HC Deb 28 July 1982 vol 28 cc1123-9
Mr. Harry Ewing

I beg to move amendment No. 42, in page 6, line 29, leave out '10' and insert '23'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we shall take the following: Amendment No. 43, in page 6, line 29, leave out from '27' to first 'and' in line 30.

Government amendments Nos. 44, 166 and 167.

Mr. Ewing

Amendments Nos. 42 and 43 would make mandatory a licensing system for taxis and private hire vehicles throughout Scotland. I say at once that if what I say does not persuade the Minister to accept the amendments, we shall divide the House.

There was a strong view in Committee that a mandatory licensing system throughout Scotland would be preferable to the discretionary system proposed in part II of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will not say that it is strange for us to argue for mandatory licensing when at other times we argue for greater discretion for local authorities. There is no inconsistency in arguing in some instances for greater discretion and in others for mandatory provision.

The main argument that the Minister used against the mandatory licensing system when the matter was discussed in Committee was the geographical differences between various areas in Scotland. He drew heavily on the point that there are a whole host of rural areas, and he named a number of district councils that had no licensing system, as opposed to others that did. However, nowhere in the Bill are there any provisions that say that the geographical spread of the various local authorities in Scotland should be taken into account.

7.30 pm

The licensing conditions are fairly clearly defined, and the basis of licensing is not whether a local authority is rural or urban, but is laid out in a series of conditions in schedule 1 of the Bill, the two important conditions being that the person is fit and proper to hold a taxi licence, and that the vehicle is a safe one in which to carry fare-paying passengers. Nowhere in the conditions laid out in schedule 1 or clause 9 or 10 or any other is there any reference to the geographical location of any of the local authorities.

Having discussed this matter with both sides of the trade, both private hire vehicles and taxi owners—if we have discussed anything in the Bill with interested parties, we have discussed this—we found that they were in favour of mandatory licensing. If the drafting of an amendment that unites both sides of the trade is not an attraction for the Minister to accept the amendments, I shall have to take the matter a little further.

I am sure that the Minister became tired of hearing about the problems of the non-licensed area of Milngavie vis-a-vis Glasgow, and those that the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) experienced in Dundee as a result of the non-licensed area in Angus district council. If the amendments were to be accepted, that problem would disappear. Non-licensed areas would not cause difficulties for licensed areas.

Uniformity would also benefit the police, because, as we know, it will be the district councils which will be the licensing authorities. The chief constables' police areas in Scotland are made up of a number of district councils. I am not sure whether the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland has made representations to the Secretary of State on this matter—I suspect that it has not. However, the police force must have difficulty in remembering which districts have licences in the chief constable's area and which do not. We should be removing one more obstacle placed in the way of uniformity.

The transferring of police officers from one district council area to another while in the same police authority area would be easier in the sense that the officer would not have to apply his mind to a new set of conditions in that area when dealing with this problem of the licensing of taxis.

Furthermore, at the beginning of this debate, the Government introduced an amendment and a new clause allowing for the cross-border provisions referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) and other hon. Members. The Government went on to make it clear that even the new clause and the amendment would be operative only if the vehicles were operating from a licensed area. It seems strange that the Government should go to the trouble of dealing with what was recognised as a cross-border problem, yet at the same time leave this discretion that could negate the measures that they took in the new clause and amendment.

There is a strong case for mandatory licensing. We need a uniform licensing system throughout Scotland so that we can avoid all the doubts and misunderstandings and get rid of the uncertainties. With clarity of legislation, all these points could be achieved. Nowhere do the arguments in favour of rural authorities deciding not to license outweigh any of the arguments for a mandatory, uniform licence system.

My hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and for Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Mr. Carmichael) said that we should not be returning to this subject before a fair number of years had passed. Thus, it is important to do everything possible to get the matter right. We have the opportunity tonight to deal with the thorny question of licensing of private hire vehicles and taxis, and to put it on a uniform mandatory basis throughout Scotland.

If the amendments are accepted, local authorities will be happy, both sides of the trade will be happy and, as the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire said, this will be an attractive proposition to him. There is nothing political about the amendments; it is a question of getting the matter right. I hope that I have persuaded the Minister that our approach to the matter is correct and that he will accept our amendments.

Mr. Allan Stewart

With amendments Nos. 42 and 43 we are taking Government amendments Nos. 44, 166 and 167. The Government amendments will make public entertainment licence provisions subject to the optional rather than mandatory requirements as presently drafted in the Bill. This is the result of the concern expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee about the consequences of mandatory licensing for public entertainment. The discretion now provided meets the concern expressed by hon. Members, and I commend the Government amendments on that basis.

The hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) made a serious and well-considered case, and I shall not make the too obvious point. As I think he recognises, it is rather unusual for the Opposition to seek to impose obligations on local authorities, which would be the result of his amendment. The main point between us is whether taxis and hire cars should be licensed in any particular area at the discretion of the local authority.

I accept what hon. Members and the trade have said about the problems in the big conurbations, where local authorities did not have the necessary powers under the Burgh Police Act. I said in Committee that, in consultation with the convention and the police, we would make it very clear that in our view there was everything to be said for avoiding the creation of small areas of local authorities that can operate as havens for unlicensed pirates in the conurbations. However, that is very different from the amendment, which seeks to provide a blanket application of taxi and hire car licensing throughout Scotland, irrespective of local conditions.

The anxiety of the trade, referred to by the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth, reflects the concern in the urban areas rather than the position under rural authorities. At present, 26 authorities in Scotland do not license taxis or hire cars, the majority of which are concentrated in the rural areas. Many of those authorities have not said that difficulties have arisen as a result.

The position south of the border under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 is similar, in that an authority may or may not adopt a licensing system. There is no evidence of abuses in England and Wales from the way in which councils operate their discretion.

The Opposition view does not, perhaps, put sufficient weight on the legislation that already exists on the safety of vehicles, which is contained in the construction and use regulations, or she requirements for regular inspection of vehicles under the normal testing arrangements.

Frankly, there is a genuine difference of view between us on what is appropriate. I accept that the hon. Gentleman put forward a serious case, but where there is pressure from the trade to have a licensing system, all the evidence suggests that local authorities respond positively to such pressure.

The position in many rural areas is different. Ultimately, our view remains that it is sensible to continue to give local authorities discretion in this matter. After all, the local authorities best know the circumstances and needs of their areas, and I would expect any Scottish local authority that is under legitimate pressure to have a licensing system to adopt one.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has made a persuasive argument for imposing on local authorities a mandatory system for which there is no need. If the hon. Gentleman seeks to divide the House, I must advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote against the amendment.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

I was willing to be convinced that it was unnecessary to have a mandatory licensing system, but I do not think that the Minister has made much of a case. After all, most Scottish people live in the urban areas. I concede that the system operating in the urban areas need not necessarily be reflected in the rural areas. Indeed, many hon. Members representing rural areas see no logic in introducing a mandatory system that would be a burden on the local authorities which apparently have an existing system that is satisfactory.

On the other hand, the argument is that the situation is unsatisfactory in urban areas where the local authorities see no reason for contracting into the system. In those cases, no attention is given to the problem of being contiguous to an area that has a mandatory system. I have no doubt that the anomalies referred to by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) also apply to other areas.

If the argument is the greatest good for the greatest number, is it the case—

Mr. Allan Stewart

Does the right hon. Gentleman not agree that their difficulty has been that some urban areas have not had the power to introduce a licensing system? The main example given in Committee was that of Eastwood district, which under the Burgh Police Act does not have the power, yet that district has made it very clear that it would introduce a licensing system once it was given the option.

7.45 pm
Dr. Mabon

I have no doubt that the Minister, who represents the Eastwood district, will do all that he can to persuade it. People who live in the Glasgow environs know that Eastwood is an important part of the area and know what a great lacuna it would be if it did not opt into the system. There could then be the abuse about which both sections of the trade and the local authorities are concerned.

The Minister has not said that the local authorities are against a mandatory system. As he is not able to say so, I presume that the local authorities would not be upset if the amendments were to be carried.

The hon. Gentleman has been a good Minister, in as much as he listened to all the arguments in Committee. Given his predecessor's commitments, he obviously had to argue this point with his colleagues and make a major change in the Bill. It is now his Bill. It is not one that he inherited from a pigeon hole in the Scottish Office and is seeking to carry it through as it stands. Having taken this major step forward by accepting—

Mr. Home Robertson


Dr. Mabon

It is not entirely flattery. The point is that the Minister accepted the argument and improved the Bill substantially as a result.

Is the Bill now complete in this regard? On balance, I do not think so. The inconvenience caused to authorities that would be obliged to adopt a mandatory system would be much less than the inconvenience to the travelling public who live in the urban areas and who might find the contiguity argument treacherous in as much as they would not get the service they would expect. The trade also feels disturbed about the possibility of different provisions.

In effect, the Minister concedes that argument by saying that he will go to the police and to local authorities such as Eastwood to persuade them to opt into the system. Perhaps in his own heart he believes in mandatory provisions but is unable to carry his colleagues that far. In that case, we should help him by voting for the amendments.

Mr. Harry Ewing

Obviously, the Minister's reply is not acceptable to the Opposition and we now intend to push the matter to a vote.

