Baroness Stowell of Beeston debates involving the Department for Transport during the 2019 Parliament

Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL]

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
Lord Davies of Gower Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Lord Davies of Gower) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for your Lordships’ continued interest in this small but important Bill. The Government have listened carefully to the concerns raised by noble Lords, and I reiterate what I have said in private sessions: that your Lordships’ engagement has helped the Government reflect on the Bill’s provisions.

The first group today consists of a single amendment. It will amend Clause 2(6)(i), which relates to the conduct of pedicab drivers. It will specify that pedicab regulations can include provisions about making noise. During Grand Committee, I was clear that the Bill as drafted provided sufficient scope for pedicab regulations to address the issue of noise, under Clause 2(6). Furthermore, Transport for London has provided assurance that the playing of loud music and causing disturbance would be covered in its regulations.

However, it was clear that your Lordships felt particularly strongly about this issue. This is understandable. The Government are aware of the stories of loud music being played from pedicabs during the day and long into the night, and understand the disruption this causes to residents, businesses and those going about their daily lives. The Government have therefore tabled the amendment in recognition of the importance of this issue and to support the emergence of an effective regulatory regime.

Consistent with the approach taken in the Bill, the precise manner in which noise nuisance is addressed will be for Transport for London to determine in bringing forward regulations, and, again, this will be subject to consultation as per Clause 1(3). I hope that noble Lords welcome this amendment and that it satisfactorily addresses any outstanding concerns. I beg to move.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome the amendment tabled by my noble friend. I am hugely grateful to him for having listened carefully during our debates in Committee. I congratulate him on the influence he has been able to have in the department in securing the Secretary of State’s agreement to this change.

I note that my noble friend said that in the Government’s view, the Bill’s original wording was sufficient to tackle the concern about noise; none the less, it is reassuring to have noise provisions in the Bill. I should be particularly pleased if my noble friend emphasised when he winds up that the explanatory statement alongside the amendment on the Marshalled List points out that the regulations that can be made to deal with noise, and which would be subject to consultation by Transport for London, might

“prohibit a driver from making certain kinds of noise or noise over a certain volume at some or all times or in some or all places.”

As my noble friend knows, one of my concerns, and one of the reasons why I was keen to get provisions on noise in the Bill, is that there has been a tendency to talk about noise only after a certain time of day. The existing law that allows any clampdown on noise pollution very much kicks in after a certain time and, as we know, the noise made by these vehicles and their drivers can be particularly disturbing and disruptive at any time of day. That is worth us reinforcing, so that TfL knows the expectation of this House.

As this is probably the last time I will speak during the passage of the Bill, I thank my noble friend again and congratulate him on his successful stewardship of this important Bill, which people have waited a long time for in London. I congratulate him on what he has been able to achieve over the past couple of months.

Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL]

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
Monday 11th December 2023

(4 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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My Lords, I back up the call from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to try to persuade the Government to find a way to include e-bikes and e-scooters in the Bill. Like many of the pedicabs that we are dealing with, e-scooters and e-bikes are powered by lithium ion batteries which, incorrectly used, can cause huge damage. In fact, the number of fires that have taken place in London from lithium ion batteries powering light forms of mobility has been growing dramatically and, since 2020, has cost millions of pounds-worth of property damage, and caused many injuries and, tragically, the loss of 13 lives.

Incorrectly used, a lithium ion battery can develop a fire of over 600 degrees that is almost impossible to put out using any of the current known technology. We also know that it sends out huge amounts of really toxic gasses. So we need regulation around the lithium ion batteries that are used in all forms of light powered mobility, including pedicabs. I prepared a Private Member’s Bill that covered these issues, although it sadly did not come up in the ballot; I had enormous support on this issue from Electrical Safety First, which has worked on this for many years.

It is interesting to note that the London Fire Brigade said that it had had more fires up to the beginning of September than in the whole of the previous year—the number of fires is growing. Even more recently, on 11 September, a London coroner took the unusual step of calling for tougher legislation on e-bike batteries after the death of a father of two. We need action and this Bill provides an opportunity to do something about it.

I have raised these issues on a number of occasions. Several months ago, in June, I asked a Question in your Lordships’ House on the Government’s action. The noble Lord, Lord Offord of Garvel, who responded on that occasion, told me that his officials were

“proactively seeking the input and expertise of stakeholders”.—[Official Report, 27/6/23; col. 569.]

