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Disabled People: Transport

Volume 724: debated on Thursday 20 January 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will support the recent compromise agreement reached through the conciliation procedure on the proposed European regulation on bus and coach passenger rights, and what further steps they are taking to meet the United Kingdom’s obligations under Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

My Lords, the UK Government intend to support the compromise agreement reached by the Conciliation Committee in respect of the EU regulation on bus and coach passenger rights when it is put to the Council for formal approval. The UK Government are currently preparing a report on what the UK is doing to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. As regards the provision introducing mandatory disability awareness training for personnel dealing directly with the travelling public, will the Government take Transport for London’s current approach of training all staff in disability awareness as the benchmark for all bus operators? Cannot the five-year exemption for drivers be viewed as unnecessary?

My Lords, I am not aware of precisely what Transport for London is doing, but clearly training for drivers and all staff involved in the transport system is nothing other than good practice. If the operators are not doing that now, they should be. On the point about seeking an exemption, we will be consulting on the implementation of any exemptions but will grant them only if necessary.

My Lords, is it the Minister’s understanding that the Government wish to persist in the abolition of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, which is listed for abolition under the Public Bodies Bill? If so, can he explain why the Government want to persist with its abolition? The problems of disability and accessibility to transport crop up so frequently that it is very difficult to understand the Government’s position and reasoning.

My Lords, the Department for Transport will continue to ensure that transport policies promote equality, and these important issues will continue to be mainstreamed in departmental policy and delivery. The department will consult on the successor arrangements later this year.

My Lords, when I asked a Question on this subject last week, we had very good answers, but other points were raised by Members of the House. In particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, made the point that when she and her husband travel together, one on a disability scooter and one in a wheelchair, they are told that they cannot travel on the same bus. Therefore, there is a point in training bus drivers to be aware of the situation and to make all possible efforts, just as they do with enormous prams and buggies—they take two of them at a time. Obviously, if the places are already taken, no one would expect them to be offered. However, if there is space, would it not be logical to have two spaces for wheelchairs?

My Lords, my noble friend said there was some point in having training for drivers. Training for drivers is vital, as I am sure she would agree. The last time that we discussed the issue, I pointed out that there are costs associated with leaving unused spaces on buses for wheelchairs and mobility scooters. We must be careful not to take out too many seats from buses while ensuring that we make proper provision for disabled travellers.

My Lords, the Minister is making the right noises, but in government actions speak louder than words. Why did the Government not carry out a full impact assessment on the regulations in order that progress could be made as rapidly as possible?

My Lords, when officials negotiate in Brussels, they do the best job that they can for the United Kingdom. They ensure that we do not accept unnecessary burdens on the UK transport industry while protecting the vital rights of disabled travellers.

My Lords, is it not a sad fact that there is not much point talking about passenger rights in areas where the bus services are being withdrawn?

My Lords, further to the Minister’s earlier Answer, will he explain—I am afraid that it is the same old question—why we cannot decide this sort of thing for ourselves? Why is it imposed on us by Brussels? Is it not getting beyond a joke?

My Lords, this is a shared competence, and the EU is bound by the principle of subsidiarity. EU actions should not be taken unless they are likely to be more effective than actions at national, regional or local level. We believe that member states are best placed to deal with local bus services.