Pedicabs (London) Bill [Lords]

– in the House of Commons at 2:50 pm on 28 February 2024.

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Second Reading

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 3:06, 28 February 2024

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

It is a pleasure and a privilege to move the motion on Second Reading for this Bill, which tackles an issue that has plagued London’s roads for far too long. Without a shadow of a doubt, the Bill has a long and chequered history in getting to this stage, and legislators have been calling for legislation on the issue for over 20 years. It is unquestionably the case that in 2011 the Law Commission commenced its 11th programme of law reform, which included a review of the legal framework relating to this space. That was published on 23 May 2014, and it recommended bringing pedicabs within the scope of taxi and private hire regulation.

Successive Mayors, including the present Mayor, have supported regulation in this space. The previous Mayor of London, Mr Boris Johnson, called in 2012 for Transport for London to have the power to remove pedicabs that do not meet rigorous safety and licensing standards. An independent task and finish group on taxi and private hire vehicle licensing was subsequently commissioned by the Government in September 2017.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

The Minister is making a very good point about the cross-party support from both a Labour Mayor and a Conservative Mayor. Does he agree that it is important to recognise that the pedicab industry has also called for proper regulation? The London Pedicab Operators Association wrote to me to say that it is

“in accord with the universal view that pedicabs must be fairly and appropriately regulated fast.”

Does the Minister agree that it is important to do it now?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Anyone who has seen this particular problem on the streets of London will accept that there is clear public demand for pedicabs and that there are organisations that want to have regulated, safe pedicabs on the streets of London. My hon. Friend is right to say that the industry wishes to be regulated so that the good actors can be supported, so that people can have trust in this industry, although it is small, and so that the rogue actors—I will come on to them in a bit more detail—are not only discouraged but prevented from operating in this way.

We have to be blunt about some of the particular examples, and this has a significant and real impact on the tourist industry in this country, on women’s health in particular—but also that of general members of the public—and on the potential commission of crime. Some of the worst examples include a tourist charged more than £450 for a seven-minute, 1.3 mile journey with their two children, another charged £500 for a 10-minute journey between Mayfair and Soho, and one hit with a £180 bill for a three-minute journey—fortunately on that occasion the driver was ordered to return the money by local police and Westminster City Council.

The truth is that the task and finish group has been seeking a space for a safe and responsible pedicab trade. The quote that is set out in the House of Commons guidance says that

“there has been much justified criticism in recent years of rogue pedicab operators taking advantage of tourists with excessive charges and absence of safety checks”, and it goes on:

“It is not acceptable that Transport for London is unable to regulate pedicabs to ensure a safe service;
the Government announced in 2016 that it would rectify this, and the legislation should be brought forward as soon as possible.”

That was said in 2018. Subsequently, in 2019, the Government made it crystal clear that they supported the Bill.

There have been various attempts to bring this matter forward and—let us be blunt—this is a thin Bill dealing with a niche issue, but it is something that genuinely does matter. Such issues are traditionally often handled by way of a private Member’s Bill, and various colleagues have tried to bring this matter forward by way of a private Member’s Bill, starting with my hon. Friend Paul Scully.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

As I have just named my hon. Friend, I will be delighted to give way.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Conservative, Sutton and Cheam

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and he is, as ever, making an excellent speech. Does he agree that the Mayor, the councils, residents, businesses, Parliament—largely—and the pedicab industry itself agree with simply changing a 19th-century legislative anomaly in order for the only form of public transport in London that is not regulated to come under that banner? Does he agree that this could and should have been done years ago, and that it should be done easily now?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My hon. Friend will know that pedicabs are effectively stage carriages under the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869—with which we are all deeply familiar, I am quite sure. That means they are the only unregulated form of public transport operating on London’s roads. He is right to highlight that this has cross-party support across London, as well as support from a variety of Mayors and local authorities. It has the support of the business industry and those who want to be part of a regulated pedicab industry. Tourists visiting London who step into a pedicab should not, I believe, face the risk of an inappropriate fare, an unlicensed driver who has had no background checks, and a vehicle with potentially no safety standards—sadly, that is fairly regularly the case.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Would we not have had a regulatory regime had the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association not been campaigning openly and publicly for banning pedicabs altogether, rather than regulating them?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I say with real, genuine respect for my hon. Friend—I was his Whip for a while—who clearly has strong views on these matters, that although the London taxi drivers may have a view, having unregulated providers on the streets of London who are clearly, in some sad cases, abusing tourists and having a very bad reputation—ripping people off to the tune of £500 for a couple of minutes’ journey—does not give a good image of London. There have been attempts under successive Governments to tackle this issue by way of private Members’ Bills, which is often how small legislation is often dealt with in this place. The taxi drivers do not have anything fundamentally to fear from a regulated pedicab industry, because regulated pedicabs exist in other cities, and it is not the case that anybody is trying to take away unfair competition. The taxi drivers have been regulated in a perfectly appropriate way by successive Governments on a cross-party basis, and we want them to thrive and exist and provide the services they do to Londoners and tourists alike.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Is the Minister aware that at a meeting with licensed taxi drivers at City Hall on 17 January 2004 Bob Oddy referred to a video produced by the LTDA, “Ban Don’t License”, and the LTDA was campaigning not for registration of pedicabs but for a complete ban? Will the Government commit to ensuring pedicabs are not regulated out of existence?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

There is quite a lot to unpick from that question on events of 20 years ago, but I will do my best.

First, the Government do not want to regulate any particular part of the sector out of existence, and, in fact, pedicabs exist elsewhere. Secondly, I am absolutely confident that we can have a situation in which people are charged an appropriate fee for what is a physical activity—charging for cycling someone around the flattish streets of London is fairly simple stuff—and pedicab operators get a proper return for their endeavours while making sure the cost is not £500 for five minutes. It is perfectly possible for us to create a proper market where there are safety checks in the usual way without pedicabs no longer being in existence.

The point is answered by my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken: as she rightly points out, a number of pedicab operators want to get rid of the bad actors so they can thrive. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that—there really is not. There is space in the great city of London for the black cab industry, the private motor vehicle industry in the form of private hire, and pedicabs; all three can and should co-exist, along with all the buses, the tube and the like.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I agree with the Minister about the mixture of transport modes we enjoy in London—and people should also be able to enjoy that across the rest of the nation. Bringing us forward to the last few years as opposed to 2004, when I chaired a transport committee on the London Assembly in 2017 we looked at accessibility and ensuring access to different transport modes in the capital. Does the Minister agree that by bringing forward this legislation and helping Transport for London to set the regulation, we will have licensed pedicabs with clear operators, allowing for a licence duration, fees, suspension and clear charging, which will help pedicabs add to the mix of transport modes in London?

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

It is hard to disagree with those points, but I accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) has concerns and I want to try to try to address some of his points. This is not something that just one side of the House is seeking; all parts of the House are seeking it, as have successive Mayors, including Mr Boris Johnson, late of this parish, who enthusiastically supported it.

I accept entirely that some may have concerns about Transport for London not being part of the Government as such, but successive Mayors of different political persuasions have been happy for TfL to run this appropriate regulation. The hon. Lady touches on a variety of points, but clearly there are other issues, such as noise, the persistent and ongoing blocking of footpaths—which unquestionably has significant issues for accessibility—and the general causing of nuisance. Without a shadow of a doubt, there are plentiful examples to show why this measure has been called for on a repeat basis and why the Government should act in this space.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I am not against this Bill, but I would like some general reassurance from the Minister. I am not the sort of Conservative who believes in more regulation, particularly when it comes to young entrepreneurs providing a fairly simple service for tourists. Can he assure me that, when this regulation comes into force, it will be light touch and not onerous, so that we do not kill this young and perfectly acceptable industry? I am perfectly happy to be reassured; I just want the Minister to do that for me.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The answer is yes and yes. The key point is that, as this is a totally unregulated market, it is hard to be precise as to how many people are providing this service on a daily or weekly basis. In London, it is in the several hundreds, rather than the thousands. Those who wish to take this industry seriously and do things properly unquestionably feel that they can run a young entrepreneurial business with a proper reputation and the right amount of enthusiasm and aspiration in a truly Conservative way, and also provide a safe service in which tourists can have confidence. I genuinely believe that that is the case. If it matters that there is a strong recommendation that the measures will be appropriate, but light touch, I am happy to provide that from this Dispatch Box.