He also talked about work that was “under way”. However, much more recently, at the end of last month, I took part in a debate on light powered vehicles. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, responded to my points, particularly in the letter that he subsequently wrote to those who participated in the debate. In it, he drew our attention to annexe IV of EU Regulation 3/2014; incidentally, that was not at all helpful because it talks mainly about avoiding electric shocks from big electric cars—but never mind. The Minister went on to say:

“Fire prevention, fire detection and fire fighting in connection with electric vehicles is a developing area and the government reviews its guidance and regulations in step with the development of best practice”.


We seem to be going backwards: in June, I was told that work was under way but we are now told that guidance may come out in due course.

I hope that the Minister will take note of the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and recognise that he will not get new legislation in, but there is some here and he could use it as a vehicle for addressing these particular issues. I hope he does.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, as the Committee knows, I am supportive of this Bill because it brings in provision for the regulation of pedicabs. I will leave it to my noble friend the Minister to respond on why it is not possible to include e-scooters and e-bikes; I guess that it is probably because the Bill is called the Pedicabs (London) Bill and the Government would not be able to cover them in it. However, I share a lot of the concerns raised about e-scooters and e-bikes. Although I did not say anything in support of those who made these points at Second Reading, that was probably because this issue started getting raised after I spoke. I am pleased that we have pedicabs legislation, which has always been my focus.

I want to raise e-scooters with my noble friend. Because there has been no legislation, as has been pointed out, I am really alarmed that the Government are extending their trial of rental e-scooters for a further two years, to May 2026. What really concerns me about this—I have raised it on several occasions in different contexts and debates—is that, at the moment, it is illegal for private e-scooters to be on our roads outside those rental schemes. The longer this trial goes on, the more the take-up increases. I do not think I have ever seen anyone tackled. As I have said before in this Room, I have even witnessed somebody come on to the Parliamentary Estate on an e-scooter, past the policemen on the gate, and not be challenged at all. When I asked a police officer on the gate, “Why haven’t you stopped that person riding a vehicle that’s not permitted on the road?”, they shrugged their shoulders at me.

If this is to continue, something has to be done about enforcement around these vehicles. They cause so much distress to people, as has been described, and are dangerous because of the batteries used. It is not good enough for a lack of parliamentary time to be raised as an excuse when the use of them, in a legal fashion, is growing all the time.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, by keeping on extending the trials, the Government are in effect implicitly making e-scooters legal because it will be impossible for them at some point to say, “We’re going to stop the trials. This is now an illegal activity”. In essence, it is a nod and a wink to say that it is okay to run them. They have done the evaluation so why do they need more trials? It is difficult to see how this is going to come to a satisfactory ending.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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I agree. Their legal use is being made possible by stealth, basically. That is why people continue to use them with impunity. They know—or, presumably, they assume—that nobody will bother to challenge them in the first place.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, I support this little debate that we are having, in particular the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, about the fire risk. I, too, have been studying this. It seems that not only are we accepting that e-scooters and some e-bikes are in effect legal because nobody is stopping them, as noble Lords have said; there are still no manufacturing standards to give one any confidence. If these bikes or scooters—or even cars—are not manufactured properly, they could set themselves on fire. That is where we are starting from.

It seems extraordinary that we have got this far. We are not allowed to bring the batteries into some places but, much more seriously, we have seen three big fires this year. There was a report in the press this week about several cars catching fire. Luton Airport car park had a fire; I am told that the fire brigade is absolutely certain that it was not caused by lithium ion but it has not produced any evidence to support that. Looking at the way the fire transmits itself from one car to the next—the worst gases and fire go downwards rather than upwards and then along, obviously, because they hit the deck—I will be very suspicious until I see some independent resource and authority which says that these things are 100% safe. I may have mentioned before that a ship sank off the coast of the Netherlands in the summer with several hundred new lithium ion battery cars in it. One of them apparently set itself on fire, which happens occasionally. Luckily, nobody was hurt, but the ship sank eventually because there is no way of putting out the fire, as other noble Lords have said.

Whether it is a scooter, bike, car or something else, is it not about time that we had a manufacturing standard before these things are allowed to be imported at all? In the meantime, perhaps the Minister and his colleagues could give us some advice as to how not to set ourselves on fire.

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Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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That being the case, is there any instruction, guidance or request that the Government can make of the police in the intervening period to enforce the law around the private use of e-scooters on public roads?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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It is a matter for the police to administer in terms of any offences that may be caused, but I take my noble friend’s point. I will take her point back to the department.

