The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chair: Hannah Bardell
† Bailey, Shaun (West Bromwich West) (Con)
† Buckland, Robert (South Swindon) (Con)
† Champion, Sarah (Rotherham) (Lab)
† Cruddas, Jon (Dagenham and Rainham) (Lab)
Eagle, Maria (Garston and Halewood) (Lab)
Gibson, Patricia (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
† Gibson, Peter (Darlington) (Con)
† Harrison, Trudy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
† Hayes, Sir John (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con)
† Jenkinson, Mark (Workington) (Con)
† Johnson, Dr Caroline (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con)
† Nici, Lia (Great Grimsby) (Con)
Osborne, Kate (Jarrow) (Lab)
† Tarry, Sam (Ilford South) (Lab)
† Trott, Laura (Sevenoaks) (Con)
Young, Jacob (Redcar) (Con)
† Zeichner, Daniel (Cambridge) (Lab)
Adam Mellows-Facer, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Wednesday 3 November 2021
[Hannah Bardell in the Chair]
Taxi and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill
Before we begin, I have a few preliminary reminders for the Committee. Please switch electronic devices off or to silent. I encourage Members to wear a mask when not speaking. In fact, we had an update from the House a moment ago, yet to be issued formally, indicating that Members should wear a mask when not speaking. I am waiting for official confirmation of that, but I would be very grateful if Members worked with me. Those who do not have a mask will find some in the corner to my left. Thank you very much for your compliance.
I remind everyone that they are asked by the House to have a lateral flow test twice a week if coming on to the parliamentary estate. That can be done either at the testing centre in the House or at home. Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members passed across their speaking notes or emailed them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
My selection and grouping for today’s meeting is available online and in the room. A single amendment has been tabled, which we will debate before turning to the existing content of the Bill.
I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 19, after “driving” insert
“(assessed in accordance with DVLA standards and associated sanctions)”.
This amendment would provide that a driver’s “risk to road safety while driving” is assessed in line with DVLA standards and not the individual assessment of the licensing authority.
It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Ms Bardell. The thinking behind the amendment is that a driver’s risk to road safety while driving would be assessed in line with Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency standards, as opposed to the individual assessment of the licensing authority. At present, licensing authorities are not required to share information with other authorities, which prevents them from being able to make an informed decision about granting or renewing a driver’s licence. That creates the conditions for a driver who has been refused a licence, or who has had an existing licence suspended or revoked because of safety concerns, to apply for a licence in another area, where the new licensing authority is completely unaware of the previous refusal, suspension or revocation. That is not acceptable. It puts the safety of taxi and private hire vehicle users at risk, and it goes against the recommendations of the task and finish group on taxi and private hire vehicle licensing.
It is paramount that driving standards are tightened. At present, local authorities are using points on a licence to issue revocations; instead of using DVLA criteria, they are issuing individual revocations based on their own rules and the judgment of individual officers. That sets a precedent that allows for dismissals, potentially, based on reasons that are different from those of the DVLA—based on the individual licensing authority and therefore that driver. For instance, due to the nature of the job, a driver may be pressured into speeding by a difficult passenger and then will accrue points unfairly, which results in them ultimately losing their job.
It is therefore clear that DVLA regulation should be the sole framework by which drivers are assessed; it should not be left to the judgment of an individual licensing officer. This would create a consistent approach and help cut unnecessary bureaucracy and reduce time spent in the courts system. I am aware that point has previously been raised with the Transport. At present, there is a great deal of uncertainty among representative bodies, such as the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, about whether the Government will support the Bill. The Government have previously indicated that there are no plans to legislate, but instead strongly encourage all licensing authorities to adopt their new statutory standards.
The current approach focuses on improving licensing through the statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards, published last year, which local authorities are in the process of implementing or consulting on. However, bodies such as the LTDA believe that those standards do not go far enough. Furthermore, they do not deliver all of the recommendations made by the task and finish group. For example, they do not address the vital issue of cross-border hiring, which currently undermines the efficacy of licensing.
I therefore urge the Committee to consider the approach that I have put forward and adopt a more robust stance that would address passenger safety comprehensively and enhance existing licensing legislation through national minimum standards that are legally enforceable. The existing statutory standards are no longer fit for purpose: while they urge data sharing between local authorities and encourage the use of the existing NR3 database—the national register of taxi and private hire licence refusals and revocations database—they do not mandate it, which creates clear inconsistencies in the system.
