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Average wages in York have risen sharply since 1997, but over the last two years average male earnings have fallen back. Those job losses have been a wake-up call for York. Following my suggestion, the council has commissioned an independent review of the city’s
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employment strategy, involving business leaders from science, transport, tourism, manufacturing and services.

York’s experience should be a wake-up call to national Government too. The Government need to re-examine their manufacturing and competition policies. The Bank of England is warning that the overvalued pound is costing manufacturing jobs, and it is putting pressure on service industries, too, as Norwich Union’s decision to transfer some back-office functions to low-wage economies shows. It is all very well to enjoy cheap summer holidays abroad, on the back of a strong pound, but the memories fade pretty fast when people come home to find that their job has gone. The strong pound is hitting incoming tourism, too, which also matters to York.

My city needs support from the Government and from Yorkshire Forward to help redundant workers find new jobs and to encourage inward investment to York. We also need the Government to re-examine their regional economic strategy and to work with York’s employment review to bolster York’s regional role as a science city, for example, and as a centre for financial services and civil service jobs. Given the pressure on food manufacturing jobs in particular, the Government need to make sure that the Competition Commission uses its investigation of the groceries trade to see whether the big supermarkets are putting too much pressure on their suppliers, to the point that the suppliers are cutting jobs.

Those are the urgent matters that I want the House to discuss, Mr. Deputy Speaker, either this afternoon, if you see fit to adjourn the House, or at some other time in the near future.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said, and I must give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 24, and I cannot therefore submit the application to the House.

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Point of Order

5.5 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you and all Members of the House realise that the situation in North Korea, with today’s news of nuclear weapons tests there, is a matter of growing international concern. Earlier this afternoon, a Foreign Office Minister made a statement and answered questions on this matter in another place. Less than an hour ago, the Foreign Secretary made a statement on this matter to the members of the press. However, no Foreign Office Minister has come to the House to make a statement and to answer questions from hon. Members. Given all that the Speaker, you and other Deputy Speakers have said previously about the importance of Ministers making statements to the House, I seek your guidance as to how we can ensure that, in future, on such matters of grave concern, Ministers recognise their responsibility to put themselves forward to be asked questions by elected representatives in this Chamber, and not simply to give statements to the press.

Dr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East) (Lab): Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that the whole House is seized of the importance of the report of a successful nuclear weapons test by North Korea. Was an approach made to the Speaker this morning by a Minister asking for the opportunity to make a statement? Obviously, there is an urgent need for an early debate or statement.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): There were moves this morning for the matter to be discussed. Decisions were taken then, and they are not ones that the House or anyone can go back over now. I understand the concern expressed by the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), which she has put firmly on the record. Mr. Speaker’s views about such matters are well known. We have a crowded programme today, with two statements as well as a lot of other business, but no doubt those on the Government Front Bench will also have heard what the right hon. Lady said and will take what action they think is appropriate.

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Orders of the Day

Road Safety Bill [ Lords]

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

5.6 pm

Mr. Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As you know, this very important, wide-ranging Bill deserves the highest level of scrutiny. We were promised a day for Report and Third Reading, but now, because of the two statements, important though they were, we are faced with considerably less time in which to debate a whole raft of new clauses and amendments. As the House has today returned reinvigorated and refreshed from the summer recess, I wondered whether you have heard from those on the Treasury Bench that they intend to make provision to allow the debate to continue until midnight.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s concern about the timing of today’s debate, and about the time that we have already taken up, on which he may have heard my earlier comments. We cannot now go over the time allowed, for that has already been decided by the House. I can only suggest to the House that any time devoted to debating this point further would be better spent on the business before us.

New Clause 6

Immediate suspension and revocation of drivers’ licences

‘(1) Part 2 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 (c. 57) (hackney carriages and private hire vehicles in England and Wales outside London) is amended as follows.

(2) In section 61 (suspension and revocation of drivers’ licences), after subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) Subject to subsection (2B) of this section, a suspension or revocation of the licence of a driver under this section takes effect at the end of the period of 21 days beginning with the day on which notice is given to the driver under subsection (2)(a) of this section.

(2B) If it appears that the interests of public safety require the suspension or revocation of the licence to have immediate effect, and the notice given to the driver under subsection (2)(a) of this section includes a statement that that is so and an explanation why, the suspension or revocation takes effect when the notice is given to the driver.”

(3) In subsection (3) of that section, after “under” insert “subsection (1) of”.

