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Unite the union brief for MP’s on amendments affecting the Taxi and Private Hire trades within the Deregulation Bill

Public Bill Committee Deregulation Bill Brief – 20th or 25th March 2014

1. Introduction

1.1 Unite have over 1.42 million members across the private and public sectors. Unite have thousands of taxi driver members and we have obtained their views through our respective lay member committees at national and regional level.

1.2 Therefore Unite are in a unique position to brief MP’s on the three proposals / amendments affecting the Taxi and Private Hire trade, which the Department for Transport (DfT) are trying to add to the Deregulation Bill at the last minute.

1.3 These proposals / amendments are set to be debated at the Public Bill Committee stage on the 20th or 25th March 2014, with no proper full consultation with stakeholders having ever taken place.

2. History / Context

2.1 This Government asked the Law Commission back in July 2011 to take a look at Taxi and Private Hire trade legislation despite the Transport Select Committee advising against this.

2.2 The Law Commission still haven’t produced a draft Bill, which is due at the end of April 2014.

2.3 It is apparent that due to there being insufficient time to process a forthcoming Law Commission draft bill before the General Election in 2015 that the DfT are attempting to add three proposals / amendments to the Deregulation Bill.

2.4 These proposals / amendments are a last minute attempt by the DfT to get something on the statute books with no proper full consultation with stakeholders having ever taken place and without waiting for the Law Commissions draft Bill.

2.5 These proposals / amendments would have a catastrophic effect on the safety of passengers and Taxi & Private Hire drivers working in the Taxi & Private Hire trade in England and Wales, which is touched upon in more detail in section 3.

2.6 Unite would like to bring to your attention the DfT insufficient ‘informal’ consultation attempts, when a 10 day response time was given following an email that was sent out on the 7th January to canvass opinion on the three proposals / amendments that are laid before you.

2.7 Unite have asked to meet the Minister of State for Transport Baroness Kramer to discuss the forthcoming Law Commissions draft Bill but have been told to wait until the Law Commission issue it in April 2014. Then we find that the DfT is trying to get proposals / amendments through in the Deregulation Bill, again with no full and proper consultation having ever taken place and against the backdrop of the Law Commission having not submitted their draft bill. Unite will again call for an urgent meeting with the Minister of State for Transport following this attempt by the DfT.

2.8 Unite received an email on 14th March 2014 at 16:30 from the DfT. This email contained a consultation paper. In brief it contains the three proposals / amendments and a possible fourth that has no detail at all for us as a trade to deliberate over. The consultation is meant to close on the 5th April 2014. However you have the three proposals / amendments being read by the Public Bill Committee reviewing the Deregulation bill on the 20th or 25th March.

3. DfT Proposals / Amendments to the Deregulation Bill

The three proposals / amendments to the Deregulation Bill are:

3.1 “Allowing private hire operators to sub-contract bookings to operators licensed in a different district.”

· The public will lose their right to choose, which operator they wish to travel with because they call operator A who is their preferred choice and operator B turns up. The customer may have experienced a whole number of problems with operator B previously. Surely if a member of the public calls a specific operator because they feel that operator is both reliable and safe to travel with then they should get who they ask for. If they wanted to travel with another operator then they would call them in the first place.

· Also by being able to pass jobs from one operator to another, the role of the local licensing enforcement would become impossible because currently only the licensing officers from a licensing authority area have the power to take enforcement action against the vehicle and driver. This proposal would result in vehicles and drivers working literally hundreds of miles from their licensing authority, with no controls putting the public’s safety at risk.

3.2 “Allowing anyone with an ordinary driver’s licence to drive a private hire vehicle (PHV) when it is “off-duty”.”

· Many authorities have policies governing the appearance of both taxis and PHVs to ensure that they are distinctive to the public. This proposal will make members of the public vulnerable to illegal pickups when the (licensed) vehicle is being driven by an unlicensed driver.

· It is important to recognise that PHVs are “working vehicles”. Their primary purpose is to transport members of the public, and any additional use for non‐working/family transport must be seen as incidental to that primary use.

· As previously mentioned, enforcement against illegal use would be much more difficult with the local authority having to first prove that the vehicle was being used for hire and reward rather than social and domestic purposes.

· Of more concern would be the potential for a member of the public to be picked up by an unscrupulous individual purporting to be a legitimate driver in a licensed vehicle.

· The DfT have not provided evidence that the current system is causing problems and as such we would question the need for this proposal.

3.3 “Making the standard duration for all taxi and PHV driver licences three years; and five years for all PHV operator licences.”

· Whilst the vast majority of Taxi and PHV drivers and PHV operators are persons of high integrity, it is unfortunately the case that the industry does attract a small percentage of unsuitable persons. Annual licensing of drivers and operators is the only realistic way to keep track of their behaviour and take remedial or preventative action when required.

· Although most local authorities impose conditions on PH drivers licences and PH operators licences requiring them to report criminal convictions and changes to medical status within a specified period of time, this is often ignored.

· Even in relation to drivers’ licences, where the police are supposed to inform the local authority of any recordable convictions (and have a discretion to inform the local authority of minor matters) information sharing is haphazard. Some local authorities get information directly from their local constabulary, but there are very, very few instances of information being received from a constabulary not covering the local authority area.

· As a consequence, it is only the annual renewal process which enables the local authority to ensure that licensees have remained fit and proper for the duration of their licence. If that was extended to 3 years (or 5 years in the case of operators) a great many unsuitable and potentially dangerous persons would remain licensed for longer.

· It must be borne in mind that the ‘public safety’ is the main concern and any move to a three year licence would put the public at greater risk.

· In addition Taxi & Private Hire Licensing charges are ring fenced and therefore to force licensing authorities to issue three year driver licenses will have an adverse effect on the income of the Licensing Authority which has not been given any consideration. UNITE Cab Section Logo

For clarifications and more information please contact:

John Neal
Research Officer
Unite the union
128 Theobalds Road, Holborn, London. WC1X 8TN.
Tel: +44 (0)207 611 2633
Fax: +44 (0)207 611 2555

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