Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Transport

Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill

Simon Fell Excerpts
Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend is correct. The Bill does not change the existing licensing authorities regime and does not affect the appeals process, appeals panels or applications to the magistrates court.

The relevant information that led to the decision would not be recorded on the database but kept by the licensing authority and shared with other licensing authorities if they requested it. The information on the database would simply flag instances of applications for a driver’s licence being refused or of the suspension or revocation of a driver’s licence.

Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
- Hansard - -

This is an important Bill. Does my hon. Friend agree that the timeliness of the information sharing is crucial? If someone has their licence revoked but seeks to get one from another authority, we do not want the information not to be on the database for the second licensing authority to check. It is crucial that information is shared in a timely manner and can be checked. Will my hon. Friend speak to that?

Peter Gibson Portrait Peter Gibson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That very point is considered in the Bill, which gives local authorities a time limit for the entering of such information on the database. In that way, playing one local authority off against another—that circumnavigation, loophole or lacuna—is effectively dealt with.

To achieve its aims, the Bill enables the Secretary of State to provide or designate a person to provide a licensing information database. It enables the database operator to charge a fee in respect of the costs of the database, but such a fee will not be levied automatically.

I risk repeating a mantra, but better decisions are made when more information is available. The existing legislation enables only the authority that issued a licence to take action against it.

--- Later in debate ---
Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I will be brief, because I know that other hon. Members want to come in. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for this excellent Bill and to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for all his work on it in the past. The Bill takes a crucial function and makes it universal so that if someone has been disqualified from driving a licensed hire vehicle, that passes on across all local authorities. It also means that people have will confidence in the private licensed hire vehicles they are getting into, which is a key point.

I was privileged to attend the parliamentary taxi awards arranged by the hon. Member for Cambridge, through which we heard incredible stories of the role that these vehicles and their drivers play in keeping our communities together. They have done remarkable things all through covid, from picking people up from hospital to picking up their prescriptions and carrying their bags to the door. It would be remiss not to name Lee Smith from 24/7 Barrow who won the award for Barrow and Furness. Licensed hire vehicle drivers are a key part of our community, and it is essential that we do what we can to strengthen them and give the community faith in them. The Bill goes a long way towards that.

I am delighted that the LGA, with which I have worked extensively, is backing the Bill. I declare an interest: before coming to this place I worked in data sharing in fraud and financial crime, so I have some experience in the area. I have some recommendations, the wonkery of which I will not go into right now, but I will happily meet the Minister on issues such as data matching and speed of processes that we could look at and strengthen—I recognise that he may not want to meet me.

Finally, on the system’s governance framework, we need to be assured that if mistakes are made—hopefully they will not be—there is some comeback so that if someone is impugned unfairly on the database, they can seek redress. Similarly, if bad data is put on to the database, the licensing authority who did so should have a penalty put against it. I fully support the Bill and thank my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington for bringing it to the House.

Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Transport

Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill

Simon Fell Excerpts
Simon Fell Portrait Simon Fell (Barrow and Furness) (Con)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

I will be brief because I know that many Members want urgently to speak on this subject. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Peter Gibson) for this excellent Bill and am very glad to speak on it for a second time; I spoke on Second Reading. It is an excellent Bill and at its heart it is designed to keep our constituents safe. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for his hard work in bringing this legislation through.

The Bill takes a critical function and makes it universal, so that if someone has been disqualified from driving a licensed hire vehicle, that information is passed to other local authorities. Put simply, it keeps the public safe. Crucially, it also means that people have confidence in the private hire vehicles they are getting into, which is key. We have heard much about the licensing process from my hon. Friends the Members for Eastleigh (Paul Holmes) and for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken). It gives people confidence in the vehicles they get into. It means that people who use the services, particularly vulnerable and disabled people and those without access to decent local public transport, who use these services when there are fewer public transport options available, have faith in the drivers and the vehicles they get into.

As has been raised across the House, the vast majority of private hire vehicle drivers are excellent. They do superb work to keep our communities moving and have done so throughout the pandemic. They are of great character and are an absolute credit to their trade, but the system must not allow those who are not a credit to hang on to their jobs and continue to keep operating.

Where I am based in Barrow and Furness, we have Barrow local authority, South Lakes and Copeland up the road, home of my excellent constituency neighbour, the excellent Minister on the Front Bench. When we hire a vehicle through an app or on the phone, we do not think about which local authority or licensing authority we are sitting in. We simply think about which is the nearest, which will get us somewhere fastest and who has the best reviews. The Bill goes to the heart of why we need to share information to clamp down on the bad apples in the system.

There is no denying that the Bill will impose additional responsibilities on licensing authorities. I certainly think very carefully about any additional restrictions that we put on authorities, but these are very small compared with the benefits that will flow from the changes. I am delighted that the LGA backs the Bill and that complementary, albeit voluntary, versions of the scheme are already running across different parts of the UK. Connecting them is key, and we want to see interoperability between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, especially at the borders, where the scheme could show the most benefit. That interoperability is not just about data sharing. It is also about sharing best practice. Where one area is forging ahead with new schemes, where it takes the system further and where it learns what information can be shared to the further benefit of the people who ultimately get in these vehicles, we want to make sure that across the borders the other nations take notice and adjust their schemes as well.

Although I back the Bill wholeheartedly, I have some concerns on it and some of the actions that will probably flow post the legislation passing, hopefully. On governance I want an assurance that, if mistakes are made—hopefully, they will not be—and an individual is impugned and placed on the database incorrectly, they will have fair recourse to get their name taken off it in good speed. Similarly, if bad data is put on the database, the licensing authority that put it there should face a penalty. I heard what my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington said on that, but I hope that can be kept under review.

On the database operation, I understand that clause 2 talks about five days in terms of how long it should take before information is put on the database and shared. I would like the Department to give decent consideration to the speed of data entry and access. We do not want authorities making decisions on poor or out-of-date data. Before I did this job, I spent 10 years in fraud prevention and learnt that as close to real time is what we should aim for.

Similarly on data matching rules, my experience in my past job showed that those who want to evade penalty spend an awful lot of time ably curating the information that they give to people. We want to be using up-to-date systems, and the best technology that uses data matching rules that help minimise the effectiveness of what those people are doing who are trying to keep their jobs when they should not have them. We want to use technology that can pick out both Daves and Davids; can pick out people switching addresses; and uses secondary and tertiary information, such as phone numbers and email addresses, to make sure that good connections are made between items of data that are shared, so that people who are trying to avoid being taken out of the system cannot do so. Getting this right is key to making the system effective.

Setting aside those concerns, I fully support this excellent Bill. I hope it passes Third Reading successfully, and makes it through the other place. I commend the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington.