Clause 157

Part of Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:00 am ar 2 Gorffennaf 2009.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Ceidwadwyr, Daventry 9:00, 2 Gorffennaf 2009

My hon. Friend has read my mind—that was to be the second part of my remarks. It is an early hour of a Thursday morning, so I cannot resist the temptation, because it reflects a great human spirit, to quote a Labour Foreign Secretary of many years ago and of great repute, Ernie Bevin, who once defined his wish for free movement as wanting to be able to

“go down to Victoria station... take a ticket and go where the hell I like”.

That is exactly the point about taxis: people do not want to feel that because they have a disability they have to tie themselves down to pre-purchase. They should be able to use taxis.

I want to respond to my hon. Friend’s point so, in parenthesis, my experience doing the Front-Bench job, when I was bringing a large number of people with disabilities into the House, was somewhat mixed. There were occasions—I appreciate that the clause does not refer to the metropolitan area—when we went to New Palace Yard and found some difficulty in getting the taxi to accommodate.

My first concern is a generic one about the extent to which the duties bite across the whole of the fleet, which may be available to disabled people, and how that will be balanced out. Secondly, I appreciate that we do not want to create another inspectorate at the centre, but I want from the Government a handle on the extent to which adequate provision is being made.

My third point concerns the criteria under which local authorities may bring this measure forward. As explained in the explanatory notes, it appears to be a fairly rigorous test: they would have to apply and make  a case, which would have to be run past the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. I hope that would happen and that it will be a rigorous test.

Clearly, one could refer to islands where it might be more difficult to provide such a service. However, the normal presumption should be that the taxis will be accessible and there should be as few exemptions as possible. If there are to be exemptions, they should be properly evidenced and explained, not just nodded through.

Clause 157 sets up the framework, but it is important that we have an understanding that it will not be a fiction and used as a whitewash whereby local authorities walk away from their duties or find ways to avoid them, and that it will not lead to a diminution of service across the piece for disabled people, which is a common concern of the Committee. I think that all that can be achieved, but I would like the Solicitor-General’s assurance that it will be.