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Guide Dogs In Sleeping Compartments

Volume 387: debated on Tuesday 22 November 1977

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2.48 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will ensure that blind persons are permitted to bring guide dogs into sleeping compartments when they travel by train.

My Lords, this is essentially a matter of day-to-day management which the Government must leave to the Railways Board to decide. Although the Board's view is that dogs present a hygiene risk in the confined space of sleeping compartments, guide dogs may be carried in the guard's van and quickly brought to the blind passenger when required.

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that this is a request only for single occupancy sleeping compartments, that a large number of places, which do not normally allow dogs into their premises make an exception for guide dogs—for example, supermarkets and hotels—and that the success of the guide dog movement depends upon an intimate relationship between the highly trained dog and the trained blind person? If this relationship is broken, even for short periods, damage is done to the relationship. Will the noble Baroness make this representation to the chairman of British Rail?

My Lords, I have every sympathy with the view of the noble Earl and with what he has said. British Rail have always taken the view that if we have a separate compartment, or compartments, on our trains purely for the blind passengers with guide dogs it would not be a commercially viable operation and that the sleeping car accommodation is in such great demand that even if two or more blind people were willing to share a compartment it would not solve the difficulty. It is also not possible to provide appropriate facilities within sleeping compartments for the guide dogs, but I will certainly make known the views of the noble Earl to the British Railways Board.

My Lords, if there is a person who objects to a man who is blind sleeping with his guide dog, had not that person far better sleep in the corridor?

Personally I would sympathise with those comments as well, my Lords, but the conditions of carriage laid down by British Rail are that dogs are not allowed to travel in sleeping compartments.

My Lords, the Board take the view that for a dog to travel in such a confined space would constitute a very real hygiene risk, and also that there is a possibility of adverse criticism from subsequent passengers, and that might perhaps reduce the use of sleeping compartments; but I will bring the views of the House to the notice of the Board.

My Lords, none the less will the Government take very seriously what both noble Lords have said; and can the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, say when we may expect the time to arrive when the Labour Party can, in a future Manifesto, praise the complete eradication of the dog flea?

My Lords, the latter part of that question is rather a different matter. With regard to the other part of the question, we all have sympathy with blind people and we all appreciate the tremendous work and the help given by the guide dogs, but at this time all I can do is to say that I will bring to the notice of the British Railways Board the views of Members of this House.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness not do more than just make known the views of this House? Can the Cabinet not make a recommendation, because there is a new chairman of the British Railways Board and I think he requires a little education?

My Lords, the management of British Rail is under the British Railways Board and the Government have no right to interfere in management problems and the way in which the Board run the railways.

Nevertheless, my Lords, can they be reminded that their local by-laws are not the laws of the Medes and the Persians?

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness whether she is aware that for blind persons who cannot travel by car by themselves, for obvious reasons, there is a special need to use the railways if they are travelling alone? May I ask whether the chairman of the Board has ever really had an objection from any members of the public that their sleeping compartment had previously been used by a blind person and his dog? Has any such complaint ever been made, and if so, was it a worthy complaint?

My Lords, from my own knowledge I cannot say whether any specific complaints have been made to the British Railways Board. What I can say is that various associations concerned with the blind and with the guide dogs have made representations to the Board and so far the Board has remained adamant on this matter.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that the only dog allowed in the cabin of a passenger aircraft is a guide dog, I understand, and when that exception is made for travelling by air could not a similar exception be made on the railways? As far as hygiene is concerned, the noble Baroness must be aware that the guide dogs for the blind are in every way the most highly trained to be found in this country.

My Lords, I have said that I accept what noble Lords have been saying this afternoon, but I cannot make the decision for the British Railways Board. All I can do is to bring to the attention of the Board the views of Members of this House in the hope that in their good sense they may be able to act on them.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness say whether guide dogs were allowed to travel in sleeping compartments before the railways were nationalised, or whether this is a new ruling?