House of Lords
Tuesday 29 September 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.
Introduction: Lord McLoughlin
The right honourable Sir Patrick Alan McLoughlin, CH, having been created Baron McLoughlin, of Cannock Chase in the County of Staffordshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Cormack and Lord Randall of Uxbridge, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Introduction: Baroness Hayman of Ullock
Susan Mary Hayman, having been created Baroness Hayman of Ullock, of Ullock in the County of Cumbria, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch and Baroness Smith of Basildon, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, and others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Oral questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them short and confined to two points, and I ask that Ministers’ answers are brief.
Covid-19: Child Trafficking
My Lords, protecting those at risk from abuse and exploitation is a priority for this Government. Throughout the pandemic, the Government have continued to monitor and respond to the impact of Covid-19. Working with local authorities which are responsible for children, the Government have ensured that specialist support remains fully operational so that these children can access support remotely. The Government took action to safeguard vulnerable children by providing an additional £500 million for communities, including children’s services.
My Lords, I thank the Minster for the response. Evidence from the UN human rights report on the consequences of Covid-19 shows that the risk of online sexual exploitation of children has increased because parents, devoid of income, are turning to illegal methods of getting money, including selling videos of their own children being abused. What action have the Government taken since this evidence came to light in order to crack down on this appalling exploitation of innocent children?
I wholeheartedly concur with the noble Baroness’s concerns—concerns that the Prime Minister also shares. She will recall that he opened the virtual hidden harms summit in order to drive action to tackle domestic abuse, child sexual exploitation and modern slavery, which, as she has said, often now can take place online.
I call the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich. No? I call the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
The noble and learned Baroness will probably know that we have already rolled them out in a third of local authorities in England and Wales. That work is progressing, starting with those areas with the highest need in requiring independent guardians for children who have been trafficked.
My Lords, last weekend, in Trafalgar Square, alongside the anti-maskers and the anti-vaxxers were conspiracy theorists who believe that an international elite is kidnapping children for abuse, sacrifice and to drink their blood—an insidious resurgence of historical anti-Semitic blood libel. These people have hijacked the legitimate concerns about child trafficking and abuse. This vile nonsense is circulating increasingly widely and, worryingly, is gaining credence. What are the Government going to do to combat it?
The noble Lord will want, as I do, to see the online harms White Paper become a Bill in Parliament. Much work is going on to tackle that sort of abuse, which is probably on the increase during the Covid pandemic. On conspiracy theorists of all descriptions—including anti-vaxxers and those against 5G masts, which we saw at the beginning—clearly that sort of misinformation can be incredibly harmful.
My Lords, the Minister talked about the role of local authorities. Covid-19 has led to the scaling back of some crucial local services, one of which is on-site workplace inspections to identify child and adult victims of trafficking and rescue them. Can the Government tell the House how many inspections have been carried out since the start of the pandemic?
The noble Lord will not be surprised that I do not have that figure at my fingertips, but I can tell him that we are very mindful of the dangers that children and people who are vulnerable to trafficking might face during this pandemic. The Government recently gave £500 million for local pressures, which the issue he mentioned might come under, and have given local authorities a total of £3.7 billion to acknowledge and deal with issues of vulnerability.
The noble Baroness will probably know that we are in regular contact with the devolved Administrations on Covid and lots of other things. It is important that they are not only engaged but in agreement with some of the actions that we are taking.
My Lords, what part does the Minister believe can be fulfilled completely by local authorities? Can they be encouraged? They have always been closely involved in helping these people and it is important that their role continues. Does the Minister agree?
Save the Children reported that children make up a quarter of trafficking victims. Do the Government agree that a lack of safe, legal asylum routes for unaccompanied children puts them at risk of people traffickers and that, particularly during Covid-19, this has led to an increase in dangerous journeys across the channel in small boats, in addition to journeys in the backs of lorries? If the Government agree, what protection, including safe routes, will they put in place for such unaccompanied children?
The noble Lord will know that we have safe and legal routes. I say it time and again: we do not want children to make the terrible, perilous journey in those small boats to this country. It is also worth acknowledging that 65% of trafficking victims are in fact UK nationals.
My Lords, access to EU police databases and co-operation with multilingual officers has been crucial in helping to track and prevent transnational crime, such as child trafficking. What assessment has been made of how the pandemic could compound the impact of our leaving the EU on access to these resources and personnel?
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I am concerned about the child victims of trafficking who are coerced into illegal activities, such as working in cannabis factories. These children may be caught and prosecuted, while those who run the factories escape. How will our overstretched children’s services support such victims in these challenging times?
The noble Baroness will recall that, through the Modern Slavery Act 2015, the Government introduced the statutory defence for victims of modern slavery to protect those really vulnerable people who would previously have been unfairly prosecuted, as she said, for crimes that they were forced to commit by their exploiters—notably, as she mentioned, in cannabis cultivation.
My Lords, support for the victims of child trafficking is obviously vital, but so is the prosecution of the perpetrators responsible. What action are the Government currently taking internationally to ensure a higher level of prosecution of those responsible for child trafficking? How can we ensure that, in the words of the Foreign Secretary, the UK, as a “force for good” in the world, does more to achieve that goal?
The noble Lord may recall the NCA swoop of a few months ago that pulled in many illicit articles and items. You cannot look at child trafficking in isolation; it is part of a package of drugs, guns, trafficking and child sexual exploitation, and it can be tackled effectively only at an international level.
Is the noble Lord, Lord McColl of Dulwich, online? No. All supplementary questions have been asked and we will now move to the next Question.
Female Offender Strategy
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the level of funding that has been provided to the Female Offender Strategy launched in June 2018, and (2) whether such funding is sufficient to implement the Strategy fully.
My Lords, we are committed to ensuring sufficient funding for the female offender strategy, which we keep under review. To date, we have invested £5.1 million in the strategy in 30 different women’s services across England and Wales. In 2021, we will invest a further £2.5 million to meet core costs in the women’s community sector. In addition, we have been allocated up to £800,000 to support the development of our first residential women’s centre in Wales.
I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Given the amount of money that the MoJ spends each year, the high cost of reoffending and the relatively small number of female offenders, why have the Government seemingly invested so little in their own strategy? When will we hear details of the implementation of the strategy, given that it all seems to have gone very quiet?
I thank the right reverend Prelate and I thank her for the work that I know she does for the Nelson Trust. There are a number of achievements so far. I could read them out, but I do not think I have time. I am very happy to meet with the right reverend Prelate to discuss these things further. I would also like to say, for the Nelson Trust, that we have invested in a brand new women’s centre in Bridgwater.
My Lords, I note my membership of the Advisory Board for Female Offenders. The Government have committed to fund community provision as an alternative to custody, where appropriate, for female offenders. But, as the Minister has recognised, only £5.1 million has actually been allocated since the publication of the strategy. What action are the Government taking to ensure that the necessary funding is committed to comprehensive community sentences, including primary and secondary mental health treatment requirements and community-based women’s support services, especially a national network of women’s centres?
I thank the noble Lord for his question and I repeat that we have put in £2.5 million this year particularly for community sentences. For female offenders, community sentences often can be far better than sentencing them to prison. We will work to support the women’s centres—of which we have, we think, around 200 across the country, run by different private or voluntary sector organisations.
My Lords, two years ago the Government saved £50 million by not building five women’s prisons and, as the Minister said, £5 million has since been spent on community provision, with an additional £2.5 million to come. The MoJ’s advisory board has urged the Government to allocate £20 million. Would the Minister agree that £20 million would still be a small price to pay in terms of the social value that it would bring?
I thank the noble Baroness. Yes, of course, the more money we have the better but, when we talk about the prison estate, we are investing £2.5 billion and some of that will, of course, will go to the women’s estate. It is not just about additional places. It is also about really good modern purpose-built accommodation within the closed estate, and good outside experiences for women who are suitable for open conditions.
My Lords, the £2.5 million announced in May is a welcome addition to the Female Offender Strategy. Nearly 60% of women entering prison have experienced domestic abuse. There has been a clear increase in domestic abuse, with mental health and other issues increasing during the Covid pandemic. Does the Minister have confidence that the Female Offender Strategy is still fit for purpose and, if not, what changes are being considered to take account of the new demands?
I thank my noble friend. We do remain committed to the strategy. We also think that it is flexible enough, within its policies, to be able to deal with the situation we find ourselves in at the moment. The Government have also given £76 million to support very vulnerable people during the pandemic, £2.5 million of which came from the Ministry of Justice to charities supporting victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. We also, let us not forget, launched the new You Are Not Alone campaign during the pandemic, which is helping victims. They include female offenders, of course, as we help those who are victims of domestic abuse during the lockdown and pandemic period.
The noble and learned Lord brings up an extremely important point. One of the biggest issues is to make sure that pre-sentencing assessments are done very well by very experienced and trained people. We are also working with the health community to make sure that, before sentencing, any health issues of offenders are dealt with in accordance with the new rules.
The Female Offender Strategy was well received in 2018. The concern is about whether or not it is being effectively implemented. Paragraph 76 of the strategy says:
“We are committing to work with partners to develop a ‘residential women’s centres’ pilot in at least five sites across England and Wales.”
Could the Minister tell us how many of those five pilot sites are up and running, and what the plans for those that are not are?
My Lords, last week the Secretary of State for Justice published a sentencing White Paper, in which there was mention of funding, announced in May, for the development of residential centres, the first of which, we have heard, is being built in Wales. Can the Minister please tell the House how many centres the funding provides for and where these are to be built?
My Lords, in view of the Minister’s answer to earlier questions and the conclusion of the National Audit Office in February that a succession of plans for prisons have disintegrated almost as soon as they have been announced, can she really stand there in the House and say that in particular community-based interventions—the most effective for women prisoners—are effectively resourced?
My Lords, I declare my interest as a patron of Safe Ground. Do the Government recognise the value that can be brought to the management of women in the justice system by high-quality specialist services, by collaboration between such services and by local providers? Will they therefore work with them outside their dynamic purchasing system which, contrary to general government policy, is heavily biased against small providers?
I thank the noble Lord for the question. What he talks about is in the strategy called whole-systems approach, I think. With the whole-systems approach, where the private, public and voluntary sector work together, and particularly where they work with women’s centres, they start to deliver really good services that work. It is important also to remember that the Ministry of Justice put another £275,000 in this year to help those small voluntary sector organisations through the pandemic.
My Lords, the time allowed for this question has elapsed.
