Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:31 pm on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee 5:31, 22 November 2023

My Lords, I welcome my noble friend to the Front Bench but also extend my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, on joining the Front Bench opposite. Noble Lords, with their customary acuity, have picked up a whole range of details embedded in this Bill that the casual reader might not have noticed, and I am sure there will be many things for us to explore in Committee. I do not propose to follow that very detailed path in my few remarks. I am slightly more interested in the fact that a sort of ideological split has grown across the House between those who think pedicabs are an absolute nuisance and those, largely sitting next to each other on the Benches opposite, who wish them to be cared for tenderly and looked after and are anxious that they might be subject to excessive regulation. The former position was extremely well expressed by my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston and backed up by some fiery and clear remarks from my noble friend Lord Blencathra.

I thought I would share a little personal history in this regard. I have to admit that, on that ideological divide, I sit very firmly in the camp of those who would like to see pedicabs crushed, removed, never seen again, never thought of in the first place, and de-introduced from our urban streets. It was that thought that led me to being an obstacle to the progression of this Bill some time ago, when I was deputy chairman of Transport for London. When they appeared, Transport for London said, “They’re a menace; we must regulate them”. Indeed, the Mayor of London at that time was quite keen on the idea that we should promote a Bill in Parliament to regulate pedicabs. I expressed some caution. I said that the problem with regulating something is that you approve it. You cannot use the law to create a regulatory framework for something and then have the regulator use that framework to crush it and make it impossible, because that is an abuse of what Parliament has expressed a view on—that something should be allowed but subject to regulation. Therefore, I said that the best thing to do was hope that they just go away, because they are so absolutely appalling and cannot possibly attract genuine custom, so they will fail.

My analysis was obviously completely wrong and my approach has failed. So it is that, reluctantly, I come to the view that we might as well accept that this menace and pest is with us for a long time, so I support, belatedly, a Bill that I hoped we would never have to see introduced.

That is my answer, in a sense, to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, who is worried that TfL is going to use these powers to prevent pedicabs plying their trade. I do not think that can happen, and it would be challengeable in the courts if it imposed conditions that were irrelevant or onerous, because that is not what we are empowering it to do. It cannot set excessive fees because they are specified in Clause 2(4) as being

“set at a level that enables the recovery of any costs incurred by Transport for London by virtue of the regulations”.

There is no power for TfL to set fees that exceed that level, so I do not think that a very likely possibility.

As far as enforcement is concerned, reference was made to the police but there is no policing involvement in the enforcement of these measures. There is a lengthy clause on enforcement—Clause 3—and it is absolutely clear that the powers to enforce are being conferred upon Transport for London, not the Metropolitan Police. In fact, the history of cab regulation is, of course, the history of the transfer of the powers to regulate taxis from the Metropolitan Police to Transport for London as part of the Greater London Authority devolution settlement. The police have been out of taxi regulation enforcement for quite a long time and as far as the powers in this Bill are concerned, they are not being brought back. It is a different matter if a crime is committed by a taxi driver, of course, but the breach of the regulations created here is an enforceable matter not for the Metropolitan Police but for Transport for London.

Transport for London is really rather good at this— I am rather pro-TfL, partly given my previous experience of it. It is good at regulating taxicabs generally, and clearly, to some extent taxi-regulation powers have been cut and pasted into this Bill. I think TfL will probably do this job quite well, although it will be difficult if the drivers it is dealing with turn out to be fly-by-night characters—unlike most taxi drivers, who are solid, sensible people—who are very difficult to catch up with afterwards.

I have a couple of questions before I sit down, though these can be explored in Committee. First, I worry what we will do if this does not work, and if, because of the inherently fly-by-night character of the people doing it, and the nastiness, garishness and ugliness of their dreadful vehicles, it turns out that they continue to be nasty, garish, ugly, noisy and a blight upon our streets. Will we be happy with the fact that we have simply regulated them so that they have insurance, for example, or should the Government be promising to review the operation of the legislation in the fullness of time?

My second question concerns one of those details that has not yet been picked up, even though I am speaking late in the debate. I am a bit baffled by Clause 6, which seems to introduce an unnecessarily elaborate process for the making of regulations. I am willing to stand corrected, but my understanding is that currently, taxi regulations made under the Metropolitan Public Carriage Act 1869 by the board of TfL come into effect immediately and directly. TfL has the power to make and amend the regulations using its normal board processes. Here, what is being proposed, for no reason that has been explained except that it is thought appropriate by the Government, is that the power be made by a statutory instrument.

As I understand it—again, I am open to correction—a statutory instrument has to be laid by a Minister before Parliament, and the Minister may choose not to lay a statutory instrument if asked to do so. In effect, the decision whether a regulation should be imposed will now be taken by the Minister, rather than by Transport for London, to whom we are purportedly transferring these powers. What is the purpose of that, and why would any Minister—I say this with the genuine intention of offering good advice to my noble friend on the Front Bench—want to be involved in this? Surely the whole point of this is to leave it to Transport for London and not have it constantly coming back to your desk, meaning that you are pestered by people to make regulations that may or may not be the same as those recommended to you?

So generally, I welcome the Bill, but not the fact that we are going to have these pedicabs now for at least a century or two while we work out the regulations. I also have a few questions about why the Government feel they cannot just let go.