Rotherham abuse scandal: Council plans new taxi rules

The Jay Report said taxi drivers had played a “prominent role” in child sexual exploitation in Rotherham

Plans to introduce tougher regulations for taxi drivers following the publication of a report into child abuse in Rotherham have been revealed.

The Jay Report said more than 1,400 children were abused in the town from 1997-2013. It said taxi drivers played a “prominent role” in the abuse.

Rotherham Borough Council said the report had had a “significant impact” on confidence in the town’s drivers.

Among the proposed changes are more rigorous checks on past criminality.

Dave Richmond, the council’s director of housing and neighbourhood services, said that while the council’s policy was “compliant with the law and our standards exceed those of some areas”, it was felt the authority “should do all that we can to make sure we have some of the highest standards nationally and a top quality service”.

There are 1,200 drivers registered in Rotherham, 80 operators and 800 vehicles.

A council spokesman said: “This policy represents probably biggest overhaul of licensing policies conducted by this authority at any point in the last 20 years.”

Dress code

Under the proposed new policy all drivers of black cabs and private hire taxis who are UK citizens must have an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service report. Applicants who have lived overseas must satisfy the council of their previous good character.

The council will also apply tougher standards when considering past criminality, particularly concerning sexual activity, violence, children, vulnerable adults, dishonesty or drug dealing.

Drivers will also be required to complete a course to ensure they understand matters relating to adult and child safeguarding, pass a tougher communication and knowledge test and adhere to a dress code.

The proposed changes will be debated by the council’s licensing board on 27 October.

If agreed the policy will be put out to an eight-week public consultation.

The council said proposed changes to national legislation could take considerable time to come in to force and failing to strengthen current standards would not offer the necessary safety, comfort and reassurance to customers.

source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/

“Please do not beat up the driver” – New York City approve warning signs to customers

Taxis will soon display signs warning of penalties of assaulting the driver.

Every taxi and livery car will have to display a sign warning passengers that beating up their driver carries hard time, under a bill passed by the City Council Wednesday.

The legislation requires yellow and green taxis and livery cars to install signs that read, “Assaulting a taxi or livery driver is punishable up to 25 years in prison.”

Taxi drivers say they work under constant threat of violence, and are 20 times more likely to be killed on the job than the average worker.

So far this year, there have been 40 assaults against drivers.

Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens), the sponsor, said the sign would provide potential assailants “a sudden jolt of awareness that what they’re contemplating doing is very wrong and will results in very serious consequences.”

“Some percentage of people will think better of it and leave that driver alone,” he said.

The only exception to the requirement would be for so-called “black cars” that transport clients for corporate accounts.

source: http://www.nydailynews.com/

Equalities watchdog to investigate ‘white drivers’ policy of Rochdale minicab firm

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission will write to Car 2000 in Heywood about concerns the company may be unlawfully discriminating against staff

A minicab firm manager who allows customers to choose the race of their driver is to be contacted by the equalities watchdog following concerns that the policy may unlawfully discriminate against staff.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission is to write to Stephen Campbell from Car 2000 in Heywood who told the Guardian that he is often asked to provide white drivers even though most of his drivers are of Pakistani origin.

Residents in the Greater Manchester borough of Rochdale have been offered the service after two local drivers of Pakistani origin were jailed for their part in the rape and trafficking of young white girls.

A commission spokesperson said it was illegal to disriminate against an employee on the grounds of race, and so they will be writing to the firm and to the council, the licensing authority, to establish the basic facts.

Crucially, they will seek to establish whether the firm’s drivers should be treated as self-employed or as employees of Car 2000 in law.

“While the law doesn’t prevent individual customers making requests, it is unlawful for an employer to treat an employee less favourably because of the colour of their skin,” the spokesman said in a statement.

The Commission will pay close attention to Section 83 of the Equality Act, which seeks to define a person’s employment status and whether they are subject to the Act.

“Equality legislation covers employees and self-employed people in different ways. As the nature of the relationship between the firm and the drivers is currently unclear we are therefore urgently writing to both Rochdale borough council, as the licensing authority, and the minicab firm to establish the facts in this case and ensure both understand their legal responsibilities,” the spokesman added.

Rochdale council told the Guardian on Tuesday that the firm’s decision to allow customers to request white drivers did not appear to be in breach of any rules. On Wednesday, it modified its position and has launched an inquiry to find out if Car 2000 has broken the terms of its licence.

Mark Widdup, director of economy and environment at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “Any private-hire business must satisfy a ‘fit and proper’ test before they are licensed by the council and able to operate within the borough.

“While we have not had any complaints regarding Car 2000 up to this point, we are now taking legal advice as to whether their policy to offer white drivers contravenes the ‘fit and proper’ test, and will act accordingly depending on the outcome of that advice.”

Heywood was at the centre of the Rochdale scandal after a sex trafficking gang of men of mainly Pakistani origin were found to have preyed on at least 47 girls, all of whom were white. Two drivers from the now defunct local firm of Eagle Minicabs were among nine Asian men jailed for their involvement.

Ukip ran a byelection campaign in Heywood and Middleton earlier this month focusing on the issues of child grooming and immigration and came within 617 votes of overturning a near 6,000 Labour majority.

Campbell, whose father’s firm Car 2000 took over Eagle Minicabs in 2011, said that a consequence of the affair was that many white customers ask for white drivers – or “local” drivers, as they usually describe them.

Campbell said on Wednesday night that he would respond in full to any queries from the Commission and the council but remains confident that his drivers are self-employed and that he is not in breach of the law.

“I have responded to demand, and I have to try and make a living. I have nothing against any race and choose to employ many Asian drivers. As far as I am concerned, the drivers are not my employees,” he said.

source: http://www.theguardian.com/

 

House of Lords vote to kill provincial cab trade

Debate on whether Clause 10 should stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I understand that the Minister has something new for the Committee, which it may be better to hear before we proceed any further.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Kramer) (LD): My Lords, as you will know, the Government introduced three measures into the Bill earlier this year relating to the regulation of taxis and private hire vehicles. Although an extensive review of the legislation has been carried out by the Law Commission and its recommendations are being considered, the Government decided that three measures could be taken forward separately to help reduce burdens on businesses more quickly. This clause is one of those.

Its purpose was to allow the use of private hire vehicles for leisure purposes. Noble Lords will be aware that, outside London, a person who is licensed as a private hire vehicle driver cannot use the family car and therefore has to purchase a second car. At £20,000 or £30,000, or the lease equivalent, that is a barrier which denies people employment. It is an issue that we need to address at some point. It also means in particular that in a number of rural areas there is, frankly, a shortage of private hire cars and taxi services. Bringing in more of those vehicles and their services for local people could be helped by removing this barrier.

However, after the Government listened closely to issues raised about the way in which we have presented this clause, we have decided that listening, as we always do, is important, and concluded that although we can still see arguments for tackling this underlying problem—I think that there is general agreement on that—it would be better done as part of the package of measures recommended by the Law Commission in a broader reform of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing than through this clause.

It is therefore my intent—although I am not sure how the procedure works—to withdraw this clause, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to do so.

Clause 10 disagreed.

5.45 pm

Clause 11: Taxis and private hire vehicles: duration of licences

Debate on whether Clause 11 should stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for withdrawing Clause 10 and I hope she will feel that Clauses 11 and 12 deserve the same treatment, given that the Law Commission has been asked to look into the current legislation. We are very glad that Clause 10 has been pulled from the Bill, but Clause 11 has problems and Clause 12 is just as dangerous as Clause 10.

Clause 11 will end annual licence renewal and set a three-year standard duration for licences. The annual licence renewal helps licensing authorities to recognise changes in a driver’s convictions or medical status. The reform is likely to make it more difficult for licensing officers to monitor behaviour, ensure that drivers are fit and proper to drive and take action when necessary. Effective implementation of this clause will require local authorities to sign up to the Disclosure and Barring Service’s updates service and receive information about convictions during a licence term. This is a relatively new service and it is not yet known how it will work in practice. It is clearly important, so I hope that the Minister will explain why this matter cannot also wait.

Clause 12 will enable PHV operators to subcontract a booking to another operator who is licensed in a different area. We and many others believe that passenger safety will be undermined because only licensing officers from a licensing authority where a vehicle and driver are registered currently have the power to take enforcement action. The Law Commission has recommended that licensing authorities would have the power to enforce standards in respect of out-of-area vehicles, which will be crucial for their safety. The public, and vulnerable passengers in particular such as women or disabled people, may call specific operators because they feel that that operator is reliable and safe to travel with. This reform means that the public will lose their right to choose which operator they travel with. If someone calls operator A, their preferred choice, operator B may turn up.

The Law Commission’s work was undermined in January 2014 when the Government announced a 10-day consultation on these three measures of PHV deregulation. In March, they were introduced as last-minute amendments in Committee in the Commons.