Hong Kong: Political Situation
My Lords, we are deeply concerned by the situation in Hong Kong. The new national security law is a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British joint declaration and directly threatens a number of Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms. The UK will not look the other way on Hong Kong and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people. We will continue working with partners to hold China to its international obligations.
My Lords, China has broken its treaty obligations—I am sure the Minister agrees that we must never do the same with any of ours—suspended elections in Hong Kong, and compromised the judiciary, the free press and free speech. Will the Government extend the pathway to citizenship beyond BNO passport holders to the many young Hong Kongers who are currently excluded, but are particularly vulnerable to intimidation and arbitrary arrest?
My Lords, I agree that the situation for all people in Hong Kong is challenging at the moment. Recent arrests after the national security law was brought in have put that into focus. The BNO route, which was announced by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, provides direct assistance, as we promised. Anyone else, from anywhere in the world, who seeks the protection of the UK because of persecution will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
My Lords, the introduction and implementation of the national security law by China has rightly been described as a watershed moment for human rights and academic and press freedoms. One part of the Government’s response that we have heard about is the fast-track UK citizenship proposal, but I ask the Minister to say more about how this pathway is to be implemented, how many he expects to tread this route and whether there will be a transparent process for taking up these opportunities.
My Lords, I am proud that Her Majesty’s Government have stood up and will continue to stand up for the rights of all citizens around the world who are subjected to persecution and human rights abuses. We have a special responsibility to Hong Kong and we continue to raise the broader issue of the abuse of human rights in China. The United Kingdom continues to defend and stand up for international law and the international rules-based system.
My Lords, can my noble friend tell us what effect the deteriorating situation and restrictions on academic freedom, in particular those imposed by the new national security law—for example, students and teachers are being required to monitor each other’s compliance—are having or are likely to have on British schools, universities and teachers operating in Hong Kong? What is the impact on the work of the British Council?
My Lords, my noble friend raises important points. We continue to review the situation in Hong Kong. Recent arrests of pro-democracy activists have been particularly concerning, but I assure my noble friend that we continue to ensure appropriate protections for all British citizens within Hong Kong.
I agree with the noble Lord. It is why, at the last Human Rights Council, the UK led a statement of 28 like-minded countries. As I am sure the noble Lord followed, on 25 September, I delivered a statement standing up for this, which was supported by many international partners.
My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point about the independence of the judiciary in Hong Kong. That is why we are concerned about the implications of the national security law. We continue to raise issues around the case she has mentioned, alongside those of other under-18s who have been arrested, with the Hong Kong authorities and bilaterally with China.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong and a patron of Hong Kong Watch. Can the Minister comment on the arrest, and detention in a jail in Shenzhen, of Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Andy Li, whom I met while monitoring elections in Hong Kong last year? I have sent the details to the Minister. What are we doing to ensure that his family have access to him, that he is returned safely and unharmed to Hong Kong, and that due process is observed?
My Lords, I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. It is clear that we need to build international support for the people of Hong Kong. The Government have indicated that they are open to supporting a dedicated UN envoy for the crisis in Hong Kong. With recent press reports of an even stronger clampdown on freedoms, is it not time for the UK to spearhead a campaign for such an envoy and to bring other countries on board—to lead, rather than follow?
I am sure the noble Lord agrees that we are leading. The United Kingdom led the two joint statements that were made through the UN machinery. I already mentioned the recent statement I made at the Human Rights Council. Equally, at my recent meeting with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, we again stressed the importance of her visit, both for unfettered access to Xinjiang and to monitor the human rights situation in China more generally.
My Lords, at the UN Human Rights Council last week, the Minister noted that 1.8 million people have so far been detained without trial under Hong Kong’s national security law. Will the UK respond with actions that include, for example, campaigning to suspend extradition treaties with Hong Kong and China to prevent extradition under this draconian law? What about introducing Magnitsky-style sanctions on the perpetrators of human rights abuses under the national security law?
My Lords, how many of the 2.9 million BNO passport holders have responded to the offer of an immigration visa? Have the Government reached a decision on the Hong Kong Military Service Corps veterans’ appeal to be granted full British citizen passports, which was first raised six years ago, or replied to the 64 individual veterans’ applications sent to the Home Secretary in March?
My Lords, on the first question, this is an ongoing process. I do not have a specific figure, nor do I think it would serve a specific purpose. The scheme is open to all 2.9 million and we will continue to support any applications. On the point about former military personnel, as the noble and gallant Lord knows, a proportion of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps hold British dependent territory citizen status. That now translates to BNO status. On his wider point about those who remain, officials continue to have discussions with Home Office colleagues.
My Lords, I note my noble friend’s suggestion and will reflect on it. I assure my noble friend and all noble Lords that we are watching the situation in China specifically, particularly that of human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. I have said before, and reiterate, that we want a progressive relationship with China. China it is an important partner on the world stage, when it comes to the challenges of climate change and the Covid pandemic. Therefore, it is important that it stands up for the rights not just of others but of its own citizens. We will continue to raise issues of the abuse of human rights anywhere in the world.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have been asked and we now move to the next Question.
Licensing: Closing Time
My Lords, we expect that licensed premises will act responsibly and abide by the new rules on opening hours. We are satisfied that proper enforcement mechanisms are available to the police and local authorities to take action against businesses that fail to comply.
My Lords, as a former council leader, the Minister will know better than most the impact of the universal closing time on our high streets. It is no surprise that the police, the LGA, mayors and leaders are all expressing their concerns, not only about the impact of the return to the bad old days but about their ability to enforce appropriately. Without effective enforcement, they feel like these are the empty threats of the teacher who has already lost control of the class. When and how will this policy be reviewed? Can the Minister commit to meeting soon with the LGA to listen to and act on its genuine concerns regarding the limitations of current legislation and, with their genuine desire to do more and better, councils’ ability to enforce effectively and appropriately?
I depart from the noble Baroness on needing more legislation, or amendment to the current legislation. The Covid-secure guidelines have become legal obligations. Businesses will be fined and could be closed if they breach the rules. I do not see that an amendment to the Licensing Act, which I think she is referring to and would require primary legislation because it departs from the four current pillars, would be appropriate at this time, because we need swift action.
My Lords, in respect of the 10 pm curfew, which is causing so much of a problem for the hospitality sector, have the Government assessed whether the law could be tempered by guidance, giving publicans and restaurant proprietors, who are generally responsible people, a degree of flexibility over drinking and eating-up times, so that dispersal problems might be eased?
My Lords, guidance has been issued and the guidelines have become legal obligations. It should not be difficult to comply, but I can understand that from many people’s point of view these things have happened quickly and that they are ever-changing; such is the pattern of this virus.
My Lords, I declare my various interests and acknowledge that health always comes first. The hospitality industry employs 4 million people and has been one of the hardest hit throughout the pandemic. The British Beer and Pub Association said:
“Make no mistake, a 10 pm curfew will devastate our sector during an already challenging environment for pubs … During the current circumstances every hour of trading is crucial to the survival of pubs—for many this curfew will render their businesses unviable.”
Can the Minister explain on what scientific basis the 10 pm decision was made? I understand that fewer than 5% of new infections come from the hospitality sector, and our trade evidence shows that 10% of drinks are consumed after 10 pm. Will the Government put in place further comprehensive support packages for this sector that really needs help?
My Lords, there is a general acknowledgement that the sector is struggling with an hour of its business being cut. The scientific basis is that the number of infections is going up, and the Government, through their engagement with SAGE, are thinking of the best ways to tackle the virus while keeping the economy going as best they can.
My Lords, I strongly support whatever legal arrangements are in place, but regarding 10 pm breaches, may I suggest that the authorities have powers, which will take a week or two to settle in, not only to fine, clear and close premises, but to require from premises and personal licensees and their dedicated premises supervisors a written assurance on future compliance with the law, and in default to subject them to a form of aggravated breach penalty payment—in other words, an increased fine?
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. The people who do the work covered by regulations in these premises, and not just at kicking-out time, are environmental staff on district councils in two-tier areas, yet the powers to enforce and, if necessary, to close down for a period, rest at county level with public health. Should the powers not be aligned with the people who do the work on the ground at district level?
Coming from a county authority, the noble Lord will know that quite often the powers lie at county level regarding planning and other things. It is important that, whether we represent organisations or individuals, everyone plays their part in ensuring that the restrictions can be lifted as swiftly as possible.
My Lords, I refer the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. While I full support the intent behind the restrictions announced by the Prime Minister, there is a real problem with how this is playing out. Shop workers are at the forefront of dealing with violence, threats and abuse, as people who in many cases have had more than enough to drink seek to buy more alcohol from shops, supermarkets and off-licences. Can the Minister today commit to a proper and urgent review taking account of the additional risks that shop workers face, as the shop workers’ union, USDAW, have called for?
I cannot commit to a review, as the noble Lord will know, but I acknowledge that, whether it is a shop worker or a publican whom people are frustrated at, and whether through the lack of freedom over the last few months or because they have drunk too much, these things are happening in shops. I will certainly take this back and I am very happy to speak to him further about this.
My Lords, I share the scepticism expressed by some previous speakers. The 10 pm closing time is, to my mind, mistaken from an economic and a social perspective. If there is to be a curfew, it should start at 11 pm, to allow two servings in restaurants, clubs and pubs serving food, and to prevent huge crowds spilling out on to our streets and into our off-licences and shops, causing yet more mingling. Can my noble friend the Minister publish the scientific evidence on this measure? What will be the cost? What will the police and the local authorities stop doing instead?
I am sorry to disappoint my noble friend, but SAGE is an independent body and anything it publishes is down to it. On her point about an 11 pm curfew, that is what we had until recently. When making their decisions, the Government strike a balance—I know my noble friend disagrees—between suppression of the virus and trying to keep the economy going to some extent.
My Lords, as the last two speakers intimated, when restaurants and pubs close, consumers dive into other sources for their alcohol. Will the Minister explain why the Government refuse to listen to local authorities, such as the Mayor of Manchester, that want alcohol sales after 9 pm stopped?
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed.
Performing Arts: Job Support Scheme
Private Notice Question
My Lords, the Government have committed more than £190 billion to deal with the Covid pandemic and to support the economy and jobs. This includes a £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund to support arts and cultural organisations. While furlough was previously the right intervention, we must recognise that the virus will be with us for a while, so our economic support needs to evolve. Businesses must adapt and receive support that helps them to do that. The job support scheme is targeted at businesses that can support their employees doing some work but which need time for demand to recover.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer and I hear what she says, but does she not accept that the effect of the Chancellor’s post-furlough arrangements is that many perfectly good businesses in the performing arts sector will become unviable because they are not allowed to operate under the current restrictions? The Culture Recovery Fund has still not reached theatres and production companies. Arts organisations are already making staff redundant and some will not survive, despite huge pent-up demand for their services. Many freelancers, who make up 70% of the workforce, have been, and remain, unable to access any government emergency funds. As the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre made clear last week, the Chancellor’s announcements do little, if anything, to help. Will the Government act now to provide further sector-specific support to prevent irreversible damage to one of our most successful industries?