(4) In section 77 (appeals), after subsection (2) insert—

“(3) Subsection (2) of this section does not apply in relation to a decision under subsection (1) of section 61 of this Act which has immediate effect in accordance with subsection (2B) of that section.”.’.— [Dr. Ladyman.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause 7— Abolition of “contract exemption”.

Government motion that clause 53 be transferred to the end of line 23 on page 56. Government amendments Nos. 1 to 3.

Dr. Ladyman: I hope that it is not impertinent of me to say thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the ruling that you have just given.

New clauses 6 and 7 deal with taxis and private hire vehicles, sometimes known as minicabs. Both clauses have the same objective: to make travel safer for people who use those modes of transport. Against the background of the Bichard report and the legislation that we have brought forward in that regard, we have considered carefully whether we should use the opportunity presented by the Road Safety Bill to deal with any urgent safety concerns relating to taxi and PHV legislation. The result is these new clauses to deal with two worrying aspects of the legislation that we identified.

New clause 6 addresses our concern about a taxi or PHV driver’s right to continue working while appealing against a decision to suspend or revoke his licence, even if he is considered to represent an immediate threat to public safety. The new clause gives local licensing authorities in England and Wales, outside London, a new power which will enable them to suspend or revoke a taxi or PHV driver’s licence with immediate effect on safety grounds. That power has been available to the licensing authority in London—Transport for London—for a number of years.

Drivers’ automatic right to continue working pending appeal has been a source of justified concern to many taxi and PHV licensing authorities. They want to use their licensing powers to ensure that passengers are safe using local taxi and PHV services. They play a tremendously important role in protecting residents and visitors who use taxis and PHVs in their areas. The new clause will enable them to do so even more thoroughly in some circumstances—for example, when a driver has committed a serious offence or is suffering from a medical condition that makes it unsafe for him to continue working.

Derek Conway (Old Bexley and Sidcup) (Con): I am sorry to interrupt the Minister so early in his speech. He will know that there is concern among private operators who provide special-needs transport because they are subject to enhanced Criminal Records Bureau checks, and many are locked into local authority contracts until 2010. Operators in my constituency want to know when the Minister intends the enhanced protection regulations to come into force, because owing to the local authority contracts they are already subject to the checks. I gather that there may be some room for manoeuvre over when the imposition will actually occur. If the Minister could provide any guidance, those operators would be very grateful.

Dr. Ladyman: I understand their concern. If the new clause is accepted today, there will be a consultation with all stakeholders following Royal Assent. One of the issues that we will consider during the consultation is the time at which the changes will come into force.
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However, I emphasise to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents that a key principle on which we shall have to decide when making a decision is the safety of the public. I am sure that he and his constituents would agree with that. There may therefore be a conflict between the interest of protecting the public and the interests of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents who have existing contracts. I hope that we shall find a way of resolving that conflict, but if there is no way of doing so, we shall have to come down on the side of public safety. I hope that despite that caveat, and given the promise of a thorough consultation involving all stakeholders, the hon. Gentleman will be reassured that we will listen to his constituents’ concerns.

New clause 7 deals with our concern about what is commonly known as the contract exemption: the provision that exempts drivers, vehicles and operators outside London from licensing if the vehicles are hired only under contracts lasting seven days or more. On Second Reading and on other occasions, the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam) expressed concern about what will now be clause 53, which tightens the definition of a private hire vehicle in London and will bring vehicles dedicated to contract work within the London PHV licensing regime.

One of the hon. Gentleman’s points was that the clause would be inconsistent with retention of the contract exemption outside London. In Committee I promised to consider the matter, while warning the hon. Gentleman that those who open a can of worms must expect what they are likely to find in it. Having considered, I reached a conclusion—also reached by the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Gillian Merron)—that was not the one for which the hon. Gentleman had hoped. Our conclusion was that public safety, and indeed consistency, required not that we did not make the provision in London, but that we extended it to the rest of the country and ensured that contract private hire work was licensed both in London and elsewhere. That is why we tabled the new clause.

Rosemary McKenna (Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East) (Lab): Having sat in Committee, I appreciate how much work had been done on amendments in the meantime. Most organisations, certainly the Scottish Campaign against Irresponsible Drivers, are delighted at the work that has already been done, but one matter has not been taken into account in any of the amendments or new clauses. Will you comment on the fact that— [Interruption.] Will my hon. Friend comment on—

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I was about to correct the hon. Lady, but she has now corrected herself.

5.15 pm

Rosemary McKenna: The Minister has not taken into account provisions relating to causing serious injury. Penalties for causing death by dangerous driving are often discussed, but another major concern for many people is serious injury caused by dangerous driving.

