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Taxi Licensing

Volume 745: debated on Thursday 8 February 2024

16. What steps he is taking to ensure consistent standards of taxi licensing across local authorities. (901427)

The Department for Transport issues guidance to licensing authorities in England to help them regulate the sector, including the statutory taxi and private hire vehicle standards and the best practice guidance, updated in November 2023. Last year the Government enacted legislation requiring licensing authorities in England to use a national database to share information, in order to prevent drivers who have lost their licence from applying to other authorities that would not know about their previous wrongdoing.

Local taxi drivers in Barnsley are having their prices undermined by cross-border taxi drivers who do not have to abide by the same regulatory measures. Local councils have no jurisdiction over out-of-borough hires, and concerns have been raised about differences in the training and safety precautions required. The Labour party has committed to action. When will the Government do the same?

There is already a database and already a duty on local authorities to share information. Licences can be taken away in the particular circumstances the hon. Lady identifies.

Taxis and private hire vehicles are a very personal service, and it is important for customers that both the vehicles and the drivers have proper safety checks, so that if things go wrong they can take a complaint to the licensing authority. The problem is that when that authority is 100 miles away in Wolverhampton, the system simply does not work. When will the Minister legislate to ensure that journeys can be made in a licensed vehicle only when they either take place or finish in the licensing authority area?

With the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman, we have already brought in changes to the rules that mean that individual authorities can take action against an individual operating in another authority, which is something I think he should welcome.

As we have heard from colleagues, the cross-border issue remains a real problem right across the country. We have the additional problem of the potentially changed relationship between operators and drivers, which is highlighted by the press campaigns about the possible imposition of VAT on private hire journeys. Does all this not show that the Department should have modernised taxi and private hire legislation ages ago, rather than waiting for companies such as Uber to drive a coach and horses through regulations that were, frankly, written in the time of coaches and horses?

I would not refer to regulations written in 2020 and updated in 2023 as written in the time of coaches and horses—perhaps the hon. Gentleman should check his history. On the Uber case that he rightly identifies, that is clearly a court case that the Government have to address and will therefore consult on thereafter.

I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s best wishes to His Majesty the King.

During my time in this House, I have worked alongside victims and survivors of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal. Following the scandal, Rotherham council set very high standards for its taxi drivers, including installing CCTV in cabs and requiring national vocational qualification level 3 on child safeguarding. Those standards are being undercut by the Government’s deregulation of taxi standards, and nothing the Minister has set out this morning will stop that. Does he not agree that the Government’s position is putting the safety of women and girls at risk? Is it not time for robust legislation and national minimum standards to protect them?

With respect, on 27 April 2023 a new law came into force that requires licensing authorities in England to use a database to record refusals, suspensions and revocations made on safeguarding or road safety grounds. The new requirements mean that individuals who are not fit and proper to hold a taxi or private hire vehicle licence will be unable to apply for a licence with other authorities without that authority being made aware of past safety concerns. That change will help to protect passengers, including women and girls, as well as the reputation of the majority of drivers, from those who are unfit to hold that office.