I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill may look familiar to some hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who introduced a similar Bill in the 2017-19 Parliament. I am pleased to see him in his place today and thank him for his hard work on the earlier Bill, and I thank all members of the all-party parliamentary group on taxis, which he now chairs.
I am also indebted to my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), both former Transport Ministers, who have worked hard on this issue and whose assistance in recent weeks has been invaluable.
I am also grateful to those three Members for co-sponsoring the Bill, along with my right hon. Friends the Members for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) and for Tatton (Esther McVey), the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), the right hon. and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Lee Anderson).
This Bill has a very simple purpose, which is to ensure that only those fit to hold a licence are entrusted to carry the public. It will enhance public safety by mandating the sharing of relevant and necessary information. Simply put, better decisions are made when more information is available.
Although the Bill’s focus is to protect the public, it will also protect the hundreds of thousands of decent, hard-working drivers from having their reputation tarnished and their profession diminished by the abhorrent behaviour of a small minority who would seek to abuse their position of trust.
Just under 343,000 taxi and private hire vehicle driver licences are currently issued in England. Decisions on licensing are made by 276 licensing authorities. In each case, the authority must reach a decision as to whether a person is fit and proper. Although this is not defined in law, there is, by and large, consistency in safety-related criteria and processes. All licensing authorities require an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service criminal background check, and virtually all have the enhanced DBS checks carried out. This is reassuring, but it is only part of the picture.
There will be many cases across the country where the conduct of an individual has been unacceptable. However, these incidents might not result in the involvement of the police, let alone a prosecution or conviction. Some incidents may potentially be a criminal offence, but I am sure we all accept that not every crime reported ends with a conviction. That is not to say these incidents did not happen.
This Bill does not trespass into the realm of the Disclosure and Barring Service; rather it provides an additional means to enable the sharing of relevant information. Neither does it alter any of the existing processes that enable a driver to challenge the decision of a licensing authority. It will require licensing authorities to keep registers of licences issued and to make this information available on request. There is no mandatory requirement to share information with other licensing authorities on revocations, refusals or suspensions. Some licensing authorities do use the voluntary national register of taxi and private hire licence revocations and refusals—quite a mouthful, but it is commonly referred to as the NR3. It is commissioned by the Local Government Association and operated by the National Anti Fraud Network. Although some licensing authorities check information on NR3, others rely on applicants self-declaring whether they have had a licence refused, suspended or revoked. As one might expect, those with something to hide are unlikely to declare it, even if they face a greater sanction for not doing so.
Where an authority does not use NR3 to ensure a complete picture, a licensing authority would have to individually contact every one of the other 275 licensing authorities, somehow provide a unique identifier, and await all relevant or nil responses. Such a process is clearly impractical. I am informed that this has resulted in instances where a driver, having been refused a licence for safeguarding reasons by one authority, has then had their application accepted by another, in ignorance of the original safety concern. Once a licence has been granted, it is only the licensing authority that issued it that can revoke or suspend a driver’s licence. Although the expectation is that licensing authorities in one area will report concerns that they may have about a driver licensed by another authority and that those concerns will be acted on, there is currently no legal requirement to do so.
This Bill builds on the approach set out in the statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards issued by the Government in 2020, which recommends that licensing authorities share information with other authorities, as better information will mean better decisions. The objective is to improve the knowledge of the tax and private hire vehicle trade’s gatekeepers and enforcers: the licensing authorities.
The first part of the Bill is intended to ensure that in their role as gatekeepers to the trade, licensing authorities have as much relevant information as possible when considering new or renewal licence applications. The second part is intended to ensure that, in their role as enforcers, licensing authorities are aware of any incidents involving their drivers, even when they are working in other areas.
I appreciate that there are those here and elsewhere who would like to see wider reforms to our legislative framework, under which taxis and private hire vehicles are licensed, but more substantial changes cannot be done through this Bill. Indeed, in my engagement with industry bodies and operators, many suggestions have been put forward to me about what other wide-ranging improvements could be made, but this Bill simply focuses on passenger safety, which is a key concern to all of us in this House.
The Bill would require all licensing authorities in England to record and input into the database instances where they have refused to grant or renew a driver’s licence, or have suspended or revoked a licence, because of a certain safeguarding or road safety concern. When processing applications, licensing authorities will be required to search the database for any relevant entries made and request any relevant information that the first authority relied on to make their decision. The authority processing the application must then have regard to the previous information when making its own licensing decisions.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this Bill to the House. I noticed that clause 1(g) includes as “relevant information”, whether an applicant
“has threatened, abused or insulted another person”.
That is quite a broad position, which could be misinterpreted by different local authorities. I am quite interested in what my hon. Friend thinks needs to be done in terms of an appeals process in case someone is taken off the road, because that is how a local authority has interpreted whether someone is suitable to be a licensed vehicle driver, taxi driver or whatever it may be. Is there more to be done on the appeals process?
My hon. Friend is correct. The Bill does not change the existing licensing authorities regime and does not affect the appeals process, appeals panels or applications to the magistrates court.
The relevant information that led to the decision would not be recorded on the database but kept by the licensing authority and shared with other licensing authorities if they requested it. The information on the database would simply flag instances of applications for a driver’s licence being refused or of the suspension or revocation of a driver’s licence.
This is an important Bill. Does my hon. Friend agree that the timeliness of the information sharing is crucial? If someone has their licence revoked but seeks to get one from another authority, we do not want the information not to be on the database for the second licensing authority to check. It is crucial that information is shared in a timely manner and can be checked. Will my hon. Friend speak to that?
That very point is considered in the Bill, which gives local authorities a time limit for the entering of such information on the database. In that way, playing one local authority off against another—that circumnavigation, loophole or lacuna—is effectively dealt with.
To achieve its aims, the Bill enables the Secretary of State to provide or designate a person to provide a licensing information database. It enables the database operator to charge a fee in respect of the costs of the database, but such a fee will not be levied automatically.
I risk repeating a mantra, but better decisions are made when more information is available. The existing legislation enables only the authority that issued a licence to take action against it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this important Bill to the House. Of the 15,000 private hire licences issued by City of Wolverhampton Council in 2019, many were for drivers spread across the United Kingdom, including at least one as far away as Perth, which is quite some taxi drive. Does my hon. Friend think that the Scottish Government and other devolved national Governments should, following what will hopefully be the Bill’s passage, work with the UK Government to reciprocate the flow of data to ensure that all authorities throughout the United Kingdom have access to the best possible information?
