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Disabled Access: Standards

Volume 789: debated on Wednesday 28 February 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they have taken to address the criticism in the 2017 report of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of the lack of obligatory and implemented accessibility standards in the United Kingdom, in particular in relation to transport and the physical environment.

My Lords, the Government are committed to improving the lives of disabled people and to delivering a transport system that works for all. This is why we have consulted on a draft accessibility action plan, which contains a number of proposals to reduce barriers to disabled people accessing transport services. We aim to publish the final version of the plan in the summer. It will set out the UK’s ambitions for delivering accessible travel, and timescales for delivery.

I thank the Minister for that, but it is just another plan. How can the Government be so defensive in the face of the findings by the United Nations committee, when there has been no progress on accessibility over the last three years in which I have been involved in it, and the difficulties of, for example, shared space? On sports grounds, the Government did not support the excellent Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and they did not support the excellent Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, to put in ramps over little steps. The Government have not come around to finding a way of licensing public buildings that ensures access for disabled and elderly people. It is not good enough to keep on consulting endlessly on plans and putting burdens on business ahead of the rights of disabled people.

My Lords, I would say that we have made quite a bit of progress on the accessibility of transport in recent years. As a result of the investment made under the access for all programme, more than 75% of rail journeys will now be through step-free systems, and we have made significant progress across the rail system, and also the bus system.

My Lords, I served on the Select Committee on disability chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech. Evidence that we took from the Minister, senior civil servants at the Department for Transport and, indeed, from train operating companies, indicated their intention to improve access for wheelchair users on trains. Over the last year, many train operating companies, including Southern Rail, have now instituted a 24-hour rule, with no flexibility at all and no service at unmanned stations for people in wheelchairs. Will the Minister meet me, the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and any other disabled users? We are hearing a lot from people who say that they are not getting a baseline standard of service, and that it is going downhill.

My Lords, as part of the franchising process we are introducing an accessibility delivery plan, which will ensure that the end-to-end journey experience receives due focus when franchises are awarded. However, I will be happy to meet the noble Baroness to discuss this further to see what more we can do, as I do understand that this is a problem.

Will my noble friend the Minister explain what work she is doing to enable disabled people to access flying more easily?

My Lords, 85% of disabled passengers who use assistance services at UK airports are satisfied with that service—but, obviously, that leaves 15% who are not, so there is more to do. The department is working on an aviation strategy, looking at ways to further improve air travel for disabled people. I will meet representatives of the Flying Disabled campaign later this month to discuss this further.

Has the Minister any information on how blue badges are being used fraudulently—in other words, used improperly, thereby depriving disabled people of parking access?

I am afraid that I have seen no direct evidence of that. We are consulting on blue badge eligibility, including looking at whether they can be used for people with hidden disabilities. That consultation ends next month. I am sure that it will also look at the misuse of those badges and what we can do to address that.

My Lords, when my noble friend is looking at these matters, will she also look into the problems faced by people with assistance dogs who are frequently refused access to premises? That applies particularly to those with hearing dogs, for example, and is a particular problem where the premises are owned or controlled by people who have a cultural dislike of dogs.

My Lords, we are working closely with all parts of the travel sector to ensure that there is accessibility for assistance dogs across trains and taxis. But I will certainly look into the accessibility of buildings.

Does the Minister agree with the UN committee’s concern that not enough is being done to apply the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and to involve disabled people themselves in decisions that affect their lives? What have the Government heard from disabled people themselves about the impact of austerity on their access to the physical environment and to housing, transport, information and other services? How will the Minister respond to disabled people’s concerns about the UK’s increasing non-compliance with existing legislation affecting their access to these things—for example, our meeting the obligation to carry out impact assessments and gather statistics about policies likely to have a disproportionately negative impact on disabled people?

My Lords, as I said, the Government are absolutely committed to improving the lives of disabled people in both the UK and through our international development work. We are constructively considering the UN recommendations and will provide an update on the report, as requested, this summer. We have some of the strongest equalities legislation in the world, including the Equality Act 2010. We also have a strong record of engaging with disabled people to inform policy-making across government, supported by clear guidance stating the need to consult with all groups impacted—but of course we seek to continually improve our practices. For example, as I just mentioned, the Department for Transport is consulting on proposed changes to the blue badge scheme, and the views of disabled people received during this consultation will be critical in finalising policy.

My Lords, disability organisations have raised concerns about the effect on accessibility standards of our leaving the European Union. What assurances can the noble Baroness give them?

My Lords, as noble Lords will know, all existing EU legislation will be transferred to the UK statute book through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and the current standards that people have will not be reduced as we leave the EU.

My Lords, following the question about trains, the noble Baroness will not be aware that I came down on Monday in a freezing cold carriage with no heating at all. Also in the carriage was a man who had nobody with him. Neither the guard nor the trolley came down, and my helper gave this man, who was freezing, a cup of tea and some sandwiches. Could they not do better?

My Lords, I am well aware that many people will have been dealing with the effects of the cold weather, and I am sorry to hear about the noble Baroness’s experience. We are working very carefully with rail companies on training, which I think is key here. It is a condition of a train operator’s licence that it provides disability awareness training for staff—but of course there is always more that we can do.