I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I am pleased to introduce the Bill to the House. It is promoted formally by Transport for London and Westminster city council, who do so at the request of all the other London boroughs, including the City of London, and through the good offices of London Councils, the representative body. It is therefore fair to say this Bill has the support of all political parties across London.
This is a different Bill from the one we valiantly promoted over the past few weeks, and which my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) led on. Sadly, he is unable to be in the Chamber tonight—because he is still suffering the after-effects of the previous debates on that Bill.
I am sure we are all very sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman) is unable to be present. However, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on taking on the responsibility, and he will know that that previous Bill has not completed its passage through this House. Discussion of it will be resumed next Tuesday—it is to be hoped at precisely 7 o’clock.
Indeed, we will have a series of Bills; as with London buses, once we have enjoyed one, another will follow. I hope we will conclude discussion of the Bill in question next week, and I trust we will be able to start the debate on it at 7 o’clock.
That Bill has proceeded further than the Bill currently being debated, which has been in its gestation period for a considerably extended period.
I thank my hon. Friend for that question and although I will not digress at this point, I shall explain further during my speech why there are not only two but three Bills going through almost at the same time.
It is fair to say that private Bills of this type have been promoted regularly by London boroughs for many years. That goes back to the days of the old London county council, of which many might mourn the loss, and to those of the Greater London council, and runs through to the advent of the Greater London authority and the Mayor of London. This is the third Bill to be promoted by the boroughs and Transport for London since TFL came into existence. Separately, the London boroughs have promoted no fewer than 10 London local authorities Bills of their own and TFL has promoted three of its own over the years.
It is therefore fair to say that Bills of this nature are not uncommon—far from it, in fact. I mention that because during our recent debates it has been suggested that London local authorities Bills are somehow different from or new in comparison with what happens elsewhere in the country. They are not new. This form of localism has been practised over many years and it has been so successful that Governments of all parties have taken sections from the provisions pioneered in London local authorities Bills and advanced them in national legislation. For example, the Localism Act 2011, which I strongly support, includes provisions on fly-posting that were first introduced in a London local authorities Act. That demonstrates that what happens in London can subsequently be taken forward nationally.
There has been a long wait for this Second Reading. When I was asked to take on this Bill, I was reminded that we reviewed its provisions at a council meeting in 2006 when I was deputy leader of Brent council, and we initiated this draft Bill when I served on the Greater London authority, although at that stage it contained many more proposals and clauses.
Finally, the Bill was introduced in the House of Lords as long ago as January 2008 and First Reading in this House took place on 28 March 2011. Before I move on to the contents and details of the Bill, it is right to explain why we have had to wait so long for it to come before the House. A threat to the Bill emerged after the House of Lords Opposed Bill Committee reported in March 2009. A group of bodies that represented sporting interests voiced concerns about two clauses that would have enabled London authorities to recover the costs of cleaning streets and imposing traffic regulation measures at sporting and other events. It soon became clear that the sports bodies had very strong support among peers in the other place and the promoters recognised that there was therefore a potentially serious threat not just to the clauses in question but to the whole Bill.
Unsurprisingly, the promoters embarked on a process of negotiation with the sports bodies. It has proved to be a very long process indeed. Without going into all the details, it is enough to say that agreement in principle was eventually reached before the general election of 2010. Although the promoters believed that agreement had been reached with the sports bodies in 2010, a further point of dispute arose, the conclusion of which was not achieved until the beginning of 2011. As part of the agreement, the clauses were removed.
To go back to the sports bodies who were concerned about the Bill, am I right in recalling that the compromise agreement that caused provisions to be withdrawn from the Bill involved the large football clubs in London entering into an agreement with the local authorities on sorting out the problems of litter emanating from the playing of those first division and premier league football matches? Will my hon. Friend tell the House whether that voluntary agreement has now been implemented?
Not only premier league and first division football teams, but other sporting events throughout London were involved. Coming as I do from the Wembley area, I remember the negotiations that had to take place between Wembley stadium and the local authority on the clearance of litter, which was the subject of a section 106 agreement when the stadium was rebuilt. However, not all the stadiums in London are being rebuilt so separate agreements had to be reached with those bodies. It is quite right and should be accepted that huge amounts of litter are generated by sporting events, so why should local council tax payers have to bear the cost of the litter dumped by visitors to stadiums? Voluntary agreements have been reached and my understanding—I am happy to be corrected if I am wrong—is that they have been adhered to thus far and fully implemented across London.
After the general election, the Department for Transport raised a number of new issues with the Bill that required the promoters to give detailed consideration to the drafting in some other respects. The Department asked the promoters not to hold Second Reading in this House until they had responded in detail to those points, hence there was a further delay while the points were ironed out and notice was given of Second Reading last July. Second Reading was objected to by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) and others.
It became clear at that point that clause 17, which relates to pedicabs, was the subject of strong opposition from all sides, in particular the pedicab industry on the one hand and parts of the taxi trade on the other. Petitions were deposited against the pedicab clauses by pedicab operators, taxi driver representatives and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers. Essentially, one side wanted stronger clauses whereas the other side wanted no clauses at all. Following further discussion between the promoters and the pedicab industry, the promoters have decided that they will not proceed further with clause 17 and they will ask that the Bill is amended in Committee to remove it. In those discussions, it has been agreed that the pedicab industry will take steps towards self-regulation. After that, it will be monitored to see whether self-regulation achieves the requirements. The promoters have been working with the pedicab industry to achieve that and, consequently, propose to withdraw the provisions from the Bill.
I understand that the Bill’s promoters will submit that in Committee for the inspection of those who wish to see it. I know that the promoters have written to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who have specific concerns about clause 17, to inform them of the position.
Let me address the clauses that will be implemented, which cover seven distinct subjects. Clauses 4 and 5 will enable London authorities to attach street lamps and signs to buildings without requiring the consent of their owner or occupier. This will bring the rest of London into line with the City, where the City of London corporation already has those powers. The intention is to avoid cluttering streets with more and more street furniture; that is a particular concern right across London. In response to the points made by the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton), in her report to Parliament on human rights, the promoters have amended the Bill. Subsections (3) to (7) of clause 4 now require authorities to serve notice on the owner of the building in question and to take any representations into account. Also, subsection (12) requires authorities to come forward with a statutory code of practice on the exercise of the powers. The provisions on compensation have also been amended in favour of the property owner. Leading counsel’s opinion on the compatibility of part 2 with the European convention on human rights has been obtained by the promoters, and she is satisfied that it is compliant.
My hon. Friend has not mentioned the petition against the Bill that has been put forward by the Society of London Theatre and the Theatrical Management Association. Are the promoters going to give any further concessions as a result of the concerns that those two organisations continue to express?
The promoters agreed to introduce proposals in Committee to exempt theatres from the legislation so that no street furniture will be adhered to such buildings, because of the nature and type of buildings concerned. I trust that my hon. Friend will be satisfied that that particular objection will be fully answered and that no further action will be taken.
Clauses 6 and 7, which deal with damage to highways, are uncontroversial. They will enable London authorities to recover the cost of repairs to the carriageway—not just the footway as the current law provides—where damage is caused by construction traffic. The measures will also enable them to require by way of a planning condition a deposit before construction work commences. That will be warmly welcomed across London, where construction traffic frequently causes damage not only to footways but to the public highway. It is often very difficult for local authorities to recover funding for dealing with that.
One of the key concerns about damage to highways and footways across London from construction work is about recovering the costs of repair, which otherwise have to be borne by local council tax payers. Those costs should properly be charged to the firms carrying out the work—hence the rationale. However, I will refer my hon. Friend’s comments to the promoters to make sure that this issue is clarified in Committee.
