Clause 58

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:00 pm ar 18 Ebrill 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Private hire vehicles in London

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

We are making good progress, and I shall not detain the Committee for too long. We have heard the Minister argue several times that parts of the Bill are not necessary because their impact is already apparent or because they would be detrimental. I argue that clause 58 is unnecessary.

As the Minister knows, the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 was introduced to regulate private hire vehicles or minicabs in London. The problem with that Act has been the three words “to the public”. A number of private hire vehicle operators and drivers who provide their services on a contract basis say that  those vehicles are not available to the public and therefore should not be covered by the Act. That seems relatively appropriate. They are not saying that their whole fleet should not be covered by the Act or that their drivers should not be Criminal Records Bureau checked. They are merely saying that those vehicles hired on a contract basis—usually to local authorities to provide special transport for those in particular need or for schools or educational establishments—should not be covered.

Private hire vehicle operators provide a valuable public service. Their cars are not available strictly to the public, but they are in use for the public benefit. The 1998 Act works extremely well. The clause is unnecessary, and I hope that the Government will think again about why they feel the need for it.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

One’s parents often say, “Be careful what you wish for.” On Second Reading, colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench asked me to consider why we are making this provision in London. I met one of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues and a constituent of his to discuss a particular issue related to the one that we are discussing. I granted him his wish and considered the issue, and the more I looked at it, the more I came to see why this level of regulation is required in London. I equally came to see that the problem may be not that we are moving to a system of regulation in London but that we do not have the same powers of regulation everywhere else in the country. It is possible that your constituents and mine outside London, Sir Nicholas, are not getting the protection that they deserve.

I have started to put in place discussions inside the Department and with local authorities on whether we need at some point in the future to improve the way in which we regulate services outside London. However, that will be in the future. I cannot see any excuse for our not moving as rapidly as possible to deal with the problem inside London. It was intended for it to be dealt with by the 1998 Act, but unfortunately the lawyers subsequently decided that that Act was insufficiently clear. The amendment simply makes it clear, so that the 1998 Act works in the way in which it was intended to work and can accordingly be enforced. I have to accept that there is an anomaly between London and elsewhere at which we need to start looking sometime in the future, but that is not an excuse for not dealing with the problem in London.

Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am at a loss to understand what extra regulation is needed. We are considering people who are under contract to local authorities, schools and hospitals. They will inevitably have been CRB checked and their vehicles will be compliant with insurance and MOT requirements. They are reputable minicab and private hire firms not available for public service and the extra level of licensing that the Minister wants is unnecessary.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

The hon. Gentleman says that they will inevitably be CRB checked. If it turns out that outside London they are always CRB checked, that the check is always carried out to an enhanced level and  that the concerns raised by the Bichard inquiry have properly been dealt with under the current legislation, we will not have a problem outside London.

We have had a serious debate in the past 12 months on the implementation of Bichard. The Opposition, like the whole House, have made it clear that they regard ensuring that we live up to 100 per cent. of the recommendations of Bichard as a very high priority, as do the Government. I certainly do not intend to be the Minister who falls short of that mark, which is why I feel that I have to review the situation outside London. The amendment will help London to achieve the level of regulation that was intended in the first place. That is why we should move ahead and agree to the clause.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 4.

Rhif adran 15 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 58

Ie: 9 MPs

Na: 4 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 58 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 59 and 60 ordered to stand part of the Bill.