To follow up on and clarify that point—I am from a devolved nation—would the Bill only require licensing authorities in England, not those in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, to input the information, but they would have the benefit of that information? Has my hon. Friend had any discussions with devolved authorities about whether they would adopt a similar approach to the inputting of the information?
My hon. Friend is correct that the devolved nations would be able to access the database. I am not aware of discussions among or engagement between the devolved nations and the Department for Transport.
As I was saying, the existing legislation enables only the authority that issued a licence to take action against it. The Bill will enhance safety by requiring licensing authorities to report information on certain serious safeguarding or road safety matters to the authority that issued the licence.
I am always pleased to get a first. I am aware of occasions where people with wheelchairs or mobility rollators have been unable to use taxis. Will the Bill safeguard accessibility for disabled people to use taxis and ensure that they have equality with those of us who are able-bodied?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I feel as though I have obtained my proper parliamentary wings, having now taken an intervention from him. He raises an important point on the rights and needs of disabled passengers. The Bill does not deal with access to vehicles, but it does deal with safeguarding. I believe it will help deliver that provision for those who are most vulnerable in our society and require public authorities to ensure that safety is of paramount concern in licensing decisions.
The Bill would give the Government flexibility to designate a database provider or to provide the database themselves. Given the existence of NR3, it would make sense to use that database so that the Bill’s provisions can come into effect quickly. I recognise that NR3 does not currently allow for the recording of suspensions, but I wanted that in the Bill in case such functionality is added at a later date. Many local authorities already pay a fee to the National Anti Fraud Network for use of a wide range of services, including access to NR3.
The ability of the database operator to charge a fee would enable the National Anti Fraud Network to continue to recover NR3’s running costs. Indeed, it is anticipated that rather than starting from scratch with a new database, there will be use of the existing voluntary database operated by the National Anti Fraud Network—of which NR3 forms a part—which is already subscribed to by 256 of the 276 licensing authorities. However, only 138 such authorities use the NR3 element. I am reliably informed by the Local Government Association that, with little or no additional costs, the NR3 database could fulfil the Bill’s requirements if the Secretary of State so designates.
The Bill’s objective can be illustrated no better than through use of the current voluntary scheme. Luton Borough Council recently ran a check on the NR3 database for a driver applying for a licence. The search revealed a revocation in another local authority area, due to a safeguarding concern, which the applicant failed to disclose. Consequently, Luton—rightly—refused a licence due to that deliberate withholding of information.
My hon. Friend is being incredibly generous with his time. I commend him on the Bill. I am sure he is aware of the scandalous situation of the special educational needs and disability travel contract in Sandwell, with Sandwell Council having handed it out without checks being conducted. Is the safeguarding of children with special educational needs in respect of large travel firms the sort of thing that the Bill and use of that database would combat to ensure the safety of those children?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. There are many examples across the country of deplorable practices where the failure to access information is failing to safeguard our constituents. For the same reasons as I gave in response to the intervention on disabled passengers by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), the Bill will help to support and safeguard our special educational needs children when accessing taxis. The Bill will close the loophole that I identified in the Luton case that enables an applicant to obtain a licence from an authority that does not participate in the voluntary scheme, just as my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) alluded to.
Since the Bill’s First Reading, I have met a wide variety of groups, from the Local Government Association to operators and industry bodies including the National Private Hire and Taxi Association, the Durham Licensed Taxi Association and the all-party parliamentary group on taxis. I thank them all for their engagement and assistance up to this point. However, the engagement that was organised by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust with Elaine Pickford and Liam O’Callaghan, the mother and brother of Sian O’Callaghan, who was murdered by a taxi driver in Oxfordshire, was the most important to me. I am grateful to them for the time they spent sharing their tragic story with me, and although this legislation can never bring Sian back, I hope it can serve as a lasting tribute to her.
As my hon. Friend knows, in County Durham we have a lot of cross-border travel, particularly involving my constituency—with Newcastle and Gateshead—with drivers travelling on both sides. Standards are different across the board, but I welcome this Bill as a real step in the right direction. What further could he say about how this cross-border issue will be addressed by the Bill?
We have a situation where 276 licensing authorities have individual discretion to apply the standards they wish to see locally. Although this Bill does not seek to impose a set of national standards or national licensing—we know how important the income from that licensing for their local drivers is to local authorities—by sharing this data and information we seek to get to the position where good practice is spread out across the country.
I hope that hon. Members from across the House will support this Bill, which will bring about a real improvement in the regulation of the taxi and private hire vehicles sector. So many of our constituents, particularly those with mobility difficulties, rely on the sector in their daily lives—to go to the shops, attend hospital appointments, get to school and get out of their homes, as we return to normality. It is important that they can do that safely, and in the secure and certain knowledge that those in authority have done all they can to ensure that the person driving the vehicle they travel in is a fit and proper person to do so. We should do all we can to ensure the safety of our constituents where we can, and this Bill does just that.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and support the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) in his efforts to put this Bill into law. I should declare at the outset that I chair the all-party group on taxis. I speak with some passion on this issue, because some three and a half years ago, on another Friday morning, I moved a similar Bill, fully anticipating that with support from across the House and the industry, and with local authority and passenger group support, we would see the Bill progressing. I very much hope that he does better than I did in my efforts.
The intervening time has been tough for many people, and taxi and private hire drivers have had a particularly hard time. Many will have heard, as I have in my constituency, of the financial hardship people have faced, and of issues associated with vehicles being laid up and insurance-related problems. Although some help has been given, it has often been patchy. I have to say that with the Minister responsible being in the Lords, many will share my view that not enough has been done, with the impact on London’s black cab trade being a case in point. In June 2020, there were 18,553 licensed black cabs but by 31 October that had fallen to just over 15,000—there has been a 29% fall in the number of black cabs operating on London’s roads. At the start of June 2021 there were just 13,884, according to statistics from the Department for Transport—we are talking about 1,000 fewer licensed taxi drivers. So it has been a hard time for the industry, and I am grateful to the various groups, including Steve McNamara and the Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, for all they have done in pressing for help, but this has not been enough.
This is an important Bill and I thank the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for his work on it. I also thank Ministers and colleagues on the Opposition Benches who have also inputted into this important legislation. I wish to comment briefly on my hon. Friend’s point about the effect on the taxi industry; these are important key workers who keep our country moving and offer a vital public service. I hope that the Government will look to provide some further support for the taxi industry in the future because of the pressure they have been under. I ask colleagues across the House to consider the needs of disabled people in the Bill. There is a need to do so and ensure a level playing field across the country. I hope the Bill is also an opportunity for that important work to take place.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The taxi and private hire sector is often misunderstood. It plays a key role in our transport sector. Extraordinarily, it represents the largest number of people employed in transport. My hon. Friend is right that for so many people, particularly disabled people, taxis and private hire vehicles are a lifeline. The fact that they have been under such pressure is a cause for further action from Government.