I have gone on for longer than I intended, but I genuinely believe that the Bill will ensure that the pedicab industry is respectable, safe and regulated in an appropriate fashion, and that it brings the same accountability to this industry that we rightly expect in a great capital city that is, rightly, a tourist hotspot, and we wish to continue to support that. The Bill is supported by Londoners, councillors and Members of Parliament, and there is no question but that I am happy to commend it to the House.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:22, 28 February 2024

It is a pleasure to speak for the Opposition on Second Reading this afternoon. As my colleagues in the other place have set out, Labour welcomes this short yet vital Bill and will support its progress, but it is long overdue. After years of asking for these powers from the Government, the Bill will finally give Transport for London the power to tackle the blight of unregulated pedicabs in London—largely in the city’s west end.

As colleagues will know all too well, pedicabs have been able to operate without regulation for decades due to a legal loophole in London. They are not considered taxis under the current law and are instead defined as “stage carriages” under section 4 of the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869.

However, with section 4 no longer in force, a completely unregulated pedicab industry has emerged in London. Indeed, as the Minister inferred, it is the only form of unregulated public transport in the capital. Between 2018 and 2023, 24 pedicab operator incidents were reported in London, including six sexual offences and 13 injury-causing collisions. Pedicabs have also been notorious for egregious overcharging of tourists, as of course they are currently entirely free to determine their own fares, sometimes seemingly at random. As the Minister referenced, a tourist with two young children was charged more than £450 for a seven-minute journey in a pedicab. The driver intimidated the tourist into immediate payment and then disappeared—presumably to avoid being reported. This is just one of many concerning reports of unacceptable behaviour from unlicensed operators.

It is clear that TfL urgently needs the powers necessary to regulate, and I am pleased that the Bill will go a long way in making pedicabs safer for passengers, because it is this emphasis on safety that is so vital. I know that the Minister and I agree that we do not want pedicabs banned from London streets; we just want them to be as well-regulated on safety as any other mode of public transport.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (AI and Intellectual Property)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way. He is speaking very eloquently. I also welcomed the words from the Minister this afternoon. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a very similar situation with other new forms of transport, such as e-scooters and e-motorbikes? Hopefully, there can be a similar discussion about the safety issues and about balancing the need for new forms of transport against the safety of pedestrians. Perhaps he can say a few words about the need for the Government to look at that issue as their next objective in this area of transport policy.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

I agree with my hon. Friend. I would have liked to have seen the Government hold to their promise of delivering a comprehensive transport Bill. Things such as e-scooters need a decision one way or the other; we cannot extend the trials indefinitely.

A regulated pedicab sector can bring enormous benefits to London, as a unique zero-carbon way to travel in an equally unique, thriving part of London with a bustling night-time economy. Indeed, a sustainable pedicab industry can be in keeping with the treasured, colourful, unique character of the west end, while also ensuring that regulations are in place to keep passengers safe.

I am pleased that the Bill has reached this Chamber in a much improved state, thanks to the hard work of colleagues in the other place, notably Labour lords. In particular, we welcome that the Government have conceded on ensuring that the power to regulate is entirely devolved to Transport for London, rather than the time-consuming and unnecessary step of requiring parliamentary approval. Such a requirement would have been anomalous compared with TfL’s wider powers on private hire regulations, or indeed with other combined authority’s regulatory powers. For that reason, we welcome the Government’s removal of subsection (2) of clause 6 and the insertion of clause 7 on guidance from the Secretary of State instead.

Additionally, we warmly welcome the Government’s decision to amend clause 2, to make provision for regulation on noise nuisance, which is a key concern that stakeholders have been raising for years. That being said, as positive as the Bill is, the Government have taken far too long to get to this point. Transport for London, Westminster City Council, the Local Government Association and various night-time economy trade associations have been calling for action on pedicabs for years. And for years, the Government repeatedly promised action, with private Members’ Bills even being proposed on the same topic by Government MPs. The reality is that this legislation is desperately overdue and should have been part of a much more comprehensive transport Bill. Local councils, industry bodies and manufacturers alike are crying out for clarity from the Government on e-scooter and e-bike regulations, for instance, but the Government seem to refuse to take this opportunity to make progress in this area.

None the less, the Bill is important in its own terms, and I am pleased that TfL’s power to regulate on this issue will be on the statute books in due course. A key issue that many stakeholders, including the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association and Transport for London, have raised is making pedicab operators eligible for enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks in line with taxi and private hire drivers. I know that that was raised by several colleagues in the other place, where the Minister said that the Government are looking into it. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide an update and say whether we can explore that in Committee, because this is an opportunity to ensure that passenger safety is as robust as possible.

Overall, this is a much-needed but desperately overdue Bill. I look forward to working with the Minister and other colleagues as the Bill progresses.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 3:28, 28 February 2024

I, perhaps more than most here today, welcome the Second Reading of the Pedicabs (London) Bill. It does seem to be groundhog day for me, as this will be the third time since entering Parliament in 2019 that I have stood in this Chamber and spoken on Second Reading to highlight the need for a licensing scheme for pedicabs in London.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you and others in and outside Parliament could be forgiven for wondering why on earth the Government have given time for this small Bill. One would expect that it should become law via a private Member’s Bill, as the Minister mentioned. It should have done, as four attempts have been made via private Members’ Bills to introduce a pedicabs licensing scheme in London. One was made by my hon. Friend Paul Scully; a second by my predecessor, Mark Field; and since entering Parliament I have twice promoted a private Member’s Bill on pedicab licensing, but because of the way such Bills fall due to a single objection, mine have failed.

Therefore, I am truly grateful for what the Government have done, first under the former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who was 100% behind the wish to secure pedicab legislation. He agreed with the then Transport Secretary, my right hon. Friend Grant Shapps, to put a clause in the planned transport Bill, which fell when Mr Johnson resigned. I then started my lobbying from scratch and met No. 10 officials from the current Administration to make the case for pedicab legislation to be given Government time.

I would like to put on record my thanks to people from across Parliament who have provided help, particularly Baroness Stowell of Beeston, who supported my campaign to lobby Ministers and their special advisers. I would also like to put on record my thanks and admiration for the two special advisers, James Nation and Will Tanner, who accepted that we needed to introduce pedicab regulation. Without them, we would not be here today and I thank them, the Minister and the Transport Secretary for understanding the reasons why we need this legislation. I did not know for certain whether we would get Government time for this legislation, so when I stood in the other place and heard His Majesty announce

“A Bill will be introduced to deal with the scourge of unlicensed pedicabs in London”, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

It is fair to ask why we need this legislation at all. First, I wish to point out that this Bill does not and will not propose to ban pedicabs from the streets of London; it is about improving the conditions for drivers and passengers. I firmly believe that if we could have properly regulated pedicabs, they could offer a very positive and special visitor experience. I understand that pedicab regulation already exists in this country and where it does, in places such as Oxford, York and Salisbury, we still see pedicabs, but they provide a much better offer. It is clear that the regulation of pedicabs does not mean their eradication.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My hon. Friend will have seen, as I have, the briefing from Cycling UK. Does she recall that it says:

“Even where local authorities have been keen to support local would-be pedicab operators (as has happened in Oxford, Salisbury and York), they have been unable to operate on a ply-for-hire basis, because the local taxi operators (who view them as competition) start asking questions about whether the pedicabs and their operators have the same insurance etc”?

