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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have had some interesting debates on the subject of taxis during previous stages of the Bill. I have had correspondence with my noble friend, so I entirely understand the reasons behind his amendments. He is concerned—as I am sure we all are—that the new generations of taxis should be easily usable by all disabled people, including those who are not wheelchair users and who prefer to transfer from their wheelchairs into a car seat when travelling.

I should like to try to help my noble friend who seems to see some internal inconsistency between Clauses 28 and 31. Indeed, I am not sure whether that is the basis of his concern. Clause 28 deals with the vehicle itself. It deals with the construction requirements of the vehicle about which we shall be consulting. As we see it, the vehicles that emerge will not necessarily be London taxis. I thought I made that rather clear on Report. I said that it was not mandating London taxis throughout the country. In fact, I believe that I gave an assurance that we would see to it that the regulations did not say so. Of course, London taxis which are accessible at present will come within the regulations, but the regulations will be a good deal wider and cover not just London taxis.

As I said, Clause 28 deals with the vehicle itself—that is, the construction requirements, and so on. Indeed, some of them are mentioned in subsection (2). Clause 31 deals with the driver. It is one thing to have the taxi meeting the construction regulations, but, the driver may not choose to carry a disabled person and to use the facilities that are available in his taxi. That is another problem which we have addressed in Clause 31. Therefore, there is no internal inconsistency between Clauses 28 and 31. They address different parts of the problem: one addresses the vehicle itself; and the other addresses the driver, especially when he is driving a vehicle which obeys the kind of construction requirements which are set out under Clause 28.

The powers to make taxi-accessible regulations under Clause 28 are sufficient to enable us to cover a wide range of features in a taxi to ensure safe access and egress by disabled people. One of the features about which we will be consulting will be the provision of swivel seats. The list in Clause 28(2) is not prescriptive.

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Swivel seats could, and most probably will, be included in the context of those provisions. As my noble friend pointed out, Clause 31(3)(c) would place an obligation on a driver of a regulated taxi to carry a disabled person's wheelchair if he or she chooses to sit in the passenger seat. I believe that it would be wrong to specify either swivel seats or any other feature, other than the limited features we have included, on the face of the Bill. We want to retain the flexibility which regulations give us to respond to changes and developments over time in vehicle design. I suspect that if we had had this debate 15 years ago people would have said that it was technically impossible to design a car to meet some of these requirements. However, we know that it is not. Some of the new cars coming on to the market appear to me, as a layman, to be suited to easy adaptation to carry a wheelchair, either with a person in the wheelchair or with the wheelchair in the boot or elsewhere in the vehicle.

I do not believe that it would be helpful to manufacturers or the operators of taxis if the legislative framework were created in such a way that it was unresponsive and inflexible. The Department of Transport is already holding detailed discussions with all sides of industry and with disabled people on the shape and content of the regulations arising from Clause 28. I believe that that is the most appropriate way to deal with important issues such as swivel seats.

My noble friend commented on the flexibility of the taxi law in Scotland as compared with that in England and Wales. I am inclined to say that that is not surprising, as the law in Scotland is in many ways superior. However, there is another reason for that. The law relating to Scotland dates only from 1982, as your Lordships will see from the appropriate clause, whereas the law in England and Wales belongs largely to the last century. The Town Police Clauses Act 1847 and the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 come to my eye in the Bill. That is why the provision for taxi accessibility regulations in the Bill for England and Wales is different from the provision for Scotland.

I can reassure my noble friend that the Department of Transport will be working closely with the Scottish Office over the provisions of the taxi accessibility regulations and how the regime will work. It is our intention that the two sets of regulations, based as I said on two Acts almost a hundred years apart, will as far as possible and appropriate have the same effect and work in exactly the same way.

I should also like to remind your Lordships that we intend to ensure that the taxi accessibility regulations reflect only what is technically and commercially practical. We do not want to see all taxis disappear because the accessibility regulations are either too onerous or too expensive to implement. I have made that clear in the past.

