Another opportunity to inform, another chance to perform—what is better than that, Mr Speaker? As my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) may know, the Law Commission provided a report on reforming taxi and private hire vehicle legislation, since which the sector has undergone profound and rapid change. With characteristic assiduity and determination, I will lead the response to such change, so protecting passenger wellbeing.
What discussions has the Minister had with the Mayor of London to find a workable way forward on taxi legislation in the capital that balances healthy competition with the properly enforced regulations that safeguard passengers and keep our city moving?
As I glanced at the Order Paper, as you must also have done, Mr Speaker, I noticed my hon. Friend’s change of name due to the happy event of her marriage, on which the whole House will want to congratulate her. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] She has become our own J.Lo.
My discussions with the Mayor are regular. The Government are determined to find a way forward on taxi regulation. This is not just about the capital; we need to consider the whole issue of taxi licensing. As I have said, our absolute determination is for public safety and wellbeing, but we have to balance that with consumer choice.
Sex offenders and others banned from driving taxis by local authorities are providing the same service simply by applying for a licence to drive a minibus. Will the Minister continue the work done by me and his predecessor on closing that loophole?
I met Leeds City Council just yesterday to discuss such issues. Licensing poses real challenges, which is why I set up a working party to consider the whole matter following a Westminster Hall debate on this subject. That working party will consider the very issues that the hon. Gentleman and many others have raised and then report back to me, and it would be reasonable for us to publish its findings early in the new year.
I declare an interest as a member of Kettering Borough Council. The taxi drivers and private hire drivers of Kettering do a fantastic job ferrying local people around, but all these things need regulation and the council does its best. Which council does the Minister think is the best at regulating the taxi trade in small towns? How might that best practice be rolled out across the country?
I would not want to pick from among all my favourite towns. However, there are concerns about the inconsistent application of regulation and guidance, which is one of the things that the working party is considering. The key thing is that there has been a lot of change, partly as a result of modern communications and how people access information and book taxis and private hire vehicles. As Disraeli said:
“Change is inevitable. Change is constant.”
But a benevolent and diligent Government must constrain change while maintaining choice.
When the Communities and Local Government Committee considered child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, one issue was the involvement of some taxi drivers. The Government’s commissioners brought in higher standards, including the provision of CCTV cameras in all taxis. However, those rules can be undermined by taxis coming in from places outside Rotherham where the same standards do not apply. Indeed, taxis that fail the test in Rotherham can go elsewhere, get a licence and drive back into Rotherham. That is the real problem. The problem is national, but does the Minister recognise that it is particularly acute in Rotherham? When will he act?
As I said, this is not just about London; it is about places across the country. There is a case for new statutory guidance, and while I do not want to second guess the working party and its recommendations, I think we will issue some new statutory guidance early next year.
Following the high-profile cases of child sexual abuse in Rotherham and Oxford, taxi licensing was strengthened in those council areas. However, despite repeated calls for legislation reform, including from the Law Commission, the Government have refused to close the loopholes that allowed drivers to be licensed elsewhere and effectively game the system. Will the Minister commit to introducing national standards to ensure safety across the industry?
I welcome the hon. Lady’s question. She is right that the system is being gamed. Where a local authority tightens the system—Leeds City Council described this to me yesterday—neighbouring authorities sometimes adopt a more permissive regime. That cannot be right, which is why I want to introduce new guidance and greater consistency in how licences are issued. At the end of the day, this has to be about public safety, security and wellbeing. The whole House would want that, and we really do have to take action.