I am sure the Minister wants placed on the record the fact that Eastwood district council does not have these powers because it is made up of areas which at the time of local government reorganisation had no local authorities within them. Therefore, Eastwood did not take over an area that operated the Burgh Police Act.

The Minister emphasised the inconvenience for rural authorities if they were subjected to a mandatory system. In fact, the inconvenience is caused to authorities that opt into the system. As the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. Walker) and others have said, the difficulty has occurred because of areas with no licensing provision operating in areas that are licensed. That is where the inconvenience arises. To test the will of the House on this matter, I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends—and any Conservative Members who care to do so—to join me in the Division Lobby.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 79, Noes 113.

Division No. 296] [7.50 pm
Allaun, Frank Clarke, Thomas C'b'dge,
Alton, David A'drie
Beith, A. J. Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Cook, Robin F.
Bray, Dr Jeremy Cryer, Bob
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Deakins, Eric
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Buchan, Norman Dewar, Donald
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Dixon, Donald
Campbell-Savours, Dale Dormand, Jack
Carmichael, Neil Dubs, Alfred
Cartwright, John Eadie, Alex
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Eastham, Ken
Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n S E) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
English, Michael Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Morton, George
Ewing, Harry O'Neill, Martin
Faulds, Andrew Palmer, Arthur
Foster, Derek Pavitt, Laurie
Foulkes, George Penhaligon, David
Freud, Clement Pitt, William Henry
George, Bruce Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Hardy, Peter Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Heffer, Eric S. Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire) Skinner, Dennis
Home Robertson, John Snape, Peter
Hooley, Frank Spriggs, Leslie
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Steel, Rt Hon David
Lamond, James Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Strang, Gavin
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W) Wainwright, E,(Dearne V)
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
McCartney, Hugh Winnick, David
McElhone, Frank Woolmer, Kenneth
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Young, David (Bolton E)
McKelvey, William
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Tellers for the Ayes:
Marshall, D(G'gow S'ton) Mr. Frank Haynes and
Martin, M(G'gow S'burn) Mr. Lawrence Cunliffe.
Alexander, Richard King, Rt Hon Tom
Ancram, Michael Knight, Mrs Jill
Aspinwall, Jack Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Atkins, Robert(Preston N) Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Bendall, Vivian Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Lyell, Nicholas
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) McCrindle, Robert
Berry, Hon Anthony Macfarlane, Neil
Biggs-Davison, Sir John MacGregor, John
Blackburn, John MacKay, John (Argyll)
Body, Richard Major, John
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Marlow, Antony
Boscawen, Hon Robert Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Brinton, Tim Mates, Michael
Brooke, Hon Peter Mather, Carol
Bruce-Gardyne, John Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Bryan, Sir Paul Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Cadbury, Jocelyn Mayhew, Patrick
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Chapman, Sydney Mills, Sir Peter (West Devon)
Cope, John Moate, Roger
Cranborne, Viscount Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Crouch, David Murphy, Christopher
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Myles, David
Dover, Denshore Neale, Gerrard
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Neubert, Michael
Durant, Tony Newton, Tony
Fairbairn, Nicholas Normanton, Tom
Faith, Mrs Sheila Parris, Matthew
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N) Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles Prior, Rt Hon James
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Rathbone, Tim
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Renton, Tim
Garel-Jones, Tristan Rhodes James, Robert
Goodhart, Sir Philip Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Goodlad, Alastair Rossi, Hugh
Gorst, John Rumbold, Mrs A. C. R.
Gray, Hamish Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N) Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Hampson, Dr Keith Sims, Roger
Hawkins, Sir Paul Speller, Tony
Hawksley, Warren Sproat, Iain
Hayhoe, Barney Stainton, Keith
Heddle, John Stanbrook, Ivor
Hooson, Tom Stevens, Martin
Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Irvine, Bryant Godman Stradling Thomas, J.
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Wells, Bowen
Thomas, Rt Hon Peter Wheeler, John
Thompson, Donald Wickenden, Keith
Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath) Wolfson, Mark
Trippier, David Younger, Rt Hon George
Waddington, David
Waldegrave, Hon William Tellers for the Noes:
Waller, Gary Mr. Ian Lang and
Ward, John Mr. Archie Hamilton.
Watson, John

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendments made: No. 44, in page 6, line 30, leave out '40, 42 and'.

No. 166, in page 7, line 19, after `to', insert '(a)'.

No. 167, in page 7, line 23 [Clause], at end insert'; (b) the activity provision for the licensing of which is made in section 41 of this Act (that is to say the use of premises as a place of public entertainment) shall specify the place or places, or class or classes thereof, which shall thereby fall to be licensed.'.

No. 47, in page 8, line 18 [Clause 9], leave out 'in this section'.— [Mr. Allan Stewart.]

Back to
Forward to