Part 3 concerns builders’ skips and its main purpose is to decriminalise offences relating to such skips, such as putting them out without a licence or not properly lighting or protecting them. Such actions are a menace to road users of all types and the Bill enables the highway authority to require information about who the owner of the skip is in order to determine on whom penalty charge notices should be served. Clause 10 provides that the owner of the builder’s skip will be liable to pay any penalty charge arising from a contravention. Representations may be made against the imposition of penalty charges, and appeals made to an adjudicator, much like the existing parking regime in London.
Part 3 will also alter the powers of the highway authority to place conditions on giving permission for placing a skip on the highway and enable the authority to insist that the skip have lights or a guard, or a system of guarding, as an integral part of the skip. Once again, that is a key part of ensuring the safety of all road users.
The key point, which is clear, is that that is a criminal offence and subject to enforcement by the police nationally. The purpose behind the measure is to get to a position whereby the local authorities can impose those penalties and ensure that they are properly and effectively enforced so as to prevent people from committing quite serious offences. This sensible measure, taken in London, might eventually be rolled out across the country. We are talking about what should happen in London.
The hon. Gentleman, who has a distinguished record in local government, will have seen the suggestion in the Bill that skips be immobilised. Leaving aside putting a Denver boot on a skip, or somehow restricting the haulage points, does he not agree that immobilising a skip will create a mound of foul, reeking refuse and rubbish that towers above that skip? Surely it would be far more sensible simply to take the damn thing away and hold it to ransom until the owner coughed up.
I was about to come to the aspect of disabling a skip on the highway. It springs to mind that local authorities might have a pound of skips filled with stinking refuse that would be unclaimed by any individual.
This is a particularly serious problem. Under the Bill, there is a power for conditions to be imposed on the provision of a skip on the public highway. That is the key point—if it is on the public highway. That will enable the local authority to insist that there are lights in place, or a guard or some other system, when that skip is placed on the highway so as to protect all road users. The local authority will be able to fix an immobilisation device—
May I answer the intervention from the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound)? The key issue is the fact that a penalty notice will have to have been served on the owner of the skip prior to the immobilisation device being placed on that skip. Quite how the immobilisation device will work I leave to the hon. Gentleman’s imagination and to the ingenuity of London local authorities.
Leaving aside the fact that I am disappointed not to hear how a skip might be immobilised —I was genuinely looking forward to finding out the mechanism whereby that particular procedure will be carried out in London—is it not already an offence to have a skip on the public highway without its being lit by a marking light at night?
To clarify, the position is that these are already offences in law. However, as things stand, there is no capability for local authorities to do anything about them or take enforcement action in London. The purpose behind these measures is to enable local authorities to enforce the rules and ensure that penalties are served on those who indiscriminately place skips on the public highway outwith the proper conditions, without proper protection and without proper lighting. The difficulty that a number of London authorities have is pursuing skip owners. Unfortunately, not all skip companies write their name and phone number on the side of their skips. Identifying who is responsible for a skip is often a challenge. These clauses will help to clarify that and give local authorities the ability to deal with those skips. As to how they will be immobilised, I look forward to seeing diagrams of the ingenious devices that will be produced.
It is inherent in what my hon. Friend says that the police are able to deal perfectly adequately with the problem of skips right across the country. Why do London authorities think they need a completely different regime for dealing with skips, when up to now the police have been quite competent at doing so?
I am not one to criticise the police—far from it. The police do a wonderful job in this country. However, I do not want the Metropolitan police to spend their time pursuing skip owners and people who indiscriminately leave skips on the public highway. I would much rather the police were pursuing burglars, muggers and violent criminals, than people who had committed such an offence on the public highway. The measure is much in keeping with the decriminalisation of car parking that was carried out a number of years ago, which led to local authorities imposing car parking controls and ensuring that penalty notices are properly served and car parking restrictions are properly implemented.
If there is a case for decriminalisation, surely the best way of proceeding would be for the Government to introduce national public legislation enabling local authorities to enter into decriminalisation of these offences if they wish, instead of the piecemeal bottom-up job that my hon. Friend is trying to promote.
I thank my hon. Friend for the intervention. I have no objection to the Government coming forward with legislation. I am sponsoring the measure on behalf of London authorities, which all agree that this is a severe problem in London. It may well be that in my hon. Friend’s constituency there is a problem, in which case he can promote suitable legislation there. This is all about proper localism. As I suggested earlier, in the fulness of time other local authorities may also lobby the Government for such measures. This is all about implementing a measure in London, trying it out and possibly rolling it out across the country, as I suggested earlier.
Clause 16 deals with interference with barriers and makes it an offence to open, close or interfere, without lawful excuse, with a barrier that is erected by a traffic authority that is intended to prevent the passage of vehicles or any class of vehicles into, out of or along a highway. There has been no objection to this sensible measure. A number of roads in London are closed off for normal purposes, but there is a requirement that barriers should be movable for emergency vehicles to gain access. Unfortunately, because barriers can be moved, unscrupulous individuals tend to move them. The clause would make it an offence to do so unless one is a proper person duly qualified by the highway authority to do so.
There have been substantial objections to clause 17, which deals with pedicabs. The promoters will seek to drop the clause in Committee. Despite that, there have been a large number of objections. Hon. Members who have been to the west end recently will almost certainly be familiar with pedicabs. They are sometimes known as bicycle rickshaws. They usually consist of a large tricycle with an open carrying cabin to the rear for passengers. They operate to all intents and purposes like taxis, charging fares for what are usually short journeys. They are found mostly in the west end of London and they are currently not regulated in London at all. They give rise to a number of problems, which have been the concern of the promoters and others.
The promoters have decided to ask the Bill Committee to remove clause 17. None the less, I should briefly explain what it would have done. The clause relates solely to traffic management; it does not deal with the safety of pedicabs or the fitness of their drivers—believe me, pedicab drivers have to be fit. The clause would have assisted the councils and TfL in identifying the owner of a pedicab and enabled them to serve a penalty charge notice when a parking or moving traffic offence had been committed.
The clause would have operated only if the councils or TfL already had arrangements in place for a voluntary registration scheme for pedicab owners or if a separate statutory licensing scheme had been enacted. That is because such a scheme would undoubtedly require pedicabs to display some sort of plate that could be used to identify the owner. The clause, in itself, would not have set up a statutory licensing or registration scheme, although there is of course a demand for that in some parts of London. An attempt to introduce a statutory registration system was made in a previous London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill, but it was rejected by the Committee on that occasion.
Two pedicab companies, Bugbugs and Reliable Rickshaws, have petitioned against the clause, as have the London Cab Drivers Club and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, which represents taxi drivers. As hon. Members can guess, the petitioners have very different views about the merits of the pedicab trade but are united in their opposition to the clause. Hopefully, the proposed withdrawal of the clause will appease all those who objected, but it will probably satisfy none of them.
Some of us consider these motorised rickshaws to be the greatest menace to public safety since Mr Toad first climbed behind the wheel of his Hispano-Suiza touring car. I am amazed that an organisation called Bugbugs appears to have sufficient weight to influence Her Majesty’s Government and speak for this bunch of anarchists in an organised way. Could the hon. Gentleman possibly tell us what the pedicab industry organisation is, because I have not heard of it before?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The reality, of course, is that this Bill is being promoted not by the Government, but by London local authorities and TfL. They have been subject to considerable pressure from the pedicab trade, and most of the people concerned are individuals who ply their trade.
The hon. Gentleman is responding to a key question from my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound). Notwithstanding the obvious disappointment that clause 17 is likely to be dropped when the Bill goes into Committee, does the hon. Gentleman share my disappointment that that means there will be no regulation of that industry, which many people say is an accident waiting to happen?
My hon. Friend will know from looking at these petitions that as long ago as 2003, on the application of Robert David Oddy v. Bugbugs Ltd, the courts suggested that primary legislation would be required. Is he of that opinion? If so, would he suggest that it should apply right across the country, and why does he not start putting pressure on the Government to bring forward that legislation?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Pedicabs are almost unique to the west end of London; I have not heard of or seen any pedicabs anywhere else in this country. In the due fulness of time there may be a requirement to regulate pedicabs throughout the country, but at this point it is specifically a London issue and specific to a distinct part of London.
