Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:06 pm on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Lord Hogan-Howe Lord Hogan-Howe Crossbench 5:06, 22 November 2023

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. I congratulated the Minister yesterday, but I commend him today: I think this was the first time I have seen a Bill being introduced in less than four minutes. One only hopes that other people will learn from that experience.

I support the Bill for three or four reasons. As I think the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, said, in order to enhance London as a destination, it is probably a good idea for these pedicabs to be regulated. We want tourists to have a great experience, not a bad one, and we want them to go away from London extolling it and not complaining about it. Therefore, it is important that we establish some standards, clearly around safety—we want to make sure both the passages and road users are kept safe—and obviously to restrict excess charging.

There are also some very simple things, such as: if lost property is found in these things, where does it go? It can be quite valuable. Taxis, buses and the Tube all have systems in place to make sure that people can recover their items. That is essential, as if you cannot identify the pedicab or go anywhere to recover the property, essentially it is lost, and it is quite hard to find these people afterwards. Therefore, for very simple reasons like that, it is essential that this legislation comes in.

Some of these questions may be answered by secondary legislation, which is inferred in the Explanatory Notes. However, it is worth exploring a just a little, perhaps more in Committee. My first question is about insurance. The notes say that the secondary legislation will talk about insurance, but is it insurance only for the passengers or will it also be against third parties? That will make it more expensive, but of course these pedicabs can hit people and they can be hit by other vehicles, and it seems essential that there is good insurance in place. If it is in secondary legislation, as we have heard, the rest of the country has its own local by-laws. However, this is a vehicle, and if we have inconsistent approaches to it, it may be important to try and establish a consistent approach for the future.

The second question is—this may be covered by secondary legislation—how will the public be able to identify each pedicab? At the moment, you can identify a bus or vehicle by a registration plate, but these things do not have them. Of course, the drivers may have some kind of badge like a taxi driver would, but how are you to be identified by a plate? We need to understand what that would be, because it needs to be big enough to be seen, particularly at night and, frankly, by those who are inebriate—and, frankly, for many of us our sight deteriorates at night. Therefore, it is essential that it is quite clear and not quite as small perhaps as those some of our Hackney carriages carry at the moment.

My third question is: is the taxi analogy to be a Hackney type or an Uber type? Is it to be ordered on the street or by an app? The app could work pretty well, I would think, but it imposes different types of thinking about how regulation should be developed. It would be interesting to hear the Government’s approach to this. Would they prefer the Hackney approach, the Uber approach or a little of both? It would be helpful to hear.

On the whole, legislation should be developed depending on data and evidence. Although the Minister set out very clearly why we are concerned in general—and we are all agreeing in principle—it might be helpful to hear some data on how often these things have been involved in collisions; how many times people were hurt; was any compensation awarded; were any regulations broken; and what was the outcome? We might hear from other parts of the country where they have already been regulated. What is the evidence that there is a need for legislation? That is not because I disagree with it, but because I think it is important for the Government to set out clearly why legislation should be introduced and the costs that go with it.

I wonder whether the fines mentioned, which are levelled at around £2,500, are of the right order. It says very clearly that prison is not intended to be included. We know one or two things about fines. One is that only 50% of any financial penalty, whether in a court or by fixed penalty, is paid, so it is not always the most effective form of enforcement. But £2,500 is the maximum. It is very rare for a maximum to be imposed by any court, and these fines are generally to be enforced by fixed penalties. We should consider that some of these pedicabs are worth something of the order of £6,000—they can cost between £1,800 to £6,000. Let us say that they generate income of £50,000 a year—we do not seem to know their income levels. Is £2,500 a deterrent? If you get caught only once a year, it might be regarded just as a business cost. The more severe penalty is probably seizing the vehicle, which is clearly indicated within the legislation, but I wonder about the level at which the fines are set.

My final points are fairly simple, but I think Hackney carriages might be interested. Are pedicabs to have some form of knowledge? As noble Lords know, the Hackney carriages still do, and I think it is a great thing for tourists. They do not only ask to go to a place, they often ask to go to a particular hotel, or they know roughly where they are going but not exactly, and our best taxi drivers are able to help. I know companies such as Uber often rely on satnav, and I do not dismiss it, but in central London, people often want not only the place but a particular thing, and it would be interesting to hear whether any thought has been given to that and whether it would helpful.

It is a very detailed point, but will there be a requirement for people to quit if they are asked to? Often, the police get involved when somebody refuses to get out of a cab or refuses to get off a bus. If you do not have the power, you can be there all night trying to persuade somebody to leave when you have no power. In my experience, people at their drunkest are at their least compliant and least rational. Can the Minister say anything on that?

My final point, which is an extension of the point of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, around electric cycles, is that if we learn any lessons about holding pedicab drivers and owners to account, could we consider whether we take those lessons and apply them to cyclists? I fear that my list of people who are dangerous is longer than just people who have electric scooters and electrically charged cycles. I fear that cyclists, particularly in London, seem to be entirely unaccountable. I know I have mentioned this before, and I accept that it is a big issue, but even having a registration plate somewhere on the back would not be a bad idea to make sure that people are held to account and it is not totally without consequences if they choose to ignore things that are meant to keep us all safe. On occasion they have terribly injured people, and on some occasions killed them. I know that is not in the purposes of the Bill, but there may be lessons learned here that could be applied elsewhere.