In closing, I reiterate my earlier point that taxi or private hire vehicle drivers operating out of an area in which they are not licensed must be stopped. Furthermore, enforcement must be shifted to a national level, which would allow local authorities to issue enforcement within their jurisdiction. The Government and the Bill could go further than simply encouraging licensing authorities to adopt the statutory standards.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington on his success in promoting his private Member’s Bill. It brings our attention to an important issue: how the licensing authorities can best share information to ensure that the minority of individuals who would seek to cause harm can be prevented from obtaining a taxi or private hire vehicle driver’s licence.
As the Bill does not change the decision-making process of the licensing authorities, the amendment is an unnecessary clarification of what we mean by road safety. Clause 1 seeks to clarify which decisions by an authority to suspend, refuse or revoke a taxi or private hire vehicle driver’s licence should be recorded on a database. For those purposes, the broad description of road safety that is in use already would seem sufficient, as all decisions made in relation to road safety should be available for authorities to review when making their decisions.
Those authorities are of course still able to grant a new licence to a driver who has a record on the database. They are not bound by the previous decision, or by the fact that that is held on the database. The guidance that the Government will produce, should the Bill make it to the statute book, would clarify the terms in more detail for the licensing authorities, so that they are clear what decisions relating to road safety and other relevant information should be recorded on the database. For those reasons, the Government will resist the amendment.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell.
Clause 1 defines “Relevant information”. That definition is important because it is used throughout the Bill to trigger when there is a duty on a licensing authority to record instances of a suspension, refusal or revocation of a driver’s licence on the database, or to report concerns about drivers licensed in other areas. Those duties apply only when the licensing decision relies wholly or in part on the concerns related to relevant information.
Licensing authorities are required to carry out an assessment of whether a driver is fit and proper to hold a driver’s licence and to ensure that remains the case for the duration of the licence. Legislation already enables them to take a view of whether a driver is a risk to road safety. Licensing authorities are experienced at taking decisions on what poses a threat to road safety and know that they must justify those decisions. Existing checks and balances ensure that licensing authorities’ decisions can be contested, including the ability to challenge an authority’s assessment of any risk to road safety.
The Bill does not seek to change or influence the decision making of licensing authorities, and nor does it change the right of a driver to contest a decision; it is simply focused on ensuring passenger safety. The Bill includes provisions for the Secretary of State to issue guidance for licensing authorities, which I am sure could be used to provide further guidance on the matter.
Following my explanation and that of the Minister, I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford South will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
The purpose of the amendment is to ensure consistency across the country. The GMB, the LTDA and other representatives of the various minicab and private hire drivers across the country are keen to see the Bill go through. I know from our discussions that they want to have that ability in order to be certain that they would not be penalised in one area that was in any way different from the DVLA. I am also conscious that the Bill has been brought before the House many times, in different guises, and I am keen that we get as much Government support for it as possible. The Bill can move forward on a cross-party basis, so that it gets through and makes the changes that need to happen—many are contained in the Bill. It would make a real difference. On that basis, I will not press the amendment.
I call Robert Buckland. Sorry, I call John Hayes—I do apologise.
I am flattered.
I simply want to say how much I welcome the Bill, having commissioned the work on taxi licensing as a Minister, as members of the Committee will know. I particularly welcome it in the light of the work done by the hon. Member for Cambridge, who, in a model of cross-party co-operation, worked closely with my then Department to look at these matters, which relate directly to the Bill before us.
The Committee will know of the work done by Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq, who was commissioned to consider these matters in detail and who recommended a review of licensing in the interests of public wellbeing and safety. That came on the back of the awful events in Rotherham, Rochdale and elsewhere. I do not need to lecture members of the Committee on that, particularly the hon. Member for Rotherham, who has taken such a brave and noble stand in these matters, but I think this is a first step.
I will just say to the Minister, who is a good and honourable friend—one can be good and honourable at the same time, can one not?—that the recommendations in the important document that I have before me, which is the review conducted by Professor Abdel-Haq, are wide-ranging. This private Member’s Bill deals with some of them, but I urge the Minister to look at many of the other recommendations. I do not want to go beyond the scope of the Bill, Ms Bardell, but I hope you will forgive me for adding this, because many other things in the recommendations—there is a whole list of recommendations, but I will not tire the Committee by going through them—need to be addressed. Some will be legislative, and some may not be. Some can be achieved by giving improved guidance. I know the Secretary of State is mindful of that and has done a great deal of work on it, and no doubt the Minister will comment on it, but I just want to welcome the Bill in that context, with that history and with a very strong recommendation.