It is therefore for London local authorities and for TFL to determine what they are going to do. They have responded to London cab drivers and to various aspects of the taxi driver lobby, who share the view of the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) about the pedicab trade, but equally they have understood that the pedicab trade itself has responded in a very—[Interruption.] Ah! The hon. Member for Ealing North is present. The pedicab trade itself has responded by saying that it is being unfairly treated, but we will have to see whether the voluntary system works, and if it does not we will have to return to primary legislation.
Part 5 refers to charging points for electric vehicles and enables London authorities to provide and operate charging apparatus for electrically powered motor vehicles on highways and to permit third parties to do so. The clauses in part 5 set out the procedures for that provision and create an offence of the unlawful use of charging points.
The number of electric vehicles has increased rapidly since the Bill was first thought of some six years ago, and the Government are very much in favour of encouraging their use. I strongly support the use of electric cars and look forward to their being the principal cars on the roads in London in the not too distant future. The Mayor of London has made it a priority to encourage electric vehicles on our roads, and there has been no opposition whatever to part 5, except from the Society of London Theatre, which was concerned about points being placed directly outside theatres.
Does my hon. Friend agree that outside theatres, particularly when they are closing of an evening, we have the menace of pedicabs, as the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) said, that other such vehicles are parked there, that no one can get by or even walk on the pavements and that this proposal could make things worse?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. The location of the electric charging points, which is the nub of his intervention, will be the subject of appropriate consideration. It would be foolish in the extreme to site electric charging points where there were going to be huge crowds. I cannot imagine, for example, electric vehicles being charged up outside football stadiums, where crowds would be charging over them. That would not be a sensible siting, and that is why we want sufficient electric charging points to coincide with parking meters, where people are allowed to park, so that, instead, they are legitimately able and permitted to park, they can charge their vehicles at the same time and they can be charged by the local authority for the electricity that they use.
Following the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott) made, does my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) accept that planning would be a much better regime with which to control the location of such charging points? Why should one not have to obtain planning permission if one wants to install a charging point in a particular place on the highway?
My hon. Friend is a great supporter of deregulation and of reducing the burden on business, but I cannot think of anything more cumbersome than having to obtain planning permission for an electric charging point on the highway. I can just imagine the extended time that that would take. The proposal will allow London local authorities to introduce such charging points in sensible and appropriate places, where the public can access them easily and we can encourage the use of clean, green electric vehicles.
I hope that my very brief outline of the provisions of this worthy Bill has persuaded hon. Members of the merits of giving it a Second Reading and minimised the necessity for an extended debate.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on his succinct account of the Bill. He and I go back a long way with these Bills. When I was a Greater London council member, I was responsible for the promotion of GLC Bills and London local authorities Bills. He may recall that one year we introduced a policy of what we described as positive victimisation, whereby not a penny would be spent in the constituency of any London Member who did not vote for the money Bill. Unfortunately, that somewhat contravened parliamentary privilege, and I was called to the Bar of the House to account for my behaviour. Then, in a civil servant role as chief executive of the Association of London Government, I was responsible for promoting successive Bills on behalf of London local authorities.
It is. I have delayed the House on these Bills on even more occasions than the hon. Member for Harrow East. I congratulate him on valiantly supporting this attempt by the London boroughs to promote legislation.
I want to deal with clause 17 and pedicabs—or rickshaws, as they are more commonly known. The hon. Member for Harrow East informed us that the promoters of the Bill are seeking amendments in Committee to remove the clause. I have received correspondence from Mr Alastair Lewis of Sharpe Pritchard on behalf of the promoters of the Bill, saying:
“I am the parliamentary agent for the promoters of the above Bill, which is down for a second reading debate next Tuesday 6 March 2012.
I am writing to let you know that the promoters propose to seek amendments at committee stage which would have the effect of removing clause 17 (Pedicabs) from the Bill. This decision follows further discussions between the promoters and representatives of the pedicab industry in which it has been agreed that the pedicab industry will take steps towards self-regulation. The promoters have been working with the pedicab industry to achieve self-regulation and consequently propose to withdraw the provisions contained in the Bill.”
Having read that into the record, I hope that there will now be no attempt not to move the amendments.
I convene the RMT parliamentary group. The RMT, which represents taxi drivers in London, has expressed genuine concerns about the role of pedicabs, as have taxi drivers themselves and people more widely within the community. London taxi drivers consider that there is unfair competition from pedicabs. London taxi drivers go through extensive training, they do the London knowledge, and they are vetted.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is a deeper issue than whether pedicabs represent competition, because they are also a danger to members of the public? They are dangerous vehicles whose drivers are unlicensed and seem able to do what they want, when they want, and to charge what they want. It is not about competition, but safety.
There is unfair competition because pedicabs do not have to comply with the legislation that applies to taxis. Fitness for taxi drivers is not about physical fitness, although I am sure they are a strong body of men and women who could compare with any pedicab driver. It is about not having criminal convictions, for example, so that people who step in a London taxi can feel safe and secure. There is no vetting of pedicab, or rickshaw, drivers in that sense. There is a strict safety regime for black cabs in London, but no such regime for pedicabs. The hon. Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott) is right. The more pedicabs are allowed to continue to ply their trade on the streets of London, the more Londoners are at risk. That is why the RMT objected to the proposals in the Bill, which do not provide details of any licensing scheme that would address those issues.
The last time this matter was raised in legislation, the Opposed Bill Committee cited the Department for Transport’s concerns about pedicabs, such as the lack of any safety regime, the impossibility of identifying the owners of the pedicabs, issues over insurance and the fitness of the characters who are operating the pedicabs. The provision was thrown out by the Opposed Bill Committee on the basis that it failed to comply with any of the Department for Transport’s recommendations about the form of the licensing regime that should be introduced.
We are now left with a situation in which clause 17 has been withdrawn and there is to be a discussion with the pedicab industry. I have no idea who that will involve. We have heard about Bugbugs, but we have no idea how representative that company is of the trade. Quite honestly, it could be a group of gangmasters who hire people on cheap work rates, requiring no form of qualifications and no vetting. After the discussion with the industry, a voluntary scheme will be introduced that will be regulated on a voluntary basis.
My hon. Friend has mentioned the view of the RMT, which I respect profoundly. The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association also has a firm view about this matter. One of its objections is that these death-trap rickshaws tout for business. I wonder whether my hon. Friend has considered that. They slow down outside theatres and other places of entertainment, touting for business and negotiating prices. That is not illegal according to the Metropolitan police. We cannot simply leave the situation in limbo, because in an hour, throughout the west end, this will happen tonight. Does he agree that action needs to be taken urgently?
That is exactly the point. Clause 17 is being removed from the Bill because it is not satisfactory. It does not address the issues that were pointed out to the promoters by the Department for Transport and the Opposed Bill Committee of this House. We are now faced with a free-for-all out there on the streets of London, where there are vehicles that comply with none of the legislation that licenses and authorises every other vehicle on our roads. I find that unsatisfactory. It leaves Londoners at risk.
No commitments have been given on how the voluntary arrangements will be devised or who will be consulted. Will all the petitioners against the licensing clause in the Bill be consulted? Will they be engaged in drafting the voluntary registration and regulation scheme? Will there be a wider consultation with the general public? How will the consultation take place and over what period? How long will self-regulation be allowed to operate before the Government decide whether to move to a full licensing regime? None of that has been made clear by the promoters of the Bill.
Like other hon. Members, I find this situation unacceptable. We have been discussing this matter since 2003. Nine years on, we still have no licensing regime and no concept of how the self-regulation regime will be developed and consulted on, how it will be tested, what criteria it will be tested against and when the House will address the issue again.