My Lords, performing arts organisations can benefit from the job support scheme. We understand that although performances are allowed indoors and outdoors with social distancing and there is no set limit on audience numbers, the need for venues to adhere to social distancing guidance can make it very difficult for them to operate profitably. That is why we have the Culture Recovery Fund. The noble Baroness is right that that money has not yet been distributed, but I reassure her that DCMS and the associated arm’s-length bodies have been processing more than 4,000 applications for more than £880,000 million of grant funding, and announcements will be made about hundreds of allocations in the coming weeks.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady McIntosh on asking this Question, and I thank the Minister for her response. However, does she recognise—I think that she does—that thousands of jobs in the arts community are at risk, especially in local communities? Does she also recognise the valuable work that they do in a variety of locations—for example, in care homes and through street theatre? Can the Government look at ways of assisting local authorities to support these vital jobs? I understand that they are processing lots of applications but, in the meantime, these jobs really are at risk.
My Lords, I think that the Government do recognise that these jobs are at risk, and the Job Support Scheme is open to these organisations. Some will have benefited from the VAT cut, the business rates holidays and local government funds and grants. However, the Culture Recovery Fund is the big government policy that will provide further support, and that will come online within the next few weeks.
My Lords, 36% of freelancers in the performing arts receive no support from the Self-employment Income Support Scheme and will get none under the new scheme. However, in Wales, yesterday, it was announced that a freelancer pledge is to be established and that some of the Culture Recovery Fund is to provide grants for their excluded freelancers. Are there any plans to do the same in the rest of the United Kingdom?
My Lords, I am not aware of any specific plans to do that, but the noble Lord is correct that these organisations may use the Culture Recovery Fund to employ freelancers or staff to put on performances and offer other services. Through that route, they can provide support to freelancers.
My Lords, it is clear that those in the arts industry and in leisure will not enjoy a rapid recovery from the pandemic. Even in good times, business rates had a disproportionate effect on the leisure industry and the arts because of the number of large buildings that they occupied in towns and city centres. The current holiday is very welcome. Will my noble friend keep in mind the need for the holiday and, as things start to improve, will she look at the possibility of business rates not being imposed on the arts industry immediately but being phased in?
My Lords, the winter economic plan, including the Job Support Scheme, is bold and will, I hope, save hundreds of thousands of viable jobs this winter. However, will the Government acknowledge that the Chancellor’s announcements will not help everyone, especially when the medium-term outlook for some sectors, such as hospitality and the creative industries, looks so uncertain? Do they agree that further business support for these sectors might be required, including in relation to business rates? Do they also agree that there is a huge requirement to provide people with the skills that they need for the jobs of the future?
My Lords, the Government have recognised the specific pressure that certain sectors are under, and extending the 5% VAT cut until the end of March is one measure that they have taken. We also recognise that not every job will be saved, and that is why we have invested £2 billion in the Kickstart jobs scheme for young people. I believe that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is making further announcements on skills training today.
My Lords, is it not the case that a theatre or concert hall that simply cannot open, and therefore cannot provide even partial employment for staff or contracted freelancers, cannot gain any benefit at all from the new jobs scheme? Surely we desperately need to provide something better for this sector, not just through the Culture Recovery Fund, or we will lose the very heart of our cultural life.
My Lords, the Government completely recognise the importance of the cultural sector to the British way of life and to people’s morale during this difficult time. As I said, it is possible for theatres and other arts organisations to reopen. We recognise that they have specific challenges with the costs of reopening, given that they might not be able to do so at full capacity. The Job Support Scheme might help them with that, but there are a number of other schemes in place that will also help organisations with the additional costs that they face if they are not able to operate at full capacity.
My Lords, as the Minister has heard, the UK’s vibrant and successful creative sector, particularly the parts that support local communities, is angry because the Treasury’s original one-size-fits-all scheme did not reach the freelancers and self-employed who make this sector viable. The DCMS schemes are taking too long and, in any case, are focused on the national companies and their London buildings. On top of that, it was deeply unhelpful of the Chancellor to stress that his priority was to protect jobs in “viable” businesses. Will the Minister confirm on the record that the Government believe that the creative industries are a vital and important component of the economy, and will she agree that rather than question the sector’s viability, what is now needed is a sector-specific winter economy plan along the lines of the £7 million scheme just announced by the Welsh Government, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Foster?
The Government absolutely believe that the cultural sector is a vital and important part of the UK economy. That is why we have put in a specific scheme to support that sector with £1.57 billion. If I understand it rightly, the initiative announced by the Welsh Government is a reflection of that money that has gone in.
Will the Minister accept that the issue here is not that nightclubs, theatres, concert halls and other live venues are not viable; it is that they cannot operate under the Government’s rules? Surely the Chancellor needs to put in place a different support scheme for those businesses, and the freelancers and self-employed who work within them, that are prevented from working and operating not because they are long-term unviable but because of the Government’s rules.
My Lords, given that over a third of musicians are considering leaving the sector and that many freelance musicians do not even qualify for the support that is currently available, what prospects can the Minister offer to freelancers who remain ineligible for the extended Self-employment Income Support Scheme either because they have only recently started work or because their work is split between paid and freelance, or because they are paid via dividends as small business owners?
My Lords, although the Culture Recovery Fund has not been dispersed yet, the DCMS has provided £3.36 million in emergency funding, which has been allocated to support 135 grass-roots music venues. Support for the self-employed was extended as part of the winter economy plan. For those who do not qualify for that support, the application period for bounce-back loans was also extended. The repayment period for bounce-back loans was extended to up to 10 years, and that can nearly halve the monthly repayments for those who are eligible and choose to take out those loans.
My Lords, I refer to my interests as listed in the register. The heart of the cultural industries in this country lies with freelancers, and at the moment that heart is being ripped from the body. I ask the Minister to look at one or two specific schemes. The one mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, as being used in Wales, is a very practical idea to give some help to a really challenged freelance section.
I absolutely commit to noble Lords that I will take the specifics of that scheme back to the DCMS and the Treasury, if appropriate, to look at how it is proposed to operate and whether it can be integrated into the operation of the Culture Recovery Fund.
My Lords, as vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fairs and Showgrounds, which includes circuses, can I ask the Minister if she agrees that these groups are of great value to the culture and heritage in the UK and much loved by the public? If so, does she also agree they clearly fall within the definition of live performing arts groups and qualify for assistance under the scheme announced by the Chancellor last week?
I absolutely agree with the noble Lord about the enjoyment derived from going to a fair or a circus. On his point about their eligibility under the scheme, I am afraid that I do not have that level of granular detail before me, so I will write to the noble Lord with that.
My Lords, the arts and creative industries find themselves at the bottom of the Chancellor’s new economic package. However, they are an enormous help in sustaining well-being in the current Covid-19 pandemic. Will the Minister consider a further temporary lowering of VAT and an expansion of the Culture Recovery Fund to ensure the continuing viability of this important sector of our economy?
I absolutely agree with the noble Lord about the importance of the arts and culture to our well-being, but I have to disagree with him that it is at the bottom of the Chancellor’s list. In fact, the VAT cut extension which the noble Lord has called for was delivered as part of the Winter Economy Plan, which was due to end in January but has been extended to March. The plan has been designed to see us through the next six months, which the Prime Minster has said these measures could be in place for, and we will continue to prioritise the arts and culture as an incredibly important part of our national fabric.
My Lords, all supplementary questions have now been asked.
INSPIRE (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
Air Quality (Domestic Solid Fuels Standards) (England) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, the instrument before you includes the measures to phase out the supply of the most polluting fuels used in the home. These fuels are traditional house coal and wet wood, or wood with a moisture content of more than 20% when sold in units under two cubic metres. It also introduces sulphur and smoke emission limits for manufactured solid fuels. These measures will come into force in a staged process from 1 May 2021 to 2023.
As noble Lords will know, the Government have made a commitment in the clean air strategy to tackle harmful emissions from domestic burning and to improve air quality. In February, the Government published national statistics on emissions of air pollutants in the UK. It is clear from these statistics that domestic burning is a major source of fine particulate matter emissions. These emissions can have a considerable impact on human health. The tiny particles can enter the bloodstream and internal organs, leading to long-term illness and reduced life expectancy, mainly due to cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and lung cancer. Indeed, the World Health Organization has identified fine particulate matter as the most damaging pollutant in its impact on human health. Given this, the Government consider it vital to take action to protect the health of householders and their neighbours.
We know, of course, that domestic burning is not the only source of fine particulate matter emissions. However, while we have secured a reduction in the amount of emissions from transport and industry, emissions from domestic burning are increasing. The clean air strategy states that we should be looking beyond transport and industry and we should now take steps to deal with pollution from other sources including the pollution caused by heating our homes. The instrument before us will make a substantial contribution towards the reduction of fine particulate matter emissions, which are causing considerable harm.
The Government also recognise that better management and restoration of our peat-lands is needed. We have always been clear of the need to phase out the rotational burning of protected blanket bog to conserve these vulnerable habitats; we are now looking at how legislation could achieve this.
I want to set out in broad terms what the instrument before us will do and make clear what it will not do. The regulations introduce measures which will apply to domestic burning only. The measures will not apply to businesses or the heritage sector. The regulations do not ban domestic burning. We are fully aware that many people enjoy using open fires and wood- burning stoves; we are not looking to stop them. Instead, we are looking for people to move from using more polluting fuels to less polluting fuels. That is why we are phasing out the sale of traditional house coal and wet wood sold in smaller volumes, and requiring that all manufactured solid fuels meet sulphur and smoke emission limits. These regulations will enable people to make informed choices and source cleaner fuels, thereby protecting the health of their families and neighbours.
I will now set out in more detail why it is necessary to regulate the supply of each of the fuels regulated through this legislation—that is, traditional house coal, wet wood and manufactured solid fuels. The amount of fine particulate matter emitted from the domestic burning of coal is less than that emitted by burning wood. However, the Government have taken into account evidence indicating the level of harm that the emissions from coal can cause. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has advised that the smoke from burning coal is carcinogenic. The agency has also highlighted the harmful elements and compounds which are released when coal is burned. These include arsenic, mercury, lead, fluorine and selenium. It is government policy to reduce people’s exposure to these more harmful pollutants, as set out in the clean air strategy. That is why we need to regulate the supply of coal used in the domestic setting. These regulations will encourage people to switch from traditional house coal to smokeless coal and low-sulphur manufactured solid fuels.
