Amendment 2

Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 5:09 pm on 30 January 2024.

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Baroness Randerson:

Moved by Baroness Randerson

2: Clause 2, page 2, line 19, at end insert—“(6A) For the purpose ensuring greater safety of electric powered pedicabs (of a type specified in subsection (6B)) and secondary lithium-ion batteries used to power them, regulations must be made within 12 months of the passing of this Act specifying that such vehicles and the lithium-ion batteries used to power them must—(a) have had conformity assessment procedures carried out on them by a conformity assessment body authorised by the Secretary of State to carry out such assessments; and(b) have the technical documentation and declaration of conformity drawn up by the manufacturer.(6B) The type of pedicab to which section (6A) refers—(a) must be pedalled in order to receive electric-powered back-up; and(b) has an electric motor with a maximum power output of backup power of no more than 250 watts; and(c) can travel at no more than 15.5 mph as the electric motor will not propel the bike when travelling more than 15.5mph.”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment would require the Government to make regulations to introduce independent conformity assessment processes for electric powered pedicabs and the batteries used to power them.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

I regret to tell the House that this group will take slightly longer than the previous one. This amendment in my name is about the safety of pedicabs and the lithium-ion batteries that assist with the pedalling to propel them in certain cases. It covers only pedicabs where the battery back-up is available only when the pedicab is being pedalled, where such back-up can be given only up to 15.5 miles per hour and where the maximum power is up to 250 watts. Currently, there are no requirements for independent safety tests on such vehicles and their batteries.

In Committee, my noble friend Lord Foster put forward amendments about these issues, which I also spoke to. He is unfortunately unable to be here today, so I am attempting to carry forward his work. From the outset on the Bill, safety and testing, in general, have been at the centre of the Government’s thinking. Clause 2(6)(c) refers to “safety requirements” and Clause 2(6)(f) to “the testing of pedicabs”. In his opening speech, the Minister referred to safety on four occasions.

My amendment builds on an issue that has been taken up by noble Lords across the Chamber. I have also raised it previously in different contexts, as has my noble friend Lord Foster. I raised it on 11 July last year with the Minister’s predecessor and my noble friend raised it on 23 November last year in a QSD. Unfortunately, on both occasions, government responses lacked the clarity that we need on the crucial differences in testing requirements between the L-category vehicles up to 1,000 watts and the sub-250-watt electric bicycles. The latter are pedal cycles with an auxiliary electric motor and a maximum continuous rated power of up to 250 watts. The other key difference is that the more powerful vehicles, over 250 watts, have to be registered and have a number plate, which vehicles up to 250 watts do not require.

In Grand Committee, Amendments 21 and 22 dealt with charging systems and with lithium-ion batteries powering electrically assisted pedicabs. The Minister, in his response, said:

“I note that the requirement for power-assisted pedicabs to meet suitable product regulation is covered by existing law and therefore this amendment is not necessary”.—[Official Report, 11/12/23; col. GC 243.]

He then went on to point out that manufacturers are responsible for ensuring that their products meet safety standards. That is self-certification, which is exactly the point of the amendment and why we need higher standards with third-party safety assessments coming in. Those safety assessments should be undertaken by conformity assessment bodies, also called test houses. To assist noble Lords with a parallel, that is how fire- works, for example, are tested and assured for safety.

In his response to our last debate, the Minister also said that batteries must comply with the Batteries and Accumulators (Placing on the Market) Regulations 2008. However, unfortunately, those regulations limit only the amount of cadmium and mercury in the battery and have nothing to do with fire safety testing. I press these issues because already, 13 people have died as a result of lithium-ion battery fires, one person on New Year’s Day this year. Many more people have been very badly injured and there has been a massive cost from the destruction of property.

These amendments are supported by organisations such as the National Fire Chiefs Council, the Association of British Insurers, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the charity Electrical Safety First. They are also supported by dozens of other similar organisations—30 in total.

In June, the noble Lord, Lord Offord, assured my noble friend Lord Foster that the Government were taking action on these issues, but nothing has happened since. A recent survey showed that a third of e-bikes and batteries are bought online, where is it known that standards are likely to be lower and the whole situation is known to be riskier. As the Bill is intrinsically concerned with a set of activities—pedicab riding—known to be without any regulation, where the Government rightly say that risks have been taken and these are dangerous activities, this is exactly the kind of situation where some of kind of control over the lithium-ion batteries involved in the vehicles would be very useful, worth while and likely to save lives or reduce the risk to people’s health.

Nearly half the people who charge their bike batteries do so in a communal area. That is known to be the most dangerous place to do it. If a fire breaks out, it blocks your exit and it is far too hot in these circumstances for you to be able to go through that area. More than half of people with electric bikes charge them while they are asleep, so a fire is more likely to take hold. All these risks could be dealt with by safety measures built into the regulations flowing from the Bill and public awareness could be raised. The Government have emphasised the dangers posed by pedicabs and battery fires are clearly part of that. I am certainly not going to push this to a vote today, but I ask the Minister—who is clearly keen to listen to concerns—to think about this very seriously. I urge him either to accept this amendment or to bring something back of a similar nature.

