Cross. I refer, too, to my earlier response: all train-operating companies have to comply with the disabled people’s protection policy, and if they are unable to, they have to provide alternative transport for the passenger, such as an accessible taxi to the next station. If the hon. Gentleman has a particular case, I will be more than happy to follow it up.