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Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, Amendment 11 is in my name. I want to preface my remarks by making it absolutely clear that I am in no way arguing that people who are not legal immigrants should be able to ply this trade. I am simply surprised to see this statement in the legislation, because it is unusual to have something saying that nobody who has not been legally accepted as an immigrant can do this work. This is the type of statement where, when it is put forward in an amendment by the Opposition, the Government reject that provision because they say that it is already adequately stated in other legislation, therefore there is no need to say it again. Their argument goes along these lines: if we included a statement such as this, it would bring forward questions about other conditions that need to be included, and which we all take for granted in relation to a particular occupation, as well as similar issues that are not being restated in the legislation. However, all legislation takes into account previous legislation and what exists as conditions stated in that legislation.

Let us look at the Government’s reasoning in this. They appear to say that there is a prevalence of illegal immigrants involved in this occupation. I fear that that is simply a result of the fact that it has gone unregulated for more than two decades; as a result, it has been a free-for-all. When it comes under much-needed and long-overdue regulation, it will be treated in the same way as we treat taxi drivers: they have to be a fit and proper person; they have to be legally allowed to work; they must have no criminal convictions of a designated type; and they must have a driving licence. I do not understand why we cannot just take that approach here.

If the Minister thinks that it is necessary to have this subsection, as I am sure he will say, can he tell us whether it will become a standard provision in all legislation that involves people’s professions and occupations? Whatever we look at—whether it is teaching or medicine, for example—will we start off by saying, “No one who isn’t a legal immigrant can do this job”? Otherwise, I do not understand why we are saying it here.

The other amendments in my name in this group include Amendment 17, which has cross-party support—I am very grateful for that—and stresses the importance of regulations on noise; Amendment 18 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, is similar. The evidence is that complaints about noise from pedicabs have become increasingly frequent since the pandemic. Basically, what has happened is this: during the pandemic, in this industry—as in so many—there was a crisis and there is increasing competition between pedicab operators. The way they draw attention to and advertise themselves is noise. In fact, noise is the No. 1 complaint of local residents, as opposed to that of the people who take pedicabs. They appear to be immune to it; otherwise, they would not choose the one making it, I suppose. This issue desperately needs some attention. Can the Minister assure us that the regulations will cover noise?

My Amendment 23 relates to the need for a cap on the numbers of pedicabs—I know that local residents think that this is also a good idea. As competition has got fiercer, the numbers of pedicabs operating from inappropriate positions have become an increasing problem. Throughout the UK, it is common for there to be a regulation on the numbers of taxis given permission to operate; the same approach would seem sensible for pedicabs.

Finally, Amendment 26 suggests that the regulations must also cover the issue of cab ranks. Once again, the theme here is the convenience of local residents and their peace and quiet. Because there is noise and so on, the ranks are very intrusive. We have cab ranks for taxis, so there should also be appropriately designated places for pedicabs.

I will make a special plea. The problems associated with the closure of Hammersmith Bridge, which have gone on for years, are very serious for local residents. Let us turn a negative into a positive: pedicabs offer an opportunity for local residents to hire one to cross the bridge, which would be really useful. The local MP, Sarah Olney, has been running a campaign to encourage the Department for Transport to consider this and to designate cab ranks on either side of the bridge to enable that to happen. My simple request is for the Minister to agree to meet me and the local MP to discuss this issue and its appropriateness. I would be grateful for his consideration of that.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 17 and 18, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lord Blencathra, both of which relate to noise. I add that I am sympathetic to the noble Baroness’s Amendment 26 and the points she raised about cab ranks—I do not mean those to do with Hammersmith Bridge specifically. She makes an interesting argument about the provision for ranks for pedicabs.

As I said on the other group, I am grateful to my noble friend for his letter to all Peers. In Transport for London’s note, which was attached to his letter, it was encouraging to see that it proposes to introduce regulations that will cover, as part of the conduct of drivers, the playing of loud music and causing a disturbance. As I said at Second Reading, the loud music played and amplified by pedicabs is the greatest concern that gets raised by business owners and residents—the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, is right about that.

I was a little concerned that, in the note TfL prepared, it suggests that some noise offences are already covered by existing legislation. When I read this, I thought that, in that case, either the existing laws are inadequate, or—to return to enforcement—the enforcement of them is not good enough. I acknowledge that, in his letter, my noble friend pointed out that Westminster City Council and the Metropolitan Police have issued penalty notices that have raised around £30,000 in fines over the last two years.