Three and a half years is a long time to wait, and in the meantime I am grateful that Members across the House have pressed relentlessly for action. The hon. Member for Darlington has already praised the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) for his role when he was Minister. He established what was known as a task and finish group led by Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq. His group achieved remarkable consensus, because there are competing views, particularly between taxi and private hire. It came back with 34 recommendations, a number of which include the very proposals we are discussing this morning.
There have also been repeated questions to Ministers and Westminster Hall debates. I remember when I was a member of the Transport Committee hearing a passionate appeal from a professor who feared we would see further incidents of the type that the hon. Member for Darlington has already referred to. He felt it was only a matter of time, without improvements in licensing, before we would see further tragedies. At Transport questions on Thursday morning, it sometimes felt like a permanent item on the agenda that Ministers would be pressed on this point. I am sure that many Members across the House will have heard over the past few months from a whole range of constituents about these issues, as well as from safety campaigners, disability organisations, trade unions and so on.
Technology has also produced huge challenges and changes for the sector in recent years. Something that has come across to me in my discussions with people going around the country is just how different the situations are in different parts of the country. I have already made reference to the black cab trade in London, and we hear about that, but there are different patterns in different towns, cities and market towns across the country. I thought that London and Cambridge were different in their approach, but in learning more about Liverpool, Brighton, Manchester, Rotherham and Wolverhampton, as have already been mentioned, and then looking at the market towns and rural areas, we see it is not a simple task to regulate all these different situations.
There are many, many things we need to tackle, and for those who want a quick history, I refer people to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who had an excellent Adjournment debate a few years ago, where he traced the history of taxi legislation all the way back to the Victorian era. It is astonishing how much of the legislation still refers back and is based on so much of that. When I was talking to Department for Transport civil servants, they pointed me to the volume of legislation, which I am sure the Minister is intimately familiar with. It is lengthy, complicated and, frankly, it probably needs an overhaul, exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) suggests. The world has changed and unfortunately the legislative situation has not changed to keep up, and it cannot be done in a private Member’s Bill, as the hon. Member for Darlington clearly acknowledged. There are so many things we need to do, but this is a small part related to passenger safety.
As a former member of a licensing panel, I completely agree with what the hon. Gentleman just said. Does he agree that the Bill is a valuable first step in bringing uniformity and rigour to how different authorities license their taxi drivers? I think particularly of Rossendale Borough Council, which is next door to Rochdale Borough Council, where I am an MP. They have completely different standards, so we see a preponderance of Rossendale licences in our area, rather than Rochdale ones. There is clearly a disconnect between how they license their taxi drivers, and people are exploiting that.
The hon. Member is absolutely right. Rossendale, I am afraid, did feature extensively in some debates. When my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish had his Adjournment debate many years ago, he referred to that issue in particular. I have to say it is astonishing how many Wolverhampton plates still turn up in Cambridge. I was not aware of the Perth example, but one can see the problem. This system was devised in an era where people worked locally, but the world has changed completely with the kind of technologies we have, which is why the legislation needs such a major overhaul.
I was going to go through the details of the Bill, but the hon. Member for Darlington did so impeccably, so I feel no need to trouble the House with them again. He has obviously done very good research. I had intended to contact Tameside to see where the NR3 database had got to. I was struck that it had not yet achieved universal coverage. That is the key point: until it is universal, there will always be the possibility of gaming the system.
There is a danger in this whole debate of implying that there are large numbers of people doing this. The hon. Member was absolutely right to make the point at the outset that most people are not behaving badly, but some are.
The hon. Member makes the point that until this is universal, there will be a way of gaming the system. As a Member from Wales—a cross-border one—it strikes me that, if this database does not cover Wales and England at the very least, there will still be that opportunity. Most taxi drivers in Montgomeryshire go west and east; they do not go north and south.
The hon. Member makes an important point. That is one of the issues of living in a devolved series of nations: we have to try to work with others. I have to say that I am not aware of that being the overwhelming problem at the moment, but should it be so, clearly it would need to be addressed.
It always seemed to me that part of this issue was setting up the database and getting that all resolved, but the other side of the coin was enforcement. When I had discussions with various people about how enforcement worked, I was struck by how complicated it is. Different rules seem to apply depending on who is doing the enforcing. Of course, that is made much more complicated by the difficulty that local council officers face having to enforce in their area while not being able to enforce against people who come from another area. That is why the proposals in the Bill are so important; they begin to address that problem. In theory, the only body that can enforce against that Perth licence holder is the local council in Perth, which would presumably require the council in Perth to be in Penzance to do so. One can see how that is not going to work and why we have that problem.
Another former Transport Minister, the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani)—this has been a long-running debate—pursued this issue. In fact, she was the Minister involved at my previous attempt. I pay tribute to her, because she worked very hard on this. She was a strong believer in national standards, but she always suggested that there would be occasions when we needed local flexibility, which immediately reintroduces the problem. If we have higher standards to deal with particular problems—sadly, we have seen particular problems in some parts of the country—we are back to square one. We need some kind of approach, as is suggested in the second part of the Bill, to make this possible.
I thank all those who spoke to me. I suspect they are the same people who have been talking to the hon. Member for Darlington. I was very impressed by the National Association of Licensing and Enforcement Officers. I always had great support from people at Transport for London and from the trade unions, particularly Unite and GMB. The hon. Member mentioned the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Guide Dogs; they too have been pressing for action on this issue for many years.
I appreciate that time is always precious on Fridays, so I will conclude at this point. I genuinely hope that we will get cross-party consensus to get this measure forward. We have waited too long, and it really is time to get it done.
I rise to dedicate my wholehearted support to the Bill. It will help increase accountability, raise safety standards in the industry and ensure that licensing authorities have access to the same pool of data, which will be valuable in my constituency of Workington and for my borough council, Allerdale. Let me take the opportunity to thank the licensing officers and the councillors on the licensing panel in Allerdale for their continued hard work in this area.
