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1.33 pm

Miss McIntosh: I congratulate my noble friend Baroness Anelay of St. Johns on introducing the Bill as long ago as 18 July 2001, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman), whom I regularly describe as our national treasure, on so successfully bringing the Bill through all its stages in the House.

We welcome the Bill and the fact that it has all-party support. I welcome the transfer of responsibility for underwater archaeology from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to English Heritage. That is a particular priority of the Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee, which made it a cornerstone of its 1989 document "Heritage at Sea" and, more recently, in "Still at Sea".

My right hon. Friend the Member for South–West Surrey (Virginia Bottomley) made similar recommendations in 1996 in the Green Paper "Protecting

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our Heritage" and the English Heritage report "Power of Place" recommended that English Heritage should assume responsibility for maritime matters.

The Bill proposes that English Heritage should assume responsibility for ancient monuments in the sea or on the sea bed within UK waters adjacent to England, and we support that. The importance of the large number of wrecks that have been identified throughout the Bill's consideration, particularly today, and prehistoric submerged landscapes are particularly valuable to us as an island nation and a naval and mercantile power.

The seas around us offer a plethora of significant sites and remains, which form an important part of our national heritage. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the lead agency for managing the physical remains of the historic environment already has responsibility for marine archaeology. By contrast, English Heritage is unable to survey underwater sites, fund work on them, give advice relating to them or assist the Secretary of State in the discharge of functions conferred on her by the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.

Under the National Heritage Act 1983, English Heritage is not allowed to offer services outside the United Kingdom. I am delighted that the Bill will change that, recognising the fact that there is great demand outside the United Kingdom for the expertise, goods and services of English Heritage. That will enable English Heritage to generate extra income. It should not and will not compete with existing commercial concerns, but we recognise that overseas agencies look to English Heritage for training and advice, and would welcome its assistance. We support that.

We support the Bill, and congratulate all those associated with it, especially my noble Friend Baroness Anelay of St. Johns and my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet. I have great pleasure in commending it to the House.

1.36 pm

Mr. Dismore: I congratulate the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) on the Bill. I know that it is a difficult job to pilot a private Member's Bill through the House, having had his support for the Bill that I brought forward last week. Despite my comments and criticisms of his Bill, I think that it is worth while. I was grateful for the opportunity that he has given me to research in the highways and byways of obscure legislation, and perhaps get some ideas for future law reform of my own in the next Session.

The hon. Gentleman has done a great service to the world of archaeology and the protection of our cultural heritage by bringing the Bill to the House. I believe that today will be the final stage, apart from Royal Assent, and he is to be congratulated on that achievement.

1.37 pm

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): Like the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), I rise briefly to put on record Liberal Democrat support for this measure, and to congratulate the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman). He has piloted the Bill through the House with his usual professional skill and eloquence. Many people will welcome this legislation.

On a personal note, in anticipation of English Heritage's positive response to a grant application for All Saints church in Kingston, I welcome the extension of that organisation's powers.

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Dr. Howells: I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) on the way in which he has navigated this excellent Bill through the House—I am fed up hearing references to "piloting". It was my privilege to serve with him right the way through it, including in Committee. His Bill gives valuable new powers to English Heritage. Its passage through the House shows that there is widespread support for it on both sides. I reiterate the fact that the Government fully support it.

The Bill will broaden the powers of English Heritage, allowing it to trade in overseas countries and become involved in underwater archaeology in territorial waters adjacent to England. The hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) made the important point that that will further enhance English Heritage's status as a leading body in this sector. It has a well-deserved, worldwide reputation.

I should also like to repeat a number of reassurances to the House. I can confirm that the overseas trading provisions in the Bill do not give English Heritage powers to undertake these activities in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, as they have their own heritage bodies. The devolved Administrations are content with all the provisions in the Bill. My Department has been in contact with Ministers and officials in the devolved Administrations, who have said that they are content with the Bill. I know that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet will be pleased to hear that.

I can also assure the House that the Bill is compatible with the European convention on human rights.

Once again, I should like to say how pleased I am to offer the Government's support and to commend the Third Reading of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.

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Private Hire Vehicles (Carriage of Guide Dogs Etc) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

1.40 pm

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

My Bill is straightforward and simple, but it deals with a problem that seriously affects a number of people. It amends the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to ensure that the owners of working dogs are not refused the use of minicabs by drivers when they want to travel with their dogs.

I do not think that there is disagreement in the House about the need to deal with discrimination against people who suffer from disabilities. I served on the Standing Committee for the Disability Discrimination Act, which came into force under the last Conservative Government and was piloted through the House by the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the former leader of the Conservative party.

We all agree about the need for such legislation. Members from four parties are among the sponsors of the Bill. An early-day motion that I tabled on the same subject attracted almost 90 signatures from hon. Members on both sides of the House. There is no great controversy about the need for the measure.

Last year, section 37 of the Disability Discrimination Act came into force; it implemented a requirement on licensed taxi drivers to carry guide dogs. There was no great problem in bringing that into force; it introduced a welcome change. However, it left a gap: many guide dog owners continue to suffer discrimination. The problem is that section 37 of the Act does not cover private hire vehicles—minicabs.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I very much welcome my hon. Friend's measure. In my outer-London constituency—my hon. Friend's constituency is similar—the number of black cabs is somewhat disproportionate to the number of private hire vehicles. People are much more reliant on private hire vehicles. Correspondence from my constituents shows that there is a problem in my constituency and for that reason I offer my hon. Friend my best wishes for his Bill.

Mr. Gerrard: I thank my hon. Friend. He is right: those of us who represent outer-London constituencies know that although black cabs exist, they are relatively few and far between. Throughout much of the country, licensed private hire vehicles are the main form of such transport.

The problem was first drawn to my attention by my constituent, Mr. Alan Powell, the chair of the Waltham Forest talking newspaper association. He got in touch with me after he had experienced problems in getting cabs. I then came across several other cases. The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association has drawn the attention of several hon. Members to one example. I shall read briefly from the account of what happened to that individual. She said:

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I recently spoke to someone who had been shopping at Tesco. They filled up their trolley and then rang a car firm that they had used several times, but the firm said that it had no drivers who could take them so they had great difficulty getting home. In another recent example, a person travelled from the area in which he lived—where the local authority required minicabs to carry guide dogs—to an area that he did not know. When he arrived at the station, the car that he had booked refused to take his dog. He was stuck at the station in a strange place where he knew nobody, and was unable to get to his destination.

Guide dog owners rely more than most of us on that form of transport. In a survey conducted last year, one in seven people who owned guide dogs said that private hire vehicles—minicabs—were their most commonly used form of transport. One in five said that they used a taxi or private hire vehicle at least once a week. Two thirds said that that type of transport was easier for them to use than other forms of transport, and it is fairly easy to understand why. It is door-to-door transport, it makes it possible to take a companion if necessary, and of course, those who have an assistance dog rely on it and need to have it with them.

In the current system, the licensing of private hire vehicles is the responsibility of local authorities—in England and Wales, at least. In Northern Ireland the Department of the Environment is responsible. In London, of course, no one is currently responsible. Private hire vehicles in London are not licensed at all, but they will be, shortly, through the Public Carriage Office, and Transport for London, which has been undertaking a consultation and is inclined to include carriage of guide dogs in the licensing conditions.

The fact that it is a local authority responsibility creates problems, because what I hope most people would agree should be a universal condition, is not universal but depends on the local authority. To be fair, a great many local authorities have decided to include in their licensing conditions a requirement to carry a guide dog, but some will not, and some are not interested or say that there is no problem in their area because no one has complained. I do not think that that is a terribly accurate reflection of the existence or absence of a problem.

More than 250 of 374 local authorities have now introduced a requirement for a private hire vehicle to carry a guide dog. Things are moving; two-thirds of local authorities have taken that step. The problem is the remaining one third. The difficulty is that there is a patchwork. When the local authority in whose area a person lives has the licensing requirement but a neighbouring authority does not, that person may travel a short distance and find themselves unable to return by private hire vehicle. Moreover, how is anyone supposed to know when they are travelling whether the local authority in whose area they happen to be has introduced the licensing requirement? Some of the incidents that I mentioned earlier arose from precisely that problem. They had travelled to an area with which they were not familiar and then found that they had a problem and were facing

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very serious difficulties. That problem would be dealt with quite simply by making the requirement mandatory and national.

All sorts of objections are raised. Some people say that dogs create problems in cars. I suspect that some of those people probably never have much contact with a guide dog to see how they behave. Some local authorities say that they have a lot of Muslim cab drivers in their area, who would not be prepared to travel with dogs. Suggestions are made that Muslims do not like dogs, are afraid of them or have problems with cleanliness. Many of those problems are more perceived than real.

The matter is relevant to my local authority, which has the biggest Pakistani community in London and where a lot of cab drivers are Muslim. However, after the incidents that I mentioned, which caused the local press to take up the issue, representatives from the mosque made it very clear that religion was not the barrier, and should not be used as a reason for refusing to introduce the licensing condition. During last year's discussions in Blackburn about bringing in the licensing condition, Mohammed Narwan, chairman of the Blackburn and Darwen's Private Hire Drivers Association—he is a Muslim—said:

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, which has discussed the issue with major UK Muslim organisations, is satisfied that no real problem exists.

The issue needs to be approached with some sensitivity. When licensing conditions are introduced, discussions should take place with drivers, so that they are aware of the factors involved. In fact, the problem affects a fairly small number of people. There are only about 5,000 guide dog owners in the country, so the impact on cab drivers would be relatively small, but for those owners this is a major issue that affects their daily lives. To ensure that the Bill works and that we get it right, it is clear that we need to look at certain parts of it in some detail. The system needs to work properly, and we may need to consider not only drivers but operators. When someone telephones, they speak not to the driver but to the operator, so both driver and operator need to be aware that they must follow licensing regulations.

The Bill enjoys a lot of support from the major associations involved—the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, the Royal National Institute for the Blind and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People—and I hope that it will find further support.

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