However, I am concerned that the focus on noise will be about night-time noise. It is not only at night that pedicabs and the playing of loud, amplified noise is a problem; it is a serious problem during the day as well. In my noble friend’s opening speech at Second Reading, he referred to the problem of

“blasting loud music at all hours of the night”.—[Official Report, 22/11/23; col. 768.]

In his closing remarks, he referred to the fines issued by the Metropolitan Police or Westminster City Council, saying specifically that these were for the playing of music “after 9 pm”.

One of the reasons I am keen to see noise added to the relevant clause in the Bill is that noise and the playing and loud amplification of music is the most significant concern that people have about pedicabs, as I said at Second Reading. I am also concerned to ensure that TfL will take an approach that ensures that the loud amplification of music will not be allowed at all hours, not just after 9 pm. I would be grateful for my noble friend’s response to that.

Lord Foster of Bath Portrait Lord Foster of Bath (LD)
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My Lords, I will pursue some of the issues I raised in the debate on a previous group of amendments about the safety of the lithium ion batteries that power many pedicabs, including those that have loudspeakers to provide the noise we have just heard about.

Many noble Lords may not be aware that a fully charged lithium ion battery contains as much energy and potential energy as the equivalent of six hand grenades. If something goes wrong, it can lead to a thermal runaway, which can lead to temperatures reaching over 600 degrees centigrade, as I mentioned earlier. It can release toxic gases that can seriously damage a human’s lungs. The fires are very difficult to put out because they create their own oxygen, which means that special techniques have to be used.

Having said all that, a properly designed and constructed lithium ion battery is inherently pretty safe, unless people do stupid things with it, such as charging it with the wrong charging system, banging it and not being concerned about any damage that they might see, and so on. That is the problem. I do not want to say that lithium ion batteries are bad because, frankly, we desperately need them for many of the developments in transportation and other areas. It is therefore vital that we think about regulations for how we use them, to avoid those problems occurring. Although it is not covered in these amendments, I also hope consideration is given to how we dispose of them when they are no longer in use.

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Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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My Lords, this fourth group covers operational matters. I will now address each amendment in the group.

Amendment 11, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, seeks to probe why existing legislation is not sufficient to cover immigration status and right-to-work checks. The Government’s expectation is that, as in the taxi and private hire vehicle industries, the majority of pedicab drivers will be self-employed. Self-employed individuals are not subject to right-to-work checks undertaken by employers under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006. The Immigration Act 2016 made immigration checks mandatory and embedded safeguards into existing licensing regimes across the UK. In London, this was achieved through amendments to the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 and the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998. Clause 2(2) intends to ensure parity between a pedicab licensing regime in London and taxis and private hire vehicles. Its exclusion would create a gap, leading to the sector potentially being exploited by those who intend to work illegally.

Pedicab ranks, which were raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, will be a matter for Transport for London to identify and establish. With regards to the Hammersmith Bridge issue that she mentioned, I am happy to meet but I suspect that, again, Transport for London will have to decide on that.

Amendments 17 and 18 have been tabled in the names of a number of noble Lords and relate to noise nuisance caused by pedicabs. I will therefore respond to them together, if I may. The Government are very aware of the concerns held by noble Lords and share them. The Government assure the Committee that they are taking this issue seriously and have sought assurance from Transport for London over its policy intentions. Transport for London has confirmed that pedicab regulations would cover the conduct of drivers, including playing loud music and causing disturbances.

Given Transport for London’s clear intention and the scope of Clause 2(6), which confers broad powers on to Transport for London, this would seem sufficient to address noble Lords’ concerns. However, the Government welcome the views shared in the Committee, and noble Lords will be pleased to hear that the question of whether this matter requires specific provision in the Bill remains open.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I am hugely grateful to my noble friend for what he just said and welcome it very much. In considering whether this should be added to the Bill would he share with us whether, given my concern that noise is not only out of bounds after certain times but an issue 24 hours a day, that is something the Government can also take account of?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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My noble friend raises a very valid point and something that we will take into account.

Amendment 19, in the names of my noble friends Lord Blencathra and Lord Strathcarron, Amendment 20, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and Amendment 21, in the names of my noble friend Lord Blencathra and the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Foster of Bath, all relate to Clause 2(6) of the Bill, so I will address them together.