Pedicabs have not been able to operate in those areas outside London because of the opposition from the licensed taxi drivers.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. As far as I am concerned, Cycling UK has supported this Bill—I have had several meetings with Cycling UK and I believe my hon. Friend may have been involved in some of those meetings previously. It has always understood why I want to bring in this Bill. It is important to make the point that the drivers and vehicles must be safe. There have been too many instances where police operations and operations in conjunction with Westminster City Council have found drivers who are unfit to be taking passengers, including those who are wanted for serious crimes, such as sexual violence crimes. I believe that one person was even found to be wanted for murder—

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Does the hon. Lady agree that this regulation is not just about ensuring a fair and transparent fare model, because TfL will have the option to ensure that those drivers undergo criminal checks and that they have the right to work in the UK?

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, as it comes to the crux of why I wanted to introduce this legislation: I want to make these vehicles safe, not only through ensuring that they are passing MOTs and are fit to be on the street, but by ensuring that the drivers are safe. Again, as a result of the operations that the police and Westminster City Council have undertaken over the years, we have found asylum seekers who have not got the right to work driving these pedicabs, and we have found illegal immigrants who have not got the right to work here. Let us not forget that those people are also being exploited. One reason it is important to have regulated pedicabs is that it will ensure that drivers have rights.

We also have to ensure that we have a regulated, fair system in place. Operators must adhere to the highway code and not play blaring music at all hours of the day and night. It is time that pedicabs in London were regulated, as black cabs, Ubers and private hire vehicles are. I hear what my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope says about what the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association said 20 years ago. In my own meetings in the last couple of years, taxi drivers have been very clear that they want a level playing field. They do not expect pedicabs to be banned; they just want them to be as safe as black cabs. Why should a black cab driver have to jump through so many hoops to get on the road, when a pedicab driver can literally get on a pedicab, go on to the streets of Westminster and ply for trade? It cannot be right, and we have to ensure that the whole system is fair, just and legal.

Parts of my constituency, including Soho, Covent Garden, Marylebone and Fitzrovia, can become like the wild west. It becomes the wild west end at times because of the sheer number of pedicabs on the streets. Too many play extraordinarily loud music, often block roads and pavements, disrupt residents and businesses, and have a poor track record of exploiting London’s tourists.

I am extremely grateful for the wide range of support that I have had for securing pedicab regulation from local people across the two cities, from residents associations such as the Soho Society, the Marylebone Association, and the Covent Garden Community Association, and from businesses including the Hippodrome, Heart of London Business Alliance and the New West End Company. I also thank Roger Geffen from Cycling UK, Chris Dixon from Pedal Me, and Friedel Schroder from the London Pedicabs Operators Association, who have been on this journey with me and always provided me with the information and support for what I intended to do.

The reason pedicabs are not regulated in London, as we have heard, can be traced back to the fact that, under the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869, pedicabs in Greater London are defined as a stage carriage. Modern legislation has not corrected the issue, and thus pedicabs do not fall under Transport for London’s licensing powers. As a result, pedicabs are currently the only form of public transport that is not regulated in London. The Bill corrects that, clearly outlining that, to attain a licence to operate a pedicab, operators must adhere to several requirements pertaining to their pedicabs. The requirements relate to the road-worthiness and cleanliness of pedicabs, safety and insurance, the type of equipment that must be carried onboard, the appearance and marking of pedicabs, and the conduct of pedicab operators.

I must thank the noble Members of the other place, where the Bill began its parliamentary journey, who have improved the Bill and ensured that it is as watertight as possible. I put on record my gratitude to the transport Minister Lord Davies of Gower for his excellent stewardship of the Bill through the other place, and for joining me and today’s Minister, my hon. Friend Guy Opperman, on a visit to Leicester Square on a Sunday evening to see the situation for himself. I am sure that it was enjoyable, and a different ministerial visit than they are both used to. In that time, we saw four pedicabs blocking a pavement, which would have prevented an emergency vehicle, be it an ambulance, fire engine or police vehicle, from entering Leicester Square had there been an incident. Pedicabs have to be properly regulated to ensure that the public are safe.

The other place has tightened up the definition of a pedicab to prevent any adjustments from being made to a pedicab to get around the licensing requirements. Not only will the Bill ensure that the conduct of operating a pedicab is regulated, but it will provide Transport for London, which will operate the licensing scheme, with the powers to implement a proper, fair system like the ones for black cabs and Ubers. Rip-off fares from pedicabs are a constant theme in my inbox, and in media coverage.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the hon. Lady for making such a powerful speech on why we need regulation. Is she aware of the BBC Democracy report on its undercover work looking at the fee charges? One pedicab charged a flat fee of £5 per minute and another reportedly close to £500 for a 10-minute ride. Does she not think that that is an extortionate rip-off?

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I absolutely agree and thank the hon. Lady for her points. The BBC Democracy report was fascinating about some pedicab drivers, although I must make the very important point that not all pedicab drivers are rogues. There are brilliant organisations and companies such as Pedal Me—I have worked with Chris Dixon, the founder—which is an outstanding pedicab company that looks after its drivers properly, and its vehicles. I want all pedicabs to be like that. The BBC Democracy report, however, showed that some pedicabs drivers are being used for drug dealing and taking people to brothels, where they deserve what happens if they go to some very dodgy club. That is why we have to regulate and ensure that drivers are fit to carry passengers and that they are legally able to work in this country, more than anything.

Such pedicab fares are in the media constantly, especially when pedicab operators take advantage of vulnerable tourists enjoying the incredible cultural offer of the west end. A constituent who came across one such tourist incident wrote to me:

“The Pedicab operators got very aggressive when the Americans refused to pay £300 for a journey from Trafalgar Square to Great Smith Street”, which is a journey of 0.8 miles. I welcome the Bill’s providing Transport for London with powers to set what fares can be charged, when and how passengers must be made aware of the fares, and what methods of payment are acceptable.

Perhaps the most popular part of the Bill for my constituents is the provisions on riders’ conduct, which thanks to the other place have been strengthened to include noise limits. The frustration local people often face due to the loudspeakers many pedicabs carry was best summed up by a constituent who told me:

“I have no choice but to listen to music hour after hour, day after day, and often until the early hours of the morning. They are left in situ, able to do it, as they all know the council and the police have no powers to stop them”.

I was therefore pleased to see the other place strengthen the Bill’s ability to tackle unreasonable noise levels by adding noise restrictions to the conduct requirements that operators must meet in order to keep their licences.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Lady may know that a number of pedicabs congregate outside St Thomas’s Hospital in my constituency, where patients are recovering from lifesaving treatment. Does she agree that having that noise blaring out in the early hours of the morning is totally unreasonable?

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

It is completely unreasonable; the hon. Lady makes a good point. Not only hospitals are affected; hotels are losing business. If a pedicab is outside a hotel in the west end at 2 in the morning and does not move for hours, patrons rightly complain and ask for their money back. This is not just about residents and hospital patients, but about businesses losing money.

I am pleased about the noise levels being added to the restrictions. As my constituent rightly pointed out, pedicabs can get away with acting like that, because there are no powers to contain them. The Pedicabs (London) Bill will bring that to an end, I hope. Those operators who do not adhere to their new licence terms can be given a fixed penalty notice. If the conduct of operators does not improve after that, Transport for London reserve the right to demobilise, seize and dispose of pedicabs that contravene the regulations. That will make a huge difference.

Finally, I will touch on the role of Transport for London. I put on the record my sincere thanks to Will Norman, the Mayor of London’s walking and cycling commissioner. He has worked closely with me on my private Member’s Bills and has been a huge advocate for pedicab regulation.

I note that in the other place an amendment was tabled to allow the Department for Transport to provide Transport for London with statutory guidance on pedicab regulation. I agree with that and welcome the fact that the Government have accepted that amendment. TfL is the correct body to oversee regulation, as it currently regulates licensing for all other taxi and private hires.

