Labour: Deregulation of taxi standards undercutting post-Rotherham safeguards

Safeguards introduced in Rotherham following the child sexual exploitation scandal are being undercut by the Government’s approach to taxi standards, the shadow transport secretary has said.

Louise Haigh suggested the safety of women and girls was being put “at risk” and that “robust legislation” and “national minimum standards” were needed.

The Government said it had recently introduced stronger regulations requiring licensing authorities in England to use a central database to record and check safeguarding issues.

Shadow secretary for transport Louise Haigh
Shadow secretary for transport Louise Haigh asked whether it was time for ‘robust legislation’ (Maja Smiejkowska/PA)

A 2014 report found at least 1,400 children were raped, trafficked and sexually exploited in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

The report also found that taxi drivers had a “prominent role” in child sexual exploitation across England, including in Rotherham.

Ms Haigh, the MP for Sheffield Heeley, which is close to Rotherham, told the Commons: “I have worked alongside victims and survivors of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal.

“And following that scandal, Rotherham council set very high standards for its taxi drivers, including CCTV in its cabs, and requiring NVQ (National Vocational Qualifications) level three on child safeguarding.

“But those standards are being undercut by the Government’s deregulation of taxi standards, and nothing that the minister has set out this morning has stopped that.

“Doesn’t he agree that the position is putting women and girls’ safety at risk? And isn’t it time for robust legislation and national minimum standards to protect them?”

Transport minister Guy Opperman said: “On April 27, a new law came into force which requires licensing authorities in England to use a database to record refusals, suspensions and revocations made on safeguarding or road safety grounds.

“The new requirements mean that individuals who are not fit and proper to hold a taxi or private hire vehicle licence will not be able to apply for a licence with other authorities without that authority being aware of past safety concerns.

“This change will help protect passengers, including women and girls, as well as the reputation of the majority of drivers from those who are unfit to hold office.”

The exchange took place during a session of questions to transport ministers in the House of Commons.

Mr Opperman had earlier told the Commons that the Department for Transport issued guidance to licensing authorities in England to help them regulate the sector.

Labour MP Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) said: “Local councils have no jurisdiction over out-of-borough hires and concerns have been raised about differences in training and safety precautions required.”

She said cross-border taxi drivers – who operate outside of their licensing jurisdiction – do not have to abide by the same regulatory measures as those regulated by their local council.

Mr Opperman said: “There is already a database and there is already a duty on local authorities to share.”

The minister added: “Licences can be taken away in the circumstances she suggests.”

Labour MP Clive Betts (Sheffield South East) said: “When is the minister going to legislate to make sure that journeys can only be … in a licensed vehicle when they either take place or finish in the area where the (licensing) authority is?”

Mr Opperman said: “We have already brought in changes to the rules, such that individual local authorities can take action against another individual person who operates in that other authority.”