Nusrat Ghani – 2018 Statement on Wheelchair Spaces on Buses

Below is the text of the statement made by Nusrat Ghani, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport and Assistant Government Whip, in the House of Commons on 7 March 2018.

Government believes that where people live, shop, go out, or park their car should not be determined by their disability and recognises the importance of accessible transport networks in supporting disabled people to live independent lives and fulfil their potential.

In January 2017 the Supreme Court handed down its judgment in the case of Paulley vs FirstGroup PLC, concerning the “reasonable adjustments” which must be provided by bus operators to enable wheelchair users to access the on-board wheelchair space.

The Supreme Court judgment states that FirstGroup’s policy with regard to use of the wheelchair space was insufficient to meet the requirements of the Equality Act 2010, and that bus drivers should be required to do more than simply request that a person vacates the wheelchair space, including suspending the journey if needed. The judgment did not provide clarity on precisely what action a service provider should require its drivers to take or how the needs of both passengers in wheelchairs and other bus users, disabled or otherwise, should be taken into account.

In order to understand the implications of the judgment for disabled people, the bus industry and other passengers, and to identify actions for government and others to take to ensure that required adjustments can be provided on buses we established a stakeholder ‘Task and Finish Group on the Use of Wheelchair Spaces on Buses’ (the group).

The group’s report to ministers stated that:

Our view is that drivers need to play an active role in ensuring that the wheelchair space is made available for passengers in wheelchairs, which includes requiring other passengers to move where necessary, but that drivers also need more powers than they have currently to enable them to do this effectively.

The group agreed that that whilst wheelchair users should be granted access to the on-board wheelchair space they may not be the only passengers who rely on using it, but that where other passengers do not have such a need they should be expected to vacate the space in order that it can be occupied by a wheelchair user.

The group made 4 specific recommendations:

That the Public Service Vehicles (Conduct of Drivers, Inspectors, Conductors and Passengers) Regulations 1990 (the Conduct Regulations) are amended to enable drivers to remove passengers from the bus who unreasonably refuse to move when requested from the wheelchair space

The associated guidance is amended to better reflect the behaviours expected from drivers and passengers with respect to use of the wheelchair space

Further work is conducted to consider how best to raise public awareness of the behaviours expected from passengers with respect to the wheelchair space, for example a public awareness campaign, or improved signage on buses

That conditions of carriage and disability awareness training best practice guidance are updated to reflect the fact that passengers will be required to move from the wheelchair space should it be required by a passenger in a wheelchair

I am grateful to the group for their careful consideration of this complex issue.

Government agrees with the group that the wheelchair space should be available to those who need it and that the balance of measures proposed, supporting bus drivers to facilitate access to the wheelchair space, and creating an environment where the needs of disabled passengers are recognised and respected should help to overcome the barriers still faced by some disabled people when using bus services.

In accepting the group’s recommendations in principle we will begin a process of further engagement to understand the specific experiences of a range of stakeholders affected by the wheelchair space issue, including wheelchair users, parents travelling with young children, and bus drivers – with a view to bringing forward a package of measures in 2018, informed by the group’s recommendations and our further consideration, to support access to the wheelchair space.

Disabled people make 10 times as many journeys by bus as by rail, and it is essential that the services they rely upon to access education, employment, social and leisure activities are accessible to them. We hope that in supporting access to the wheelchair space for those who need it we will help many more disabled people to travel with confidence.

Copies of the Task and Finish Group’s report to ministers and accompanying letter have been placed in the House libraries.

Nusrat Ghani – 2018 Speech on Cleaner Buses

Below is the text of the speech made by Nusrat Ghani, the Conservative MP for Wealden, on 8 February 2018.

Opening remarks

Thank you David [Begg, Chair] for that welcome.

It’s a real pleasure to join you for today’s (8 February 2018) summit.

This is my first formal speech since joining the Department for Transport in the recent reshuffle, and I was delighted to take on responsibility for government bus and coach policy.

Importance of industry

I’m a huge advocate for buses.

Catering for over 5 billion passenger journeys a year.

That’s two thirds of all public transport trips.

Buses are the most effective and affordable way to keep busy towns and cities moving.

And we’re very fortunate to have such excellent coach services in this country too.

Providing a comfortable, reliable and great value alternative to long distance train and car travel.

Put simply, this industry is indispensable.

No other form of public transport offers anything like the benefits that you offer.

Whether it’s capacity, geographical coverage, ease of use, cost, efficiency – I could go on.

For me most importantly, buses provide a unique answer to most of the local transport challenges that we face.