21 Oct 2014 : Column 593

The clauses aim to meet the Red Tape Challenge. The challenge is not about putting people in unsafe situations and Clause 12 does just that.
Richard Burden MP’s office contacted the Department for Transport on 1 October to ask whether an impact assessment had been prepared. The impact assessment was published online on 2 October and was signed off by the noble Baroness. Page 11 revealed many of the issues that have allowed Clause 10 to be withdrawn. Page 16 of the impact assessment states:

“There has been minimal analysis”,

due to what has happened. The analysis, it continued, was,

“based on the data provided by the PHV trade associations. Due to time constraints there has not been a significant amount of analysis”,
to justify these clauses being in the Bill. The Government have tripped over themselves to fulfil, as I said earlier, the Red Tape Challenge of bringing in deregulation. In this case, it means that they are putting people’s safety at risk.

The reason that Clause 12 is so important has been brought to our attention by a number of organisations, including some student bodies, Milton Keynes Council and Alexis Jay in her report into child sex abuse in Rotherham, in which she highlighted significant concerns about taxi licensing. We have spoken to her personally about this and she is very worried about the implications that these changes have. Her report says that, at a number of council meetings,

“One of the main items for discussion … was safe transport”.

When asked about minicabs,

“there was an immediate and consistent response from … young women and men”,

on all occasions. In fact, all of them avoided taxis “if at all possible”. People do not have any choice in remote areas late at night but to use taxis. If someone finds a safe taxi company—there are ones who focus particularly on women—they do not want someone to turn up whom they do not know and who may not be the appropriate person to drive them.

Our experience in Milton Keynes, where serious errors by a sub-committee of councillors on licensing led to an inexcusable decision to allow a convicted sex offender to operate a private hire vehicle, illustrates the importance of getting the balance of this regulation right. The leader of Milton Keynes Council has written to us personally, asking us to oppose the clause.

Warwick Students Union wrote to us, saying that its primary concern on Clause 12 is the effect that it would have on preferred suppliers. It says:
“We are working with local authorities to put together a tendering document for a preferred private hire service—using our strong collective consumer power to stipulate better standards of service, safety and fares. Lots of other Student Unions do this such as Leicester and Birmingham to protect their members”.

We know that two women students were raped in Warwick because they got into a minicab—possibly they should not have done so, but that is what happened. The student union continued:

“We feel that this Clause would largely undo the work done by Students’ Unions across the country to ensure the safety of their members”.
It is quite clear that the Government need to take this away and think again. That is what we are asking them to do. I am sure that the Minister would not want to have students and disabled people finding themselves in unsafe situations, but this is what we think the impact of the clause will be.

Lord Bradshaw (LD): I support what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. Anybody who knows anything about the taxi trade knows that some parts of the trade are of questionable integrity. The annual licensing inspection by the local authority where the taxi is based is the best safeguard that we can have.

On the Minister’s point that this saves people buying a second car, saving them £20,000 to £30,000, I can assure noble Lords that most private hire cars are nowhere near that standard. In fact, I can reminisce about my time in Manchester, when I was being driven to the airport in a private hire car. We passed a very used car depot. I said to the driver that his car was very old. He said, “Yes, it’s got a few months to run on its MOT. When its MOT is up, I just go into the car auction and buy another one with a few months on its licence”. He was talking about spending £200. I think that is much nearer the truth.

I also dispute the view that many rural areas do not or cannot get taxis. I live in a rural area with big rural surroundings and there are plenty of opportunities to get taxis if one thinks about it and phones them up beforehand and that sort of thing.

Students and all women are very vulnerable when they get into a taxi where the driver has not been properly licensed and had his credentials inspected—indeed, if the vehicle itself has not been properly inspected. When I was on Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford City used to call in its taxis or private hire cars every six months because they have a high mileage and the annual check does not show up the defects. If we are talking about people having a licence to operate a taxi, an awful lot of things can happen in three years. Extending the situation so that a taxi could operate in an area where the driver is not licensed is potentially dangerous.

I do not see this as much in the way of deregulation. Local authorities do not spend a huge amount doing this work and the drivers have to pay a fee for it. However, I think it raises considerable dangers, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has referred, and it would be far more sensible if the Minister were to take this away and carry out some more work on it. The Bill has some time to run. The protests I have received from local authorities and organisations that are concerned with the welfare of people—notably, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust but lots of others—are that people are genuinely concerned about safety. That is what I believe should be taken properly into account.

Lord Skelmersdale (Con): My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, sits down, I wonder whether he can educate me. If the hired car driver of which he has just spoken replaces his car for a short period, surely that replacement car would also need to be licensed. It would be very helpful for me and perhaps the rest of the House if he could explain that point.

Lord Bradshaw: I think that most people who are in this position make proper provision to have their car serviced so that it is safe. It is their responsibility to provide a safe car. If he is unable to produce one, I do not think he should be carrying passengers. I have had experience of this in Oxford, where the inspectors—there are not many of them—find a car with defective tyres. Well, I am sorry, but if the driver has chosen to drive a defective car, it is hard luck if he has to wait for it to be repaired. He is supposed to keep the car in a good and safe condition in which to carry people.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I really must protest. That was a beautiful answer, but unfortunately not one to which I was addressing my question, which was whether the council would or would not license the driver in the new car.

Lord Bradshaw: The answer to that is yes, it would. If the driver was able to produce a better car—it may not be a new one—and he went to the local authority and says he has given up using car A and is going to use car B, yes, it would. Local authorities are not, as sometimes painted in your Lordships’ House, absolutely unfeeling and draconian bodies.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Bradshaw I can see a great deal of merit in these clauses, but like him I hope, since we are at an early stage in the Bill, that the Minister will say some soothing words and agree to consider these matters further. It would be unfortunate to take this to a vote today and simply reject these clauses and not be able to bring things back later. There are really serious concerns here on the part of lots of reputable organisations, and local authorities and their representatives around the country.

I should declare an interest as a member of a taxi licensing authority, Pendle Borough Council. I should also say that taxi licensing and taxi operator licensing is something I keep as far away from as possible because it is one of the biggest cans of worms in local politics, especially in an area such as mine. I do not have direct, hands-on experience of this and I have not prepared anything to say today so I may be wrong in what I am saying. Would the Minister agree with me that there is some confusion about the discussion here?

As I understand it, Clause 11 refers to the licensing of people—either operators or drivers—and not the licensing of the vehicles themselves. Therefore, there are two separate things here. The Minister is nodding, so I shall continue with more confidence than I had when I started my speech. There is the question of whether individuals are sufficiently proper, upstanding and reputable to run a taxi business and whether individuals are appropriate to drive a car in the very intimate circumstances of taking passengers whom they do not otherwise know. That is obviously a situation where people have to be proper and upstanding.

Then there is the question of the licensing of vehicles, which is another great can of worms. As I understand it, the Government are not proposing to make any changes here and it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that when she replies. Any reduction in the powers of local authorities to check vehicles and make sure that they are in good condition would be appalling.

So far as individuals are concerned, travelling in a taxi is a very personal thing. If you hail a taxi in London, it is a black cab and you drive around London with people all around you. The layout of the black cab is less personal than that of an ordinary sedan-type car. You have to rely on the driver, first, to be a competent and safe driver and, secondly, to be trusted not to do things that they should not do—not to cheat you when they tell you how much to pay, not to molest you in some way and not to behave in a generally unpleasant and deplorable way. That is very important, and there are complaints about those things all the time—some obviously more justified than others. However, it seems to me that the idea of reducing the opportunity to question people and to check that they are appropriate as drivers needs to be thought about very carefully.

I am more concerned about a private hire firm being able to subcontract a fare to another private hire firm. This needs to be looked at very carefully, although there are clearly circumstances where that is sensible. If you ring up your normal taxi firm and it says, “Sorry, our vehicle adapted for your disability is out of action and we would like to subcontract to somebody else. They’re a good firm”, and explain where they are from, that is obviously a sensible arrangement, but it is up to the person who has called the taxi firm to decide whether it is sensible from their point of view. However, I would be concerned about a taxi firm being able to do that without telling the customer. If a firm turns up at your door when you are expecting a different one, you cannot be sure whether the cab has come from the firm from which you ordered the cab. You might think that someone has overheard the call and is trying to steal the fare, which is the kind of thing that goes on.

I am simply saying that there are circumstances in which it is sensible for fares to be subcontracted in this way but it has to be done by giving clear information to the person asking for the ride and it has to be with their absolute consent. If the Government want to make this change, we want some clear assurances, preferably written into the legislation, that it will be done on that kind of basis and that very clear safeguards will be in place. At the moment, it seems that those safeguards are not there and that there is an opportunity for people to make these arrangements willy-nilly. I am not happy about that.

There may be people here who are wondering what on earth we are talking about. They may be asking why we believe that these safeguards should be there, and why we believe that some taxi firms are better than others and that some are firms that we would not under any circumstances ever use again. I can think of at least two occasions when I have been catching a taxi to the station to come to your Lordships’ House and I have come near to death because of the incompetence of the driver. I would not under any circumstances want to use those firms again, but there are other taxi firms in which I have great confidence.

Some people hire taxis on a regular basis. They may live in a village and want to go to the town, and they need a taxi because there is no local bus service, or they may have a large family and know that going in some sort of private hire vehicle is cheaper than going on the bus, as is the case nowadays in many places. If you are in this situation regularly, you build up a personal relationship with the drivers. When you phone the firm, you tell them which driver you want. You might say, “I don’t want him again but I’ll have her. She was very nice”. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, in some cases women will want a woman driver, and who is to say that they should not? Therefore, it is a personal relationship, and allowing a firm to subcontract in a willy-nilly way is not acceptable.

