Bill not amended in the Public Bill Committee, considered.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I want to begin this morning by thanking the many people who have been involved in the long gestation of the Bill. As an MP elected in 2019, I was pleasantly surprised to be drawn in the ballot to bring forward a private Member’s Bill. I have learned from speaking to many colleagues across the House—many of whom have been here for decades—that the probability of being picked and then steering a Bill that would garner Government and cross-party support through its various parliamentary stages is very low. Today is the culmination of that process, at least in the House of Commons.
Reform of our taxi licensing is something that I know various Transport Ministers have battled with over previous years. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) are very keen to see the Bill reach the statute book, as, too, is the current Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Trudy Harrison). It is a pleasure to see her in her place today.
Ahead of today’s debate, I spoke with my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings. He has been an incredible support to me on this journey and I know he would like to have been here today; he cannot be because of a ministerial visit in his constituency. I place on the record my gratitude to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the good work of the all-party parliamentary group on taxis during this debate, which I know carries out great work in trumpeting reform and updating taxi legislation. I thank the APPG for its engagement with me as well.
Some will recognise much of the Bill, because a previous incarnation of it was ably brought to the House by my friend the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). Although he and I sit on opposite sides of the House, it has been a pleasure to work with him on steering the Bill through it. I am indebted to him for his support. Some great things come from this House when we work together on matters, and I am proud to be able to help improve our constituents’ lives with this legislation.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland) also cannot be here today, but he is keen to see the Bill on the statute book—not only as a former Lord Chancellor, but as a constituency MP. In previous debates, I have mentioned the sad and tragic murder of his constituent Sian O’Callaghan. From my engagement with Sian’s family, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and my right hon. and learned Friend, I know that the Bill will stand as a lasting tribute to Sian.
Violence against women and girls, which is a key focus of the Government and indeed all hon. Members across the House, has been detailed in the recently published “Tackling violence against women and girls strategy”. This work builds on a long heritage of legislation brought about by Conservative Governments, including the Children Act 1989, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, all of which contain steps and measures to protect people.
Having sat on the Women and Equalities Committee and the Bill Committee for the Domestic Abuse Act and regularly engaged with my local police, domestic abuse refuge and night-time economy, I am only too well aware of the need for our society to do more to protect people. I am grateful to all hon. Members present for helping to put measures in place that will improve the safety of our constituents.
I will provide an overview of what the Bill does and its merits. There are about 343,000 taxi and private hire vehicle driver licences issued in England and 276 licensing authorities that issue those licences. In each case, it is the responsibility of our local licensing authorities to decide whether a person is fit and proper to hold a taxi or private hire vehicle driver licence. The Bill will make a straightforward, clear improvement to the information available to our local licensing authorities when determining an applicant’s suitability. The availability of as much relevant information as possible is essential to support local licensing authorities in making the right decision, because better decisions can be made when more information is available.
As I said, there are about 343,000 licensed taxi and private hire vehicle drivers. Local licensing authorities refuse applications when they decide that someone is not fit and proper. Furthermore, authorities monitor the activity of their licensees and will suspend or revoke licences when they have concerns. Our local authorities therefore grant, refuse, revoke and suspend licences of those 343,000 people, but there is no requirement for them to share details of their adverse licensing decisions—suspensions, revocations or refusals—with others. It is perfectly possible for a driver to be refused a licence in one local authority and be granted one by a neighbouring authority that has no knowledge of the refusal by the other. It is a crazy situation, and one met with incredulity by many when I have explained what the Bill does.
Not all local licensing authorities are oblivious to the problem. Many use the national register of taxi and private hire licence revocations and refusals, commonly referred to as NR3, established by the Local Government Association and the National Anti Fraud Network. While that is good practice, without consistent use of it—or a similar database—by all licensing authorities, the authority making a decision cannot have the full picture. Given that there are 276 different licensing authorities across England, we need to make it easier for them to share information, because, in this instance, sharing really is caring.
That is what the first part of the Bill aims to do. It would require all licensing authorities in England to record and input into a designated database their suspensions, refusals and revocations of taxi and private hire vehicle driver licences where this is due to safeguarding or road safety concerns.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on getting this far. Only about 1% of all private Members’ Bills make it on to the statute book, so he has done very well. I wish him well as the Bill proceeds.
My hon. Friend referred to the database. May I ask him who is going to fund the costs of that?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his intervention. He raises a very important point about the cost, which I will address in further detail later in my speech. However, it is safe to say that a notional cost is already being borne by many local authorities as part of their membership of the national anti-fraud framework. It is for the Minister to decide whether to designate that database for the use of this legislation, if we are successful in getting it on to the statute book, and whether the Government fully fund it themselves or pass the relatively nominal cost on to a local authority.
Licensing authorities will then be required to search the database when processing each licensing application to ascertain whether the applicant has had a licence suspended, refused or revoked by another licensing authority. If there is a relevant entry on the database, the authority will be obliged to request further details of that adverse decision and have regard to the information considered by the other licensing authority when making its own decision. To be clear, the database would only record instances in which a licensing authority suspended, refused or revoked a driver’s licence due to safeguarding or road safety concerns: it would not hold details of that decision. The details would remain held by the relevant licensing authority, and would need to be requested on a case-by-case basis where an application is made to another local authority by an individual whose name appears on the register.
I congratulate my hon. Friend, the proud champion for Darlington, on having introduced this Bill and on getting it so far. I fully support the Bill, which will improve the safety of passengers in taxis and private hire vehicles, and I echo his comments about the cross-party nature of working on this issue; he has mentioned the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner). It is so important that we work together across the House on important issues such as this.
However, does my hon. Friend agree that the history of the licensing regime goes back to an era when private hire vehicles of any sort were very unlikely to go out of their own area and operated in very small geographical areas? The regime dates back to a different time, but now the situation has evolved. That is why things need to change.
My hon. Friend raises an incredibly important point. Much of our legislation dates back to previous eras when people did not travel outside their local authority areas, but now vehicles licensed in one local authority could operate entirely in another. Far from being even in neighbouring local authorities, they could be in completely disparate parts of the country.
In the interests of ensuring that the latest and most relevant information is available to the licensing authority, the Bill stipulates that licensing authorities must input the decision details within five working days of notifying the driver of their decision. During the 11 years that the record would be held on the database, the licensing authority must also ensure that it is kept up to date to reflect any changes, such as if the driver successfully appeals the original decision—as indeed they will be able to, just as they may now.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on this excellent private Member’s Bill. I am fascinated to hear what he is saying about the regulation and licensing of private hire vehicles. In London, we have the issue of pedicabs, which can be considered a private hire vehicle but have no licensing regime. We do not know who the drivers are, or how safe they are—in fact, we do not know how safe their vehicles are. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is about time that we had a proper licensing regime for pedicabs in London?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her intervention. She, too, knows the challenges of steering private Members’ Bills through the House, and she rightly continues to raise the issue of pedicabs and to press the House to deliver legislation to deal with it. She has been a tremendous champion of that, and I look forward to her continuing that campaign.
The Bill will give the Government the flexibility to provide the database or to designate another database provider. The database operator will also be able to charge a fee to licensing authorities to cover the cost of administering the database, but that fee would also need to be agreed by the Secretary of State. The fee does not have to be levied; the Government may choose to cover the cost, and I think that adequately deals with the point raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight).
Enabling licensing authorities to check an applicant’s previous licensing history with other authorities in respect of suspicions, refusals and revocations will ensure that relevant information can be considered. The aim is to empower our licensing authorities in the vital work they do in protecting the travelling public from the few who seek to do harm.
The other aspect of the Bill is new duties on licensing authorities to report concerns about drivers licensed in other areas and to respond to those reports from other authorities. As Members may be aware, only the licensing authority that issued a driver’s licence can suspend, refuse or revoke it, but, as we know, drivers may be licensed by one local authority but operate almost entirely in another—often a neighbouring local authority, but sometimes much further afield.
Where a licensing authority in England has safeguarding or road safety concerns about a driver licensed in another area that would lead to it considering suspending or revoking that licence had it issued it, the authority will be required to report those concerns to the authority that issued the licence. Those concerns must be reported, even if the licensing authority is based in Wales or Scotland, and they must be reported within 10 working days of the authority’s becoming aware of the relevant information relating to the driver’s conduct in its area.
Where a licensing authority in England receives concerns from another licensing authority in England, Scotland or Wales, it must consider whether to suspend or revoke the driver’s licence. The authority must inform the reporting authority of its decision and reasonings within 20 working days. These measures will help ensure that the licensing authority that issued the licence and is able to suspend or revoke the driver’s licence is aware of serious concerns over its drivers, even when they are working in other areas, so that only those who are fit and proper remain licensed.
Overall, the Bill is about ensuring the safety of our constituents when travelling by taxi or private hire vehicle. From the support the Bill has received across the House, I know it is something we can all get behind. The Bill goes some way towards the reform of our taxi licensing system and improves safeguards for the protection of our constituents. It does not provide for wholesale reform, and it is not a costly measure. It simply and cleanly closes a glaring loophole that frankly should never have been allowed to exist. I commend the Bill to the House.
First, I commend the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on opening the debate in such an effective way, as he always does. He did so the last time I was here, too. Today is the culmination of that; I understand that Third Reading will take place today.