The regulations also tackle the domestic burning of wet wood. Burning this type of wood releases significantly more fine particulate matter, smoke and soot than burning wood which has been seasoned. Our estimates indicate that 24%—or nearly a quarter—of all the wood burned domestically is burned at least partly wet. We understand that wood burned in smaller units is more likely to be bought for immediate use. Under these regulations, wood sold in smaller units must have a moisture content of 20% or less. It will be easy to tell whether wood meets the new requirements. To be sold in these smaller units, the wood will need to be certified and bear a logo indicating that this is the case.
The regulations encourage people to switch from traditional house coal to manufactured solid fuels. We want to avoid unintended consequences arising from this switch in fuels, and we want industry to manufacture these solid fuels to the cleanest specifications. Unlike coal, the amount of sulphur and smoke emitted by these fuels can be controlled. That is why these regulations extend the sulphur and smoke emission limits which currently apply in smoke control areas across England. This will mean that manufactured solid fuels sold throughout England will need to meet a 2% sulphur limit and emit less than 5 grams of smoke per hour. Again, it will be easy to tell whether a fuel meets these requirements, as all fuels of this type will need to bear a logo showing that they have been tested and certified.
The Government are aware of concerns that these regulations could have a negative impact on people who are reliant on coal and are in fuel poverty. We have taken these concerns very seriously, and we want people in fuel poverty to share in the benefits of this legislation. We consider that they should be protected from the harmful effects of more polluting fuels just as much as anyone else. We have commissioned research which indicates that they may also be better off financially, as manufactured solid fuels have been shown to be cheaper than coal when energy efficiency is taken into account.
We recognise that vulnerable people who are used to burning coal will need some time to adjust and make the switch to appropriate alternative fuels. That is why these regulations include a transitional period when approved coal merchants will be able to sell loose coal direct to their customers. This will run until 1 May 2023. During the transition period, these coal merchants will work with their customers to inform them and help them find appropriate, cost-effective fuels which are far better for their health.
We have engaged with colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on the measures they are taking forward to tackle fuel poverty such as the updated fuel poverty strategy, which will be published later this year. BEIS also runs the national concessionary fuel scheme. Under these regulations, everyone receiving fuel as part of the scheme will continue to be entitled to it. Over 90% of recipients will not need to make any adjustment as they are already receiving fuel which complies with the new requirements. We will work through approved coal merchants so that others can move to compliant fuels which meet their needs. These will be available at no extra cost.
These regulations give small wood producers an extra year to comply with the new requirements. The suppliers qualifying for this transitional period are those who produce less than 600 cubic metres a year. We understand that these suppliers may struggle to meet the 20% moisture requirement immediately; this period gives them time to season their wood to the required level or to consider changes to their business model.
I am aware that there has been some concern about the impact these regulations may have on the heritage rail sector. As I said earlier, this legislation applies to domestic burning only. It will not apply to heritage rail. It may have some indirect impact on how this sector sources its coal, but the regulations give time for the sector to make any necessary adjustments. We will make guidance available to the manufacturers, distributors and suppliers of fuels affected by this legislation so that they are aware of the new requirements. We will also provide guidance for local authorities so that their enforcement officers understand their role in enforcing this legislation.
In summary, the instrument before us takes forward a key component of the clean air strategy, helping us to meet our national and international obligations to reduce polluting emissions, and dovetails with measures which the Environment Bill will deliver. The regulations will make sure that householders are able to make informed choices and can protect themselves and their families from the effects of the most polluting fuels. The measures in these regulations will deliver benefits to the environment and to the health of our citizens. They will also reduce the burden that illness caused by air pollution places on the National Health Service. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have tried for the last two decades to persuade previous holders of the Minister’s post, and others in various Governments, on this issue. The general drift of these proposals is in the right direction; I have no specific objection to what the Government are proposing, but I fear that they will not achieve everything they intend.
For clarity—from my understanding of what I have read and what the Minister said—there will be no criminalisation of a householder. The seller is the one who will be caught by these regulations. I would like that clarified by the Minister as I have been in many of the households directly affected over the years and I know many affected households. I think it is fair to say that not everybody uses the official market in their supply of heating products, particularly in former coal-mining areas where the tradition of open fires in many households disappeared quite a long time ago. They have something quite antiquated in terms of technology, akin to a wood burner, in which solid fuels such as coal were burned—previously including concessionary coal or any other coal obtained—but where people have now migrated to burning waste and, in particular, burning wood. They get those supplies of wood in many different ways, not always, indeed rarely in my experience, from petrol stations, supermarkets or DIY stores selling it.
I fear that there will be a continuation of the entrepreneurial spirit of the old coal miners. Some of them cannot read all the guidance, in my experience, but if they can they tend not to bother with the fine print. If they cannot buy in a store, they may find a supply elsewhere, which comes to what I have been banging on about to Minister after Minister. I will put it simplistically but, I think, accurately.
What I have said repeatedly is that I can persuade any pensioner household living in an old pit house or bungalow to take green technology if it would give them free energy, if someone would only install it. Some of them will grumble and then sign on the dotted line, while others will openly embrace it. When it came to solar panels, I found that nothing was easier. If it went on the green arguments, we might get into something of a side-tracked debate but if we went into the economic arguments, it was very straightforward: “We’ll stick them on your roof and you’ll get some free energy. How much, we don’t know.” I never used to promise what I was technically incompetent to deliver and had no authority on, but I could guarantee that there would be some considerable savings. That proved always to be the case. It was less so with ground-sourced heat although there remains a huge potential for it, which has hardly been tapped. I can think of some council bungalows near me, where 24 of them were some of the first in the country to be done. I never heard a complaint afterwards because people were getting at least their hot water for free and sometimes more.
There is the idea of retrospectively fixing these old pit houses by doing this, that or the other to make them more environmentally sound. That is true, but proportionately much less so than for other properties. These houses are well built and well insulated. They do not need retrofitting like the new thin-bricked houses. These are solid properties with solid roofs, therefore they self-insulate anyway. We might add a bit extra insulation and have better windows and doors. That is very welcome and would save on their bills.
On the Minister’s strategy, if he could find a way of incentivising getting this green technology installed on houses, particularly for pensioners, then those who have not already will do so. It will get into this small number of the most vulnerable, who are the most fuel-poor. I can hear those who have not done so saying no to me now; if I went to meet them next weekend, they would say the same thing but if it could be installed for free, they will go with it. They are the ones who will continue, one way or the other, in burning whatever they get hold of. Whether it is full of creosote because it is an old railway sleeper or something else industrial, they will source it. They will chop it up, burn it and save money by doing so. The only way that any Government will crack that is by incentivising the putting-in of the green technology.
The Minister has a reputation for being one of the greenest Ministers in our history, which is deserved. This is an opportunity for him to make his mark in areas where his name is perhaps less well known but could become famous, if he can get into these areas of fuel poverty and persuade this tiny but important minority of households, but he is going to have to incentivise it. I would say: make it pensioners only, make it free and get it delivered. The capital cost would be small, but I put it to him that the payback in PR and the real payback for the environment would be hugely disproportionate. These will be the people who carry on burning the stuff the Government do not want them to burn, even if they cannot get it through their usual, traditional suppliers. Let us therefore target them and be adventurous. It would be British technology and British jobs, and the Chancellor and Prime Minister will look favourably on this Minister when it comes to future promotions.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out the rationale for this important statutory instrument. The air we breathe has to be clean. Many of our children and adults suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases. They are not helped by pollutants in the air. I fully support the measures proposed to ensure high air quality and welcome the Minister’s commitment to address the issue of burning blanket bogs.
What we are debating and the improvement it will make to air quality is a far cry from the air which I often encountered in my childhood in Bristol. Not knowing anything whatever about the impact of poor air quality, I often travelled on a bus in the late winter afternoons and was unable to see anything out of the window. The outside was a very odd, dense yellow colour. People were hurrying along with their heads down and scarves pulled up over their mouth and nose. As a child, this seemed quite exciting from the safety of the warm bus but it was a different matter when we alighted and had to walk home from the bus stop with the fog swirling around us, making us damp and our eyes water. Mercifully, today such smogs are rare in our country but it is vital that we monitor air quality at all times and do everything possible to improve it.
Wood burners are very popular; I declare an interest, as we have one in our home. They are extremely efficient and produce a good heat in a short space of time. But what we burn on them needs to be of good quality—wood that has been allowed to dry out—and if solid fuel is added, it has to be smokeless and sulphur-free, burning with a clean heat that does not produce particles and pollutants.
The Government’s clean air strategy, published in 2019, covers the use of wood burners; it also covers other important measures to improve the air that we breathe. Idling cars alongside schools at pick-up and drop-off times do nothing for the lungs of the children going in and out of school. PM2.5, already referred to, is an atmospheric particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, which is about 3% of the diameter of a human hair. Particles in this category are so small that they cannot be detected without an electron microscope. Even at moderate levels, particulate matter can still be harmful to sensitive people. When air pollution levels are lower, the cardiovascular and respiratory health of a person will be much improved in the long and short term.
PM2.5 causes numerous adverse effects such as breathing difficulties, eye irritation, dryness of the nose and mouth, throat infections and a feeling of claustrophobia, as well as numerous psychological effects. It has been identified as the most damaging air pollutant by the World Health Organization. The Explanatory Memorandum indicates that 41% of pollutants came from PM2.5, with 16% coming from industrial combustion and 12% from road transport. However, the EM also admits that these figures are only estimates and that it is difficult to accurately estimate the extent and nature of domestic burning and emissions.
This brings me to the crucial test in this matter. How are the Government going to monitor whether domestic properties are adhering to these new restrictions? The noble Lord, Lord Mann, laid out that case clearly. What measures will be in place to ensure compliance? What will be the penalties for the hapless households not adhering to the rules? Paragraph 7.3 of the Explanatory Memorandum indicates what the exact limitations will be, while paragraph 7.4 goes on to say that the Government are not banning stoves or open fireplaces.
To me, indicating this shows that the Government had considered it, although the Minister said that they would not be doing it. I want to give a personal example of why I would fight tooth and nail against such a ban.
