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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Perhaps it might have been more delicate to suggest that our right hon. Friend
The need for the Bill is clear to anyone who gives the most cursory thought to the issue. The taxi licensing regime, as has been said, goes back to a time when taxis and private hire vehicles operated locally and were very unlikely to move outside of their area. That is not the world we are in now. We are now in an age of app-based travel. In the 21st century, with Uber, Gett, Kapten and who knows how many others that I am not quite hip enough to yet be familiar with, it really is impossible to know where a taxi might have originated from. Of course, there are exceptions—in Dudley, there are a number of local operators, including one operated by one of my local councillors, which run extremely successfully on a local basis with local drivers and local registrations and are competing with the big ride-hailing apps—but we do need to look at the wider regulatory framework.
Other hon. Members have spoken about their time on local authority licensing authorities. During my time as a member of Dudley Council, through a mixture of pleading and constraints on availability, I very successfully avoided being on the licensing committee, but I know that those who serve on such authorities around the country have the extremely difficult responsibility of making sure that passengers are safe and that responsible operators can run their business and make their living in a fair, reasonable and safe way.
The first priority has to be passenger safety: anyone who gets into a taxi or a private hire car has to know that they are safe. In almost all cases they are, but a very small number of very high-profile cases, such as the horrific crimes carried out by John Worboys, have had a horrible impact on people’s lives. Wherever a vehicle or a driver is licensed, authorities have to do everything they can to ensure that the risk is kept to the absolute minimum.
On Second Reading, in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington, I said that, since the liberalisation of licensing, some local authorities have been responsible for a huge proportion of the licences issued in any region. In the Black Country, City of Wolverhampton Council issues approximately 15,000 licences per year. At least one was for a driver from as far away as Perth—I shudder to think what the fare would have been on the round trip for that taxi, which is presumably still operating in Perth with a licence issued in Wolverhampton. That is why it is so important that, once my hon. Friend’s Bill is on the statute book, the devolved Administrations make sure that the flow of information that the Bill provides for is reciprocated: so that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish licensing authorities can see clearly any concerns or offences recorded by an English authority, while those who make decisions in places such as the City of Wolverhampton can see whether any reasons to decline a licence have been recorded, whether in Perth, in Swansea or in Derry.
The Bill builds on an existing register, which local authorities have effectively put in place themselves, and provides the option for the Minister to make it the relevant register. The NR3—the national register of taxi and private hire licence revocations and refusals—was created three years ago by the Local Government Association and is managed by the National Anti Fraud Network; it is an excellent example of how local government can innovate and introduce solutions. Those solutions are working well. It is now time for us to legislate for a comprehensive system across the country and support the local authorities that already submit data on a voluntary basis by making that approach the rule, instead of the somewhat patchy system that is now in place.
Putting a statutory obligation on local licensing authorities to record refusals, revocations and suspensions will improve safety for passengers. It will allow local enforcement teams to report instances of wrongdoing, and ensuring that the report is dealt with will help to keep all our constituents safer when they get into a taxi or a private hire vehicle. It will also ensure that licensing bodies in local authorities are in possession of all the relevant facts before they issue a licence, as they will be aware of previous refusals and suspensions.
This is an absolutely crucial safety mechanism; it will ensure that data sharing is commonplace. By sharing the data, all authorities will be in possession of all the facts. That must be the right way to handle the licensing and approval of those who have the responsibility of transporting people about and in whom passengers put their trust daily. Passengers must know every time they get into those vehicles that they are safe. That is important not only because they must of course be safe, but because there must be confidence in the system of taxis and private hire vehicles if the industry, on which so many people’s livelihoods rely, is to thrive and be sustainable.