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Minicabs: Regulation

2.59 p.m.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, minicabs outside London are already regulated in a similar fashion to taxis. The Government are committed to introducing the necessary primary legislation for minicab licensing in London when parliamentary time permits.

Lord Montagu of Beaulieu: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply which will go some way towards alleviating the disappointment felt by many taxi and hire car organisations and people that the foreshadowed legislation was not in the Queen's Speech. Does my noble friend agree that compared with the approximately 16,000 black cabs in London, famously admired the world over for their reliability and knowledge, the 70,000 minicabs now operating pose a potential threat to personal and public safety? Does he agree that there is no time to be lost in regulating the situation?

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I entirely understand the concern felt by my noble friend. I emphasise once again that the Government's

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commitment to legislate remains unchanged. I also agree with my noble friend that the black cabs in London do a marvellous job and help many noble Lords home.

However, we must not forget that minicabs provide a valuable service to the people of London. Many thousands of journeys are made every day without difficulty. I believe that that fact needs to be acknowledged, even though the Government accept the need for regulation.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the Minister aware that that is a somewhat unsatisfactory response to a highly relevant and important Question? The black cab taxi drivers, rightly acknowledged by the noble Earl to be the finest in the world, feel themselves under great stress. The more dubious variety of minicabs are not competing fairly, they undercut savagely, yet they do not carry the overheads that the black cab taxi drivers are compelled by law to adopt.

Is it not true that, after so much consultation and discussion, an issue which would prove to be relatively uncontentious politically should be a matter of grave and immediate concern? The Government should already have legislated.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I thought I had made clear to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that it is our intention to legislate as soon as parliamentary time permits--after the next election. We are committed to legislating on the issue. We envisage a licensing system for operators, drivers and cabs.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, will my noble friend take pains to erase from his brief that awful phrase "when parliamentary time permits"? It was designed by people other than himself in order to discourage. In that alone, it is successful.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, I shall take note of what my noble friend said.

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham: My Lords, the Minister said that he would be willing to consider future legislation to bring minicabs under control. I do not know whether it would be helpful if that legislation could be discussed in collaboration with black cab organisations so that we could have a more balanced view.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, the noble Earl makes a good point. Yes, I am sure that all interested parties will be consulted in the matter.

Lord Burnham: My Lords, does not the chief problem with minicabs lie with insurance? It would be dealt with satisfactorily if minicab drivers' credentials in terms of insurance were examined.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, as to future legislation, licensing of minicabs outside London would ensure that the drivers are correctly licensed, that the

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cars are in a fit condition with the appropriate MOT certificate, if required, and that they are properly insured for the purpose.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that such rules as exist to control the worst practices of minicabs are being properly enforced? If he is, then most people outside this House certainly are not.

The Earl of Courtown: My Lords, many licensed minicab drivers outside London do a worthwhile job. There have been problems in the past with plying for hire by minicab drivers, as well as touting. That is one of the reasons why under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 touting for hire is illegal. That legislation has helped to reduce the problem at London mainline stations. We are aware that the problem still exists, but prosecutions have taken place and the situation at mainline stations has improved.

Israel: Arms Sales

3.5 p.m.

Lord Mayhew asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why they are holding discussions on arms sales with the new Israeli Government.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, our defence links with Israel are limited, but progress in the Middle East peace process over the last few years has allowed the development of contacts of the kind we would expect to have with any friendly country.

Lord Mayhew: My Lords, can the Minister recall Mr. Rifkind's recent statement urging the Israeli Government, in the most detailed and serious terms, not to stall the peace process? The statement urged them in particular to stop the building of settlements on the West Bank which Mr. Rifkind described as illegal and an obstacle to peace. If it is persisted in, it seems likely to lead to an explosion of violence in Palestine. Is the Minister aware that since Mr. Rifkind said that, there has been no change in the policies of the Israeli Government? Not only that, but they have just announced a massive settlement building plan in the West Bank. In those circumstances, is this the right time to invite an Israeli minister to London to promote the sale of British arms to Israel?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I am aware of what the Foreign Secretary said when he visited Israel and the occupied territories on 3rd November. He also visited Hebron. We shall maintain a firm line on the key issues, the principal one including settlements.

The reference to inviting the Israeli Defence Minister here is not accurate. He is here on a routine private visit. He is meeting the Foreign Secretary shortly and Mr. Rifkind will ask for an update on the interim agreement implementation, including Hebron redeployment. He will also raise reports of settlement

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expansion and the effects on aid delivery of the Israeli closure of the West Bank and Gaza. Those matters will be raised very firmly.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, can the Minister give us an assurance that even if arms sales to Israel are no longer dependent--as they were, I think rightly--on Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon, the Government will continue to press the Israelis to withdraw from that part of Lebanon which they occupy in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions?

Lord Chesham: Yes, my Lords.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, wherever the responsibility may lie for the difficulties with the peace process, can the noble Lord set at rest the minds of the House and the nation? Can he assure us that the stated guidelines for the sale of armaments are really the criteria and that Israel or anyone else will be judged by those guidelines and not by any hidden agenda?

Lord Chesham: Absolutely, my Lords.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is the Minister aware that if we were less dependent upon arms sales for our economic welfare, it would be possible for the Government to be more discriminating?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I do not really accept that.

Lord Mayhew: My Lords, the Minister referred to the Israeli Defence Minister's meeting with the Foreign Secretary and what would be the agenda. He did not say that he would also be discussing the promotion of British arms.

Lord Chesham: My Lords, he will not be discussing the promotion of British arms with the Foreign Secretary. I believe that he will also see the Secretary of State for Defence who will discuss bilateral defence relations and regional security questions.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, in that case, will the Secretary of State for Defence be trying to promote British arms? If so, will he also be promoting the sales of British arms to the Palestinians?

Lord Chesham: My Lords, it is the Government's policy to support the sale of British defence equipment overseas where this is compatible with our political, strategic and security interests. Exporters need a licence from the Government for the sale of defence equipment. Applications are considered on a case by case basis which take into account, inter alia, the human rights record of the purchasing country.

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Obscenity Bill [H.L.]

The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the law on obscene publications and obscene performances of plays. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.-- (The Earl of Halsbury.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

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