in the first session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of




EIGHTH VOLUME OF SESSION 1997--98 House of Lords

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Monday, 9th March 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell.

Taxis: Licensing

Lord Dean of Beswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect their consultations with local authorities regarding the licensing of taxis to end and when they expect to bring forward any legislation to deal with this subject.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, there are no consultations on taxi licensing being carried out at the present time, although we keep taxi law under review as a matter of course. I understand that Home Office Ministers are reviewing Part V of the Police Act 1997. The matters covered by this part include criminal record checks, including those on applicants for taxi and private hire vehicle drivers' licences.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that forceful and accurate reply. Is the Minister aware that, as regards the legislation passed by the previous government last year, the Home Office has been sounding people out with a view to introducing through secondary legislation a measure that would remove from women travelling in taxis the protection that would be afforded to young children and elderly people? Will the Minister use her best endeavours with the Home Office to persuade it to desist from taking any such measure, as in my view and that of many other people women are those who are most at risk in taxis?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I understand the concern that has been expressed by my noble friend and

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others on this matter. I believe that local licensing authorities will continue to have access to information on all spent convictions for applicants for taxi and private hire vehicle driving licences. They act as judicial authorities in this respect--there has been some confusion about that. As such they have the right to access to information on all spent convictions. Drivers who regularly transport children or vulnerable adults and who meet the relevant criteria under the Police Act 1997 will also be subject to enhanced criminal record checks. I take the point that my noble friend makes about the danger to women in these circumstances, but Ministers have responded to representations from the National Association of Taxi and Private Hire Licensing and Enforcement Officers, among others, on this issue.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Londoners greatly envy people in all other parts of the country where these strict and good controls have been in force for many years? Is she also aware that there is a Private Member's Bill in the House of Commons entitled Private Hire Vehicles (London) Bill which we hope will reach this House soon although it has been delayed? That would enable adequate control of private hire vehicles--or minicabs, as we know them--in the capital, and thus give protection to women in London using minicabs which at present they do not have.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right to point out the gap in the licensing of minicabs in the capital. The Government support Sir George Young's Private Member's Bill, which provides for checks for criminal records on London minicab drivers. It is quite wrong that London should be the only city without minicab licensing.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the London taxis, the black cabs, are subjected to a heavy burden of regulation and provide an excellent service? Any move in this area should be

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taken with careful regard to fairness in respect of that first-class service, which does not exist in any other capital in the world.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a point that is obviously supported by other noble Lords around the House. I do not think there is any desire to diminish the quality of the black cab service in London, which is extremely good and has highly knowledgeable drivers. It is not necessary in protecting that service to leave unregulated the minicab service, which gives rise to much concern at the moment because of the lack of any effective regulation.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, is the Minister aware--I am sure she is--that a meeting was organised recently by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust at which representatives of the London taxi cabs, our ordinary black cabs, were enthusiastic in wishing to support moves to license minicabs? Will she assure us that the Government will do all in their power to ensure that Sir George Young's Bill reaches this House despite the time that is taken up by other Private Members' Bills?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I believe that Sir George Young has been working with all sectors on his Bill. We hope that it will make progress. If by any chance it were not to make progress, the Government consider it of sufficient priority to seek to introduce a similar measure when parliamentary time permits.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, following the question of my noble friend Lord Peyton about Sir George Young's Bill, can the Minister assure noble Lords that when the Bill comes to this Chamber, as I hope it will--it will have the support of this side of the House--sufficient time will be given to debate the measure? Amendments will need to be discussed which may not be discussed in the House of Commons.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, matters of timing are for the business managers. However, given the amount of support from all sides of the Chamber, I think that it would be the wish of the House that we have sufficient time to debate the measure.

Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, while I admire Sir George Young's Bill, the Question has nothing to do with it. The Question relates to the national movement of taxi drivers. It seeks to retain the present protection afforded to women who ride in taxis. Have I understood correctly from the Minister's detailed reply to my supplementary question that the Government have no plans to change the present situation? If she is stating that, it is all I ask.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I can reassure my noble friend that in other areas of the country which have licensing for minicabs as well as for taxi drivers

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the licensing authorities will continue to have access to information on spent convictions for applicants for taxi and private hire vehicles. To put the matter beyond doubt, I understand that Home Office Ministers are considering whether to make taxi and minicab drivers an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

Educational Low-priced Book Scheme

2.44 p.m.

Lord Walton of Detchant asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they accept the commitment made by the last administration, when they withdrew funding for the Educational Low-priced Book Scheme, which made cheap British textbooks available to students in developing countries, that they intended to replace that scheme with something better; and, if so, what they propose.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I can confirm that we agree with that commitment from the previous administration. We shall continue to seek ways of increasing the availability of affordable books and learning materials in developing countries.

One way that is being achieved is through a successful initiative between the Department for International Development, John Smith and Son Bookshops and a number of publishers. This is the development and publication of a bibliography of low-priced texts for developing countries which includes nearly 900 titles, also available on the web site. Book prices are discounted by the publishers and all are priced below £20.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful and encouraging reply. In doing so, perhaps I may declare an interest. Two of my own textbooks were formerly included in the ELBS some years ago.

Is the Minister aware that the removal of the government grant for this scheme has caused great concern to students in many developing countries where textbooks in medicine, nursing, science and engineering, economics, law and business have been widely welcomed? There is now evidence to suggest that other countries, in particular the United States, are moving into this market to the detriment of British educational influence.

Is the Minister also aware that a charitable trust has been formed with four Members of your Lordships' House as trustees to try to replace that scheme targeting low-priced books at Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent?

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