I applaud the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) in bringing these measures to the House, and I have no hesitation in endorsing them; they will foster better working practices based on reliable and accessible information. As colleagues have explained, the Bill will help to prevent unsuitable individuals from working the current system to their advantage. By closing the gaps in the information available, local authorities will be in a much better position to make sound decisions. I accept that most local authorities already adhere to good practice when considering whether to grant or revoke licences, but they do not have access to all the data and in many cases they do not share the data on refusals and revocations with other local authorities. This important legislation will change all of that by helping to ensure that local councils are in full possession of the facts that they need.
Currently, licensing authorities are unable to take action against the licence of a taxi or private hire vehicle driver issued by a different licensing authority, even if the driver implicated is working in its own area. Since there is no obligation on licensing authorities to report concerns about drivers to the licensing authority that issued the licence, concerns over safety are often not acted on due to a lack of knowledge on the part of the home licensing authority. This cannot be allowed to continue. This Bill is a huge step in the right direction when it comes to addressing these issues and providing additional assurances when it comes to the safety of the travelling public.
The statutory standards issued in 2020 are absolutely unequivocal about the public safety benefits of information sharing, and in particular of the use of the national register of taxi and private hire vehicle driver licence refusals and revocations. I thank my hon. Friend for his incredibly important work on this issue, and I offer him my unwavering support as this Bill progresses.
I am very pleased to see this Bill before the House today. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for promoting it, and for this thoughtful and very well researched exposition of exactly why this is needed. I hope that, after today’s debate, there will be much support on both sides of the House for this very well-timed Bill, which perhaps should have been brought forward some time ago, by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner).
I am pleased that the Bill will be debated today, given that local authorities have repeatedly called in recent years for this Government to update their taxi and private hire vehicle licensing regulations over and above the current statutory standards, because at the moment they simply do not go far enough. I am also pleased that the Bill contains the very same provisions as the Licensing of Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill that was introduced in a previous parliamentary Session by my hon. Friend, whom we heard from earlier. I hope that the work he has done will not be in vain, as this Bill potentially progresses through this House and onwards to make the changes needed to safeguard passengers and enhance the taxi industry.
In 2018, the independent task and finish group on taxi and private hire vehicle licensing published a detailed report that called for sweeping changes to taxi and private hire vehicle licensing and regulation. Its recommendations included national licensing standards, limits on cross-border working, powers to cap licences under certain circumstances and higher safeguarding standards. However, more than three years down the line, we are still waiting for those recommendations to be implemented, unfortunately. This is despite, at that time, the then Transport Minister agreeing the conclusions of that report.
At the time, the Government accepted the need for a national database to achieve a safe service for passengers and were broadly in agreement with the original Bill. However, it would unfortunately appear that the Government have since slightly shied away from taking more robust action to improve licensing and therefore passenger safety. The Minister will perhaps point to the statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards that they published last year, which local authorities are in the process of consulting on and then implementing. However, those standards do not go far enough and, importantly, do not deliver on all of the recommendations made by the task and finish group. In particular, they do not address the vital issue—as mentioned by previous speakers, including the hon. Member for Darlington—of cross-border hiring, which currently undermines the efficacy of licensing right across the country. This is why it is high time for proper legislation with robust national minimum standards that are legally enforceable.
It is also disappointing that it has taken a private Member’s Bill to reach this point. I think that was inevitable, having had to wait so long for this to be brought forward. It is vital that the Government consider the measures set out in the Bill today, which address critical issues, including safety concerns, with the overall existing licensing legislation. It would require taxi and private hire vehicle licensing authorities in England to share information of recent adverse licensing history, such as refusals, suspensions and revocations of a licence, and enable this to be taken into consideration to mitigate the risk of unsuitable people being granted or continuing to hold a taxi or private hire vehicle licence.
Let us be clear: at present, licensing authorities are not required to share information with other authorities. This prevents them from being able to take an informed decision about granting or renewing a driver’s licence. It creates the conditions for a driver who has been refused a licence, or has had an existing licence suspended or revoked because of safety concerns, to be in a position to apply for a licence in another area where that new licensing authority is completely unaware of the previous refusal, suspension or revocation. We need only look at the totally unacceptable situation in Wolverhampton, where drivers who were the subject of serious allegations were allowed to continue their trade—in one case, more than 150 miles from where the original complaint was made. That is clearly unacceptable, as I think all Members on both sides of the House would agree. It puts the safety of taxi and private hire vehicle users at risk, and goes against the recommendations of the task and finish group.
The existing statutory standards are no longer fit for purpose, and we have already heard today about NR3 and the database. While they urge data sharing between local authorities and encourage the existing NR3 database, they do not mandate it, which creates clear inconsistencies in the system. The Bill will help to strengthen these obligations. Indeed, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, to which I spoke just the other day, has welcomed it as
“exactly the kind of concrete action we need”.
The association acknowledges that the Bill may not be a silver bullet. However, it would be a positive step, helping to strengthen the noble taxi and private hire vehicle licensing trade and—most important—promote public safety. It would also require licensing authorities in England to report any serious safeguarding or road safety concerns to the licensing authority that issued an individual of concern with a licence, requiring the licensing authorities to consider reviewing an individual’s case.
More broadly, the Government should take urgent action and do more to support the wider taxi sector, which has been decimated by covid-19. In my constituency, many hundreds of people are drivers of black cabs and private hire vehicles. Indeed, in London the taxi fleet is now at its lowest number since 1983, at around 13,400 vehicles, a loss of more than 5,000 since the start of the pandemic. We have seen a similar drop across the whole of England. The DFT’s own figures from July 2021 reveal that the number of licensed vehicles in England has decreased by 15.9% since 2020, to just over a quarter of a million. The Government’s apathy towards taxi and private hire vehicle drivers is undermining drivers’ confidence in the future of the trade and deterring many from returning, or—more important, because we want to tackle climate change—from investing in new low or zero-emission vehicles, because they feel that they are being pushed out and overlooked.
I welcome the Bill. The Government must go further than simply encouraging licensing authorities to adopt the statutory standards. I therefore hope that they will support the Bill and make the changes to the existing legislation that will improve the safety of all users of taxis and private hire vehicles.
It is a pleasure to speak on the Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on introducing a vital piece of legislation.
I want to talk about the experience that we have had in my borough of Sandwell—which I mentioned in an intervention earlier—and the opportunities that the Bill presents in ensuring that issues such as the scandalous transport contract for children with special educational needs, which was awarded by Sandwell Council to “one of their mates”, never arise again. I hope that the information provided on the database has the scope to ensure that that is included in wider procurement processes for larger transport contracts involving the most vulnerable members of our community.
