CAMPAIGNERS are fighting plans to relax rules governing who is allowed to drive private hire vehicles in Hampshire.

Charities, cabbies, students and police in Southampton say relaxing the rules on who can drive private hire vehicles could put people at risk of sexual assault or robbery.

As previously reported, the changes under the Deregulation Bill, which are currently going through the House of Lords, would allow family members and friends of licensed drivers to drive marked private hire vehicles.

The Government says the plans, which would scrap current rules only allowing licensed drivers to drive the vehicles, would free many families from the need to run a second car and save money.

But Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Hayes has already opposed the plans alongside 18 of his colleagues from across the country.

And now a new campaign is being launched in Southampton to convince Liberal Democrat transport minister Baroness Kramer – who has responsibility for steering the new Bill through the House of Lords – to scrap the plans.

Safeguards Hampshire Constabulary’s community safety and licensing inspector Justin Roberts said: “The existing legislation puts safeguards in place around those transporting members of the public. If these are reduced or removed under the Bill in its current form we do run the risk of seeing increases in cases of sexual assault and robbery.”

Tara Doel, from Southampton Rape Crisis, added: “It will no longer be possible to know whether a person driving a cab is licensed to do so or simply driving someone else’s vehicle, making people reluctant to use cabs as a trusted form of transport and potentially increasing the risk of sexual violence.”

Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Southampton Itchen, Rowenna Davis, has coordinated the campaign. She said: “With two universities and an active night-time economy, we are particularly worried about women travelling alone late at night.”

And some cabbies in Southampton are also backing the campaign.

Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North Caroline Nokes, pictured left, was on the Deregulation Bill Committee which considered the plans earlier this year.

She said the law change would bring the rest of the country into line with London, and that if a driver was caught without a registered private hire licence while transporting a passenger, the driver must show they were not using the private hire for use as a hire vehicle.

She added: “That added safeguard should meet the concerns expressed about safety and enforcement.”