Taxi driver Keith Radway accused a senior Swindon councillor of not being “a friend to democracy” as he was kicked out of a meeting of the borough council’s licensing committee.

He was asked to leave by chairman Vera Tomlinson for interrupting as councillors debated a change in the licensing regulations of hackney carriages – taxis that can be hailed or picked up at a rank.

But eventually the drivers who had attended the meeting went away happy.

Councillors voted to allow them to carry fares in the front seat.

The authority’s licensing manager Kathryn Ashton had advised against such a change. She said: “The partition is there as a safety measure to keep both passengers and driver secure.”

But drivers were lobbying to be allowed to carry fares up front.

They had asked for the meeting to be called after rules were changed in July to prevent it.

Ms Ashton said: “That came to my attention in July - but it is unlawful.

"We have licensed a taxi for the number of seats in the back, and it isn’t lawful to carry more passengers, for whatever type of journey, than the plate lists.”

Drivers said this threatened their livelihoods.

Andrew Lucas said: “I don’t understand why it’s so much more unsafe to have a passenger in the front of my purpose-built, wheelchair accessible seven-seat taxi, than it is for them to travel in an ordinary saloon car for private hire.

“A lot of drivers have bought new vehicles to be wheelchair accessible, they cost between £35,000 and £50,000 and we have contracts for private hire work where we have to carry people in the front.

“If we have to go back on those legal contracts people will lose their businesses. We’d like the situation to at least stay the same, or be improved, so we can carry any passenger in the front.”

Before his ejection Mr Radway told councillors: “We have been doing this for 22 years in custom and practice. If a vehicle has eight seats, we’d like to be able to carry eight passengers. It would be wrong to take this away from us after 22 years.”

Councillors twice decided against adjourning for further consultations, arguing that drivers livelihoods were at stake, and were bemused that Swindon’s regulations were much more stringent than neighbouring councils, such as Wiltshire.

Coun Garry Perkins said: “I advise you drivers to get licensed in Wiltshire and come and work here in Swindon.”

Ms Ashton told councillors if they voted to allow cabs to be licensed for as many passengers as there are seats, that would apply to all hackney carriages with no exceptions.

She said: “I’ve done taxi rank marshalling and no drivers want anyone in the front with them on a Friday or Saturday night.”

The drivers’ disagreement was so noisy that Con Tomlinson felt compelled to ask Mr Radway to leave.

Eventually councillors voted by seven to one with two abstentions, to allow all hackney carriages to carry passengers in the front seat on any type of journey, pre-booked or not.