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Mike Wood: Does my hon. Friend agree that this problem is particularly acute on pavements around schools, especially primary schools, where obstructed pavements not only force buggies into the road but obstruct pedestrians’ view and prevent them from crossing safely?
Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and as this debate continues the clear and tangible benefits are seen to be ever wider and ever clearer.
I turn now to the discussions I have had with the Department for Transport since we published the Bill. I do not think this is always the case with Departments and private Members’ legislation, but I want to put it on record that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Andrew Jones, and the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty’s Treasury, my hon. Friend George Hollingbery, have been phenomenally helpful and courteous to me. That may come as a unique note in the Official Report. I also want to put on record my debt of thanks to my hon. Friend Philip Davies, who is a huge supporter of Guide Dogs and who advised me as a new and rather wet-behind-the-ears Member of this House on how best to proceed if there was not a mutual meeting of minds between me as the sponsor of the Bill and the Department affected—in this case the Department for Transport, as the Bill would amend the Road Traffic Act 1988.
It is unfortunate that a meeting of minds has not been achievable during those discussions. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough has convinced me of both his sincerity in dealing with the issue and, in general terms, his firm and clear commitment to improving the rights of the disabled and the vulnerable with regard to transport and mobility. It was on that basis, following a conversation with my hon. Friend the Minister, that I wrote to him on 26 November setting out what I thought was a good proposal to move forward if, even in the dying days of our discussions, a meeting of minds was not achievable.
I have set out to the Minister that a round table discussion would be convened by the Department early in 2016, to be attended by organisations such as Guide Dogs, the Local Government Association, Living Streets, the Royal National Institute of Blind People and myself, to discuss the concerns that triggered the Bill and the current situation. The Department has agreed to sponsor evidence-gathering to provide a sound basis on which to determine how best to proceed in addressing the issue, either by legislation or regulation. That would be undertaken at the expense of the Department for Transport. Following the commissioning of that evidence-based research and greater clarity on what I believe to be clear already—that the situation is a little hazy and the rules a little confusing and conflicting, although, as I have said, we have been unable to achieve a meeting of minds—that initial round table would convene to chew over the findings of the research and plot a way forward.
On 1 December, my hon. Friend the Minister replied to me to say:
“However, improving access for disabled people is a key priority for me and I would like to thank you and Guide Dogs for raising this issue. Although Government cannot support your Bill, I am prepared to convene a round table next year to discuss this issue and envisage that it might include”—
I have mentioned some of those involved—
“to inform the questions we will consider in the research. After which, and in the next financial year, I am also content for my Department to undertake some work to examine more closely the legal and financial implications of an alternative regime and the likely impacts on local authorities. I would also be content to report back to the round table on the outcome of that work.”
There are two ways, as I understand it, to try to achieve progress on what I think is seen collectively across the House as an important issue. One way is to ram our heads against the wall, to find ourselves faced with the overpowering might of the Executive and the Treasury Bench, and to come away with a headache and a badge that says, “A1 for endeavour, gamma minus for success”. The other way—this was the advice of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, for which I am again grateful—is to sit down with the Department. Predicated on the seriousness with which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough has been dealing with this and the assurances he has given, that has certainly given me food for thought.
In the time remaining, I would be very interested to hear—obviously at your discretion, Mr Deputy Speaker—the views and considerations of colleagues on both sides of the House.