Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:49 pm on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 5:49, 22 November 2023

My Lords, I am very pleased to see the noble Lord in his new position of Minister, and I welcome him there, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. As someone who has been speaking for transport for years myself, it is good to have different people on the Front Benches to debate with.

Obviously, I welcome this Bill. My Liberal Democrat colleague Caroline Pidgeon, the chair of the Greater London Authority Transport Committee, has campaigned for TfL to have these powers for many years, as indeed have noble Lords and Members of the other place. However, I am slightly mystified as to why, having ignored the problem for so long, this has now popped up as the Department for Transport’s top priority in a very slim list of transport legislation. It featured in the King’s Speech, where pedicabs were described as a scourge. Yes, they are a problem, and a serious problem to a smallish number of people in London, but hardly a scourge. I am with the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, in how he describes the Bill.

However, I know from my noble friend Lord Storey, who is unfortunately not able to be here today, that for those people living near those spots where the cabs ply their trade, they are a real irritant—largely because of the noise. There are apparently between 200 and 900 pedicabs, so they are not a problem in every area, even throughout London. However, I do not want to underestimate the risks and problems that they present—the safety risks from their construction and from the wild way in which they are sometimes driven, as well as the nuisance of their blocking pavements and the noise. Then there is the ridiculous amount that the drivers sometimes charge tourists, which in itself gives London a very bad reputation. All these things can easily be dealt with via taxi-style regulations.

I go back to my point. Why is this Bill being given a top slot, when there are so many other transport Bills that are desperately needed? Many other noble Lords have referred to this question. Last year’s Queen’s Speech promised us an omnibus transport Bill to create Great British Railways and deal with new technological developments. That was abandoned, but our railway system remains in desperate and urgent need of a complete overhaul and reform, and there is an equally urgent need for regulation of electric scooters. The Government have given a whole new meaning to the phrase “trial schemes”, by extending those trial schemes year after year simply because they do not have a plan for the future. Tens of thousands of privately owned electric scooters are operated in a way that is totally illegal and causes accidents—I shall not repeat the statistics—across the country. The proliferation of dockless e-bikes for hire is also a problem, which many people refer to me as in urgent need of reform.

I am pleased that the Government are planning ahead with the Automated Vehicles Bill, and I acknowledge the need to regulate pedicabs, but I am mystified that this is a top priority. Cabinet Office guidance is very clear that parliamentary time available for legislation is “extremely limited” and that:

“In devising a legislative programme to reflect the Government’s priorities and seeking to resolve handling issues, the PBL”— the Parliamentary Business and Legislation Committee—

“aims to ensure that time is used as efficiently as possible”.

What we could have done with is a Bill dealing with both pedicabs and electric scooters and electric bikes.

This Bill, as it stands, is a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It is a simple legal anomaly that has given much smaller local authorities outside London the power to license pedicabs but has denied that power to Transport for London. I ask the Minister: could this not have been done by a much more modest amendment to existing legislation?

Most of this short Bill is very straightforward and modelled on existing taxi licensing legislation. However, I have a couple of questions for the Minister. I was surprised to read Clause 2(2), which effectively states that nobody who has not been legally accepted as an immigrant or given leave to remain in this country can operate a pedicab. Well, of course. This is a surprising subsection because people who do not have official, regularised immigration status or leave to remain are not allowed to do work of any kind. This subsection, by its inclusion, suggests that maybe there are some jobs that are open to illegal immigrants, which is obviously not what the Government mean. Is this just a political statement or is there a solid legal reason why this is included?

My second question relates to the importance of careful selection of the sites for pedicab ranks. The clustering of pedicabs waiting for hire is an aspect that disturbs residents considerably. Will the Minister perhaps encourage Transport for London to give us a briefing on how it plans to choose sites for pedicab ranks, so that we might get some picture of how it will apply these rules? I also have a suggestion: it would be very useful to have a pedicab route across Hammersmith Bridge. The closure of that bridge has been of such disruption to people living in the area, and pedicabs would be a brilliant way of getting across the bridge.

Finally, the plan, as set out in Clause 6, is that the power to make pedicab regulations should be granted via statutory instrument. Here, I refer to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, with whom I agreed on this issue. This is at odds with taxi regulations, which were granted to Transport for London in the Greater London Authority Act 1999. Surely, in practice, once they have been properly brought into the system, the rules on pedicabs will be a simple subset of taxi rules. It will risk confusion and delay to have two different systems. There will be delay as they wait for parliamentary time for an SI when required.

The smallest local authorities outside London have successfully regulated taxis for many decades. I assume that some of them have rules on pedicabs as well, because they have that power. I realise that the Government like to pursue a bit of an assault on devolution in London, and on the Mayor of London in particular, but this latest chipping away at devolution is simply not sensible.

This brings me back to my first point: if we have no time for proper, modern transport legislation on serious, modern transport issues, why are the Government keen to keep the power to deal with pedicabs in London?