It may have taken four private Members’ Bills, an abandoned transport Bill and years of lobbying and campaigning by politicians from across the political divide, but I am confident that the Pedicabs (London) Bill will finally become law, the streets of London will be safer, and we will have a safe and thriving pedicabs industry.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:45, 28 February 2024

It is an honour to follow my constituency neighbour, Nickie Aiken. I thank her for her work in bringing the Bill to this stage, and pay tribute to Members for the cross-party support that it has received. The Bill is supported by the Mayor of London, by my borough council—Lambeth Council—by Westminster City Council, by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and by hon. Members from across the political divide.

I share Westminster bridge with the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster: half the bridge is in Vauxhall; the other half is in the City of Westminster. I regularly cross the bridge on my way to work. I need not tell any Member that that bridge can be busy; you literally have to fight to get across it—in some cases, for your life. I want the bridge to be busy, because that means that tourists are coming to London, our night-time economy is thriving, my constituency on the south bank is seeing those visitors coming and spending, and people are supporting our local businesses. It means that people are able to thrive—and that is what we want. It is what makes London unique, so it is important that we celebrate the fact that more and more people are coming to Westminster bridge and parts of central London. However, we also want people to have a good experience.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

In that case, why is there still a proliferation of unlicensed market stalls selling hot dogs and blocking the pavement with impunity on the Lambeth side of Westminster bridge?

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I continually raise that issue with the Lambeth North safer neighbourhood policing team, with Lambeth Council and, rightly, with the Met Police Commissioner. I have said to the commissioner on a number of occasions that, yes, there are many major policing challenges in London, but that activity is a blight on a key part of London that receives so many tourists. There is also the crime element of those things. Through work with the safer neighbourhood team led by Sergeant Watson, we have seen a number of prosecutions in recent months, and I hope that with more support and funding for our police officers, we can eradicate that activity for good.

Pedicabs are part of the experience for many visitors to London. The Bill’s main purpose is not to ban them outright, but we cannot deny that, with their current unregulated status, they are creating serious risk and problems for tourists, residents, the road network, and, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster highlighted, for the drivers themselves. Currently, someone getting into a pedicab has no clear idea of what they are getting into: they do not know how safe the driver is, how roadworthy the pedicab is, or how often it has been cleaned. Not only is that dangerous for everyone on board; it also disadvantages those who spend money maintaining their pedicab only to see their hard work, trust and investment damaged by those who continue to take risks. It is right that clause 2(6)(a), (b) and (c) give Transport for London the power to create a clear safety and cleanliness standard so that people can trust that the pedicab they are using is not dangerous.

I also welcome the amendment to clause 2(6)(i) made in the other place. I confess that when I am driving, sometimes I like listening to music. I will not tell you my choice of music, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it ranges from Beyoncé and the Spice Girls to Taylor Swift and Usher Raymond. We know that when it comes to pedicabs, music can also be part of the experience; it goes a long way, but I have had constituents complain about the loud music from pedicabs and the noise nuisance that they create in residential areas, as the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster also outlined. It is right that we give TfL the power to act on that.

While a lot of our focus may be on the problems customers face in pedicabs, it is also right that we look at the working conditions of their drivers. Many drivers find themselves being exploited; they work long hours and tiring shifts in close proximity to extremely loud music, and—let’s be honest—some face abuse from customers, with very little protection. It is therefore right that clause 2(6)(h) allows provisions to be made relating to the working conditions of drivers. I hope that is not forgotten when TfL drafts the regulations.

Like many people, I also welcome clause 2(5), which relates to how fares are advertised, charged and paid for; we have heard many stories and anecdotes of how those fares are not fair. I do not think any of us expects that pedicabs will, or should, become a cost-effective way of travelling around our capital, and it is clear that many people getting into pedicabs do so because of the wild and wacky experience they offer—those lights can sometimes be quite attractive, especially when the pedicab has pink fluffy feathers as well—but there is a big difference between paying a premium for an experience and, frankly, being exploited. As the Minister touched on, the BBC reported in July on a Belgian tourist who was charged £464 for a mile-long ride. When she complained, the driver demanded immediate payment, making her feel really threatened. Do we think any tourist who has had that experience will want to come back? Do we think they are going to tell their friends and family, “Come to London”, when this is what can happen?

This is not about just one egregious case; as we have heard, there are many other cases of such exploitation. Many tourists have been advertised trips between the likes of Westminster bridge, just outside this place, and Trafalgar Square without knowing how close they are, and rightly feel cheated when they are charged £50 for a 10-minute journey. I know that London is expensive, but come on—that is just a rip-off. It is right that we recognise that pedicabs may charge that little bit extra for those pink flashing lights and the music, but we must strike the right balance between a premium and being ripped off.

London should be one of the best cities in the world to be a tourist, but our current lax regulation around pedicabs destroys not only their image, but that of our rightfully robust standards in other sectors and the experience of the UK as a whole. At present, TfL is unable to act to help ensure pedicabs’ safety, including for passengers, and their fair and transparent operation. In a city of almost 8 million people, pedicabs are the only form of unregulated public transport in the capital. This Bill will allow TfL to set standards for operators and ensure that drivers undergo robust criminal checks. As the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster has highlighted, it is long overdue, and it is necessary to allow pedicabs to be a positive part of the London transport network.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch 3:53, 28 February 2024

It is a pleasure to participate in this debate. I am grateful to the Minister for having indicated in his remarks that he is open to discussion and persuasion on what I hope will be some useful amendments that can be tabled to improve the Bill when it reaches its Committee and Report stages. I see that it will be referred to a Committee of the whole House, rather than a Public Bill Committee; that is just as well, because if it were going to be dealt with in a Committee upstairs, I am sure that I would never be selected by the Committee of Selection—which is controlled by the Government—to participate in it.

This Bill is really an allegory for this Parliament. We have thousands of illegal immigrants on our streets who have jumped bail or got rid of their tags; rogue parking operators who the Government have been trying to deal with for years and years; e-bikes running amok and causing mammoth problems for pedestrians in London; and all sorts of other obstructions of the highway by protesters, making it very difficult for people visiting London—particularly at the weekend—to go about their lawful business. It is an allegory for this Parliament that it has chosen prime time on a Wednesday to discuss the burning issue of pedicabs. [Interruption.] I cannot hear what my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken said from a sedentary position.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Conservative, Sutton and Cheam

My hon. Friend is making an interesting speech, but would he agree that we could and should have done this back in 2018, when my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken was the leader of Westminster Council and I introduced my private Member’s Bill? We could have got it done on a Friday afternoon.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

We could have got this done much sooner than that. We could have got it done in about 2005-06, when Transport for London brought forward a private Bill, including a provision to deal with this matter. However, in that Bill and in subsequent Bills, we have always encountered the difficulty that Transport for London has been unwilling—I do not think it was unable, but it was unwilling—to produce any draft regulations, so we were being asked to approve potential legislation that was blind as to what would be contained in it.

It is interesting, is it not, that all these years have gone by, and one might have expected by now that Transport for London would have a document with detailed draft regulations for pedicabs but it has not got anywhere near that? Indeed, when I was privileged to be invited to a meeting that my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster organised, it was clear at the meeting that Transport for London was unable to produce any draft and was unable to say how long it would be before it would produce one. It was unwilling to produce a draft to inform debate on the private Member’s Bill that my hon. Friend was promoting.

