The Department undertook a targeted consultation in January with the intention of seeking immediate reactions to three proposed taxi and private hire vehicle measures, for inclusion in the Deregulation Bill. Our position on the measures is clear: they are liberalising, cost-saving steps that will benefit many thousands of small businesses and customers throughout the country.
I must tell the Minister that drivers in Sheffield have expressed grave concern to me about his proposals. They fear that these rushed changes, which will allow minicab operators to subcontract bookings to other operators in a different district, could result in drivers working hundreds of miles away from their home licensing authority, and that our licensing authority in Sheffield would be unable to carry out effective enforcement. Does the Minister share those drivers’ fear that the changes will put the public’s safety at risk?
No, I do not. In fact, I believe that the changes will give the public a better service. For example, if someone rings a private hire vehicle company and all its vehicles—or, perhaps, all its disabled-access vehicles—are occupied, it will be able to call on another company from across the border to fill the gap. People will get the service that they want, and I do not believe that safety will be compromised at all.
Will the Minister reflect on the fact that if his proposals are implemented, someone who gets into a minicab will not know whether it has come from the company that he or she telephoned, will not be able to assume that the person driving it is licensed to do so, and will not even be able to assume that the car itself has been passed as okay to carry passengers in his or her own town or city? Expert opinion after expert opinion has warned the Minister that all this could put passengers’ safety at risk. Why does he feel that he knows better than anyone else?
I do not accept those criticisms. The fact that a company is registered across the border in another local authority area does not mean that it will not meet the standards that apply in that local authority area. This is about more flexibility and a better service for people using private hire vehicles.