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Equality Act 2010: Wheelchair Users

Volume 760: debated on Tuesday 17 March 2015

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of recent reported difficulties of wheelchair users in obtaining taxis at the same price as others, what plans they have to bring into force sections 165 and 167 of the Equality Act 2010.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as a user of a wheelchair and taxis.

My Lords, in February 2014, I instructed officials to carry out a survey in order to provide a better understanding of the range of issues facing wheelchair users around the country when using taxis or private hire vehicles. I shared the outcomes of this research with ministerial colleagues and discussions are continuing across government on how best to address these issues, including the possible commencement of Sections 165 and 167 of the Equality Act.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply but it has been five years since the Equality Act was enacted, and Sections 165 and 167 are still not enforced. Does the Minister know that the BBC in Leeds did some research recently in Stafford by sending someone out with a disabled person for 12 taxi rides, and she was charged extra every time?

My Lords, as I say, discussions are continuing but the news that the noble Baroness shares is disturbing. The issue that the Government are attempting to deal with is that there is some lack of clarity within Section 165 and there are potential questions, therefore, around enforceability. The question is whether this issue should be dealt with better in the possible legislation that would follow the Government’s response to the Law Commission report on taxi reform more generally.

My Lords, charging is not the only problem that wheelchair users face with taxis. Are the Government considering whether there should be a requirement for any taxi that claims it is wheelchair-friendly to have just one ramp, because many have two ramps, which are inaccessible to people in electric wheelchairs?

My Lords, the assumption is that charging is a violation of the broad anti-discrimination clauses of the Equality Act because one cannot discriminate and charge additional amounts for services provided to disabled people. In terms of ramps and the other issues that the noble Baroness describes, there are many problems for wheelchair users in accessing taxis and private hire vehicles. Again, a more extensive piece of legislation may be required to deal with this broader range of issues, which we are increasingly aware of.

My Lords, no one who is disabled should be penalised because of their disability. Recognising this in May last year, the Law Commission’s review recommended that all taxi drivers should receive disability awareness training. Do the Government accept this recommendation and, if they do, when will it be implemented?

The Government are still working on their response to the extensive report from the Law Commission and that is one of the recommendations that must be addressed in the reply. I remind the House that there will be post-legislative scrutiny in the next Session of the disability provisions in the Equality Act. There are several ways of tackling these problems.

My Lords, did the Minister’s instructions to her officials and the ensuing discussions cover the carriage of disabled people using assistance dogs?

My Lords, we have commenced the relevant sections 168 to 171 of the Equality Act, which cover assistance guide dogs.

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right—there is a great deal of difficulty for those who use assistance dogs. These difficulties arise in taxis, attempting to get into taxis and people being ignored because they have got a dog, in hotels, restaurants and other places. Does my noble friend agree that something needs to be done—I would be grateful if my noble friend would do it—to enforce the law to ensure that people with assistance dogs are not discriminated against?

My Lords, I cannot give the general national numbers but Transport for London has brought something like 28 prosecutions in relation to guide dogs and taxis and has succeeded in at least 20 of those cases. Action is being taken but, as I say, broader issues need to be captured.

My Lords, why does not the Minister fess up and acknowledge that the Government have made a complete shambles of taxi regulation? The only way in which we got effective regulation of taxis and any sense out of the Deregulation Bill, which the Government introduced ahead of the Law Commission’s final position, was through Cross-Bench and Labour amendments which the Government eventually effected. Now we have another Act of Parliament on which consultation is still taking place after five years. The record is disgraceful and the Minister should acknowledge that.

Your Lordships will be aware that, in the Deregulation Bill, the changes that allowed an operator to use taxis from another area were largely motivated by enabling operators to reach a broader range of taxis and private hire vehicles that had disabled access.

My Lords, the Law Commission recommended that taxis should have a duty to stop when hailed. Does the Minister not agree that it would cost nothing to enforce this and to tell taxi drivers that they would risk their licence if they did not?

The noble Baroness is right: this is the problem most highlighted by people in wheelchairs or who have guide dogs. There is currently no requirement under the law or within the taxi licence that taxis have to stop. They are not allowed to discriminate but they are not required to stop for anyone. The Law Commission recommended that this issue should be addressed. As I say, the Government are working on their response to the Law Commission and legislation may follow.

My Lords, it is quite a tough time for disabled people at the moment, whether because of the increased cost of taxi fares, which is reported as being rife, the recent High Court case about priority for wheelchair users on buses or the fact that 100 Motability cars are being removed from people every single week. Do not disabled people deserve the same rights to access public transport as everyone else?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. The constant message from the Government is that people with disabilities are a normal part of our community. She will be aware of the great strides that we have made in terms of accessibility on trains and buses. That has involved driver training, along with our recent progress in creating cheap audiovisual systems which can be retrofitted in buses. A great deal is happening, but much more must be done.