Below is the text of the speech made by Vivian Bendall, the then Conservative MP for Ilford North, in the House of Commons on 17 December 1985.
I declare an interest in the matter, in that I represent the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association. My interest is declared in the Register of Members’ Interests.
Not long ago we had a meeting with the Minister, for which I thank him, when we said that members of the taxi trade have been extremely concerned about the 50p tariff proposed by the British Airports Authority for the feeder park at Heathrow. I have also been in correspondence with Sir Norman Payne of the British Airports Authority to ask him to reconsider his decision about a charge for entrance to the feeder park. Unfortunately, when I wrote to him several weeks ago, he was not prepared to do so.
I should give the House a little background to how this unfortunate situation arose. Some time ago it was realised by the airport authority that there were problems with the taxi ranks at the airport, and taxis were using airport roads and getting in the way of the normal flow of traffic. Perhaps with more forward planning, taking into account the increase of the number of passengers going through the airport, that could have been realised some years ago and adequate provision made for it. However, that was not so and adequate provision was not made.
The airport authority rightly, to try to resolve the problem, suggested that taxis should be put through a feeder park. Some years ago, in conjunction with the licensed trade, talks took place on having a feeder park. General agreement was reached and certain aspects of it were contained in the 1983 byelaws. However, at the outset there was no mention of any charge to be made at that time or in the near future. Now drivers are being penalised by being charged 50p to enter the feeder park.
On the average Heathrow to central London run, depending on what part of London it is, on the present tariff, the taxi driver is likely to get £17 or £18. The problem arises when a cab from the feeder park has to go on a more local call such as in Isleworth or Hounslow, which are quite close to the airport. If the fare is fairly low, 50p for entering the feeder park is a considerable sum. The taxi can come back to the front of the feeder rank after a short journey only after it has been to some specific hotels adjacent to the airport. There will be confusion in the feeder park as cab drivers who have been waiting there for a considerable time will not be too happy about other taxis coming in front of them, even if they have been on a short journey.
The LTDA has informed me that the likely cost to the taxi trade of a feeder park charge of 50p is about £40,000 a month. There have been problems at Heathrow. There has been a boycott of the airport by a number of taxi drivers. The LTDA has supported that boycott. In such a situation, it is the public who are liable to be the losers.
The Minister should be made aware that since the boycott began several anomalies have arisen. Mini-cabs have been exploiting the situation to great effect. Cases have been reported to the LTDA and, in turn, to me of mini-cabs which have in the last few weeks charged tourists and visitors as much as £97 to come to central London from Heathrow. In one case a trip to the Hilton hotel cost £60. Some mini-cab drivers have suggested that if they take more than one passenger to central London the charge will be £20 for each passenger.
The English tourist board has taken an interest in the matter and it wrote to Mr. Feigen of the LTDA on 12 December. That letter pointed out that its infrastructure committee was extremely concerned about the 50p parking charge that was to be levied at the airport. It believed and hoped that it would not result in the deterioration of the taxi service and asked for the LTDA ‘s advice on that. A copy of that letter was forwarded to Mr. Bell of the British Airports Authority.
Although the trade is boycotting Heathrow, it has acted in a proper and responsible manner. In other countries when such a situation has arisen there has been, quite wrongly, the blocking of airports—a ridiculous attitude towards the problem. The LTDA wishes it to be made clear that it would have nothing to do with such action because it would have serious consequences for emergency services in the event of an unfortunate accident.
There have been meetings today between the British Airports Authority and the members of the taxi trade interested in the problem. However, I am afraid that no agreement has been reached. The British Airports Authority’s suggestion was that perhaps charges should be held until the end of January.
That would only put off the situation for a few weeks. I can understand the British Airports Authority’s concern with Christmas coming given the number of passengers going through Heathrow. Naturally it is concerned about the passengers and how they can disperse from the airport and get to it.
Another suggestion is to hold charges until May and in the meantime a committee could be set up to try to find ways of passing the charges on in a combined commercial venture. I do not understand whether that involves the trade because I have not yet had an opportunity to consider the finer points.
A member of the LTDA has asked for a judicial review, and I understand that that has been granted. I should have thought that it would have been prudent and sensible of the British Airports Authority to have held or withdrawn its charges pending the judicial review. That would stop the boycott immediately and would give time for the judicial review to be heard and for a decision to be reached.
I understand that in future legislation the British Airports Authority is liable to be privatised. I support the Minister in that. But what is liable to happen to charges on feeder parks once privatisation takes place? Will there be any control of increases? To some degree that trade has been let down.
Some years ago British Rail tried to introduce charges on taxi ranks outside stations. It decided that it was not practical and withdrew the proposition. Now that the BAA has introduced charges, I can envisage British Rail reconsidering its position. If it introduced charges, that would increase costs to the general public.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is responsible for the tariffs charged to the public by taxi drivers. It is rather unfair that their tariffs are controlled in one area, but in another area they must face this increase. The Minister was asked to consider an increase in the tariff. I can understand his problem, because how can we separate taxis coming from Heathrow from taxis in London?
The BAA should reconsider the matter. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will intervene and will discuss the issue with the BAA. I understand that the original direction may have come from his Department, which is interested in increasing revenue from airports. I do not understand why that increase should be to the detriment of the taxi trade.
The taxi trade in London is an integral part of the transport system of Greater London. It is important because it is properly controlled and properly licensed and its drivers have to pass a knowledge test, unlike many parts of the private car hire system. In those circumstances, it is not fair to penalise those who are running a good service as an integral part of London’s transport system. I hope that the matter will be reconsidered. I believe that it can be resolved—and, I hope, resolved before the continuing boycott at Heathrow really begins to affect the public.