This is a first step in guaranteeing what is the essential element in licensing: public safety and wellbeing. With those few thoughts—probably at the wrong part of the Bill and at the wrong time of the Committee, but clearly with your generous indulgence, Ms Bardell—I will say no more, because I know that the Committee will want to move on.
May I crave your indulgence for a moment, Ms Bardell, given that you very kindly invoked me? I just want to put on the record my personal commitment to this issue. The hon. Member for Rotherham and I have a long history on this issue. When Lord Pickles was the Secretary of State, I was part of intimate ministerial groups talking about the need to deal with taxi drivers whom other taxi drivers did not want in the industry. This measure is as much about protecting reputable, decent public servants, which is what taxi drivers are, from those who seek to use this vocation or trade as a smokescreen for other activities. Tragically, we saw that in Rotherham. I was very keen to see the Bill introduced when I was in office, and I am hugely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington for bringing it forward with Government support.
I also want to put on the record my local interest in this issue. Sian O’Callaghan was tragically murdered by a taxi driver in Swindon in 2011. With the help of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, her mother, Elaine Pickford, has campaigned relentlessly ever since to improve the quality of regulation in this area. I want to put on the record my personal thanks to her and her family for everything they have done with such dignity since the dreadful events of 10 years ago, when I was still a fresh-faced Member of Parliament. Therefore, for local and personal reasons, I am particularly pleased that this measure has been brought forward with the support of the Government.
I thank the right hon. and learned Member for South Swindon and the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings for their contributions, which are incredibly important and powerful. They have my apologies for mixing them up. They appear to have co-ordinated their wardrobes this morning, which led to my confusion. I give them my sincere apologies for that.
With this it will be convenient to consider clauses 2 to 9 stand part.
This Bill aims to do two things. First, it introduces a mandatory database of taxi and private hire vehicle driving licence suspensions, refusals and revocations for all licensing authorities in England. Secondly, it creates duties on licensing authorities in England to report safeguarding and road safety concerns about drivers licensed by other authorities, and for those authorities to have a duty to take account of those concerns. These are essential changes to empower our licensing authorities to continue in their tireless work to keep the travelling public safe by giving them the information they need to make informed licensing decisions.
I have already spoken about clause 1, so I will move on to talk about the other clauses relating to the database and the responsibilities of licensing authorities to it. I will speak first to clause 4, as it pertains to the database itself, and then I will discuss clauses 2 and 3, which relate to the duties on licensing authorities to use it.
Clause 4 gives the Secretary of State the power to provide or designate a database to record the suspensions, refusals and revocations of taxis and private hire vehicles driving licences. This allows for a database, such as the NR3 database established by the Local Government Association and the National Anti Fraud Network, to be designated as the database that all authorities must use. This should help the Bill come into effect and provide its benefits much sooner, as this system is already being used voluntarily by many good local authorities.
Clause 4(3)(b) would ensure that there is a reasonable time limit for holding entries about a driver. The 11-year period specified in the Bill ensures that the information is available to licensing authorities to support their decision making, while still allowing, in line with other record keeping such as Disclosure and Barring Service checks, for that prior history to no longer be disclosed. The 11-year period broadly aligns with the filtering of less serious adult convictions within the regime in which the disclosure and barring regime operates. It is also worth remembering that all licensing authorities require drivers to be subject to an enhanced DBS check and most to a barred list check, with relevant convictions and non-conviction information disclosed as part of this process.
Clause 2 creates a duty on licensing authorities in England to record on the database information about certain suspensions, refusals and revocations. As explained earlier, authorities would have to record all suspensions, refusals and revocations of taxi and private hire driving licences where they have relied, at least partly, on relevant information, by which we mean safeguarding or road safety concerns. Clause 2 also ensures that those records are made promptly within five days of the decision being made and that authorities must keep their database entries up to date, including those as a result of appeals. That means that the information that authorities use to make their licensing decisions will be as current as possible, which is essential for effective decision making.
The database would also hold only basic information about a decision and the licence holder, to allow authorities to search effectively. To receive details of a decision, the authority would need to contact the relevant authority that had made the entry. That ensures that only those with a business need for the details of those licensing decisions can access them.