The matters listed under Clause 2(6) are intended to provide a discretion for Transport for London to determine what is most appropriate in bringing forward pedicab regulations following a consultation. This is not an exhaustive list; it rather provides flexibility for Transport for London. However, the Bill is clear that pedicab regulations could cover matters such as the quality and roadworthiness of pedicabs; safety and insurance requirements; the equipment that must be carried on pedicabs; their appearance or markings; and testing requirements. The Government consider that this gives Transport for London sufficient scope to address issues, such as those covered by these amendments in pedicab regulations.

Amendment 22, in the names of my noble friend Lord Blencathra and the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Foster of Bath, seeks to require the batteries in power-assisted pedicabs bear the marking UK conformity assessed or the European equivalent—CE or conformité Européenne. These markings denote conformity with statutory requirements. I note that the requirement for power-assisted pedicabs to meet suitable product regulation is covered by existing law and therefore this amendment is not necessary; I will explain why this is the case.

As is the case with all e-cycles and e-scooters, power-assisted pedicabs need to comply with several product safety regulations. These include the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008. These regulations set out essential health and safety requirements for how the product must be designed and constructed.

Power-assisted pedicabs, as a whole product, are regulated under these regulations. These require manufacturers to ensure that pedicabs meet essential health and safety requirements and that the relevant conformity assessment procedure is undertaken. The manufacturer would then affix the UKCA or the CE marking before the product could be sold in the UK. To be sold lawfully on the UK market, power-assisted pedicabs must already have this marking. If they do not, they are in breach of the regulations.

Noble Lords may point to examples of pedicab drivers or operators adapting their power-assisted pedicabs after they have been purchased. Product regulations would not be relevant here; however, I again point to Clause 2(6) of the Bill, which provides scope for TfL to set out the expected standards for pedicabs through the regulations.

Pedicab batteries are not subject to a regime that requires the UKCA marking to be affixed to them, but the Office for Product Safety and Standards is in the process of reviewing the position with regard to these batteries. Once that review has taken place, my friend the Minister in the other place, Minister Hollinrake, will assess what appropriate and targeted action should be taken.

While pedicab batteries are not subject to an independent regime that requires the UKCA marking to be affixed to them, they must comply with the Batteries and Accumulators (Placing on the Market) Regulations 2008. This restricts the substances used in batteries and accumulators and sets out requirements for their environmentally friendly end of life.

Amendment 23, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, seeks to allow Transport for London to place a cap on the total number of pedicabs operating in London. As the Committee is aware, the Bill will regulate the industry for the first time. The introduction of licensing is likely to see a short-term reduction in the number of pedicabs, as drivers exit the industry rather than apply for a licence. Over time, it is likely the industry will find a natural level in response to passenger demand.

The Government’s intention is to support the emergence of a safer, fairer and sustainable pedicab industry. This amendment could undermine the role of competition in that process. Competition benefits consumers by incentivising operators to give value for money to innovate and improve service standards. The existing powers in the Bill, which enable Transport for London to place limitations on pedicab operations under Clause 2(7)—including restricting the number of pedicabs operating in specified places or at specified times—are therefore considered sufficient to manage London’s pedicabs.

Amendment 24 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, seeks to prohibit pedicabs being driven in cycle lanes. As I have set out, Transport for London will be able to place limitations on where and when pedicabs can operate, under Clause 2(7) of the Bill. Transport for London has indicated that it will consider prohibiting pedicabs operating on major roads and tunnels, as it does already for cycles, in the interests of public safety. This will be an aspect of Transport for London’s consultation, prior to making pedicab regulations.

Amendment 25 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, proposes to empower the relevant traffic authorities—in this case, Transport for London and London boroughs—to designate pedicab ranks. Amendment 26 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, similarly relates to pedicab ranks, specifically seeking to make provision for Transport for London to designate them.

Transport for London has confirmed that it will give proper consideration to the question of dedicated road space for pedicabs, taking into account the needs of pedicab drivers, passengers and other road users. This approach draws on Transport for London’s significant experience in this area through managing taxi ranks. As I mentioned, proposals brought forward by Transport for London will be subject to a consultation and will likely require collaboration across relevant parties, including London boroughs and industry groups. Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, is consequential to Amendment 25.

Excessive fares can spoil a visitor’s trip to London, leaving a sour taste and affecting London’s reputation as a global hub for tourism. That is why Clause 2(5) of the Bill has been included. It confers powers on Transport for London to determine what fares pedicabs charge, and when and how passengers are informed of fares. Transport for London has been clear that it sees pedicab regulations as a chance to address disproportionate fares, as well as other negative impacts associated with pedicabs.

