Safety charities, the police and taxi drivers oppose coalition’s proposed relaxation of rules
Ministers will come under fresh pressure this week not to ease rules on minicabs, a relaxation that safety campaigners say would endanger vulnerable women and children
The Government has quietly dropped one of the controversial measures in its Deregulation Bill, clause 10, which would have allowed anyone, even without a private-hire licence, to drive a minicab when it is “off duty”. The change could have enabled sexual predators to pass themselves off as taxi drivers.
Yet, with the bill set to be debated in the House of Lords this Tuesday, ministers are ploughing ahead with two other contentious measures: extending a minicab licence permit from one to two years, which opponents say would make it more difficult for councils to carry out checks on drivers; and a clause that would allow private-hire operators to subcontract a booking to another operator in a different local authority area.
Concerns about the licensing of private-hire taxis have been heightened by the Rotherham abuse scandal and many other grooming rings that operate throughout the UK, as many of the abusers and paedophiles used mini-cabs to ferry their victims around the towns.
You can get taxis at a rank, hail one in the street or pre-book one, but you can only pre-book minicabs (also called ‘private hire vehicles’ or PHVs).
Minicabs must be run by a licensed operator – otherwise they’re breaking the law.
A number of sex offenders have been discovered working as minicab drivers in the UK. There has also been a long line of convictions for sexual offences carried out by mini- cab drivers.
The Shadow Transport Secretary, Mary Creagh, said it was important that the Government dropped the entire package of deregulation of private-hire licensing, because of the increased risk it could cause vulnerable women and girls. The Local Government Association (LGA) added: “Our own opinion polling shows that 80 per cent of women would be concerned if they booked a journey with one firm and a different one turned up.”
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, 17 police and crime commissioners from all parties, the National Private Hire Association, the National Taxi Association, Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid are all against the measures in the Bill. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust says that sexual predators commonly pose as legitimate minicab drivers.
Ms Creagh said: “We welcome the Government’s climbdown on their disastrous proposal to deregulate taxis, which would have put women’s safety at risk. However, ministers are still pressing ahead with their risky plans to loosen taxi licensing and allow cabs to work out of area, which Labour, alongside safety charities, has opposed.
“Ministers need urgently to review these final two measures and we repeat our offer to work with them to get the rogues off the road.”
In her report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, Alexis Jay concluded that “one of the common threats running through child sexual exploitation across England has been the prominent role of taxi drivers in being linked to children who were abused”. She argued against any weakening of regulations.
After clause 10 was dropped last week, Ann Lucas, the chairman of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “When people get into a taxi, they put their trust in the fact that the person driving the car has been vetted and licensed and that it is safe to be in a vehicle with them – especially if they are travelling alone. The Government should also now delete the two remaining taxi clauses in the Deregulation Bill.”
The Government’s clauses do not apply to London, where private-hire licensing is regulated by Transport for London.