My Lords, I have the most enormous sympathy with what lies behind these amendments. What has been said by the three previous speakers is exemplary and I commend their sentiments wholeheartedly. I am a great fan of the black cab in London--those driven by members of the London Taxi Board--and I agree very much with the first sentence of the briefing paper which the taxi board has produced for this debate. It says that the licensed taxi is a vital part of any successful integrated transport policy. It provides a unique link between other forms of public transport, fulfilling demands that cannot be met by the bus, train or tube, especially late at night.
However, I am very unconvinced that Amendment No. 14 achieves what noble Lords seek. The noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, referred to the Early-Day Motion in another place, which repeated the assertion that licensed taxis had been excluded from forecourts at some stations, such as Cambridge and Eastbourne. Those are rather curious examples. Towards the end of the time that I was working for the British Railways Board I remember a very bitter dispute between the board and the Cambridge licensed taxi owners' association over the level of charges levied for the right to ply on the station forecourt. In 1995 that resulted in taxis moving to a local authority rank 50 yards from the station entrance. That meant they were obviously providing a much worse service than previously.
The situation now is that there is an agreement between the train operating company which manages Cambridge station, the West Anglia Great Northern Company, and the same licensed taxi owners' association, which allows all licensed taxi drivers who are members of the association back on to the forecourt. That agreement specifies that 30 per cent of the taxis have to be accessible to disabled people. I am told by the train operating company that it would have preferred all taxis serving the station to be accessible, but at the moment in Cambridge there just are not enough licensed vehicles to be able to provide such a service.
In addition to specifying a minimum proportion of accessible taxis, the agreement also allows the train operating company to impose other standards, such as controls on fares for longer journeys out of the city centre and the requirement that taxis are there to meet trains during quieter parts of the day and not just at peak times. This last requirement is extremely important and is very much in line with what my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke was saying. By entering into contractual arrangements of this sort, the train operators can attempt to match the provision of taxis to the full train services which they run.
A reference has been made to Eastbourne, where another curious choice has been made, if I may say so. There the train operating company has an agreement with Sussex Taxis Ltd, which issues individual permits in respect of taxis. It provides that the association must provide at least 50 per cent of the permits to taxi drivers other than those who are members of the association, and that any hackney carriage which applies must be issued with a permit. Again, there are minimum standards for the levels of service provided.
I am afraid that if Amendment No. 14 were to be accepted, it would, first, create a statutory regime which would be inconsistent with the Disability Discrimination Act. It would also limit and severely curtail the ability of train companies to control the supply of taxis at stations and to provide or maintain levels of service and reassurances which are already in place around the country. As a result of that, we could paradoxically find ourselves giving the general travelling public a poorer deal, and indeed make the situation worse for disabled people. For this reason, although I sympathise so much with what lies behind the amendment I cannot support it this evening.