When my first child was six months old, we lived in a house that was entirely electric but had an open fireplace. It was winter, and there was heavy snow, bringing power cuts to the whole village and the larger surrounding area. After 24 hours, the main road was cleared, and so my husband and others carefully went off to work in the town four miles away. I was left keeping the baby warm in front of the open fire. After three days, the village was connected except for the five houses on our side of the street. It seemed our electricity came over the fields from a neighbouring village and had not been reconnected. When my husband came home that night and asked why I was still sitting in candlelight, I seriously considered divorce proceedings. However, with the intervention of a neighbour, electricians worked throughout the night to reconnect us. At that time, I swore that I would never again be totally dependent on electricity for heat and cooking facilities, and I have kept to that.
The Government are right to encourage households to switch to cleaner energy forms, but it would be very unwise to legislate to ban stoves and open fireplaces completely. There will be many who, like me, want a fail-safe back-up for when there are electricity outages, as is so often the case, especially in very rural areas.
I welcome smaller suppliers being given more time to comply with the regulations, and I am encouraged that the freeminers in the Forest of Dean are exempt. Can the Minister say whether this exemption is for the lifetime of the current freeminers or in perpetuity?
I note that paragraph 11.2 of the EM indicates that local authorities will be expected to issue certification schemes and enforce the legislation. The guidance will be issued three months prior to restrictions. Many households will have stocks of fuel that will last more than three months and could become liable to fines, if there are any for individual households. The cost to local authorities is estimated at £1.2 million over 11 years. Are the Government going to cover this cost? Local authorities are extremely short of cash due to funding social care and the Covid-19 crisis. They will not be able to cover this additional cost.
I fail to see that the reduced sale of wood is likely to cause a £14 million loss over an 11-year period due to less dry wood being used than wet wood. It is far more likely that the cost of kiln-drying wood will push the price up at the point of sale. The SI refers to an “approved wood certification body”. Can the Minister give a little more detail on what this body will look like and what powers it will have?
I note that the phrase “best endeavours” has crept into the SI in Regulation 5(6)(b), referring to the certified supplier ensuring that their wood is consistent with the sample they have provided in order to gain certification. I see a loophole here for the unscrupulous operator who will provide a sample that fits the criteria and then supply a very different product to the customer. There is the threat of a fine, but again I ask: how will this be monitored? If the wood thus produced is cheaper, will those on low incomes be likely to report that their wood is producing more smoke than anticipated? Do the Government believe that the £300 fine will be sufficient to deter illegal trading?
The SI says that:
“The Secretary of State must appoint at least one person to be an approved manufactured solid fuel certification body.”
I suggest that a lot more than one will be needed. Some areas of the country are more likely to use wood-burners and open stoves than others. It will be necessary to have access to more than one certification body, especially as small producers—often sole traders—are involved here, not large multinational companies.
Fixed penalty notices appear to be the responsibility of the local authority. Does this mean that each local authority will be responsible for collecting the £300 for a penalty notice, which has to be paid within 28 days?
I note that the Government envisage publicising the logo “Ready to Burn”, so that consumers are aware both that the law has changed and how to easily identify fuel that meets the required standards. Will this be a similar type of campaign to the current television advertising campaign to try to get us to download the test and trace app?
I apologise that I have asked a lot of questions. I am totally behind the Government in this initiative to try to reduce the amount of pollution in the air that we breathe. I support this SI.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for setting out the intention of this SI so clearly and thank noble Lords who have contributed to this short debate this afternoon. The issue of toxic air quality has long concerned Members from across this Chamber, from well before the Minister was able to join us. Our criticism has always been that the action being taken is too little, too late. That is why the Government have ended up in court on this issue on a number of occasions.
We now have a proposal before us that specifically takes action on fine particulate matter which arises from the burning of wet wood and bituminous coal. As the Minister said, this is known to be the major source of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including lung cancer. These proposals are acceptable as far as they go, but do they go far and fast enough?
Having read the SI and the Explanatory Note, as well as the debate in the other place, it seems to me that since the Government set out to tackle this health hazard, they have been busy scaling back and limiting their proposals. We have national and international obligations to phase out the production of PM2.5, which has been identified by the WHO as the most damaging air pollutant. According to the impact assessment, the Government are set to miss their legally binding target for a reduction of PM2.5 by 31 kilotonnes by 2030 if no action is taken. The Explanatory Note goes on to say that this instrument will abate approximately 9.37 kilotonnes in the year 2030. I hope the Minister will help me on this because, unless I am reading these figures wrong, we still have a huge gap in meeting our legal requirements, and indeed a huge mountain to climb to meet our international obligations on this issue. Can the Minister please clarify what proportion of our 2030 target will be met by these proposals? Can he tell us when we will see the remaining pieces of legislation that will make sure that we deliver properly on our national and international commitments? Is it also true that the Government published a more ambitious draft SI earlier in the year that has now been replaced by this version which includes longer delays for implementation?
I have a number of questions about the detail of the proposals. First, can the Minister clarify the open tender arrangements for appointing the certification body? This question was raised by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and again today by the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell. I have experience, in another life, of ombudsman bodies being appointed to businesses in the sector that have a clear, vested interest in the outcome of their judgments. Can the Minister assure the House that the certification body or bodies will be truly independent and not able to benefit from the products that they certify?
Secondly, the proposals understandably raise concerns about people living on low incomes who rely on solid fuels, particularly in rural areas. Does the Minister accept that these families need greater financial help to transfer the source of their heating from health-damaging to safe fuels? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mann, that we could be far more ambitious on this issue. Surely this is particularly pressing, given that, as the Minister has already acknowledged, those who continue to use these toxic materials threaten not only the health of their families but that of their neighbours and the community around them.
The Minister also made it clear, as is identified in the Explanatory Notes, that clean fuels are actually less expensive than traditional fuels once energy efficiency is factored in. In these circumstances, is there really a case for a delay in the coal-burning ban beyond that which was originally envisaged, particularly when there are healthy alternatives already freely available?
Thirdly, would the Minister like to comment on a letter I have received from a producer of smokeless domestic fuels, who points out that all the makers of smokeless fuels are UK based, while all the coal we use is imported? There would, therefore, be a benefit to UK businesses in making the shift to clean fuel more quickly. Finally, will the Minister again update the House on the timing of the Environment Bill? I know that we ask this question regularly, but I am going to repeat it. The Bill is languishing in the Commons and we now understand that it is not due to leave there until Christmas, so it will not begin consideration in the Lords until the new year. We need the Bill to be passed to make broader progress on the clean air strategy. As it already seems that it will miss the end-of-year deadline, we will be left with a regulatory gap on this and other issues. Why has it been delayed? What steps is the Minister taking to chase it up?
We are not going to oppose this SI, but I have to conclude, sadly, that it is a poor imitation of the kind of ambitious policies we need to clean up our toxic air and deliver on our WHO targets. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. The instrument takes forward a key component of the clean air strategy, to help us meet our national and international obligations to reduce pollution, and it demonstrates this Government’s commitment to delivering environmental benefits. The measures it contains will improve air quality and deliver benefits that improve the health of this country’s citizens and the quality of their lives. I will attempt to address in order the questions and comments put to me by noble Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Mann, raised the prospect of unforeseen consequences, citing the example of the potential criminalisation of householders. More pertinently, he asked whether householders could find themselves being criminalised. This SI does not result in householders being criminalised; this is about the trade. The noble Lord’s logical next question was about the consequence for entrepreneurial individuals opting for a less formal, or even non-market, route to providing fuels to householders, who would not then get caught up in this legislation. He is, of course, right up to a point. Legislation rarely answers all the questions that are put to it; no legislation is perfect. We cannot stop people burning foraged wood and waste, but we are clear that burning these materials is highly damaging to their health and to that of others in the community. In addition, it is worth noting and remembering that people burning coal and switching to manufactured solid fuels could—and likely would—save money, because they would be burning a more efficient fuel than coal.
The noble Lord also asked about incentives around the uptake of clean energy and to encourage greater levels of energy efficiency. He is absolutely right; incentives are central. The payback on energy efficiency is already there. We know that money invested in energy efficiency has a faster payback than that invested in any form of new energy. The best power plant is the one that is not needed as a consequence of strategic investment in energy efficiency. That has always been, and remains, the case. My colleagues in BEIS are looking hard at the kinds of incentives that are going to be needed to see a step change in the volume and speed of energy efficiency that needs to happen around the country. I very much take the noble Lord’s point that such incentives should be targeted at fuel-poor, low-income and elderly householders.
On a broader point, the market is changing rapidly. Even in the last few years, the costs of renewable energy across the board have come down far faster than anyone anticipated. No one anticipated that, in the very early 2020s, we would be on the cusp of offshore wind being able to exist without subsidy. Most people put their assessments and predictions at around 2030-plus, but we are now right on the cusp of offshore wind being viable without subsidy. The cost of solar has come down by around 90% in the 12 years since the credit crunch. Last year, more money by far was invested in new renewable technology than in fossil fuels.
A final, interesting point on that is that coal use in the United States has declined far faster under President Trump, despite his being wildly in favour of coal, than was the case under President Obama, who was more interested in tackling climate change. This just shows that the market is racing ahead of politics, and the cost ratio is changing so dramatically that the Government’s job is to do what they can to accelerate those trends. The solution is easily within our grasp now, in terms of both energy efficiency and renewable energy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, began by painting a vivid picture of the smogs that she was used to in an earlier part of her life. Although it is very hard to capture precise numbers of how many people’s lives were brought to a premature end as a consequence of air pollution, it is worth noting that the figures we have today are not dissimilar to those that existed at the time of the great smogs. The difference is that the pollution that damages people today is largely invisible and does not therefore have the same stark effect as the smogs which she described so well.
The noble Baroness also mentioned the importance of wood-burners to many people, including herself. I add myself to that list; I too use a wood-burner. However, in doing so she reinforced the need for this legislation. She made the case very well for a shift towards a cleaner fuel for those wood-burners. She raised the broader issue of air quality and zoned in on PM2.5, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. This is just one measure—one tool—that the Government are using to tackle air quality. We certainly would not pretend that this SI is going to crack the problem of environmental air pollution. I will come to the specific point of PM2.5 in a moment.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, asked about the free-mining tradition and welcomed the fact that an exemption exists for those living in the Forest of Dean. Nothing in this SI changes the arrangements they have. Their rights remain protected. There is no difference; it has no impact. So they can, I hope, rest easy. She also asked about households being fined. Householders are not going to be fined. The target of this SI is the trader. She also asked about enforcement. Local authority enforcement of this SI is meant to be light-touch. It will involve checks at retail outlets that fuels being sold comply with the legislation, such as by carrying the correct certification number and logo and being correctly stored. We are looking closely at how we can best support local authorities in their enforcement of the regulations and will be issuing guidance on that very soon. This is alongside measures in the Environment Bill, which I will come to in a moment, which will also make it easier for local authorities to tackle air pollution in their areas.
