An outrageous attack on freedom of speech

In England, outside of London, taxi licensing is carried out by local councils, under powers granted principally by the Town Police Clauses Act 1847. Here in Oxfordshire, licensing is undertaken by district councils.  It is a condition of my taxi licence that I am familiar with the provisions of this and other legislation and in addition, I must comply with over one hundred pages of conditions, the arrangement and composition of which is set by Vale of White Horse council.   

One of the great advantages of being so active using social media these last years is the ability to connect with other licensed Hackney Carriage drivers in other parts of the country, who also care about the taxi trade and to share knowledge about best practice in similar semi rural districts, elsewhere in England.  

Undoubtedly, though, licensing authorities also borrow ideas from each others terms and conditions for taxi drivers, which is why news which emerged last week of a conditions review in Saint Albans was somewhat concerning.  A new section entitled "Appropriate Behaviour" is to be introduced, amongst which are new strictures that drivers are not to ask "personal questions" about passengers and other people and "Opinions on sexuality, race or religion should not be discussed."  

Licensing authorities licence us as fit and proper persons to drive a taxi.  We are mostly independent,  self employed drivers. Many of our passengers in a small town like Abingdon, are already or become our friends. We can be trusted to work out between us what is or is not a mutually appropriate subject for conversation. 

Last year, I collected two Catholic priests and took them to a confirmation service at a local school, diligently and carefully loading their stoles, albs, chasubles and some other religious paraphernalia into the boot of my taxi. En route, the talk was – obviously – about religion. 

When we arrived at our destination, I asked one of the priests to bless my taxi "Yes, of course," he said, enthusiastically.  We stood there as he said in English, "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," then paused and asked if he could say the prayer of blessing in his native language. "Yes, Father, no problem," I replied.    It was a beautiful and a life affirming thing – and I hadn't even understood what he had said, nor am I even Catholic. 

If I am asked about my faith in my taxi – and I am on a regular basis – then there is no way I am going to deny my God on the basis that a local council says it is a subject which should not be talked about.  As it stands, this latest local council proposal is an outrageous attack on freedom of speech. They should be ashamed of themselves for even promulgating it. 

As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday 01 June 2016

  1. Saint Albans City & District Council, web site, Revised Convictions Policy Review 2016 as consulted 18 April 2016