Photo of Lord Moylan Lord Moylan Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee 5:30, 30 January 2024

My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the argument made by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. I find it very strange that, in this modern world, it seems impossible to rely on the safety of something as straightforward as a battery. We have known about battery-like things for at least 250 years. I think it was in the 18th century that the first battery was discovered.

Now we have lithium-ion batteries, which appear to be perfectly safe in one’s telephone but not if they are attached to a pedicab. We have a similar problem with e-scooters. On some occasions, the batteries have been known to blow up, which is why they are banned from every part of the London Underground network—platforms and stations as well as trains; they are a fire risk. How has this circumstance come about? I have no answer.

While I have sympathy with the noble Baroness’s argument, I am glad to hear that she is not intending to advance this to a vote. I am not entirely sure that this is the right Bill for the issue to be addressed in. There is a wider question about what the Government are doing to ensure the safety of batteries that are available for consumers to buy as part of equipment. In this case, they are allowed to buy e-scooters, but not to ride them on the public highway. That is another anomaly that perhaps we will address at some stage, when the endless trial the Government have been conducting on e-scooters is eventually brought to a conclusion and some determination is made about their future. There needs to be a measure that addressees the safety of batteries more broadly than simply in pedicabs, as this amendment would.

We will come in the next group to the question of guidance. I will simply say that if my noble friend were to say that safety issues including the safety of batteries would be included in guidance and covered by regulations, I think that would be satisfactory, without the need for the noble Baroness’s amendment. It is an issue that needs to be addressed.

Photo of Lord Borwick Lord Borwick Conservative

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend; it all makes sense. I shall give a little history: at one stage I was chairman of a lithium battery manufacturer. It is possible in the manufacturing of a lithium battery for a little strip of lithium to move from one part of the battery to another during the manufacturing process. That can later cause a fire.

The trouble with this amendment is entirely that, as my noble friend mentioned, if we got it right in pedicabs, we would be getting it right in only a tiny percentage of the total number of vehicles with large lithium batteries. It is a particularly serious problem when fires break out in big batteries in small houses. These pedicabs are not going to be recharged in people’s houses in the majority of cases; it will be done at a depot of some sort.

This is a good provision in the wrong place. I would look forward to supporting such a clause in a different place, if only there was something equivalent. The noble Baroness has grabbed the opportunity and should be applauded for doing that.

Photo of Viscount Goschen Viscount Goschen Conservative

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the first part of the noble Baroness’s amendment is very interesting but has a much wider application. None the less, she has cleverly found an opportunity to air broader concerns about lithium batteries. However, I feel rather sorry for the second part of her amendment, which is a very substantive measure. I do not think she particularly referred to it in her remarks and it has not been covered in the debate so far. It is about the amount of power that can be deployed by these vehicles and that they must be pedal-assisted and not just pure electric power.

The reason I support the noble Baroness’s sentiment behind that is something that we have covered in earlier debates. With electrically powered vehicles, which I think are great and have the ability to solve all sorts of environmental and other problems, particularly in cities, there is a blurring of where an electric bicycle ends and an electric motorcycle begins, and where an electric-powered but pedal-assisted vehicle ends and a motor vehicle begins, and whether the words that the noble Baroness has suggested really belong in TfL’s guidance or in the Bill. My concern is about putting very specific things in the Bill in terms of future-proofing. Who knows what will come along in future developments? Perhaps it is better covered by guidance.

However, there is a much wider concern about the difficulty of keeping up, from a regulatory perspective, with very rapid consumer change and the availability of electric scooters, which we talked about a lot at earlier stages of the Bill. Perhaps when the noble Baroness comes to wind up her remarks, she might just dwell a little on the second part of her amendment.

Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, we on this side of the House have enormous sympathy for the amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, has proposed, and I find myself, at least on this occasion, in full agreement with the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Borwick, and the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen. However, it is the Government’s decision that one of the few transport measures they were prepared to put in their programme for this Session was a pedicabs Bill which, of course, is of very limited reach and scope. In fact, you could say that its reach is two wards of a single London borough. That is a pity, given that the country has enormous transport challenges in front of it, such as a failing railway system and the need for bus regulation. I could go on.

However, one of the issues that clearly has to be addressed is the one highlighted in this amendment. Although it would be inappropriate to try to carry amendments on this question of electric batteries, I hoped that the Minister might be able—indeed, I have urged him privately to do this—to come up with a timetable for when the Government might address these wider and more important questions. I am looking forward to his speech because it seems to me that in the House we have had a lot of concern raised about electric batteries and about the experimental period, as it were, of regulation of e-scooters, and we do not know how long that is going to go on for or what the outcome is eventually going to be. I would have thought that the Government must have a plan—after all, they are, I assume, thinking they might be re-elected—so we would quite like to know what future plans the Government have on what are very important and serious matters in which lives are at stake.

