Under Secretary for Transport Norman Baker MP, responsible for accessibility and equalities, was caught in a blunder on disabled passengers’ rights.
On 7 November 2012, Annette Brooke MP chaired a debate on disabled access in the aviation industry at Westminster Hall.
Graham Evans MP made a vibrant opening, highlighting the awkwardness of the fact that the UK is unable to afford basic dignities for everyone and that the status quo is clearly unacceptable, and solutions must be found.
Paul Maynard MP, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on young disabled people, paid tribute to a damning report on disabled access in the aviation industry published by Trailblazers, a network of over 400 young disabled people who work together on critical issues.
During the debate, Under Secretary of State for Transport Norman Baker MP stated "The regulation [1107/2006] is fully supported by the UK Government and has applicability in UK law under a statutory instrument, S.I. 2007, No. 1895."
However, S.I. 2007, No. 1895 is almost inapplicable, as Dame Deirdre Hutton, Chair of the CAA, explains. "Although the aviation industry has taken steps to implement the Regulation in the UK, it is not always implemented, and there are instances where the service does not work well for passengers. We do have enforcement powers, but these are limited to the ability to take a criminal prosecution. Unfortunately, [enforcement] powers are not very flexible or proportionate and make it difficult for us to take action."
Despite an average of 40 to 50 disabled passengers’ complaints per quarter, there has been no known enforcement of the regulation.
The problem is well known to the DfT. "The Consumer Council has explained to the Department of Transport that we believe a range of civil sanctions should be made available to the CAA to provide the CAA with a greater range of available powers and greater flexibility to apply the most appropriate enforcement action on a case by case basis," Aodhan O’Donnell, Director of Policy at the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland said.
It remains to be determined if Under Secretary Norman Baker MP had knowledge of the reality of the situation, or he knowingly painted a much different picture during the debate.
Reduced Mobility Rights has been spearheading the campaign for the introduction of a system of penalties and the transfer of enforcement powers to civil procedure. No longer available to accept the status quo, we approached Mrs Brooke, Mr Evans, Mr Maynard, and Mr Baker, asking them to answer the following questions:
Given the above evidence, do you think the Government should take immediate steps to ensure Regulation 1107/2006 becomes applicable in the UK?
What is your opinion on the delay of the Department for Transport in adopting instruments (penalties) and transfer enforcement powers to civil procedure that would allow the CAA to enforce the regulation?
Mrs Brooke, who chaired the debate, was first to respond. "I think that you should draw these important issues to the instigator of the debate [Graham Evans MP]," she said.
Mr Graham Evans MP has yet to acknowledge the request, despite receiving email and twitter reminders. Odd behaviour, in light of his passionate statements during the debate.
"We’re currently awaiting a reply from the relevant bodies to the questions you posed," Mr Maynard said. "They are all pertinent questions worth rising, which is why I am asking those who are in a position of responsibility for answers."
Mr Baker has yet to acknowledge the request, despite direct email, and email reminders to the DfT press office.
The UK trails behind the vast majority of EU countries who have had civil penalties in place since 2008. Reduced Mobility Rights shares the elusive Mr Evans' opinion that the status quo is clearly unacceptable. However, there is no need to look for solutions. Adhering to the requirements of section 16 of EU Regulation 1107/2006 is all it takes to ensure that those who humiliate and discriminate disabled passengers traveling by air are punished.
There can be no bickering, or more delays. Every day that goes by more disabled people are humiliated. Now all who can change this, starting with Under Secretary Norman Baker MP, are aware of what needs to be done. Effective today we hold them morally responsible for the pain and suffering the disabled will suffer because of their inaction.
About the author
Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Reduced Mobility Rights, Roberto Castiglioni is an expert of PRM regulations and handling procedures, and has personal experience as travelling companion and carer of a passenger with reduced mobility.
Roberto is a member of ESAAG. Chaired by the Hon. David Blunkett MP, the Easyjet Special Assistance Advisory Group, ESAAG, provides Easyjet with strategic guidance and practical advice on the evolving needs of passengers requiring special assistance. Easyjet is the largest airline in the United Kingdom by number of passengers carried.
Image: Norman Baker, Parliamentary under Secretary - Open Government Licence v1.0.