The Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Safeguarding and Road Safety) Bill is a private member’s bill. It was sponsored in the House of Commons by Peter Gibson (Conservative MP for Darlington) and has government support. It also has cross-party support and was co-sponsored in the House of Commons by several Labour members. It is sponsored in the House of Lords by Lord Borwick (Conservative).
The bill seeks to increase the safety of passengers in taxis and private hire vehicles by improving information-sharing between local authorities.
At present, local authorities are not required to share information about refusals, suspensions or revocations of taxi or private hire vehicle (PHV) driver licences, though many use a voluntary database known as the National Register of Taxi and Private Hire Licence Revocations and Refusals (NR3). The bill would make the establishment and use of such a database a statutory requirement and would require local authorities to both contribute to and access the database when making licensing decisions. In addition, the bill would enable the police in one local authority to report any misconduct of a taxi or PHV driver, whether or not it resulted in the driver being charged with an offence, to the authority that licensed the driver.
The bill’s supporters hope that these measures will decrease the risk of a driver with an adverse history being able to secure a licence in a different authority from the one where the wrongdoing was committed.
What would the bill do?
The bill has seven substantive clauses. Clauses 1–4 deal with the proposed mandatory database, while clauses 5–6 pertain to the proposed new duty to report concerns about drivers licensed in other areas. Clause 7 concerns guidance.
Clause 1 defines the term “relevant information”, which is used throughout the bill. Relevant information is defined as “information indicating” that the person has done something which may endanger the safety or wellbeing of passengers. This includes sexual offences, causing physical or psychological harm and posing a risk to road safety while driving.
Clause 2 would require all licensing authorities to record in a database all instances in which they had refused, revoked or suspended the licence of a taxi or PHV driver at least partly based on relevant information. Details of the reasons for the decision would not be recorded. Clause 2(2) specifies that the entry would have to be kept up to date for a period of 11 years, so that any changes (such as outcomes of appeals) would be recorded, and that the entry would be deleted after 11 years.
Clause 3 would impose a requirement on licensing authorities (in this context, the “decision-making authority”) to search the database for relevant information before issuing or renewing a taxi or PHV licence. If the applicant’s name were found on the database, the decision-making authority would be required to apply to the licensing authority which made the entry (the “recording authority”) for more details. The recording authority would be required to respond to this request and the decision making authority would be required to consider it when making a decision on the applicant’s licence.
Clause 4 would allow the secretary of state to provide, or designate someone else to provide, a database for the purposes in the bill. The provider would be allowed to charge a fee for use of the database, but only at a level agreed with the secretary of state.
Clause 5 would establish a duty on licensing authorities in England to report relevant information to other local authorities. Under the proposed measure, were a licensing authority to become aware of relevant information (as defined in clause 1) relating to a driver licensed by another authority, they would be required to report that information to the authority which issued that licence.
Clause 6 would require licensing authorities which received relevant information under clause 5 to have regard to that information. They would be required to consider whether to suspend or revoke the individual’s licence and to notify the authority that provided the information of their decision.
Clause 7 would give the secretary of state power to issue statutory guidance to licensing authorities
and would require licensing authorities to have regard to this guidance.
Clause 8 provides interpretations for terms used in the bill. Clause 9 states that the bill would extend to England and Wales. However, as taxi and PHV licensing is devolved, it would apply in England only.
What happened to the bill in the House of Commons?
Outlining why he considered the bill to be necessary, Peter Gibson said that while almost all applicants for taxi or PHV licences have a criminal background check, not all instances of unacceptable behaviour result in prosecution or conviction. Therefore, he argued, a database with coverage of all licensing authorities, unlike the existing voluntary database, was necessary to ensure this information was considered by licensing authorities when making licensing decisions.
Many members spoke in support of the bill. Some members argued that additional measures were also needed to improve passenger safety. Sam Tarry, Shadow Minister for Transport, highlighted other legislative proposals in the 2018 ‘Task and Finish Group on Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Licensing’ that the Government had not yet addressed. These included national licensing standards, limits on cross-border working (in which a PHV driver works mainly in an area different from the one that issued their licence), powers to cap licences under certain circumstances and higher safeguarding standards.
Chris Heaton-Harris, the then Minister for Transport, said the Government supported the bill. He also said the Government intended to introduce legislation to further reform taxi and PHV licensing, including “national minimum standards, national enforcement powers and a national licensing database”. This database would build on the proposals in the bill by extending the database to include the details of all driver, vehicle and PHV operator licences.
The bill received a second reading without division.
The bill was considered in public bill committee in the House of Commons on 3 November 2021. One amendment was tabled. This would have amended the relevant information criteria in clause 1 so that a driver’s risk to road safety while driving would be assessed in line with Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) standards rather than the individual assessment of the licensing authority.
Speaking to the amendment, Sam Tarry said that at present licensing authorities are “issuing individual revocations based on their own rules and the judgment of individual officers”. He argued that using DVLA standards would “create a consistent approach and help cut unnecessary bureaucracy and reduce time spent in the courts system”. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Trudy Harrison, said that the amendment was an “unnecessary clarification” of what was meant by road safety. Peter Gibson argued that licensing authorities were experienced at judging threats to road safety and therefore the amendment was not needed. Mr Tarry withdrew the amendment.
There were no amendments tabled for the bill’s report stage and it proceeded to third reading on 21 January 2022. All members who spoke in the third reading debate supported the bill. Some members, however, asked for reassurances that drivers would be able to quickly rectify incorrect entries on the register, and that existing appeals processes would not be affected. Many members expressed their appreciation for the hard work of taxi drivers, and emphasised that only a very small minority posed a danger to the public. The bill passed third reading without division.