Whenever my grandchildren see something go well, they say, “Granddad, you’re a lucky duck!” The hon. Member is a lucky duck today, so well done to him for shortly getting the Bill through Parliament and for all he has done to improve this key issue: the safety of those who use taxis and private hire vehicles. Well done, genuinely. Those who are here are here to thank him and to participate in the debate. For the record, I also commend the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), because I know that this is a subject close to his heart. We can all rejoice in the culmination of the Bill’s progress through the House today.
Although I appreciate that the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland as it is a devolved matter and we have our own taxi and private hire vehicle laws—I have spoken to the hon. Member for Darlington about that—it is great to speak on the main aspects of the Bill to see what can be learned in this place and what encouragement can be given to improve the legislation. When the legislation is passed, I intend to send it through to our Minister in Northern Ireland and say, “Here’s something that they’re doing across the water. Perhaps it might be a good idea to follow suit and put whatever we don’t have in place as well.”
The Bill has a simple but effective purpose, which is to protect our public—a key issue. Our taxi and private hire business is massive. In 2020, almost 300,000 taxis and PHVs were licensed to operate in England. That represents a roughly 60% increase in the numbers licensed since 2005.
In Northern Ireland specifically, the Department for Infrastructure figures say that there were 8,781 registered taxi drivers as of ’20-’21. According to a previous DfI report, in 2014, a total of 15,802 taxi drivers’ licences were recorded—just six years later, the figure has plummeted to just 9,045, a fall of more than 42%. The figures indicate that we in Northern Ireland have not had the increase in business to which the hon. Member for Darlington referred.
If you will forgive me for making a second cricket analogy in two days, Mr Speaker, I cannot resist the opportunity to break my duck and intervene on the hon. Member. On his point about how different parts of the United Kingdom can learn from each other, does he agree, as a Northern Ireland Member, that legislation through which we can share best practice across the United Kingdom shows us how important our precious Union is?
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is right that I am a committed Unionist and I would always love to see this great nation as one; everybody from Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England is better together. He is pushing at an open door with that point. He makes a serious point, however, about how we can learn. It is important to share details, legislation and ideas, and to share what is right and what is successful, and then do that across this great nation.
Whether the figures in Northern Ireland are a result of the pandemic is another topic. I welcome the safeguarding aspects of the Bill, to which the hon. Member for Darlington referred. The main concept of the Bill is to ensure that only those fit to hold a licence are entrusted to carry the public. We could not ask for more—that is a key point. On Second Reading, he stated that the Bill aims to
“protect the hundreds of thousands of…drivers from having their reputation tarnished…by the abhorrent behaviour of a small minority”.—[Official Report, 10 September 2021; Vol. 700, c. 596.]
I repeat that today because it is a key part of the issue.
Many local government associations welcome the Bill as it would make it mandatory for licensing authorities to access vital background information about drivers seeking a licence in their relevant areas. That fully supports the use of councils, as they can ensure that those using taxi or private hire services are kept safe. With that in mind, I am sure that we in Northern Ireland, where it is a devolved matter, will make that happen, as the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) said and the hon. Member for Darlington wants, too.
Licensing laws need to be brought up to date, which is what we are doing today. The Bill will take us to the next stage of enshrining safeguarding and protection in legislation. We live in a world where regulations, guidelines and policy are everything, so this is an opportunity for protection to be brought in, for legislation to be updated and to secure better travel for our constituents. The Bill aims to make the licensing system for taxis and PHVs fit for the 21st century, which will ultimately benefit both passengers and trade. We should all welcome that, because it is a step in the right direction for taxi companies and passengers who travel.
I feel strongly that more power to deal with allegations of crime or misconduct should be given to local authorities. The process of an investigation could well be delayed for months otherwise. For the protection of our constituents, the Bill takes us that stage further. Local agencies should have the power to deal with this matter in their areas. When working with the private sector, we must ensure that our constituents get every level of protection.
This Bill enables all licensing authorities 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 the licence because of a certain safeguarding or road-safety concern. I welcome the recent announcement of £14 million to help the taxi industry deal with the impact of the pandemic. We often say—it is the truth—that the Government stepped up to help businesses during the pandemic, and we are all deeply indebted to them for that. They have helped my constituents, along with all the constituents in this great nation represented by MPs in this House.
I believe that further discussion should be undertaken between the Minister, the Department and the devolved nations to see how we can further protect the public. I appreciate that data and information can be shared if necessary, but there should be a further conversation on the timescale. When the Minister sums up, can she indicate what conversations have been had with the devolved Administrations? That would tie in with what the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border said in his intervention and what the hon. Member for Darlington said. If there is something good here, we should share it.
To conclude, I welcome the comments of hon. Members who have spoken so far. I look forward to the contributions from those who follow, from both sides of the Chamber, particularly from the hon. Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry) and the Minister.
I wish the hon. Member for Darlington well for the remainder of this important Bill’s legislative process. When it comes to public safety, it is crucial that we play our part in protecting the general public by having the correct guidelines in place. For that reason, this House, the Minister and the Government have much to thank the hon. Member for Darlington for in introducing this Bill.
I am delighted to have finished writing my speech before being called, Mr Speaker. I sincerely congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on progressing the Bill to this stage. It is a good Bill and it is a testament to his due diligence, his assiduousness as a Member of Parliament and his fundamental love of good governance. This Bill puts good governance at the heart of the taxi and private hire vehicle industry.
Now that he has Government support for the Bill, he might want to step down his case for Darlington to have Great British Railways headquarters, because we in Eastleigh need some good news too. If he manages to get this excellent piece of legislation on the statute book, Eastleigh should have Great British Railways headquarters. I am sure he will agree with me when he winds up at the end of the Bill, or he may wish to intervene. I think that Eastleigh has a very good case.
As my hon. Friend knows from my previous speeches in this House, Darlington is the birthplace of the railways. In 1825, Locomotion No.1 pulled the very first passenger train across Skerne Bridge—the oldest, longest-established and continuously used railway bridge in the world, and heritage site—in my constituency. I can think of no better place for Great British Railways to be based than Darlington.
Not for the first time, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) outlines. I will get to the cars that service the trains in Eastleigh, but I just say to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington that Eastleigh is the birthplace of the railways in the south.
This Bill closes some of the loopholes around the good administration, and relieves the current burden on local authorities and licensing authorities. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington that there is a kind of postcode lottery and patchwork quilt approach to the licensing of private taxis in England. As someone who has previously served on a licensing authority in Southampton—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster heckles me from a sedentary position; she told me 10 minutes ago that she was chairman of the largest licensing authority in the UK, so I am sure that she will want to intervene and share her experience during my speech.
I remember consistently that when I was a member of the licensing authority, there was a perennial frustration when drivers came before us that we did not necessarily have all the information that we wanted, given the timescales for approving and licensing taxi drivers. We also did not know whether that driver had been before other licensing authorities.
As my hon. Friend has just informed the House, I was proud to be the chair of the largest licensing authority in the country. Does he agree that we should thank the outstanding licensing officers—including the licensing enforcement officers—up and down this country, who work so hard to ensure our safety, whether that is in premises, taxis or any other form of licensing?
I absolutely agree. In my background and in my hon. Friend’s, the teams worked tirelessly to ensure that we have not only roadworthy vehicles, but safe drivers. In addition to her comments, we should also put on record our thanks to the thousands of taxi drivers—my constituents and constituents across the whole UK—who play by the rules, keep their cars up to scratch and provide a service to people in this country. We really do value their lifestyle and the work that they do, and we thank them.
This Bill is good for reassuring millions of users of the taxi trade, particularly people travelling late at night, of their safety. As my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Dr Hudson) said, whereas years ago taxis were predominantly focused on close geographical areas, they are now travelling much further around the country and are being used a lot more. That is why it is so important that licensing authorities across the whole country know where drivers have come from and whether they have not necessarily played by the rules in the past.
It is unfortunate that the most important provision in the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington said, is that it protects people. It protects people who are vulnerable, including young people, but in particular women who may actually be using a taxi for the safe trip home, instead of using public transport; unfortunately, in recent times we have seen the absolute reason why this Bill should pass, which is that it will provide women with that reassurance in getting home.
There is a key problem. It is bizarre that in 2022, we still have an antiquated and outdated system. My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border said that this licensing regime has been going on for many years. It is bizarre that we have a system that has not got a single, uniform, one-stop code or database to be able to ensure the safety not only of vehicles, which are travelling further, but the people who drive them, who have people in their cars. I use taxis from here at the end of late-night sittings, and sometimes, when I am travelling, when I get back to my constituency, and it is rare to see the same driver twice. The many millions of people who use taxis in this country probably do not see the same driver twice. Given the nature of being in a taxi—with a stranger—it is bizarre that we do not have people being properly checked.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for bringing this Bill to the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes) has experience of serving on a licensing authority; in the process of licensing taxi drivers and their vehicles, are criminal records and other issues that are not linked to taxis part of the decision-making process?
Yes, they are. Licensing authorities can ask for such information but my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington is trying to mitigate the fact that that process does not show whether drivers have had not necessarily criminal convictions but suspensions or revocations because they have not kept their vehicle up to scratch or have committed some sort of misdemeanour. There is provision for that in the existing licensing regime but it does not go far enough, which is why the Bill needs to become law.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington has outlined, the problem is widespread. Local authorities are not required to share information and people whose licences have been suspended, refused or revoked can carry on working elsewhere. My hon. Friend has absolutely the balance right in respect of the need to protect the information of drivers who play by the rules and those who may have had a mishap, because his Bill allows that information to be shared only on a case-by-case basis. That will reassure the decent, honourable taxi drivers out there who play by the rules that this is a safety mechanism, not an attacking mechanism. That is vital.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to a double-headed intervention. His points about the database are well made—it is important that authorities can access and share information—but does he agree that with central databases it is so important that the information is shareable but kept secure?