I must pay tribute to two local councillors, David Fisher and Jay Anandou, who led the charge in exposing that disgraceful scandal, which has put at risk some of the most vulnerable children in my community. It is timely that my hon. Friend has brought the Bill to the House today. This is exactly the reason we are here: to protect the most vulnerable in our communities. I thank him for that. I think the Bill is vital because, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) articulated so well—as have other Members—we have a patchwork licensing system at the moment and probably an antiquated one, which needs reform. This is probably the first step on that journey. We really need a root-and-branch look at how we are licensing and providing authorisation to private hire vehicles. We see how well that can work when it goes right, and we know the important contribution that taxis and private hire vehicles make to our communities and local economies, as many right hon. and hon. Members have said. Private hire vehicles and taxis are at the heart of keeping us moving so it is important that we ensure, not just for our peace of mind but for that of the industry, that they know they are on a level playing field and that there is fairness.
We also need to ensure that firms that are playing by the rules get a fair go, because it is not right that individuals or firms are gaming the system. We heard some examples from my neighbouring city of Wolverhampton about how that can go to the extreme, to the detriment of people who are working hard. As hon. Members said, taxi drivers have been key workers during the pandemic. We know the important contribution that they have made to ensure that we can keep moving, that our frontline healthcare workers can get to where they need to be, that we can keep our most vulnerable members of our community safe, and that people can get the care, shopping, food and resources that they need. It is important to ensure that the system is robust enough and fair enough to put a level playing field in place.
What will be important in the success of the Bill—I say “success” because I am fully confident that my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington will get this through and I really hope so, because it is vital—is its implementation once it is on the statute book. We have to think about that. There has to be, and I am heartened to see, a degree of a duty for local authorities and licensing authorities to co-operate, because that will be the real success of these measures. It will be important to ensure that we have an obligation on local authorities to share that information. I am very pleased to see that a time limit is in place for local authorities to respond to an information request, because it will be really important to ensure that once these issues are flagged, they are dealt with expediently. We have to ensure not only that issues are highlighted, but resolved. That is key, too; it is about ensuring that we can keep our industry moving by resolving these problems and ensuring that we can keep people safe.
This Bill provides many opportunities and it falls into many different areas. It is not just about what we see on the face of the Bill, but so many different things, because we know how far-reaching the private hire industry is in respect of the work it does in our communities. I do not want to repeat what my hon. Friend said, because he introduced the Bill so expertly and with such precision, and I would not do it justice by doing so.
To keep my remarks as succinct as possible to allow colleagues to come in, I will just say that this is a vital Bill. It is one of those that transcends many parts of our communities and I think it is the start of a wider conversation about private hire and taxi firms. From our experience in Sandwell, there is scope for it to be utilised in the procurement processes of local authorities as well. I thank my hon. Friend for introducing the Bill, because this is exactly the sort of legislation needed for my constituents who have had to go through the scandalous situation of the SEND transport contract in Sandwell, and I wish him every success as it passes through the House.
I start by sending my warmest congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on all the work that he has done in introducing the Bill and on being so successful in the private Member’s Bill ballot. This issue has perhaps been rather ignored in this place for too long, which is why I am delighted that we are bringing the Bill in today and discussing this really important topic. The Bill represents an important first step in updating what is, unfortunately, outdated legislation in this area.
While licensing authorities are currently required to carry out assessments of whether a driver is fit and proper or of a good character, current laws simply do not go far enough. Technological developments in transport, as well as changes in the wider taxi and private hire vehicle market, have overtaken current laws, meaning they do not always guarantee safety for passengers. Of course, we have fantastic taxi drivers in all our constituencies who wish to do the very best for all of us, for our residents and communities, but we need to make sure that local authorities are able to share concerns, whether about safety, reckless driving or other issues, including drugs,
A worrying case came across my desk two or three weeks ago, when I met a constituent who had contacted me to say that she had video evidence of a couple of taxi drivers using their taxi system to distribute drugs in my constituency, which is absolutely disgraceful—I am told this has been an issue among a minority of taxi drivers for far too long. I provided this video evidence to West Yorkshire police, which I hope it picks up with Bradford Council.
This Bill will help us to provide safety in all our constituencies. It is vital that we protect the taxi drivers who are doing a brilliant job, tackle the minority who are causing an issue and provide safety to our constituents. Not only will this Bill protect passengers but it will aid drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles by guaranteeing high standards to any would-be passengers. Enabling the Department for Transport to provide an information database will streamline the process and ensure there is no passing by of the rules. Likewise, the statutory requirements for licensing authorities to have regard to the database will make sure these standards are kept up.
As has been said, we currently have a patchwork system. It cannot be right that a licensing authority in the Bradford district I sit within is very different from the one in North Yorkshire, which is only two miles away. It is inconceivable that someone could lose their licence for reckless behaviour and be able to get a new licence from a different licensing authority two miles away. This Bill, presented very well by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, will make a huge effort on taking these steps.
I very much welcome this Bill. I would like to see it progress as quickly as possible, because when I hear harrowing stories from constituents who are still worried about safety in the taxi system, and when drugs are being distributed by a minority of individuals, it is right that we drive through legislation that cleans up the system. I am determined to support the Bill’s progress in every way I can.
It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore). I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on his sensible Bill and on his excellent opening speech setting out why it is so important.
I take this opportunity to thank Mike Smith, an officer at Guildford Borough Council who is a senior specialist in licensing and community safety. He wrote to me on this issue last year, and I sought a ministerial response for him. Such was his concern that he wrote to me again in July 2021:
“As you will be aware, Guildford is an historic university town and principal regional destination for the day and night-time economy. The Council along with other stakeholders works hard to ensure public safety through initiatives such as the Safer Guildford Partnership and is the only town in Surrey to hold the prestigious purple flag award. However, despite this work the Council’s efforts to promote safety within the taxi and private hire trade, and ultimately the safety of our residents, remains undermined by the significant number of drivers and vehicles licensed elsewhere… I therefore cannot stress enough that it is only a matter of time until further but entirely preventable tragedies and scandals which have beset other licensing authorities recently are likely to occur due to the failure to update legislation in the taxi and private hire sector.”
I passed on to him a ministerial reply, dated August. I am not sure that many of my constituents will be tuned into proceedings in the Chamber, but I hope that any who are will be heartened to hear that their local authority has been assiduous in raising the issue through their Member of Parliament, and that their safety is of paramount importance.
