Rape alert over private hire "free-for-all" plans
Plans to cut red tape for taxi and private hire drivers risk increasing incidents of people being raped and sexually assaulted after a night out, Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) across England and Wales have warned.
The cross-party group of commissioners, led by Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd, have joined forces to lobby Ken Clarke to get the dangerous measures removed from the Deregulation Bill, which is currently going through parliament.
The concerns are backed by licensing officials, police, the taxi trade and organisations that work with victims of rape and sexual assault.
PCC Tony Lloyd, said: “Taxi regulation reform is long overdue, but this is not the way to go about it. The current system is far from perfect, but at least there are safeguards there which mean people can have confidence that when they get into a marked private hire vehicle it is genuine and being driven by a licensed operator.
“Taking these safeguards away opens the prospect of a private hire free-for-all. There will be no guarantee that a driver is who he says he is, and the inevitable consequence is that there will be an increase in people being attacked after a night out.
“We know that isn’t what the Bill intends, and support measures to make life easier for small businesses and self-employed people, but there’s a real danger it will be the consequence, which is why we’ve written to Ken Clarke to urge him to remove these measures and introduce a dedicated Taxi Bill so that reforms can be brought in in a considered way which will be subject to rigorous scrutiny. These current proposals are ill-thought-through - rushed law is often bad law.”
Commenting on the new plans, Durham's Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg said: “The current licensing system in County Durham and Darlington has rigorous controls in place to minimise the risk of any harm caused to individuals and vulnerable people using taxi services. I would agree with the concerns that removing the requirement for a person to drive a private hire vehicle without a license would have the potential to expose the public to danger.
"I am committed to working in partnership with the alcohol reduction unit, the safeguarding units and the other agencies they work with to ensure we protect our community and bring any perpetrators, who may prey on individuals, to justice."
Currently, only licensed private hire drivers can get behind the wheel of a marked private hire vehicle; drivers have to be regularly relicensed and there are restrictions on vehicles operating across local authority boundaries.
But under the Deregulation Bill, these limited safeguards are to be swept away, opening up the prospect of a private hire free-for-all, with no guarantees that the driver of a vehicle are who they say they are.
Ironically, proposals are already in place for major reform of taxis and private hire vehicles after the Government asked the Law Commission to draw up a draft Taxi Bill. It proposes a radical suite of measures to streamline taxi and private hire legislation, but the Government has chosen not to introduce the Bill, instead relying on the piecemeal measures in the Deregulation Bill.
The PCCs who have so far joined the campaign are:
Tony Lloyd, Greater Manchester (Labour)
Sir Graham Bright, Cambridgeshire (Conservative)
Vera Baird, Northumbria (Labour)
Kevin Hurley, Surrey (Independent)
Alan Charles, Derbyshire (Labour)
Martyn Underhill, Dorset (Independent)
Martin Surl, Gloucestershire (Independent)
Richard Rhodes, Cumbria (Conservative)
Jane Kennedy, Merseyside (Labour)
Mark Burns-Williamson, West Yorkshire (Labour)
Ron Hogg, Durham (Labour)
Sue Mountstevens, Avon and Somerset (Independent)
Jane Kennedy, Merseyside (Labour)
Anthony Stansfield, Thames Valley (Conservative)
Winston Roddick, North Wales (Independent)
Stephen Bett, Norfolk (Independent)
Barry Coppinger, Cleveland (Labour)
Follow PCC Ron Hogg on Twitter: @RonaldHogg1, or for organisation updates: @DurhamPCC.
Posted on Monday 23rd June 2014