It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Bardell. On a point of clarification, will the fee associated with database entries be paid by the local authority or by the individual, and does the hon. Gentleman anticipate that it will be enough to cover all the administration costs, or does he think that the Government will need to, in effect, underwrite the database?
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. From the information that I have been provided, because the majority of local authorities are already part of the National Anti Fraud Network, which runs the database, the additional cost that will be incurred by local authorities that were not already adding to the database in doing so is marginal. I think it will be a couple of pounds per driver entry, so it is a nominal cost, which I am sure she will agree is a small price to pay.
While clause 2 creates the duty to populate the database, clause 3 creates the duty to use the information on it. Clause 3 would require licensing authorities in England to search the database for the applicant every time they receive an application for a new taxi or private hire vehicle driver’s licence, or a renewal of an existing one. If there is an entry on the database, the authority must request it, and then have regard to the information that it receives from the relevant authority when making its decision. It is important to note that the authority is not bound by the previous decision. The clause is essential as it ensures that the database, populated by licensing authorities to protect the public, will be used effectively.
Clause 3 also places a responsibility on authorities to provide the details of a licensing decision recorded on the database within 20 working days. That ensures that the processing time for applications is not unduly affected by those new responsibilities. I hope that the Committee will agree that the database, and the requirement to use it, will greatly improve the safety of the travelling public by rooting out the minority of drivers and prospective drivers who are unsafe or would cause harm to our constituents.
The second part of the Bill—clauses 5 and 6—relates to the reporting of concerns about drivers licensed in other areas. Members may already know that licensing authorities can revoke only the taxi and private hire vehicle driver’s licences that they have issued. As we all know, drivers work outside the area in which they are licensed. The clauses seek to empower local authority collaboration where drivers are working in an authority’s area but are licensed elsewhere. Clause 5 would require licensing authorities in England to report safeguarding or road safety concerns that they have uncovered about a driver licensed by another authority to that authority within 10 working days. Importantly, licensing authorities in England would still be required to report those concerns if the relevant licensing authority for the driver was in Scotland or Wales.
Clause 5 creates the duty to report concerns, while clause 6 creates the duty to act on them. Clause 6 requires licensing authorities in England to consider information provided to them by another licensing authority in England, Scotland or Wales. The authority must decide within 20 working days whether to suspend or revoke the driver’s licence, and inform the relevant authority of the outcome, as well as its rationale. The clauses will boost the effectiveness of our current system of regulation for taxi and private hire vehicles by formalising that collaboration between licensing authorities. Alongside the establishment of a nationwide database for licence suspensions, refusals and revocations, those changes would help to safeguard our community by ensuring that only those who are fit and proper can have the responsibility of being a taxi or private hire vehicle driver.
Clause 7 would allow the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance to licensing authorities to outline how to meet the requirements of the Bill. I do not want to pre-empt the Minister’s Department, but I expect the guidance to go into further detail on when, and how, the duties would apply. Clause 8 defines some of the key terms in the Bill, other than “relevant information”, which is defined, as we have discussed, in clause 1. Clause 9 clarifies the extent and commencement of the Bill. As a point of clarity, the Bill would apply only to England. Although the Bill grants access to the database to all licensing authorities in the UK, the requirements in the Bill apply only to licensing authorities in England, although I am advised that the voluntary scheme is accessed and used by Scottish and Welsh local authorities.
The clause also allows a staged commencement of the Bill to allow time for the Secretary of State to create or designate a database and produce guidance for licensing authorities. I hope that my walk through the Bill has been helpful to the Committee, and that everyone here today will seek to add to the range of measures that the law provides to protect the safety and security of our constituents, which the Bill does by closing loopholes in our taxi and private hire licensing system. The reasons that I have set out make it clear why it would be a good addition to our statute book, and it would be a clear improvement to public safety across all our constituencies.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution and I congratulate him on introducing the Bill. I now call the hon. Member who promoted the Bill previously and has done a lot of work in this area—Daniel Zeichner.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell, and a pleasure to find myself in this Bill Committee some three and a half years late—a long wait for a cab, one might say. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Darlington, who has elegantly explained the issues and proposed solutions. I hope that in a cross-party way we can see the Bill through to fruition. I strongly echo the wise words of the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, the long-term author of many of the proposals, but, as he says, there is much more to be done.
