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Labour sounds warning over taxi licensing reforms

25/06/2014

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23 June 2014

Government plans to simplify taxi and minicab licensing laws pose a risk to public safety, Labour has argued, as it sought to block the changes on 23 June 2014.

Under plans embodied in the Deregulation Bill, taxi drivers would be able to lend their vehicles to family members when they are off duty, to "lift the burden" of having to run a second family car.

Shadow Transport Minister Gordon Marsden said the "ill-thought through" and "reckless" reforms could put women and vulnerable passengers at risk of rogue drivers.

"The sad truth is that rapes and sexual assaults committed by people purporting to be private hire drivers are not uncommon and so these changes to the law are quite rightly an issue of public concern," he said.

But government spokesman Tom Brake insisted there were safeguards in place and said the changes offered "significant benefits" for the trade, and for passengers.

The disagreement came as Labour put forward amendments to remove the relevant clauses from the legislation.

Mr Marsden said there was widespread opposition to the plans, and warned they risked damaging the legitimacy of the industry, and would be difficult to enforce.

Mr Brake disagreed: "We consider that the taxi and private hire vehicle clauses will have significant benefits, both in terms of cost savings for the trade and convenience for passengers, and we are determined to see those benefits realised."

The Lib Dem deputy leader of the House told MPs the law will continue to prohibit people without a private hire vehicle licence from acting as a driver.

The proposed reforms will also see annual checks on drivers’ licences replaced with reviews every three years, and minicab operators will be allowed to subcontract bookings to firms in other areas.

Responding to concerns about the public safety implications of both of these changes, Mr Brake said the measures already apply in London and stressed that bookings could only be passed on to other licensed operators.

Conservative John Redwood was on the side of the government, and welcomed the "perfectly reasonable and very modest" proposal which he said would help cash-strapped families.

Caroline Lucas, the Green Party’s former leader, joined Labour in opposing the reforms and accusing the government of failing to consult properly on the changes, which have pre-empted a review of taxi regulations by the Law Commission.

"We’ve had nothing close to meaningful consultation and a failure on the government’s part to even discuss these changes with councils before putting forward their clauses," she complained.

Labour’s bid to block changes to the taxi licensing regime was subject to a vote, and was defeated the attempt by 285 to 206, majority 79.

Part two of the debate can be found here.

Read the parliamentary debate here.

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