I want to give my constituents some other assurances too, such as that a number of licensing authorities across England have adopted conditions of fitness that are identical or similar to those imposed in London owing to London having a longer history of taxi licensing. Such checks can involve a criminal record check, a comprehensive topographic examination, a medical, a driving test and a check on the financial standing of prospective proprietors. There is no statutory requirement for local authorities to carry out a criminal record check before issuing a licence to a taxi driver, but there is a requirement to ensure that the applicant is a fit and proper person.
I also assure my constituents that, locally, Guildford Borough Council recently updated its taxi and private hire licensing policy to require all vehicles licensed by it to be equipped with CCTV. The council considers that an important measure to deter and detect crimes against passengers and drivers, and to help to promote public confidence in the taxi service. That is particularly relevant for female passengers following the tragic death of Sarah Everard.
The Bill’s explanatory notes mention that any concerns raised
“must be sufficiently credible and serious”
for a licence to be considered for suspension. I have one question: how do we protect drivers from vexatious campaigns against their characters? Can the Minister give any reassurances about how we might go about that? It is excellent that a national database is part of the Bill, but we must be mindful of the fact that taxi drivers may sometimes be subject to vexatious campaigns within their communities, so we must protect them against that. Otherwise, it is an excellent Bill that I am happy to support.
It is a pleasure to make some brief comments in support of this excellent Bill. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) and acknowledge the huge input from the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and, of course, from past and present Ministers in the Department for Transport.
Between 1972 and 2020, the number of taxis in England and Wales outside of London increased by 334%. In addition to that significant growth in size, the industry has had to adapt to evolving technologies and changes in lifestyle patterns. This legislation is important to ensure the continued safety of passengers. Local authorities, private hire companies and drivers want those using taxis to be safe, but unfortunately there is a small minority of individuals who pose a threat to passengers. We have a responsibility to ensure that dangerous individuals are not permitted to carry passengers at any time.
As we have heard, many local authorities across the United Kingdom already report information to the national register of taxi and private hire licence revocations and refusals—NR3—to help to achieve that, but that is on a voluntary rather than statutory basis. The Bill will help to ensure that local authorities in England are mandated to share such information. It will also place a requirement on licensing authorities to report serious safeguarding or road safety concerns about a taxi or private hire vehicle driver working in its area to the licensing authority that granted a licence to the driver concerned.
The Bill will also play an important role in addressing discrimination in the industry. Again, such practices represent a mercifully small minority, but prosecution data from the Department for Transport last year indicates that it is still a problem. There are instances where individuals using a wheelchair or those with an assistance dog have been refused access or charged additional fees by some drivers. There can be no justification for this. I am glad that the provisions in the Bill should, if victims bravely report discrimination, ensure that such practices cannot continue.
Let me also say how glad I am that provisions in the Bill will help to address road safety issues. Again, the vast majority of taxi and private hire vehicle drivers are experienced and responsible. For those who are not, it is right that additional information be recorded.
As the Bill progresses, I hope that consideration will be given to liaising with the devolved Administrations to make these mandatory measures apply UK-wide. That is particularly important in areas such as mine, where many taxi drivers work across both north Wales and the north-west of England. In preparing for my speech today and looking at the legislation, I have been in touch with my local authority of Denbighshire to determine whether it is entering data into the existing database and consulting it.
Officers in local authorities already undertake a series of functions, and I recognise that the provision in this Bill would be an additional, albeit relatively small, duty. It is essential that the data-sharing platform is easy to operate and permits simple communication between licensing authorities. I am aware that the Local Government Association has overseen the development of the NR3 database, which is hosted by the National Anti Fraud Network via Tameside Council, which it would presumably make sense to formalise for this purpose. I am also aware of minor amendments to the Bill that the LGA has proposed, which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington will consider as the Bill progresses through the House.
Over the pandemic of the past 18 months, taxi drivers have provided an essential service to people throughout our country. The Bill will assist in further boosting public confidence in taxi services by upholding standards of safety and behaviour. It will assist local authorities in their duty of care towards citizens and protect members of the public from the small number of dangerous and discriminatory drivers who operate.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for bringing this private Member’s Bill to the House and for his speech, which laid out the situation and the proposals clearly and incisively.
We have already touched on the second part of the Bill, which would require licensing authorities in England to report certain safeguarding or road safety concerns about a taxi or private hire vehicle driver working in their area to the licensing authority in England, Wales or Scotland that granted a licence to that driver. The Bill would then require licensing authorities in England to have regard to any such reports received and to consider whether the relevant taxi or private hire vehicle driver should remain licensed.
As a former member of the licensing committee of Powys County Council, I know how important this issue is. Even without this proposal in place, the licensing committee would regularly consider the suitability of certain drivers. As outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies)—with whom I share representation in the Denbighshire County Council area—it is particularly important that we also align these proposals with Welsh authorities. I am therefore pleased to understand from the Bill that the information provided by England will be available in Wales; however we need to reciprocate the process. I know my hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Clwyd and for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams) and others in Wales will be taking that up with the relevant authorities in the Welsh Government.
I would also like to echo the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey) about the importance of safeguarding everybody in the Bill, but particularly children and young people with special educational needs. My constituency of Clwyd South is no different from anywhere else. There are some fantastic special schools, and taking the young people to those schools is a desperately important part of the taxi service that is provided to people.
I also wish to touch on the existing legislation allowing a person who is granted a taxi or private hire vehicle driver’s licence by any licensing authority in England and Wales to be able to take pre-booked journeys anywhere in Great Britain. This has been referred to by several Members and is closely allied to the point that I have just been making about the importance of a Union-wide approach. The point was made eloquently in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams).
Finally, the Bill would require the home licensing authority to consider whether to suspend or revoke a driver’s licence as a result of any such information that is reported to them by another licensing authority. That will ensure that the home licensing authority, which is solely able to suspend or revoke that driver’s licence, is aware of information that suggests that the driver poses a public safety risk. That is the key point about it. That will help existing taxi and private hire vehicle licensees by eliminating those who bring the profession into disrepute.
Like other Members, I wish to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles in my constituency who have suffered during covid from the lack of custom, but who have been a lifeline for many families and especially disabled and elderly people who have needed their help to attend medical appointments or other vital commitments. It is sometimes easy to forget that the taxi drivers provide an incredibly important public service. They may be privately run, but they provide an incredibly important public service, particularly to the more vulnerable in our society.