There is a huge amount of concern about this around the House and in different parts of the country, and I think that it would be very sensible for the Minister simply to say, “We understand these concerns. We’ll go back and talk about it and then perhaps come back at a later stage of the Bill either having changed our mind or with some assurances”.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the comments just made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but let us be clear: these are deregulatory measures. The annual licence fee for a taxi is a cost on business, and extending the period would be deregulatory and welcomed by taxi firms.

I challenge the assertion that under Clause 12 individuals will be placed at greater risk. Of course, those of us who use taxis prefer to use our regular firms. As someone who has a very keen family interest in disability, the last thing I would wish would be for any individual to be put at greater risk. However, we are not suggesting in Clause 12 that unlicensed taxis be used. These are taxi firms that have been licensed by a neighbouring authority, so they have been subject to the same licensing process as the firms to which the request for a cab has been made. In my own case, like other noble Lords I use taxis from time to time. If my preferred taxi firm is unable to transport me to the station or the airport, I have to go further afield and find another firm. That taxi firm then loses that business and maybe will lose my future business because I have transferred my allegiance to another firm.

This is an opportunity to free up the market for taxi firms and to allow them to operate outside their immediate geographic area. It is something that we should support.

Viscount Ridley (Con): My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for not being present at Second Reading, but perhaps I may be allowed to comment on Clause 12, which I believe is a fair and reasonable measure that will bring improvements for customers.

At the moment it is only outside London that a private hire operator cannot subcontract a booking in a different district. Is there something peculiarly wicked about provincial private hire firms that does not apply in London? A London-based private hire firm can subcontract, as can a foreign unlicensed company, and this gives it a huge advantage. It puts private hire firms outside London at an iniquitous disadvantage, but it also leads to perverse, inconvenient and even unsafe consequences for customers. I shall give your Lordships a real example.

There is a private hire firm in Birmingham that has a contract to transport any staff with minor injuries from Jaguar Land Rover’s plants to hospital. As the firm cannot subcontract a booking to an operator in another district, if the injury occurs in the Wolverhampton plant, the car does a 55-mile return journey to take the person to a hospital 2.6 miles from the plant. For most of that round trip the car is empty. Jaguar Land Rover wants to deal with a single operator, but this is the result.

Another real example is of a private hire operator in Derby asked by a customer to collect an important client in another district. It must refuse the job, and refuse to arrange it with another firm in that district. The firm appears unhelpful to its customer. I have a third real example. A private hire firm in north Tyneside has a member of staff with a terminal illness. He would like to continue working, but from home. Since he lives just outside the north Tyneside border, that is illegal. I have another example. People often hire private minibuses to do long journeys for groups of up to six or eight people—to an airport, for example. That vehicle must return empty. If it breaks down en route, the operator is breaking the law if he asks another firm in the district where the breakdown happens to take the customer on. This measure would reduce congestion, pollution and noise a little, too.

Please note that the beneficiaries of this change in the law would include people with disabilities. That is because a wheelchair-enabled vehicle that has taken a customer from his home in district A to a hospital in district B would now be able to collect a different customer at the hospital and take him back to district A. As far as I can tell from Hansard, when exactly these measures were discussed and passed in this House in 1998 for London, one organisation that was widely praised in the debate for its support of the measures was the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. It therefore surprised me to hear today that it is against this measure. If this rule is good for London, it is surely good enough for the rest of the country. Can it be that London-based private hire firms are worried about competition from firms based outside London? This is an excellent and sensible measure that has benefits for customers.

Baroness Kramer: My Lords, Clauses 11 and 12 cover separate, different but sensible measures. Obviously, a thought for safety penetrates all of our thinking as we address this range of issues.

To pick up on the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw and explained by others, particularly my noble friend Lord Greaves, the amendments do not in any way change the rules on vehicle licences. Those are tough and carried out by local authorities and there is absolutely no change. If my noble friend Lord Bradshaw knows a firm that thinks it can run a £200 car for successful private hire and meet the standards, I suggest that he call the local authority. It would be extremely difficult for a car that has that kind of market value to achieve the standards that are rightly required by local authorities in licensing those vehicles.

Clause 11 aims to reduce the administrative and financial burdens on some taxi and private hire drivers. The measures we have included in the Bill, which I will address in relation to Clause 12, will also help to improve the experience of booking taxis and private hire vehicles.
I join with others in saying that in making his case my noble friend Lord Greaves prayed in aid London. Both the measures in Clause 11 and Clause 12 are already the status in London. Indeed, when we turn to London as the example that we are trying to copy, that is exactly what Clauses 11 and 12 do. It means that we have a good history of the way in which Clauses 11 and 12 function.

Clause 11 will standardise at three years the duration of both taxi and private hire vehicle driver licences; and at five years the licence for a private hire vehicle operator. Shorter periods would be permitted only where there are specific circumstances around a particular application. For example, a local authority might decide that a probationary period was necessary. Typically the duration would be three years for the vehicle driver licence and five years for the operator licence. Frankly, it means that those people will not have to renew their licences as frequently as they do in some areas.

The Department for Transport carries out a biennial survey of licensing authorities. Our 2013 survey showed that nearly half of licensing authorities grant taxi and private hire driver licences for three years, so this is not a sudden revolution. A number of local authorities use a shorter term but we can see by comparing safety records that there is nothing to suggest that those local authorities that grant their licences at three years have an inferior record. That is important to note. When it comes to the operator licences, a number of licensing authorities routinely grant private hire operator licences for five years although the substantial majority do less than five years. Again, there is nothing to suggest that there is a difference in safety between one authority and another on the basis of those differences in licensing terms.

The Government therefore consider that this is an area of taxi regulation that would benefit from deregulation. By setting a standard duration of three years for taxi and private hire vehicle driver licences and five years for private hire vehicle operator licences life will be made a lot simpler and substantially cheaper for licence holders. We estimate that the measure will save drivers around £8 million per year and operators around £1 million per year. People who are in this trade are not wealthy people. They find it tough to make a living and any little help we can offer is valid when it is not putting safety at risk.

I appreciate that some stakeholders have expressed concern about safety implications. There may be a slight misconception. It is now the case that many licensing authorities that grant annual licences actually carry out criminal record checks only every three years. Although the licence is annual, the criminal records checks—the issue that has noble Lords exercised—are typically a three-year process. Of course, we are now saying that the standard for criminal records checks will be three years. That would be a relatively small change for most authorities. They will continue to do those formal checks. As I said, we have examples in London and in the many local authorities that already use that three-year cycle that it is not associated with additional risk.

Clause 12 will allow private hire vehicle operators to subcontract bookings across licensing boundaries. Again, this is a capacity that has been available continuously for London. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, made the case extremely well and illustrated the many situations in which this is an extremely important measure and the extent to which car hire companies outside London are put to a disadvantage compared with London operators. One of the main motivators behind this measure is that it is so difficult when people call a taxi firm that cannot provide a taxi and are then turned away. I have a relevant personal experience, which could have turned out to be extremely difficult. I was in Gloucestershire and going to visit an elderly friend in a nursing home. I got to the station and there was no one around. I looked at the board and started calling taxi firms and car hire firms and not one could supply a car. They explained to me that they could not call someone else because they would have to call out of the area and they could not do that. In such cases one would hope to have a mobile phone that is smart-enabled to get onto the web to try to find other firms in the area to call. I was glad that I was not a mother with three children, that it was not getting dark and that it was not raining. It seems unreasonable not to allow the taxi firm to subcontract in order to be able to meet the booking.

We are often concerned about young people out late at night who try to find a taxi to take them home safely. In that situation, we do not want them having to track down one company after another. They should be able to call an operator who they have confidence in who can find them a taxi, even if it is subcontracted from out of area. You can already subcontract in area, and I should make that clear to those people who may have used subcontracted taxis or private hire vehicles and were not aware of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said that he was concerned about disabled people. Surely that is the group which has the most to benefit from this change. Most car hire companies have a limited number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles and there may be circumstances where a disabled person needs to travel in a particular kind of vehicle. It is all very well to say that disabled people need to make advance bookings, but I want people with disabilities to be able to live their lives as freely as the rest of us can and not always have to think about things in advance—or, frankly, have to do without. We have a mechanism here which gives an operator the scope to reach out of area and subcontract to someone else who has a wheelchair-accessible vehicle to meet a need. That is exceedingly beneficial.

I want to make it clear that the initial operator who takes a call and makes a booking remains liable to the passenger who made the booking. He is the person with whom the contract has been established. If someone chooses to call a particular operator, that operator retains the liability for the subcontractor, so the terms and conditions, the recording of the booking and the fare, if it has been agreed, all remain with the operator who the customer has contacted.

Baroness Thornton: I should like to ask the noble Baroness two questions. First, has she taken into account the fact that enforcement works differently in London, with TfL working in conjunction with the police on street enforcement, yet there is still a huge problem of sexual assault involving licensed minicab drivers? Secondly, how many disabled groups has she consulted about this deregulation and can she tell us what they had to say about it?