I will not repeat the points that I raised on Second Reading, but will make a few observations. I looked back to see the minor differences between the two Bills, and will seek an explanation as to why there have been changes, which might give some pointers to the Department’s thinking. I am not sure whether they came from the Minister or the hon. Member. There are minor changes in the short title, or is it the long title?—I can never remember which—of the Bill. There might be some thinking in the Department as to why that was done.
I have already mentioned the fees that have been introduced into the Bill this time, which seem a sensible addition. There is a subtle change in clause 5’s terminology from “out-of-area” to “licensed in other areas”. I am not sure whether that represents a change in the Department’s thinking. It is obviously a vexed issue with changing technologies. As we have all observed, much of the legislation was created at a time when things were genuinely local. In the modern world of apps it is very different, so the change in terminology might be telling us something that we should be aware of.
I particularly wanted to refer to the excellent Library briefing by Dr Roger Tyers, issued some months ago. I was interested in that briefing because there is reference to the short debate three and a half years ago on a Friday, when the Bill was talked out. Many of us who have witnessed Fridays in the Chamber will recognise that it is not the most uplifting way of discussing legislation. I was slightly frustrated that, as promoter of the Bill, I never had a chance to respond to some of the points made that afternoon, so, three and a half years later, I shall use the Library briefing to pick up the thread.
Very subtly in that Library briefing on page 11 there are references to some of the points made by the hon. Gentleman who talked it out, which were quite sensible. It was not just a question of filling the time, because important points were raised around proportionality and the definition of relevant information. One point made was about whether the measure was far too draconian, so that we were in danger of potentially punishing people in too dramatic a way for a relatively minor misdemeanour. It is important to put it on the record why that is not what the Bill tries to do. There are some answers to that in the Library briefing in a reference to the National Anti Fraud Network data-sharing agreement, which I doubt is background reading for most people, but I dug it out.
A long time ago, as a local councillor, I was on the licensing committee. People here in Committee have served on licensing committees and will know that the area is very complicated. There is guidance from the Department, but there is also local discretion. This is one of those issues that are sensitive, because there are different issues in different areas—sadly, as we know—and very good reasons why some authorities would want to have higher standards, so although there is a debate about national standards, it is not a simple debate. What really struck me in the data-sharing notice from the National Anti Fraud Network, which I think is worth quoting, was where it says:
“Every application must always be considered on its own merits. A licensing authority must not fetter its decision-making, or appear to have simply relied upon the previous decision of another authority. The purpose of the register is not to mean that an applicant who has been refused a licence on one occasion will always be refused.”
In other words, all that is happening here is that as much information as possible is being made available to those making decisions. It is not pre-empting the decision. That document goes on to make the very sensible point that
“it will always be relevant for an authority to consider a previous refusal or revocation, and the reasons for that decision.”
I will not labour the point, but I think the answers to the issues that were raised in the few minutes at the end of the debate to which I have referred can be answered, and I put it on the record that they have been answered. This raises a further, technical set of issues, which I suspect the right hon. and learned Member for South Swindon is far better placed to have a view on than I am, in relation to the complex relationship between the police and local authorities, in terms of what they can and cannot tell local authorities. Certainly when I was researching this legislation some years ago, I was very struck by the expertise of some of the licensing officers, who were explaining the nuances of this. Of course, there was a time when, in local areas, people knew their patch: the police knew their patch and the council knew its patch. It is sometimes quite hard to write these things down, but they would know who were the people whom it would be absolutely right to give another chance and who were the people whom we would not ever want to take a risk on. Trying to codify that is hard but I believe that, in the complicated web of legislation that we have, we may be getting closer to something that works. In the end, the real aim here must be passenger safety; it has to be. This goes right back to the professor’s point that he remains worried that, in the current situation, people are still at risk.
As ever, none of this is easy. We are trying to balance protection of the public with being reasonable to drivers, who may sometimes make a mistake and deserve a second chance—I think we would all want that. But I think that this Bill does no more than stop the gaming of the system, and that it is absolutely to be commended.
