To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that all train operating companies are complying with the Equality Act 2010 in providing assistance to disabled passengers.
My Lords, we expect all train companies to do everything possible to make travel easy for all passengers, including those with disabilities. Train companies have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments and must comply with the Equality Act 2010. They must also publish a disabled people’s protection policy which sets out their plans for disabled access and which must be approved by the independent Rail Regulator. The Government will publish an inclusive transport strategy later this year.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Last week, Govia Thameslink introduced new formal guidance for staff stating that if the train might be delayed or late the PRM—that is a passenger with reduced mobility to you and me—must not be put on the train, not even if they have pre-booked and arrived in time: the train is now more important. I believe this breaches the Equality Act, and the Office of Rail and Road has said so. What can the Government do to ensure that all train operating companies comply with the Equality Act, and what will they say to Govia Thameslink?
I have seen the guidance issued by Govia. It is insensitive and unacceptable. The Government have made their views clear to GTR. It is withdrawing the guidance and replacing it with guidance that makes it clear that its policy is to assist all passengers safely who need help with their journey. We are keen to see the Office of Rail and Road use its enforcement powers to hold train operating companies to account where they let disabled passengers down. I understand the distress caused by the guidance to which the noble Baroness referred.
My Lords, does the Minister remember that when he took the legislation through the House of Commons to privatise rail services, the late, great Robert Adley said it would properly be described as the poll tax on wheels. Has that not proved correct?
As a matter of fact, I did not take the legislation through the House of Commons; it was taken through by, I think, my noble friend Lord MacGregor. It was my task to implement it, which was as much of a challenge. Despite its criticism, the basic structure introduced in that Parliament has remained the same with the rolling stock companies, the train operating companies, franchising and Railtrack/Network Rail. If it was such a disastrous structure, why has it remained almost intact for 25 years?
My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is very difficult if you are a disabled person who has booked assistance, which I have sometimes, and you get delayed, generally by getting stuck in a taxi in the traffic, and cannot get through to the station to warn it that you are not coming on that train? Can he do something about that?
I understand the noble Baroness’s concern. All train operating companies have to sign up to Passenger Assist, which enables people to pre-book to make sure that the right facilities are in place at the right station at the right time. If the station is inaccessible to the passenger, the train operating company should make arrangements, perhaps with an accessible taxi, to get the passenger to a station which they can access. The ORR is reviewing the disabled passengers policy, and I will see that the noble Baroness’s point is passed on to it.
My Lords, some disabilities are hidden. I declare an interest as I wear two hearing aids and hear very little. Such people have great difficulty coping with train and bus announcements made audibly to passengers who do not suffer in that way. What progress have the Government made in ensuring that the provision of visual and audio announcements on buses and trains is obligatory?
My recollection is that when the buses Bill went through your Lordships’ House a few years ago an amendment was passed obliging buses to have both audio and visual information available, and my understanding is that the regulations to facilitate that will be introduced shortly. In the meantime, 27% of bus services have accessibility, making it possible for those in wheelchairs to use public transport.
Is my noble friend not being rather modest about his role in controlling the privatisation of the railway services? Surely a great tribute should be paid, given the enormous numbers of extra passengers travelling by privatised rail.
I am enormously grateful to my noble friend. Pre-privatisation, when the rail network was in public ownership, I had to go to the Treasury on bended knee to plead for investment in trains, and there was always education, health and defence. One of the key benefits of privatisation was that once the railway industry was in the private sector that constraint fell away, and there was a dramatic increase in investment in the railways after privatisation.
My Lords, I do not think I have ever heard so complete and satisfactory an Answer to a Question in this House as the Minister’s first Answer. Could we therefore give him a leave of absence from the House so that he can deal with the underlying problem of why all the trains are so late and tend to them each individually?
I think I am right in saying that the noble Lord himself was once Secretary of State for Transport. I wonder whether he delivered to himself the plea that he has just made to me.