I thank both my hon. Friends. I have taken a double-header; I shall respond first to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk, who makes a good point. There is of course an appeals process in the existing licensing regime and the Bill will not harm it at all. In fact, it will do the reverse by making it easier for local authorities to get all the information they need and allowing the driver going through the appeals process to be confident that the local authority will get the full information it needs from throughout the country, if that driver has served under two licensing authorities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border makes the good point that having a central database should not mean that local authorities keep information inappropriately. I agree with him that drivers should be reassured that their information will be used properly.
It may assist the House if, following the interventions that my hon. Friend has just generously taken, I put on the record and clarify the fact that in respect of the decisions taken by local authorities the Bill will not change or alter the appeals process in any way, shape or form. The existing regime, with appeals to magistrates courts, will remain as it is.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking a second intervention. To return again to his experience on a licensing committee, will he say what proportion of applications for private hire licences were rejected? Would he expect that proportion to increase when local authorities have additional information?
My hon. Friend tempts me to hark back to my career in local government around 12 years ago—[Interruption.] I know I do not look old enough, as someone very kindly said. I do not think the Bill will have an impact on the number of cases that would be refused. What it would do is allow that information to be shared with councillors. Officers take their responsibilities very seriously and perform them impartially, independently and without fear or favour, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster said. I do not think the legislation would have an undue effect on the number of cases that would be refused or granted.
To come back to my speech after those wonderful interventions, the system is outdated as there is no obligation on local authorities to report the concerns about drivers to the home authority. At present, we are in effect allowing an unsafe system. I am not saying that in a melodramatic way or trying to raise concerns about the thousands of drivers that behave properly and provide a backbone to the country, but the current system has some large loopholes and can be unsafe for some people—perhaps not unsafe, but negligent—in allowing the cross-country approach. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington should be congratulated.
In clause 2, my hon. Friend has thought exactly of that point, with a reasonable time period to record a suspension from local authorities of five days. That would not put an undue or onerous duty on local authority officers, particularly those in licensing teams who work in that atmosphere every day. That is not unreasonable. Clause 2 also provides for that information to be kept on the database for a period of 11 years, and that gets the balance just right. It is not too onerous for drivers to think that if they leave the profession or want to come back to it the information will be kept on for too long. The Bill may be seen by some as onerous for the taxi driver. I do not agree, because those people who have played by the rules, and may have been in the career for 30 years, will have nothing to hide, and they should be reassured by the Bill.
It may further assist the House for me to clarify that I have had extensive engagement throughout the country with a variety of private hire taxi operators and vehicle hire associations representing their members’ interests. Every single one of them is keen to protect the reputations of good, decent and honourable people who are plying their trade as taxi or private hire vehicle operators, who should be commended for the work that they have done throughout covid. I think it is fair to say that the Bill is universally accepted as good legislation that will protect the reputations of good, decent drivers.
As usual, in two minutes my hon. Friend has made the point in a much more succinct and concise way than I have in 12, and I am sure that will happen again in our mutual careers over the next few years. He never knowingly undersells something with fewer words than I do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border made the point that drivers are now driving further and people are using taxis for longer distances, rather than just in their city or town jurisdiction. If we apply the Bill to the geographical location of my constituency in Eastleigh, it has a major railway station in Southampton Airport Parkway that is massively serviced by Southampton taxi drivers because it is 500 yards over the local authority licensing boundary. It seems perfectly sensible to me that if someone is using a major infrastructure point such as Southampton Airport Parkway and travelling back into the city of Southampton, Eastleigh and Southampton should be able to share information to ensure the constant and uniform provision of safe vehicles and safe drivers. As well as road safety, given that there are more cars travelling and many people using taxis have absolutely no idea of the safety mechanisms or of how well serviced the car is in which they will be travelling one mile or 50 miles, there has to be a mention of what my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington said: this will have an impact in making people who use taxis feel safer and more reassured.
Ironically, as I said earlier, people use taxis as their first port of call when they do not necessarily feel safe travelling home on trains and tubes because of the night-time or the early-morning economy. When we leave the Chamber today after what I hope is a successful conclusion to the Bill, it is important that we all go out and let our constituents know that this fundamental legislation will provide them with that extra safety, particularly vulnerable people who might be travelling to hospital, women and younger people. Unfortunately, some cases in recent history show why this Bill is necessary.
I have had the leave of the House to speak for quite some time. [Interruption.] Someone said, “Hear, hear.” Thanks very much. I sincerely congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, who is a good friend of mine. He believes in good legislation and has an acute eye for making sure legislation is drafted in the right way. I have no doubt that we will see him have a further impact on legislation and good governance in this country. That is why this Bill should be passed this afternoon.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes), who made an excellent speech. The account of his and others’ experience on licensing committees is extremely helpful and useful.
I also commend the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson), who has been an excellent driver of this Bill. He has successfully piloted it this far, and I wish him every success in getting it through Parliament. I share his commendation of former Ministers, particularly the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) and the hon. Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani), who fought very hard to get this on the statute book some years ago. I am delighted we are here this morning.
Without repeating the many excellent points that have been made, I will address the important point made by the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild). It was one of the issues raised when the Bill was talked out three years ago, when I was slightly frustrated not only by the fact it was not able to proceed but more by the fact I was not able to respond to some of the points that were made that day. I addressed some of those points in Committee, because I think it is important that we understand that this is not a draconian attack on people who have offended. The balance between national regulation and local discretion is really important, and it is a delicate issue. There are reasons why it is important to use local knowledge and expertise.
Exactly as the hon. Member for Darlington said, nothing in this Bill changes the ability of local representatives to use their knowledge and discretion to make decisions. The key point is that it gives them extra information to allow them to make a better-informed decision, which is an important point to get across.
I will briefly reflect on some wider issues. I was struck that last week the right hon. and learned Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright) moved the Second Reading of the Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Disabled Persons) Bill, which says to me there is a need for wider, broader legislation in the taxi and private hire world.
If the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings were here today, he would refer back to the report he commissioned from Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq some three or four years ago, which the Select Committee on Transport and others discussed at length. The professor made 34 recommendations, and I am slightly concerned it has taken us so long to do so little. Exactly as has been said, the world out there changes very quickly. When I embarked on this process four or five years ago, we were still in the relatively early days of app-based travel. Here we are, four years on, and we are still trying to plug one of those loopholes. Goodness me, the world has changed in that time, and it will change again.
I very much hope that, at some point in the future, we will have a comprehensive piece of legislation, and I look to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Sam Tarry) on the Front Bench because I suspect he will have something to say about that. We really need that, because so many issues have still not been addressed, particularly the vexed issue of cross-border hire, which has been mentioned a number of times. I am afraid that the Bill is only a small piece of legislation in the face of the challenges that exist.
I very much agreed with the comments about the excellent work being done by so many people out there. They have had a hard time during the pandemic, and I am not sure that there are still 345,000 of them, as there were a couple of years ago. I was struck by conversations that I had with representatives of some of the taxi and private hire firms in my own area—Panther Taxis in particular—who were ruing the fact that during the pandemic a number of their best and most experienced people were drifting away, leaving the industry and going off to do other things. That, I am afraid, is partly because some of the support schemes, welcome though they were, were patchy, and different local authorities applied them in different ways. In some cases, it depended on whether drivers were registered in an area, or whether they lived in an area.
Local discretion is important, but I think that overall the feeling in the sector is that the support did not always come through, which has meant the loss of a large number of drivers. I am told—and I think anyone travelling here this morning will be well aware of this—that London is still quieter than before, and that has a knock-on effect. Yesterday I was talking to Steve McNamara of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, who told me that the London black cab fleet is nearly 40% electric—which is a huge achievement to which we should pay tribute, although obviously there is more to be done—but the number of registered cabs, which was 18,000 before the pandemic, is still only about 14,000, so there is more to be done in that regard as well.
Let me end by again paying tribute to the huge number of people in this sector. There is a danger, when we talk about the problems in a sector, that we begin to think that all the people in that sector are breaking the rules. They are not: as has already been said, the vast majority provide a fantastic service, often for people with disabilities, which is why I think the Bill proposed last week—the Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Disabled Persons) Bill—was so important. These people do a brilliant job in all our communities throughout the country. I also pay tribute, as others have done, to those who make the licensing system work: the local councillors, who often have to make quite difficult decisions, and, of course, the enforcement officers and their officials who back them up.
This is a great sector, it works very well and the Bill will make it work better, but there is still more to be done.
Like every other Member who has spoken, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for embarking on this mission to reform the licensing laws governing taxis and private hire vehicles. Given what he has said this morning and what I have read in the Bill, I cannot understand why we have not done this before. I agree that private Members’ Bills can play a vital part in improving legislation, and I thank my hon. Friend for his diligence and his excellent work on this issue.