Yet so fundamental are they to British life that they’re often taken for granted.

That’s something that I want to change, with your support.

I want to champion buses and coaches.

To shout about the benefits of bus travel.

How they bind our towns and cities together.

How they provide essential links for rural communities, such as the one I represent in Wealden, East Sussex.

And how they’ll become even more vital in years to come.

Congestion and air pollution

Of course, one of the biggest obstacles to growth is road congestion.

And that’s nothing new.

Buses have been hampered by congestion since the days of the horse-drawn omnibus.

But I want to use the Bus Services Act as a way of encouraging authorities and bus companies to make services more attractive, and create a shift away from car use.

I know it’s a big challenge.

But road transport is going to be revolutionised over the next 3 decades.

New vehicle technologies.

New infrastructure.

The phasing out of fossil fuels.

And digital communications transforming the way passengers plan and use transport….

All of which provide an unprecedented opportunity for buses.

We have to hammer home our message:

That rather than contributing to the problem of nose-to-tail traffic and harmful pollution.

Buses and coaches are a part of the solution.

You’ll certainly have the government’s support.

We have already committed £3.5 billion for measures to improve air quality.

Last year we published plans to tackle traffic pollution, and announced a £220 million Clean Air Fund in the Budget.

Later this year we’ll be unveiling our Clean Air Strategy.

And hosting an international zero-emission vehicle summit.

The opportunity here is to position the bus industry as a leader in environmentally friendly transport.

As a catalyst for greener, smarter travel.

And as the most practical answer to the long term mobility needs of our towns and cities.

Low emission buses

Britain is already a pioneer in low carbon buses.

And the industry can be proud of what it’s achieved in recent years.

We’ve got great companies like ADL, Wrightbus and Optare manufacturing green buses.

We have almost 6,000 low carbon buses in service.

The highest number of electric buses in Europe.

And we also have the largest hybrid fleet of over 3,000 vehicles.

And in 2015, our Low Emission Bus Scheme helped put more 300 green buses on roads across Britain.

And that was followed in November 2016 with a further £100 million investment.

We welcome further interest and participation in these schemes.

The sooner we get more low emission buses on the road, the faster we’ll reap the benefits.

So today I’m pleased to announce that we’ll be awarding nearly £40 million of that funding to 20 local authorities as part of the Clean Bus Technology Fund.

This will be used to retrofit buses with technology to reduce tailpipe emissions of nitrogen dioxide.

Originally we invited authorities to apply for a funding total of £30 million now and £10 million in 2 years’ time.

But we received a large number of strong applications for this round.

And we wanted to start realising the air quality benefits as quickly as possible.

So we’ve made the full amount – just under £40 million – available now to fund two-year projects.

It will enable older vehicles to meet the minimum standards in the Clean Air Zone Framework, particularly in areas exceeding statutory limits.

And I am going to announce the successful bidders:

West Yorkshire.

Bristol and Bath.

Gateshead.

Leeds City.

Transport for West Midlands.

Leicester City.

Oxford City.

Coventry.

Nottinghamshire.

Transport for Greater Manchester.

North Tyneside.

Nottingham City.

Transport for London.

Sheffield City.

Sefton MBC Air Quality.

Southampton City.

Derby.

Essex.

South Tyneside.

And finally, Newcastle City.

I’m grateful to all the bus companies who had a hand in the applications.

Ultimately, we see dedicated ultra low emission buses as the long-term answer – but retrofitting offers a very attractive alternative for now.

Not all local authorities were successful with their bids.

But there will be further opportunities for councils to receive money for retrofitting through the Clean Air Fund.

As local authorities prepare to set out their initial plans for reducing nitrogen dioxide concentrations by the end of March, retrofitting technology will help ensure that more buses help clean up the air in our cities.

And as we look to the future, technology will give us other opportunities to improve the efficiency of buses.

For example, if we know how much passenger demand there is for a particular route or service, we can look at providing the appropriate size of vehicle for the job…..

Not just cutting the number of empty seats.

But cutting costs and emissions too.

Bus Services Act

I’ve already mentioned the Bus Services Act, and how it’s designed to make bus services more attractive to the travelling public.

That’s something I will be focusing on in the months ahead.

New enhanced partnership powers will enable local authorities and bus operators to work together to improve services.

And new franchising powers, replacing the existing Quality Contract Scheme, will also improve the management of buses in the regions where they apply.

I’m keen to see the open data provisions in the act benefit passengers too.

One of the existing barriers to passenger growth is that it can be difficult to obtain information on bus fares, routes or times.

