The business was deregulation – including of taxis.
This involved plans to loosen taxi licensing.
And clause 12 would allow taxi firms to subcontract bookings to another firm. So the taxi which picks you up might not be the taxi you booked. Indeed, you couldn’t guarantee which company would actually be providing the taxi you ordered.
As Labour’s Baroness Thornton said ‘Clause 12 will enable Private Hire Vehicle operators to subcontract a booking to another operator who is licensed in a different area. We and many others believe that passenger safety will be undermined because only licensing officers from a licensing authority where a vehicle and driver are registered currently have the power to take enforcement action. . . . . The public, and vulnerable passengers in particular such as women or disabled people, may call specific operators because they feel that that operator is reliable and safe to travel with. This reform means that the public will lose their right to choose which operator they travel with. If someone calls operator A, their preferred choice, operator B may turn up.’
A range of people have been opposing these changes – prominent among them the Local Government Association, Police Commissioners – including our own Mark Burns Williamson – and the charity which is concerned specifically with personal safety – the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. This move to deregulate comes hard on the heels of the Rotherham abuse scandal enquiry – which highlighted a common theme running through child exploitation across England, namely the prominent role of taxi drivers.
The vast majority of taxi drivers are, of course, as appalled at sexual abuse of women and children as anyone else. And the National Private Hire Association was among those who opposed these deregulation plans. The fear is of the rogue taxi drivers and firms – and deregulation of this sort gives extra opportunities to them.
Labour was in the forefront of opposition. Shadow Transport minister, and local MP, Mary Creagh called the proposals ‘irresponsible’. And Labour in the Lords tabled amendments to try to stop them.
Unfortunately the amendments were defeated – and the Bill passed the Lords – with the overwhelming support of the LibDems. The Coalition majority was 46. 63 out of 65 LibDem Lords voted against Labour’s amendments.
During their Conference – and since – the LibDems have been working very hard to try to distance themselves from the Tories.
So it’s well to be reminded that when it comes to votes, they are still there backing them all the way.
And as a bill like this shows – because they are basically in agreement with the Tories.
Deregulation is at the heart of their common neo-liberal economic agenda. There isn’t a cigarette paper to put between them here.
When it comes to a contest between the safety of women and vulnerable passengers and rolling back the state – the LibDems and Tories are in complete agreement.
But as the debates over this Bill show, it is the state which protects the individual.
It’s certainly not the LibDems and their Tory partners.
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