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Deregulation (Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles) Order 1998

9.5 p.m.

Baroness Hayman rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th June be approved [23rd Report from the Deregulation Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the second of the Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper and, in doing so, trust that this will be less contentious a measure than the one we have just dealt with. The purpose of this order is to allow people holding driving licences issued under the Northern Ireland legislation to become taxi or private hire vehicle drivers in England and Wales without having a one-year wait, provided they meet all the other criteria of the licensing authorities.

Taxis have a long history of being licensed in this country, and private hire vehicle licensing outside London was introduced in 1976. When the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act of that year received Royal Assent, it contained provisions relating to the requirements for licensing both taxi drivers and private hire drivers. These were, first, that the licensing authority--the local district council--had to be satisfied that the applicant was a fit and proper person to hold such a licence and, secondly, that the applicant had held a full driving licence for at least twelve months.

This latter requirement about holding a full driving licence was expressed in terms of a

This wording meant that the applicant had to have held a full driving licence issued under the Road Traffic Act 1972, which related only to Great Britain. A driving licence issued in Northern Ireland did not count, therefore. The Road Traffic Act 1972 has since been replaced, but the principle remains.

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Whether this exclusion of Northern Ireland was the deliberate intention of the original drafters I am unable to say--I somehow doubt it--but the result is that, if people with Northern Ireland driving licences want to become taxi or private hire drivers in England or Wales, they have first to exchange their Northern Ireland driving licence for one issued in Great Britain and then wait for twelve months before their application may be considered.

In 1996, regulations were made under the European Communities Act 1972 recognising from 1st January 1997 driving licences issued by other member states of the EC as being equivalent to those issued in Great Britain. So anyone holding a driving licence issued elsewhere in the EC can apply for a taxi driver's or private hire driver's licence in England or Wales. Unfortunately, it was not possible to deal with the Northern Ireland licence problem in those regulations because to do so would be outside the scope of the European Communities Act.

So, we are now in the situation where people holding valid, full Northern Ireland car driving licences are the only ones within the whole of the EC who are unable to apply to become taxi or private hire drivers in England and Wales. This is a situation which we consider should be put right, and we believe that this order is an appropriate way of doing so.

The House's Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation has reported that the draft order is now in a satisfactory form to be submitted to the House for affirmative resolution, and there is nothing in the draft order which the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments would have needed to draw to the attention of either House. I therefore commend the draft order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 8th June be approved [23rd Report from the Deregulation Committee].--(Baroness Hayman.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

School Standards and Framework Bill

9.9 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 109.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford moved Amendment No. 187A:

Leave out Clause 109.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is a drastic thing to leave out a clause from such a long Bill. I am neither saving paper, nor trees.

This clause deals with home-school agreements. I agree with the Government that one of the most potent forces for improving a child's education is the close co-operation between school and parent. There may be problems between the school and the parents but, if they can achieve accord, much can be overcome. It is essential that the parents share the aims of the school. If

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the noble Lord is not interested in my comments, I can deal with this matter as a formality and I am happy to do that.

The point I was making which the noble Lord did not hear--I realise that when there are only around eight of us sitting here one can get involved in personal discussions; I understand that--

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it was business, not personal.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that. My point is that we all agree with home-school agreements. Their basis is that parents share the aims of the school and the school shares the concerns of the parents and tries to relate to the parents' wishes. Actually, in the past few years, home-school agreements have proved effective and have given force and substance to this important element, which is possibly the most important element in education; that is, that the parents and the school work together.

We on this side of the House therefore were delighted with Clause 108, which has, in effect, all schools adopting home-school agreements. But the reason I am standing here at this late stage and disturbing personal and political discussions is that these agreements have real value only if they are taken seriously; that is, if people do not talk to each other but listen when others are speaking. A mark of the seriousness of the home-school agreement is that it is not just a bit of hopeful aspiration but is seen as something that has to be kept to.

The previous history of these agreements--I have talked to a number of head teachers about them--has been that they have been treated seriously; treated as something that had to be kept and which was entered into seriously as an agreement; in fact, treated as a concord between the parent and the child. We on this side of the House are therefore surprised that, after all the encouragement that is given to the home-school agreement in Clause 108, it is then devalued in Clause 109. It is not allowed to be a condition of entry; it does not impose any obligation; there will be no consequences from failure to comply.

This is a down-grading of the seriousness of an agreement. I used the analogy once before; it is like going to the altar, making one's vows and then saying that there is no obligation, no consequences for the future, but on the whole we are hoping to do our best. I have to say even to some of my secular colleagues that this is a sinful world. All parents are not angels. In some areas of our community the placing of real obligations on parents has proved to be very difficult. But it has also proved to be the most effective way of giving a good education to their children.

We want to remove Clause 109 because it devalues Clause 108. Perhaps I may express an element of surprise. We are dealing with a Government who have stressed the need for parental responsibility. I remember what is most likely an apocryphal story that the Chancellor of the Exchequer said to some people in his house, "We are calling in Jack Straw to tell the Prime

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Minister's children that they have to do their homework." As the House will know, the Home Secretary has stressed on various occasions that parents should take responsibility for their children's homework. The Minister's right honourable friend the Prime Minister has stressed the value of laying real responsibility on parents with regard to truancy and has even talked about legal sanctions. I am therefore surprised that, in view of his Government's stress on moral responsibility with sanctions attached, the noble Lord should introduce a clause which reduces all the very good ideas in Clause 108 to mere moral hopes in Clause 109. There is merely a list of hopes rather than of obligations. Even the most inadequate people can quite understand that when you sign an agreement you have to keep it. I just wonder why the Government do not want people to keep it. I shall be interested in their comments. I beg to move.

9.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I should start by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, for my momentary inattention. It is, of course, only an old head teacher who would have picked it up that sharply. Perhaps I should say "a former head teacher" rather than "an old head teacher". He is younger than me.

The noble Lord has misinterpreted Clause 109. Clause 109 is not a weakening of the provisions in Clause 108. It simply secures in a number of specific and important respects that a home-school agreement provides safeguards not just in the form of sanctions on parents but safeguards for the school, for parents and for pupils as well. The two clauses should be read together as ways of strengthening the partnership to raise standards in our schools. Noble Lords opposite have said on so many occasions that the School Standards and Framework Bill is too much about framework and not enough about standards that I am sorry they should seek to take out a significant and important part of the Bill which is clearly about standards.

Clause 109 requires governing bodies to have regard to any guidance on home-school agreements from the Secretary of State. Of course we shall consult widely on the draft guidance. The guidance will make clear, as I said in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, when speaking to Amendments Nos. 187 and 188, that we expect all agreements to include expectations.

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