I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the Task and finish group report on taxi and private hire licensing.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David, and to see the familiar faces of those who have been discussing the issue for a long time. I pay particular tribute to the former Transport Minister, Mr Hayes, who instigated the task and finish group’s review in this very Chamber some 18 months ago.
I will praise quite a few people in my speech, but the main praise must go to Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq, who has brought together a diverse range of voices from the industry and users to produce what my right hon. Friend Frank Field has called “a superb report”. Not everyone will agree with all of it—that is partly why we are here to debate it—but we all agree on our thanks to the professor for producing it.
Let me give a couple of quotations from the report that set the scene rather well. The professor’s introduction says that he trusts
“that Parliament and the Department will lead the cultural change which is necessary to ensure that passengers, workers, operators, and neighbouring authorities are treated fairly. I look forward to the Government’s prompt response to this report in order to maintain the momentum for improvement. Undue delay would risk public safety.”
If one message comes out of our debate, I hope that is it: undue delay would risk public safety.
We have only an hour and a half, so I will not go through the report line by line; that needs to be done on another day when legislation is introduced. However, perhaps there is a little to be said about how we got here, or possibly about how we did not get here. I am afraid that the Government have to take some responsibility.
In paragraph 3.7 on page 16, the professor refers to the Law Commission’s 2011 review and notes that
“it is deeply regrettable that the Government has not yet responded to the report and draft bill which the Commission subsequently published in 2014. Had the Government acted sooner the concerns that led to the formation of this Group may have been avoided.”
That seems to me quite a strong charge, and quite a strong point. However, we are where we are. Looking back tells us something, but we have to concentrate on looking forward. I very much hope that we will get a strong response from the Minister, whom I congratulate on his recent promotion; perhaps it was not in circumstances that he would have sought, but I commend his predecessor for her very principled decision.
Many thanks are owed to those who contributed strongly to the report, some of whom are in the Gallery today. I highlight the work of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, GMB, Unite the union, the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Guide Dogs, Transport for London—Helen Chapman and Val Shawcross have both spoken personally to me about the issue—and the Local Government Association. I must also praise the cross-party approach that has been taken, and I have had good help and support from the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Ms Ghani, in promoting my private Member’s Bill.
I want to say a little about where my Bill has got to, how the report refers to it and how I hope it will go forward, and then pick up on one or two of the more controversial issues in the report that bear discussion. First, however, let me say how extraordinary the industry is and how dramatically it has changed, even since the Law Commission report—to be honest, if the Government ever finally responded to that report, I suspect that they would find it was way out of date.
We have seen huge changes in the past few years, with changing technologies and huge numbers of private hire vehicles and taxis on our streets. I do not think everyone quite realises the scale of the industry: there are now 285,400 licensed taxis and private hire vehicles and 361,500 driver licences, of which more than 137,000 are in London. The number of private hire vehicles in London has increased by 120% since 2005.
Behind the numbers, there are many different stories, and a point that I have consistently tried to make is that they are not always the same. The all-party parliamentary group on taxis, chaired by my hon. Friend Wes Streeting, produced a report last year that stimulated the debate that I referred to earlier—an excellent report, but, as I said at the time, somewhat London-focused. That is not to say that London is not hugely important, but any solution that we suggest has to work not just for London, which operates under different legislation anyway, but for the rest of the country. That is part of the challenge.