Regarding fines, Clause 3 sets out the suite of enforcement tools available to Transport for London in bringing forward pedicab regulations. These have been drafted to provide flexibility in the design of an effective regulatory regime. There is also the ultimate sanction, under Clause 2(1)(b) of the Bill, of revoking a licence for rogue pedicab operators or drivers. The Government consider the scope of these enforcement powers sufficient to tackle excessive fare charging.

Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL]

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
2nd reading
Wednesday 22nd November 2023

(4 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, sets out a case for the future when it comes to pedicabs, and I will come to some of his points a little later. I am going to focus my remarks more on why there is a case for this legislation now.

Before I get to that, I welcome my noble friend the Minister to his new position and wish him every success as the Minister for Transport in this House. I also want to welcome the Bill. It is something I have long championed—some noble Lords may remember I tabled amendments during the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to try to introduce some form of regulation. I apologise in advance to any noble Lords who may feel, when they hear what I have got to say today, that they have heard me make these arguments before. I must also congratulate my honourable friend Nickie Aiken, the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, for her relentless campaigning for legislation to enable regulation of pedicabs by Transport for London. I commend Nickie Aiken’s determined effort to make sure that the Government honoured their commitment to legislate in government time when her own Private Member’s Bill was, in my mind, unfairly thwarted two years ago. I cannot stress enough how hard she tried to get her Private Member’s Bill over the line, and she very nearly succeeded where many before her had unfortunately too often failed. Today is a good day for her constituents in Westminster and the City of London.

My noble friend the Minister has already explained why primary legislation is needed to enable TfL to act and he put the case for the legislation quite clearly. I am going to be probably more blunt than my noble friend. He said that pedicabs or rickshaws are the only form of public transport in our capital city not currently regulated. To be clear, as things stand these vehicles need no insurance, there are no police or criminal record checks on the drivers and they can hang around in gangs wherever they want, blocking pavements and sometimes being threatening in their behaviour. Some pedicab drivers have been involved in criminal activity, and the lack of registration of them or the vehicle owners makes them quite useful to organised criminal gangs. They drive recklessly—the wrong way up one-way streets, and I have also seen them on pavements. Their involvement in hit-and-run incidents is not uncommon and, without the need for vehicle safety checks, some are unfit to be on the roads. There is more. Pedicabs can charge passengers whatever they want, and there is plenty of evidence of them ripping off tourists. Then, there is the sheer nuisance and disruption that many cause to local businesses and residents from the excessively loud music they play—and when I say loud, I mean loud.

These unchecked, unlicensed and unregulated vehicles are allowed to ply for trade on our streets in direct competition with our heavily regulated black cabs. That is what gets me. I should make it clear that I have no interests whatever to register; I am not even a resident of Westminster. However, I believe that black cabs, which are synonymous with London around the world and an important part of our reputation internationally for quality and high standards, are for ever facing more regulations and new road restrictions, while vehicles and drivers which too often are a disgrace to our reputation have been allowed to operate without having to comply with any law, regulation or rule. Finally, we are going to do something about it.

I come now to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and indeed those of my noble friend the Minister. There are some reputable pedicab firms that want to provide a quality service and do, and my noble friend paid tribute to them. They will prosper in a regulated market. I add that new forms of public transport and the arrival of technology mean that our black cabs too must keep pace with modern public expectations and expect to compete for custom. No one has a guarantee to exist or can afford to be complacent, but there should be a level playing field. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, says, in this modern world there will be an appetite for different forms of public transport that some people may prefer because of environmental questions.

I hope that my noble friend the Minister and I have been able to demonstrate why the word “scourge” was a worthy description of the current situation and that the Bill’s inclusion in the King’s Speech is justified. In my mind, this Bill represents something far bigger than just putting pedicabs on a regulatory footing: it is righting a wrong. This Bill stands up for the law-abiding, who all too often are unfairly affected by regulations that we always seem to find the time to introduce, by ending the impunity enjoyed by those who flout our laws because we have not legislated to stop them and making sure that the authorities cannot stand by.

Before I conclude, I have two questions for my noble friend. First, what is the expected timeline for TfL being able to introduce the much-needed pedicab regulations? Secondly, could he explain why the provisions that the regulations may make, as outlined in Clause 2, do not include the amplification of music? That is currently not specified on page 2 of the Bill. Overall, I welcome the Bill. We have waited for it for too long, and I am very pleased that the Government have brought it forward. I thank them for doing so.

