On Tuesday 18th July Jon Cruddas MP for Dagenham and Rainham spoke at a parliamentary committee meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Taxis. You can watch the full debate with Jon’s contribution at 15:26:59 by clicking HERE
The full transcript of Jon’s contribution the debate can be found below.
This is a hot-button issue for many of my constituents, and it will continue to be so, as it was during the general election campaign, until we sort out a basic framework of fair competition. In my view that would include the capping and regulation of taxis in London, which has been mentioned, the powers afforded to the Mayor of London, and wider issues to do with cross-border hiring and minimum standards across the sector.
Like other hon. Members, I congratulate my hon. Friend Wes Streeting on securing the debate and on all his hard work on the matter since he was elected. Like him, I have many constituents who are black cab drivers, and there is frustration about the effects of deregulation and the lack of effective licensing. There are implications for passenger safety in this city and across the country. There has been a dramatic effect on the livelihoods of many of my constituents and their families. Many cab drivers I know have had their income slashed in the past few years, and many are considering leaving the trade for good. That is tragic for some of the most qualified taxi drivers on the planet, and for the iconic black hackney carriage in this city. This is a big debate.
One point in the introduction to my hon. Friend’s report that is worth mentioning is that there is a tendency to simplify the debate as being about the past versus the future and innovation. In my experience that is not the case. The cab drivers I know and represent have not been afraid of technology or innovation. On the contrary, they have embraced it, but there is a need for a fair, level playing field. Technological innovations cannot be used to destroy drivers’ conditions and residents’ protections. Moreover, big multinational companies cannot be allowed to ride roughshod over our democracy and to undermine, through lobbying and personal connections, attempts to create minimum standards and effective protections in cities such as London.
I want to make three basic points, which have been made earlier and will no doubt be made in the Front-Bench speeches. The first is about the number of minicabs in the capital, and the implications for congestion and pollution. As we have heard, it is estimated that in seven years the number of private hire car drivers has doubled to 120,000. As things stand, TfL is legally obliged to issue a licence to any driver who meets the criteria. We should put a cap on that.
That leads to my second point, about the general licensing environment. The simple reality is that drivers can dodge areas with more robust licensing by gaining a licence from an authority with weaker regulations. So standards designed to keep residents safe are being dodged through the avoidance of other licensing regimes. Minicab drivers should not be able consciously to acquire licenses in areas with less stringent conditions.
On the more specific question of cross-border hiring, private hire vehicles are currently not restricted from taking bookings anywhere in England and Wales, provided that the vehicle driver and operator are licensed by the same licensing authority and the booking is accepted within that authority. There is little that licensing authorities can do about drivers who work outside the area for which they are licensed. The obvious question is how licensing authorities can effectively regulate and enforce private hire activity in the areas in question. They cannot. As we have heard, a significant number of London-licensed private hire vehicles appear to be working solely in areas outside the capital, so there appears to be a clear need for the Government to legislate to create a statutory definition of cross-border hiring. Should a journey have to begin or end in the licensing authority area where the licence was issued? That appears to me a pretty sensible suggestion. It would allow flexibility for private hire operators to fulfil passenger requests.
My final point is about national minimum licensing standards. The problems associated with cross-border hiring are linked with variations in licensing standards across the country. In some areas, drivers do not need even a Disclosure and Barring Service check to receive a licence, so drivers are not necessarily screened for criminal convictions before being allowed to carry passengers. Surely we need new minimum licensing standards for all licensing authorities to impose.
Overall, the proposed reforms are pragmatic and sensible. I very much welcome them and support the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North and the coalition that he has assembled.