Where the information does exist – on the web, for example – it can be inconsistently presented, or be buried in unwieldy and hard-to-decipher timetables.

But by making data open and accessible, software firms can create apps that package and deliver the relevant information to smartphones at the click of an icon.

So the open data should make it easier for passengers to use the bus network.

We published guidance on implementing the measures in the Act last November.

And we’ll publish further regulations and guidance this year.

Conclusion

So – to sum up – I see the future as full of opportunity.

If buses are crucial to our transport system today….

Then as road transport is transformed over the coming decades….

They will become more important than ever.

And I’ll be doing everything I can to spread the message.

I’ll be getting around the industry over the next few months, and meeting as many of you as possible.

To hear your views on how we can best support growth.

But one thing is absolutely clear.

The key to success is partnership. Government and bus industry, local authorities and operators working together. For the benefit of the passenger, for the benefit of bus operators, and for the benefit of Great Britain.

Nusrat Ghani – 2016 Statement on Deaths of Journalists

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Below is the text of the speech made by Nusrat Ghani in the House of Commons on 1 February 2016.

Marie Colvin was a The Sunday Times journalist killed in Syria in 2012, while reporting from the siege of Homs. She passionately believed that through her work she could be the voice of all those experiencing conflict, from whatever perspective. During the latter part of her life, her determination to be that voice had a physical manifestation: an eye patch, the result of injuries sustained in Sri Lanka, where she was hit by shrapnel as she tried to cross the front line.

Following her death, the columnist Peter Oborne wrote:

“Society urgently requires men and women with courage, passion and integrity to discover the facts that those in authority want to suppress.”

Marie Colvin herself said:

“In an age of 24/7 rolling news, blogs and Twitter, we are on constant call wherever we are. But war reporting is still essentially the same—someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can’t get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you.”

The relationship between Members of this House and the fourth estate—our friends up in the Press Gallery—is complicated, but although much of modern-day politics could often be described as a conflict zone, we do not daily put our lives on the line in our place of work. When a member of our armed forces is killed in a conflict zone, the Prime Minister rightly takes a moment at the beginning of Prime Minister’s questions to remind the nation of the sacrifice that that brave serviceman or woman has made. But with the notable exception of people such as Marie Colvin, we do not hear anywhere near as much about the sacrifices made by a large number of professional and citizen journalists every year in the name of newsgathering.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, which I want to thank on the record for its assistance in preparation for this debate, has recorded that 98 journalists were killed last year. It has been definitively confirmed that 71 of them were murdered in direct reprisal for their work; were killed in crossfire during combat situations; or were killed while carrying out a dangerous assignment, such as covering a street protest.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) I sought the hon. Lady’s permission last week to intervene. Statistics from the International Federation of Journalists show that 2,297 journalists and media professionals were killed in the past quarter of a century. That is an enormous number. They were standing up for the freedom of speech that we take for granted in this country. Does she agree that the United Kingdom and other liberal democracies should be promoting free speech and liberty across the globe, through the media and through journalism?

Nusrat Ghani The hon. Gentleman makes an important point: the numbers are vast in the past 50 years or so. I hope that the Minister will respond on that, and I will ask him to do so towards the end of my speech. The International Federation of Journalists puts the number even higher than the CPJ, saying that at least 112 were killed last year.

Professional journalists in conflict zones, such as those working for the BBC and Sky, are fortunate to have extensive support from their employers. Employees of those organisations undergo hostile environment training in preparation for travelling to conflict zones to check that they are adequately prepared for the dangers that they will face.

Recently, a member of staff working for a major British media outlet in the middle east was approached by a man who verbally abused him, accusing him of being a traitor and a collaborator. His companions intervened, but another eight people arrived on the scene carrying batons and knives. The journalist ran away and took refuge in a nearby shop. However, two of his companions were heavily beaten up and received hospital treatment from the injuries they sustained.

The incident was reported by the staff member to the high risk team, which subsequently deployed a security adviser to the country to conduct a security review for that individual, and put additional security measures in place to support the staff. However, increasingly, our news comes not just from professional journalists, whose names, faces and employers we recognise, but from stringers and citizen journalists. Stringers are unattached freelance journalists and citizen journalists are members of the public—independent voices.

The ability of citizen journalists to share stories has an effect on professional journalists. The pressure to go deeper into conflict zones is greater. One of the defining features of a war reporter these days is that they are embedded in the conflict. Today, they are on the frontline, or in enemy territory.

