Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 22 November 2023.

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Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 6:00, 22 November 2023

My Lords, I also welcome the promotion of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Gower, to a ministerial position at the Department for Transport. He has spent his whole life in public service in one way or another: in the police force, then as a Member of the Welsh Assembly, as an MP and now in this House. My hobby is history and particularly labour history. One of the most remarkable things about the noble Lord, if I might say so, is that in the whole of the Gower constituency’s existence—it was created by the Third Reform Act 1884—it has only once been represented by a Conservative, I think. It was represented continuously by a radical Liberal, then a Lib-Lab, then Labour from 1885 until 2015, when he won it by 27 votes. That situation has not lasted, but at least we now have the benefit of his wisdom in this House.

I also thank people who have welcomed me back to this Front Bench after a 10-year absence. I am supporting my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe, who cannot be here today for personal reasons and apologises for that, but I am greatly looking forward to doing transport. I am a railwayman’s son from Carlisle, so I was brought up in transport. I was a councillor in Oxford, where I think my noble friend Lord Hunt and I would now be described as warriors against motorists, I am afraid, but I think we did a lot to improve the quality of life in central Oxford.

Labour supports the Bill and the Opposition Front Bench will be constructive in its approach to it. I do not see it as a party-political matter but as closing a legal loophole that has been allowed to exist for far too long. In fact, when I looked at the Lords briefing note, it told us that a complaint about this was first made by the London Assembly in 2005. Boris Johnson, when he was Mayor of London, pointed out that this was a legal anomaly in 2012, as did the Law Commission in 2014. No wonder we fail as a country when we cannot manage to get things sorted in some quicker timeframe than this. There has been a cross-party desire to have it sorted: Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and Adam Hug, the new leader of Westminster Council, along with the distinguished Conservatives whom people have mentioned, have wanted action on this matter. For a long time, it seemed that the Government offered general support but without any promise of action. Now we have action and, although it is too late for many people who have been ripped off, we welcome it none the less.

This has been a very interesting Second Reading. A thought has been going through my mind. I discussed the Bill with the lady who organises the timetables and she said, “Oh, I think we will probably get through this in an afternoon”. Having listened to this debate, I am not sure whether Committee will be got through in an afternoon. It seems to me that noble Lords have raised a lot of points that will need to be explored in Committee.

There is the philosophical point about what we are trying to do through regulation. Are we trying to stop pedicabs altogether or to regulate them so that the rogue operators disappear from the scene? I have some sympathy with my noble friend Lord Berkeley’s argument that we do not want to stifle innovation and competition in this world. At the same time, the passion with which the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, spoke on the subject would clearly convince anyone that this is a gap in regulation that must be dealt with. We have to get the balance right, for all the reasons that many noble Lords have mentioned.

The noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, talked about one of the most powerful reasons—the damage to the reputation of London as a good place for tourism. You cannot have these instances of people being charged £500 for a 500-yard journey written about in foreign newspapers and described on foreign TV without it having a damaging effect. Of course, it will be magnified in any overseas media reporting and made into something that is regarded as a common problem. For that reason alone, we must act.

Noble Lords asked about the framework of the legislation. My view is that it ought essentially to be devolved. Our role is to set the right framework; we can debate the parameters within which TfL should work, but it is fundamentally for Sadiq Khan and TfL to draw up the precise legislation. I have some sympathy with the argument made by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, about the potential for delay and confusion if the rules come in the form of a statutory instrument which a Minister has to approve. What happens if the Minister, the mayor and TfL are not in the same place? We could have years of further delay. I do not have a settled view, but the role of the ministry must be looked at in Committee.

Noble Lords have made a considerable agenda of points that have impressed me. What the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said about issues of definition must be thought about. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, spoke about e-scooters and e-bikes; we must try to press through this legislation for action in this related area. I think there would be widespread support for that in this House. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, show the benefit of having people with real professional expertise in this House. When we are looking at the criteria that TfL will have to consider, we should debate whether we want to include his points about insurance, how you identify the cabs, fines being treated as a business expense and whether drivers should have some training in the knowledge.

Also, how is the whole thing going to be enforced, and does TfL have the resources to enforce it properly? Those are crucial questions. It is not just about fares; it is about a wider set of issues as well.

I will make one final point, which noble Lords may think a political one; none the less, it has to be made. This Government have chosen to legislate on pedicabs when there is a huge need for regulatory reform in transport, which they are ducking. We need legislation for buses in the provinces, so that local government can work effectively with bus operators to provide proper networks of services. As for the railways, they are in a terrible mess. In the four years following Covid, public spending on the railways—noble Lords opposite should be interested in this point—has gone up from some £4 billion to £13 billion. However, we are not going to get any change in that situation without the regulatory reform—the establishment of Great British Rail—that the Government promised. Now, all they are doing is producing legislation without actually legislating. This is a very bad situation.

In conclusion, we support the pedicabs Bill, although there are lots of issues we will have to discuss in Committee. However, on the wider agenda of transport reform, the King’s Speech has been a great disappointment.