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Sir Sydney Chapman: I have listened with interest and at length to the debate. It is good that we have held the debate because it has brought out certain problems that might be faced. However, I am entirely persuaded by the hon. Gentleman and the eloquence on both sides of the House, not least from the Front-Bench speakers, so I shall withdraw the new clause. I understand that if that is accepted by the House, amendment No. 2 will fall so I shall be in the happy position of knowing that a dropped apostrophe and a split infinitive are no longer in danger of getting on to our statute book.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Gerrard: I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 47, at end insert—

'(2) In Schedule 8 to the 1995 Act (modification of Act in its application to Northern Ireland) the following paragraph is inserted after paragraph 21—
"21A (1) In section 37A(5) and (6) for 'licensing authority' substitute 'Department of the Environment'.
(2) In section 37A(9) for the definitions of 'driver', 'licensing authority', 'operator' and 'private hire vehicle' substitute—
'"driver"' means a person who holds a taxi driver's licence under Article 79A of the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 (SI 1981/154 (NI 1));
"operator" means a person who in the course of a business makes provision for the invitation or acceptance of bookings for a private hire vehicle;
"private hire vehicle" means a vehicle which—
(a) seats not more than 8 passengers in addition to the driver; and
(b) is licensed under Article 61 of the Road Traffic (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 to carry passengers for hire (but not to stand or ply for hire).'.".'

19 Jul 2002 : Column 594

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 1, in clause 2, page 3, line 19, after "(2AB)", insert—

'Regulations under subsection (2AA) above may provide for the creation of offences and for making offenders liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

Mr. Gerrard: The amendments are straightforward but important. As originally drafted, the Bill did not apply to Northern Ireland and Scotland because of their devolved powers. However, it is of some importance that we try to extend the provisions across the whole United Kingdom.

The Northern Ireland Assembly could have dealt with this matter but it would have taken some time. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, the Assembly unanimously agreed to urge us to amend the Bill so that its provisions would extend to Northern Ireland. That is the purpose of amendment No. 3. The Northern Ireland Department of the Environment will make detailed regulations for Northern Ireland so that there are parallels between licensed taxis and private hire vehicles.

Amendment No. 1 deals with Scotland and will correct a drafting error made in Committee when a clause was inserted to extend the Bill's provisions to Scotland but, unfortunately, omitted anything that made it an offence in Scotland not to comply with the provisions. We thus had the rather odd situation whereby a Bill applied to Scotland but if people chose not to obey it nothing would have happened. Amendment No. 1 puts that straight and ensures that, as well as the Bill applying to Scotland, there is also an offence for not complying with its provisions.

I hope that the House will support the amendments, which will give us consistency throughout the whole UK.

12.15 pm

Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friend has spoken to the amendments very effectively.

Amendment No. 1 is necessary to ensure that Scotland has parity with England and Wales in enforcing the provisions of the Bill. The Bill, which now extends to Scotland, amends the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and places a duty on drivers of private hire cars to take guide dogs and other assistance dogs and not to make a charge for doing so.

Enforcement measures are an integral part of the process and, as the Bill is drafted, there is now some doubt about the ability of Scottish local authorities and police to enforce its provisions. They felt that the Bill needed to be corrected and express provision made for this purpose; to do otherwise would render the Bill impotent in Scotland.

The amendment replicates the current offence relating to the duty placed on taxi drivers in Scotland, the penalty for which, on summary conviction, is a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.

The Bill has been extended to Scotland and I am pleased to say that amendment No. 3 has been tabled to ensure that it extends to Northern Ireland as well. I am certain that all of us in the House would agree that disabled people who rely on assistance dogs in any part of the United Kingdom should enjoy the same rights as everyone else when they travel by private hire vehicle, and the Bill will now secure those rights.

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At this point it may be appropriate for me to state, on behalf of the Government, the position of the Bill with regard to the European convention on human rights. It is the view of the Government that the provisions of the Private Hire Vehicles (Carriage of Guide Dogs etc.) Bill are compatible with the European convention on human rights.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 1, in page 3, line 19, after "(2AB)", insert—

'Regulations under subsection (2AA) above may provide for the creation of offences and for making offenders liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
(2AC)'.—[Mr. Jamieson.]

Clause 6

Short title, commencement and extent

Mr. Dismore: I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 3, line 39, leave out "may" and insert "shall".

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 13, in page 3, line 40, at end insert—

'within 12 months of the date of Royal Assent'.

Mr. Dismore: I shall be relatively brief. Both the amendments relate to the commencement provisions, which I am always anxious to test. It is simply an opportunity for the Minister to say when he expects to be able to bring the legislation into force. At the same time, perhaps he will say when the guidance that he has spoken of will be promulgated.

Mr. Gerrard: I shall be brief. I understand my hon. Friend's wish to be certain about the dates on which the Bill's provisions come into effect, but there is a problem with putting a specific time scale in the Bill. There are still some issues to be sorted out in relation to London. Transport for London recently launched its follow-up consultation on the licensing of drivers, which should probably come into force early next year. However, there is a further issue in London—licensing of vehicles—on which there is still uncertainty as to timing. It would not help for the Bill to state a time scale that perhaps could not be met; further primary legislation would be needed to put things right. With the Bill in its present form, timing can be dealt with by regulation. I am also anxious to make it possible for the Bill to be brought into force in different parts of the country at different dates, without requiring everyone else to wait for everything to be sorted out in London.

Although I appreciate what my hon. Friend says, obviously, I personally want the Bill to come into operation as soon as possible, and we need the practical flexibility with the timing that it contains at the moment.

Mr. Jamieson: My hon. Friends have effectively made the point, but may I say on behalf of the Government that we intend to introduce the provision as quickly as possible? The Bill provides different commencement dates for different areas of the country—for example, in London—so we felt it inappropriate to set a specific time scale for the whole country.

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Mr. Dismore: I have listened to what my hon. Friends have said, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

12.20 pm

Mr. Gerrard: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I shall be brief because this morning's debate has ranged over most of the issues that the Bill covers, but I want to put on record my thanks to all the hon. Members who have supported the Bill. Since first introducing it, I have received support from hon. Members from all parties, and I am extremely grateful to them for their support. I thank my hon. Friend the Minister and his officials for their help, without which I am sure I would not have been able to deal with all the required drafting details. I also thank the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and the RNIB, which, again, have been very supportive in getting the Bill drafted and, I hope, accepted by the House.

Some significant changes have been made in the Bill since Second Reading. On Second Reading, clear arguments were made about the principles and the need for a Bill to bring consistency across the country and between black cabs and private hire vehicles. In Committee, we had to make sure that the Bill would work, which required some changes to ensure that operators, as well as drivers, were covered. Of course, amendments were made on Report to extend the provisions to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I am pleased that we have been able to make progress. As I said in an earlier contribution, the Bill will not affect huge numbers of people. It will affect perhaps 5,000 to 6,000 people, but it will be enormously important to those people. People who rely on assistance dogs rely much more on private hire vehicles and taxis than the average person does, and it is enormously important for them to be able to travel freely and to know that they can take their dogs with them. So the Bill makes a valuable contribution to helping people with assistance dogs in their daily lives. I am sure that that is the view of hon. Members in all parties, and I am grateful to them for all their support, which has enabled me to reach this point with the Bill.

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