So is it surprising that there is a lot of suspicion around this issue? People think that the ulterior motive of Transport for London is to regulate pedicabs out of existence. Obviously, we can say that that is not the intention, and all the rest of it, but if the consequence of this legislation is that pedicabs will be extinct in a few years’ time, we as legislators should be asking whether we really want that situation to arise. I certainly do not want that situation to arise, and I am concerned that there has been a lot of misrepresentation about the extent of the support for the Bill. In principle, there is support for the Bill, because all the regular pedicab operators would love to have a light regulatory regime to get rid of the rogues on the streets.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Let us go back to the history of the Bill, and the proposals from many different politicians from across parties, organisations and business improvement districts right across London, and the councils in the 32 boroughs of London. Does the hon. Member believe that they, as representatives of London, speaking for their residents and businesses, would see why we need this Bill?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I see that, absolutely. I have already referred to that London Assembly Transport Committee’s scrutiny report on the future of London’s pedicabs, which was published in February 2005. In that report, that committee makes it quite clear that it is in favour of very light regulation of pedicabs, not the heavy-handed regulation that seems to be envisaged at the moment and that is certainly feared by organisations such as Cycling UK.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Member keeps citing the 2005 report. Does he appreciate that, 20 years on, the transport system in London has moved on, is more diverse and is more accessible? Does he agree that regulating these pedicabs will help improve the transport network for residents, businesses and tourists coming to London alike?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I think the jury is out. I say that because Transport for London has discretion to decide, for example, whether to introduce 20 mph zones. We know that it also has discretion over whether to outlaw vehicles of a particular type, such as diesel vehicles, or to introduce ultra low emission zones. It has that discretion, but many people living in London—particularly outer London, where they are dependent on their cars or vans for going about their normal business—think that Transport for London has abused its powers. Indeed, they have asked the Government to intervene, and that is the message that came out of the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, which the hon. Lady may remember. Is Transport for London to be trusted? The short answer is that it has not behaved responsibly on the extension of the ULEZ charges across the whole conurbation. How do we know it is to be trusted on this if we give it a blank cheque on which to write?

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me, a lifelong Londoner, that some of the measures he has outlined, such as 20 mph limits, ULEZ and the congestion charge, are all benefits to help improve transport in London and air quality? We have a major issue with air quality. When we step out from this building on to Westminster bridge in my constituency, the air quality is quite bad. We have a major issue. We are trying to get more people to be active and to use public transport, but that will only happen if measures, such as the ones he has outlined, are introduced with the support of Londoners, the councils and residents in London. Does he agree?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am afraid I do not agree with everything that the hon. Lady is saying, but I agree about the desirability of having emissions-free forms of transport in London, and one such emissions-free form of transport is the pedicab. I do not understand why the hon. Lady seems to be relying on Transport for London legislating with a heavy hand to exclude that sort of activity.

Photo of Paul Scully Paul Scully Conservative, Sutton and Cheam

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and I hope the House will forgive me for having to leave the Chamber for a few minutes. Does he agree that what this law is trying to do is ensure not only that pedicabs become regulated, like every other form of public transport, but that they are treated in London as they are in every other part of the country? They are stage carriages in London, but everywhere else they are hansom cabs, which means they can be regulated everywhere apart from London. The Regulated Pedicabs Coalition brings together the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, which he mentioned earlier in an intervention, as well as casinos, hospitality businesses and residents groups in Westminster that want this Bill to happen so that we have pedicabs on the street, but regulated ones.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I hope that my hon. Friend will make his own speech in due course, because I know he believes passionately about this issue. May I just refer him and other Members to the briefing from Cycling UK? My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster referred in her opening remarks to Roger Geffen, the policy director for Cycling UK. The briefing he has produced has a section entitled “Beyond the Bill: the need for a ‘national’ regulatory framework for pedicabs”. It states:

“As things currently stand, pedicabs can operate in London under legislation dating from 1869, which permits the operation of Stage Carriages… Conversely, in the rest of Great Britain (i.e. outside London), pedicabs have to operate under the same legal framework as taxis. This makes it almost impossible in practice for pedicabs to operate on a ply-for-hire basis outside London, because the insurance and other requirements for taxis are so onerous, and are entirely disproportionate for addressing the potential risks. Even where local authorities have been keen to support local would-be pedicab operators”, those pedicab operators have not been able to start up, because of the weight of regulation. I made that point in an intervention on the Minister.

Roger Geffen then states that it is “potentially valuable” that the Secretary of State will now be able to issue guidance to TfL, but that it would be great if that guidance

“could in future be extended to other non-London licensing authorities, at such time as a new regulatory framework is put in place for licensing taxis and minicabs.”

He, as a cyclist, is concerned that this great method of transport—a pedal-driven rickshaw—is not being used outside London for the purpose of enabling people to apply for hire and travel from one place to another. That is why I think the assertion that the Bill aims not to regulate pedicabs out of existence but merely to bring in a regulatory regime that outlaws the most extreme examples of bad behaviour is naive.

It is incumbent on Transport to London to produce a draft regulation. As we have heard, it has been at this for 20-plus years, and even as we speak it cannot produce drafts of the regulations it has in mind to introduce. I put out this challenge to Transport for London, which I hope will be carried to it by my hon. Friend the Minister. I do not know when the business managers will decide we will have the Bill’s Committee and Report stages, but before we get to Committee it should bring forward a draft of the regulations that it has in mind. If it does that, we will be able to see whether our fears and suspicions, which are shared by Cycling UK, are well founded or wide of the mark. That is a perfectly reasonable way to proceed.

It is commonplace in the House to see draft regulations before we finalise legislation, but there does not seem to be any appetite for that on the part of Transport for London. We have not even had an indication of the timescale in which Transport for London wishes to introduce the regulations. How much longer will the good pedicab operators of London have to wait before the lightweight regulation, for which they have been campaigning for so many years, is introduced?

One of my suggestions is therefore that the Government should recognise that, in the rest of the country, where a different regulatory regime relates to pedicabs, they do not exist because they are regulated out of existence. If the Government wish to promote emission-free forms of transport such as pedicabs, why do they not get on and introduce a guidance system for transport authorities and local authorities outside the London area so that they can take the burden of regulation off potential entrepreneurs who wish to be able to provide pedicab services in cities such as Oxford, Salisbury and York, as we have heard? If such a commitment from the Government were to come out of the Bill, it would be a really worthwhile exercise.

I do not think that the Government are right to be sitting on the fence in relation to e-bikes and e-scooters. Why are we concentrating on the small number of pedicabs rather than the very much larger number of e-bikes and e-scooters, which are causing mayhem for many residents living in London, not to mention elsewhere in the country?

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

As I am sure my hon. Friend knows, the use of e-scooters on the highway—other than in certain pilot sites—is illegal. Therefore, it is not really a matter of regulation; rather, it is a matter of enforcement. Many of us would love to see much more enforcement. Similarly, on e-bikes, of which I used to be a regular user and owner, my hon. Friend will know that there are significant regulations, not least that they are speed-limited to 15 mph. However, many manufacturers have hidden in their bikes somewhere the ability to override that speed limiter. Similarly, that is a subject for enforcement rather than for regulation. Therefore, although I appreciate his point and agree with him, I do not think it is a matter for legislation; frankly, in London and elsewhere, it is more a matter for the police.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

My right hon. Friend is right. So often in this place we find ourselves introducing new legislation because the legislation in place is not being enforced. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster did not mention this, but is it not extraordinary that it took the City of Westminster so long to start using powers that it already has to control “pedicab chaos” as it put it, to start prosecuting rogue pedicab operators. The City of Westminster issued a press release on 20 December priding itself on successfully prosecuting six pedicab operators in Westminster magistrates court, which resulted in fines nearing £3,000. That shows that laws are already in place but they are not being adequately enforced, as my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse said.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I agree on the safety of e-bikes. Tragically, a three-year-old was hit by an e-scooter on 19 July 2021 in Myatt’s Field park in my constituency. Thankfully, she did not die, but she was left with life-changing injuries. There is a real issue about the safety of e-bikes. Does the hon. Member agree that many pedicabs obstruct cycle lanes and cause danger, and that is why we need clear regulation to ensure that they follow the highway code and the code of practice?