Baroness Kramer: I personally have engaged more with disabled individuals rather than with groups, which were approached by the Law Commission as part of the consultation. But the Committee will understand the reality of what I have just described. Many Members of the Committee will have friends with disabilities or indeed may themselves have them, and they will recognise what I have just described. It is for the Committee to make its decision, but I think that noble Lords will recognise the particular set of problems and will empathise with those who have a disability.

Enforcement against an operator continues to be the responsibility of the local authority which licensed that operator. Where there is an issue of enforcement against a driver, again it is for the local authority which licensed that driver to enforce. However, to make life easier and help things to work more smoothly, in some places around the country local authorities have concordats between each other so that they can delegate enforcement powers and thus make the process more simple and straightforward. Liverpool and South Bucks already do this, and I would think that it is a logical direction for many local authorities to go, not because enforcement is difficult but because it is even easier if ongoing relationships with neighbouring areas where subcontracting may take place are developed. We already have vehicles from out of area coming into area. When you order your private hire vehicle, you may be sending it out of area, so cross-boundary issues arise on a regular basis even as it is. As I say, some areas have decided that the sensible way to deal with this issue is to work together with a concordat between them.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raised one issue which I thought was interesting and is one that I will take away and think about, and that is the issue of disclosure; that is, where an operator looks at the cars he has available, cannot find a vehicle available in his own company, and therefore looks elsewhere. That is something I will take a look at. However, I want to make it clear that there are real anomalies which we have to deal with. At the moment we have a silly situation in some parts of the country where related companies cannot subcontract to each other. Although they may be part of the same company, one branch will be licensed in one area and the other in another area. That, quite frankly, is one of the silly anomalies that we want to get rid of. Also, because the company you call and the individual you call is liable throughout, in order to uphold its reputation the company will make sure that the people it subcontracts to meet its own standards and are reputable. We have just heard today that very many people will turn to a company which they consider to be reputable. The notion that such a company would subcontract to drivers who let the company down, drive customers away and ruin its reputation is, I suggest, reasonably far-fetched. Under all circumstances, the driver to whom the business has been subcontracted has to meet licensing standards, and that is something we should not forget.

These are, frankly, two relatively small measures. The subcontracting issue is particularly helpful for someone with a disability who needs to call for a vehicle when many of a company’s cars within the area are already taken. We have to take that seriously. I go back to the issue on licensing. The three-year period is a reasonable standard that is used by many local authorities. It delivers the same level of safety that we see in other local authorities so why not relieve of an extra burden those who function at the margin in terms of income, if there is no safety price to pay?

Clause 11 agreed.

Clause 12: Private hire vehicles: sub-contracting
6.23 pm
Division on whether Clause 12 should stand part of the Bill.
Contents 221; Not-Contents 175.
Clause 12 agreed.

Falmouth taxi driver assaulted after not knowing address

A new-to-the-job taxi driver who told his passengers he did not know the address they wanted to be taken to was then attacked by one of them, and grabbed from behind as he was driving, with fingers pressed into his eyes.

He carried on driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other trying to get his attacker off him.

He was then punched two or three times in the face.

At Truro Magistrates’ Court, Crown Prosecution Service solicitor Alison May described what happened as a nasty incident.

David Anthony Parsons, aged 55, of High Street, Falmouth, pleaded guilty to assaulting Henry Taylor on August 26.

Mr Taylor had been working off the rank at The Moor in Falmouth when Parsons and a female got into his car.

When told where they wanted to go he said he had only been working as a driver for a few weeks and was still learning.

Parsons, sitting in the back seat behind him, was abusive, using obscene language to imply Mr Taylor did not know his job.

He then grabbed Mr Taylor with both hands from behind, his fingers digging into his face and mostly his eyes, wrenching his head back into the headrest. After the attack, Mr Taylor told the police he had no actual injuries, but a sore face. The court was told that Parsons had previous convictions for theft, shoplifting, assault on a police officer and battery, and had spent time in prison.

Jeremy Leaning, for Parsons, said his client was appalled by what he had done. It was entirely attributable to alcohol. He had been drinking to excess, which made him unpleasant and aggressive, and he had absolutely no recollection of what had happened.

Alcohol was an increasing problem for him, he was now physically dependent on it and drinking every day.

Parsons, a tree surgeon, had his case adjourned to November 12 in order that a Probation Sevice report can be prepared.

source: http://www.falmouthpacket.co.uk/

Apr 23

National Taxi Association AGM & Conference 2014

The Annual General Meeting and Conference in 2014 will take place at the Brittannia Country House Hotel, Palatine Road, Didsbury, Manchester.

Conference Partners

The format will be as follows;

Monday 27th October 2014

09:00 to 12:30; NTA Directors Meeting

14:00 to 17:00; Annual General Meeting

19:30hrs; NTA Chairman’s Dinner

Tuesday 28th October 2014

10:00 to 15:30 Conference

 

 

 

 

Booking form: Nta-2014-Conf-booking-form

Oct 23

Rotherham abuse scandal: Council plans new taxi rules

The Jay Report said taxi drivers had played a “prominent role” in child sexual exploitation in Rotherham

Plans to introduce tougher regulations for taxi drivers following the publication of a report into child abuse in Rotherham have been revealed.

The Jay Report said more than 1,400 children were abused in the town from 1997-2013. It said taxi drivers played a “prominent role” in the abuse.

Rotherham Borough Council said the report had had a “significant impact” on confidence in the town’s drivers.

Among the proposed changes are more rigorous checks on past criminality.

Dave Richmond, the council’s director of housing and neighbourhood services, said that while the council’s policy was “compliant with the law and our standards exceed those of some areas”, it was felt the authority “should do all that we can to make sure we have some of the highest standards nationally and a top quality service”.

There are 1,200 drivers registered in Rotherham, 80 operators and 800 vehicles.

A council spokesman said: “This policy represents probably biggest overhaul of licensing policies conducted by this authority at any point in the last 20 years.”

Dress code

Under the proposed new policy all drivers of black cabs and private hire taxis who are UK citizens must have an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service report. Applicants who have lived overseas must satisfy the council of their previous good character.

The council will also apply tougher standards when considering past criminality, particularly concerning sexual activity, violence, children, vulnerable adults, dishonesty or drug dealing.

Drivers will also be required to complete a course to ensure they understand matters relating to adult and child safeguarding, pass a tougher communication and knowledge test and adhere to a dress code.

The proposed changes will be debated by the council’s licensing board on 27 October.

If agreed the policy will be put out to an eight-week public consultation.

The council said proposed changes to national legislation could take considerable time to come in to force and failing to strengthen current standards would not offer the necessary safety, comfort and reassurance to customers.

source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/

Oct 22

“Please do not beat up the driver” – New York City approve warning signs to customers

Taxis will soon display signs warning of penalties of assaulting the driver.

Every taxi and livery car will have to display a sign warning passengers that beating up their driver carries hard time, under a bill passed by the City Council Wednesday.

The legislation requires yellow and green taxis and livery cars to install signs that read, “Assaulting a taxi or livery driver is punishable up to 25 years in prison.”

Taxi drivers say they work under constant threat of violence, and are 20 times more likely to be killed on the job than the average worker.

So far this year, there have been 40 assaults against drivers.

Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Queens), the sponsor, said the sign would provide potential assailants “a sudden jolt of awareness that what they’re contemplating doing is very wrong and will results in very serious consequences.”

“Some percentage of people will think better of it and leave that driver alone,” he said.

The only exception to the requirement would be for so-called “black cars” that transport clients for corporate accounts.

source: http://www.nydailynews.com/

Oct 22

Equalities watchdog to investigate ‘white drivers’ policy of Rochdale minicab firm

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission will write to Car 2000 in Heywood about concerns the company may be unlawfully discriminating against staff

A minicab firm manager who allows customers to choose the race of their driver is to be contacted by the equalities watchdog following concerns that the policy may unlawfully discriminate against staff.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission is to write to Stephen Campbell from Car 2000 in Heywood who told the Guardian that he is often asked to provide white drivers even though most of his drivers are of Pakistani origin.

Residents in the Greater Manchester borough of Rochdale have been offered the service after two local drivers of Pakistani origin were jailed for their part in the rape and trafficking of young white girls.

A commission spokesperson said it was illegal to disriminate against an employee on the grounds of race, and so they will be writing to the firm and to the council, the licensing authority, to establish the basic facts.

Crucially, they will seek to establish whether the firm’s drivers should be treated as self-employed or as employees of Car 2000 in law.

“While the law doesn’t prevent individual customers making requests, it is unlawful for an employer to treat an employee less favourably because of the colour of their skin,” the spokesman said in a statement.

The Commission will pay close attention to Section 83 of the Equality Act, which seeks to define a person’s employment status and whether they are subject to the Act.

“Equality legislation covers employees and self-employed people in different ways. As the nature of the relationship between the firm and the drivers is currently unclear we are therefore urgently writing to both Rochdale borough council, as the licensing authority, and the minicab firm to establish the facts in this case and ensure both understand their legal responsibilities,” the spokesman added.

Rochdale council told the Guardian on Tuesday that the firm’s decision to allow customers to request white drivers did not appear to be in breach of any rules. On Wednesday, it modified its position and has launched an inquiry to find out if Car 2000 has broken the terms of its licence.

