HL Deb 29 June 1976 vol 372 cc675-85

3.10 p.m.

The MINISTER of STATE, HOME OFFICE (Lord Harris of Greenwich)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—[Lord Harris of Greenwich.]

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Baroness TWEEDSMUIR Of BELHEL-VIE in the Chair.]

Clause 37 [Vehicle, drivers' and operators' licences]:

Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH moved Amendment No. 56:

Page 42, line 17, leave out " licensed in pursuance of this Part of this Act ".

The noble Lord said

I beg to move Amendment No. 56. It is a drafting Amendment to make clear that an unlicensed driver does not escape the law merely because his vehicle is also unlicensed.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

On Question, Whether Clause 37, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill ?

Baroness YOUNG

We have already had an extensive debate on whether Clause 36 shall stand part of the Bill, and it is not my intention to take up the time of the Committee unnecessarily by repeating what I and my colleagues consider about the whole of Part II of the Bill. I shall be putting forward suggestions each time on the Question, Whether the clause shall stand part, because of what we regard as the extraordinary procedure that has been adopted in another place of including this entire Part of the Bill at the Committee stage, basing it on a Private Act of Parliament and not giving anyone the opportunity to make representations or to be consulted, although the interests of both the Taxi-drivers' Association and the Private Car Hire Association have been involved.

My purpose in raising these matters is to draw this to your Lordships' attention. I do not propose to speak at length on all of these clauses but I wish at the start of this Committee procedure to register once again my feelings on the subject, and to say that I believe the correct way to proceed would have been for the Home Office to bring forward a Bill on this matter on which there had been full consultation.


Let me start on a happy note by saying how much I agree with what the noble Baroness has said. That was the Government's position but, unhappily—and I, like the noble Baroness, do not propose to go over my last speech on Clause 36—the fact is that the Government were defeated in Committee in another place and the Government have accepted the majority view expressed there. I agree with the noble Baroness. My honourable friend who sought to persuade a number of members of my Party as well as a number of members of the noble Baroness's Party about the merits of the Government position on this matter, deployed some of the arguments which the noble Baroness has deployed. That was not the view of the Committee in another place and the Government feel it appropriate to accept that decision. Had this been a Government Bill there would have been thorough and protracted discussion with local interests. I do not think that this is a happy way in which to legislate.


What an extraordinary position we are in at the moment? Here we have speakers from both sides of the Committee saying that we are about to let go through a part of a Bill which is ill-conceived and badly designed and should never have come to your Lordships' House at all. Yet both seem perfectly prepared to sit down under this extraordinarily stupid piece of legislation and let it go through—which, in itself, seems quite crazy. Speaking, as I do, for people who live in the country and who are going to be injured by this Bill unless we can do something about it, amending it very considerably as it goes through this House, I think that we are neglecting grossly our duty in not throwing out every clause. If I could get a Teller to join me I would divide the Committee.

Clause 37, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 38 [Licensing of hackney carriages]:

On Question, Whether Clause 38 shall stand part of the Bill ?

3.16 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

On this clause we are talking about the licensing of hackney carriages. It was perfectly clear from the short debate we had on Clause 36 that there have been no consultations at all with the taxidrivers' associations. I should like to take this opportunity to press the noble Lord, Lord Harris, a little further about what we may expect from the Home Office following on Part II. I am glad to feel that we are both in entire agreement that this is not the correct way to legislate. Although I have deep sympathy with the point of view expressed by my noble friend Lord Cranbrook, I do not feel it would be right at this stage to take out Part II of the Bill, tempting though it is to attempt such a procedure.

I understand that the principal reason for including it was pressure from the Association of District Councils. They did so because a number of authorities are promoting Private Bills which include all these clauses. Part II of this Bill is based on the Plymouth City Council Act which was based on the Act of Liverpool. Now it is going to be incorporated in toto in general legislation. If, on both sides of the Committee, we are agreed that it is not correct as it is, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Harris, can say when the Home Office now intend to publish their Consultative Document on the future of taxis and private hire cars and, following on that, when they intend to legislate. I believe this to be important, because I believe it to be most unlikely that we shall get Part H into proper form considering it in this way at this stage of the proceedings on the Bill.