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am very much in favour of regulation where it is necessary. To take the hon. Lady’s own council, Lambeth, I recall reading in a national newspaper in the past few days that because it has not complied with regulations on street signs to prohibit entry into low-traffic neighbourhoods, it has been able to fleece the motoring public of many millions of pounds. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is laughing, but it is not funny to the motorists who have suffered and paid those high penalties. It is not as though the money that Lambeth has recovered through those foul means has been reinvested into improving the road network. As someone who has the privilege—if I can call it that—of living in Lambeth, I can see with my own eyes the poor state of the pavements and highways there.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

What the hon. Gentleman is referring to, as the Minister knows, is the trial of a low-traffic neighbourhood in the constituency of my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy, off Streatham High Road. That is still in its trial period and the council is consulting on it. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that my local authority is having to scale back on the things that it wants to do because of the cuts it has faced over the past 14 years? It would be helpful is we lobbied the Chancellor on a cross-party basis to fund local government adequately.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I will not be drawn into the Lambeth-Wandsworth comparison. When I was the leader of Wandsworth council, we helped secure the lowest council taxes in London, while Lambeth had among the highest. The hon. Lady would be well advised to keep away from the efficiency or otherwise of Lambeth Council.

Let me revert to the subject matter this afternoon. Roger Geffen’s briefing has drawn attention to the definition of pedicab in clause 1(2), which is:

‘“pedicab” means a pedal cycle, or a pedal cycle in combination with a trailer, that is constructed or adapted for carrying one or more passengers and is made available with a driver for hire or reward’.

The point made by Cycling UK is that a pedal cycle may be used for the delivery of goods, so why should it be controlled under the provisions in the Bill? It may be used by somebody not plying for hire, but taking a passenger in a pedicab as a result of a hire agreement entered into not from a public highway but as a private agreement. For example, hotels and hospitality centres in London may wish to use the services of pedicabs as a privilege for their customers, so they can visit the west end and not have to struggle on public transport, while, at the same time, enjoying the fun of travelling by pedicab. Why should pedicabs in that situation be outlawed under the definition in the Bill? That is a concern. Coupled with that is the concern expressed that the plying for hire of pedicabs is too broadly drafted, because it excludes private hire but would not exclude private hire, on a definition in the Bill, relating to pedicabs exclusively. That is the detail relating to clause 5.

I hope my hon. Friend the Minister has looked at the briefing from Cycling UK, because it is very balanced and well argued. It reinforces the point made at the beginning of the debate:

“Cycling UK and the London Pedicab Operators’ Association (LPOA) has been calling for such a framework for over 20 years. Had it been put in place, the ‘wild west’ situation which now exists in London could have been averted. However, it needs to be clear that the regulatory framework’s objectives are to support a safe and responsible pedicab sector, and not potentially to kill it off... The Bill as drafted contains no safeguards to assure us on this point.”

If my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster can provide the safeguards that will be contained in the Bill but are not in it at the moment, I am happy to give way. [Interruption.] I thought she wanted to intervene, but obviously she does not want to draw attention to the safeguards that Cycling UK, which she prayed in aid as a supporter earlier on, says are missing from the Bill. My hon. Friend seems to be asserting that they are in the current Bill. If that is the situation, I would like to see where they are. I would not have thought that that was an unreasonable request.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I hesitate to intervene, but the position that used to exist was that the Government were going to do the secondary regulation. It was decided in the other place that it would be quicker and better to do it through Transport for London. To criticise TfL, when this was produced only in the last few weeks in the other place, is a little harsh given that that was not intended when the Bill was originally published. It is clearly the case, though, that we continue to support the industry. We can argue the toss on the briefing my hon. Friend refers to, but I can assure him that it is not our intention to, as he put it, regulate this particular industry out of existence.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I accept what my hon. Friend says, but if that is not the intention but it happens in practice that it is regulated out of existence, what will the Government do about it? Perhaps he will intervene and answer that question. At the moment, there is nothing in the Bill to enable the situation to be rectified. If TfL behaves in the irresponsible way it has in relation to the ultra low emission zone, and appeases the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association and effectively outlaws pedicabs in London, what is going to be done about it? I hear no response, but that is why proper safeguards must be written into the Bill. As for the Minister’s point that Transport for London has only just found out about its responsibilities, TfL proposed its own legislation in 2005, and I imagine that it had in mind exactly what it wanted to do.

When my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) and for Cities of London and Westminster produced their private Members’ Bills on this subject, it was already clear that the regulations would be introduced by TfL. When we asked TfL what would be in them, we were told, “We have not the time or the inclination to start drafting the regulations now.” Even as we speak, we do not know what the timescale is for the production of the regulations and the introduction of this regime.

I am not sure whether the Minister said that he had read Roger Geffen’s four-page briefing, but if he has not, I will happily share it with him after the debate. In the briefing, concern is expressed—and I certainly share that concern—about the Bill’s requirement for TfL to consult “whoever it considers appropriate”. What is the point of that? Why not say something specific, such as “Transport for London must consult organisations representing pedicab operators, cyclists and pedestrians—and others, but including those”? At present, the Bill places no obligation on TfL to consult pedicab operators, cyclists, people involved in the hospitality industries, and so on.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

My understanding—although Florence Eshalomi may be able to correct me, having carried out the role of transport committee chair at City Hall—is that TfL must undertake a statutory consultation with all the relevant parties, including businesses and residents, on any regulation that may be introduced if the Bill is passed before this can become a proper licensing regime.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because in that case I am sure she will support an amendment, or perhaps draft it herself, to place on the face of the Bill exactly what she has said. At the moment, the discretion as to who should be consulted rests solely with TfL, which I think is ridiculous.

Let me expand a little on the point I was making about clause 5 and the need for clarification of what is meant by “a power-assisted pedicab”. Cycling UK believes that the potential pitfalls could be avoided through reference to the Electrically Assisted Pedal Cycles Regulations 1983 to define the vehicles that will be exempt from the legislative requirements for private hire vehicles. I hope that the Minister will take that point on board.

Cycling UK has made a number of other suggestions. It asks, for instance, what will happen about pedicab stands:

“Subclause 2(7) of the Bill currently provides for TfL to make regulations to limit the places, times and/or circumstances in which pedicabs may ply for hire or operate”—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that speeches on Second Reading should not go into huge detail about the various clauses, because that is obviously for Committee. I am sure that he will return to the wider issues.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Madam Deputy Speaker, I take your point completely, but this is not a situation where the Bill will go into Committee upstairs, the Committee will start with a couple of evidence sessions with people who are interested in the Bill, and members of the Committee will look at it. This is a situation where the Government have on the Order Paper a motion that all the remaining stages should be dealt with in three hours. There is no indication as to how much time there will be between now and the time that those stages are timetabled for this House. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful if I flagged up in advance some of my concerns about this Bill, to which I am referring in this Second Reading speech. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, a Second Reading speech can extend to things that are not included in the Bill, which is why I am referring to things that could be included in the Bill but which are not currently included—that is my intent.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

That is extremely helpful. The hon. Gentleman is very experienced and is on the Panel of Chairs, and he understands a lot about procedure. Although he is flagging up issues, too much detail about the clauses would be inappropriate, but I am sure he is coming back to his main points. I just remind him that I have two other speakers to get in.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Fortunately, because there has not been much Government business today, we have a reasonable period of time for discussing the Bill.

To summarise the point I was seeking to make, Cycling UK says that the Bill grants powers for TfL to make regulations to limit this, that and the other, but there is no power to require TfL to provide places where pedicabs can have stands. Again, that seems to be rather asymmetrical or illiberal.