The noble Baroness’s last point related to the logo. Wood and manufactured solid fuels that meet the legislative requirements will be identifiable by the same logo and certification number on the product packaging. Details about the logo will be made public as soon as the legislation and certification body are in place, so will come back to the House when appropriate. We intend that the same logo will be used for both manufactured solid fuels and wood, to provide clarity for consumers. We do not want to overcomplicate what should be a fairly simple measure.
Finally, I would like to come to some of the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. The failure to implement this legislation is most likely to result, as she says, in the UK failing to meet its legally binding targets for 2020, and possibly 2030, on fine particulate matter—PM2.5s, raised earlier by the other noble Baroness. Therefore, there is a consequence of this legislation not going through, and I am therefore very grateful to her and other noble Lords for supporting this legislation.
But she is also right to say that there is a big gap in terms of meeting our legal obligations. To that I say, yes, that is correct; there is much that the Government need to be doing, working with business and local authorities and other departments of government—not least the Department for Transport—to tackle the issues of air quality that are damaging the health, in some respects, of people in this country. This is just one of those measures; we are not pretending this a catch-all solution. But we are at the forefront of reducing industrial pollution in this country. We are currently consulting on bringing forward the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles to 2035, or even earlier if a faster transition is feasible. We are looking closely at that now and working closely with the industry. The Environment Bill delivers key parts of the clean air strategy and is the first environment Bill in over 20 years.
The noble Baroness asked when it is going to continue its passage through Parliament. I am extremely sorry; I wish I could provide a detailed answer, but I am not able to. But I am absolutely aware that timing is an issue and that this extraordinarily important piece of legislation needs to find its way through both Houses as quickly, efficiently and effectively as possible. I make this case at every opportunity, as do my colleagues in the Department for Environment.
The “Air quality” chapter in the Environment Bill makes a clear commitment to a certain ambitious air quality target that goes beyond EU requirements and delivers significant health benefits. The Environment Bill will also enable the Government to recall the engines of non-road mobile machinery and related emission components that are non-compliant with the environmental standards they were approved to meet, and more besides. The Environment Bill really does help us deliver on and achieve the ambitions within the clean air strategy.
The final—I think—question I was asked related again to the issue of fuel poverty. I reiterate that a number of concerns were raised during the consultation process that led to this situation today: to us being able to present the SI. We took those concerns, and we continue to take those concerns, extremely seriously. We want people in fuel poverty to be able to benefit from this legislation, just as anyone else can. There is no reason why those living in fuel poverty should be exposed to more dangerous, more polluting fuels than anyone else. Indeed, were that to be the outcome of this legislation, I would say that the legislation had failed. It is very important the benefits are spread evenly and equally.
We have commissioned research that, as I said in my opening remarks, tells us that once they have made the transition to cleaner fuels, they should be better off financially because of the efficiency with which these fuels burn. It is worth taking that into account. At every step of the way, we are determined to ensure that people are not left worse off, particularly those people who are living in fuel poverty today. We are absolutely determined that this legislation will help, rather than hinder or harm, people in vulnerable households, and we will continue to work with stakeholders to ensure that that is the case.
As I have outlined, the regulations phase out the supply of the most polluting fuels used for domestic burning. The measures they contain will enable people to enjoy their wood-burning stoves and open fires, safe in the knowledge that they are using cleaner fuels which will protect the health of their families and neighbours, as well as the wider environment. I will close my remarks at this point and thank noble Lords for their contributions and their support today.
Noble Lords will be pleased to know that we are not taking a short adjournment here; we are rolling straight into the next piece of business. So those who wish to dance out of the Room now may do so: otherwise, I will move on to the next Motion. The time limit for the debate is one hour.
Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
My Lords, this draft instrument will be made under the powers conferred by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and will be needed at the end of the transition period. As noble Lords will be aware, we have conducted intensive work to ensure that there continues to be a well-functioning legislative and regulatory regime at the end of the transition period.
This draft instrument amends the Carriage of Dangerous Goods and Use of Transportable Pressure Equipment Regulations 2009, as amended, which I will call the “2009 regulations”. These regulations provide a framework for ensuring the safe transport of dangerous goods in Great Britain.
The 2009 regulations give effect to two EU directives concerning the carriage of dangerous goods. The Dangerous Goods Directive 2008 gives legal effect to international agreements on the carriage of dangerous goods and establishes a common safety regime across all EU member states. The Transportable Pressure Equipment Directive 2010 sets out procedures to be followed and safety requirements for transportable pressure equipment.
These amendments ensure that we continue to work to the same requirements and standards in the carriage of dangerous goods as before the UK’s exit from the EU and provide legal certainty for the industry. This is achieved by amending references to the directives in the 2009 regulations, as well as requirements that are predicated on the UK being a member state of the EU.
I will give a tiny bit of background. The UK has signed up to various international agreements on the transport of dangerous goods. It is a signatory to the European agreement concerning the international carriage of dangerous goods by road. The agreement, helpfully known as ADR, was made under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, UNECE, and has been implemented in the UK since 1968. The UK is committed to the ongoing implementation of the requirements of this agreement, which predates our EU membership. ADR does not automatically have legal force and is now implemented within the EU by the Dangerous Goods Directive. The EU has also introduced a directive on transportable pressure equipment, also applied domestically through the 2009 regulations.
Turning to rail, the UK has been a signatory to the convention concerning international carriage by rail—COTIF—and predecessor conventions since 1980. The regulation concerning the international carriage of dangerous goods by rail, RID, forms appendix C to COTIF. As with ADR, the Dangerous Goods Directive implements RID in the EU, including for national transport.
As mentioned previously, this draft instrument will be made under the powers conferred by the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. It is subject to the affirmative procedure because it transfers an EU legislative function to a public authority in Great Britain, in that it gives the Secretary of State power to derogate from the standards set in three international agreements concerning the carriage of dangerous goods by road, rail, and, to a lesser extent, inland waterways, through the issuing of domestic exemptions to these agreements.
At the end of the transition period, the dangerous goods and transportable pressure equipment directives are retained in their entirety in UK law. This draft instrument makes the changes necessary so that the requirements and procedures within those directives continue to function correctly. This is essential to ensure the regulatory regime in place in Great Britain after the transition period continues to function. This instrument updates references and definitions used in the regulations to reflect the UK’s exit from the EU.
At present, the power to issue derogations from ADR and RID, and in respect of inland waterways, rests with the European Commission. This draft instrument gives the Secretary of State power to issue domestic derogations where safety is not compromised. The instrument also introduces a new UK conformity mark—the UK TPE—so that transportable pressure equipment, or TPE, may continue to be manufactured and inspected in Great Britain after the transition period. This instrument places obligations on manufacturers, importers, distributors and owners of this UK TPE, and it mirrors the requirements of the Transportable Pressure Equipment Directive.
This instrument introduces a process by which the competent authority in Great Britain—in practice, the Secretary of State—may appoint bodies to undertake inspections, examinations, testing and approval of transportable pressure equipment. Under the Transportable Pressure Equipment Directive, the European Commission would have been notified of, and could have vetoed, such an appointment before a UK inspection body was awarded “notified body” status. For notified bodies established in Great Britain before the end of the transition period, this instrument provides for their appointment by the GB competent authority without charging a fee.
As the carriage of dangerous goods is devolved to Northern Ireland, this instrument will also ensure that transportable pressure equipment assessed in Northern Ireland in accordance with the transportable pressure equipment directive continues to be recognised in Great Britain, through acceptance of the UK(NI) mark. This implements a requirement of the Northern Ireland protocol relating to unfettered access of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
This instrument is relatively simple. It serves to ensure the continued effective regulation of the carriage of dangerous goods in Great Britain to the same standards as before the UK’s departure from the EU. It maintains the existing regulatory framework but includes essential amendments to ensure we have a functioning statute book. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome these regulations as an essential part of our preparation for the end of the transition period into 2021. The transport by road, rail or inland waterways of dangerous materials, such as hazardous chemicals, fuel, gases, explosives and pressure equipment, through or near populated areas must be as safe as possible, both for the public and those working with these materials. This is certainly not an area in which to take risks. For decades, we have ensured that international standards, and then even stronger EU standards were introduced to improve protection and enhance environmental protections. I am delighted that it has been confirmed that these regulations will maintain the pi marking system to ensure that current standards are met, and that the EU directives implementing our agreements with the UN prior to joining the EU will also be maintained, but who will oversee this in future?
I am delighted to see that the Northern Ireland protocol is being upheld and, for example, that the TPE in Northern Ireland will continue to comply with EU directives and recognise Northern Ireland inspection. My noble friend said that the Secretary of State can approve derogations
“where safety is not compromised”.
Who will judge this? What expertise and experience will the Secretary of State call on to exercise this discretion?
I understand that the optional new rho standard will potentially be used for our own GB equipment, manufactured here or imported, and will have conformity assessed by appointed inspection bodies. Can my noble friend give us a little more information on who will staff these bodies, what they will be, who will fund them and what safety checks or early warning systems they will have access to? Are we considering joining EU bodies that have already been established and continuing to benefit from the much broader reach that those 27 other countries can attain relative to the UK itself?
I welcome my noble friend’s introduction of this SI and congratulate her on her clear explanations and her words of reassurance that this merely maintains what we have now, but if she could answer the questions I have raised, I would be most grateful.
My Lords, these regulations relate to the transport of dangerous goods by road, rail and inland waterway. They include amendments to legislation relating to the inspection of transportable pressure equipment. This is another in the long line of changes to our statute book required because of Brexit. It is a good example of the effectiveness of the EU and how we have benefited from the highest standards set by it over the years.
Safe transport of dangerous goods is something we take for granted, specifically because it has been done so well for so long. As always, leaving the EU has complicated matters. As this is about international transport of goods, we have to continue to use the EU pi marking if we want to continue to trade in this important sector. The continued use of the pi marking will be essential in Northern Ireland, but because of the Northern Ireland protocol, there will also be a UK(NI) marking alongside the pi marking, to enable goods to enter Great Britain’s market. This is one additional complexity. In any event, there is to be an additional UK rho marking. Is that just someone’s clever idea, to give us a feeling that we are free of the dreadful EU, or is it essential? Again, I ask the Minister to explain: is this a government choice, or is it essential?
