|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Lawrie Quinn: Many Members will be aware that my hon. Friend has great expertise in industrial and health and safety law. I return to my earlier intervention about the relationship between the subcontractor and the contractor. I followed my hon. Friend's argument. However, in terms of health and safety provisions at work, what is the liability in the relationship between the subcontractor and the cab hire company? Surely anyone who found himself in medical difficulties because of taking jobs that involved the carrying of a dog on many occasions could take some action against his employer or the person to which he was contracted, namely the minicab hire company.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend's intervention raises complicated areas of law, especially in relation to vicarious liability in terms of the main contractor and the subcontractor. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you would not like me to go down that road. However, my hon. Friend has a valid point that needs to be addressed at some stage.
The purpose of health and safety legislation is to ensure that people do not get injured or ill in the first place. However, if they do get ill or injured, there must be compensation arrangements afterwards. In my view, the purpose of health and safety legislation is preventive rather than compensatory.
Mr. Gareth Thomas: Is my hon. Friend not stating the obvious with amendment No. 7? What evidence does he have, for example, that the licensing authority does not currently require medical evidence to be provided? Is not the solution to his concern about the licensing authority to ensure that those who sit on the authority carry out a rigorous inspection? Perhaps the House might like to nominate him to sit on the licensing authority, but only if it meets on Friday mornings.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend may be interested to know that I was once a member of the Westminster City Council licensing committee. We had great fun considering the licensing of sex shops, but that is another story.
Perhaps I might answer my hon. Friend by putting his question back to him the other way round. There is nothing in the Bill that provides that the licensing authority should consider medical evidence. It is an open question. Some licensing authorities may say, "We take the driver's word for it." Other authorities may be more rigorous. We return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham about inconsistencies between the approach adopted by different authorities. If we include in the Bill a requirement that they must take into account medical evidencethey can specify what they wantthat would address the issue.
The amendment deals with allergy to dogs. That is because the RNIB briefing dismisses the point about that being equivalent to carrying a passenger with a heavy perfume to which some people could be allergic. It is a little more complicated than that. We should take into account the possibility that someone has an allergy to dogs, because it is potentially dangerous if a driver is sneezing while driving.
Mr. Dismore: I have no idea, and I do not think that anybody knows. We know roughly how many minicabs there are and how many guide dogs there are, but we do not know, because the question has never arisen, how many people are allergic to dogs or have other medical reasons why they should not carry them. Nevertheless, it is something for which we should provide. In response to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome, the point of amendment No. 7 is that it would enable a licensing authority to require medical evidence in justification, whether it is a note from a GP or something more serious. At the moment, the Bill does not require that.
Mr. Dismore: The RNIB briefing tells us that there are 150,000 private hire vehicles, and 4 per cent. of that figure represents quite a lot of people. I take my hon. Friend's point that not all of them will have a dog allergy, although some will, and perhaps he can do some arithmetic on that basis. However, a sufficient number of people will be affected to warrant our trying to ensure that their interests are protected.
Mr. Dismore: The simple answer is that we do not know. Some licensing authorities may have a very busy agenda to get through on the day the driver turns up and says that he has the allergy. Those of us who have been in local government know that many matters pass through relatively quickly without the scrutiny that they deserve.
Mr. Edward Davey: I know that the hon. Gentleman served on Westminster city council, which is known for one or two methods that are not beyond reproach. Surely he would agree, on the basis of his experience and knowledge of local councils, which are for the most part the licensing authorities that we are talking about, that most of them would act in a responsible manner and would in no way wish to grant an exemption certificate that would disadvantage some of their own residents unless they were assured that there was evidence to back up the driver's claim.
Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Most licensing authorities would take their responsibilities seriously. However, given that subsection (6) specifies that the authority should take into account the characteristics of the vehicle, it seems peculiar not also to draw attention to the medical evidence that is required. That is putting the cart before the driver.
As for allergy, that can be a serious hazard for a driver, because if they are driving along the road sneezing they may lose control of the vehicle. That is an important factor that the RNIB, somewhat unfairly, discounted.
Mr. Dismore: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but he is not following the point of the amendment. We are dealing with an exemption for a driver who has a medical condition. If a driver were exempted, he would not be put in the position of having to take the dog. The problem is that if he took the dog because he did not have an exemption, what would happen to him then? He would not have broken the law under the Bill because he took the dog, but he could fall foul of the general laws relating to loss of control of the vehicle, careless driving or whatever.
Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Earlier I raised a point of order to say that 49 Bills are on the Order Paper for consideration today. Yesterday, the Leader of the House said that the Government are backing this Bill and the Commonwealth Bill. Is it in order for such lengthy debate to take place at this stage, preventing us from reaching other worthy Bills? Is there any mechanism whereby we can reach the other Bills, and what chance do we have of getting them through today?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Lady knows full well how these matters are normally dealt with. As long as hon. Members who are addressing the House are in order, it is not a matter on which the Chair should intervene.
Mr. Dismore: If the hon. Lady is concerned to ensure that legislation is properly scrutinised, that is exactly what I am doing. As I said, I very much support the Bill, but certain issues need to be addressed.
On amendment No. 8, the certificate of exemption refers to particular vehicles, but does not say that the driver has to be named. It is relatively straightforward, and I hope relatively uncontroversial, that a certificate should say whom it is granted to as well as in relation to which vehicles.
Amendment No. 9 deals with the period of exemption. If an exemption is granted, it should be for a finite period, not indefinitely, and a period of 12 months would be fair in relation to people who have a medical condition that is transient, so that it is appropriate for the exemption to be re-examined from time to time.
Much play was made earlier about amendment No.2, which deals with the behaviour of dogs. I am glad that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir Sydney Chapman) said that he is not going to press it, because, apart from the serious grammatical errors, it raises a rather different issue as regards the construction of the Bill.
We have assumed that the assistance dog is properly trained by the RNIB or whoever, and that it is a placid dog that does what it is told and behaves itself. We all know that dogs that are properly trained by a registered charity, such as the RNIB, behave. However, proposed new section 37A(9) does not stipulate that. Proposed new
If the electors of Hendon decide that they have had enough of me, there is no reason why I should not set myself up as a guide dog trainer. I have no qualifications or skills to do that. I could claim that I have a dog that is trained to look after blind people, but it could be a lively dog that jumps around a lot. It could be Scooby Doo.
We have a serious problem to address. If the definition of assistance dog does not say that the dog has to be trained properly by a prescribed charity, there is a serious loophole in the Bill. An assistance dog that has not been properly trained by a prescribed charity could be excitable, agitated or boisterous. In those circumstances, the driver might be in a difficult position.