The position is that the Government still propose to issue a Consultative Document. That will be done fairly soon after this Bill goes on the Statute Book. Obviously, the consultations with the various interests will now take place on rather a different basis. Those will be pressed on with and, as soon as they are concluded, the Government will be in a position to prepare their own legislation. But as I indicated when we debated Clause 36, inevitably I can give no guarantee of when Parliamentary time will be made available for such a Bill. Certainly, I share the noble Baroness's point of view on this matter. I think it obviously most important to have this Consultative Document. Then there can be consultations with all the interests.

The only point on which I would perhaps take a slightly different position from the one expressed by the noble Baroness is that I think we can make this a rather better Bill than I agree it is at the moment. The fact is, as the noble Baroness has said, that this is based on a local Act. It is only fair to say that the local Act appears to have been perfectly well received by the citizens of Plymouth and, so far as I know, by those of Liverpool as well, without any grievous difficulties arising. Nevertheless, and obviously, a number of Amendments will he necessary during the Committee and Report stages. I share the view that the Consultative Document should he pressed on with ; and it is our intention to do so.

Baroness YOUNG

I am bound to say that I do not find that a very satisfactory answer. The noble Lord is right in saying that there has not been much criticism of the Plymouth Act; but that, as far as I know, became operative only in January and there has not been much time to see how it works out. The whole point is that if you take a Private Act which may be suitable to the circumstances of Plymouth, and apply it to the whole of England and Wales, you are affecting all sorts of people who have had no opportunity to make representations and who may find themselves in very great difficulties. The Private Hire Car Association is a particular example.

It is disturbing that the whole of this matter has arisen as an interim proposal. I do not believe that Part II would ever have been incorporated in this Bill in another place if Members on both sides had not thought of it as very much an interim proposal, in the confident expectation that the Home Office would themselves be legislating. After all, the taxi cab legislation is based on an Act of 1847. When the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, read this the first time, she thought she had misread it. I did myself. It is unbelievable that we should be amending legislation of 1847. To say that the Home Office has no idea when this Consultation Document will come or we can legislate seems to me—


With great respect, I did not say that. If the noble Baroness looks at Hansard tomorrow she will see that I said nothing of the sort. I said that as soon as the Bill went on the Statute Book we would get on with this Consultative Document. Clearly, the Consultative Document, which we were planning to produce, will be a different character because the law will be different. With great respect, I do not really believe that there is a great deal between the two Front Benches or most people in the Committee in this matter. It is a non-partisan matter and I hope we will proceed on that basis.

Baroness YOUNG

We shall certainly proceed on that basis. I am not making it a partisan question at all; I am merely trying to support the interests of people who feel that they have been rather unjustly treated. I am sure we both want to put that right. I will study what the noble Lord said in Hansard, but he has not given a definite date about the Consultation Document or legislation.

Clause 38 agreed to.

Clause 39 [Licensing of private hire vehicles]:

3.22 p.m.

Lord AIREDALE moved Amendment No. 57:

Page 43, line 29, at end insert—

" Provided that an operator or proprietor of a private hire vehicle licensed under this Act shall be permitted to display on any such private hire vehicle any sign which specifies the name and telephone number of his firm or company ".
The noble Lord said

We can now pass from generalities and rivet our attention upon a matter of precise detail. Clause 39 deals with the licensing of private hire vehicles and subsection (2) empowers a district council to prohibit the display of signs on a private hire vehicle. This Amendment is in the form of a proviso which is intended to provide that in every case a private hire vehicle can at least be entitled to display a sign which shows the name of the firm and its telephone number. The reason for the necessity for such an Amendment is to meet a situation of this kind. At a large gathering, perhaps a banquet, people leave at the same time and a number might have ordered hire cars. They may be people who are not known to, and will not be recognised by, the driver of the hire car. But the customer, on the other hand, of course knows the firm from whom he has ordered the car. If the car displays the firm's sign, even though the driver may not be able to identify and recognise the customer, the customer will be able to identify the car he is looking for. There may be a number of people looking for cars. Without signs on the cars by which the customers can identify them, there is liable to be a state of chaos with people searching about, probably in the dark, trying to find their car. There will be obstruction, and so on. It would seem, therefore, most important and sensible that these cars should have signs on them by which their customers can identify them. That is the purpose of this Amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness YOUNG

