Prevention of child sexual exploitation and private hire vehicles

Part of Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:15 pm ar 12 Ebrill 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office) 4:15, 12 Ebrill 2016

As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East said, the new clause would place local authorities under a duty to consider child protection when they issue licences for drivers of taxis and private hire vehicles. We support it because we think it could lead to important safeguarding measures.

Taxi drivers do a fantastic job up and down the country. I could not happily live my life without them. More than 242,000 licensed vehicles in England provide transport for millions of people every day. Outside of rural areas, interestingly, there is a high satisfaction level—about 68%—with taxi and private hire services. The review of child exploitation in Oxford made it clear that taxi drivers can and do play a very positive role in tackling grooming and child exploitation. The report noted that taxi drivers had driven young girls to the police station when they were worried that the girls were being sexually exploited, and that they were well regarded across the city because of the role that they had played.

However, we have to recognise that in some of the grooming rings exposed in recent years taxi drivers have not played such a positive role. Taxi drivers have been reported as abusing their position of power when they collect young people. The independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham found:

“One of the common threads running through child sexual exploitation across England has been the prominent role of taxi drivers in being directly linked to children who were abused”.

This is, quite clearly, a problem that needs to be tackled. I believe that my hon. Friend’s amendment could pave the way for important safeguarding measures that, frankly, should already be in place. For example, a number of local authorities up and down the country have imposed “conditions of fitness” tests on taxi drivers. These can involve criminal record checks and even live reporting to licensing authorities if a taxi driver commits a criminal offence after they have been granted a licence. Realistically, I do not believe that a licensing authority could carry out its duty to promote the prevention of harm to children, which is what the new clause provides for, without conducting checks on all drivers.

The Department for Transport provides guidelines on how local authorities should assess the criminal records of those who wish to have a licence to drive a private hire vehicle. The guidelines state that authorities

“should take a particularly cautious view of any offences involving violence, and especially sexual attack.”

Those are proportionate and appropriate words. However, because local authorities have discretion to interpret what is meant by a “fit and proper” person to drive a private hire vehicle, not all private hire vehicle drivers outside London are even subject to a criminal record check. We should consider reversing that; I believe that this proposed statutory duty to protect would have precisely that effect.

Other good practice can be considered. In Oxford, taxi drivers have been trained how to respond if they believe that their customers are victims of sexual exploitation. The independent review suggests there is evidence that that training is working. With a statutory duty in place to promote the prevention of child sexual exploitation, we could see such practices replicated across the country. Will the Minister say what measures the Government have put in place to ensure that best practice, like that in Oxford, can be shared across the country?