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Disabled People: Taxis

Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 18 December 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

When Sections 32 to 36 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (taxi accessibility regulations) will be brought into force.

My Lords, the Government remain committed to delivering more accessible taxis. In light of the Government’s better regulation agenda, Ministers are re-evaluating all the options, both regulatory and non-regulatory. We will be announcing our proposals early in the new year. In the mean time, we are encouraging taxi licensing authorities to ensure that local policies take full account of the needs of all taxi users.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. Can the Government guarantee that they will implement the regulations by the Summer Recess? These sections could then be enforceable for taxis that are already licensed to carry wheelchair users.

My Lords, it is not customary to give such a precise timetable although I would dearly love to be able to do so. We will be making an announcement early in the new year which I am sure the noble Baroness will welcome. It will enable further positive steps to be taken towards ensuring that we have a more all embracing taxi service which is accessible to all members of society and, in particular, is fit for purpose for assisting those with a disability.

My Lords, given that recently some taxi drivers may well have committed a moral offence, I wonder whether disability awareness ought to become part of the knowledge. Does the Minister agree that free market issues—willing seller/willing buyer—explain why these regulations have not yet been brought into force?

My Lords, there has been quite a lot of debate and discussion as to whether the best route would be to use regulations or whether more can be achieved through guidance. Over the past 10 years a great deal has been achieved through guidance. Although unfortunate incidents have been much in the media in the last day or two, it is fair to say that taxi drivers are now much more conscious of their obligations to all members of our communities.

My Lords, are the Government satisfied with how well the Disability Discrimination Act is being enforced, particularly in relation to complaints about goods, services and premises? These have to be pursued through the costly court system and, as a result, there have been very few successful cases. If they are not satisfied, what do they intend to do about it?

My Lords, one can never be entirely satisfied with the way in which discrimination legislation works because we can always do more. That is the right approach to this issue. We keep these matters under review and it is extremely important that we use the DDA to raise standards and public awareness. Now that there is a greater consciousness and awareness, it is important that we ensure that everyone can have access to goods and services, particularly taxi services, which touch on important issues such as mobility.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that taxis are now no longer the preserve of the very wealthy but a part of the public transport system? As such, they should be recognised as part of that system and regulated to the same level of accessibility and design as other forms of public transport.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness’s analysis of the importance of taxis as part of a public transport network. Obviously some members of our community are much more dependent upon them for mobility, getting around and enjoying a full and active life. It is extremely important that we get the regulation balance right so that the standards of service provided by taxi services and taxi drivers continue to rise.

My Lords, as the Minister said, much has been done on adapting taxis, but does he agree that it is often the attitude of the driver towards disabled people that causes problems? My daughter on one occasion helped a gentleman in a wheelchair in Victoria Street who had been waiting for two hours for a taxi.

My Lords, taxi drivers are good people in the main. They do a difficult job and we should be supportive of their efforts. Yes, there are occasional horror stories, which it is only right that we try to tackle. Using legislation is an important way of doing that. I am sure that one of the issues that will be part of the package that we will announce early in the new year will be training, so that we can raise standards and awareness.

My Lords, taxis are no longer the exclusive preserve of the wealthy; they may nevertheless be out of reach of many disabled people, who often have to exist on low incomes. Does the Minister recognise the value of the excellent London taxicard scheme, which does a great deal to bring taxis within the reach of disabled people who would not otherwise be able to afford them? Will he take steps to commend schemes of this kind as good practice to other local authorities?

My Lords, I have been a great admirer of the London scheme. When I was leader of my own local authority, we certainly did a great deal to encourage the adoption of best practice. The Brighton and Hove taxi fleet has a mixed range of provision. I know that disabled people there are fairly well catered for. Of course, one can always do more, and we should do what we can to encourage the raising of standards and to ensure that everybody can make use of taxi services.