Mark Widdup, director of economy and environment at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “Any private-hire business must satisfy a ‘fit and proper’ test before they are licensed by the council and able to operate within the borough.

“While we have not had any complaints regarding Car 2000 up to this point, we are now taking legal advice as to whether their policy to offer white drivers contravenes the ‘fit and proper’ test, and will act accordingly depending on the outcome of that advice.”

Heywood was at the centre of the Rochdale scandal after a sex trafficking gang of men of mainly Pakistani origin were found to have preyed on at least 47 girls, all of whom were white. Two drivers from the now defunct local firm of Eagle Minicabs were among nine Asian men jailed for their involvement.

Ukip ran a byelection campaign in Heywood and Middleton earlier this month focusing on the issues of child grooming and immigration and came within 617 votes of overturning a near 6,000 Labour majority.

Campbell, whose father’s firm Car 2000 took over Eagle Minicabs in 2011, said that a consequence of the affair was that many white customers ask for white drivers – or “local” drivers, as they usually describe them.

Campbell said on Wednesday night that he would respond in full to any queries from the Commission and the council but remains confident that his drivers are self-employed and that he is not in breach of the law.

“I have responded to demand, and I have to try and make a living. I have nothing against any race and choose to employ many Asian drivers. As far as I am concerned, the drivers are not my employees,” he said.

source: http://www.theguardian.com/

 

Oct 22

House of Lords vote to kill provincial cab trade

Debate on whether Clause 10 should stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I understand that the Minister has something new for the Committee, which it may be better to hear before we proceed any further.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Kramer) (LD): My Lords, as you will know, the Government introduced three measures into the Bill earlier this year relating to the regulation of taxis and private hire vehicles. Although an extensive review of the legislation has been carried out by the Law Commission and its recommendations are being considered, the Government decided that three measures could be taken forward separately to help reduce burdens on businesses more quickly. This clause is one of those.

Its purpose was to allow the use of private hire vehicles for leisure purposes. Noble Lords will be aware that, outside London, a person who is licensed as a private hire vehicle driver cannot use the family car and therefore has to purchase a second car. At £20,000 or £30,000, or the lease equivalent, that is a barrier which denies people employment. It is an issue that we need to address at some point. It also means in particular that in a number of rural areas there is, frankly, a shortage of private hire cars and taxi services. Bringing in more of those vehicles and their services for local people could be helped by removing this barrier.

However, after the Government listened closely to issues raised about the way in which we have presented this clause, we have decided that listening, as we always do, is important, and concluded that although we can still see arguments for tackling this underlying problem—I think that there is general agreement on that—it would be better done as part of the package of measures recommended by the Law Commission in a broader reform of taxi and private hire vehicle licensing than through this clause.

It is therefore my intent—although I am not sure how the procedure works—to withdraw this clause, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to do so.

Clause 10 disagreed.

5.45 pm

Clause 11: Taxis and private hire vehicles: duration of licences

Debate on whether Clause 11 should stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for withdrawing Clause 10 and I hope she will feel that Clauses 11 and 12 deserve the same treatment, given that the Law Commission has been asked to look into the current legislation. We are very glad that Clause 10 has been pulled from the Bill, but Clause 11 has problems and Clause 12 is just as dangerous as Clause 10.

Clause 11 will end annual licence renewal and set a three-year standard duration for licences. The annual licence renewal helps licensing authorities to recognise changes in a driver’s convictions or medical status. The reform is likely to make it more difficult for licensing officers to monitor behaviour, ensure that drivers are fit and proper to drive and take action when necessary. Effective implementation of this clause will require local authorities to sign up to the Disclosure and Barring Service’s updates service and receive information about convictions during a licence term. This is a relatively new service and it is not yet known how it will work in practice. It is clearly important, so I hope that the Minister will explain why this matter cannot also wait.

Clause 12 will enable PHV operators to subcontract a booking to another operator who is licensed in a different area. We and many others believe that passenger safety will be undermined because only licensing officers from a licensing authority where a vehicle and driver are registered currently have the power to take enforcement action. The Law Commission has recommended that licensing authorities would have the power to enforce standards in respect of out-of-area vehicles, which will be crucial for their safety. The public, and vulnerable passengers in particular such as women or disabled people, may call specific operators because they feel that that operator is reliable and safe to travel with. This reform means that the public will lose their right to choose which operator they travel with. If someone calls operator A, their preferred choice, operator B may turn up.

The Law Commission’s work was undermined in January 2014 when the Government announced a 10-day consultation on these three measures of PHV deregulation. In March, they were introduced as last-minute amendments in Committee in the Commons.

21 Oct 2014 : Column 593

The clauses aim to meet the Red Tape Challenge. The challenge is not about putting people in unsafe situations and Clause 12 does just that.
Richard Burden MP’s office contacted the Department for Transport on 1 October to ask whether an impact assessment had been prepared. The impact assessment was published online on 2 October and was signed off by the noble Baroness. Page 11 revealed many of the issues that have allowed Clause 10 to be withdrawn. Page 16 of the impact assessment states:

“There has been minimal analysis”,

due to what has happened. The analysis, it continued, was,

“based on the data provided by the PHV trade associations. Due to time constraints there has not been a significant amount of analysis”,
to justify these clauses being in the Bill. The Government have tripped over themselves to fulfil, as I said earlier, the Red Tape Challenge of bringing in deregulation. In this case, it means that they are putting people’s safety at risk.

The reason that Clause 12 is so important has been brought to our attention by a number of organisations, including some student bodies, Milton Keynes Council and Alexis Jay in her report into child sex abuse in Rotherham, in which she highlighted significant concerns about taxi licensing. We have spoken to her personally about this and she is very worried about the implications that these changes have. Her report says that, at a number of council meetings,

“One of the main items for discussion … was safe transport”.

When asked about minicabs,

“there was an immediate and consistent response from … young women and men”,

on all occasions. In fact, all of them avoided taxis “if at all possible”. People do not have any choice in remote areas late at night but to use taxis. If someone finds a safe taxi company—there are ones who focus particularly on women—they do not want someone to turn up whom they do not know and who may not be the appropriate person to drive them.

Our experience in Milton Keynes, where serious errors by a sub-committee of councillors on licensing led to an inexcusable decision to allow a convicted sex offender to operate a private hire vehicle, illustrates the importance of getting the balance of this regulation right. The leader of Milton Keynes Council has written to us personally, asking us to oppose the clause.

Warwick Students Union wrote to us, saying that its primary concern on Clause 12 is the effect that it would have on preferred suppliers. It says:
“We are working with local authorities to put together a tendering document for a preferred private hire service—using our strong collective consumer power to stipulate better standards of service, safety and fares. Lots of other Student Unions do this such as Leicester and Birmingham to protect their members”.

We know that two women students were raped in Warwick because they got into a minicab—possibly they should not have done so, but that is what happened. The student union continued:

“We feel that this Clause would largely undo the work done by Students’ Unions across the country to ensure the safety of their members”.
It is quite clear that the Government need to take this away and think again. That is what we are asking them to do. I am sure that the Minister would not want to have students and disabled people finding themselves in unsafe situations, but this is what we think the impact of the clause will be.

Lord Bradshaw (LD): I support what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. Anybody who knows anything about the taxi trade knows that some parts of the trade are of questionable integrity. The annual licensing inspection by the local authority where the taxi is based is the best safeguard that we can have.

On the Minister’s point that this saves people buying a second car, saving them £20,000 to £30,000, I can assure noble Lords that most private hire cars are nowhere near that standard. In fact, I can reminisce about my time in Manchester, when I was being driven to the airport in a private hire car. We passed a very used car depot. I said to the driver that his car was very old. He said, “Yes, it’s got a few months to run on its MOT. When its MOT is up, I just go into the car auction and buy another one with a few months on its licence”. He was talking about spending £200. I think that is much nearer the truth.

I also dispute the view that many rural areas do not or cannot get taxis. I live in a rural area with big rural surroundings and there are plenty of opportunities to get taxis if one thinks about it and phones them up beforehand and that sort of thing.

Students and all women are very vulnerable when they get into a taxi where the driver has not been properly licensed and had his credentials inspected—indeed, if the vehicle itself has not been properly inspected. When I was on Oxfordshire County Council, Oxford City used to call in its taxis or private hire cars every six months because they have a high mileage and the annual check does not show up the defects. If we are talking about people having a licence to operate a taxi, an awful lot of things can happen in three years. Extending the situation so that a taxi could operate in an area where the driver is not licensed is potentially dangerous.

I do not see this as much in the way of deregulation. Local authorities do not spend a huge amount doing this work and the drivers have to pay a fee for it. However, I think it raises considerable dangers, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, has referred, and it would be far more sensible if the Minister were to take this away and carry out some more work on it. The Bill has some time to run. The protests I have received from local authorities and organisations that are concerned with the welfare of people—notably, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust but lots of others—are that people are genuinely concerned about safety. That is what I believe should be taken properly into account.

Lord Skelmersdale (Con): My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, sits down, I wonder whether he can educate me. If the hired car driver of which he has just spoken replaces his car for a short period, surely that replacement car would also need to be licensed. It would be very helpful for me and perhaps the rest of the House if he could explain that point.