In conclusion, I fully back this Bill and its intention to safeguard consumers and motorists by putting into statute the requirement that I have mentioned. I warmly congratulate again my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on bringing this very worthy private Member’s Bill to the House.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for bringing forward this incredibly important Bill. As quite a few colleagues have said, when we use taxis generally, the taxi driver, as a professional person, is potentially in a position of power. We get into their car. Quite often, they pick us up from our homes, our work or places that we are visiting. We need to make sure that those professional taxi drivers are protected from that very small minority who may not be acting professionally. We need to remember that taxi drivers are vital in our communities and in our workplaces, and also vital for our visitor economy. Quite often, they are the first person somebody will meet if they are leaving a train station or a bus station or when they are going to visit somewhere.
Taxi drivers are a mine of information. With my background in education and as someone who was young once, I know that we might use taxis when we are not in our best frame of mind—if I can put it like that. We might have been to various hostelries as young people and it is then that we put our trust in taxi drivers. As students, young women will pile into a taxi together and there will always be one friend left at the end of that taxi journey. They need to feel confident that the taxi driver has at heart not only their best interests, but their safety. It is not only the safety of the vehicles and the safety of the driving that is important, but the safeguarding of the individual as well.
I have had reasons to use taxis in recent years. I was not visiting hostelries, because those days are over, but receiving treatment for an eye condition. When people need a taxi driver to take them to hospital or to pick them up after treatment, they are in a very vulnerable situation. They might not be steady on their feet or able to see, or, as has been pointed out, they might not have the best mobility. This is a vital piece of legislation and I wholeheartedly support it.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) as well as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) who brought this Bill’s spiritual predecessor to the House. I share his frustration this occasion did not happen sooner. I am a former member of the licensing authority on Salford City Council, and we often benefited from the voluntary sharing of information. I particularly pay tribute to the council chair, a great Labour councillor called John Warmisham, with whom, despite our varied politics, I usually found myself in full agreement—that picks up on the point made earlier, that this issue should be supported across the House.
At its heart, this Bill is about confidence. It is about enabling people to feel confident when getting into a private hire cab, and about them knowing that the person who has that licence is a fit and proper person and has not somehow gamed the system. I alluded earlier to the fact that just over the border into Rossendale a slightly different standard was applied to the distribution of taxi licences, and someone would be more likely to find a Rossendale-licensed cab in my Rochdale-based constituency than they would one from our own licensing authority. The Bill is also about confidence for taxi drivers, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington pointed out.
Currently, the bad acts of one driver can impact on others—I think of a particularly cogent example in Rochdale. We are all aware of the heart-breaking events of the Rochdale grooming scandal, and many of the people involved in that were taxi drivers. We then had a situation where certain taxi providers in Rochdale were offering white drivers to people as a matter of confidence. That is a shameful situation in which to find ourselves. It besmirches the reputation of honest ethnic minority drivers—obviously it is a very diverse community—and it led to difficulties in an already tense situation in a very diverse town. It also created a situation where people did not feel comfortable using their local provider, which is bad for the local economy.
We know from the pandemic that taxi drivers have been an essential part of keeping this country going. They have been key workers in a very real sense. I do not drive my own private car because I live in the city centre and it is not practical for me to do so, and I often rely on taxis to get me from A to B. I like to get into a taxi knowing that the driver is a decent person, and I am grateful for the extra effort put into keeping me safe from covid, in addition to all the other things that those drivers have done, sometimes at their own expense. Many are now multi-apping and working across different platforms, to try to keep the wolf from the door. I want them to understand that by introducing this Bill we are trying to make their lives easier. This is not about casting aspersions on the quality of taxi drivers; this is about ensuring that the few who choose to game the system and bend the rules are not allowed to carry on. I fully commend the Bill. I am extremely glad that it is going through the House, and I hope we will press forward with it today. It has my absolute support.
It gives me great pleasure to support my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson). He introduced the Bill with aplomb, and went into all the technical details, saving me a good 10 minutes’ worth of my speech. I thank him very much indeed.
This important, timely and overdue Bill seems to have cross-party support. I echo the concerns raised by my constituency neighbours and colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes) and for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies). Perhaps on Report—it seems that the Bill will go through at pace—those on the Front Bench could consider whether they could reach out to the devolved Administrations, especially the Welsh Government, and see whether the database could be made cross-border, either through a legislative consent motion or some other form. That seems to have consensus in this House, and I implore Labour Members, if they have the phone number of any Welsh Labour Government Ministers, to join that lobbying charge. In Montgomeryshire we look east and west and, like other cross-border constituencies and counties, someone is more likely to receive a taxi from Birmingham than from Cardiff. That is just the nature of the economy, the traffic flow, and the public services.
I welcome the Government’s recent introduction of new robust standards for taxis. That was on an England and Wales basis, and it meant that disclosure and barring service criminal record checks were recommended every six months. I understand that the constitutional settlement of this place means we get these questions of who is responsible for what and times when this House introduces English and Welsh legislation and we question whether it is England-only. The Bill must apply to Wales; otherwise, we will have the gaps that we have been talking about.
I am conscious of the time and that there are other private Members’ Bills to consider, but I echo the supporting evidence that I have read from stakeholders. It is great that my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington and other Members went out there and really engaged, and the LGA made some sensible suggestions. I have done my own stakeholder engagement: Elwyn the Taxi—for the uninitiated, he is the Uber of Llanfair Caereinion—takes not just me but my whole community from A to B. In rural areas, we rely on our taxi network, which is made up of small businesses. He has assured me over and over again that because of a lack of data sharing, we see bad actors in this space, and people can abuse the system by going from one licensing area to another. The database would therefore be a great step forward. I implore the Minister—it is great to see him in his place—to reach out to colleagues in the devolved Administrations, and I will implore anyone to see what we can do on Report to make the Bill apply to England and Wales at the very least.
I will be brief, because I know that other hon. Members want to come in. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for this excellent Bill and to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for all his work on it in the past. The Bill takes a crucial function and makes it universal so that if someone has been disqualified from driving a licensed hire vehicle, that passes on across all local authorities. It also means that people have will confidence in the private licensed hire vehicles they are getting into, which is a key point.
I was privileged to attend the parliamentary taxi awards arranged by the hon. Member for Cambridge, through which we heard incredible stories of the role that these vehicles and their drivers play in keeping our communities together. They have done remarkable things all through covid, from picking people up from hospital to picking up their prescriptions and carrying their bags to the door. It would be remiss not to name Lee Smith from 24/7 Barrow who won the award for Barrow and Furness. Licensed hire vehicle drivers are a key part of our community, and it is essential that we do what we can to strengthen them and give the community faith in them. The Bill goes a long way towards that.
