Private Hire Vehicles (Carriage of Guide Dogs etc.) Bill

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Mr. Gerrard: I thank my colleagues for their contributions. The hon. Member for Daventry raised a number of important points. We want to ensure that the Bill is right and that things work properly, and I understand his motives for raising those points.

One difficulty is that we are dealing with a complex relationship. There is a passenger with a dog, an operator and a driver, and there are various forms of licensing involving operators, drivers and cars. It is a complex mixture to try to work through and it is difficult to find a phrase that will cover every single possible scenario that one might think of.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of mixed motives. It would be difficult for a driver to make a false excuse. Once an operator had taken a booking and passed it to a driver by saying, ''Go to this address and pick this person up,'' and the driver had agreed, it would be a fairly flimsy excuse if the driver then told the passenger, ''I am not taking you'' and refused to carry a dog. It would not be difficult for a court to see through such an excuse if the matter were pursued.

The Bill is anti-discrimination legislation. We are saying that a driver or operator will be in trouble if they do not take from a person with a guide dog a booking that they would otherwise have taken. One can always envisage circumstances in any dispute or court case where establishing motives is not simple, but courts are used to taking such decisions.

In many cases, drivers do not have a contract of employment with operators. Certainly in London, which I am familiar with, many of the drivers are virtually self-employed. In some cases, if they have a contract with the operator, they pay the operator to provide them with work, which is a rather odd form of contract. When the driver is licensed, there is the possibility that, in addition to court action, the licensing authority may take a dim view of the driver not abiding by the conditions of the licence. In the case of exemption certificates, it is the driver who will have such a certificate, not the vehicle.

With regard to the information that a person should give when making a booking, it is difficult to see how one could in the legislation impose a duty to disclose on the person making the booking. One would have thought that it would be common sense for someone to do so when making a booking. If we pass the legislation, no doubt the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and other organisations dealing with assistance dogs will want to tell their members that the legislation is in place and ensure that they are aware of it.

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Mr. Swire: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for addressing those points. However, does he accept that, because many of the vehicles are privately owned cars, drivers should have some warning that they are going to pick up a dog? They could then make the necessary arrangements by putting down some protection for what may, when they clock off work, revert to their family car. I should also like the hon. Gentleman to address the question of compensation. I fully accept that the firm has no right to charge more for taking an animal, but what happens—as it must from time to time—if a dog soils, or in some way damages, the car? Is that something that could be addressed?

Mr. Gerrard: I am sure that we could all be in that situation if we took a dog in a car, but it is difficult to see how one would deal with compensation.

It would make sense, and associations would encourage their members to make it clear, for people to know when they are taking a booking that a dog is to be carried. There will also be a process of education, and drivers getting used to the idea of taking dogs. We should remember that that is already happening in a fair number of local authorities. We are not introducing provisions that are completely new, but bringing consistency throughout the country. I am not aware of any real problems that have arisen in the local authorities where the licensing requirement is already in place. Operators, drivers and passengers soon become familiar with the new regime.

Mr. Boswell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has addressed the points made helpfully and in a good spirit. To respond, I would ask him to think about the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire). It may reassure the Committee if I say that in all my experience of guide dogs, including that of a right hon. Member in this House, the concerns that people have about their continence, or their ability to influence the environment, are nearly always ill placed. Of course, something can go wrong, but the dogs nearly always slot into situations with the least of problems. The legislation will allow us to prevent people from using the excuse of some theoretical inconvenience when there is no problem at all.

Mr. Gerrard: That is very helpful. Every time that I have come across guide dogs they have been well behaved and gentle. A dog that is not reasonably well behaved would be unsuitable as a guide dog or assistance dog.

There are bound to be problems, for example, with a person who has a single-car business and is covered by an exemption certificate. Someone may make a booking and have the unfortunate experience of such a driver turning up who cannot take the individual because of his exemption. That would be an inconvenience and a fresh booking would have to be made. However, the number of such occasions will be small; we know that exemption certificates that have been issued to licensed taxis are very few, and I do not expect huge numbers of exemption certificates to be issued in this case. I cannot remember the exact number, but we have something in the order of 6,000

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assistance dogs of one sort or another. We also have about 150,000 private hire vehicles, so we will not be placing a huge burden on operators and drivers.

I understand the point about passengers and allergies. That is a difficult problem. Anyone with an allergy could get into a private vehicle after someone else had just been in it with a dog, or after someone had been in it wearing perfume; it would be terribly difficult to legislate against such possibilities. On the issue of local authority hire vehicles, local authorities that are hiring vehicles would in most cases have contracts with the companies from which they hire. It should be possible, through those contracts, for local authorities to think about the various possibilities and ensure that they do not create a difficulty where one should not exist. In most cases in which there are contracts with local authorities, the contract will be the mechanism through which problems are dealt with, rather than through legislation, which cannot cover every single possibility that we think of.

I have tried to address some of the concerns, and I shall reflect on the points that have been made. The amendment will work, but I shall reconsider some points because we do not want to produce something that does not work properly.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Gerrard: I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 21, leave out from 'to' to end of line 22 and insert

    'issue a certificate of exemption to a driver in respect of subsection (3) it must do so.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 3, in page 2, line 1, after 'issue', insert 'a'.

No. 4, in page 2, line 10, leave out from beginning to 'if' in line 11 and insert—

    '( ) No offence is committed by a driver under subsection (3)'.

Amendment No. 2 follows on from amendment No. 1 because in the original draft of the Bill, in which a duty was on the driver, the word ''person'' was used in relation to the exemption certificate being given on medical grounds. Clearly, the only person that might be concerned would be the driver. We now have references in clause 1 to both ''operator'' and ''driver'' so we must make it clear to whom precisely the exemption refers. The amendment clarifies that the driver and not the operator is eligible for an exemption certificate.

11.15 am

It would dignify amendment No. 3 to call it a technical amendment. A word was left out because of a drafting error—it is as simple as that. Amendment No. 4 just tidies up and makes it clear that a driver is not committing an offence if he has an exemption certificate by replacing the original phrase ''exempt from the duties.'' These are fairly small, technical and

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tidying-up amendments to ensure that amendment No. 1, which we have already discussed, fits in with the rest of clause 1.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 3, in page 2, line 1, after 'issue', insert 'a'.

No. 4, in page 2, line 10, leave out from beginning to 'if' in line 11 and insert—

    '( ) No offence is committed by a driver under subsection (3)'.—[Mr. Gerrard.]

Mr. Gerrard: I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 2, line 17, leave out from beginning to end of line 20.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 6, in page 2, line 22, leave out from beginning to 'which' in line 24 and insert


    (a) has been trained to guide a blind person;

    (b) has been trained to assist a deaf person;

    (c) has been trained by a prescribed charity to assist a disabled person who has a disability'

No. 7, in page 2, line 28, leave out from 'objects' to end of line 33.

No. 8, in page 2, line 33, at end insert

    ''driver'' means a person who holds a licence granted under—

    (a) section 13 of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 (c. 34) (''the 1998 Act'');

    (b) section 51 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 (c. 57) (''the 1976 Act''); or

    (c) an equivalent provision of a local enactment;

    ''licensing authority'', in relation to any area of England and Wales, means the authority responsible for licensing private hire vehicles in that area;

    ''operator'' means a person who holds a licence granted under—

    (a) section 3 of the 1998 Act;

    (b) section 55 of the 1976 Act; or

    (c) an equivalent provision of a local enactment;

    ''private hire vehicle'' means a vehicle licensed under—

    (a) section 6 of the 1998 Act;

    (b) section 48 of the 1976 Act; or

    (c) an equivalent provision of a local enactment.'.

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