I begin by thanking the hon. Member for Darlington for bringing forward the Bill. It is much needed and very sensible. Of course, I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge for all the work that he has done and thank the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani). When she was the Minister for this subject area, she was going to bring forward some more comprehensive taxi legislation. I hope that the present Minister will consider the work that she has done and consider finding time to bring that forward.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon spoke about the long relationship that we have had on this topic, and I want to bring a bit of that to the debate, so that everybody, but particularly the Minister, knows why this legislation is so important. I learnt about taxi licensing because Rotherham Council got it horribly, horribly wrong. I am delighted to say now that because of how wrong we got it and because of Government intervention, we now have some of the highest standards in the country. That is important because taxis, by their very nature, tend to be transporting, in a real position of trust, some of the most vulnerable people in the country. It is taxis that are commissioned to take children to school, and to take children and adults with special needs to where they need to be. We put our most precious loved ones into the back of a cab, on the assumption that the person will take as much care with their transportation as we would. Sadly, as we discovered in Rotherham, that was not the case. Children were known for their vulnerabilities, picked up because of that and exploited—sometimes in the taxi by some of the taxi drivers. But sometimes they were being commissioned from place to place and taken by the taxi drivers to do it. And they were doing all this in plain sight, because taxis, by their very nature, are transporting vulnerable people around, so it was not discovered in time.
I am so grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way and thank her for raising the SEND issue. We had a bad issue in Sandwell involving a SEND transport contract that was handed out, and safeguarding requirements not being met. Is she as hopeful as I am that the new database could be used in procurement by local authorities? That will be really important, as I am sure she agrees, in ensuring that our most vulnerable—particularly those with special educational needs, for example—are protected when they are being transported to where they need to go.
I wholeheartedly agree. I will highlight two—I will not call them omissions; that is not in the nature of this Bill Committee—additions that the Minister could consider in the future. Given the experience in this room, I hope they will be supported. The first, which the hon. Member for Darlington raised, is cross-border travel. I said that Rotherham now has some of the highest standards in the country. Unfortunately, because those standards are not replicated nationally—having CCTV in all taxis, for example—a taxi driver with lower standards could come from out of area to work in Rotherham. They may well be on the database and they may well have not committed any crime of note, but they would still be able to operate in Rotherham with lower standards of safety and protection for passengers. Will the Minister consider bringing in, at a later date, national minimum standards that apply to all taxi drivers, so that someone getting into a taxi, wherever they are, can have that same certainty?
The second addition—this is a rather a geeky point; my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings knows I am slightly obsessed with this—is around Disclosure and Barring Service checks. I met a woman whose abuser went to jail and then changed his name by deed poll, so his DBS check was clean, because the checks basically look at someone’s name and any associated records attached to that name. The Government are currently undertaking—I hope—an inquiry into the risks associated with change of name. It is known that registered sex offenders do that. There have been a number of high-profile cases that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon has been involved in. It happens. I am really concerned that close that particular loophole. I would appreciate anything the Minister could say to the Home Office and Justice, which are both looking into this, to make sure that the loophole is closed.
Those issues were looked at in some detail, as the hon. Lady will know, by Professor Abdel-Haq in the report that I commissioned. I am grateful for her kind words, by the way. Cross-border travel is a thorny issue, but Professor Abdel-Haq’s recommendation 11 states:
“Government should legislate that all taxi and PHV—
private hire vehicles—
“journeys should start and/or end within the area for which the driver, vehicle and operator (PHV and taxi…are licensed.”
He goes on to say that appropriate measures need to be put in place to exempt specialist services, such as chauffeurs, disability transport services and others. However, the huge issue of cross-border journeys was looked at in some detail by that committee. Professor Abdel-Haq also looked at her second recommendation. I take the view of the hon. Member for Cambridge about local particularities, but I would go so far as to say that we cannot be too rigorous. There has to be a thorough and rigorous process that gives people the assurance that, wherever they get a taxi, those standards and checks will be in place. I strongly endorse the hon. Lady’s recommendations. This is precisely the kind of additional work that I recommended in my earlier intervention, and which I know the Minister will want to take forward.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
Perhaps the hon. Member for Rotherham might like to respond to the previous intervention before she takes a further intervention.
I would be delighted to. I can only thank my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings for the work he has done in the past, and for the emphasis he puts on the cross-border issue now. He knows only too well the risk, but also the potentially quite simple solutions that we could put in place to give every passenger that certainty. I thank him again for raising that.
I listened carefully to the hon. Lady, and if I heard her correctly, she suggests that someone could evade DBS checks by changing their name by deed poll. If so, that has much wider application than taxi drivers; it would also apply to those working in healthcare professions and with children in schools. I would press the Minister to look at that urgently.
I can only say that I share the hon. Member’s concerns. It is something that keeps me awake at night, I must say. In the case of the survivor who I am speaking about, Bella, the perpetrator changed his name while in jail. It is a very simple process that can be done through an online form or on paper. The checks are so slight that they are incredibly easy to evade.