I hope my noble friend will accept that, in addition to swivel seat requirements that will be contained in regulations, Clause 30(5) and (6) also provide for regulations requiring the fitting of swivel seats to be made in respect of taxis which would otherwise be exempt from the taxi accessibility regulations.

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I hope that that explanation and my assurance that we can already require swivel seats in taxis under the powers contained in the Bill, and the fact that there will not really be a difference between the position in Scotland and that in England and Wales, will reassure my noble friend and that he can withdraw his amendment.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I am grateful to all those who have spoken on the amendments, especially the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who was the only speaker who supported them.

To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, the regulations could achieve the flexibility that we all want. However, from conversations that I had with Mr. Steven Norris earlier this year, I was very much afraid—and that is partly why I tabled the amendments—that it was his original intention that all cabs throughout England and Wales should be black cabs and that that would be the basis for the regulations. They are also construction and use regulations.

Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that she is misinformed on the question of private hire cars being freely available in rural areas. Certainly in the rural area where I live they are not. Rural areas vary. Norwich is a large city, and in outlying areas private hire cars are no doubt available, as well as some taxis. However, living five miles from Huntingdon, having consulted the Yellow Pages and made other inquiries, I find that there are very few hire cars with a driver. To declare an interest, at the age of 87 I am anxious as to what will happen when I can no longer drive my car. If I can hire a driver and a car that will be helpful, but it will not always be possible.

I now turn to the speech of my noble friend Lord Mackay. The best thing about the debate is that there is now recorded in Hansard the way in which this Government intend to use the powers in the regulations. They obviously intend to use them much more widely and sensibly than I was given to understand some months ago by the Minister for Transport. I say that deliberately, and hopefully.

I am grateful to my noble friend for his full explanation and for the commitments that he repeated. In all those circumstances, I feel that it would be reasonably safe for me to withdraw my amendment. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 37 and 38 not moved.]

Clause 29 [New licences conditional on compliance with taxi accessibility regulations]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 25, line 30, leave out ("in an area").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 39, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 41 to 48. These amendments are also related to transport. Most of them are intended simply to tidy up the wording of various clauses. However, Amendment No. 41 introduces a new clause.

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The Bill includes a requirement in Clause 31 that taxi drivers shall assist disabled people who have to use wheelchairs into and out of their taxis, and to load and unload their luggage. There is another provision in Clause 32 that would require taxi drivers to carry guide dogs or hearing dogs if requested.

We realised that in both cases those provisions would give a minority of taxi drivers problems because of medical or physical conditions. For example, the driver may be disabled himself or be seriously allergic to dogs. Consequently, provision was made in those clauses for licensing authorities to issue exemption certificates to taxi drivers who would be unable to carry out those duties.

Representations have been made to us by the taxi trade that there ought to be an appeals mechanism against a decision of a licensing authority to refuse an exemption certificate. That might, for example, be a borderline medical case, or where an authority has a policy that all taxi drivers they license shall be able to assist disabled passengers, or simply a bad decision. After all, there are 360 licensing authorities.

It is government policy that there should be an appropriate appeals mechanism to protect people against unreasonable acts by enforcement authorities. The amendment would provide for an appeal within 28 days to the local magistrates' court, which is the traditional appeals mechanism for taxi licensing matters. This is a small but important change which I believe will be welcomed by the taxi trade.

Amendments Nos. 42, 43 and 44 are amendments to Clause 33. They provide for equivalent regulation-making powers for Scotland to those already contained in Clause 32(9) for England and Wales. Both will provide for other categories of dog other than hearing or guide dogs to be prescribed which must be carried in taxis if they accompany and are trained to assist disabled people.

Amendment No. 39 is intended to avoid ambiguity in the meaning of Clause 29 by deleting the words "in an area", which serve no useful purpose. The other amendments may be categorised as housekeeping amendments which bring the wording of PSV and rail clauses into line with the equivalent taxi clause. They simply allow for the making of regulations under the Bill which cover a range of areas, including the construction, use and maintenance of vehicles. I commend the amendments to the House. I beg to move.

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