I have read the Bill in detail, and I am incredulous that one type of vehicle, which is seen particularly in our capital—the pedicab—is exempt from its provisions because of an anomaly in the law. As many Members know, for the last two years I have been trying to get my Pedicabs (London) Bill through the House; I am continuing to do so, and I hope that it will be read again this afternoon.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue of insurance. She may be shocked and possibly appalled to learn that, as it stands, pedicabs in London have no licensing regime. Therefore, there is no onus on them to have any insurance. Currently, passengers getting into a pedicab have no understanding of the risk they are putting themselves at. There is no legislation that calls on pedicabs in London to have any insurance, and drivers are not checked. Operations conducted in recent weeks by Westminster City Council and the Metropolitan police found drivers who are wanted for sexual offences. Their vehicles have no form of MOT—there is no onus on the driver to have an MOT or any checks on their vehicle. That is why I have been campaigning, since I arrived in this place, to ensure we have a proper licensing regime that mirrors what my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington is trying to do with his Bill.
Can I just stop the hon. Lady there momentarily and suggest that we go back to this Bill? I know and appreciate that the hon. Lady has a separate Bill, which may or may not have a Second Reading this afternoon, but we must focus on this Bill. I have given a little bit of generous leeway, but I think we should get back to the Bill.
I appreciate and understand your comments, Mr Deputy Speaker. You will understand my passion to ensure that everybody who gets a pedicab in London is safe, but I will move on.
I pay tribute to the outstanding taxi drivers and private hire vehicle drivers we have in this country. As Members have pointed out, it is clear that they have paid a huge price during the pandemic. One only has to go on to the streets of my constituency to see that the office workers and international travellers have disappeared. I talk to taxi drivers all the time and I know they are desperate for us to get back to normal after the pandemic. I hope the Bill my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington is bringing forward today will give those who work day in, day out to provide a service the comfort that we support their efforts.
Let us not forget that private hire vehicle and taxi drivers provide us with a service, including in taking us to hospital. Many vulnerable citizens going to hospital may not want to get a bus. They may prefer to get a taxi. I have a taxi driver in my own family. I am very proud that my cousin-in-law in Cardiff, Alex, is a black cab driver. He does a brilliant job. I know from first hand the work he does. He supports children with learning difficulties by getting them to school every day of the week. I thank him and drivers like him who are doing that public service, taking our vulnerable patients to hospital and our vulnerable children and young people to school. Quite often, that type of work is forgotten. We think that taxi drivers and private hire vehicle drivers are just those who take us out on a night out or perhaps take us home after we have had a good night out.
In conclusion, I thank my hon. Friend for bringing forward this brilliant Bill. It will make us safer, it will make our drivers safer and it will ensure that our outstanding licensing authorities across the nation, and in particular across England and Wales, provide the extra level of security we all deserve when we get into a private hire vehicle.
I join hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on bringing forward such an important Bill. I remember well that being drawn out of the private Member’s Bill ballot, particularly as a relatively new Member of the House, can be something of a mixed blessing. A Member normally only really finds out they have been successful and got one of the higher places in the ballot when, suddenly, their email inbox starts pinging 100 times a minute. They are suddenly far, far more popular than they have been for a long time, with any number of organisations, non-governmental organisations, charities, campaign groups and Government Departments on the telephone with helpful advice on issues they might wish to consider bringing forward. That lasts until they announce the title of their Bill, when suddenly the calls stop and the emails stop, and the work really begins.
A private Member’s Bill can be a huge amount of work—preparing and drafting the Bill, navigating the legislative process, building support, finding supporters, negotiating with Opposition parties and finding Members for the Bill Committee. I know my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington will have done a huge amount of work over the past eight months. It is thanks to that work that we are at the point of hopefully completing this House’s consideration of the Bill this morning. That is a tribute to his effort and his effectiveness in bringing people together behind a very sensible set of proposals.
My hon. Friend was typically generous to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for all the work he did on the predecessor Bill, which laid so much of the groundwork. I think it was Isaac Newton who said he was standing on the shoulders of giants; I do not know whether my hon. Friend would put it in quite such terms, but I am sure the sentiment applies.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech and I am very grateful for his praise, which is making me blush. In Committee, I made similar references to the people whose shoulders I was standing on. I think I described the hon. Member for Cambridge as the father of the Bill, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) as the grandfather of the Bill—he took some objection to that, as it seemed to imply his age. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Perhaps it might have been more delicate to suggest that our right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Sir John Hayes) was not the grandfather of the Bill, but more a favourite uncle. That is how most of us think of our right hon. Friend, who I know wishes he could be here.
The need for the Bill is clear to anyone who gives the most cursory thought to the issue. The taxi licensing regime, as has been said, goes back to a time when taxis and private hire vehicles operated locally and were very unlikely to move outside of their area. That is not the world we are in now. We are now in an age of app-based travel. In the 21st century, with Uber, Gett, Kapten and who knows how many others that I am not quite hip enough to yet be familiar with, it really is impossible to know where a taxi might have originated from. Of course, there are exceptions—in Dudley, there are a number of local operators, including one operated by one of my local councillors, which run extremely successfully on a local basis with local drivers and local registrations and are competing with the big ride-hailing apps—but we do need to look at the wider regulatory framework.
Other hon. Members have spoken about their time on local authority licensing authorities. During my time as a member of Dudley Council, through a mixture of pleading and constraints on availability, I very successfully avoided being on the licensing committee, but I know that those who serve on such authorities around the country have the extremely difficult responsibility of making sure that passengers are safe and that responsible operators can run their business and make their living in a fair, reasonable and safe way.
The first priority has to be passenger safety: anyone who gets into a taxi or a private hire car has to know that they are safe. In almost all cases they are, but a very small number of very high-profile cases, such as the horrific crimes carried out by John Worboys, have had a horrible impact on people’s lives. Wherever a vehicle or a driver is licensed, authorities have to do everything they can to ensure that the risk is kept to the absolute minimum.
On Second Reading, in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, I said that, since the liberalisation of licensing, some local authorities have been responsible for a huge proportion of the licences issued in any region. In the Black Country, City of Wolverhampton Council issues approximately 15,000 licences per year. At least one was for a driver from as far away as Perth—I shudder to think what the fare would have been on the round trip for that taxi, which is presumably still operating in Perth with a licence issued in Wolverhampton. That is why it is so important that, once my hon. Friend’s Bill is on the statute book, the devolved Administrations make sure that the flow of information that the Bill provides for is reciprocated: so that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish licensing authorities can see clearly any concerns or offences recorded by an English authority, while those who make decisions in places such as the City of Wolverhampton can see whether any reasons to decline a licence have been recorded, whether in Perth, in Swansea or in Derry.
The Bill builds on an existing register, which local authorities have effectively put in place themselves, and provides the option for the Minister to make it the relevant register. The NR3—the national register of taxi and private hire licence revocations and refusals—was created three years ago by the Local Government Association and is managed by the National Anti Fraud Network; it is an excellent example of how local government can innovate and introduce solutions. Those solutions are working well. It is now time for us to legislate for a comprehensive system across the country and support the local authorities that already submit data on a voluntary basis by making that approach the rule, instead of the somewhat patchy system that is now in place.
Putting a statutory obligation on local licensing authorities to record refusals, revocations and suspensions will improve safety for passengers. It will allow local enforcement teams to report instances of wrongdoing, and ensuring that the report is dealt with will help to keep all our constituents safer when they get into a taxi or a private hire vehicle. It will also ensure that licensing bodies in local authorities are in possession of all the relevant facts before they issue a licence, as they will be aware of previous refusals and suspensions.
This is an absolutely crucial safety mechanism; it will ensure that data sharing is commonplace. By sharing the data, all authorities will be in possession of all the facts. That must be the right way to handle the licensing and approval of those who have the responsibility of transporting people about and in whom passengers put their trust daily. Passengers must know every time they get into those vehicles that they are safe. That is important not only because they must of course be safe, but because there must be confidence in the system of taxis and private hire vehicles if the industry, on which so many people’s livelihoods rely, is to thrive and be sustainable.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is not only the people who are actually in the taxis who need to feel safe, but parents and carers? Quite often, taxis are used for people who have learning disabilities or difficulties, people having treatment in hospital, or children being ferried from home to school.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. As a father, I would like to believe that I can make sure that my teenage daughter never leaves the house other than to go to school or to other authorised activities, but I know that in a very short time she will be travelling independently with friends and, despite her current aversion to the idea of anything alcoholic, it is just possible that as she gets older, she will decide that the nightlife of Dudley, the Black Country and the wider west midlands has a little bit too much to resist.
Any of us would want to know that family and friends who need to take taxis home are absolutely safe. The Bill introduced by hon. Friend the Member for Darlington is an important measure in helping to deliver that, and that is why I look forward to supporting it.
I am delighted to speak in the debate. Like others before me, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on all the work that he has done in bringing forward this important Bill. We have before us today a great opportunity to improve the safety of taxi passengers, particularly women and other vulnerable users. I am delighted to support the Bill and pleased that the Government are doing so, too.
Amending the law in this way to improve safety is most welcome across the board, but I think it is important to note that this measure is designed to target a minority of taxi drivers who have committed sexual offences, caused physical or psychological harm, or threatened or harassed another person, and for whom licensing authorities have refused to grant or renew a licence, or have suspended or revoked a licence, because of certain safeguarding or road safety concerns. In short, those are actions that make someone—often, a woman—feel unsafe or that put them in danger. Indeed, the Bill focuses on stopping a sinister few from abusing, threatening or causing harm to passengers. I think it is important to keep that in perspective while debating the Bill.
