Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill Debate

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Department: Department for Transport

Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill

Gagan Mohindra Excerpts
Gagan Mohindra Portrait Mr Gagan Mohindra (South West Hertfordshire) (Con)
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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.

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Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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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.

Gagan Mohindra Portrait Mr Mohindra
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Does my hon. Friend agree that the Chilterns are a beautiful part of the world and we should do all we can to protect them?

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
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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.