LOCAL trade union taxi drivers have welcomed the government's moves to bring the controversial 'O' licence system for private hire vehicles into line with rules for taxis and minicabs.

Claiming victory in a campaign on behalf of trade union drivers, Harlow MP Bill Rammell said: 'It is quite wrong that 'O' licence drivers have been able to pick up passengers without having police and medical checks.

'This new law will provide an important safeguard for the travelling public.'

In future all 'O' licence drivers will have the same checks as taxi and minicab drivers, and will be regulated by the local council.

Local Transport and General Workers' Union (T&GWU) taxi drivers have campaigned for change since the Thatcher Government's 1985 Transport Act was enacted to compensate for bus service cutbacks.

The 'O' licence was the same category as that used by bus drivers, but allowed operators to use mini-buses or cars.

T&GWU spokesman Frank Hull said: 'Local taxi and private hire drivers will be very pleased at the Government's decision to change the law.

'The old law was quite wrong. All drivers who carry members of the public in their cars should have proper checks administered by the local council.'

The move has also been welcomed by the proprietor of Harlow's only cab firm using 'O' licences.

Paul Scott, owner of Scott's Five Star in Horsecroft Place, said it was a case of the law catching up with his practice as he already sent drivers for police checks.

Mr Scott said rules on 'O' licence holders were now tighter than for the rest of the industry because monthly MOTs were required, as opposed to annual checks for taxis and private hire vehicles.

Mr Hull said taxi drivers were not afraid of competition, but wanted a level playing field.