Then there is the difference between notified bodies and appointed bodies. I read this part several times very carefully, and I have to confess that I am still not clear, so will the Minister please elucidate for me? I should like to know more about these bodies. May we have some examples? Specifically, how are they appointed and who sits on them? How free are they from government interference? The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, has made her concerns clear on the issue of safety and high standards, and this is what is behind my question. The Government do not exactly have a shining reputation from recent months for filling public appointments with the correct level of expertise. We are back to the situation which predated the Nolan rules, in some cases. I cannot think of a sector where real expertise, rather than political linkages, is more important, so I look forward to the Minister’s explanation of exactly who these bodies are.
My other concern is the consultation, which took place two years ago. The list of bodies quoted as consultees does not include any specific reference to the nuclear industry. I hope the Minister can reassure me. I hope she can explain clearly that the SI refers to the nuclear industry—I assume it does—and explain which of the bodies consulted cover the nuclear industry. How were the views of that industry taken into account? For example, nuclear waste from Hinkley Point in Somerset travels regularly by night train to Sizewell. The amount of nuclear waste will increase when Hinkley C is operative, and there will be real challenges in rail capacity and so on, so the issue of safety there is important.
Finally, what if there is no deal? Will this legislation be affected? Will it be affected by the handover process from the current system to any new system?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation of the content and purpose of this draft statutory instrument covering the transport of dangerous goods by road and rail, which in transferring an EU legislative function at the end of the transition period, as she said, also gives the Secretary of State power to derogate from the standards set in three international agreements through issuing exemptions to those agreements. As the Minister said, these international agreements relate to the carriage of dangerous goods by road, by rail and by inland waterways.
This SI, through the introduction of an optional UK-only compliance mark, also enables bodies inspecting transportable pressure equipment in Great Britain to continue to do so for such equipment on the non-EU market. Why have the Government apparently concluded that the new UK-only compliance mark should be optional?
The SI provides for Great Britain to continue to work to the same standards and requirements in the carriage of dangerous goods at the end of the transition period as applied while we were a member of the EU and as still apply today. Can the Government confirm that this also applies to the petroleum driver passport?
Both noble Baronesses, Lady Altmann and Lady Randerson, asked who will ensure that the standards and requirements will be adhered to following the end of the transition period and how. I too await with interest the answer to the questions they raised.
Do the Government have any plans to exercise the powers in these regulations to create domestic exemptions or changes to the current standards and requirements of the present regulatory framework, and if so, in which areas in particular? In addition, have the Government been approached by any parties involved in the carriage of dangerous goods in this country to introduce exemptions or changes to the current standards and requirements of the present regulatory framework, and if so, in what areas in particular?
As has been said, the carriage of dangerous goods is devolved to Northern Ireland. Will Northern Ireland also be able to take powers to create its own domestic exemptions to the current standards and requirements? If so, do the Government know whether there are likely to be any such exemptions or changes of that nature?
Finally, we heard recently from the Government that when the transition period ends we could find up to 7,000 lorries being held up at channel crossing points. What would be the position if vehicles carrying dangerous goods were among the possible 7,000 held up? Could such a delay have any effect on their being able to adhere to all the current standards and requirements of the present regulatory framework, in respect of the carriage of such goods, which will still be in force immediately following the end of the transition period but which will then be a matter solely within our jurisdiction?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their consideration of these draft regulations and their input into this short debate. I will say at the outset that this is one of those statutory instruments in which nothing much changes. I reassure my noble friend Lady Altmann that there is no new system per se which will come in and need to be set up and resourced, et cetera. We will be very reliant, as we are now, on an existing and well-functioning system.
My noble friend quite rightly asked who will oversee the carriage of dangerous goods, so I will take her through that in a little more detail. It is the same system as now. Enforcement activity is carried out in line with the enforcement policy of the Health and Safety Executive, as one would imagine. Both the police and the DVSA can undertake roadside inspections and issue prohibition notices under Section 22 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 where there is non-compliance with any of the regulations. Details of these prohibition notices are recorded and published on the HSE website, which gives the appropriate level of visibility to see how the system is responding. Where justified, police officers may also initiate court proceedings. The Office of Rail and Road enforces the rules in relation to the carriage of dangerous goods by rail. We do not expect any change in the capacity for enforcement, so it will require no new resources.
On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about the inspection bodies, there are already 33 inspection bodies appointed by the competent authority, which was previously the EU and will now change over to the Secretary of State. We do not expect that these inspection bodies will change particularly; they are well-established and have been around for a long time, and relate to every element of the carriage of dangerous goods, as one would expect. This SI simply allows the Secretary of State to appoint the same bodies to fulfil the same functions thereafter.
However, it is worth going into a bit more detail about consultations with the industry—the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned the nuclear industry and whether it had been consulted. This SI has been very widely consulted on. We actively engaged with over 300 stakeholders, including the Office of Rail and Road, and no concerns were raised. In 2018, we issued a public consultation on this SI and received just seven responses, none of which raised any concerns but some of which guided our drafting, as noble Lords would expect. Because that was done back in 2018, we conducted a second informal consultation in 2019 which targeted specific stakeholders, primarily around transportable pressure equipment and the conformity assessment bodies, on the introduction of the non-mandatory UK mark. Again, there were few responses—just four—and they did not identify any concerns with our approach to the introduction of this mark and guided our thinking as to how it would be implemented.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned the petroleum driver passport. This will not be impacted at all by the regulations. The PDP is a UK industry scheme which was established with backing from DECC, now BEIS. It was set up and is managed by the industry—the Downstream Oil Distribution Forum. DfT’s role with the PDP is to facilitate the contract for the delivery of the scheme between the DODF and the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which manages the implementation of the scheme. There will be no change: the DODF will retain the ownership and management of the scheme which is not mandated by law. We expect that to continue.
It is worth spending a little time on Northern Ireland and on possible exemptions that may arise. As the transport of dangerous goods is a devolved issue, Northern Ireland has its own legislation concerning this, but it mirrors the GB regulations. At the end of the transition period, Northern Ireland will continue to apply the requirements of one of the directives relating to the transport of dangerous goods—the transportable pressure equipment directive. This means that transportable pressure equipment, or TPE, conformity assessed in Northern Ireland will need to bear the “UK(NI)” marking in addition to the “pi marking” required by that directive. This draft SI introduces a provision to recognise such marked transportable pressure equipment on the market in Great Britain. Without this provision, it would not be possible to place such equipment on the market in Great Britain, and therefore it is required to permit unfettered access of such equipment between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also asked about the different marks. In Great Britain, at the end of the transition period TPE already on the market with a pi mark will continue to be recognised, and any new TPE entering the market in Great Britain may either be pi marked or rho marked. To that extent, the rho marking is non-mandatory. Where a new product is pi marked, GB inspection bodies will not be able to perform conformity assessments, as they have to be undertaken by EU notified bodies. Northern Ireland is in the process of making equivalent regulations, which will mirror what is under discussion today and which are making their way through its legislative system.
On divergence and exemptions—an important topic—the Government are not actively looking to diverge from, or to create new domestic exemptions from, the present regulations on the carriage of dangerous goods. Of course we will continue to work both with EU partners and internationally as regulations may be developed, but these tend to be reviewed every two years, and we are not looking actively to diverge from them at all. In considering any such exemptions or divergence from the present regulations, safety of course will always remain a priority. However, it is important that our domestic legislation provides flexibility, which is where we come to the Secretary of State being able to grant exemptions as and when they become necessary, although safety will of course be top of mind. At present, about 20 exemptions are being used by industry. They all expire on 30 June 2021 and therefore may need to be extended, if that extension is still appropriate.
It may help if I give a brief example of what a derogation might look like. Road derogation 17 is a partial exemption because complying with the requirements would be impractical. A health care worker does not need to comply with the ADR requirements if, for example, they carry a 2 kilogram fire extinguisher when carrying a small amount of clinical waste. I think we can all agree that that makes complete and utter sense, and it is the sort of thing for which derogations are used. A second example is where a very small amount of explosive article is being transported. Usually you would not carry the detonating fuzes alongside that explosive article, but if there are very small quantities of the explosive article, it is of course appropriate, because the safety risk is fairly negligible. A note to Hansard may be of interest to noble Lords: the correct spelling is “fuze”, as that is its proper shipping name. I did not know that.
I hope that I have answered the questions today. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, at the end of his remarks, asked whether hauliers carrying dangerous goods will be delayed as they arrive at Kent. As long as hauliers and consignors have all the correct documentation required, not only those for dangerous goods purposes but those that are required for all hauliers to get a Kent access permit, we do not envisage that there will be a problem.
This instrument makes very minor changes to the retained EU legislation to ensure that appropriate national arrangements are in place to oversee the safe carriage of dangerous goods. I commend it to the House.
Electric Scooter Trials and Traffic Signs (Coronavirus) Regulations and General Directions 2020
Motion to Take Note
What has prompted me to ask for this debate is the July report on this SI from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. These regulations were laid under the made negative procedure on 30 June and came into force on 4 July 2020. The rush was apparently because the Department for Transport considered that urgent action was required to provide immediate additional transport capacity, which had been severely restricted by the impact of Covid-19. The SI amends road traffic regulations on the use of electric scooters to allow representative on-road trials of e-scooters to begin with a view to gathering evidence on the use and impact of e-scooters which might also impact on possible future legislation. E-scooters are classified as motor vehicles and cannot currently be used on public roads or pavements in Britain.
The SI applies only to e-scooters used as part of a trial arranged between a rental operator and a local public authority within a specified area and does not permit the use of privately owned e-scooters or other e-scooters which are not participating in organised trials. The scrutiny committee report drew these regulations to the special attention of the House on the ground that the explanatory material laid in support provided insufficient information to gain a clear understanding about the SI’s policy objective and intended implementation.
The committee commented that similar schemes had been running in cities abroad for some time and that accordingly it would have expected more use of evidence from those schemes to shape the DfT’s proposal. It also said:
“We would also expect DfT to offer more substantial evidence of the anticipated benefits of these schemes to both individuals and local authorities in the EM and no cost/benefit analysis is offered.”
In that connection, the scrutiny committee drew attention to the assertion in paragraph 7.4 of the Explanatory Memorandum, not backed up by evidence, that:
“E-scooters could be a convenient and clean way to travel that eases the burden on the transport network and allows for social distancing.”
Equally, commented the committee, e-scooters
“could also be a hazard for other users of the road, cycle lanes and for pedestrians.”