Apart from there being too many, as I heard one hon. Member say from a sedentary position, nobody knows how many pedicabs there are, how many people are involved in the industry, how many companies or operations there are, or how many passengers there are. Also, nobody knows how many complaints have been made against the operation of these rickshaws. All we know is that when proposals have been made to discuss pedicabs and their regulation, a considerable amount of concern has been expressed about their operation and about how they should be regulated, if they are to be allowed to continue at all.
There is now strong concern and we are in the worst of all worlds. There is a free for all with no regulation, no licensing and no understanding of how voluntary regulation will work. These pedicabs are out there operating and it is making people vulnerable. There is growing concern and anger not just among taxi drivers but among other road users in the centre of London about the unrestrained way in which pedicab operators work—not only how they pedal through the streets but how they park and clutter up the streets. In some ways, they also affect west end businesses. As much as they say they benefit businesses in the west end and passengers travelling around the area, the more they clutter the streets the more they impede business.
I am pleased that the clause on pedicabs is being withdrawn, but the Government need to take action either to close down pedicab operations, because of the real concern about their safety, or to bring forward a proper licensing and regulation regime. If such a regime is introduced, it should be no less stringent than the one on the black cab trade in London; otherwise, it will undermine fair competition.
I have read into the record the intended withdrawal of clause 17, and if the promoters of the Bill are now going to enter into discussions about self-regulation, I urge them to contact all Members who have expressed concerns about the operation of pedicabs and engage us in a full consultation. In that way, we might find a way forward. After all these years, I would have hoped that the promoters had learned some lessons about how to legislate properly rather than continuing in the same way.
As always, it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who speaks with knowledge and experience and represents his union with great skill. As the hon. Gentleman was making his case on behalf of taxi cab drivers, I wondered whether the union had considered recruiting pedicab drivers and offering them union membership.
I am sure it is, and I can understand that if I were a taxi driver I would be concerned about the matter. However, I am looking at it from the public’s point of view. Do hon. Members who represent London constituencies find themselves inundated by complaints at their surgeries from people who have suffered overcharging or unsatisfactory service by pedicab drivers? If there had been anything more serious than that, it would no doubt have been dealt with by the police.
It occurs to me that if this problem—if it is a problem—were to be dealt with just in the area covered by the 33 London authorities, there is a danger that pedicab drivers would relocate to Birmingham, Sheffield or Manchester, and we would have the same problem there. If there is a need for regulation, it should surely be proceeded with on a national basis.
May I open a window into the world of the London MP’s surgery? We do get complaints about pedicabs. They operate in other cities, principally Oxford, but my constituents have two objections to them. The first is the potential for a lethal incident, and the second is the absolute lawlessness and scofflaw attitude of the operators. Recruiting them into a trade union when they are not a member of a trade would be extremely difficult. People object to pedicabs and worry about them, and they want action.
That may well be so, but given that pedicabs have been operating for so many years—certainly for nine years, although one assumes they were operating before that—I would have expected a long list of cases in which people had sued pedicab firms after incurring injuries. I heard an hon. Member say earlier from a sedentary position—or it might have been in an intervention—that pedicabs are a danger.
My hon. Friend might find that there has been litigation against drivers when pedicabs have tipped over. The people who travel in those vehicles—I use the word “vehicles” very loosely—wonder what pedicabs are insured for. If people get seriously injured, as some have been, they find that the vehicles are not insured at all. These vehicles are a menace on our roads.
I simply repeat the point I have made: if they are a menace in London, or indeed in Oxford, the matter should be dealt with on a national basis and not in a piecemeal way through a London local authorities Bill. As we have heard, pedicabs will not be dealt with in any way at all. We now hear that, having spent all these years on the one clause that might go some way towards dealing with something that someone is concerned about, it will not be dealt with by the Bill. I shall come to that shortly.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for his introduction and for acting on behalf of the promoters in the House. He has been passed the baton by our hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), who, I notice, is not in his place. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East will look to make the same scintillating speed of progress as our hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green made with the London Local Authorities Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East referred to the fact that 10 Bills have been promoted by the London local authorities. I do not know over what period, but I assume it is since the Greater London council was abolished—[Interruption.] I now hear that some were introduced before the GLC was abolished. My hon. Friend said that it was not uncommon for a Bill to be promoted in that way, but if I were a London council tax payer, I would ask why some of those Bills were not consolidated and dealt with in a rather more organised way than the current piecemeal and haphazard approach.
We debated a Bill that deals with three or four things last week and we will debate another one next week, and the London Local Authorities and Transport (No. 2) Bill, which we are debating now, deals with six or seven different matters. I cannot see why they could not be brought together in one Bill, but I can see that it provides a good deal of work for the parliamentary agents who draft Bills and prepare the various petitions that are lodged in opposition to them.
What is common to all those London Bills is that each brings with it more regulation, more red tape, more bureaucracy and more rules for Londoners and visitors to London. This Bill has had a very long gestation period indeed. The petition for it was lodged as long ago as 27 November 2007. We have already heard this evening that the discussions and planning go back some years even before that.
The petition was lodged as long ago as four and a quarter years, and First Reading took place in the other place on 22 January 2008—incidentally, the day after the then Transport Minister, the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton), wrote a four-page letter to point out that the Bill was defective in many ways. So, even before it reached the First Reading starting gate, the right hon. Lady had written to the Chairman of Committees, Lord Brabazon of Tara, a four-page letter stating, in a nutshell, that the Bill did not comply with the European convention on human rights, not just in one particular but in several particulars. One would have thought that with all their experience of promoting Bills, the London local authorities would at least have got these matters right before drafting the Bill. Nevertheless, the Bill received its First Reading on 22 January 2008.
Not much happened after that, as we have heard, and on 17 November 2008 the other place resolved that the Bill’s promoters should have leave to suspend further proceedings on the Bill until the next Session. This House concurred with their lordships in their resolution on 19 November. Not much happened until Monday 9 March 2009, when a Select Committee of five noble Lords began a three-day hearing into the Bill’s contents and to listen to the petitioners’ objections. There were three petitions in the Lords, which for reasons of brevity I will not go into, although later I will touch on the Commons petitions.
The petitions were dealt with at length over three days, and the result was 119 pages of evidence. One would consider that pretty detailed analysis but unfortunately most of the evidence related to matters not before the House today. The Bill considered by the other place contained many more clauses than this Bill. I think it contained 38 clauses, whereas this Bill has 23. That is quite an attrition rate in the number of clauses in the four years since the Bill was originally introduced. The Committee reported to their lordships on 2 April 2009. Again, however, unfortunately for today’s proceedings, much of what was considered in the report from the then Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) has been removed from the Bill in the other place. The hon. Gentleman is now the shadow Minister and is in his place this evening, and I am sure he will recall signing the said document and will no doubt be able to recall its contents exactly. There is very little left worth commenting on from that report and from those three days of detailed examination of the Bill in the other place.
On 29 October 2009—more than six months after that report was presented to their lordships—the House of Lords resolved for a second time to give leave to the promoters to suspend proceedings on the Bill and, if they saw fit, to proceed with it in the following Session. This House concurred with the resolution of their lordships on 3 November 2009. I have to give the promoters of these Bills one thing: they are nothing if not determined. It will therefore be no surprise to the House to hear that the Bill was duly reintroduced, on 19 November 2009.
Yet again, it would appear that nothing happened for several months—according to the official Parliament website, that is—until the Bill was for some reason reintroduced on 28 June 2010. However, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, there was in fact a great deal of activity behind the scenes. Great chunks of the Bill were being removed and it was slimmed down to its current state. [Interruption.] I think I said earlier that it had 38 clauses; in fact, it had 39 in those days. Following what we might refer to for present purposes as the Select Committee stage—obviously the procedure is different with a normal public Bill—clauses 4 to 14 were removed, and amendments were made to clauses 16 and 21. Also, clauses 26 and 27 were removed on Third Reading, to which I shall turn shortly. Either way, the Bill was losing clauses at quite a swift rate.