Lord Bradshaw: I think that most people who are in this position make proper provision to have their car serviced so that it is safe. It is their responsibility to provide a safe car. If he is unable to produce one, I do not think he should be carrying passengers. I have had experience of this in Oxford, where the inspectors—there are not many of them—find a car with defective tyres. Well, I am sorry, but if the driver has chosen to drive a defective car, it is hard luck if he has to wait for it to be repaired. He is supposed to keep the car in a good and safe condition in which to carry people.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I really must protest. That was a beautiful answer, but unfortunately not one to which I was addressing my question, which was whether the council would or would not license the driver in the new car.

Lord Bradshaw: The answer to that is yes, it would. If the driver was able to produce a better car—it may not be a new one—and he went to the local authority and says he has given up using car A and is going to use car B, yes, it would. Local authorities are not, as sometimes painted in your Lordships’ House, absolutely unfeeling and draconian bodies.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Bradshaw I can see a great deal of merit in these clauses, but like him I hope, since we are at an early stage in the Bill, that the Minister will say some soothing words and agree to consider these matters further. It would be unfortunate to take this to a vote today and simply reject these clauses and not be able to bring things back later. There are really serious concerns here on the part of lots of reputable organisations, and local authorities and their representatives around the country.

I should declare an interest as a member of a taxi licensing authority, Pendle Borough Council. I should also say that taxi licensing and taxi operator licensing is something I keep as far away from as possible because it is one of the biggest cans of worms in local politics, especially in an area such as mine. I do not have direct, hands-on experience of this and I have not prepared anything to say today so I may be wrong in what I am saying. Would the Minister agree with me that there is some confusion about the discussion here?

As I understand it, Clause 11 refers to the licensing of people—either operators or drivers—and not the licensing of the vehicles themselves. Therefore, there are two separate things here. The Minister is nodding, so I shall continue with more confidence than I had when I started my speech. There is the question of whether individuals are sufficiently proper, upstanding and reputable to run a taxi business and whether individuals are appropriate to drive a car in the very intimate circumstances of taking passengers whom they do not otherwise know. That is obviously a situation where people have to be proper and upstanding.

Then there is the question of the licensing of vehicles, which is another great can of worms. As I understand it, the Government are not proposing to make any changes here and it would be helpful if the Minister could confirm that when she replies. Any reduction in the powers of local authorities to check vehicles and make sure that they are in good condition would be appalling.

So far as individuals are concerned, travelling in a taxi is a very personal thing. If you hail a taxi in London, it is a black cab and you drive around London with people all around you. The layout of the black cab is less personal than that of an ordinary sedan-type car. You have to rely on the driver, first, to be a competent and safe driver and, secondly, to be trusted not to do things that they should not do—not to cheat you when they tell you how much to pay, not to molest you in some way and not to behave in a generally unpleasant and deplorable way. That is very important, and there are complaints about those things all the time—some obviously more justified than others. However, it seems to me that the idea of reducing the opportunity to question people and to check that they are appropriate as drivers needs to be thought about very carefully.

I am more concerned about a private hire firm being able to subcontract a fare to another private hire firm. This needs to be looked at very carefully, although there are clearly circumstances where that is sensible. If you ring up your normal taxi firm and it says, “Sorry, our vehicle adapted for your disability is out of action and we would like to subcontract to somebody else. They’re a good firm”, and explain where they are from, that is obviously a sensible arrangement, but it is up to the person who has called the taxi firm to decide whether it is sensible from their point of view. However, I would be concerned about a taxi firm being able to do that without telling the customer. If a firm turns up at your door when you are expecting a different one, you cannot be sure whether the cab has come from the firm from which you ordered the cab. You might think that someone has overheard the call and is trying to steal the fare, which is the kind of thing that goes on.

I am simply saying that there are circumstances in which it is sensible for fares to be subcontracted in this way but it has to be done by giving clear information to the person asking for the ride and it has to be with their absolute consent. If the Government want to make this change, we want some clear assurances, preferably written into the legislation, that it will be done on that kind of basis and that very clear safeguards will be in place. At the moment, it seems that those safeguards are not there and that there is an opportunity for people to make these arrangements willy-nilly. I am not happy about that.

There may be people here who are wondering what on earth we are talking about. They may be asking why we believe that these safeguards should be there, and why we believe that some taxi firms are better than others and that some are firms that we would not under any circumstances ever use again. I can think of at least two occasions when I have been catching a taxi to the station to come to your Lordships’ House and I have come near to death because of the incompetence of the driver. I would not under any circumstances want to use those firms again, but there are other taxi firms in which I have great confidence.

Some people hire taxis on a regular basis. They may live in a village and want to go to the town, and they need a taxi because there is no local bus service, or they may have a large family and know that going in some sort of private hire vehicle is cheaper than going on the bus, as is the case nowadays in many places. If you are in this situation regularly, you build up a personal relationship with the drivers. When you phone the firm, you tell them which driver you want. You might say, “I don’t want him again but I’ll have her. She was very nice”. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, in some cases women will want a woman driver, and who is to say that they should not? Therefore, it is a personal relationship, and allowing a firm to subcontract in a willy-nilly way is not acceptable.

There is a huge amount of concern about this around the House and in different parts of the country, and I think that it would be very sensible for the Minister simply to say, “We understand these concerns. We’ll go back and talk about it and then perhaps come back at a later stage of the Bill either having changed our mind or with some assurances”.

Lord Curry of Kirkharle: My Lords, I have some sympathy with the comments just made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, but let us be clear: these are deregulatory measures. The annual licence fee for a taxi is a cost on business, and extending the period would be deregulatory and welcomed by taxi firms.

I challenge the assertion that under Clause 12 individuals will be placed at greater risk. Of course, those of us who use taxis prefer to use our regular firms. As someone who has a very keen family interest in disability, the last thing I would wish would be for any individual to be put at greater risk. However, we are not suggesting in Clause 12 that unlicensed taxis be used. These are taxi firms that have been licensed by a neighbouring authority, so they have been subject to the same licensing process as the firms to which the request for a cab has been made. In my own case, like other noble Lords I use taxis from time to time. If my preferred taxi firm is unable to transport me to the station or the airport, I have to go further afield and find another firm. That taxi firm then loses that business and maybe will lose my future business because I have transferred my allegiance to another firm.

This is an opportunity to free up the market for taxi firms and to allow them to operate outside their immediate geographic area. It is something that we should support.

Viscount Ridley (Con): My Lords, I apologise to the Committee for not being present at Second Reading, but perhaps I may be allowed to comment on Clause 12, which I believe is a fair and reasonable measure that will bring improvements for customers.

At the moment it is only outside London that a private hire operator cannot subcontract a booking in a different district. Is there something peculiarly wicked about provincial private hire firms that does not apply in London? A London-based private hire firm can subcontract, as can a foreign unlicensed company, and this gives it a huge advantage. It puts private hire firms outside London at an iniquitous disadvantage, but it also leads to perverse, inconvenient and even unsafe consequences for customers. I shall give your Lordships a real example.

There is a private hire firm in Birmingham that has a contract to transport any staff with minor injuries from Jaguar Land Rover’s plants to hospital. As the firm cannot subcontract a booking to an operator in another district, if the injury occurs in the Wolverhampton plant, the car does a 55-mile return journey to take the person to a hospital 2.6 miles from the plant. For most of that round trip the car is empty. Jaguar Land Rover wants to deal with a single operator, but this is the result.

Another real example is of a private hire operator in Derby asked by a customer to collect an important client in another district. It must refuse the job, and refuse to arrange it with another firm in that district. The firm appears unhelpful to its customer. I have a third real example. A private hire firm in north Tyneside has a member of staff with a terminal illness. He would like to continue working, but from home. Since he lives just outside the north Tyneside border, that is illegal. I have another example. People often hire private minibuses to do long journeys for groups of up to six or eight people—to an airport, for example. That vehicle must return empty. If it breaks down en route, the operator is breaking the law if he asks another firm in the district where the breakdown happens to take the customer on. This measure would reduce congestion, pollution and noise a little, too.

Please note that the beneficiaries of this change in the law would include people with disabilities. That is because a wheelchair-enabled vehicle that has taken a customer from his home in district A to a hospital in district B would now be able to collect a different customer at the hospital and take him back to district A. As far as I can tell from Hansard, when exactly these measures were discussed and passed in this House in 1998 for London, one organisation that was widely praised in the debate for its support of the measures was the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. It therefore surprised me to hear today that it is against this measure. If this rule is good for London, it is surely good enough for the rest of the country. Can it be that London-based private hire firms are worried about competition from firms based outside London? This is an excellent and sensible measure that has benefits for customers.

Baroness Kramer: My Lords, Clauses 11 and 12 cover separate, different but sensible measures. Obviously, a thought for safety penetrates all of our thinking as we address this range of issues.

To pick up on the issue raised by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw and explained by others, particularly my noble friend Lord Greaves, the amendments do not in any way change the rules on vehicle licences. Those are tough and carried out by local authorities and there is absolutely no change. If my noble friend Lord Bradshaw knows a firm that thinks it can run a £200 car for successful private hire and meet the standards, I suggest that he call the local authority. It would be extremely difficult for a car that has that kind of market value to achieve the standards that are rightly required by local authorities in licensing those vehicles.

