1 JULY 2004
TOO MANY EXEMPTIONS TO REGULATIONS ON DISABLED ACCESS TO TRAINS ASKS LORDS COMMITTEE?
The House of Lords Merits Committee has questioned the frequency with which the Department for Transport grants exemptions to the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations 1998 (RVAR), which impose requirements for the benefit of disabled people on the construction of rail vehicles.
In correspondence published today, the Committee states that it has already examined several orders exempting railway carriages from compliance with RVAR and noted that more than 50 such exemption orders have been made since 1998. Although in most cases the defect is comparatively minor, the Lords point to the cumulative effect of such exemptions on the Government's policy objective of improving transport facilities for the disabled.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Chairman of the Committee, said
"We asked why, despite the fact that the RVAR requirements have been in place for nearly six years, carriages are being delivered that are still not fully compliant. Particularly in the light of the recent report by the Joint Committee on the Draft Disability Discrimination Bill, we were concerned that granting long exemptions, sometimes up to 15 years, offers no incentive to the industry to provide solutions to the flaws identified."
Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Transport, explained in reply that the RVAR "were not perfect in covering every circumstance" and were currently being reviewed in some detail in advance of introducing an independent certification system for all new and refurbished railway vehicles under the draft Bill. He added "
refusing the exemption would have seriously delayed new trains in coming into service, This would be detrimental for the travelling public as a whole, including many disabled people for whom the new trains offer a high level of accessibility. I hope the Committee would agree that it is better for disabled people to be able to use new trains with minor non-compliances than prolong the life of old inaccessible stock"
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. The Committee's report is contained in HL Paper 127, Session 2003-04 (13th Report).
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. 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).
4. 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:
5. 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
6. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org