Increasingly, we understand that many of the world’s conflicts today are conflicts of narrative. In the middle east, Daesh wants to control what the conflict looks like. It wants a monopoly over stories and images. More than ever, the narrative is what people are fighting over. Daesh wants to recruit with images, and the reality disseminated by journalists challenges that propaganda. Any citizen journalist can break the propaganda machine. Anyone with a phone is an opponent.

Daesh sees journalists as spies. It sees them as western actors who seek to disrupt the Daesh narrative by reporting on its weaknesses and failures, and that makes them a target. The philosopher Walter Benjamin said:

“History is written by the victors.”

That remains true, but the victors, and the course of the fight, are now a consequence of what is written, and that is even more the case now than it was in Benjamin’s time. That makes it even more important that we protect and honour those journalists, whether professional or citizen.

The BBC’s Lyse Doucet said last year:

“We often say that journalists are no longer on the frontline. But we are the frontline…We are targeted in a way we never have been before… now journalists are seen as bounty and as having propaganda value.”

Journalists in conflict zones are not ordinary members of the public. They tell the stories that allow us to understand what is truly going on in the confusion and propaganda of warfare, and they carry out a vital public service.

Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con) I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and I congratulate her on securing this very important debate. Does she agree that the pace of news in the modern age means that we can no longer wait for dispatches to be informed about what is going on in conflict zones? Journalists are best positioned to give us this real-time accurate information of what is really going on.

Nusrat Ghani I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. Conflict is changing incredibly quickly. Lots of chaotic terrorism acts are happening all over the world, and, quite often, we rely on journalists to be our eyes and ears on the ground.

My discussions with journalists and their employers in recent days have highlighted what I consider to be a gap in the service provided by the Foreign Office to those taking risks to bring truth and to hold people to account. Will the Foreign Office consider making it the policy of British embassies and consuls abroad to hold a register of journalists working in conflict zones within the relevant country at any one time? At the moment this process is ad hoc. On registration, the embassy would and should provide a security briefing on the situation in that country or the neighbouring country if it is in conflict, increasing the ability of journalists to protect themselves, and their employer’s ability to ensure that they are acting according to legitimate and expert advice.

The role of foreign Governments in the protection of journalists is an important one. Will the Minister outline what expectations the Foreign Office currently has of foreign Governments to do everything they can to protect journalists who are British, or working for British-based media outlets, and to challenge them to extend that protection to their own local journalists? Will he consider making it a requirement for negotiations with foreign Governments, especially when embarking on diplomatic relations with emerging democracies, that the protection of journalists is an issue on the table?

The British Government have rightly identified Bangladesh and Pakistan as critical countries in the region and we have partnered with them as a result. Yet in Bangladesh, for example, bloggers are killed by al-Qaeda and others because of what they write. Last year, over 40% of journalists killed in Bangladesh were killed by Islamic extremists because they just disagreed with the words that were written.

In Pakistan in 2006, it is documented that the Government prepared a list of 33 columnists, writers and reporters in the English and Urdu print media and tried to neutralise the “negativism” of these writers by making them “soft and friendly”, and one could interpret that as going a bit beyond a friendly chat. I have more up-to-date testimonies, but the journalists concerned were reluctant for me to raise that on the Floor of the House today. Will the Foreign Office consider making it a requirement that countries that we are partnered with show clear intent to protect the rights of journalists, both professional and citizen? We must not flinch from exporting our proud British values of freedom of the media and of expression.

I will finish by talking about Ruqia Hassan, a citizen journalist in Syria who used her Facebook page to describe the atrocities of daily life in Raqqa, until she went silent in July last year. It has been reported that her last words were:

“I’m in Raqqa and I received death threats, and when Isis [arrests] me and kills me it’s ok because they will cut my head and I have dignity it’s better than I live in humiliation with Isis.”

It has been speculated that her Facebook page was kept open for months so that other citizen journalists could be lured in and so that they too, in turn, could be silenced.

Naji Jerf, a 38-year-old activist who reported for the website “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently”, was also murdered late last year following his final work, “Islamic State in Aleppo”, which exposed human rights violations in the city. His murderers disagreed with him that anyone should hear about those violations. I believe he is the fourth person from “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” to have been murdered so far.

Individuals such as these are part of conflict, and through our consumption of news we are complicit in their participation, but they take the risks. We must honour their bravery, and their pride in what they were, and still are, doing, by highlighting their contribution not only to our understanding of what is going on in conflict zones, but also their contribution to ending conflict by shedding light on it, and we must do all we can to defend their right to do what they do, and protect them as they go about it.