A taxi war has gone to Parliament as North East commissioners and politicians try to prevent a rule change they say could let sex offenders drive taxis.
Labour is battling deregulation plans which, it says, could see “rogue or unlicensed taxis” able to operate across the country.
In the North East, Easington MP Grahame Morris has led the charge in Parliament, telling MPs this week that “the real public safety concern is the number of bogus, unlicensed taxis that operate and pose a threat to the welfare of women travelling home late in the evening”.
He added: “Last year there were 250 assaults and 56 rapes. Measures that will make that situation worse by making the system more difficult to enforce – that is what the Government propose – should surely concern the Right Honourable Gentleman and the whole House.”
His concern comes after police commissioners united to oppose Government red-tape cuts.
Under the proposals, firms operating private hire vehicles, also known as minicabs can contract out bookings – so customers phoning one firm for a cab might find a car from a different firm turns up outside their door.
A ban preventing taxi owners from allowing other people to drive their vehicle will also be lifted.
Other rules will mean councils review licences every three years for taxi and private hire vehicle driver licences, and five years for private vehicle operator licences – while they are currently free to renew licenses annually if they wish.
Labour MPs say the changes will put the public at risk by making it harder for councils to ensure people with criminal convictions are stripped of their licenses.
Northumbria Police Commissioner Vera Baird and her Durham counterpart Ron Hogg have already had their say. Mrs Baird said public safety would be put at risk under the changes, while Mr Hogg linked the cut in red tape to the potential risk to women getting into cars alone.
The Government has insisted its plans would not put people at risk, saying it is only licensed taxi drivers who will be taking on jobs.
Tom Brake, the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, said: “I agree that the Government, local authorities, the police and campaigning organisations should do everything they can to ensure that women and other users of private hire vehicles use only licensed vehicles, and that there is a strong clampdown on those who are operating illegally.
“Again, I do not think that anything the Government are proposing in these clauses will have the effect that the Honourable Gentleman seems to be saying they will.”