I am deeply grateful for all the work done by hon. Members in the room on the topic. I urge the Minister to refer to the points we have raised, particularly around the cross-border matter and the change of name. This is not a political issue; it is a safeguarding issue, and I hope the Minister takes what we say in that spirit.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, who has a great deal of expertise on this issue and has worked cross party in such a fantastic way to bring these measures forward, I do not want to talk too much about the points I made on Second Reading. However, it is important to note that there is so much consensus across the House on the need for the Bill. The hon. Member for Darlington has worked incredibly hard; he has spoken with stakeholders and taxi users and has reached out across the House in a commendable way. For Members on the Labour Front Bench, this is something that needs to happen as soon as possible, with the Government’s support.
We have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham about the harrowing and tragically avoidable situations that the legislation could begin to address. As she explained, the taxi system has been used to abuse people; it needs to transition to being a shining light in terms of standards. I hope that Government support for this private Member’s Bill can make that a national priority.
The hon. Member for West Bromwich West made a good point about SEND transport. It is imperative that everyone, including older and disabled members of our communities, is fully confident in their taxi driver. Recently, we have seen a huge growth in taxi systems; we can pick up our phone and have a taxi at the front door in just a few minutes. As a London MP, I am perhaps more confident than others, given Transport for London’s regulatory framework, but the situation is not necessarily the same across the country. There is the well-known issue of some local authorities, which I will not necessarily name, issuing a vast number of licences. In fact, there were so many licences in some of those cities that the streets would surely be gridlocked with taxis. In reality, the situation in those towns and cities is perhaps more about bumping up the funds available to the local authority than safety and addressing the issues of cross-border working.
In my Second Reading speech, I mentioned how long it has taken for the measures to get to this point. One reason why I was prepared to withdraw my amendment is that I want the Government to move forward on this. Many of the recommendations of the task and finish group are partly addressed in the Bill. It could still go further, but something is obviously better than nothing. We have in the Bill some key measures, which the hon. Member for Darlington has worked hard to put there. It will move things forward, get on the statute book, put national standards in place and, importantly, introduce the database, which can be checked across the country. That is essential to ensuring we do not have a patchwork approach across the country. As in any other sector, standardising safety means setting national standards, and it is important that this legislation makes that happen. I hope we can move forward positively.
First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington for the sheer amount of work and dedication he has invested in bringing this private Member’s Bill forward. I also thank right hon. and hon. Members from across the House who have expertise in this legislation and in transport going back many years. I should mention the work done by the hon. Member for Cambridge on this important passenger safety issue.
Passenger safety in taxis and private hire vehicles is a priority for this Government, which is why we are keen to support the legislation. I reiterate that the vast majority of licensed taxi and private hire vehicle drivers are fit and proper persons, who are a credit to the sector and their communities. However, we must ensure that those who are not fit and proper people to hold a licence are not able to do so. It has been set out this morning why that is so important, and the implications of getting it wrong.
Last year, the Government issued the statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards, which outlined how licensing authorities can best safeguard many of the vulnerable citizens who use those services. One of the recommendations in those standards is the use of the national register of refusals and revocations, which is hosted by the National Anti Fraud Network. Some licensing authorities are using NR3, but not all. Clauses 2, 3 and 4 of the Bill would rectify that by mandating the use of a database that records not only refusals and revocations, but suspensions.
There has been reference to the cost of that database. We would hope that it could be in house; it should certainly be not for profit, and would be done at the minimum possible cost. It would give licensing authorities more information with which to make informed decisions on who we entrust with the responsibility of being a taxi or private hire vehicle driver. That can only be a good thing. The more information available to licensing authorities, the better their decision making will be.
The Bill rightly focuses on safeguarding and road safety issues. Refusals, revocations or suspensions relating at least partly to the safeguarding and safety criteria set out in clause 1 must be recorded on the database. The criteria are sufficiently broad to ensure that all manner of safeguarding, road safety and discrimination concerns can be highlighted to a licensing authority making its decision.
Clauses 5 and 6 also introduce duties on licensing authorities in England to report concerns about drivers licensed in other areas and to act on any concerns reported to them. The Government wholeheartedly support these provisions, which would ensure that, where authorities have concerns about a licensed driver relating to the criteria set out in the first clause, they can do something about it. As many on the Committee will no doubt know, a licensing authority can only revoke or suspend a taxi and private hire vehicle driver’s licence if it issued it. Under this duty, if a driver licensed in another area is behaving in an unsafe manner, or other concerns are raised, the authority responsible for issuing the licence must consider their suitability again.