Queen’s Speech

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
Wednesday 11th May 2022

(1 year, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to participate in this debate on the gracious Speech. I congratulate my noble friend on the way in which she introduced it. I feel I should start by offering an apology, because I am going to concentrate on a transport matter which is very niche; my noble friend will not be surprised when I say that it is pedicabs. I promise that, in doing so, I am going to make a bigger point about why they are important to the Government’s legislative programme and levelling-up agenda.

Pedicabs have already had a mention today, but it is important to explain that, because of some quirk of arcane legislation and case law, for nearly 20 years they have been the only form of public transport in London that is legal yet completely unregulated. The vehicles and their drivers are not subject to any kinds of check, and they do not need insurance. They can charge passengers whatever they want and many of them do, ripping off tourists and giving London a bad name at the same time. Yet they can ply for hire quite legally, in direct competition with our heavily regulated black cabs, on any street or place in Greater London. At the same time, they are exempt from the kind of traffic restrictions which other drivers in London increasingly face. Knowing that they can act with impunity, many of them do and they are responsible for a massive amount of disruption and anti-social behaviour in some of the capital’s tourist hot spots.

Therefore, not surprisingly, Westminster’s residents, business owners and the thousands of tradespeople who navigate our congested streets to do an honest day or night’s work are fed up. However, now they finally have reason to rejoice because, just before the end of the last Session, Grant Shapps announced to the Transport Select Committee in the other place that the Government would legislate in this Session to deal with, in his words,

“the wild west of pedicabs”.

I should add that this came after Nickie Aiken, the fantastic local MP, had been thwarted by another MP on four separate occasions when trying to bring forward her Private Member’s Bill in the last Session.

In the great scheme of things, this advance—this breakthrough—might seem like a small thing to noble Lords, but it matters: not just as an improvement to public transport provision in the capital but because it too will level up in a way that should have happened years ago. It is important for us to keep in mind all the time that levelling up is not all about massive infrastructure projects or even regional differences. It is also about tackling unfairness experienced by people who feel ignored and taken for granted when they try to do the right thing, and who watch us sit back and let people get away with doing wrong. I have been going on about this for several years via speeches and PQs in your Lordships’ House, so today I want to congratulate the Minister. I think I heard her say—but I would just like her to confirm—that the necessary measures to regulate pedicabs will be included in the transport Bill. I am looking at my noble friend now, and she is not shaking her head, which is rather worrying. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh will be able to confirm that later.

When it comes to delivering the levelling-up agenda, I urge the Government to seek out more examples of basic unfairness that could be rectified relatively simply and swiftly with a bit of effort. It is worth remembering that small things matter when they make a big difference to people’s lives; good people doing the right thing are understandably intolerant when our effort is all about facilitating the new. In the point I am making, I include the use of e-scooters: when we ignore the people who use them without consideration and responsibility to everyone else.

With the indulgence of the House, I also want to make some brief points about the DCMS legislation announced in yesterday’s gracious Speech. I do not expect my noble friend Lord Greenhalgh to respond to these points today, but I will send my remarks to my noble friend Lord Parkinson in the hope he will respond to them tomorrow. I should declare that I chair the Communications and Digital Select Committee of your Lordships’ House. Much of the Government’s legislative agenda for this Session that falls within my committee’s remit has already been the subject of previous or ongoing scrutiny.

For example, the committee’s inquiry into the privatisation of Channel 4 last year emphasised the need for a clear vision for the future public broadcasting landscape. It concluded with no objection in principle to the privatisation of Channel 4, subject to it remaining a public service broadcaster and the conditions of its current remit not being diluted in the contract conditions of any sale. That said, the committee questioned the urgency of such a move; whereas something that my committee does consider urgent is the new pro-competition regime for digital markets.

Internet regulation is not only about the Online Safety Bill; tackling anti-competitive practices from tech titans is just as important. Indeed, competition legislation is the other side of the same coin, without the risks to freedom of speech. We cannot unleash the full potential of UK start-ups if the entrenched market power of those tech giants creates barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and stifles innovation. The committee, therefore, enthusiastically welcomes the Government’s proposals for the Digital Markets Unit, which they published last Friday and which they themselves described as urgent. In our view, it is essential that this legislation is brought forward without delay. Delays in tackling abuses have already resulted in significant consequences for UK businesses and consumers.

