Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:58 pm on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Conservative 4:58, 22 November 2023

My Lords, it is a delight to follow my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston, who has made a very powerful case for this Bill. I give my full support to this trivial little measure, although I did feel sorry for His Majesty during the Loyal Address: he waited 70 years to make a Speech and he had to read out this little Bill. Nevertheless, I support what the Bill is seeking to do.

These things bring this aspect of London into disrepute. They are usually noisy, garish, hold up traffic already ground to a halt by TfL’s obsession with one-way streets and cycle lanes, and in far too many cases they rip off tourists. Why anyone would get into one without first checking the price and then hand over £500 without creating a fuss and calling the police, I simply do not understand. However, I accept that many foreign tourists will be scared to argue, and if they are paying by card then the crooks driving these things can easily add extra zeros.

I was warned about taxi scams when I monitored the elections in Turkey a few years ago, and I was told to video with my phone any notes I handed over, since the cabbies would say that I had given them only 10 liras instead of 100 liras.

Many years ago, when I could still walk, I came out of a restaurant in Regent Street at about 10.30 pm and could not find any black cabs anywhere. I broke my usual rule and took one of those cars from shifty, little guys offering cheap taxi services. We agreed £8 to get me from Regent Street to Marsham Street, but when we were on Victoria Street, he said that it was now £24. I said, “Not on your life, pal”, but he insisted that it was £24. So I said that I wanted to change my location and asked him to drop me off at the junction of Caxton Street and Broadway. When we stopped there, I pointed out the revolving, triangular Scotland Yard sign and said that I was popping in to report him. He told me to get out of the taxi immediately, and he drove off without taking any payment. I accept that the Bill can clamp down on similar pedicab rackets, and I therefore support it.

But are there any good points about pedicabs? They move slowly, unlike e-bikes and e-scooters. You can usually hear them, because they make an infernal racket with loud, raucous music, unlike e-bikes and e-scooters. Of crucial importance, they have not killed a single person —as far as the department knows, according to a Written Answer to me—as opposed to the silent killing machines of e-scooters. That is why I call this a trivial little measure: we have in front of us a full-blooded government Bill, which will go through all stages in both Houses of Parliament, to deal with a menace that has not killed a single soul, while we are doing absolutely nothing about banning e-scooters, which have killed more than 25 people over the last four years and seriously injured over 100 more.

These are statistics I have on a regional basis: in the east of England, there has been one death and 11 serious injuries; in the east Midlands, three deaths and 24 serious injuries; in the north-east, one death and three serious injuries; in the north-west, five deaths and 24 serious injuries; in the south-east, including London, 10 deaths and 36 serious injuries; and in the south-west, four deaths and 15 serious injuries. I do not have the figures for the West Midlands, but I think that they are almost the same as for the south-east.

What we can say for certain is that, since 2019, more than 25 people have been killed by e-scooters, with more than 100 seriously injured and about 400 with other injuries. By serious injuries, I do not mean broken legs; I mean life-changing injuries with permanent brain damage or being confined to a wheelchair. Many of those were children, mown down by thugs on e-scooters authorised by government trials or used illegally as privately owned vehicles. I have a full Excel spreadsheet with all the statistics across the regions that I will forward to my noble friend the Minister. I will not mention the number of dogs killed and injured, since that would make me too angry in this noble House.

I want to amend this little Bill to tackle the far greater problem of innocent people not being ripped off financially but being killed and injured by e-scooters and e-bikes, and the scourge of them being abandoned all over the pavements. Just pop across the bridge to St Thomas’ Hospital across the river, where the pavement is impassable because of e-bikes blocking the pavement—although they do not block the pavement after I go past, since I can bulldoze them into the road with my big wheelchair. What I and other pavement users have to contend with are the Just Eat, Deliveroo and Uber Eats fast-food bike riders, who drive down the pavement at full pelt all the time, delivering to unsuspecting customers food that they think has been prepared in top-quality restaurants but has actually come from some grubby bulk-cut kitchens under the arches. I am big and ugly enough to fight them off, but tens of thousands of more helpless pedestrians, including the frail, elderly and blind, are now risking their lives daily in London, and some of our other cities, because of e-scooter hoodlums driving at speed on our roads and pavements and abandoning their vehicles on the pavements.

In submitting evidence to the Commons Transport Select Committee in March this year, Sarah Gayton of the National Federation of the Blind of the UK said:

“It is very clear the e-scooters trials have failed, turning pavements into terrifying rat runs for e-scooter riders and dumping grounds for e-scooters when not in use. The trials have shown that even with strict regulations, e-scooters cannot be regulated safely for the rider, for pedestrians and pedestrians who are blind, visually impaired, disabled or vulnerable. Some of the trials visited have mercifully been shut down, along with others not visited which have been turned off and there is an urgent need to shut all remaining ones down as they are still not safe, cannot be regulated safely and are a danger to the public”.

That was the organisation’s conclusion after visiting 18 cities, some multiple times, where e-scooter trials were taking place. Trials in Rochdale, Birmingham and the West Midlands, Coventry, Slough, Kent and Barnstable have already been shut down because of the carnage they were causing.

Now, anytime you raise this with the department, it says that enforcement of the law is a police matter. Of course it is, but this is Pontius Pilate writ large. As we saw last Wednesday night, the Met stood by and did nothing as a baying mob barricaded MPs and Peers into Parliament and no arrests were made of any of those demanding the destruction of Israel and the death of Jews, so do we seriously think that the Met will devote time and resources to chasing after hoodlums riding on the pavement? Of course not, and, to be fair to the Met and any other police force, dealing with terrorism, rape, robbery, murder, housebreaking and the frightening new levels of anti-Jewish hate are far more important than dealing with e-scooters on the pavement. The Department for Transport knows that, and therefore the responsibility now falls on it to legislate to save lives where the police cannot.

The police in Paris, who know a few things about how to knock heads together, could not handle the e-scooter problem, so Paris banned them. What joyous relief it is now to be on the pavements of Paris with no death-dealing e-scooters anywhere in sight or blocking the pavement.

Therefore, in conclusion, I want to amend the Bill to ban all e-scooters in England from any public highway, including pavements, and give police powers to immediately confiscate any they find being used on public roads. All rental e-scooter trials should cease immediately, with greater penalties imposed on cyclists riding on the pavement, especially if they are commercial couriers.

As an aside, I urge our parliamentary authorities to tell the Met Police that, although people have a right to protest, parliamentarians in both Houses have a far more important right, which is to go about our duties free from intimidation, threats and barricades at Victoria station but especially around these Houses of Parliament.

I apologise to have made most of my speech talking about what should be in the Bill, but I am only partially sorry, as I can see no other opportunity in this Session of Parliament to prevent another 25 deaths and hundreds more life-threatening injuries.