Clause 11 aims to reduce the administrative and financial burdens on some taxi and private hire drivers. The measures we have included in the Bill, which I will address in relation to Clause 12, will also help to improve the experience of booking taxis and private hire vehicles.
I join with others in saying that in making his case my noble friend Lord Greaves prayed in aid London. Both the measures in Clause 11 and Clause 12 are already the status in London. Indeed, when we turn to London as the example that we are trying to copy, that is exactly what Clauses 11 and 12 do. It means that we have a good history of the way in which Clauses 11 and 12 function.

Clause 11 will standardise at three years the duration of both taxi and private hire vehicle driver licences; and at five years the licence for a private hire vehicle operator. Shorter periods would be permitted only where there are specific circumstances around a particular application. For example, a local authority might decide that a probationary period was necessary. Typically the duration would be three years for the vehicle driver licence and five years for the operator licence. Frankly, it means that those people will not have to renew their licences as frequently as they do in some areas.

The Department for Transport carries out a biennial survey of licensing authorities. Our 2013 survey showed that nearly half of licensing authorities grant taxi and private hire driver licences for three years, so this is not a sudden revolution. A number of local authorities use a shorter term but we can see by comparing safety records that there is nothing to suggest that those local authorities that grant their licences at three years have an inferior record. That is important to note. When it comes to the operator licences, a number of licensing authorities routinely grant private hire operator licences for five years although the substantial majority do less than five years. Again, there is nothing to suggest that there is a difference in safety between one authority and another on the basis of those differences in licensing terms.

The Government therefore consider that this is an area of taxi regulation that would benefit from deregulation. By setting a standard duration of three years for taxi and private hire vehicle driver licences and five years for private hire vehicle operator licences life will be made a lot simpler and substantially cheaper for licence holders. We estimate that the measure will save drivers around £8 million per year and operators around £1 million per year. People who are in this trade are not wealthy people. They find it tough to make a living and any little help we can offer is valid when it is not putting safety at risk.

I appreciate that some stakeholders have expressed concern about safety implications. There may be a slight misconception. It is now the case that many licensing authorities that grant annual licences actually carry out criminal record checks only every three years. Although the licence is annual, the criminal records checks—the issue that has noble Lords exercised—are typically a three-year process. Of course, we are now saying that the standard for criminal records checks will be three years. That would be a relatively small change for most authorities. They will continue to do those formal checks. As I said, we have examples in London and in the many local authorities that already use that three-year cycle that it is not associated with additional risk.

Clause 12 will allow private hire vehicle operators to subcontract bookings across licensing boundaries. Again, this is a capacity that has been available continuously for London. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, made the case extremely well and illustrated the many situations in which this is an extremely important measure and the extent to which car hire companies outside London are put to a disadvantage compared with London operators. One of the main motivators behind this measure is that it is so difficult when people call a taxi firm that cannot provide a taxi and are then turned away. I have a relevant personal experience, which could have turned out to be extremely difficult. I was in Gloucestershire and going to visit an elderly friend in a nursing home. I got to the station and there was no one around. I looked at the board and started calling taxi firms and car hire firms and not one could supply a car. They explained to me that they could not call someone else because they would have to call out of the area and they could not do that. In such cases one would hope to have a mobile phone that is smart-enabled to get onto the web to try to find other firms in the area to call. I was glad that I was not a mother with three children, that it was not getting dark and that it was not raining. It seems unreasonable not to allow the taxi firm to subcontract in order to be able to meet the booking.

We are often concerned about young people out late at night who try to find a taxi to take them home safely. In that situation, we do not want them having to track down one company after another. They should be able to call an operator who they have confidence in who can find them a taxi, even if it is subcontracted from out of area. You can already subcontract in area, and I should make that clear to those people who may have used subcontracted taxis or private hire vehicles and were not aware of it.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said that he was concerned about disabled people. Surely that is the group which has the most to benefit from this change. Most car hire companies have a limited number of wheelchair-accessible vehicles and there may be circumstances where a disabled person needs to travel in a particular kind of vehicle. It is all very well to say that disabled people need to make advance bookings, but I want people with disabilities to be able to live their lives as freely as the rest of us can and not always have to think about things in advance—or, frankly, have to do without. We have a mechanism here which gives an operator the scope to reach out of area and subcontract to someone else who has a wheelchair-accessible vehicle to meet a need. That is exceedingly beneficial.

I want to make it clear that the initial operator who takes a call and makes a booking remains liable to the passenger who made the booking. He is the person with whom the contract has been established. If someone chooses to call a particular operator, that operator retains the liability for the subcontractor, so the terms and conditions, the recording of the booking and the fare, if it has been agreed, all remain with the operator who the customer has contacted.

Baroness Thornton: I should like to ask the noble Baroness two questions. First, has she taken into account the fact that enforcement works differently in London, with TfL working in conjunction with the police on street enforcement, yet there is still a huge problem of sexual assault involving licensed minicab drivers? Secondly, how many disabled groups has she consulted about this deregulation and can she tell us what they had to say about it?

Baroness Kramer: I personally have engaged more with disabled individuals rather than with groups, which were approached by the Law Commission as part of the consultation. But the Committee will understand the reality of what I have just described. Many Members of the Committee will have friends with disabilities or indeed may themselves have them, and they will recognise what I have just described. It is for the Committee to make its decision, but I think that noble Lords will recognise the particular set of problems and will empathise with those who have a disability.

Enforcement against an operator continues to be the responsibility of the local authority which licensed that operator. Where there is an issue of enforcement against a driver, again it is for the local authority which licensed that driver to enforce. However, to make life easier and help things to work more smoothly, in some places around the country local authorities have concordats between each other so that they can delegate enforcement powers and thus make the process more simple and straightforward. Liverpool and South Bucks already do this, and I would think that it is a logical direction for many local authorities to go, not because enforcement is difficult but because it is even easier if ongoing relationships with neighbouring areas where subcontracting may take place are developed. We already have vehicles from out of area coming into area. When you order your private hire vehicle, you may be sending it out of area, so cross-boundary issues arise on a regular basis even as it is. As I say, some areas have decided that the sensible way to deal with this issue is to work together with a concordat between them.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raised one issue which I thought was interesting and is one that I will take away and think about, and that is the issue of disclosure; that is, where an operator looks at the cars he has available, cannot find a vehicle available in his own company, and therefore looks elsewhere. That is something I will take a look at. However, I want to make it clear that there are real anomalies which we have to deal with. At the moment we have a silly situation in some parts of the country where related companies cannot subcontract to each other. Although they may be part of the same company, one branch will be licensed in one area and the other in another area. That, quite frankly, is one of the silly anomalies that we want to get rid of. Also, because the company you call and the individual you call is liable throughout, in order to uphold its reputation the company will make sure that the people it subcontracts to meet its own standards and are reputable. We have just heard today that very many people will turn to a company which they consider to be reputable. The notion that such a company would subcontract to drivers who let the company down, drive customers away and ruin its reputation is, I suggest, reasonably far-fetched. Under all circumstances, the driver to whom the business has been subcontracted has to meet licensing standards, and that is something we should not forget.

These are, frankly, two relatively small measures. The subcontracting issue is particularly helpful for someone with a disability who needs to call for a vehicle when many of a company’s cars within the area are already taken. We have to take that seriously. I go back to the issue on licensing. The three-year period is a reasonable standard that is used by many local authorities. It delivers the same level of safety that we see in other local authorities so why not relieve of an extra burden those who function at the margin in terms of income, if there is no safety price to pay?

Clause 11 agreed.

Clause 12: Private hire vehicles: sub-contracting
6.23 pm
Division on whether Clause 12 should stand part of the Bill.
Contents 221; Not-Contents 175.
Clause 12 agreed.

Oct 22

Falmouth taxi driver assaulted after not knowing address

A new-to-the-job taxi driver who told his passengers he did not know the address they wanted to be taken to was then attacked by one of them, and grabbed from behind as he was driving, with fingers pressed into his eyes.

He carried on driving with one hand on the steering wheel and the other trying to get his attacker off him.

He was then punched two or three times in the face.

At Truro Magistrates’ Court, Crown Prosecution Service solicitor Alison May described what happened as a nasty incident.

David Anthony Parsons, aged 55, of High Street, Falmouth, pleaded guilty to assaulting Henry Taylor on August 26.

Mr Taylor had been working off the rank at The Moor in Falmouth when Parsons and a female got into his car.

When told where they wanted to go he said he had only been working as a driver for a few weeks and was still learning.

Parsons, sitting in the back seat behind him, was abusive, using obscene language to imply Mr Taylor did not know his job.

He then grabbed Mr Taylor with both hands from behind, his fingers digging into his face and mostly his eyes, wrenching his head back into the headrest. After the attack, Mr Taylor told the police he had no actual injuries, but a sore face. The court was told that Parsons had previous convictions for theft, shoplifting, assault on a police officer and battery, and had spent time in prison.

Jeremy Leaning, for Parsons, said his client was appalled by what he had done. It was entirely attributable to alcohol. He had been drinking to excess, which made him unpleasant and aggressive, and he had absolutely no recollection of what had happened.

