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Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek your advice on matters that will arise after consideration of the ten-minute Bill? Motion 4 deals with the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Bill. I do not think that you were in the Chair for any of the relevant periods last night, but I am sure that your colleagues will have told you that the House was eventually adjourned on a Government motion in the middle of a debate on an Adjournment motion while the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) was on his feet.
I should like guidance on the following matters. First, is the resumed debate on the Adjournment motion that we were discussing when the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham was speaking, or are we back to the substantive motion?
Secondly, given that the original sittings motion was superseded by the Adjournment motion, which was in train when the House was adjourned formally, will we have a decent period for debate on the sittings motion? Does time begin again for that purpose? Some of the normal conventions on closure cannot apply if times for both debates are added together. Are we starting again?
Will you assure us that the Parliamentary Secretary, who was properly in his place yesterday evening and kindly undertook to reply to matters that were raised, will have the opportunity to do so when other colleagues have contributed?
I believe that we have never had occasion to deal with my last question. Today's Order Paper contains a motion on the business of the House that cannot have been tabled until extremely late last night. Is it in order generally for the Government to table motions when the sitting is suspended, or can that be done only when the House is sitting? Will you confirm that the business of the House motion was not tabled during the two periods when Madam Deputy Speaker suspended the House for 10 minutes in the early hours of this morning?
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North): Further to the earlier point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As the guardian of the conventions of the House, will you confirm that the usual channels do not exercise the right to speak in the Chamber? Is not it therefore rather cowardly, and against those conventions, to make allegations against a member of the usual channels? Colleagues regard my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) as so friendly that he has been given a job in the Whips Office this year that allows him to carry a large stick with which to defend himself against several hon. Members.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: I do not believe that the House wants to go over that matter again. However, it is normal for an hon. Member to inform hon. Members if he intends to refer to them in the House. Hansard will record what has been said today.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You referred to the fact that the House sat in secret; there is therefore no record of the sitting. How will hon. Members who were not present know who took part in the debate and who can participate in today's debate?
Earlier this year, an event was hosted by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association at the House of Commons to celebrate the introduction of section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which requires licensed taxi drivers to carry dogs in their cabs. That is a welcome change, but the provision has not entirely removed the discrimination that exists against the owners of working dogs, because the Act does not cover private hire vehiclesin other words, minicabs.
The problem was first drawn to my attention about two years ago by a constituent of mine, Mr. Alan Powell, who described the problems that he had had over a number of years in finding minicab drivers who were prepared to take him and his guide dog. Drivers would turn up at his house when he had booked a car, but would refuse to take him when they saw the dog. He would regularly have to ring several companies before finding a driver willing to take him and his dog.
This morning, I met a guide dog owner who described having gone to Tesco's recently to do his weekly shopping. After he had done his shopping, he spent two hours phoning one minicab company after another to try to find a minicab prepared to take him home. One or two actually arrived, but then refused to take him with his dog. In the end, the assistant manager of the store took pity on him, got her car out and took him home.
Guide dog owners rely much more than most people on reliable and accessible taxis and private hire cars to help them get around and live a normal life. In a survey carried out recently by the joint committee on the mobility of blind and partially sighted people, one in seven people said that taxis and private hire vehicles were their most frequently used form of transport. One in five said that they used a taxi or private hire vehicle at least once a week. Many people said that that was because private hire vehicles and taxis were easier to use than most other forms of transport. It is obvious why that is the case: a door-to-door service is offered. A disabled person who does not have a guide dog might need a companion to travel with them, and taxis make life easier in that way. For people who rely on assistance dogsbe they guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs or other types of working dogstaxis are often the most convenient form of transport.
Of course, the majority of taxi drivers are not the problem. Most people to whom I have spoken about this have said that the majority of drivers try to be helpful and courteous, but that some are quite the opposite. Some drivers and taxi companies are deliberately unhelpful, and some licensing authorities do not appear to think that there is a problem.
The licensing situation for private hire vehicles is rather mixed across the United Kingdom. Generally, local authorities are responsible in England, Wales and Scotland, but London is different. In London, licensing will shortly become the responsibility of the Public Carriage Office, and there has also been consultation with the Greater London Authority about the possibility of such licensing being included in its remit. At the moment, however, no London authority has a requirement in its licensing regulations that guide dogs should be carried. Northern Ireland is also different, in that licensing there is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
There is no doubt that real progress has been made in the last two or three years, largely because of the campaigns that have been run by voluntary organisations. However, the situation is still patchy. Across the country there is a total of 374 local licensing authorities, and it is good that 257 of them have now put a requirement into their licensing regulations that private hire vehicles will have to carry guide dogs. Another 50 or so are working towards that aim, but more than 60 local authorities either are not interested or have refused to do anything to change the licensing requirements.
Although progress has been made, there are still gaps. Guide dog owners may know the position in their own areas, but they cannot be expected to know where local authority boundaries begin and end, or whether a company is licensed in one area or in another. They may take a holiday in a different part of the country, and find that the requirements there are different. The patchwork of arrangements across the country creates real problems.
Some local authorities that have refused to act have said, "We do not want to create burdens for small businesses." I am not sure what the "burdens" are supposed to be. Another response has been, "We have received no complaints; there is no problem in our area." I very much doubt that there is no problem, even if no complaints have been received. People may well not know the licensing position, and may not know who to complain to.
Other authorities have said, "We will have a problem because many minicab drivers in this area are Muslim, and will object to having dogs in their cars." That is not the case. When the objection was discussed in my borough of Waltham Forest last year, one of the leaders of the local mosque helpfully made it clear that was not the mosque's attitude, and that it should not be used as a reason for minicab drivers to refuse to accept a guide dog.
I was recently given a cutting from a Blackburn newspaper, according to which Blackburn with Darwen council is currently considering the possibility of extending licensing. A Mr. Mohammed Narwan, a representative of the local private hire drivers association, is quoted as saying:
We are not discussing a problem that affects a huge number of people or would impose a huge burden on minicab firms. I am told that there are roughly 5,000 guide dog owners nationwide, but for them this is a massive problem that affects how they lead their daily lives. Both the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and the Royal National Institute for the Blind have made it clear that they want this simple, positive change in the law, which would make life better for those whom they represent.
If we are interested in social inclusion, we should certainly be prepared to take my proposal on board. It concerns an issue of discriminationdiscrimination that we could end quickly and simply. That is the Bill's purpose.