CONTROVERSIAL plans to cut red tape for taxi and private hire drivers have been slammed as “a charter for thieves, rapists and paedophiles.”

The stinging criticism from the chairman of Bournemouth Taxi Association, John Tye, comes as Dorset’s PCC, Martyn Underhill, prepares to fight the changes currently going through Parliament.

He believes if they go ahead it could risk increasing the incidents of people being raped and sexually assaulted after a night out.

Currently, only licensed private hire drivers can get behind the wheel of a marked private hire vehicle; drivers have to be relicensed and there are restrictions on vehicles operating across local authority boundaries.

But under the Deregulation Bill, the limited safeguards are to be swept away, despite widespread opposition.

And in a bid to try and prevent the much-feared changes, Mr Underhill has joined forces with PCCs across England and Wales to lobby Ken Clarke to remove a series of measures from the Deregulation Bill.

The concerns are backed by licensing officials, police, the taxi trade and organisations that work with victims of rape and sexual assault.

The group is calling on the government to ensure that people can be “Be Sure, Be Safe” when getting into a private hire cab.

It follows two high-profile court cases concerning taxi drivers committing sexual offences.

In 2009, former Bournemouth taxi driver John Worboys was jailed indefinitely for drugging and sexually assaulting female passengers.

And last year, Bournemouth cabbie Terence Collins was jailed for 16 years after raping a 14-year-old girl and 20-year-old woman.

Mr Underhill said: “People need to be sure that when they get into a marked private hire vehicle they know it’s genuine and driven by a licensed operator.

“These new measures put people at risk which is why we have written to Ken Clarke, to urge him to introduce a dedicated Taxi Bill.”

John Tye, chairman of Bournemouth Taxi Association, said: “I would put it to Parliament that it is a charter for thieves, rapists and paedophiles.

“That may seem extreme but that is an understatement, especially in Bournemouth considering our nightlife.

“You are going to have young girls trying to find a taxi and putting themselves at risk through no fault of their own.

“The Government will be putting them at risk. It’s insanity.”

The issue is being discussed at a meeting of Bournemouth council’s licensing board this morning.