16 SEPTEMBER 2004
LORDS COMMITTEE CONCERNS OVER RAIL COMPANY EXEMPTIONS ON DISABLED ACCESS TO TRAINS
Today's report from the House of Lords Merits Committee follows correspondence earlier this year in which the Committee challenged the Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, about the frequency with which exemptions were being granted to operating companies from the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998 (RVAR). The Committee queried whether the cumulative effect of such exemptions would undermine the Government's objective of improving transport access for the disabled.
The Transport Secretary told the Committee that "many of the exemptions granted since 1998 are for only one or two years, after which time we expect the vehicles to be compliant". Yet two of the three exemptions currently before the House extend existing orders and the third Order provides an exemption until 2019.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Chairman of the Committee, said
"The Joint Committee on the Draft Disability Discrimination Bill, said that it was ludicrous that a nearly decade after the original Regulations were passed no end date for compliance had yet been set. The Merits Committee are concerned that by granting long exemptions, sometimes up to 15 years, the Department for Transport is offering no incentive to the industry to provide solutions to the flaws identified. I hope that the House will debate this shortly."
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The Committee's report is contained in HL Paper 163, Session 2003-04 (18th Report). The correspondence referred to is contained in HL Paper 127, Session 2003-04 (13th Report). The debate is scheduled for Monday 11 October 2004 in the House of Lords.
2. The Railway Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/2456) impose requirements for the benefit of disabled persons, such as, requirements relating to steps on the exterior of vehicles, the provision of priority seating for the use of disabled persons, the minimum force required to operate a door handle and requirement for any toilets fitted to a vehicle. The Railway Vehicle (Exemption Applications) Regulations 1998 (SI 1998/2457) set out the conditions for applying for such exemptions and requires the Secretary of State to consult the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee before granting such an exemption. These regulations and a list of the exemptions granted previously are available on the DfT website, www.dft.gov.uk, under the heading Access for Disabled People subsection Rail.
3. The three Orders currently before the House are:
SI 2004/2149 Rail Vehicle Accessibility (South West Trains Class 458 Vehicles) Exemption (Amendment) Order
SI 2004/2150 Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Gatwick Express Class 460 Vehicles) Exemption (Amendment) Order
SI 2004/2180 Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Hull Trains Class 222) Exemptions Order
4. Chapter 3 of the Report of the Joint Committee on the Government's draft Disability Discrimination Bill (HL Paper 82-I, HC 352-I, Session 2003-04) comments generally on proposals to extend disabled persons access to transport and makes specific recommendations about setting a timetable for railways to achieve full compliance (paras 166-167).
5. The Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee was appointed by the House of Lords on 17 December 2003. The 3rd Report of the Committee set out its plans for enhanced scrutiny of secondary legislation (3rd Report, HL Paper 73, Session 2003-04). The Committee's website, with copies of all its reports, can be found at:
6. The Committee's membership is as follows:
Lord Armstrong of Ilminster
Lord Boston of Faversham
Viscount Colville of Culross
Lord Graham of Edmonton
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Chairman)
Earl of Northesk
7. The Committee's terms of reference are:
"To consider every instrument which is laid before each House of Parliament and upon which proceedings may be or might have been taken in either House of Parliament, in pursuance of an Act of Parliament
with a view to determining whether the special attention of the House should be drawn to it on any of the following grounds:
(a) that it is politically or legally important or gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House;
(b) that it is inappropriate in view of the changed circumstances since the passage of the parent Act;
(c) that it inappropriately implements EU legislation;
(d) that it imperfectly achieves its policy objectives."
FURTHER INFORMATION ON THE MERITS COMMITTEE:
Clerk to the Select Committee on the Merits of Statutory Instruments
House of Lords London SW1A 0PW
Tel: 020 7219 3233 Fax: 020 7219 2571 E-mail: email@example.com