Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:20 pm on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Viscount Goschen Viscount Goschen Conservative 5:20, 22 November 2023

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Blencathra described this as a “trivial” Bill. It is nothing of the sort. It is certainly very specific, addressing one issue in one part of the country, but I rather think of it as classic House of Lords territory, with a lot of expertise, and some unanimity and consensus around the need for regulation. However, given the law of unintended consequences, I have taken a bit of time to go through the Bill and think how it could best be framed.

Like many other noble Lords who have spoken, I have a number of concerns about these types of vehicles. The first is that of a tourist trap. There have been many stories of tourists being ripped off and charged unreasonable amounts which they were not told of before. London has a great reputation, which we should jealously guard, as a destination for tourists. When a tourist arrives and gets into a black taxi, they can be guaranteed the right service, from someone who has been vetted, in a vehicle that has been checked and with a driver who knows their way around—all those good things. They might think the same is true of somebody else plying for trade, but we know that that is not the case. I would hate for visitors to our great city to go away with a sour feeling because of what happened with these vehicles. It may sound like we are being spoil-sports—“it’s just a bit of fun”. In many cases, I am sure it is, but there is a serious aspect as well.

We have not talked about the number of these vehicles. I would be interested to know the current estimate. I recall reading in previous guidance notes that there are over 1,000, but I have no idea whether that is true. They are certainly parked in awkward places: I saw one parked right outside Buckingham Palace, with noise blaring. That is clearly wrong. Where they are parked, how they can be hired, who drives them and who operates them need to be regulated.

An important part of the Bill is regulation of the operator, as well as the driver, because that is where the sanction lies. It might be the solution to some of the points with which I agree that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, and others, about delivery drivers using electric bicycles, cycling the wrong way down roads and so forth. I appreciate that I am speaking beyond the strict confines of the Bill for a moment, but I hope the House will humour me. I would like to know the degree to which the operator—the delivery company—is responsible for the actions of those who operate under its banner, even if they are independent contractors.

I also believe that there is a technological solution. A little while ago, this House considered and passed legislation on the use of drones. They are very small, lightweight, cheap, easily accessible flying machines that can cause havoc in the wrong hands, as we have seen. There are technological solutions that prevent them being used—I think geofencing is the right term—in inappropriate circumstances. We ought to look at whether, for example, a driver riding an electric cycle the wrong way up a one-way street will find that their vehicle does not work. This is something that we ought to consider.

So there is the tourist aspect, and the safety, insurance and fares sides of this, but I, as have other noble Lords, draw specific attention to the question of noise. It seems that almost all pedicabs have small but extremely powerful speakers blaring out music. When combined, they cause a significant nuisance. I would like the Minister to address noise specifically and whether there is a case for a more specific provision in the Bill. I appreciate that this is, in essence, an enabling provision but I would like to see—and if the Minister is reluctant, perhaps an amendment would be considered—the noise emission from these vehicles at least being controlled.

We should not turn back progress and resist the use of pedal power and electric cycles. I suspect that we will very quickly get into some difficult definitions on where a pedicab begins and ends, particularly if it has electric power. I am an electric bike owner myself. They are regulated in terms of power, speed and so forth, but many on the streets of London do not show lights and are clearly extremely powerful and capable of moving without pedal power. I suspect that some pedicabs are similar. I do not think that “electric” is mentioned in the definition, and I think that it should be.

Finally, this will come down to enforcement. We can pass the Bill, but the regulations will be brought forward by TfL, and the poor old police force will ultimately be the ones who must do something about this. As much clarity as we can give as possible would be useful. However, this Bill addresses a small, but important, matter.