Before I get to the crux of the Bill, I want to take the opportunity briefly to speak more broadly about taxi firms and their contribution to wider society. I pay tribute R&L Taxis, based in my constituency in the Scottish Borders. R&L Taxis provide veterans with free taxi lifts through the “Fares 4 Free” scheme, allowing our veterans to get around properly and ensuring that they do not become isolated. During the pandemic, R&L Taxis have offered NHS staff half-price rides, with drivers even dropping off and picking up the same individual after long driving shifts. The owner of the firm, Bruce Mercer, is a veteran himself and has built up relationships with many members of the local community. This work and the service provided by R&L Taxis are to be commended; I am very glad to have the opportunity to recognise Bruce and all the drivers at R&L Taxis in this place today.
Bruce Mercer has obviously done a fantastic job. Does my hon. Friend agree that this illustrates that some taxi firms do fantastic work in providing safe transport for many of our constituents? Bruce Mercer is clearly going out of his way to provide that at a reduced cost so that many veterans and those who feel isolated are able to benefit from that service.
I am grateful to my hon. hon. Friend for making that intervention. His key point is that the vast majority of taxi firms and drivers are providing an excellent service to their local community and the Bill is designed to target a very small minority, but it is right to take action to address those concerns.
Members may rightly wonder why I am participating in this debate given that the Bill’s provisions do not extend to Scotland. I want to raise the profile of the changes introduced in the Bill and highlight that similar measures would benefit Scots if they were brought forward there. Any person who feels unsafe in a taxi is one too many and I welcome that the Bill seeks to address that. I want to highlight why corresponding legislation should be introduced in Scotland, which would obviously impact on my own constituents in the Scottish Borders.
By mandating local licensing authorities to record when a licence has been refused, the Bill creates a database that allows serious safeguarding or road concerns about a taxi or PHV driver to be identified. That will allow licensing authorities in different areas of England to be aware of past criminality before awarding a new licence. Currently in England licensing authorities are not required to share information with other licensing authorities, which can result in situations where, even if a licence is revoked in one area due to a taxi driver offence, that does not prevent them from getting a licence elsewhere in another part of the country. There are even instances where a taxi driver who has committed an offence can drive in the original area where the offence was committed. Often, concerns over safety are not acted upon due to a lack of knowledge on the part of the relevant licensing authorities.
This is clearly a hole in upholding the safety of passengers, particularly women and other vulnerable users. In Scotland there is not a comparable central database that authorities must have due regard to, meaning it is more likely for a criminal to slip through the net. If Scotland adopted the same system and collected and stored information in the same way the Bill suggests for England, a much tighter net would be constructed to prevent criminals from capitalising and preying on passengers.
I recognise the critical and hard work so many of our taxi drivers do across the UK, including in my constituency in the Scottish Borders. Their work will often include unsociable hours and nights away from their families. I hope the focus in the Chamber today does not cast a shadow over their important work, but I hope this debate and the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington serve to illuminate what can and should be done in Scotland to safeguard women from the minority of drivers who are dangerous and predatory to society.
I will be brief because I know that many Members want urgently to speak on this subject. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for this excellent Bill and am very glad to speak on it for a second time; I spoke on Second Reading. It is an excellent Bill and at its heart it is designed to keep our constituents safe. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for his hard work in bringing this legislation through.
The Bill takes a critical function and makes it universal, so that if someone has been disqualified from driving a licensed hire vehicle, that information is passed to other local authorities. Put simply, it keeps the public safe. Crucially, it also means that people have confidence in the private hire vehicles they are getting into, which is key. We have heard much about the licensing process from my hon. Friends the Members for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes) and for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken). It gives people confidence in the vehicles they get into. It means that people who use the services, particularly vulnerable and disabled people and those without access to decent local public transport, who use these services when there are fewer public transport options available, have faith in the drivers and the vehicles they get into.
As has been raised across the House, the vast majority of private hire vehicle drivers are excellent. They do superb work to keep our communities moving and have done so throughout the pandemic. They are of great character and are an absolute credit to their trade, but the system must not allow those who are not a credit to hang on to their jobs and continue to keep operating.
Where I am based in Barrow and Furness, we have Barrow local authority, South Lakes and Copeland up the road, home of my excellent constituency neighbour, the excellent Minister on the Front Bench. When we hire a vehicle through an app or on the phone, we do not think about which local authority or licensing authority we are sitting in. We simply think about which is the nearest, which will get us somewhere fastest and who has the best reviews. The Bill goes to the heart of why we need to share information to clamp down on the bad apples in the system.
There is no denying that the Bill will impose additional responsibilities on licensing authorities. I certainly think very carefully about any additional restrictions that we put on authorities, but these are very small compared with the benefits that will flow from the changes. I am delighted that the LGA backs the Bill and that complementary, albeit voluntary, versions of the scheme are already running across different parts of the UK. Connecting them is key, and we want to see interoperability between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, especially at the borders, where the scheme could show the most benefit. That interoperability is not just about data sharing. It is also about sharing best practice. Where one area is forging ahead with new schemes, where it takes the system further and where it learns what information can be shared to the further benefit of the people who ultimately get in these vehicles, we want to make sure that across the borders the other nations take notice and adjust their schemes as well.
Although I back the Bill wholeheartedly, I have some concerns on it and some of the actions that will probably flow post the legislation passing, hopefully. On governance I want an assurance that, if mistakes are made—hopefully, they will not be—and an individual is impugned and placed on the database incorrectly, they will have fair recourse to get their name taken off it in good speed. Similarly, if bad data is put on the database, the licensing authority that put it there should face a penalty. I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington said on that, but I hope that can be kept under review.
On the database operation, I understand that clause 2 talks about five days in terms of how long it should take before information is put on the database and shared. I would like the Department to give decent consideration to the speed of data entry and access. We do not want authorities making decisions on poor or out-of-date data. Before I did this job, I spent 10 years in fraud prevention and learnt that as close to real time is what we should aim for.
Similarly on data matching rules, my experience in my past job showed that those who want to evade penalty spend an awful lot of time ably curating the information that they give to people. We want to be using up-to-date systems, and the best technology that uses data matching rules that help minimise the effectiveness of what those people are doing who are trying to keep their jobs when they should not have them. We want to use technology that can pick out both Daves and Davids; can pick out people switching addresses; and uses secondary and tertiary information, such as phone numbers and email addresses, to make sure that good connections are made between items of data that are shared, so that people who are trying to avoid being taken out of the system cannot do so. Getting this right is key to making the system effective.
Setting aside those concerns, I fully support this excellent Bill. I hope it passes Third Reading successfully, and makes it through the other place. I commend the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on successfully stewarding the Bill through to Third Reading. It is right to acknowledge what others have done, including the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who brought forward similar proposals. I hope that he enjoyed his visit a few weeks ago to my North West Norfolk constituency.
At its core, the Bill is about public safety, and giving people greater confidence, when they get in the back of a taxi or private hire vehicle, that the driver has been properly checked out. We legislators have a duty to consider carefully whether legislation is necessary. I recognise that the Bill builds on the approach set out in the Government-issued statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards, which recommend that licensing authorities share information with other authorities, because better information will lead to better decisions.
The Bill will benefit local authorities—and, through them, the public—by ensuring that they have as much relevant information as possible when considering new applications or renewal applications. It will also mean that local authorities are aware of incidents in other areas involving drivers whom they have licenced. It closes a loophole that means that local authorities are not required to share information. That prevents other authorities from being able to make an informed decision, and as others have highlighted, that creates the potential for a driver who is refused a licence to move to another area to apply for a licence there. As my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington said, that is a crazy situation. The Bill represents a proportionate and welcome response to that, and will help local authorities protect the public.
Constituents have raised with me the difficulty in getting taxi drivers to accept passengers with assistance dogs; they are turned away by drivers. Research by the charity Guide Dogs found that the businesses most commonly reported to have refused access included minicabs and private hire vehicles; 72% of respondents reported that happening to them. These refusals are deeply distressing to the individuals involved. They damage their confidence and undermine their independence and ability to live their life. Of course, it is already an offence under the Equality Act 2010 for taxi and private hire vehicle drivers to refuse to carry an assistance dog; they can be fined up to £1,000.
In 2019, the Government accepted a recommendation that all taxi and minicab drivers be required to have disability equality training. I would be grateful to the Minister for an update on that for my constituents and Guide Dogs, and on the steps that the Government are taking to encourage drivers and companies to do that training voluntarily. Given the importance of the issue, I welcome the fact that passengers with assistance dogs and wheelchair passengers will be covered by the clause 1 “Relevant information” provisions, which require information to be passed on if a person poses a safeguarding risk. I welcome the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington confirmed, there is no effect on the appeals process or panels, or on the rights that taxi drivers have when decisions go against them.
I am always focused on the question of when legislation commences. In my experience as a special adviser in various Departments, I found that too often a lot of energy was focused on bringing forward measures; less energy was spent on bringing them into force. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister is on the case with her officials to make sure that the measures are implemented as rapidly as possible.
Finally, I lend my support to the campaign launched a decade ago by the noble Lord Finkelstein against the misuse of the prefix “pre”. Private hire cars are often festooned with signs saying, “Pre-booked only”. The explanatory notes fall into the same trap. These cars are not pre-booked; they are just booked. If we can end this preposterous prefix use, that would be a little win for pedants everywhere. I support the Bill.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on getting the Bill to this stage. I know that he has spent much time diligently looking at the legislation and has had many conversations with colleagues from across the House, including the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), who has worked on similar legislation. I wish my hon. Friend all the best of luck as the Bill passes through this House and the other place.