The clauses would greatly improve not only the collaboration between our licensing authorities, but the effectiveness of their collaboration with other agencies such as the police, who may report a concern to the local licensing authority, which may then be under a duty to pass it on to the relevant licensing authority.
I am grateful to the Government for supporting the fantastic Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington. Women and girls in particular use taxis of an evening to get them home safely. They are used as a safety measure, so the work that my hon. Friend and the Minister are doing is extremely important. The Minister has talked about collaboration between different parts of England. This Bill applies only to England, because this is a devolved matter. Will she elaborate on what she is doing to ensure good collaboration between all four parts of the United Kingdom?
This is indeed a devolved matter, but we very much hope that the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland learn from what we do here and are inspired by the work of Members from across the House. The priority is safety and accountability. The devolved Administration in Wales is already considering ways forward to protect the most vulnerable people. This Bill is an excellent step.
My right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings has extensive experience in transport, and I absolutely agree with him on the importance of safety. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon referred to legislation, and there will be further legislation in due course. The Bill covers a defined aspect of the issue.
I welcome what the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ilford South, said about not delaying this important change, and I thank the hon. Member for Rotherham for the cross-party, collaborative way she has worked to tackle the challenges in her constituency. The work she has done will save many more women from further incidents.
My hon. Friend is coming to her exciting peroration and I do not want to spoil that, but the issue of DBS checks is really important. There are more than 30 recommendations from Professor Abdel-Haq, all of which warrant close attention. Those that require legislation need to be taken forward. The recommendation on DBS checks says:
“All licensing authorities must require drivers to subscribe to the DBS update service and DBS checks should must be carried out at a minimum of every six months. Licensing authorities must use their existing power to mandate this ahead of inclusion as part of national standards.”
That point was emphasised and amplified by the hon. Member for Rotherham. It is critical. That could be done in addition to the excellent work that has been done by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington in bringing forward this Bill. Perhaps the Minister will—if it is not impolite to suggest a response to my query—go away and consider that.
I will of course go away and consider that, and more importantly, we will work with colleagues in the Home Office. There has been some really important and concerning discussion about name changes in relation to DBS checks, and we are working on that issue with colleagues.
The Bill is an excellent step, and my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington has received support for it from across the House. I reiterate my thanks for the collaborative way in which we have got to this point. I look forward to following the Bill through its parliamentary stages.
This House is at its best when people work together, and this Committee has been a shining example of that co-operation and collaboration. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have been on this short Committee. This is a short but vital Bill, and I thank everyone for sharing their expertise.
The hon. Member for Rotherham has been a champion of reform in this area, and I pay tribute to her passionate work. The hon. Member for Cambridge, who I will designate the grandfather of the Bill, if I may, has been entirely co-operative throughout the process, and I thank him for his expertise and the care with which he has attended to the Committee’s proceedings. If the hon. Member for Cambridge is the grandfather of the Bill, then my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings is its great-grandfather. I thank him for his help, assistance and guidance throughout.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon—my good friend—is the Bill’s great-uncle. As he rightly pointed out, Sian O’Callaghan tragically lost her life at the hands of a taxi driver. Sian’s family and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust have been incredibly supportive of the Bill. It would be a fitting tribute to Sian if the Bill were to become known as Sian’s law.
I also thank the Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), for her guidance on and navigation of the maze that is a private Member’s Bill. She has been stalwart in her help and support. I also thank the Minister on her first appearance as Minister in Committee.
In conclusion, I record my thanks to those who work behind the scenes, including the officials at the Department for Transport, who have put in the legwork on the Bill, and our Clerk, Mr Mellows-Facer, who has been incredibly supportive over the past few months. I hope that all members of the Committee will see the Bill through today. I look forward to their joining me in the Chamber on 21 January for Third Reading.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 2 to 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
I endorse the words of the hon. Member for Darlington and congratulate him and all other Members who have played such an important part in getting the Bill to this point. I also congratulate the staff of the House and those outside who have been mentioned—they have played a significant part. This will be an important date for them. The hon. Gentleman is right that we are at our best when we work cross-party to get things done.
Bill to be reported, without amendment.