Amendment 2

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

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Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 5:09, 30 January 2024

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.