Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:51 pm on 22 November 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Stowell of Beeston Baroness Stowell of Beeston Chair, Communications and Digital Committee, Chair, Communications and Digital Committee 4:51, 22 November 2023

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.