Third Reading took place in the other place on 28 March 2011. It is perhaps worth noting how few people took part in that debate. After four years, one might assume that this Bill had been considered by dozens and dozens of their noble lordships and baronesses; in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The Bill was considered by just five noble lords in Committee. On Third Reading, it was discussed by just six more. So, as far as I can see, a total of just 11 noble lords took part in the debates on the Bill in the other place.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. If it is in order, I will name the five noble lords in question. They were Lord Dahrendorf, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, who was the Chairman of the Committee, Baroness Fookes, Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall and Lord Methuen. I venture to submit that five was the full membership of the Committee, and all five attended the first, second and third sittings. I apologise for not referring to Lord Dahrendorf as the late Lord Dahrendorf, as he has passed away since those proceedings took place. Indeed, so has one of the contributors to the Third Reading debate, Lord St John of Fawsley. He passed away a few days ago. As I have said, very few lords took part in the discussions on the Bill in the other place, and the Third Reading debate lasted for only 48 minutes. For the avoidance of doubt, I should say that the Bill’s previous readings were purely formal and were simply recorded in Hansard. There was no debate on First Reading or when the Committee reported on 2 April.
It is perhaps worth noting the comments of Earl Attlee, who spoke for the Government in the Third Reading debate in the other place. The amendments that had been moved earlier by Lord Jenkin of Roding sought to remove clauses from the Bill. It is slightly confusing, because the Bill has been reprinted since it was originally introduced, and clauses 16 and 17 to which I am referring were those that were in the Bill at the time, and not those that appear in the Bill before us today. The provisions that were causing concern at the time related to the problems, as Lord Jenkin saw them, that had been put forward by the London Cycling Campaign. He went through a number of other petitions. As I say, I shall not go into them here today.
My hon. Friend says, “Why not?” from a sedentary position. I commend the Third Reading report to all interested Members, as it sets out the problems that their lordships saw with the Bill, to some of which they drew this House’s attention. Indeed, they invited this House to look at it again to deal with the problems they had identified in our further consideration.
Earl Attlee said on Third Reading:
“The Government are committed not to create new offences unless it is truly necessary to do so.”
One problem is that the Bill seeks to create new offences. I would accept that in one respect—responsibility and liability in respect of skips transferred from the police to local authorities—but the general thrust of the Bill is to create more rules and more regulation. Earl Attlee went on to say that the Government had not reached a final conclusion about the matter. He said:
“The Government’s position on increasing the burden on business is very clear and we will be considering”—
we should note the future tense—
“whether, in our view, the Bill would create an unacceptable burden on business in order to make our views known before the Bill reaches Committee stage in the other place.”
We may hear more about the Government’s view when we hear from the Minister later.
According to what Lord Attlee said, I understand that the Government had notified the Bill’s promoters that some clauses could be improved or altered by minor amendments, particularly regarding the affixing of street furniture to buildings. One specific suggestion was made—that the owner of the building should be served with a notice, giving the exact date on which the work would begin, and setting out the terms of the use of electric vehicle charging points installed and operated under the Bill’s powers. The noble Lord went on to say:
“We will be seeking to reach agreement on amendments with the promoters before Committee stage in the other place as it is then that the Bill can next be substantially amended.” —[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 March 2011; Vol. 726, c. 1034.]
I emphasise the words “substantially amended”. Clearly, on Third Reading in the other place, the Government had serious reservations.
My hon. Friend is gracious in giving way. I draw his attention to clause 16 on gated roads, where we seem to be creating an offence that does not need to be made. I see these barriers all over the country. Surely we do not need another law; if they were interfered with, that would presumably be criminal damage in the first place.
I have not yet reached the subject of gated roads, but it is probably possible to pick at random a part of the Bill that creates a new offence, rule or law, to which is attached a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
As my hon. Friend says, there are gated roads all over the country, and if that is a problem in the capital city of our great country, it is no doubt just as likely to be a problem on a country road somewhere out in the shires. If the correct way of dealing with the problem is to introduce legislation that creates a criminal offence—which is what we are doing here—it is surely correct to deal with it by means of legislation that covers the whole country, not just the capital.
Many things have happened since the Bill’s introduction in the other place as long ago as 27 November 2007, four and a quarter years ago. For instance, we have had a general election, and the Localism Bill—now the Localism Act 2011—received Royal Assent on 15 November last year. I am sure that several London local authorities have undergone a change of political control since 2007, and I wonder to what extent the promoters of the Bill considered those changes.
The Localism Act gives local authorities a general power of competence. It has completely changed the regime in which authorities operate: they no longer have to seek specific authority from this place to go off and do something, because the Act allows them to do it unless another Act tells them that they cannot. To what extent has that been taken into account by the promoters? Moreover, residents have been given the power to institute local referendums. If this is the problem that some Members think it is—as we heard earlier—I am sure that some residents will be hot on the heels of local councillors with petitions asking for something to be done about it.
After many years of delay, things speeded up after the Bill’s Third Reading in the House of Lords on 28 March 2011, and it appears to have been given its First Reading in this House on the same day. I believe that that is the only occasion on which anything to do with this Bill has ever happened speedily. It has, however, attracted four new petitions, from Bugbugs Media Ltd, Reliable Rickshaws Ltd, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the Society of London Theatre, the Theatrical Management Association, and the London Cab Drivers Club. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East said, the promoters of the Bill managed to achieve the rare feat of upsetting the petitioners on both sides. They could not really win. Whatever they did, they were bound to upset somebody. I suspect they have probably reached the right conclusion by deciding to upset both sides and withdraw clause 17.
Let us return to the question of the cost to the London council tax payer. The organisations concerned—private limited companies, trade bodies and, indeed, trade unions—have been put to expense in having to raise these petitions. I dare say the solicitors and parliamentary agents were not acting for nothing; they could have been acting on a pro bono basis, and if they were I am sure someone will rise to tell me so—but the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is not doing so. I therefore assume these people were being paid rather handsomely for their good services. These Bills are by no means a no-cost option, therefore.
Over the past four years there has been an attrition rate of four clauses per year. However, only 10 minutes after the start of the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, we heard that another clause is to go. We have made good progress, therefore: the first clause went in 10 minutes. If we carry on at this rate, the Bill will be gone in a couple of days—but if we carry on at the same rate as things have been moving since the Bill started its life, we may, sadly, have to wait another six years before it withers away to its natural end.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. If this Bill had not been objected to and had instead received its Second Reading on the nod, it would not have been possible for its promoters to reflect upon clause 17 on pedicabs, for example. They have now had the opportunity to reflect on that, and have reached a different conclusion from their original one.
My hon. Friend is right. What has happened with this Bill gives the lie to the notion that these proceedings are meaningless and we are just going through the motions. Although only 11 Lords were involved in the proceedings in the other place, very substantial changes have been made to the Bill, and we do not know what might happen after the Bill has been examined in more detail. The three hours that have so far been allocated to Second Reading may well turn out to be rather brief when one considers the history of this matter and how long it has already been going on and what little progress has been made in four years. Any thoughts the promoters might have that a Third Reading could be concluded within three hours may prove to be somewhat optimistic.
We heard in the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East that despite the fact that the Bill has been on the go for so many years, there are still a number of areas where we have no idea what is being put before us. There is no draft of the agreement relating to the affixing of lamps to theatres. There is no draft of the code. There is no idea of how skips are going to be immobilised. I would have thought after all these years, such basic points would have been covered and the details would be before us tonight.
It seems to me that the Bill is half-cooked and the simplest thing at this stage would be for the promoters to withdraw it and for it to be reconsidered in the light of the Localism Act 2011, the comments made in the other place, the reservations expressed by the Government and the comments that I shall now make.
