New Clause 32

Road Safety Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 20th April 2006.

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Limousines

‘(1) The Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981 (c. 14) is amended as follows—

(2) After section 1 insert—

“1A Definition and classification of “limousines”

In this Act “limousine” means a motor vehicle which being a vehicle not adapted to carry more than 16 passengers, is used in the course of a business for the purposes of carrying passengers with the services of a driver for hire and reward where the arrangements for the payment of fares by the passenger or passengers are made before the journey began.”.

(3) In section 6, at end add—

“(3) A limousine adapted to carry more than eight passengers shall not be used on a road unless an examiner appointed under section 66A of the Road Traffic Act 1988 has issued a certificate (to be referred to as a limousine certificate) that the prescribed conditions as to fitness are fulfilled in respect of the vehicle.

(4) If a vehicle is used in contravention of subsection (3), the operator of the vehicle shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale.

(5) Sections 8, 10 and 11 of this Act shall apply to limousines adapted to carry more than eight passengers”.

(4) In section 13(1), after first “licence” insert “, limousine licence”.

(5) After section 13(2), insert—

“( ) Subject to Section 12 of this Act a limousine licence authorises the use of

(a) limousines not adapted to carry more than eight passengers

(b) limousine not adapted to carry more than sixteen passengers.”.'.—[Mr. Paterson.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I repeat that Conservative Members do not like extra regulation. I often say that I came into politics to see fewer politicians, less regulation, less government and less taxation. However, there are some areas of activity that increase rapidly and the Government must keep up with that. One is the phenomenon of the growth of stretched limousines. It is estimated that in 2003 there were only 3,000, but there are now more than 11,000 and their number is increasing by 50 per cent. a year. What is worrying is that almost all of them are not built as stretched limousines but are standard cars that have been chopped in half and stretched.

Under current law, stretched limousines should carry only up to eight passengers no matter how large they are. That is the legal maximum number of passengers that can be carried by hired vehicles, but some carry as many as 28 passengers. Advertisements often say that they can carry 16 to 18 passengers and increasingly they carry a large number of children or ladies going to hen parties—[Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh—perhaps they are becoming demob happy—but 28 people in a 40 ft limousine weigh up to 6.5 tonnes. The brakes, steering, suspension and tyres are inadequate for such substantial weights and the inspection regimes are not being respected. Such vehicles probably burn out their brakes within 6,000 or 7,000 miles and should probably be inspected every 10 weeks or so, but they are not.

Stretched limousines represent a booming sector of the economy and we are all in favour of growth, but if the legal limit on the number of passengers in a hired vehicle is eight, there is a major safety problem.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East

The hon. Gentleman listed some of the dangers of those vehicles. Does he accept that another danger is that if there were a crash or even worse a fire, it would be difficult to get a large number of people out of the vehicle quickly?

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is spot-on and I was about to mention that it would be impossible to get 28 people out of one of those vehicles quickly. Touch wood, there has not yet been a major incident, but the increase in their number and the fact that they are almost all converted from standard cars means that they are a nightmare waiting to happen.

A couple of good points have been made to me. The staff of the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency usually work from Monday until 5 o’clock on Friday and are not on the streets in the evenings and at weekends when most of the limousines are operating. The legal limit at the moment is up to eight passengers  and the new clause would introduce a simple regime with a category of limousine that can carry up to 16 passengers.

I hope that the Minister will seriously consider the new clause—this growth area has popped up very recently. It should not be suppressed—we are all in favour of the market and an expanding economy—but it is reasonable to bring these vehicles within sensible regulation. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-East was spot-on when he said that getting people out of stretched limousines in case of a fire must be one of the biggest worries.

The matter is attracting a little press attention, and I should like to end the Committee on an interesting note, which is wholly irrelevant but shows how big the vehicles can be. I have no idea what size of vehicle you intend to drive back to Macclesfield, Sir Nicholas, but you might consider matching the largest vehicle, as recorded in “Guinness World Records,” which is a 100 ft, 26-wheeler that has a swimming pool, a helipad and a putting green. That shows the potential growth in such vehicles.