Alcohol was an increasing problem for him, he was now physically dependent on it and drinking every day.

Parsons, a tree surgeon, had his case adjourned to November 12 in order that a Probation Sevice report can be prepared.

source: http://www.falmouthpacket.co.uk/

Oct 22

Driver ‘livid’ after police blew up his broken down taxi

Controlled blast: The taxi at the scene in the City today

A black cab driver was today said to be “livid” after police blew up his broken-down taxi following a terror scare in the shadow of the Gherkin.

The driver apparently said he had been forced to leave the silver Hackney cab on a rank in the City after a breakdown at the weekend.

But when he went to retrieve it yesterday morning, he discovered it had been blown up by anti-terror police.

The blast shattered the cab’s rear window and damaged its back end, as well as smashing the windows of a nearby pub.

Buildings were evacuated and roads around Camomile Street and Bishopsgate closed as traffic slowed to a standstill in the heart of the Square Mile.

The driver of the cab later claimed he had broken down on Friday evening and was forced to ditch the vehicle over the weekend.

A man in his twenties who works nearby said: “The police were looking at the vehicle at about 5.30am and were shining torches through the window.

“There was an electronic device that had lights flashing on it and the police evacuated the area at about 6.50am and blew it up an hour later.”

The car was parked a few feet from the Slug and Lettuce bar, where staff claimed shrapnel from the explosion caused thousands of pounds in damage and lost trade.

A witness told the Standard that when the driver returned to his car and found it at the centre of a terror scare he told police: “You’re wasting your time.”

The worker added: “He was very angry and told two PCSOs he was going to sue the police. He had the car towed to a garage and went with it. He was livid.

“The car was parked in the taxi rank but on double yellow lines. It was suspicious because it was parked so close to a high profile building.”

Thousands of workers and commuters were evacuated in a second scare last night outside London Bridge bus station.

The bus station, as well as The Shard and News UK’s headquarters in the ‘baby Shard’ were evacuated.

Met Police were called to a lot at 3.15pm after Network Rail workers spotted the black cab apparently abandoned near the bus station.

However, the car was not blown up as the owner was able to return in time.

A station source said: “The man came back and said he had to dump the car there because one of his family members was taken ill.”

source: http://www.standard.co.uk/

Oct 22

Four Things About Uber You Wish You Never Knew

Oct 21

Rochdale minicab firm admits providing white drivers on request

A newspaper board outside a Rochdale shop. It emerged in 2012 that taxi drivers in the borough were involved in grooming young girls.

Car 2000 minicab company, which serves area where Asian grooming gangs have operated, says it is catering to demand

Customers ordering minicabs in the town at the centre of Britain’s biggest grooming scandal are being offered white drivers on request.

Residents in Heywood in the Greater Manchester borough of Rochdale have been offered the service after two local drivers of Pakistani origin were jailed for their part in the rape and trafficking of young white girls.

Stephen Campbell, the manager of Car 2000, which took over Eagle Taxis, a firm that employed drivers at the heart of the scandal, said that a consequence of the affair was that many white customers ask for white drivers – or “local” drivers, as they usually describe them.

“We have had quite a lot of customers requesting what they call a ‘local’ driver. A bit insane if you consider that most of the [Asian] lads were born in Rochdale.

“But its a business and we have got a duty to do what the customer asks us to. I don’t think we can discriminate against the customer in the same way. It is a business at the end of the day. We have a large bank loan to pay back,” he said.

If he could, Campbell said, he would persuade people to take any driver. “The Asian drivers are harder working, they do what they are asked and they don’t complain about it. They have a much better work ethic. If the public could actually see these [Asian] people close up and see what they are about, I don’t think they would be asking for white drivers.”

The disclosure comes as MPs in areas where Asian grooming gangs have operated have voiced concern about racial tensions, which have yet to subside some six years after the scandals first emerged.

Heywood was at the centre of the Rochdale scandal after a sex trafficking gang of men of mainly Pakistani origin were found to have preyed on at least 47 girls, all of whom were white. Two drivers from the now defunct local firm of Eagle Taxis were among nine Asian men jailed for their involvement.

Ukip ran a byelection campaign in Heywood and Middleton earlier this month focusing on the issues of child grooming and immigration and came within 617 votes of overturning a near 16,000 Labour majority.

Simon Danczuk, the MP for Rochdale, said: “This is extremely worrying and a stark reminder of the impact that grooming scandals have had on northern towns. This will not be a problem exclusive to our borough, I’m sure.

“It must act as a wake-up call to politicians who just pretend tensions like this don’t exist and bury their heads in the sand. There’s a lot of work to do to improve race relations and if we’re going to build stronger communities then we have to tackle these concerns head-on,” he said. ​

Campbell, 34, said his father James bought into the Heywood firm in 2011. A few months later, they realised that Car 2000 was at the centre of a major scandal as it emerged that drivers from Eagle Taxis were embroiled in grooming allegations. Mohammed Amin, 45, of Falinge, a driver for 14 years who was known as “Car Zero”, was convicted of sexual assault and received a five-year jail term.

Abdul Aziz, 41, a married father-of-three from Rochdale who was also a driver, was convicted of trafficking for sexual exploitation, received a nine-year sentence. They were two of nine men initially convicted in a complex trial.

“We were dead centre at the centre of that debacle. We bought the business knowing nothing,” said Campbell. “If you had lived through the 18 months that I went through you would understand how difficult it has been,” he said.

Around two thirds of drivers are of Asian origin, but more white drivers work during the day. Campbell said they receive up to 60 calls a week requesting a white driver.

Asked if he was concerned about the possible reaction from MPs and councils who may question the firm’s policy, Campbell said: “They [councils and MPs] can’t tell us what we can do.”

It emerged during the grooming trial in May 2012 that a number of men worked as taxi drivers and would ferry young and vulnerable girls around northern towns for sex with other Asian men.

The gang offered gifts to girls, won their trust and then forced them to have sex. Some victims were driven between Rochdale, Oldham, Bradford and elsewhere to have sex with men for money. Most of the victims came from Heywood, while most of the perpetrators came from Rochdale.

Since the trial, there have been serious racist incidents against drivers including threats with knives and assaults. Campbell said there has been a lack of a response from the police. “The Asian drivers do a great job, given the grief they have had from customers. They can’t say anything back. It is a terrible position to be in,” he said.

Abdul Afiz, 42, a driver at the firm from Rochdale, said that racist abuse happens often but only comes from a minority of customers. “You have to just get on with it,” he said.

But the “white drivers on request” policy does not run contrary to the conditions of the minicab firm’s license and can continue, a spokesman for the council said. Mark Widdup, the director of economy and environment at Rochdale borough council, said: “This is first the council has heard of this company’s policy. However, this appears to be a decision made by the company and there is currently nothing in the conditions of their license which state that they cannot operate such a policy, just as some firms choose to offer customers only female drivers.”

source: http://www.theguardian.com/

Oct 21

Taxi driver tries to pin speeding offence on former employee

A TAXI boss tried to pin a speeding offence on a former employee who owed him money, a court heard.

Jamie Lyons, 41, of Windsor Road, Weymouth, was found guilty of perverting the course of justice at Dorchester Crown Court, after claiming a former employee was the driver of a car that was caught speeding through a 30mph zone.

A Vauxhall Zafira registered to Lyons was caught speeding at 45mph on Blandford Road in Hamworthy at 2.11am on Friday, June 9, 2013.

Lyons told the court that it was one of the cars used by taxi drivers at his firm Streetcars and he believed his former employee, Gary Dunlop, had been driving the vehicle on the date in question. However, Mr Dunlop, who worked for Lyons’ for less than a week in May 2013, was working for Weymouth and Portland Borough Council on the date in question and told the court he only ever drove a Toyota Avensis while working at Streetcars.

The court heard Mr Dunlop began working for Lyons on May 15, 2013, and quit the job after just six days when he struggled to make enough money.

Mr Dunlop told the court that after leaving Streetcars he owed Lyons money, due to the cost of getting Mr Dunlop insured to drive the cars, and said his former boss had threatened to ‘break his legs’ and ‘burn his house down’ if he did not pay him money back.

Mr Dunlop said he had refused to pay any of the money back until he saw a copy of the invoice from insurers to prove the actual amount he owed.

The court heard a series of texts, some abusive, exchanged between the pair that were provided from the defendant’s mobile phone.

Mr Dunlop informed the police that he had been threatened by Lyons, which led to police tracking him down to question him about threatening behaviour.

Lyons told the court that he had checked records at the time of filling in the form and found the car in question was not on shift.

He then said he asked a colleague who thought Mr Dunlop had been driving the vehicle, which he thought to be true. Prosecuting, Nicholas Tucker, suggested Lyons didn’t check any records and only said Mr Dunlop had been driving the car as a ‘petty act of retribution’.

Defending, Timothy Shorter, argued that the only thing Lyons was guilty of was stupidity and carelessness.

It took jurors just over an hour to reach a guilty verdict.

Lyons will appear at Bournemouth Crown Court for sentencing on Friday, November 7.

source: http://www.dorsetecho.co.uk/

Oct 21

Deregulation Bill – House of Lords debate

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