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak to my Amendment No. 58 which covers precisely the same point. I will withdraw my Amendment in favour of the Amendment by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, which covers the same point. His Amendment is more tightly drawn and is one which, on reflection, I prefer. I do not need to repeat the argument that he has made, because he has put it very clearly.


The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has made a very persuasive case in support of his Amendment; but I wonder whether he has told the whole story and whether he has laid before us all the possibilities that might arise if his proposal were adopted. He talked about a group of friends hiring a car to go to a banquet.


No. Several noble Lords: No!


Let us assume that I have hired a car and have taken some of my friends to a banquet. Do I, when I roll up in the Rolls-Royce at the Mansion House or Buckingham Palace, want to see a notice across the roof of my Rolls-Royce saying: " Bloggs and Company, Car-Hirers and Funeral Directors "? If one hires a private car one wants to have the appearance of a private car. Then the noble Lord referred to the time when the banquet had finished and the chauffeurs were trying to trace the people who had hired the cars. On such formal occasions where I have been present somebody has called out, " Lord Leatherland's car ", and my car has duly appeared. Surely, at a well regulated function the hirer of the car who wanted his car to be brought and made available to him would notify the porter to that effect; the porter would then send his chain of communication into action and the car would roll up. I hardly think it is worth while destroying and undermining the dignity of the private car which we would hire by having a trade notice put either on the side of the vehicle or on its roof.


It all depends on there being a porter available. Some of the banquets to which I go—perhaps they are not very smart—do not always have a porter. There are two matters which the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, did not appreciate; I could not have made them clear when I was speaking. I was not talking about people who hired cars to go to banquets; I was talking about several people who emerged from a banquet at the same time, and who at the same moment wanted to be met by cars which they had ordered to pick them up. The noble Lord, if he reads the proviso in this Amendment, will see that it says that the operator should be permitted to display a sign if he wants to do so. If he is going to Buckingham Palace and the customer says, " I would rather not have a vulgar sign on the car driving into the forecourt of Buckingham Palace " then the operator does not have to have the sign on the car on that particular occasion.


Would the noble Lord permit me to interrupt ?

Several noble Lords

Order, order!


Perhaps I might finish the sentence. I was about to finish the sentence, but as I have forgotten what I was going to say perhaps the noble Lord would care to intervene.


The noble Lord said that on driving into Buckingham Palace courtyard the driver of the car quite properly removes the sign which says: " Bloggs and Company, Car-Hirers and Funeral Directors ". But how on earth would I, the honoured guest, be able to identify the particular car which I had hired? Surely, that destroys the whole argument.

3.28 p.m.


I did not want to intervene in this fascinating dialogue between my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, but perhaps I could point out one problem that the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, did not touch upon and why we have some anxiety about this Amendment. It is the obvious point that a private hire vehicle cannot stand and ply for hire. That is the central point that distinguishes a private hire car from the normal taxi. The problem about this Amendment is that there are, unhappily, some owners of private hire vehicles who sometimes try to give the impression that they are not a private hire car but a taxi. In the Metropolitan Police district it is obvious what the difference is, because a taxi has a particular shape and is clearly identifiable as a taxi. But outside London this is not very often so.

It is important therefore, so far as we are concerned, to make a clear distinction between a taxi on the one side, which is standing for hire and available at a moment's notice, and a private hire car where you have to make prior arrangements and cannot simply hail it in the street. Unless we are careful, some—arguably a minority—of the owners of private hire vehicles might well try to give the impression that they are not private hire vehicles, but are taxis by putting on signs of one kind or another which would make any distinction between them and a taxi very difficult to grasp for the ordinary person who is looking for a car to take him to his destination. That is why we are worried about this Amendment.

