Previous SectionIndexHome Page

10.45 am

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend makes an important point. I do not dispute that it is a potential problem. However, it should be left to the discretion of the licensing authority to satisfy itself that there is evidence for a driver's claim that he is afraid of dogs. That point is covered in amendment No. 7, and that answers the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, who asked me what the purpose of the amendment was.

Mr. Edward Davey: I am afraid that the House is not yet with the hon. Gentleman on this point. I understand his motives, and we are grateful to him for allowing us to debate the point. It has focused our attention on the matter in hand. However, I am concerned that we would place on the licensing authority an obligation that it would find almost impossible to carry out. It would find it impossible reasonably to assess someone's claims that he had a fear of dogs if there were no medical evidence to back them up.

Bob Spink (Castle Point) rose—

Mr. Dismore: I shall give way to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) and deal with two points at once.

Bob Spink: I agree with the mood of the House. I am not convinced that inserting the words "or other reasonable" grounds would be a good move. It would provide an escape clause. We are aware that specific medical conditions such as agoraphobia and arachnophobia, which is the fear of a particular animal, exist. However, if someone had a true phobia of dogs, he would have sought medical help. He would have a medical history, so the fear would be covered by the

19 Jul 2002 : Column 574

provision relating to medical grounds. Can the hon. Gentleman not accept that the problem would be dealt with in that way?

Mr. Dismore: I will deal with the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) when we consider the next amendment. On the other point, some people do not consider themselves to have a medical condition, but they are frightened of dogs.

Mr. McCabe: I do not agree with the thrust of my hon. Friend's argument, but he is right on one point. It is perfectly possible to have a rational fear of dogs. For example, a person might have been bitten more than once or someone close to them might have been attacked. The fear would not constitute a medical condition, but it would be perfectly rational and understandable.

Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. He makes succinctly the point that I have tried to make in the past few minutes. That is why a driver should be able to use other reasonable grounds for refusing to carry a dog.

Mr. Pond rose

Claire Ward rose

Mr. Dismore: We will have one last round, before I move to my next point. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Claire Ward).

Claire Ward: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing us to pursue the issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe) suggested that, if the driver, a member of his family or one of his friends had been bitten, we should perhaps consider that a reasonable ground for his refusing to carry a dog. However, that argument is not reasonable, because the fact that a member of his family or an acquaintance had been bitten should not allow him to continue his prejudice against dogs. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) thinks that such circumstances justify the amendment, I believe that they merely highlight another weakness in it.

Mr. Dismore: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but I think that she is wrong. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. McCabe). The fact is that people have a fear of dogs, and the question is whether they can satisfy the licensing authority that it is a genuine fear. If they cannot do that, they will not receive the exemption.

To suggest that an exemption can be allowed only on medical grounds boxes the driver in. There may be other reasons, as the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton said. I cannot come up with another example now. I am focusing on the one that we are discussing because we need to make progress. It is wrong to say that there is only one reason why a licence exemption should be granted. I am concerned that there may be many other reasons that we cannot think of now, which if brought to our attention could properly be considered a fair reason for refusal. It is a matter for the licensing authority in the light of the evidence that is presented to it.

Mr. Pond: My hon. Friend has referred to the need for drivers or operators to persuade licensing authorities that

19 Jul 2002 : Column 575

they have a genuine fear of dogs. Does he realise that that would introduce a real inconsistency from one licensing authority to another? Such inconsistency would allow real loopholes. Unless we have exemptions that are based on medical criteria and which have some element of objectivity, there could be a serious weakness in the implementation of the Bill.

Mr. Dismore: I hear what my hon. Friend says but I do not agree with him. Fear of dogs may be a subjective fear, but it is an objective issue for the licensing authority to determine from case to case. I do not see the issue arising very often. I believe that simply saying that there can be no reason other than a medical one is creating an injustice that we may not even be aware of as we consider the Bill.

Bob Spink: The hon. Gentleman said that he cannot think of another reasonable reason, but that there might be one so we should accept the amendment just in case. That is not a persuasive argument for the House. Surely it is a matter of the balance of rights. There is the right of the person who cannot see to travel in the same way as a sighted person can travel versus the right of the person who is driving to avoid the discomfiture that he might suffer from a fear of dogs. We must find that balance. In saying what is reasonable, how do we measure fear? Where do we draw the line? A medical condition is definable and can be justified and argued. By introducing "reasonable", we are giving lawyers work. I think that we should reject the amendment.

Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman makes the valid point that the issue is where the balance lies. That was where I started my speech. Where does the balance lie in ensuring that we do justice between the two parties? I am concerned that we may end up creating an injustice by not allowing slightly more flexibility to the licensing authority.

Mr. Gareth Thomas (Harrow, West): My hon. Friend has pursued this point with some passion and at some length. I am interested to know his motivation. Is he expressing a concern, having read the Bill in detail, or has he received representations from minicab owners in his constituency or elsewhere, which have led him to pursue this point with passion?

Mr. Dismore: The answer to my hon. Friend's question is simple. I have read the Bill and I perceive injustices and loopholes. We should address them today and give our concerns an airing. I will listen to the promoter, my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), when he replies. He may convince me that I am wrong, or he may say that he sees some merits in some of my points.

I move on to amendment No. 7. The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome asked me why we need it. I have been debating, in responding to various interventions, the question of medical conditions. The starting point is that clause 1(5) reads:

it should

19 Jul 2002 : Column 576

Clause 1(6) deals with the issues that should be taken into account in

The issues that should be taken into account all relate to the particular vehicle. They do not relate to the medical condition itself.

I am concerned that the licensing authority is not required to examine the medical condition on the basis of medical evidence. Almost everyone in the Chamber made that point to me during our discussion of amendment No. 6. There would have to be medical evidence to prove that there should be an exemption. However, the Bill does not provide that the driver must provide medical evidence to justify the reasons why he should be exempt. He could merely say, "I have an allergy to dogs" or whatever. The licensing authority would then say, "All right, fair enough." According to the Bill, the driver does not have to produce medical evidence to justify what he is saying.

Bob Spink: If the taxi driver refuses to take the person who cannot see and his dog, how could the person who cannot see take down the taxi driver's number?

Mr. Dismore: That is a rather silly intervention. The minicab will have been booked through the mini cab company, which will know the name of the driver who was allocated the job. That intervention is not pertinent to amendment No. 7.

Lawrie Quinn: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Dismore: I shall develop my argument and then give way to my hon. Friend. I am concerned that subsections (5) and (6) do not sit together as well as they should. I am not sure why the physical characteristics of the vehicle, or kind of vehicle, are relevant to the medical condition. Yet there is no requirement to produce medical evidence. It seems that that is a loophole and something that a driver could exploit. He could give the licensing authority a great spiel about why he has a problem with dogs without having to justify that with medical evidence.

Next Section

IndexHome Page