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Dr Johnson spoke of the virtues of travelling hopefully, but travelling hopefully depends on travelling efficiently, effectively, securely and, most of all, safely. The foreword to the excellent report before the House, by a group led by Professor Abdel-Haq, states that it was necessary
“to chart a future which ensured public safety for all”.
Public safety lies at the heart of the work, and of our endeavours in debating this today.
The recommendations in the report are focused on how taxis are licensed and how that licensing is enforced and complied with. Compliance and enforcement are critical to a number of the recommendations. Recommendations 23 and 24, on the database and the exchange of information between licensing authorities to check on the bona fides of applicants, are critical. Throughout the report there is a focus on ensuring that those who apply for licences are fit and proper people, on whom the public can rely.
A second issue, to which my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith referred, is the working conditions of drivers. It is clear to me that there is exploitation of drivers, whose working conditions are at best—I put it generously—variable, and that minimum standards are not currently being enforced. There is a need for urgent reform. I am not speaking, of course, of our black-cab drivers, who are largely self-employed and determine their own working day and year, and who, as my right hon. Friend is right to say, are celebrated, worldwide, for their quality. It seems extraordinary to me that we should jeopardise that worldwide reputation for what modern economists call a disruptor. I am not a great fan of the disruption of what works. I say that what matters more is doing what matters in the interests of the public, not fixing things that ain’t broke—which largely applies to black-cab drivers.
Recommendation 33 addresses working conditions, referring to the exploitation of drivers and the need to enforce the national living wage, while recommendation 34 addresses the question of restrictions, on safety grounds, on the number of hours that private hire vehicle drivers typically drive. There are other recommendations on the proper treatment of disabled people. It is appalling that some blind people have been refused their proper entitlement to take their guide dog with them on a private hire car journey, and I am delighted that there is a recommendation on that in the report.
The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend Ms Ghani, has been remarkable in her willingness to listen, and I pay tribute to her, as well as to Professor Abdel-Haq. The cap that has been discussed by a number of Members seems to me to be localism in practice. We can hardly argue for reinforcing the role of local authorities in regulating the circumstances of private hire vehicles and taxis, and then say that they cannot make a judgment about the appropriate number of vehicles in a locality.
There is, however, something more worrying still to consider. We know that in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and Newcastle taxis were a key element in allowing the widespread abuse of vulnerable young women. The use of taxis for criminal purposes is a direct consequence of a regulatory system that is simply not fit for purpose. We cannot allow that to continue and the Government would be unwise to hesitate for a moment in putting in place the changes necessary to avoid such an eventuality. That is about more than taxis. It is about public confidence, social cohesion and building communal faith in a system that works for all, as Professor Abdel-Haq has argued.
There cannot be a cherry-picking exercise. The report must be adopted in full, for there is not a single recommendation in it with which I do not agree. It would be quite wrong if the Government were to cherry-pick, and I know that the newly promoted Minister, who must be basking in the glory of his seemingly unstoppable rise up the greasy pole of politics, will be listening closely to the debate, and will want to work with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to make sure that the report is implemented speedily.