The Bill is down to just six parts. Part 1 deals with preliminary matters, part 2 effectively deals with the attachment of street lamps and signs to buildings and damage to highways as a consequence of adjacent works, part 3 deals with the law relating to builders’ skips, part 4 deals with two matters to do with road traffic—that is, gated roads, which were referred to in an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), and pedicabs—part 5 deals with charging points for electric vehicles and part 6 deals with the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2008.
Part 1 contains the standard preamble, giving details of when the Bill will take effect, and states that the Bill
“may be cited as the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2009”—
but perhaps 2012 might be optimistic. I shall therefore deal with the provisions on the attachment of street lamps and signs to buildings in part 2, which is the first substantive aspect of the Bill. The explanatory memorandum, which the promoters have helpfully provided, states that clauses 4 and 5 would alter the London authorities’ existing powers to attach street lamps and traffic signs to buildings by bringing them more in line with those of the City of London corporation. It is a “decluttering” measure, making it easier for the authorities to require that signs and lamps are attached to buildings. I would submit that it is not so much a decluttering measure as a moving of clutter from one part of the highway to another in such a way that there might well be some practical difficulties with how it operates.
The requirement in clause 4(4) is:
“Not less than 56 days before the London authority propose to begin the work to affix an attachment or a traffic sign to a building they shall serve notice in writing on the relevant owner of the building of their proposal to affix it.”
Of course, the owner might not necessarily be the occupier of the building. The Bill is silent, as far as I can see, about the definition of an owner. I would submit that the owner would be the owner of the freehold, but I can understand that someone might argue that the owner could be taken to mean a leaseholder or tenant of the building. There might therefore be some legal argument about that clause, which I suspect will need to be considered in more detail in Committee.
My hon. Friend will have heard what our hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) said about the promoters’ intention to offer an exemption from clauses 4 and 5 for the Society of London Theatre and the Theatrical Management Association. Does he think that that exemption needs to go much wider than just the organisations that have petitioned against the Bill because the points that they make about natural justice and listed buildings could apply to a much larger group of building owners than that particular group of theatre owners?
My hon. Friend makes a welcome and interesting observation. It seems to me that the theatres are being given special treatment because they have particularly deep pockets. They have been able to employ parliamentary agents to prepare and submit a petition, which is before the House, and they have been using a firm in Westminster to prepare representations regarding their concerns. There is a danger that other owners of buildings in London may be somewhat jealous of the fact that London theatres have managed to wangle an exemption from the measures for themselves which many others would no doubt welcome if they could benefit from it. That raises the pertinent point that if it is appropriate for the London theatres to be exempt, why is it not appropriate for other buildings to be exempt?
We know from the petition, dated 26 April 2011, that the Society of London Theatre and the Theatrical Management Association are concerned about the effect that the measures could have on their members. They quoted the Wyndham report, which studied the economic impact of London’s west end theatres. Tony Travers of the London School of Economics was commissioned to do the report, which revealed, in 1998, that the total economic impact of west end theatre on the UK economy had been £1.1 billion in the previous year. More recent data imply that the figure is now approaching £1.5 billion. Some 41,000 jobs depend on west end theatre—27,000 directly and 14,000 indirectly. Those organisations went on to say that, crucially, they operate on very tight profit margins and that anything that could add to those costs is a matter of concern. I am sure that many other organisations and bodies throughout the capital city would say, “Those concerns apply to us as well. We operate on tight margins and anything that might add to our costs would be extremely detrimental.” It is therefore difficult to see at first sight why west end theatres should be treated differently from other organisations that have not petitioned the House in the way that those societies did. Equally, however, one could say that they took the time and trouble to do so and therefore it is only right that they should be granted some form of special treatment.
Yes. I hope that, when the time comes to consider the clause in Committee, some explanation for that is given. Perhaps the code of practice will be available at that stage. It is perhaps a matter of some regret that that document is not available for consideration by the House today to enable us to see how effective that particular code is likely to be.
That deals with clause 4, very briefly. Clauses 6 and 7 deal with damage to the highway caused in consequence of works done on land adjacent to the highway. At first sight, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East that it seems perfectly reasonable that the taxpayer should not be required to pay for damage caused to the public road by those carrying out works on land adjacent to the road, but I wonder whether there is not a better way to do that. I am particularly concerned about small builders, and perhaps people who are not builders at all, but who own land and are carrying out the works themselves. It might come as a surprise to them when they apply for planning permission to build a small extension on their property that they are asked to stump up before commencement of the works in case any damage might be caused to the highway, when the chances are that, although that is a possibility, it will not happen.
I am pleased that clause 7 now appears in the Bill.
My hon. Friend talks about the merits or otherwise of this part of the Bill, but is not that slightly superfluous? The point is that we all have places in our constituencies where we might be concerned about damage being caused by adjacent works. If that issue needs to be tackled, surely the point is that it should be tackled nationwide and not in a Bill that applies only to London.
My hon. Friend makes a pertinent point. My constituency of Bury North—no doubt in common with his constituency of Shipley, and, indeed, I would be so bold as to venture to suggest, every constituency represented in the House—has at one time or another, and perhaps even at this moment, contained at least one property, although I suspect it could be many properties, with a skip outside it. Therefore, if skips are causing a particular problem in London, I would venture to suggest that similar problems are being caused in every constituency in the land. Indeed, not many days ago I had a skip outside my own property as we were having some small works done. So not only was there a skip in my constituency, but there was one outside my drive.
We have here part of a Bill with clauses 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 and 15 all on the issue of skips. I see my right hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) in his place. On Third Reading in the other place, his Liberal Democrat colleague, Baroness Kramer, highlighted the faintly ridiculous nature of all this discussion about skips. She said:
“I find it astonishing that the time of this House has to be spent on issues such as the lighting and guarding of builders’ skips. If ever there was an illustration of the need for the Localism Bill, and a more general grant of powers to assemblies and local authorities, this Bill is it.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 March 2011; Vol. 726, c. 1031.]
Since the noble Baroness made that speech, her wish has been granted and the Localism Bill is now law. For that reason, perhaps there is no need for the clause.
My hon. Friend is very knowledgeable on these matters and he will know that on page 11 the Bill deals with the problem of skips that are not properly lit during the hours of darkness. So that the Bill does not become a solution looking for a problem, does my hon. Friend know on how many occasions there has been a big problem around the country of skips not being properly lit, and how many accidents have been caused by skips not being properly lit during the hours of darkness? Is this a big issue, as far as my hon. Friend is aware?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting intervention. Although it is not a widespread problem, I suspect that there are occasionally cases where a builder might forget to put the appropriate light on a skip. Therefore there is a danger that if a skip is not lit during the hours of darkness, it could result in an accident taking place and a motor vehicle driving into the skip. Indeed, I cannot remember the details and I dread to think how many years ago it was, but when I was in practice as a solicitor, I was once involved in a case where a car hit a skip, and we had to take civil proceedings because there was no light on the skip.
I knew my hon. Friend was knowledgeable about these matters. I predicted that he would know more about the subject than I do. I have seen nothing on “Panorama” about a big blight around the country of skips not having sufficient lighting or builders forgetting to put lights on them. Does he know how widespread the problem is? It has never been raised with me before.
I have to say that the issue has never been raised at one of my surgeries, and it has obviously not been raised at one of my hon. Friend’s surgeries, but by the sound of it, it is a problem all over London, and even as we speak, cars are colliding with skips. Of more interest is the fact that clause 13 relates to the immobilisation of builders’ skips. I am disappointed that we have not yet been able to hear how those skips are to be immobilised, but I look forward to a future debate when we will find out how that will take place.
I referred in an intervention to clause 16 in part 4. The clause relates to gated roads, and I shall not comment further on that. As we know, clause 17 relates to pedicabs, and it has been placed on the record that the clause is to be withdrawn. Part 5 relates to charging points for electric vehicles. If legislation is needed because of a surge in the number of electrical vehicles, surely it should be considered on a national basis. This is the one part of the Bill where a case could be made for that. The idea that owners of electric vehicles in London will stop when they get to the boundaries of London is faintly ridiculous. As my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) has suggested, the correct way to deal with that would be through the use of planning legislation.