I am delighted that the LGA, with which I have worked extensively, is backing the Bill. I declare an interest: before coming to this place I worked in data sharing in fraud and financial crime, so I have some experience in the area. I have some recommendations, the wonkery of which I will not go into right now, but I will happily meet the Minister on issues such as data matching and speed of processes that we could look at and strengthen—I recognise that he may not want to meet me.
Finally, on the system’s governance framework, we need to be assured that if mistakes are made—hopefully they will not be—there is some comeback so that if someone is impugned unfairly on the database, they can seek redress. Similarly, if bad data is put on to the database, the licensing authority who did so should have a penalty put against it. I fully support the Bill and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington for bringing it to the House.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on this vital Bill. As a former district councillor for Rother District Council—part of the constituency that I now represent as MP—I welcome this Bill, which will improve safeguarding and data sharing across local authorities’ licensing authorities. This is essential. I am not going to go through what the Bill does, but there are two points that I would like to highlight to the Minister.
The Bill makes enormous improvements to passenger safety, but it does not go far enough. When I was a district councillor sitting on a licensing panel hearing, there was a situation where the taxi driver had not informed the licensing authority, as he should have done, that he had been arrested for stealing tens of thousands of pounds from an elderly customer. He was later convicted. I understand that the police are not under a duty to—or cannot—inform the licensing authority because of issues with data sharing, ongoing investigation, innocent until proven guilty and so on, but I would like the Minister to think about how we can improve this kind of data sharing even further.
The question to ask, of course, is whether we would allow our son or daughter, spouse or partner, mother or father, grandson or granddaughter, or any other person for whom we care, to get into a vehicle with this person alone. The driver I mentioned had been driving around other elderly and vulnerable people, who might have been at risk from him. Data on taxi drivers should be shared between agencies, including the police, to ensure the highest possible standards of safeguard.
I want briefly to highlight Rother District Council’s innovative penalty points scheme, which was introduced by the excellent Andy Eaton, a licensing and litigation lawyer and deputy legal services manager for both Wealden District Council and Rother District Council. He is also a fellow of the Institute of Licensing for his outstanding contribution to the field of licensing.
The aim of the penalty points scheme is to work in conjunction with other enforcement options. The purpose of the scheme is to record offences, and to act as a record of a taxi driver’s behaviour and conduct so that the licensing authority can find out whether the applicant is a fit and proper person. The primary objectives of the scheme are to improve levels of compliance, improve standards and ensure the safety and protection of the travelling public. The scheme operates without prejudice to the council’s ability to take other action that it is entitled to take under legislation, byelaws and regulation. It is an excellent scheme that other licensing authorities could use to improve the safeguarding and protection of passengers.
I understand that the Local Government Association welcomes the Bill. I absolutely support it and commend it to the House.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on his success in the private Members’ Bill ballot, on bringing the attention of the House to the important issue of unsuitable people obtaining licences to drive taxis and private hire vehicles, and on the excellent way in which he introduced the debate. Let me point out to some Members that my hon. Friend is in charge of this legislation. Private Members’ Bills are a wonderful thing that we have in this House; I was fortunate to get one through myself a number of years ago. It means that many of the questions raised are actually for my hon. Friend, but I will try to answer some of them.
There have been some excellent speeches in this debate, including 11 interventions, which shows just how important the subject is. There was a speech from the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who is not only supportive, but who has driven this debate previously as best he can to try to get to a resolution. He also kindly mentioned the hard work of previous incumbents in the Department for Transport ministerial team, including my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani).
We heard excellent speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey), for Keighley (Robbie Moore), for Guildford (Angela Richardson), for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies), for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson) and for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), who mentioned Elwyn the Taxi.
We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell)— I am always happy to meet him, but he might want to go first through my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington; perhaps if that was done over a beverage in Strangers, I could join them—as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), and indeed the hon. Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry), who made some important and valid points, which I am sure we will take on board in due time. I wanted to say one thing to him, though: he called for “proper legislation”, but as someone who got a private Member’s Bill on to the statute book—a journey that I hope this Bill will make—I know that private Members’ Bills are important and proper legislation.
The Government attach the utmost priority to passenger safety in taxis and PHVs, so we are happy to support the Bill. The licensing process gives the travelling public confidence that the vehicles in which they travel are safe and that drivers have had proper background checks. We have had a really positive debate on that basis.
As we have heard, taxis and PHVs provide valuable services, particularly to vulnerable and disabled people and those without personal transport, and do so at times when there are fewer alternative public transport options. The vast majority of taxi and PHV licensed drivers are entirely trustworthy, of good character and a credit to their trade, but the system must not allow those who are not to obtain or keep a licence.
Last year, the Government published the statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards, outlining how licensing authorities should carry out their licensing function to safeguard children and vulnerable adults, although the recommendations will obviously benefit all passengers. The Department is working with licensing authorities to monitor implementation and good progress is being made.
I could say a whole host of things, but my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington covered the subject in great detail. I am told that the database about which many Members were talking is already actively engaged in Wales and, to a lesser extent, Scotland. The points made by my Welsh colleagues are well founded, and I shall make sure that they are reflected on in the proper fashion.
There is no denying that the proposals in the Bill will impose additional responsibilities on licensing authorities. Although I would prefer that such burdens were not needed, they are small compared with the benefits they will provide.
The Bill does not seek to address every issue that has been raised today. Members have expressed concerns about whether allegations or vexatious campaigns against drivers could lead to a driver losing his licence unduly; if I may, I will reply to those concerns in writing, through my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, to give Members the assurance they seek.
I assure the House that the Government remain committed to introducing legislation, when parliamentary time allows, to introduce national minimum standards, national enforcement powers and a national licensing database. That database will build on the proposals in the Bill by extending the database to include the details of all driver, vehicle and PHV operator licences, as well as information on refusals, revocations and suspensions.
We support the Bill and wish it well in Committee and as it travels through the House. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington.
With the leave of the House, may I thank the Minister for his support? I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mark Jenkinson), the hon. Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry) and my hon. Friends the Members for West Bromwich West (Shaun Bailey), for Keighley (Robbie Moore), for Guildford (Angela Richardson), for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies), for Clwyd South (Simon Baynes), for Great Grimsby (Lia Nici), for Heywood and Middleton (Chris Clarkson), for Montgomeryshire (Craig Williams), for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) and for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) for their valuable contributions to the debate.
There is clearly cross-party agreement on this issue, for which I am grateful. All our constituents will be pleased to see improvements in the safeguarding of taxi licensing. I put on the record my thanks to the hard-working team at the Department for Transport for their support.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.