Row over English language proviso for Leeds taxi operators

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SHOULD owners of taxi licences be forced to learn English, even if they will never drive the vehicle and will only rent it out for others to drive?

That question has been raised in relation to a Leeds City Council taxi policy which requires individual owners of hackney carriage licences to have a level of English.

Unions and hackney carriage companies have objected, believing this could discriminate over wives and family members who inherit licences if an owner passes away, as the weekly rent could be their only means of income.

A meeting of the council’s licencing committee heard the core issue was “responsibilty and accountability”. However it was also argued that if the person isn’t actually driving, there is no issue of public safety.

It has now been proposed that the English language requirement for widows and people inheriting licences is relaxed, with a longer lead-in time to allow them to learn English if they don’t speak it, or to appoint a representative. However it was also been suggested the English comprehension requirement be removed entirely in respect of hackney carriage proprietors.

Labour councillor Brian Selby said he would like to keep the current English requirement in place.

He said: “It has wider implications if we start changing our policy. We do need taxi firms that are well run, and that means having a command of English.”

Tory colleague Gerald Wilkinson added: “I feel certain that the English test is not like a university degree. If they sign it over, people will have time to learn English.”

The meeting was told that “we should be trying to ensure people aspire to [speak] English, not be told not to bother”.

However it was pointed out more than 50 per cent of the proprietors and drivers of Leeds’s 500-plus taxi licences are of Asian origin, and a growing number are from European countries.

Councillor Asghar Khan said it was important to differentiate between the driver and the licence owner. He said: “If it’s drivers, then yes, because they are a front line person.”

He said it could be ensured licence owners bear all costs of translating documents relating to the business. The proposals will be debated again at a future meeting before eventually being put before the council’s cabinet.

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