The Bill’s final clause is another new clause that was not in the original Bill. It would repeal provision in, and make minor amendment to, the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Act 2008. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East might be able to confirm whether that Act had been a private Bill.
It was a private Bill. Well, there we go. That Bill had not been passed when this one began life, which is amazing, as this Bill is being used to correct that Act. I think I have demonstrated that there is merit in examining these Bills. My very final point shows that even as this Bill was beginning life, the House allowed a defective Bill to be passed. This Bill has been overtaken by events, as I have attempted to demonstrate, and the best thing for it, the promoters and the taxpayers and residents of London would be for my hon. Friend to withdraw it. If he does not, I strongly urge the House to vote against the Bill on Second Reading.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), who has just completed a very tidy 60 minutes. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on introducing the Bill. Unsurprisingly, I will be extremely brief. We support the Bill and will do so later this evening. The provisions on de-cluttering, damage to the highway, dealing with skips and electric vehicle charging points are all very positive, as detailed by the hon. Member for Harrow East. We had an exchange on the disappointment about the pedicabs issue, but that will go to Committee and we look forward to discussing it then.
I noted the comments by the hon. Member for Harrow East on football stadiums and litter, which was one of the issues discussed previously. When I read the report of the debate in another place, I noted the comments of my noble Friend Lord Rosser, who referred to Hammersmith and Fulham borough council’s concern about the litter around Chelsea football club. As a West Ham supporter, I have no problem whatsoever with criticising Chelsea. I am not entirely comfortable with agreeing with Hammersmith and Fulham, but for the sake of Chelsea I will make an exception. We are very supportive of the Bill and look forward to its going into Committee for further scrutiny.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on his succinct contribution, which demonstrates that it is possible to get a large number of points across eloquently within a short period of time. I congratulate the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) on moving the Second Reading of this private Bill and welcome the opportunity of this debate.
I want to make it clear from the start that the Government do not oppose the principle behind the Bill. However, we have some reservations about some of the powers set out in the Bill as currently drafted. Officials from the Department for Transport are currently in discussions with TfL on these provisions, and I look forward to a more detailed examination of them in Committee.
As the hon. Member for Harrow East set out, the Bill would confer a variety of powers on TfL and London local authorities, the promoters. For example, they could provide electric vehicle charging points and recover costs from developers for damage to highways following remedial works. The Government have already notified the promoters of some clauses that could be improved or altered by minor amendments, particularly those relating to the attaching of street furniture, such as lamps and traffic signs, to buildings and the terms of usage of electric vehicle charging points.
Pedicabs were discussed, and it might be useful for the House to know that I asked the Law Commission to carry out a review of the rather convoluted and confused legislation relating to taxis and private hire vehicles, which it has agreed to do. As part of that review, it will also consider the law in respect of pedicabs, so there will be national consideration of the matter.
The Law Commission is currently holding an open consultation, to which the hon. Gentleman and others can doubtless contribute if they wish, and it will come forward with recommendations later in this Parliament on what in the way of legislation the Government should take forward.
We should also like to ensure that the financial and resource burdens that the new provisions might create for the justice system are properly assessed. The Government will in preparation for Committee seek to reach agreement on amendments with the Bill’s promoters.
Will the Minister set out why the Government are so much in support of the Bill, given that they are keeping all their Members here late into the night unnecessarily in order to vote for it? If its provisions are so popular with the Government, why are they not bringing forward legislation to introduce those measures throughout the country?
With respect, it is not the Government who are keeping Members here late this evening.
May I thank the hon. Member for Harrow East again for his introduction? As I have said, the Government have their reservations, which we will explain in more detail in Committee, but with that I welcome his bringing the Bill forward.
It is a pleasure to follow the Minister, who I am surprised was so brief, because this is an important measure. As he said, his Department and the Government generally are still looking at the detail of it, because they have not had sufficient time to do so hitherto—as the Bill was first brought forward only in 2008. They are therefore pleading with the House tonight, “Please give us a bit more time for further detailed consideration,” and then, when the Bill goes into the Opposed Bill Committee, they will be able to decide exactly what they want.
Given that the Bill’s sponsor, our hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), whom I congratulate on having been given the accolade and responsibility for taking it through the House, has already said that he will seek in Committee to withdraw clause 17, which relates to pedicabs, and given that the Minister himself referred to the prospect of the Law Commission carrying out a review, it seems that if the Bill takes the normal course of such legislation, it will, when it leaves Committee and returns to the House, no longer contain any provisions relating to pedicabs. That is why I begin my main remarks by referring to the pedicabs issue, which raises an enormous amount of interest in London. I have to admit that I have never travelled in one, but I am conscious of the fact that they are among the most environmentally friendly forms of transport—even more so than electrically propelled motor vehicles, which are also dealt with in the Bill.
I note from the evidence that the pedicab industry has produced that most pedicab drivers are self-employed entrepreneurs serving the interests of the people of London and now, as we have heard, of other parts of the country. They have developed a business that meets the needs of the public, and done so totally outside the sphere of regulation, except that pedicabs are propelled by bicycles, which are subject to regulation under the Road Traffic Act 1991 and the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984.
Pedicabs themselves are not subject to any specific regulation, but this Bill, when it was brought forward, contained definitions of pedicabs which were offensive to everybody: offensive to the taxi trade, to the pedicab industry and, probably, to the people of London—if they applied their minds to the matter. I note that it is now proposed that the pedicab industry should engage in self-regulation and that the promoters of the Bill are making specific arrangements with the pedicab industry to encourage that approach. However, is that consistent with what has taken place before? The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) was particularly brief in his remarks.
Perhaps. That might be because the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse did not want to draw the House’s attention to the fact that the issue of pedicabs was raised when his party was in government and the House was considering the London Local Authorities and Transport for London Bill 2004-05 to 2007-08. I think that I am right in saying that he was a member of the Government at the time. On that occasion, the Government said:
“The clauses relating to pedicabs did not address the concerns the Government had about passenger safety. The clauses made no provision for any minimum standards to be applied to or for any checks to be carried out on pedicabs, their riders, or their operators, nor for any training to be required or for a registration to be refused, suspended or revoked. The Government pointed out that the registration of pedicabs under these clauses could be mistakenly viewed by the public as an endorsement of the vehicle's basic roadworthiness and the character of the rider.”
The then Government took the view that there was a serious problem that needed to be addressed and that the private legislation was not going far enough. Tonight, the Opposition seem to be taking the line that it is probably a good idea to withdraw even the proposals in this Bill relating to pedicabs.
In my very brief comments, I said, as I did in my intervention on the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), that I was disappointed that the issue of pedicabs was not being addressed. There is a challenge here. Were pedicabs to be endorsed by the legislation, people might feel them to be safe, but were they to be scrutinised through the legislation, people would have every expectation that that would make them safe.
I am trying to interpret what the hon. Gentleman has said. I know that he is probably walking a proverbial tightrope, but he seems to be saying that he would like the provisions on pedicabs to remain in the Bill and objects to their being taken out in Committee. Is that the right interpretation, or would he like the different interest groups, whether they be pedicab supporters or taxi drivers, to interpret his remarks as neutral?
Okay. I hope that the hon. Gentleman has the privilege of serving on the Committee so that he can get down to that necessary detail.
On a serious note, if pedicabs are a problem in London—I am not conceding that they are—then the problem will also be apparent elsewhere in the country in many other cities, if not now, then perhaps in future. Apparently pedicabs are already operating in Oxford. Surely that makes the case for saying that if we are going to do anything about pedicabs, it should be in the form of national legislation. That is why I welcome the Minister’s announcement that the matter will be the subject of consideration by the Government, perhaps with a view to legislation if necessary, or if recommended by the Law Commission, later in this Parliament. That is obviously an addendum to the coalition agreement of which we should all take note for the purposes of tonight’s proceedings.