As many hon. Members have said, current legislation in this area has unfortunately been outdated for too long. That is why the Bill is so important. We have many fantastic taxi drivers providing a fantastic, valuable service to all our constituents, doing the best that they can and doing an important job, whether taking constituents to the hospital for doctors’ appointments, or simply taking them home after a night out or from the train station to wherever they wish to go.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for bringing this important Bill to the House. On that point, taxi drivers in Luton are taking people to and from vaccination centres in free “vaxi taxis”. Does the hon. Member agree that that is a fantastic service provided by our taxi and private hire vehicle drivers?
I absolutely do. That, along with examples that we have heard from other hon. Members, illustrates how important taxi drivers are. They provide a fantastic, valuable service to all our constituents, and it is great to hear that they are even taking people to vaccination centres. That is what I want to illustrate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Darlington has carefully articulated the Bill, which gets to the nub of the issue of safeguarding, ensuring that our constituents are protected when a minority of taxi drivers are not doing the right thing. I will share some instances which, unfortunately, I have experienced in my constituency. Only a couple of months ago, some constituents contacted me as they had video footage of several taxi drivers using their firm to distribute drugs in Keighley. We have a huge drug issue in Keighley. We therefore need one local authority to be able to share data with others so that we get the licensing provisions absolutely right. It is key that licences are given only to taxi drivers who perform their duty with absolute care. We all have fantastic drivers in our constituencies, and it is right that we protect drivers going about their business and keeping passengers safe while we have a targeted approach to clamp down on individuals who are abusing their positions.
Developments in both technology and the transport market in general have prohibited local authorities’ ability to share concerns about an individual, whether relating to darker issues such as using taxis to distribute drugs or safeguarding issues such as protecting women and young children, which are also a huge concern. That is why the current system needs changing. Someone who loses their licence from one local authority should not be able to get one from another local authority in close proximity and carry out their day-to-day duty in that same local authority area in which they lost their licence. That is why the collective ability to share data is so important.
Provisions of the Bill such as those that enable the Department for Transport to provide an information database on taxi drivers will help to streamline the process and ensure no bypassing of the rules. Likewise, the statutory requirements for licensing authorities to have regard to the database will ensure that the standards are kept up to date.
I also welcome the fact that the Bill enables councils to report their concerns about out-of-area drivers and have those concerns acknowledged in the appropriate way. The current circumstances, where local councils are unable to take enforcement action against taxi drivers licensed by other local authorities, even if they are operating in their own streets, are wrong and the Bill will help to counteract that. It will also ensure that local authorities have the power to share vital information on whether a taxi driver is safe to have passengers in their car.
It is also right that the Bill will ensure that drivers are fit and proper and that road safety is guaranteed across local authority borders. I represent a constituency that is right on the periphery of the county of West Yorkshire, on the periphery of Bradford Council’s local authority remit and with North Yorkshire literally a stone’s throw away. I know many taxi drivers take passengers between North and West Yorkshire; that is why this Bill is so important, enabling that data to be shared.
I am delighted that the Bill will go further, building on work done by the Government, to ensure that taxis and private hire vehicles are safer for passengers and drivers alike. The task and finish group on taxi and private hire vehicle licensing, established in September 2017, was important in kickstarting the process towards a safer taxi and private hire vehicle industry. The group was essential in starting the process of reviewing and considering the accuracy of the current taxi and private hire vehicle licensing authorities. It concluded not only that the powers of local authorities needed to be strengthened further, but that new legislation was needed to make our roads safer, so I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington again on bringing forward this vital piece of legislation.
It is absolutely right that the Bill does not remove the current appeal process; it is right that there is a working appeal process. I would have liked to see the Bill encompass the ability to have CCTV in taxis, which would have provided a further mechanism for ensuring that our taxis are even safer; that children, young people, women and anybody using a taxi is safeguarded; and that drivers are also protected. I wish my hon. Friend the best of luck as this legislation goes through the House.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. Having taken many taxis to and from Darlington station, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) on all the work he has put in to this Bill, which will ensure that 276 licensing authorities across the country can make better-informed decisions on who should and should not be on our roads.
The Bill will not only improve public safety, but protect the confidence and trust that we have in our amazing workforce of taxi and private hire drivers—trust that means we can put lone and vulnerable loved ones into a taxi and know they will arrive safely thanks to the key workers who drive our taxi and private hire vehicles. Those drivers have had a hell of a ride in business terms over the pandemic; as we were retreating to the safety of our own homes, they were rolling up their sleeves, getting on with it and keeping the country moving.
Those drivers continue to keep us moving: doing the early mornings and the late nights, getting young people to school, helping the disabled, elderly or vulnerable to get to day services and hospital services—there has even been some fantastic taxi marketing going on with the “vaxi taxis”—and supporting our night-time economy. Without so many taxi drivers on our streets, our economy of an evening would not be what it is, because people would not be confident of getting home safely.
We have amazing drivers in my part of the world, who not only go above and beyond to help people of all ages, but keep me well informed on public opinion, both good and bad. We have a fantastic lady driver in my part of the world, Samantha from Teesside Cars, who is not only forthright in her views but brightens everybody’s day with bags of banter and decorates her cab for every single season. For Hallowe’en, it is pumpkins and scary window stickers; at Christmas, passengers get to drive in a grotto full of baubles, Christmas lights and tinsel. It is something else, and there are always sweets available. She goes above and beyond, and it is characters like her—fantastic taxi drivers who have a great reputation —who this Bill will protect, and ensure that we have confidence in those amazing workers who do so much to help the immobile and elderly people and keep the place going.
We have all heard about the awful exceptions, the small minority of unscrupulous drivers, and about the consequences that that terrible behaviour can have on our residents. This Bill will mean that calling a taxi is not a game of roulette, and that bad-apple drivers cannot roll from one licensing authority to another to avoid the consequences of their actions. I thank Margaret Waggott in the licensing team at my local authority, and the councillors across the country who do so much in this space to keep our residents safe and ensure that only the right people are driving our taxis. I am delighted to support this long-overdue change, so that licensing authorities across the country can be armed with the information they need to make the right decisions. I wish the Bill good luck.
I rise like a bat out of hell to contribute to today’s debate. First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for getting the Bill to its Third Reading in this place, and I welcome the Minister to her place on the Front Bench—I think this is the first time I have been in a debate for which she has been the Minister. This issue ties in nicely with two important local campaigns that I am running: the first is safer streets, and the second is reliable and healthy transport. Around this time last week, I was singing the praises of my own local taxi firms: how critical they have been in the community over the past 22 months during this global pandemic, and how much they are regarded as a core part of the community.
I welcome the Bill as it is drafted, but I would like to hear the Minister’s views on any unintended consequences. All legislators want to create good laws, and rightly so, but I am aware that cab drivers are really reliant on their jobs, and this Bill could potentially prohibit that. Although I have been a councillor for many years, I have never had the privilege of sitting on a licensing committee—partly because they were daytime meetings, but also because of the expertise and level of training required to sit on those committees—so once again, as others have, I applaud the quality of those discussions. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington addressed this issue earlier, and I hope that the Minister will do so in her closing remarks, but my concern is where human error might lead to a particular taxi driver being on the list, so to speak. That should not prevent them from having due process and the ability to appeal, or render them unable to take on further jobs while the process is being followed through.
Other Members have spoken about the size of the industry—the 343,000 different licences and 276 licensing authorities that are out there. It is a really important and core part of communities up and down the country. My constituency is really reliant on taxis; although, as I have said previously, we have some great transport links north to south via public transport, both train and the tube, our east to west links are not so great. Although we have a bus service, it is not consistent enough to mean that people can use it as a daily means of getting around. I, for one, need either to drive to the station or use my local cab company to get there in order to commute down to London.
The other thing that is really important about this Bill is the confidence it will give to users of that particular mode of transport. We have already spoken about the safety implications not only for women but for vulnerable people and those who are younger—those who need that transport to get to school, sports clubs, or whatever it may be. Anything we can do to give them confidence and put safeguards in place is absolutely the right thing to do. It is probably worth remembering that 98% of taxi hire drivers are men, and about 2,500 reported assaults on women in 2018 were from one taxi app alone, so the proactive nature of this Bill is right and proper. I applaud the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) and others who have spent many years trying to get to this point. I look forward to the Bill getting on to the statute book, subject to its progress in the other place.
We have not yet mentioned the wider use of taxi firms, but I hope that the Bill will also help in our battle against criminal gangs. A very small minority of cab drivers abuse the system—in county lines, for example—and I would argue that they are probably inclined to pursue other criminal activities as well. This process will make it harder for them to do so. It might be a slight inconvenience for local authorities and applicants, but it is worth it if the quality improves. I know from my conversations with drivers that they are proud of their industry and as keen as anyone else to remove the bad apples, and I think the Bill will make that easier.
I will bring my remarks to a close, because I am conscious that other Members wish to speak. We have talked about a national database. Local authorities already have this information to hand, and all that the Bill is asking them to do is collate it in one system, so I do not think there is much of a barrier to getting this done relatively quickly and cheaply.
I apologise to hon. Members, because I have only just bobbed to catch your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I know that some Members have been bobbing for some time.
