Roof Signs on Vehicles Other than Taxis

Transport Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:45 am on 25th June 1980.

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Lords amendment: No. 89, after clause 53, in page 49, line 37, at end insert— K—(1) There shall not, in any part of England and Wales outside the metropolitan police district and the City of London, be displayed on or above the roof of any vehicle which is used for carrying passengers for hire or reward but which is not a taxi—

  1. (a) any sign which consists of or includes the word "taxi" or "cab", whether in the singular or plural, or "hire", or any word of similar meaning or appearance to any of those words, whether alone or as part of another word; or
  2. (b) any sign, notice, mark, illumination or other feature which may suggest that the vehicle is a taxi.
(2) Any person who knowingly—
  1. (a) drives a vehicle in respect of which subsection (1) is contravened; or
  2. (b) causes or permits that subsection to be contravened in respect of any vehicle, shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200.
(3) In this section "taxi" means a vehicle licensed under section 37 of the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, section 6 of the Metropolitan Carriage Act 1869, section 270 of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act 1892 or any similar local enactment.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

With this we may take the amendment to Lords amendment No. 89, and Lords amendments Nos. 94 and 134.

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Newcastle upon Tyne Central

I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, in subsection (1), leave out 'or above the roof of'. During the debates today the Government have seen fit on several occasions to concede the Opposition's case. They have had second thoughts and have accepted the advice that we freely gave them in Committee. I congratulate the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary, because in this instance every point raised by my hon. Friends and myself has been met, with the exception of this one small one. I appreciate that this might sound like Oliver Twist coming back for more, but it is a valid point.

The Government have accepted the arguments concerning differentiation between hire cars and taxis when we talk about a sign on the roof. Given that they have accepted that argument by including in the clause the words 'on or above the roof", that takes care of the roof, but, by analogy, it leaves the impression that it is in order to put signs anywhere other than on the roof, which could mislead someone who is looking for a taxi.

There is an important aspect in regard to which the public can be misled. The taxi cab and the hackney trade are governed in regard to price, whereas the hire car is not. Thereby, anyone mistaking a hire car for a taxi and boarding that car enters into a contract between himself and the driver and will not get the advantage of what he believes to be the taxi fare.

If the argument is accepted as valid that a sign on the roof can be misleading, surely the argument is equally valid if a sign is placed on the windscreen. The Government have gone most of the way and there is now a lot of good sense in the clause, after the advice given by the Opposition. But that could be ruined by not removing the phrase to which I have drawn attention, and people could still be misled. I hope that Minister will again have second thoughts and listen once more to the wisdom expressed from the Opposition Benches and accept the amendment.

Photo of Dr Jim Marshall Dr Jim Marshall , Leicester South

This is the third debate that we have had on taxis and private hire cars in the past four years, and tonight we have the best attendance of all, particularly on the Government Benches. I am sure that the National Federation of Taxi Cab Associations will be pleased that there is such a good attendance here tonight. I am indifferent to the side of the House on which hon. Members sit, as long as the House is well attended.

On the previous occasion when we debated the need for provisions of this kind the Parliamentary Secretary gave an assurance that a clause such as this would be introduced in the other place, and we are grateful for that. But while we are grateful for half a loaf, we would appreciate the whole loaf in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Cowans) has outlined.

I should like briefly to reinforce and underline the need for the amendment that my hon. Friend has moved so ably. Lords amendment No. 89 seeks to preclude, under subsection (1)(a) of the new clause, the use of signs on the roof. Subsection (3) defines "taxi" for the first time as meaning a hackney carriage. A taxi is a hackney carriage only if it does not display a sign on the roof. If a private hire vehicle displays a sign on the side, it does not become a taxi in terms of the legislation and it is not a hackney carriage.

A great loophole exists. Private hire operators could escape if they wished. I urge the Parliamentary Secretary to accept the amendment. It is not sufficient to eliminate signs on the roof. It is easy for private hire companies to put illuminated or florescent signs in the windscreen or on the side of the car.

Under the Lords amendment, it would be open to operators to put signs on the windscreen or side of the car describing the vehicle as a taxi. Certain private operators would be able to masquerade as hackney carriage operators. I hope that the Minister will accept our suggestion. It is made in good faith and is supported by the National Federation of Taxi Cab Associations.