My final point is about the concern that Cycling UK expresses about the need for consistency between civil offences relating to the use of pedicabs and motor vehicles. Cycling UK refers specifically to clause 3(5)(a). I will not refer to that in detail, taking your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I think there is sufficient meat in this Bill for us to have a very lively discussion in Committee and on Report. However, I hope that in advance of that, we will get a clearer view from the Government, and particularly from the Minister, about whether it is essentially their intent to stand by idly while giving powers to Transport for London, which does not exactly have a good record on all this, to exercise what the Government hope will be its good intent to facilitate a high-quality pedicab regime in London. We know jolly well that quite a lot of the people who are concerned about pedicabs in the city stop short of actually banning them altogether or introducing regulation that would have exactly the same effect.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:28, 28 February 2024

I wholeheartedly welcome this legislation and the steps taken by the Government to introduce a licensing regime for the only form of transport in London that is still unregulated. I hope to see the development of the pedicabs industry across London, providing employment and entrepreneurial opportunities as well as a safe, affordable and carbon-free form of transport, especially for those who are unable to utilise other forms of active travel.

In order to ensure that regulation can promote the use of pedicabs, rather than merely suppress the negative aspects of the unregulated trade, it is important to ensure that sufficient care and attention is paid to how such a trade might operate. The Liberal Democrats urge the Government and TfL to ensure that the relevant councils and user groups, such as the ones in my constituency of Richmond Park, are adequately consulted to ensure that the new regime is effective and that regulation is implemented as smoothly as possible.

My particular interest in pedicabs arises from their use as a means of transport in parts of the capital that are currently closed to motor traffic. I refer of course to Hammersmith bridge in my constituency in particular. We are shortly to mark the fifth anniversary of its closure to motor traffic, although I can assure the Minister that this milestone will not be celebrated with any particular joy among the communities of Barnes, East Sheen or Mortlake, or indeed wider afield, who have suffered ever since from the consequences of appalling traffic congestion.

There has yet to be a complete analysis of the full economic consequences to the capital of the continued closure of the bridge, but even if there were one, it could not encompass all the missed opportunities that my constituents have suffered: the passing trade missed by small businesses in Barnes; the employment opportunities that could not be taken up; and the educational, social and cultural events that had to be missed because people were unable to cross the river. During the 2019 election campaign, various Conservative politicians filmed themselves at the bridge, promising to get it fixed, yet here we are, staring down the barrel of another general election and no progress has been made. The Government have remained shamefully silent on their plans to fix the bridge, despite having been in possession of a business case from Hammersmith and Fulham Council for the past year.

However, adversity breeds innovation, and my enterprising constituents in Barnes have not sat by passively while being let down by the Government. In 2021 a temporary pedicab service was put in place across Hammersmith bridge by the Barnes Community Association. In the six months that it was operational, the scheme carried more than 9,000 people over the Thames and was a lifeline for those members of my constituency who cannot access the shops, hospitals and other services in Hammersmith while the bridge is closed. This temporary scheme demonstrated that there is demand for transport across Hammersmith bridge beyond cycling and walking, especially among older people and those with limited mobility. The ability to cross the bridge connects people with the economic and social opportunities denied to them by reliance on a lengthy and increasingly unreliable bus route.

Should this legislation pass, I urge Ministers to work with TfL to create a new pedicab service across the bridge that could serve as a model for other schemes in London. I have met Transport Ministers, officials from the Mayor’s office and local councillors, all of whom expressed support for the idea, and I hope the Minister will now publicly commit to working with TfL to renew efforts to get a pedicab service up and running across Hammersmith bridge, should this legislation be enacted. I believe that if a pedicab service could be put in place initially to serve those who wished to cross Hammersmith bridge, it could work as a proof of concept to enable the service to be extended to other parts of London where the promotion of active travel has been hindered by the need to cater for those with reduced mobility.

I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Liberal Democrat colleagues in the other place, where this legislation originated. I particularly welcome the fact that this Bill will provide the framework to address not only the noise pollution often caused by pedicabs in London but the safety issues for both passengers and pedestrians that are often linked to the driving of these vehicles. Further, I am pleased that we will be able to crack down on the extortionate fares often charged by pedicabs. There have been reports of some journeys of only 10 minutes resulting in fares of hundreds of pounds for the passenger. This legislation will therefore be useful not just in enabling the setting up of new pedicab schemes but in regulating those already in existence.

I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the outstanding work of Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon, who has campaigned for years on the issue of pedicabs in our capital as well as being an effective voice for Londoners on so many issues relating to crime and transport. She has given great service to the people of London in her 16 years as an Assembly Member and she will be much missed when she stands down in May.

This legislation is a welcome step towards setting up a framework to regulate pedicab usage in London, and the Liberal Democrats will be supporting the Bill today. My constituents in Richmond Park will particularly welcome the opportunity to make use of a clean, safe, good-value transport option to access the north side of the Thames, and I hope that the Government will continue to approach this legislation in an enabling, rather than suppressing, spirit. My constituents are still demanding answers on the long-term future of the bridge, and I will continue to press for them, but a short-term solution to the problem of access will none the less be welcome.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 4:34, 28 February 2024

Some years ago, as I emerged from one of the watering holes in Soho that I used to frequent before the children came along, I happened upon a scene where an inebriated individual was standing in front of a pedicab, swaying backwards and forwards. As I passed, I heard him say to the pedicab driver, “How much to Guildford, mate?”, at which point there was an exchange that I did not overhear. The man got into the pedicab, and off it went. I have no idea what happened to that poor chap or whether he made it to Guildford in the pedicab from the fringes of Leicester Square, but I doubt it.

It occurred to me after the event that what probably happened, as we have heard from other Members, was effectively a sort of mugging. This chap, in his relaxed state, was likely to have been relieved of quite a lot of money for a service that he had stumbled into in his confusion, probably with a sense of good humour, adventure or desperation to get home. It struck me that we really needed to do something about the pedicab system in central London.

I do not want to detain the House too long. I feel like an SNP Member commenting on legislation that affects only England in that, like my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), there are no pedicabs in my constituency, although I look forward to his amendment on Report that would allow the relaxation of licensing so that pedicabs can emerge in Bournemouth and Christchurch. I am sure that campaign will feature on his election leaflets come the big day later this year.

Notwithstanding my imposing on the debate, I have antecedence in London as a Westminster councillor and a deputy Mayor for eight years. I support this Bill for four reasons. First, I regard myself as an economic liberal. I think we should avoid as much regulation as possible to allow the private sector to flourish and, frankly, to allow grown adults to freely enter into contracts between themselves. However, more important to me is that, in any industry or economic area, there should be a level playing field. We have to accept that these vehicles operate in London by dint of a strange loophole in rather ancient legislation.

When Airbnb arrived in London in a big way, all the hotels, which were very heavily regulated and had significant insurance and maintenance costs, were right to complain that an unregulated competitor was entering the market and that the Government had to take a decision. “Either you regulate Airbnb the same as us or you regulate none of us and allow us all to compete fairly.” That notion of a level playing field is key.

When I was at City Hall, I supported the arrival in London of Uber and other related taxi services on the basis that there should be a level playing field with the black cab service. I felt that if there were not a level playing field, black cabs should have some privileges that Uber and others did not have. The job of the Government or the regulatory authority is to balance those rights, privileges and regulations to make sure that all competition is fair. At the moment, as a number of Members have said, it is not fair that pedicabs are not regulated in the same way as other cabs.

Secondly, although many of us love and cherish the slight chaos of the centre of our capital city, it requires order from time to time. In particular, it requires order on the streets. Anyone who drives in London on a regular basis will know that it is hazardous at the best of times, not least because the growth in cycling and the fact we now have to drive at 20 mph mean there is a lot of overtaking and chaotic behaviour. Motorists have to keep their eyes peeled at all times for people suddenly swerving across the road, very often taking their life in their hands.

We need a sense of order, particularly in the densely built centre of town, and it strikes me that these pedicabs do not contribute to a sense of order. Having had close shaves with a couple of pedicabs over the years, I can say that they are often dangerously driven and badly parked. They block the roads and pavements, which, as my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken said, causes problems for emergency vehicles that need access to pedestrianised areas. We need a sense of order, and this Bill will achieve that.