Having dealt with the issue of pedicabs, I think that we must congratulate the pedicab industry on having thrived without regulation for so long. I am sure that it will play an important part in ensuring that those who come to London for the Olympic games later this year will be able to access transport to suit their needs at the time of night when they want it. I suspect that the pedicab industry would never have developed in London in the way that it has if there had been more licensed black cabs operating in the early hours of the morning, when people cannot find a black cab for love nor money in the centre of London. The pedicab industry has filled that vacuum.
I will now return to clauses 4 and 5. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) made some important points about those provisions. I referred in interventions to the petition from the Society of London Theatre and the Theatrical Management Association. Those two organisations think that clauses 4 and 5 are framed far too widely and that they do not provide people with a sufficient opportunity to have their representations considered.
Paragraph 16 of the petition states that the Bill
“ought to include provision to ensure that where a building owner does make representations in response to a proposal by a London Authority to affix a street lamp or traffic sign to a building, those representations ought fairly to be considered by an independent third party before the London Authority should be allowed to proceed. Furthermore, the London Authority should be required to explain its response to the representations and the grounds upon which it has come to its decision to proceed with its proposal under clause 4(6)(a) or (b).”
That is an important concern. It applies not only to theatre owners, but to building owners throughout London who will potentially be affected by clauses 4 and 5. I hope that when the matter is considered in Committee, the promoters will ensure that those safeguards are written in and that it is not just the Society of London Theatre that is given an exemption.
Similarly, paragraph 17 of the petition, states:
“your Petitioners respectfully submit that the Bill should further specify how these provisions will affect West End theatres, particularly those which are also listed buildings.”
I do not think that it is only listed theatre buildings that should be the subject of concern, but all listed buildings. I hope, likewise, that that point is taken on board by the hon. Members who have the privilege of serving on the Opposed Bill Committee.
Second Reading is an opportunity to flag up issues that, were the Bill to make further progress, might be the subject of more detailed consideration through amendments on Report, if not in Committee. Without wishing to detain the House for a great length of time, perhaps I can help by drawing attention to one or two issues that I think are worthy of more detailed consideration, if not this evening, then on a subsequent occasion.
The first issue is that of builders’ skips, which is the subject of part 3. A whole part of the Bill is given over to the issue of builders’ skips. People who are following the proceedings of this esteemed House of Commons may wonder why we should spend valuable time discussing decriminalising offences under section 139 of the Highways Act 1980 on a piecemeal basis. Surely it would be much better for the Government to bring forward primary legislation to enable local authorities that so wished to decriminalise those offences. That is exactly the same regime that is operated in relation to parking offences. In effect, local authorities can opt into the decriminalised regime if they so wish.
The precedent that the Bill would set, on which the Minister did not comment, would be that any local authority wishing to decriminalise offences—or in due course any police and crime commissioner who thought that decriminalisation would be a good idea—would have to promote a private Bill. Surely that does not make much sense.
While my hon. Friend is on the subject of skips, I am sure it has not escaped his notice that as the Bill stands, if a skip is hired out to a person who breaches the provisions of the Bill, it will be not the person who has hired the skip but its owner who is pursued by the local authority. Even though the owner may not have been the person committing the offence, they will still be pursued. They will have to go through the bureaucratic nightmare of trying to recover their costs from the person who perpetrated the offence. Does he not think that that is nonsense?
I do, and when my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) referred to the debate on Third Reading in the other place on 28 March 2011, he did not mention what Lord Jenkin of Roding said about the concerns about clause 9(5). He said that it
“provides for a defence of knowingly giving false information about the identity of the owner of a skip. There has to be some way of enforcing Clause 9, which enables the authorities to obtain from the skip company the name and address of the person on whom they can serve a penalty charge notice. If not, the authorities will end up in a position where the whole of Part 3 will be unenforceable.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 March 2011; Vol. 726, c. 1027.]
At the moment, as I indicated in an intervention, we are not aware that the police have any problem whatever in enforcing the provisions of section 139 of the 1980 Act. One wonders why the London authorities are so keen to take on enforcement provisions for themselves and are not content with the existing law, with all the safeguards that were incorporated in it when it was considered as primary legislation by both Houses.
I have referred to the Third Reading debate in the other place, and I note the sad news of the recent death of my late noble Friend Lord St John of Fawsley. It is worth reminding the House that he was a man of great wit, with plenty of good stories. One of them was set out in that debate. I will not read it out, but I do not think it would be out of order for me to recall that he told their lordships of the time he was appointed chairman of the Royal Fine Art Commission by Lord Jenkin of Roding. He said that he held that position for 15 years,
“until the whole of the commission was abolished by fax. Not even the Vatican in its worst days would behave in such a way. When the Orthodox Church got rid of the Orthodox Archbishop of London, it did so by fax. However, it provided a charge: namely, that he coveted thrones.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 28 March 2011; Vol. 726, c. 1030.]
It is therefore not only in this House that we allow ourselves diversions and indulgences in proceedings on private Bills—they certainly allow them in the other place. The Chairman of Committees took the noble Lord to task only a few minutes later, but, bearing in mind the sad news of his death, I thought it was worth sharing that with the House in case hon. Members have not been looking as carefully at the Official Report as some of us have been.
That brings me to the issue of gated roads and clause 16. The same point arises in clause 16 as arises in relation to other clauses. If we want to introduce criminal sanctions against a
“person who opens, closes or otherwise operates or interferes with a relevant barrier”,
they should apply across the country rather than just in London. That is an issue for the Government. We considered pedlars legislation at length in the previous Parliament, but this is the second Bill this Session in which the question of national or piecemeal, local legislation is a big issue.
I do not wish to pre-empt my hon. Friend’s speech on Report, but the gated roads provision says that relevant barriers should not be operated or interfered with “without lawful excuse”. Does my hon. Friend have any idea—I do not see such an idea in the Bill—what constitutes a “lawful excuse” for interfering with a barrier?
I would normally refer my hon. Friend to the terms of the Bill, but he is right to say that there is no reference in it to what is defined as a “lawful excuse”. The only virtue of clause 16 is that it is a short one, so it is easy for gifted amateurs to get to grips with it. There is no definition of a “lawful excuse”, so he is on to a good point and potential grounds for amendments when we have the opportunity to propose them.
As for clause 18, “Charging points for electric vehicles”, had I been asked to predict on which issues the Government and the promoters would have a difference of view, I would not have thought that was one of them. I was interested to hear from the Minister that the Government have concerns. I hope that they extend to why there should be a separate regime for charging points for electric vehicles in London from other parts of the country.
All sorts of things are set out in the clause about the permissions that can be granted, conditions that can be imposed, and charges that can be made. There are also references to the avoidance of liability. Despite all the powers that the London authorities would be willing to give to themselves, they would be keen to exculpate themselves from responsibility and liability, and to give themselves indemnity, as set out in the detail of clause 18, for injury, damage or loss resulting from the charging apparatus.
The mind boggles to think what uses people could make of the charging points if not to charge their electric vehicles. There is obviously sufficient concern, because there is a provision in clause 22 to create yet another new criminal offence—that of unlawful use of a charging point. The details are set out in the Bill, and I encourage my hon. Friends to acquaint themselves with them in case they should ever find themselves unwittingly on the wrong side of this new law, which the Bill’s promoters are so keen to impose on the body politic.
Mr Speaker, you can probably tell that I am full of enthusiasm for the Bill. In fact, I am full of enthusiasm about the prospect of submitting its contents to closer and greater scrutiny. I hope that, in due course, we will have a Bill that is a heck of a lot better than this one and which contains only powers for the local authorities and Transport for London that are needed, justified, reasonable and in accordance with the rule of law. I put those points on the record and thank colleagues who supported me in ensuring that we could debate the Bill on Second Reading, which would not have been possible had we not objected to it consistently over recent weeks and months.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.