Photo of Mr Iain Mills Mr Iain Mills , Meriden

I said in Committee that there could be some confusion in the minds of customers looking for transport about whether a vehicle is a taxi or some other vehicle which is involved in car sharing. We are happy to accept the Lords amendment, but not the amendment to it.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport)

I commend the Lords amendment. It follows a debate initiated by Opposition Members. The suggestion was made on behalf of taxi drivers, and was supported by hon. Members on both sides who have an interest in the taxi trade. The Government were anxious to illustrate that, contrary to some fears, the Bill was not intended to be hostile to the taxi trade. We were impressed by the case, and the amendment is designed to meet it.

I am sorry that the amendment does not meet with full satsfaction. We have gone as far as we can and we are reluctant to go further. The hire car trade is fearful that if we take the restrictions or, signs too far we shall go far beyond what is necessary to protect taxi drivers and put unreasonable inhibitions upon their ability to carry out a lawful trade.

We wish to confine the new measures to roof signs. The problem arises in provincial cities. London is different, because it has tight legislation. The usual form of taxi in the provinces is an ordinary saloon car. Taxis are hackney carriages licensed on certain terms and entitled t be protected from illegal and unfair corn petition.

A few fringe people in the hire car business like occasionally to ply for hire illegally and are tempted to seek to deceive passengers into believing that they are operating a taxi. Illuminating signs on the top of the car are used to deceive. Whatever the sign says, it is designed to indicate that the vehicle is a taxi. That is the abuse at which we are aiming.

With respect, taxi drivers and their advocates on the Oppositon Benches are going too far. They say that it should be illegal to have any sign on the vehicle. Hire car operators and all car owners are entitled to put nodding dogs in the back window, flashing lights inside and whatever lettering they like on the side. We cannot impose too many restrictions on what people can put on various parts of their cars.

The Lords amendment deals with a particular abuse. Hire car operators are entitled to some protection, and we should not be persuaded to go further.

Photo of Mr Harry Cowans Mr Harry Cowans , Newcastle upon Tyne Central 2:15 am, 25th June 1980

Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will explain why a hire car needs a sign. Most companies are in the yellow pages. It is possible to ring them up. The contract is then with those who hired out the car. Why do hire cars need a sign?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport)

One does not have to give a reason for wanting a sign on one's car. There are other practical reasons. Hire drivers pointed out that signs enabled customers to identify the car that they had ordered. If they book a hire car to wait at the station, or if they are coming out of a dance hall they can tell that the yellow car with the phone number on it is the right one. Otherwise, the fact that it is an ordinary saloon may give rise to difficulties. It is also a legitimate and fair means of advertising. There is nothing wrong in going around with the name of one's business on the side of one's car, together with a telephone number and some description of the luxury of the vehicle. To press for restrictions on signs on the sides of cars is to inhibit the trade of hire cars, for the convenience of taxis. The Lords amendment protects taxis to the extent to which they are entitled to be protected.

Photo of Dr Jim Marshall Dr Jim Marshall , Leicester South

I repeat that, for the first time, subsection (3) defines a taxi as equivalent to a hackney carriage. It specifically mentions the 1847 legislation. For the first time, a popular misconception is being corrected, namely, that a private hire car is also a taxi. It states that that is no longer so. However, the legislation states that a taxi is a hackney carriage only if it does not carry a sign on the roof. The private hire car can still have the word "taxi" on the side.

Photo of Mr Bernard Weatherill Mr Bernard Weatherill , Croydon North East

Order. The hon. Gentleman should ask a question, not make another speech.

Photo of Dr Jim Marshall Dr Jim Marshall , Leicester South

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am not trying to exclude the legitimate right of private hire operators to have names and telephone numbers on the sides of their cars. However, the word "taxi" cannot be used in two different senses.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Parliamentary Secretary (Ministry of Transport)

A taxi is defined as a hackney carriage only for the purposes of this subsection. There has been ambiguity about the precise meaning of the word "taxi". There are difficulties in other legislation about the meaning of that word. At this time of night, I am happy to say that the broad ambit of taxi law is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It is not covered by the Bill.

We have extremely limited objectives. The purpose of the subsection is to establish what type of vehicle the offending vehicle is trying to imitate. The subsection describes only the type of vehicle that is being protected. The amendment means that any sign on the roof should not try to imitate that on a taxi.

It is true that we have not proscribed the use of the word "taxi" on the side of a vehicle. Such signs do not give rise to deception. The average member of the public would be a little suspicious if he saw "taxi" written on the side in big or small letters. Some taxi drivers are concerned about the obvious abuse of illuminated signs on the roof that make vehicles look like taxis. That is as far as the House should go.

Question, That the amendment be made to the Lords amendment, put and negatived.

Lords amendment No. 89 agreed to.