As the noble Lord will see, the clause attempts to deal with the problem by giving the district council in Clause 39 (2) the power to

… attach to the grant of a licence under this section such conditions as they may consider reasonably necessary … requiring or prohibiting the display of signs on or from the vehicle to which the licence relates ". There is some ill feeling from time to time between taxi drivers and the people who are running private hire vehicles, when the latter sometimes attempt to give the impression that they are taxis. That is our problem concerning this Amendment. If there is any way of getting over it I should be pleased to consider it, because I do not wish to defend every element of this Bill to the last ditch. But there is a problem here and at the moment I cannot see any way of getting over it.

Baroness YOUNG

I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Harris, and I have found from my local government experience that people can mistake private hire cars for taxis. On the other hand, what the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, is suggesting would be only a permissive power. I would think that the whole purpose of incorporating these 36 clauses into the Bill would be to regularise the position of private hire cars so that precisely the kind of ill-effects referred to by the noble Lord might be avoided. As the noble Lord has said he would be glad to consider this sympathetically, I wonder whether he might find it possible to put down an Amendment which would meet this point. If we look at the realistic situation, it is not the case of a person going to Buckingham Palace but it is much more likely to be an elderly person going to the theatre who wants a private hire car to collect her at the end of the evening. Such a person would find it much easier to identify her car if there was a name put on the roof of the car where the driver or the local authority thought it was suitable. All that is being asked for is this permissive power, and we should appreciate it if the noble Lord, Lord Harris, could look at this again.


I am always glad to look at things. I had already looked at this and was aware of the point which would be made. I think that subsection (2) gives the local authority a power of the kind for which the noble Baroness was asking. However, I do not think that at the moment I can offer a great deal of hope that we shall be able to deal with this problem between now and Report stage but, as with all these problems, I will gladly look at it.


I hope that before the Report stage we shall be able to reach a compromise whereby the local authority will retain the power to control the sign on the private hire car so that it cannot easily be mistaken for a taxi sign, but, on the other hand, that the local authority shall not be permitted—as they are now—to prohibit totally any sign at all so that a car hirer has no chance of identifying his car. With those words, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Whether Clause 39 shall stand Part of the Bill?


Clause 39, in our view, is unsatisfactory for a variety of different reasons concerning administration. Your Lordships will be aware that there is a proviso that the district council shall not grant such a licence unless they are satisfied concerning five particular matters relating to the vehicle. Each of these matters, in our view, is a matter of opinion. For instance, the fifth one is concerned with the fact that the vehicle shall be comfortable. Surely this is a matter of opinion. There is also the question of whether the vehicle is in a suitable mechanical condition, which is also a matter of opinion and not specifically concerned with the Ministry of Transport test. May I give your Lordships an illustration. As we understand it, in Liverpool no vehicle over three years old is given a licence. We feel that is a particularly onerous condition which is placed upon private hire operators since, in a very large number of cases, vehicles of 15 and sometimes even 20 years old have a much more comfortable and suitable form of springing for the purposes for which they are intended. Very often they are much larger and more popular with clients. I believe, as does my noble friend, that this clause could well be omitted from the Bill.


I should like strongly to support what has been said. I shall he dealing later with the smaller parishes in some of the control districts, where the local private hire car is of vital importance to all the people who live there. Those who live in these conditions are perhaps used to rather uncomfortable cars, which may be perfectly satisfactory for the more bucolic people who use them, and yet those extremely rural areas are now run very largely by people who are elected by the former urban districts and who have no conception of what it is to live in a small village and have to rely on what can be made available there. This could do an immense amount of damage to people living in these small villages, and I hope the Government will find it possible to take this back and consider whether the clause is really necessary.


I beg to move that the House do now resume.

House resumed.