AT the beginning of every new session of Parliament, 20 backbench MPs are selected by ballot to present what is known as a Private Member’s Bill – essentially a short piece of legislation designed to change a specific aspect of the current law. I was drawn as number 17 in that list this year and will seek to make the law stronger in what I think is an important respect. Previous legislation has improved the lives of people with disabilities in a variety of ways, including by making transport more accessible to them, but there are still gaps. If you have a disability, you are likely to rely on taxis and private hire vehicles (PHVs) more than most of us do, especially in largely rural areas like parts of Warwickshire that I represent, where public transport can be scarce and infrequent. Many wheelchair users and assistance dog owners take advantage of legal rights to get around using these vehicles, and many drivers do all they can to help, but there are still too many accounts of people with disabilities of various kinds being denied vital assistance, overcharged for their journeys or denied carriage altogether. Passengers with walking frames, or with sensory, communication and cognitive impairments currently have no specific protection against discriminatory treatment.
My Bill will oblige drivers of taxis and PHVs to accept passengers with disabilities, to refrain from charging them extra and to provide them with appropriate assistance, unless there is good reason why they should not be subject to these duties. It is not guaranteed to become law, but I hope Ministers will back it and that MPs of all political opinions will see it, as I do, as a significant step forward in providing for people with disabilities access to the freedom of movement the rest of us take for granted.