The Government’s commitment in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech to bring forward only draft legislation is hard to fathom. Since 2019, multiple reviews and consultations by the Government, independent panels and the CMA have recommended these measures. It is hard to argue anything other than that the digital markets, competition and consumer Bill is urgent. My question for my noble friend Lord Parkinson, which I hope he will be able to answer tomorrow, is: when will the Government bring forward legislation?

Meanwhile, today, I reiterate how much I welcome the Government’s commitment to legislate so that, once and for all, pedicabs in London will be regulated very soon, bringing an end to the Wild West of the West End.

E-scooters

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
Thursday 20th January 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I was rather taken with my noble friend Lady Sanderson’s questions: what are e-scooters for and who are they for? In the absence of answers to those questions, I am even more inspired by my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe’s bold desire for a complete ban. But my starting position is that, if the Government want to retain and expand a commercial e-scooter rental scheme, they must ensure that the current rules and regulations are enforced and be prepared to regulate yet further.

Like other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, I am very concerned by the evidence of accidents provided in the Library briefing note, and indeed other anecdotal evidence supplied by correspondence to those of us taking part today. Please do not take my pragmatic approach to the continuation of commercial schemes as support for them; I just find it hard to imagine that the Government are going to revoke them. Because of that, my bigger concern is if they are to relax the law and make e-scooters permissible on public roads. As we have already heard from my noble friends this afternoon, I fear that is happening by stealth because of inertia in enforcing the current laws. As my noble friends have said, people are using these e-scooters with impunity and doing so in a reckless and often unsafe way.

I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could provide an update today on police enforcement, as my noble friend Lady McIntosh has already requested, around things such as confiscation. I would also be grateful if she were able, after today’s debate, to provide us in writing with what guidance has been provided to the police to inform how they enforce the law. I hope she will forgive my scepticism on the police’s enthusiasm to do what is required of them.

To illustrate my scepticism, the other week I observed a police officer open a gate to the Parliamentary Estate to allow a private e-scooter rider to exit. On seeing this, I said to the police officer, “That’s illegal; why didn’t you stop him?”, and the response I received was, “You’d think I could”. I said, “You’re the police; I think you should”. That was the end of the conversation.

It is bad enough when pedestrians and other road users see e-scooters flouting the law, but it provokes anger when the same e-scooters travel at speeds that exceed the limits or breach traffic lights. So the Government also need to bear in mind the frustrations of road users for whom driving is critical to their job or direct source of income, such as black cab or taxi drivers, delivery drivers and tradesmen such as plumbers, electricians and so on—the people who are struggling to enter cities to provide essential services to the people who live here or to other businesses because of increasing traffic regulations or traffic schemes. Beyond what I have already asked, my question to the Minister is: what is the department doing actively to consult the kind of users I have just described about the current e-scooter pilot schemes and the way in which private users are flouting the law? It is worth bearing in mind that the people I have just described are not the sort of people who respond to consultations, so are the Government in contact with trade bodies and firms—Pimlico Plumbers, or whatever? Can the Minister also provide us with an update on the evidence of the involvement of e-scooters in other crimes?

Rail Disruption: Social and Economic Impacts

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Excerpts
Thursday 13th May 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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It is in the train operating companies’ interest to provide as much certainty as possible. I know that they are working incredibly hard on contingency planning such that, as we move to the new timetable—which also comes in next week—we will be able to offer as many services as possible. I am aware that the services from Lincoln have been particularly hit; I believe that it is now possible to get to Peterborough and then to change there, but I hope that the noble Lord’s services are back running as soon as possible.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, is the Minister aware of the planned engineering works for the Whitsun bank holiday weekend on the East Midlands Railway line which mean that no trains will be running from St Pancras to Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield and of the additional pressure that that will place on the east coast main line? What steps are being taken at this point to mitigate the potential additional chaos and disruption on that busy weekend?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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We recognise that that weekend may be busy. It is also the case that bank holidays are often the best time to do much-needed engineering works. The Government have asked Network Rail to review the engineering works for the late-May bank holiday weekend and to work with operators to ensure that passengers can still travel. In anticipation of the potential return of passengers, Network Rail has decided to defer some of the previously planned engineering works where possible—sometimes they are scheduled many months in advance, and it is not possible. However, we have tried to minimise them as much as possible. We will monitor the progress of the engineering works throughout the bank holiday weekend so that as many passengers as possible can travel.