Dr. Ladyman: I will take up those issues as we discuss the various amendments before us. There is a difference between causing death and causing serious injury, and I
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believe that the provisions dealing with them should be different. I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, which she has put to me before and, if she will accept it, I will deal with them in greater detail at a more appropriate place in our debate.

To continue my discussion of new clause 7, there are no compelling reasons why private hire services provided under long-term contracts should be outside the arrangements for ensuring public safety, which are considered to be essential for other private hire work. The need to ensure public safety remains the same, regardless of whether the hiring is a one-off or part of a long-term contract. For a passenger possibly at risk, the method of hiring is not relevant; what is important is that there is no doubt that all the necessary checks and procedures have been comprehensively and effectively carried out. There are good grounds for removing the contract exemption in terms of ensuring a level playing field in the industry. Unlicensed contractors have a commercial advantage over their licensed counterparts, which cannot be justified.

I believe that both new clauses are strongly supported by those who have responsibility for taxi and PHV licensing.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to intervene so early. Given that we are so keen on the safety of drivers and that we are introducing so many sensible amendments, will he explain why there is no discussion of pedicabs, which are highly dangerous, yet seem to be of no concern to anyone? It is quite possible, if one is bored with someone, to put them in a pedicab.

Dr. Ladyman: It would be wrong for me to debate Mr. Speaker’s selection of amendments. I know that some hon. Members tabled amendments on pedicabs, but they have not been selected. However, I know that Transport for London intends to bring pedicabs within a regulatory regime. In my view, the proposed arrangements will be adequate to cover the issue. My hon. Friend may have a different view, however, as she does on so many issues that we discuss.

As I was saying, both new clauses are strongly supported by those with responsibility for taxi and PHV licensing and have been welcomed by many in the industry. They are necessary to safeguard the public and I commend them to the House. Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con): We agree with the Government on one of the new clauses, but probably not on the other. New clause 6 introduces new provisions into the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976. That Act currently allows a local authority or other licensing power or body to exercise the power to revoke, suspend or refuse a licence where the subject is convicted of specific offences or for “any other reasonable cause” that the authority has “grounds” for believing. If I understand the intention behind the new clause, it will allow a local authority or licensing body to revoke or suspend the licence of taxi driver or minicab with immediate effect where it is a “matter of public safety”, or on other grounds after 21 days where notice has been served on the driver.

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Our question, on which I seek clarification, is this; the Government currently have powers under the 1976 Act to revoke a licence for “any other reasonable cause” and for a “specific conviction.” The proposed public safety grounds represent a power that is additional to the Act and it is unclear how this will work in practice.

I assume that a conviction for a serious driving offence would be covered under the specific conviction provision. I assume that a conviction for an assault such as actual bodily harm or grievous bodily harm against another road user, a pedestrian or a passenger would again be covered under the specific conviction provision. I assume that driving a vehicle without a valid MOT or in an unroadworthy condition as designated by the police or by the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency would be covered under the reasonable cause provision. I assume that a deterioration in a given medical condition would be covered by that provision as well.

If the Minister is willing to tell me that my assumptions are incorrect, I will see the need for the new clause. If so, perhaps he will give me three specific examples where public safety needs arise beyond those already dealt with by the 1976 Act. The Minister made much in Committee about powers that were not being enforced at present, and said that we should not introduce more new powers that were unlikely to be enforced. We need clarity from the Government as to exactly how the new clause will work.

There was substantial discussion in Committee of new clause 7 and the Minister has done what he warned us he would do; he has closed what he described as the can of worms. However, as new clause 7 puts into effect for the rest of the country what clause 53 does for London, is it necessary? The 1988 Act is working perfectly well within London. There are vast numbers of contractors supplying private hire services to councils on a contract basis. They are Criminal Records Bureau-checked and their vehicles are checked and comply with safety provisions, but they are not available to the public. There seems to be no reason for the Government to intervene in an Act that is working well. This seems to be another piece of unnecessary legislation.

Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Gentleman is being slightly disingenuous. Were we here today debating an abuse of a vulnerable person by someone driving a private hire vehicle who had not been appropriately checked and who had been allowed to drive because of the contract exemption, I suspect that his argument would be that I should resign my position because I had not taken the opportunity of the Road Safety Bill to close that loophole.

Mr. Hammond: But as we said in Committee, and as I said in my speech, these people are CRB-checked, so the case the Minister makes does not arise.

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