I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for the huge amount of work that he has done on this Bill. His office is next door to mine, so I know how much time he has spent beavering away on this. The Bill is vital for the safety of people using taxis. As my hon. Friend has said, the majority of taxi drivers are excellent citizens who do a fantastic job and provide a hugely valuable service to their communities, but we know that a very small number of bad eggs use that mobility to get up to things that we do not want people to get up to. It concerns me that people can register in the west midlands but then provide services a very long way away. There may be legitimate reasons for that, but it does pose some questions.
Taxi drivers are absolutely vital for our communities. In constituencies such as mine, for example, those who do not have a car might decide to spend a little money once a week to get to the supermarket, so that they do not have to carry lots of shopping bags back home on the bus. A few years ago I required treatment for an eye condition, which meant that for several months I was unable to drive and so had to rely on taxis in order to continue working—the buses did not necessarily run at the times expected for my managerial job, so I needed taxi drivers to get me where I needed to be while I could not see properly.
Quite often the people using taxis are in a vulnerable position. They might be going to hospital for treatment, or sending their children off to a special school, or their children might need to travel to different places for lessons and things like that. It is therefore vital that this legislation closes the loophole that a very small minority of taxi drivers may seek to exploit, and we know that some of them do.
As a woman, I do not like to be called vulnerable. I feel that in a scrap I can give as good as I get—you can take the girl out of Grimsby, but you can’t take Grimsby out of the girl. However, when groups of friends go out, they are always mindful that someone will be the last person to be dropped off and they will be on their own in the taxi. We forget that taxi drivers know where we live and, although we know we can trust the majority of them, people may have been on a night out, drinking alcohol. There have been terrible stories in my region, which I will not go into in detail, where people have had drinks spiked and they have been in a bad state, and friends have put them in a taxi assuming they will get home safely. On rare occasions, that has not been the case.
I thank our taxi companies. I urge people listening to the debate not just to use modern apps. Like some colleagues, I do not like using apps for such things. When I need a taxi, wherever I am in the country, I go to well known, established firms that have websites and telephone numbers, and I can talk to a person at the end of the phone line. They have the technology to know a caller’s mobile phone number and tell them the type of car they will be picked up in, the registration number and who the driver is, which gives some safety. That is something people need to think about.
We all have taxi firms in our constituencies that have served our communities for a long time, and I thank them from the bottom of my heart because they provide an excellent service. This private Member’s Bill is important and I wholeheartedly support it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson), as so many have done from across the House. We have been on a similar journey with our private Members’ Bills—at least, I hope we have, because I hope we will reach mine a little later today. I applaud him for everything he has done to get to this stage, not least passing Committee stage without amendment. I know, only too well, what a challenge that can be.
Taxis are not just a convenient mode of transport, but a lifeline for many of our constituents. During the pandemic, taxi drivers have been tremendously important in my local area of Aylesbury. They helped ensure that people could get to urgent appointments and were particularly important for vulnerable residents. On behalf of the people of Aylesbury, I thank our local taxi drivers for all the hard work they have done in what has been an incredibly challenging period of almost two years.
As we have heard from right hon. and hon. Members, taxis are especially important for those members of our community who are disabled. Having a convenient door-to-door service helps to give disabled people the freedom to travel locally, thereby enabling them to live the lives that everybody else lives, often without giving a second thought to the way they get around. That can prove essential to the wellbeing of disabled people and help to combat loneliness and isolation. Many taxi firms in Aylesbury provide transport for schoolchildren who have special educational needs or disabilities, helping them to get the provision they need, so they receive the best education possible.
Indeed, a recent report from the Department for Transport showed that, on average, disabled people are 55% more likely to take journeys by taxi or private hire vehicles than non-disabled people. That underlines why it is so important that safeguarding is at the very highest level, and my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington’s Bill is helping to achieve just that.
My constituency is called Aylesbury, after the proud county town of Buckinghamshire, but the seat is, in fact, quite rural. Almost two thirds of my constituency, including many villages and hamlets, such as Speen, Lacey Green, Great Hampden, Bledlow Ridge and Radnage, is nestled in the quiet and peaceful tranquillity of the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty.
I entirely agree. Many people adore living in that very beautiful area and they want to protect it and ensure, for example, that houses are not built on the stunning green landscapes. However, people also have a cost to pay when they live in this area, which is that there is very little in the way of public transport. Consequently, they need to drive or be driven in cars. In practice, that means travelling to Aylesbury or High Wycombe to do their shopping, going to one of the many excellent restaurants in Aylesbury or visiting the exceptional Aylesbury Waterside Theatre if they would like to see some of the fine performances that take place there.
If, for example, someone had wanted to travel from Great Hampden to Aylesbury to do some shopping at 9 o’clock this morning, they could not have done that if they were relying on public transport. Equally, if I wanted to travel from Speen to Aylesbury at the same time by bus, I would first have had to walk for a mile downhill along very narrow country roads to reach the nearest bus stop. Although there are some excellent community initiatives, such as the Risborough and Wendover dial-a-rides, which help to serve our more rural areas, connecting people—particularly many elderly residents—to places such as Aylesbury, Princes Risborough and High Wycombe means reliance on a taxi. Taxis are essential to get out and about.
That is why this legislation is so important for my constituents in Buckinghamshire, just as it is for the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, and—as we have heard this morning—for constituents across the length and breadth of this country, whether they are represented by Government or Opposition Members.
Although taxis are convenient, it is vital that they are also safe. The Bill introduced by my hon. Friend helps to ensure that that will be the case, by requiring taxi and private hire vehicle licensing authorities in England to share any information about recent adverse licensing history. The purpose of this Bill is admirably clear. It will ensure that only a fit and proper person will be licensed to convey passengers from A to B. Therefore, it will dramatically reduce the likelihood that an unsuitable person will be granted or hold a taxi or private hire driver’s licence. The key, of course, is the new central database, into which licensing authorities in England will be required to put relevant information about cases where an authority has suspended, revoked or refused to grant or renew a taxi or private hire driver’s licence, because of a relevant—that is an important word—safeguarding or road safety concern that relates to the driver.
I have to say, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I was rather surprised to learn that no such database existed already; I am very pleased that my hon. Friend has introduced this Bill to correct, at pace, that glaring omission. I am very glad, too, that he has also gone much further than the current statutory guidance issued to local authorities, to allow for the recording of inappropriate behaviour by drivers that is relevant to their responsibilities when carrying passengers. Although such behaviour might not have warranted police investigation or reached the threshold to meet a criminal prosecution, what will happen now will permit licensing authorities to better safeguard the public by identifying worrying patterns of behaviour by drivers. Having that data easily accessible on a central database will mean that unscrupulous drivers who are a safeguarding risk to their passengers cannot just hop to another licensing area to acquire a new licence.
That is why it is so important that licensing authorities should have a duty to search the database and have regard to relevant information. We have heard an awful lot this morning about recording the data, but of course that is useful only if people then access the data and act on it. I am very pleased to see that my hon. Friend’s Bill ensures that that will happen.
There are clear requirements for decision-making authorities to request the relevant information from the authority that has made an entry of concern, and a duty for that latter authority to respond within a specified timeframe. Again, that is really important as it means that these things do not just go into a hole of paperwork and get completely forgotten about. I am very glad to see that. In short, a centralised database will allow for a joined-up approach between licensing authorities, which will make our roads safer.
In conclusion, it is clear that we must protect our constituents from disreputable and harmful drivers, and this Bill will allow us to do just that. However, I will end where I began, because it must be stressed that the Bill will affect only a minority of drivers. The vast majority are hard-working, law-abiding and vital members of our community. I repeat my thanks to drivers in my constituency of Aylesbury and my congratulations to my hon. Friend on the success of his Bill thus far.
I start by thanking the hon. Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for his diligent work on introducing the Bill and for the consensual and cross-party way in which he has approached it, working to introduce a Bill that, once it achieves its passage, will hopefully address so many of the safety issues that Members have ably mentioned today, as well as ensuring that both drivers and passengers are protected.
There have been significant calls from councils and pressure groups, for a long period of time—over several years—for the Government to update their taxi and private hire vehicle licensing regulation and to go above and beyond the statutory standards, which many organisations do not think go far enough. That update is needed to address critical issues, such as safety concerns on cross-border hiring and the lack of statutory disability and equality training. This is an issue that is important to many in my constituency. I probably have 3,000 to 5,000 local residents who are private hire taxi drivers and this issue is something I discuss with them regularly. Yesterday, in my constituency of Ilford South, I had a discussion with a number of taxi drivers about the issues facing them. They were pleased to see this Bill back in the Commons this morning.
As the Opposition have previously proposed, we would like to see provision for a driver’s risk to road safety while driving to be assessed in line with DVLA standards, as opposed to the individual assessment of the licensing authority. We proposed amendments to reflect that at an earlier stage. It is an important point. At present, licensing bodies are not required to share information with other local authorities. That prevents them from being able to take informed decisions about granting or renewing a driver’s licence, and creates the conditions for a driver to be refused a licence, or to have existing licences suspended or revoked because of safety concerns, but to be in a position to apply for a licence in another area, where the new licensing authority is completely unaware, as hon. Members have pointed out, of the previous refusal, suspension or revocation. That is completely unacceptable. It puts the safety of taxi and private hire vehicle users at risk. Furthermore, it goes against the recommendations of the DFT’s task and finish group on taxi and private hire licensing, which published its report more than three years ago.
At present, there are still concerns and uncertainty among representative bodies such as the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association as to whether the Government will support the Bill. I am hopeful they are going to, but I will talk a little bit about the other measures that could be looked at as well.
