Clause 175

Part of Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:15 am ar 2 Gorffennaf 2009.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Ceidwadwyr, Daventry 9:15, 2 Gorffennaf 2009

Briefly, and rather in the spirit of my earlier intervention, I would like the Solicitor-General to have a word with her hon. Friends about the implications in practice. This is about rail accessibility, which will vary depending on whether the train is travelling or coming to rest at a station.

Let me sketch out a particular dilemma. As we improve the provision for disabled people on rail, which we should, there is bound to be pressure on space for fully abled passengers. It requires a sensitive design to make the spaces as flexible as possible to accommodate the needs of disabled persons with wheelchairs or for other passengers if that is appropriate.

One of the by-products of that is that if capacity is cut in the carriage by making provision for wheelchair access, another carriage might be needed in order to carry the same number of passengers or to meet the same demand. I promise that I will not go into a debate about the economics of the rail system, because that would take us into very unsatisfactory territory. Another carriage would be fine, although not without cost.

A concomitant effect at very small stations—I have two in my constituency—with short platforms is that if the configuration increases from six cars to seven, some may overshoot the platform. That may not be a problem for people who are fully abled and agile, but it would be more of a difficulty for wheelchair users or those who are not nimble in getting off trains, such as older people, because they may find themselves in the wrong place on the train. I suspect that many of us have had that experience on a crowded tube train—one suddenly finds that the door at the end of the carriage will not open and one has quickly to shimmy down to the next door, which is not always easy.

All I am suggesting—I am not proposing that this should be tied down in law—is that merely saying that carriages should be wheelchair accessible is not quite the same as saying that wheelchair users should be able to access the whole length of the train for safe egress and ingress to the platform. A little conversation, at  least, with the Solicitor-General’s sister Department might be useful, because it is important in the general framework of what I know is intended to be an enabling and encouraging clause to get it as practically right as possible.

For example, when the accessibility issue is being cleared in relation to new rolling stock and if there are limited-access stations, which are better than closed stations—we had the same dilemma about hackney cab services—it may be sensible if they have to produce an operational plan to ensure that wheelchair users are notified, put in a suitable part of the train, escorted, provided with more time or whatever is appropriate. Those are largely operational matters for the Solicitor-General’s sister Department, and I leave those thoughts with her.