I hope that the Minister will examine our seriously considered new clause, because this area needs the Government’s attention before a horrible accident happens.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

The hon. Gentleman is giving me ideas.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

Given the hon. Gentleman’s comments about your testosterone levels, Sir Nicholas, there is another Member of the House, who is not in Committee, who may be interested in your getting ideas about driving back to Macclesfield in a stretch limousine with 28 women on a hen party.

This is an important issue, and the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it. I must tell him that I have had representations on both sides of the argument in recent weeks. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden) brought to my attention the case of a limousine operator in her constituency who was taking the opposite view: that the regulations need to be changed to allow people to get a licence for operating stretched limousines with large numbers of people in them.

There are clearly issues to be resolved, but I shall explain to the Committee my understanding of how the law works. If the vehicle is going to carry up to eight passengers, it can be licensed by the local authority as a taxi or as a private hire vehicle. If it is the latter, if can be used only for pre-bookings. If it is a taxi then it can be used to ply for trade in the same way as other taxis. That is a matter of local authority competence.

If an operator wishes their vehicles to be operated with more than eight passengers, they have to get them licensed as public service vehicles. To do so, they first have to get a type approval indicating that the vehicles are safe for carrying more than eight passengers. Very few stretch limousines have that certification, and they are therefore not legally usable for carrying more than eight passengers. Some can be designed to be safe enough, and some can be retrofitted for the purpose, but the standard stretch limousine that we see around  the country—my daughter and some of her friends used one to take them away from primary school when they left last year—is not considered safe for more than eight people. If they are licensed at all, it should be only as a private hire vehicle or a taxi.

Many people have imported such cars in the hope of using them for more than eight passengers, but to do so they have had to sign a piece of paper to say that they understand and will stay within the law and the limitations on use of the vehicle. If they do not do so, they cannot plead ignorance, because they signed that piece of paper when they imported the vehicle. It is then a matter for the police to enforce the law.

The issues to consider are, first, that the police are not enforcing the legislation properly and, secondly, that some local authorities allow licences to be granted for limousines as private hire vehicles while others say that they are not safe at all. That is forcing some operators to operate without any sort of licence in those local authority areas. How will we deal with that, as it is a matter of local authority discretion? We have been consulting, and we shall shortly publish guidance on how local authorities should make decisions about which vehicles can and cannot be licensed. I hope that it will provide local authorities with much greater clarity about what they should and should not license, and how they should deal with those issues. I hope that those assurances will encourage the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his new clause.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:00 pm, 20th April 2006

Some of those vehicles cost about £100,000, so carrying eight passengers is simply not viable. Properly maintained and looked after, they are safe with up to 16 or 18 people. We propose a regime in which they will be allowed to run with 16 or 18 people. If we just say—blanket—that they can have only eight, they will not be viable, and I am afraid that many people will carry on illegally. We are trying to create a legal framework, so that if the vehicle is maintained, they can get a return on their £100,000 by carrying 16 to 18 passengers in safety.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

There is a legal framework already. If the vehicles are safe, and a person can obtain a certificate to that effect, they can register them as public service vehicles. In that case, they can operate them with more than eight people. The reason why they cannot operate them is that they cannot get the certificate, and that is because the vehicles are not safe to operate in that mode. The existing legislative arrangements, with improved guidance, might be the way of resolving the problem.

Since this might be my last opportunity to address the Committee, Sir Nicholas, would this be an appropriate time to say one or two thank yous?

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

May I suggest that we leave them for a bit? We have a little more business to conduct. I would certainly seek to call you on a point of order, however, which I suggest you raise.

Photo of Stephen Ladyman Stephen Ladyman Minister of State, Department for Transport

Thank you, Sir Nicholas. In that case, I encourage the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the motion.

Photo of Owen Paterson Owen Paterson Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The Minister’s explanation was most helpful. We shall consult further, and possibly return to the provision on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.