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'and any relevant medical condition or allergy to dogs (supported by such medical evidence as the licensing authority may prescribe) of the driver'.
'which period shall be not less than 12 months'.
(c) at the time of the refusal the assistance dog was in an excitable, agitated or boisterous state which might have endangered the drivers ability to properly control the private hire vehicle.'.
'(8A) No offence is committed by a driver under subsection (3) if
(a) the dog is so large as not to be able to sit comfortably on the floor of the vehicle, or
(b) the disabled person refuses or fails to require or fails to cause the dog to sit on the floor of the vehicle'.
Sir Sydney Chapman: My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) has suddenly had to go to an unexpected and rather serious engagement in his constituency. A matter has come up, and I will willingly explain privately to any hon. Member the reasons why my right hon. Friend cannot attend today. He sends his apologies for not being here. I understand that as the amendment stands in my name as well as his, I am permitted to move the new clause and to speak to amendment No. 2.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me say first that I fully support the Bill promoted by the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and wish it well; I hope that it reaches the statute book expeditiously. The purpose of the new clause and amendment No. 2 is to protect the security interests of the driver of a private hire vehicle.
I have received a briefing from the Royal National Institute for the Blind, in the names of its campaigns director and its campaigns officer, Mr. Nicholas Russell. I have been very much persuaded by what Mr. Russell has written, and it seems to me on balance that, provided that nothing to the contrary comes out of the ensuing debate and the Minister does not argue the other way, I should not seek to put either new clause 1 or amendment No. 2 to the vote, but should rather, with the leave of the House, withdraw the motion.
Before doing that, I shall mention the reasons why I have come to that conclusion. New clause 1, as the House will know, deals with the possibility of a guide dog vomiting, urinating or defecating in a vehicle. The driver would be able to recover the costs in civil law if necessary. I am not a lawyer, but I am assured that if that happened the owner of the dog would in any case be liable for a civil debt under the general law of tort. If that is the case, it would be extraneous to proceed with the new clause.
The new clause was not intended to suggest that such events would happen except in the most extreme and rare circumstances. I am deeply aware of how guide dogs are chosen and trained, and the care that goes into that, and I would not seek to suggest that it is the norm that a dog would do any of those things, or cause damage in the way described in the new clause.
In the light of those assurances, and unless there is some legal point that might necessitate strengthening the defence for a driver in such exceptional circumstances, I shall not insist that the House divides on either new clause 1 or amendment No. 2.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Coatbridge and Chryston): Characteristically, the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) has made a very moderate speechindeed, a good speechin opposition to the new clause and amendment No. 2. However, there are some in the House today who may recall the passage of what was then the Disability Discrimination Bill. The Government of the day chose the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) as the Minister who piloted the Bill through, and he did that extremely well. I led for the Opposition, and I leave others to decide what my performance was like. [Hon. Members: "Tremendous."] I am sure that it is all on the record. However, I very much regret, as do Members who were involved in that Bill, including my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), who has done such a marvellous job in introducing this Bill, that we had to move the then Government on transport because it had not been included in the original draft Bill. So we made more progress on transport than was originally expected. However, we did not reach the issue in this Bill.
Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby): The whole House respects the work that my right hon. Friend and the supporters of the Bill have done. However, does he agree that it is often human beings, particularly those who have had too much to drink or are intoxicated in other ways, who cause the offence to drivers of private hire vehicles? Yet the proposal before us implies that dogs or other animals are capable of the same behaviour that some people indulge in after a certain hour.
Mr. Clarke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining what I think would be the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. Were we to adopt new clause 1 and amendment No. 2, we would impose on dogs something that we do not impose on people. Yet all the evidence is that some peoplea minoritybehave much more unacceptably than most dogs. Therefore, the proposals are unnecessary.
The experience of the House, not to mention that of individual Members, the advice of our constituents and of the RNIB, is profound. Nearly every day we are delighted to see a guide dog in the House. Very often, the guide dog behaves much better than the average Member, yet no one would seek to impose draconian rules on Members regarding their behaviour. It is certainly not necessary for that wonderful dog, which comes in with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
Sir Sydney Chapman: The hon. Gentleman is quite right in general terms. However, I recall one time when the guide dog of a very distinguished Member performed in this Chamber in a way that I have never seen any right hon. or hon. Member perform.
Mr. Clarke: I leave the defence of canines to their friends. It would be a dangerous path, and I am sure that you would not allow it, Mr. Deputy Speaker, were I to deal with the behaviour of every Member at every moment the House is sitting.
Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. He is right that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) was reasonable in his analysis of some of the defects in new clause 1. We have yet to hear the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore). However, does my right hon. Friend agree that the amendments would introduce uncertainty into the legislation and allow the unscrupulous minicab driverI am sure that there are very few of thoseto prevent those who use guide dogs or hearing dogs from taking them into the car? That uncertainty, which has not yet been touched on in the debate, is an added reason for rejecting the amendments.
The Bill is long overdue. Those who train guide dogs for blind persons and hearing dogs for persons with hearing difficulties do a first-class job. I want more training to take place. More people should have access to these dogs, and people with disabilities should not be restricted in using transport. As I said, I regret that access to minicabs was not included in earlier disability legislation, and it is important to welcome a measure that is long overdue.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): This is an extremely important Bill, which I support. I am slightly perturbed by this group of amendments. I agree with the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke) that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) did a good job of demolishing the case for his new clause and amendment. Perhaps he was not in full possession of the facts when he appended his name to the new clause in the first instance and has had time for reflection since then.