The Government previously indicated that they had no plans to legislate on some of the issues that a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), have raised and instead, they strongly encourage licensing authorities to adopt their new statutory standards, but those standards are roundly felt to be wanting. That is one of the reasons that this private Member’s Bill has come forward—the statutory standards are not quite powerful enough to address concerns.
The current approach focuses on improving licensing through the statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards that were published in 2020, which local authorities have subsequently consulted on and implemented. Representative bodies such as the LTDA believe that the standards do not go far enough and do not deliver on all 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 urge the Minister to reassess the Government’s approach and to adopt a more robust stance that comprehensively addresses passenger safety and enhances existing licensing legislation through national minimum standards that are legally enforceable.
The existing statutory standards are no longer fit for purpose. Although they urge data sharing between local authorities and encourage use of the existing NR3 database, they do not mandate it, which creates a clear inconsistency in the system.
I reiterate my earlier point that taxis and private hire vehicle drivers operating out of an area for which they are not licensed must be stopped. Enforcement must be shifted to national level, allowing local authorities to issue enforcement within their jurisdiction under national guidelines. The Government must go further than simply encouraging licensing authorities to adopt the statutory standards. It is crucial that there is a renewed focus on non-licensed cross-border working—rather than simply cross-border working—and there needs to be a national enforcement process to prevent any non-licensed cross-border working in the first place.
The GMB union, which represents around 30,000 to 35,000 taxi and private hire vehicle drivers, has estimated that there are many tens of thousands working outside of their driving boundaries. It is high time for proper legislation and robust national minimum standards that are legally enforceable. As my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge said, I hope in future we can have a comprehensive piece of legislation that would address many of the concerns that have not been addressed by this, on the whole, excellent private Member’s Bill—most significantly, cross-border hire, so that that is tackled in the proper and robust way that it should be. I hope that the Government will support the Bill today, and consider making the additional changes to existing legislation to improve the safety of all users of taxis and private hire vehicles.
What has come across more than anything in the debate is the appreciation for the taxi industry, not least during the pandemic, in providing essential services, often to the most vulnerable in our society. I join in all those tributes to taxi drivers and licensing authorities. I will come on to more detail in my response.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for his tremendous and diligent work on the Bill, and congratulate him on steering it through the House. I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), whose tenacity has been commented on by many hon. Members. The collegiate way in which he has worked with colleagues across the House is commendable.
I am pleased to give my support and that of the Government to the Bill. My hon. Friend also referenced the many groups that he has worked with to provide such a comprehensive private Member’s Bill for consideration today. He referred to the APPG and organisations such as the Suzy Lamplugh Trust.
As hon. Members may know, regulation of the taxi industry began in the 17th century under King Charles I. The King was so concerned about congestion in the City of London that he issued a proclamation restricting the number of hackney coaches to 50 and preventing them from carrying passengers less than three miles. In spite of that, by the 1760s the services provided by hackney coaches were so popular that there were more than 1,000 such coaches on London streets—although I believe there were no pedicabs at the time—[Laughter.]
The diligent work of so many reputable people in the taxi and private hire trades can be tarnished by the acts of the few. That is something that the Bill will help to prevent, by ensuring that those few are not able to hold a taxi or private hire vehicle licence, so that the vast and respectable majority can build the reputation that they deserve. It is vital that transport users feel safe while travelling alone and late at night. The Bill will help to achieve that for those travelling by taxi or private hire vehicle by ensuring that local licensing authorities have access to relevant safeguarding and road safety information about license applicants and existing licensees applying for renewals.
There has been much talk today about the safety of women and girls using taxi services. I am afraid that I probably have a bit of a reality check for my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood), because in my experience of having four daughters aged 18, 20, 21 and 23, his currently studious daughter will probably be tempted by the night-time economy and find a need to use the services of taxis. My hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) mentioned his night-time economy, and it is certainly often the reason for my daughters’ use of local taxi services.
I want to set out what we are doing on the violence against women and girls strategy, which pertains to the Bill. Everyone has the right to feel safe when travelling and using public spaces, which is why we will be working with the industry and the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), who is also on the Front Bench today, to ensure that a real change is made on the ground. The Department is determined to do all that we can to ensure that women and girls are safe when they use the transport network.
I agree with what my hon. Friend is saying about ensuring the safety of women and girls on public transport, whether in taxis or otherwise. Does she agree that it is incredibly important that we ensure that the Mayor of London gets the night tube up and running, and takes on the unions that are preventing this from happening, to ensure that women and girls, whether they are working in the night-time economy in London—60% of employees in the night-time economy in London are women—or enjoying a night out, can get home safely?
Yes; my hon. Friend makes a crucial point. She referred to her Pedicabs (London) Bill. I hope that it will have time for debate—if not today, in the very near future—and that I will be the Minister responding to support it.
Let me return to the work that we are doing as part of the wider violence against women and girls strategy, which the Government published in July last year. We have appointed two women’s safety champions: Laura Shoaf, the chief executive of West Midlands Combined Authority; and Anne Shaw, the interim managing director for Transport for West Midlands. They will shortly produce independent recommendations for the Department and wider transport network on what best practice should be adopted to improve the safety of the transport network for women and girls, and indeed for everybody. In addition, the Department for Transport continues to work with the Home Office and the Cabinet Office on the implementation of the violence against women and girls strategy. The publication of the strategy was very much the start of this work and we are determined to deliver the change on the ground.
There has been much reference to collaboration. The Bill will greatly improve collaboration between licensing authorities by placing duties on them to report concerns about drivers licensed in other areas, and to reconsider licences that they have issued if authorities report concerns. That means that although the vast majority of licensed taxi and private hire vehicle drivers are fit and proper, licensing authorities will be able to identify the few who are not, and prevent them from entering, or remove them from, the sector. This can only be a good thing for the trade and the travelling public as a whole.
The Bill will build on the incremental improvements in regulation that we have seen, and we will continue to see them in the future. The Government have been working to make regulatory improvements, with the aim of ensuring public safety while travelling. In July 2020, the Department for Transport published the statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards, which focus on safeguarding standards to protect the most vulnerable in society. Licensing authorities must have regard to the standards when setting out their licensing policies.
The statutory standards include enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks for all drivers and safeguarding awareness training, which are key to protecting vulnerable people who use these services. In fact, all licensing authorities now require an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check for taxi and private hire vehicle drivers, with 95% also requiring barred list checks. The proportion of authorities requiring enhanced DBS and barred list checks has grown from 79% in 2017. The Department for Transport will shortly be consulting on revised taxi and private hire vehicle licensing best practice guidance to assist licensing authorities in setting their policies and to enable greater consistency in the standards across 276 licensing authorities. This will allow the licensing authorities to look afresh at what they require in taxi and private hire licensing.
I will briefly refer to hon. and right hon. Members’ comments. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who is not in his place, referred to the devolved Administrations, and the work that we are doing to show that we respect and appreciate what devolution means. Taxi and private hire vehicle licensing is a devolved matter. Taxi and private hire vehicle licensing is, of course, a devolved matter. The Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Administrations are all able to legislate on it should they wish to. We would not seek to impose duties on those authorities in a devolved area. However, as taxi and PHV drivers may work across borders or seek a licence in another nation, it is important that all authorities in the UK have access to the database, so that information can be shared where appropriate. I know that was of importance to many Members who spoke today.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes), who said that this is a good Bill. It absolutely is. I also heard his calls—as I am sure my colleagues in the Department did—for Eastleigh to be the home of Great British Railways. I would also like to refer to the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (James Wild) about disability training. I reassure him that guidance will be brought forward shortly, and we will be mandating national minimum standards.
The hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen), also not in her place, referenced “vaxi taxis”. I thought that was a fantastic initiative, and I want to join her in paying tribute to it. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Rob Butler) and other Members thanked taxi drivers for the essential means of transport they provide. We have heard today of Alex, a taxi driver who transports children with special educational needs in Cardiff. We heard about Samantha of Stockton Cars, who does not just transport constituents but entertains them with seasonal decorations in the vehicle. I thought that was tremendous. We then heard of Bruce Mercer of R&L Taxis, who transports people across Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk. I thought that was absolutely superb. The way he has been transporting veterans and NHS workers during the pandemic is commendable.
I know there are many Members wishing to debate their Bills, not least the Pedicabs (London) Bill, so I will conclude now. Once again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington and the hon. Member for Cambridge for bringing forward this important Bill and for appreciating the taxi sector, drivers and licensing authorities. This is a good Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh said, and I have been delighted to speak to today.
With the leave of the House, can I place on the record my thanks to the Minister for her engagement with me? It has been a pleasure to work with her on the stewardship of this Bill, and I thank her for her speech this morning. I am particularly delighted to see the Minister of State, Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Victoria Atkins), in her place. She has done so much work in respect of violence against women and girls. I had the great privilege of serving under her stewardship of the Domestic Abuse Bill. It was an exemplary performance. I am delighted to see her in her place today for the final passage of my Bill in the Commons.
I am grateful to all Members who have spoken today. I was going to list them all individually, but the Minister has done that already. I thank all Members for their congratulations to me. I also want to thank the sponsors of the Bill—some of whom are here and some of whom are not—everyone who spoke on Second Reading, those from across the House who served on the Bill Committee, the Department for Transport staff, who have been excellent in their engagement with me, and the House staff, who have worked diligently with me. Last but not least, I want to place on the record my sincere thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Rebecca Harris), whose stewardship and guidance ensured that I was able to get this far.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.