Photo of Lord Davies of Gower Lord Davies of Gower Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

My Lords, I thank your Lordships for their diligence in scrutinising this Bill’s provisions. This second group of amendments is focused on electric pedicabs. My department is aware of concerns held by noble Lords surrounding batteries in e-cycles and e-scooters. Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, seeks to place a requirement on the Government to introduce independent conformity assessment processes for electrically powered pedicabs and the batteries used to power these vehicles. If I may say so, she Baroness puts her case well, and I will now seek to answer some of her points.

Noble Lords may recall my response to an amendment tabled in Committee on conformity assessments and potentially placing requirements on power-assisted pedicabs. My response to the amendment debated today will echo my previous position. The Bill is about closing the legal anomaly so that London pedicabs can be licensed for the first time. The amendment raises a much wider question about the construction of electrically assisted pedal cycles.

The UKCA, the UK conformity assessment marking, and its EU equivalent, the CE, the conformité Européene, demonstrate a manufacturer’s claim of conformity with statutory requirements. All e-cycles and e-scooters need to comply with UK product safety regulations. This includes the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008, which set out the detailed health and safety requirements for the design and construction of a product. Additionally, there is an existing requirement in these machinery regulations that responsible persons for all machinery within scope, which would include power-assisted pedicabs, must draw up a detailed technical file and a declaration of conformity. There are existing requirements to carry out appropriate conformity assessment procedures. In instances where the responsible person does not comply with existing requirements, they are in breach of the regulations.

The Government are seeking to reform the UK’s product safety framework through the product safety review. The Office for Product Safety and Standards is currently reviewing responses to its consultation on how it regulates all products on the GB market, including machinery, and where multiple regulations apply to specific products. The Government’s intention is to publish a response later this year that summarises findings and sets out its future plans.

Product regulations would not cover a scenario whereby a pedicab driver or operator adapted their power-assisted pedicab following purchase, However, Clause 2(6) provides Transport for London with the ability to make provisions relating to matters such as safety requirements, testing, speed restrictions, and the quality and roadworthiness of pedicabs. Therefore, there is sufficient scope for Transport for London to determine the expected standards for pedicabs operating on London’s roads.

Although pedicab batteries when not supplied as part of a pedicab would not be subject to a regime that requires the UK conformity assessment marking to be affixed to them, their safety would be covered by the General Product Safety Regulations. These regulations require that all consumer products placed on the market are safe. Furthermore, batteries must comply with the Batteries and Accumulators (Placing on the Market) Regulations 2008, which restrict the substances used in batteries and accumulators, as well as setting out requirements for their environmentally friendly end of life.

In bringing my comments to a conclusion, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the work of the Office for Product Safety and Standards, and Defra. They are in the process of reviewing the position on batteries. This includes examining the new EU battery directive and looking into the safety of the lithium-ion batteries used in e-cycles and e-scooters. This work should conclude in 2024. Alongside this, my department is developing guidance on the safe use of batteries in e-cycles and e-scooters, and we will publish this soon. I respectfully suggest that the Bill, with its narrow focus on licensing London pedicabs, is not the place to start tackling this issue. It is best dealt with as part of the wider work being taken forward by the Office for Product Safety and Standards and by Defra.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

I thank the Minister for his response, although it was rather disappointing. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, makes the point that this is not the right place for these regulations, but he accepts that there is a clear danger. I simply approach it from the point of view that this might be a good place to start dealing with this danger. However, I accept that pedicabs make up a tiny percentage of the problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, says.

I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, that the key point that I was trying to tackle was that the second half of the amendment simply explains that the safety measures in the first half of the amendment apply specifically to pedal-powered bikes up to 250 watts. In our debate in Grand Committee, the issue became rather opaque, shall we say? My hope was that, within the 12 months specified in the amendment, perhaps the Government might actually tackle the whole issue so that, in tackling the pedicabs issue, they would also be tackling all the bikes concerned.

I am pleased to hear that the Minister thinks that Transport for London could do something to address this issue, and time will tell whether these are adequate powers for it. I am not arguing that it should be given the additional powers in relation to this, because I think this is a job for central government. However, we will see whether it has the sorts of powers needed to raise levels of safety. We will, I am sure, be looking to see what the office of public safety recommends, because this is not an issue that I have dreamed up. It is based on clear evidence of danger and risk and repeated fires, which come when something has gone wrong, when corners have been cut in the manufacturing process. There is clear evidence, and I very much hope that the Government pursue this with some additional urgency following this debate. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Clause 6: Procedure for pedicab regulations