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Sir Sydney Chapman: I really cannot let the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) get away with that. I admitted that I was not a lawyer. I received legal advice, which I then understood. Irrespective of that, new clause 1 and amendment No. 2 were genuinely designed to strengthen the Bill, not destroy it. They might make it more detailed, admittedly, and would cover the rights of the vehicle's driver. However, having had other matters explained to me, on balance, I think that new clause 1 and amendment No. 2 are not necessary and are even irrelevant to the Bill's main purpose and objective.
Mr. Heath: I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that explanation. Of course I accept at face value everything that he says about his intentions. I still have difficulty in reconciling the original intent of new clause 1 and amendment No. 2 with strengthening the Bill, but no doubt that point will be developed as we debate this further.
Mr. Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): With all due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), does the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) think it possible that the new clause gives us a glimpse of the real meaning of compassionate conservatism?
Mr. Heath: That may well be the case, but as the hon. Gentleman says, he will have to apologise to the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), who appears to have joined the gang. I hope that the hon. Member for Hendon will have an opportunity to catch your eye later, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and explain his intentions.
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): While in no sense wishing to rise to the bait of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe), do the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) and other Members present for this fascinating debate agree that whether or not we accept the amendment and new clause, it is important for the credibility of the Bill that these
Mr. Heath: I am happy to accept that proposition. The hon. Gentleman will recall a similar balance of interests when we considered the Copyright (Visually Impaired Persons) Bill. That is one of the two Bills of the Session which, if they reach the statute book, will greatly advance the interests of those with visual impairment. It is important to reconcile conflicting interests in matters of this kind, so that everyone feels that their concerns have been properly heard and addressed in this place.
Nevertheless, I find it difficult to understand why an assistance dog should be singled out as an animal or sentient beingI use that term in its broadest sense to include some members of the human race who may use private hire vehiclessubject to specific treatment under the law in such circumstances. As was correctly said earlier, by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge
As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out earlier, our experience and that of the trade shows that such problems are far more likely to be associated with human beings who may over-consume certain substances during an evening, hire a cab late at night and then find themselves indisposed. The likelihood of an animal being in that condition is much more remote, especially in the case of the best trained dogs in the country. They are wonderful creatures; they undergo extensive training and behave appropriately. It is somewhat perverse to single out that group for a specific requirement in the Bill.
Mr. Steve Webb (Northavon): Does my hon. Friend agree that there should at least be some test of reasonableness in the provision? Some of the folk that we are dealing with may not be able to see what condition the dog is in and may not fully anticipate what it might do in the vehicle. Such people should not be subject to harsh penalties if they behaved reasonably, whatever might have happened later.
Mr. Heath: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I am not a lawyer, but I suspect that the owner is responsible for the actions of their animal, irrespective of whether they can determine its condition in advance. I suspect that action under civil law and recovery of costs through tort would still be possible.
Mr. Tom Harris (Glasgow, Cathcart): I agree with the line of the hon. Gentleman's argument about the new clause. Does he agree that it seems unfair to impose such a condition on the carriage of blind people and their dogs when, as far as I am aware, the same restriction and redress in law is not applied when a blind person takes his or her dog into a shop or workplace? Would that not be a brand new requirement under law?
The counter-argument of course is that there would be a unique requirement under law that the private hire operator could not refuse carriage of the animal, whereas if it were of a different species or if the circumstances were different, he or she would be within their rights to say, "No, I believe that were I to carry a water buffalo in the back of my cab, it would be likely to cause damage to my vehicle so I am within my rights not to carry said animal." That clearly does not apply to a guide dog. [Hon. Members: "What about children?"] Indeed, the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Harris) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) make the same pointwe all know the dangers of travelling with children. However, that is to go a little way from the purpose of the proposal.
The new clause is not necessary. Damage caused to a vehicle by the animals described in the Bill is covered by other areas of law and cost recovery would be available to the driver. The new clause is at the very least otiose and possibly damaging to the interests of the Bill. I hope that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet will withdraw it in due course.
Private hire vehicles would not normally be hailed in the street, however; indeed it is illegal. They are hired by a phone call or a visit to the company's office and it would be impossible for the driverother than through a process of extra-sensory perceptionto assess the state of mind of the animal in question. I cannot for the life of me understand the circumstances in which the amendment would be relevant other than as later rationalisation of a decision taken on other grounds. That would seem an unfortunate addition to the Bill as it would offer an avenue for abuse on the part of the private hire company.
Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): I do not want to put words into the mouth of the supporters of the amendment, but perhaps their intention is to put the responsibility on to the person who is booking the private hire vehicle. The hirer is supposed to make the assessment when they book their cab. Does my hon. Friend want to questionas I dowhether the provision impugns the behaviour and sensible conduct of all owners of such dogs?
Mr. Heath: That would be one interpretation of the amendment, albeit a most unfortunate one if it were correct. I certainly would not want Members of this place to suggest that a person with a sensory impairment who was the owner or user of an assistance dog would be so lacking in proper care and consideration that they would hire a vehicle in the full knowledge that their dog was in a state quite alien to the normal conduct of such animals. However, my hon. Friend is right to say that that is one interpretation of the amendment.
I prefer to assume that the purpose of the amendment is to allow the operator or driver of the car to refuse carriage on the grounds of the boisterous or unruly behaviour of the dog. However, I do not think that the driver would be able to assess that.
Mr. Clarke: Following the very logical arguments that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome is putting to the House, I wonder whether he would agree that my constituents in Coatbridge and Chryston would find it very unusual if their Member gave support to an amendment that includes a split infinitive: "to properly control". Given the excellent Scottish education system, they would have some reservations about that as well, would they not?
Mr. Heath: I am most grateful to the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston, who has clearly had the benefit of an excellent Scottish education. I shall not go too far down the road of parsing the clause in question, but I have a difference with the right hon. Gentleman about the appropriateness or otherwise of the split infinitive. The split infinitive was commonly used in the authorised version of the Bible, and historically. It is only a Victorian invention that equated the English infinitive with the Latin infinitive, which of course could not be split because it was incorporated in a single word.