With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 10, in page 47, line 43, at end add
(b) at end insert "or a vehicle which solely provides services to public authorities.".'
The amendment seeks to remove a piece of massive over-regulation from the Bill. Under the clause to which the amendment refers, particular vehicles are caught whose sole purpose is to take special needs children from their homes to the schools of their choice. That will mean that the drivers of those vehicles, who are often part-time or offering their services voluntarily, will have to have a public service vehicle licence. Consequently, many of those people will not be willing to carry on undertaking that important social task. Therefore, the companies who are solely under contract to local authorities will not be able to carry on. A sensible long-standing arrangement, which is welcomed and widely used in many areas—and particularly in my area, Orpington—whereby such vehicles have a sole contract with the local education authority, will have to be brought to an end, to everyone's loss.
The Minister, in Committee, said that he had a heartfelt concern about the problem and that his only worry was that there might be abuse. In the particular case of which I am thinking, which relates to P & J Travel in my constituency, there can be no abuse because the vehicles are used only for the purpose of taking special needs children from home to school. Therefore, I recommend to the House this excellent amendment, on which I hope we have the opportunity to vote.
I wonder what Sir George Young thinks of this amendment. When he took the relevant private Member's Bill through the House, he was definitely of the view that he wanted to close all of what he considered to be loopholes. Clearly, I appreciate that the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 has been immensely valuable. It introduced stringent suitability checks on operators, drivers and vehicles. To introduce this loophole would open up gaps that we would want filled. The exemption from licensing, which Mr. Horam wants to introduce, was deliberately omitted from the 1998 Act, even though that situation does not exist outside London. It therefore seems perverse to suggest that we should open up this loophole when the Act was originally planned to ensure that there was no such loophole.
I appreciate, of course, that public authorities using unlicensed operators, drivers and vehicles would do their own suitability checks. I have concerns about that approach, however, bearing in mind that we are talking about very vulnerable people, including special needs children being transported in such unlicensed vehicles. I worry about whether the checks would be suitably robust. The responses to the consultation on this proposal also raised concerns about the thoroughness of checks. My understanding is that if a driver had been checked, but then went off sick, someone else could take his place and that person would not have been vetted.
There is also the issue of fair competition. Clearly—
It being Six o'clock, Mr. Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [