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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: The noble Lord said that a number of taxi businesses in East Anglia are no longer functioning. I am sure that that may be true, because quite a lot of them have been under-cut by extra vehicles in the trade. It must be said that driving is the last resort for unemployed men. When hackney carriage plates became deregulated, it was very easy to move into the taxi trade and under-cut those already in it. Has the number of taxis, as opposed to the number of taxi businesses, reduced?

Lord Renton: I can only go on what I have been told. I am sorry that I do not have the statistics, but I have no reason to mistrust those who have informed me. Indeed, I know that in Huntingdon it is abundantly clear

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that there are now roughly two-thirds the number of taxis that there were about 10 years ago. I give that as an example within my knowledge.

It will be for the licensing committees of councils outside London to decide whether to grant or refuse taxi cab licences. In doing so, they would have to comply with what is laid down in the regulations. It is regrettable that the Bill does not provide for the licensing authorities to have immediate power to grant exemptions. They are not allowed to grant exemptions unless regulations are made, under Amendment No. 95, by the Secretary of State and he, in making those regulations, cannot do so generally. He can do so only:

    "for the purpose of enabling any relevant licensing authority to apply to him for an order (an 'exemption order') exempting the authority from the requirements of section (New licences conditional on compliance with accessibility regulations)".

There are times, perhaps, when the gentleman in Whitehall knows best, but I think that that is a rather out-moded view. If I may say so, I believe that it would be far better for my noble friend the Minister not to move the amendments, especially the one from which I just quoted. The Government could then consider what has been said tonight and make sure that the undertaking that was given on Second Reading is really fulfilled. That would ensure that we do not lack that flexibility—that variety of offer of service—which is so necessary for disabled people.

One could go on to talk about the subject for a very long time; indeed, I have a file of correspondence on the matter three inches thick which I have received over the past 18 months. I have no interest in the taxi trade, but because of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and I did under the 1985 Act when we introduced some provisions that both sides found acceptable, which ensured that the taxi trade would be fairly treated, the latter has seemed to lean on me ever since. Of course, I have been happy for the trade to do so, but, in this case, I must look to the interests of disabled people, including my own daughter. Therefore, I wish I could persuade my noble friend Lord Mackay not to move Amendments Nos. 93 to 96. It would be far better—indeed, it would save paper, time and much trouble—if he could introduce fresh amendments on Report modifying the current amendments in the light of the views expressed by the noble Baroness and other Members of the Committee.

Lord Templeman: I, too, have had representations made to me although I have no personal interest in the taxi trade. Those representations have not been made by the unemployed or people who throw disabled persons out of taxis; they have been made by long-standing taxi drivers who have large mortgages, large hire-purchase debts in relation to their cars, children at local schools and have experienced a depression over the past four years. On their behalf I would say that, notwithstanding the honeyed words of the Minister, their fears are that the effect of the amendments would be that everyone would have to buy a black taxi, which costs £24,000. Any other modifications would cost the same. Certainly, a London taxi would cost £24,000. That is the figure that I have been given. Therefore, taxi drivers believe that they would be faced with the choice of either paying £24,000 for a taxi or going out of business. I see that the noble Baroness wishes to intervene. I give way.

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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I am much obliged. The noble and learned Lord is certainly right about the cost of a new London taxi; but, as far as I am aware, most of the black taxis used outside London are second-hand vehicles the going price of which is between £8,000 and £9,000. Further, I should point out that the amendments would not stipulate black taxis as the only way of holding a Hackney Carriage plate.

Lord Templeman: In theory the amendments would not do so; but, in practice, there will only be one taxi that fulfils the requirements and that will be the black taxi which, notwithstanding its second-hand price, would cost £24,000. Taxi drivers fear that they will either have to pay that sum or go out of business. That would be an onerous burden, but one which they ought to bear on behalf of the disabled if it were necessary and if it were wanted.

However, the trade's point is that there are a large number of disabled persons who do not like taxis. I do not say so myself; indeed, I am very happy with taxis and use them all the time. Many people find that the black taxi is not suitable for their disablement and they prefer the other kind. But, instead of having a choice which is now the case, they will have no choice: it will be a black taxi or nothing throughout the country. That will apply in rural and suburban areas and, even down in Bodmin, we shall be seeing fleets of black taxis, subject to the exemption power which is very limited. It depends on the local authority and is very limited because the Minister wants to produce that effect.

I merely made the point that that is the effect that the trade believes will be produced and that, far from giving more choice to the disabled, it will give them less. Those are the fears of the trade.

1 a.m.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth): I had not intended to intervene, but perhaps as a wheelchair user I could just say how much it has absolutely revolutionised my life and the lives of other wheelchair users to have the accessible black taxi. It makes all the difference having a larger proportion of them available already, because when they were originally introduced one had to give three days' notice if one wanted to take a taxi. Now one can be fairly sure of getting one on the street, but it would be a lot more useful to know that if one hailed a taxi it was accessible and, of course, one would get more and more wheelchair users using them if they knew they could get them.

Lord Monkswell: I hope I may raise a concern that I have with particular reference to Amendment No. 95, whose rubric states,

    "Exemption from accessibility regulations".

Over most of the country we shall have—over possibly a little period of time—accessible taxis, and disabled people will get used to those, and as the noble Baroness has said, it will revolutionise their lives, as it has revolutionised lives where such taxis already exist within local areas. However, what may be applicable and understood as a sort of mechanism for local provision is all very well—the implication of Amendment No. 95 is that in certain areas there will be certain conditions—but we are talking about national legislation which should apply nationally. I would hope that we would arrive, over

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time, at a situation where a disabled person can leave London and go to any part of the country and know that he or she can get an accessible taxi without any fuss or bother, as can be done in London, Manchester and other major cities.

The concern I have about Amendment No. 95 is that it gives no timescale. I think what may be necessary here is a transitional timescale—it could be five or 10 years—which states that after this transitional period the taxis will be fully accessible. I am concerned also that we should recognise that in certain areas there will be financial difficulties. There are depressed areas, particularly some rural areas, where the trade may not be very strong and where, historically, there has not been a provision. We need to consider how we get over the economic problems of the trade to ensure that the trade is not forced into decline, but that at the same time provision is made that conforms to a national pattern which does not effectively result in some areas of the country being almost no-go areas for disabled people, or where it is more difficult for disabled people to get this provision so effectively disabled people are discriminated against in some areas. I think concern has been expressed in a number of areas about these amendments. It is the first time we have seen them and I hope that the Minister will be able to take on board some of the concerns that have been raised.

Baroness Stedman: I support the amendments and I appreciate the fact that the Government have put them down and that we are getting somewhere with taxis for disabled people. The door-to-door public transport which taxis provide is particularly important for disabled people to enable them to get from where they are to where they want to go. I believe there has been a real misunderstanding of the Government's intention. My reading of the new clause is certainly not the same as that of my noble and learned friend Lord Templeman because, as I see it, it does not involve the complete replacement of a fleet of private saloon cars by vehicles accessible to passengers in wheelchairs.

Much has been made of the problems in rural areas and, as I understand it, outside London it is proposed that all the hackney cabs should be capable of meeting the needs of all customers, including those who use wheelchairs and those who are ambulant but disabled. This does not mean that all the taxi drivers must have London style taxis. Indeed I understand that the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, the advisory committee to the Minister, is already working out and sorting out specifications for suitable vehicles, perhaps even better than the ones that are on the market now.

There has to be a range of vehicles which can provide suitable access for all disabled people. The private hire vehicles will still be available for those who need or prefer to use a saloon car. Indeed, I am told that there are twice as many private hire vehicles in service as there are hackney cabs. I believe that the new proposals take account of the interests of people with disabilities, whatever that disability may be, without any discrimination.

When it comes to engaging a personal vehicle to take one on a journey, personal preference for a saloon car will continue to be met in full in future. People who have to travel in wheelchairs need a vehicle of the dimensions

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which will accommodate them. That is not one of the standard saloon cars. Their needs have not been met in full under the existing arrangements. So they are still, to some extent, victims of discrimination. The proposals before us will change all that and put an end to such discrimination.

I hate to mention East Anglia again but my city of Peterborough has done the same as the city of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. We have black cabs on our ranks now. There was almost a riot when the city council set a time limit by which they had to be introduced, but I do not believe that one of those drivers would now go back to a saloon car.

The changes will not happen overnight. We are not placing an undue strain on the taxi trade. No one expects new accessible vehicles to be on the roads, in the hands of all taxi drivers, on the day after the Bill receives Royal Assent. I hope that we are reasonable creatures. I believe that the Government have been reasonable. We hope that in due course we shall be able to look back and say that when we brought in this legislation it was one of the best things we did for disabled people in this country. I support the amendments.

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