Thirdly, successful city centres—and London is a particularly successful city centre—do not happen by accident. They happen because they are curated. When I was a Westminster councillor at City Hall, we were very careful to preserve the ability of residents to live in central London and to ensure that the west end in particular should be a mixed residential and commercial area. That was key to its success, and if there is a sense of nuisance, which many pedicabs are—will have heard about the music and the lights and all the rest of it—that will be just another straw breaking the camel’s back to drive the residents out of central London. If we want the west end to stay vibrant and successful—the powerhouse, frankly, of the economy that it is—we cannot allow it to turn into the City, where there are no residents and it is dead after 9 o’clock and there is no one there at the weekends. That is just not the way to curate a city centre.

Curating a city centre is an art as much as a science, and the municipal authorities have an obligation to allow a certain amount of chaos and scruff. I have lamented the municipal Domestos, for example, that has been poured over Spitalfields by the City Corporation. It has destroyed that asset for the City and it is now just another dull shopping centre filled with chains. I look to companies such as Soho Estates, which is a great custodian of the area around Soho Square; it carefully curates who occupies its properties in order to maintain both the reputation and the character of Soho as a slightly louche, shall we say, part of the capital, which all of us have enjoyed from time to time, mostly in our youth. That curation requires tools with which we can control some activities, and that includes pedicabs.

The fourth reason I support the legislation is the issue of crime. There is, unfortunately, a litany of stories of crimes being committed by people operating these cabs, whether ripping off tourists, putting passengers in danger or using their pedicabs to run drugs. They are not unrelated to the criminal fraternity and we need to be able to root out those people and have the control to remove them, because in the end this is all about making money, and if we remove them and leave space for the reputable operators, we will have a much better sense of safety for the public in central London.

I acknowledge the hesitancy of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch about regulation, and in normal circumstances would share it, but we must bear in mind the notion of a level playing field and of a service that operates within the capital that is reputable around the world and does not feature on social media for tourists in other countries as one of the rip-offs they must avoid—a bit like how so many Italian cities are now advertised on social media as infested with pickpockets. We have to think about the reputation of our city internationally and indeed its impact nationally. That is why I am very keen to support this legislation and have been a long-standing supporter of this step since my time at City Hall.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport) 4:42, 28 February 2024

This has been an interesting debate—some contributions have been interesting in a good way, some perhaps less so—and there has been broad agreement, with one exception, that this Bill is a thoroughly good thing. I am pleased to see powers finally being granted to Transport for London to tackle the challenges and difficulties of unregulated pedicabs, which we have heard described by a number of Members, from across London in particular.

I pay tribute to Nickie Aiken for her work on this issue over many years and I am grateful to her for quoting the views of the London Pedicab Operators Association and its call for regulation, showing that the industry itself is keen to see action on behalf of operators who want to do the right thing. I also congratulate Paul Scully on finally getting his dearest wish granted and seeing this regulation come to fruition. Perhaps I am overstating that, but he has played a part, including through promoting a private Member’s Bill.

When my hon. Friend Florence Eshalomi was extolling the virtues of Westminster bridge, I did wonder whether she was going to start quoting William Wordsworth:

“Earth has not anything to show more fair”.

That is, of course, a line that everybody is aware of, but perhaps pedicabs spoil the view very slightly. She made good points about the threats to tourists and the importance of safety for passengers and, indeed, for drivers, which is included in the legislation. She, along with a number of other Members, mentioned the noise nuisance as well.

My parliamentary twin, Kit Malthouse—he and I share the same date of birth—finished the debate with what I would loosely describe as an occasional dose of over-disclosure about his own past, but he made a very good case for the legislation as well. We had some disagreement from Sir Christopher Chope, who seemed to think that this was a sitting Friday and that he should take his characteristic approach of talking out a private Member’s Bill, which is why, as the Minister pointed out, we are here and the Government have had to finally bring the Bill forward.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The hon. Gentleman is being a little unfair to my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope, who made a good point about our trying to understand where this legislation could go. As I understand it, TfL published a framework for licensing pedicabs back in 2022. It might be helpful if the Minister were to circulate that framework to Members when we get to Committee.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for his intervention. The wider point is that the hon. Member for Christchurch was raising things that really belong in Committee, but he will have his chance to raise the matter that the right hon. Member mentioned, as it will be a Committee of the whole House. It is good news that we will close the legal loophole that exempts pedicabs from being defined as taxis under current law, leaving pedicabs as the only form of unregulated public transport in London.

My hon. Friend Simon Lightwood set out why Labour views the Bill as so important. He addressed the cases of overcharging. We have had TfL’s own evidence of collisions that involve pedicabs resulting in personal injury. There were 24 driver incidents between 2018 and the end of August 2023, including road obstruction, driver conduct, and six sexual offences. Those cases, alongside the overcharging and the noise nuisance, demonstrate why it is so important that action is taken to regulate pedicabs.

We have an important opportunity here to improve the safety of passengers, and of all road users in central London, and to help the tourist economy. The Bill strikes the right balance between the enjoyment that pedicabs can offer and the protection of the public. Today’s debate prompts the question of when the Government plan to bring forward their long-promised transport Bill, which needs to be wide-reaching and to extend beyond London, and include regulations on other neglected issues such as e-scooters and e-bikes. For today, though, this legislation on pedicabs is long overdue and I look forward to it progressing through the House.

Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 4:48, 28 February 2024

With the leave of the House, having opened this debate, I shall now bring it to a close. We have had a short, occasionally feisty, and certainly interesting journey down memory lane. I would like to mention all those colleagues who have endeavoured to bring this legislation before this House and to pass it on previous occasions. I congratulate all colleagues who have attempted to bring in this legislation through private Members’ Bills.

Clearly, we have learned an awful lot about certain individual Members. I enjoyed hearing from Kit Malthouse who probably has a T-shirt—obviously created in Soho—that says, “I was louche in my youth”. The long and the short of it is that he makes good and fair points. I genuinely believe that, even though we are all economically liberal and want to see a thriving, bustling, entrepreneurial London, there has to be some degree of order and a fair playing field across all forms of transport. There is a legitimate issue to address in terms of crime and the way in which this city is perceived if we do not take action. It is right that, on a cross-party basis, we are taking action.

I thank all colleagues for their contributions, although I will not go through them in detail. A fair point was made about noise. I say that having spent the best part of a month of my life in St Thomas’ Hospital, where I experienced the impact of the noise outside, and having met many representatives of hotels, businesses, restaurants and theatres, who are genuinely concerned at the unregulated noise being provided by some of these operators. The fair point was also made that people need a living, breathing residential city of London and that that is simply not possible if we have unregulated noise. People are literally moving out because of this problem and that is not acceptable. My hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope rightly made legitimate and genuine points, starting with the fundamental principle of asking, “What is the end objective here?” That is a totally legitimate thing to do and we should not in any way decry his robust attempt to get to the heart and soul of these points—I welcome his doing so. I very much take on board the efforts he wishes me to make to allay his concerns prior to Committee stage.

I wish to put a couple of other points on the record. As my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire made clear in his brief remarks, TfL produced an outline, in January 2022, of a potential licensing framework, which is in excess of 10 pages. Clearly, it would have to be refreshed, because this legislation is coming forward and, for example, noise regulations were added in the other place barely weeks ago. We must also take into account that clause 7 sets out the requirement for guidance, which is a matter for the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State gave updated best practice guidance for licensing authorities outside London in November last year. It specifically states that where there is a “local interest” in providing pedicab services, licensing authorities should make “adjustments” to licensing requirements to “accommodate” such services. The whole point and purpose of that is to make it easier to bring those things in. Clearly, clause 7 provides a capability for the Secretary of State to bring in such guidance. I endorse the point that has been made about e-bikes and e-scooters: enforcement is the key issue on an ongoing basis.

I make the final point that we will debate the Bill in Committee, and I propose to write to all Members who have contributed today to set out some of those points in a bit more detail. I genuinely commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.