Continuing, the committee concluded that it was unclear what the policy objective of this SI was and how its outcome would be measured. Is it, the committee asked,
“a pilot scheme to test the viability of a controversial vehicle on British roads”
and/or is it a means rapidly to
“expand transport capacity in cities all over the country during the coronavirus pandemic? And are those two objectives compatible?”
Could the Minister in her reply respond to the committee’s questions on policy objectives and the measurement of the outcome of the policy objectives?
The scrutiny committee raised the issue of the scale of the trials. Originally, the department planned to run trials in four areas but now, apparently in response to Covid-19 and to help mitigate reduced public transport capacity, the department wants more areas to be able to host trials commencing from an earlier date,
“between June and the end of August 2020.”
The department has not specified the number of trial areas, which are now potentially limitless. Despite that, just two weeks were allowed for public consultation on an issue that will now affect the public generally.
Despite similar schemes proving divisive in other major European cities, as the scrutiny committee pointed out, is this, in reality, a case of a potentially significant major long-term transport policy development for Britain being pushed forward as a Covid-19 related emergency measure without proper public consultation and without an opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny? Or, as the scrutiny committee put it in paragraphs 27 and 29:
“A small data gathering exercise has turned into a major implementation programme … This is a major development in transport policy yet it was put into effect in a matter of days without any opportunity for Parliamentary scrutiny. The information in the EM is insubstantial and it is the additional information that demonstrates the extent of the powers enabled by the instrument.”
Perhaps the Minister could comment on that.
Will the Minister say how many local authorities have submitted proposals for hosting trials, how many have been approved, whether they are all for 12 months, how many trials are now in operation, how many and which companies are running those trials and how they were chosen and when the last trial to be approved will conclude? Is there a minimum number of trials that the Government have as an objective? Likewise, is there a maximum number of trials that the Government would approve? Will the Minister say what the evidence is to support the Department for Transport’s case and justify this sudden and rapid scaling up the number of trial schemes from the number originally envisaged, taking into account data on safety, potential nuisance and additional costs—including to already sorely stretched local authorities in the middle of a pandemic?
In more detail on safety, the scrutiny committee remarked that although the wearing of helmets was being encouraged, they were not mandatory for the trials. Can the Minister say why the decision was taken not to require the wearing of helmets? Continuing on safety, the committee pointed out that since the Department for Transport accepted that there were risks in introducing e-scooters into the transport network, it
“would have expected the DfT to have illustrated the main risks to be expected using data from similar schemes abroad.”
Can the Minister indicate what the department considers those main risks to be and the evidential basis for coming to that conclusion? Finally on safety, the committee asked whether there are “sufficient cycle paths” for the number of trials anticipated or desired and
“whether they are wide enough to cope with a vehicle that may be wider than a bicycle and weigh up to 55kg, and whether can they cope with the anticipated increase in usage and allow for overtaking.”
Once again, a response to those points from the Minister would be helpful.
On the environmental gain from the use of e-scooters from transfers from other forms of transport—in particular, cars—the scrutiny committee reported that
“DfT’s initial assessment, based on the experience of European schemes, suggests that ‘around a third will transfer from walking, a third from public transport, 15-20% from car, 10% from cycling and around 2% for new trips. Social distancing requirements may cause the shift from public transport and the proportion of new trips to be higher than these estimates.’”
In the light of the DfT’s assessment, can the Minister say how any environmental and other gains and any offsetting of benefits from the trial schemes for e-scooters will be evaluated, by whom and against what criteria? How and when will the results of the evaluation be published? I hope that the Minister will be able to respond, either today or subsequently, to the questions and points I have raised, which largely repeat those raised by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee in its report on this SI.
There will inevitably, but hopefully incorrectly, be a view that a sudden increase in the number of trial schemes—schemes to which there is no limit—is an indication that the Government have privately decided to proceed with further legalisation of the use of e-scooters. If the Government still have an open mind, why, with just two weeks’ public consultation and no parliamentary scrutiny, would they suddenly and without limit increase the number of intended trial schemes, bring forward starting dates and give as a reason for so doing issues related to Covid-19, such as allowing social distancing, unless the desire is to come to some pretty quick conclusions to proceed?
We need to see the outcome of properly run trial schemes for e-scooters independently evaluated against transparent and laid down criteria before reaching conclusions, since there are clear safety concerns that need to be balanced against the benefits of any emerging new technology. There have been issues over anti-social behaviour by some using e-scooters; for example, Guide Dogs has pointed out that e-scooters can create
“a more unsafe street environment for people with sight loss”.
We need to know now on what basis, and against which criteria and benchmarks, the Government will be judging and assessing the outcome of these e-scooter trials. Most importantly, there must also be proper and full, not rushed, public consultation on and parliamentary scrutiny of what would be a major mode of transport development that will affect us all for the long term and way beyond, by comparison, any much shorter-term Covid-19 considerations on addressing transport capacity issues and allowing for social distancing. I beg to move.
My Lords, we come to the second debate this afternoon on dangerous goods. It is unusual for me to find myself in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I have already apologised to my noble friend the Minister for being thoroughly unhelpful to her on this subject.
After four months of staying inside and on my first afternoon back in London two weeks ago, in the short journey from my flat to this House, I was nearly hit by a big e-scooter on the pavement outside the Department for Transport in Marsham Street. A few minutes later, another thug on one of these almost ran me down on Millbank, on the pavement just by Black Rod’s Garden.
When I used to go to Paris last year with the Council of Europe, I had first-hand experience of these things. Most Parisians do not ride them on the pavement but a large minority do, and everyone abandons them all over the pavements in their tens of thousands. Some 20,000 of these things are now causing what the Mayor of Paris described as “complete anarchy”. Even the French Financial Times said:
“An electric scooter scourge is stalking Paris”
and the French Transport Minister said that Paris was experiencing the “law of the jungle”, although that is unfair on nature behaving properly in its habitat.
That is what is coming to every city in this country. These scooters weigh up to 55 kilograms, and with an average male of another 83 kilograms, that is 28 stone of solid mass hitting pedestrians at 15 miles an hour. The Department for Transport’s road death research shows that a pedestrian hit at 15 miles per hour stands a 3% risk of death and a much larger chance of serious injury.
To those who say, “That’s all overseas; it’s the French and it won’t happen here”: it already has. Just five days after starting a trial in Coventry, the company Voi had to stop all operations because its managing director said:
“I think we have a British antisocial behaviour issue across the country … We haven’t seen this level of antisocial behaviour in any other market. We have had great experience of it but the volume of it in the UK was quite surprising.”
He said that people were riding the scooters on the pavement and had a disregard for the law. If the company trying to get us to use these killing machines says that, we should stop this experiment until we have proper control of them.
If the Government are determined to push ahead, these regulations must be changed to reduce the weight to no more than 25 kilos and the speed limited to 10 miles per hour. Even then, these scooters are still silent killing machines when driven on the pavement. Therefore, the Government must copy Voi and insist on number plates, or some sort of numbering system, so that cameras can identify them. There is then a slight chance of enforcement.
We see cyclists blatantly riding over zebra crossings with pedestrians on them and through red lights, and there is no enforcement. There must be strict enforcement for these e-scooters. People will dump hired machines anywhere but will safely park their own dearly bought scooter. The policy there is wrong, too.
I do not know how Paris has got it so wrong with scooters, given that it and Strasbourg—which I also visit regularly—are so civilised about cycling. There is not a single helmet or bit of Lycra in sight. People ride upright with the handlebars higher than the seats. They can ride on the pavements and I feel perfectly safe among them. What a contrast with London, where you can see nothing but Lycra-clad bums in the air as wannabe Bradley Wigginses mow you down on the crossing at 1 Millbank.
If the Government persist with introducing this measure, I hope that an instruction is given to every police force in this country to enforce the law. There should be none of this nonsense of engage, explain, encourage, pat on the head, sympathise or bend the knee. If the police turn a blind eye to enforcement, I hope that they will ignore me when I use my stick to get one of the scooters off the pavement or when I chuck an abandoned one from the pavement under the wheels of a 30-tonne lorry. I say to the police: do your duty and enforce the law, or the law will be brought into disrepute with every other law. They should do their duty or we will see the same anarchy as in Paris.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for giving us this opportunity to debate these regulations as well as the concerns of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. I wish to address my remarks to the concerns on safety as well as use on public roads. I speak as one who has ridden a motorcycle in the streets of London for more than 30 years. While I support the use of e-scooters, which are very practical for commuting around busy cities and are environmentally friendly, I am sad that some users have grossly abused the opportunity and are breaking the law. We have seen a huge proliferation, not just of e-scooters but of e-skateboards populating the streets of London with no clear regulations, and given the police being unable effectively to enforce responsible usage of these scooters, I have the following suggestions to make.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, I find it astonishing that wearing helmets is not mandatory. It is well known that, unlike driving a bicycle, there is a lot more risk of those driving an e-scooter having a head injury because of the dimensions of the small wheels. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, in many cases electric scooters are being used on pavements, which is highly dangerous, not just for pedestrians but for those pushing prams. I have seen e-scooter drivers weaving their way between big trucks and cars on public roads, where they can often not be seen by drivers. In this regard, e-scooters should be restricted to bicycle lanes, where they are available. I was pleased to see that the London cycle campaign supports e-scooters being used in cycle lanes. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, also mentioned, the e-scooter trial in Coventry has been put on hold because users have abused the guidelines and were driving them not just on pavements but in shopping centres, causing not just panic but a massive danger to the public.
While the trials of e-scooters require users to have a provisional driving licence, that does not apply to those buying these scooters online. Clearly, it is essential that users have basic road awareness, knowledge and skills. While most of these scooters manufactured in China and Japan have a maximum speed of 30 miles per hour, it is well known that some users have retrofitted their scooters to go at much higher speeds, which is extremely dangerous. There need to be strict speed limits and ideally some form of registration process so that those who drive these scooters recklessly and cause damage to others can be held accountable and sanctioned. Can the Minister elaborate on the data and feedback received from the trial schemes and, in particular, on safety and nuisance as well as public perception around the use of scooters?
In conclusion, while I welcome the use of e-scooters, I believe that tighter legislation needs to be introduced to protect users as well as pedestrians, and to set a minimum standard for the manufacture of these scooters.
My Lords, I declare an interest, as a patron of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cycling and Walking, and a vice-chair of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Micromobility. I am trying to span cycling and what might be called the new electric means of individual propulsion.
I love scooters and Segways. About 10 years ago, we got the late Lord Montagu of Beaulieu—a great expert on motoring—on a Segway in the car park outside, and he enjoyed it. I cycle in Brussels and Paris when I am there and sometimes use scooters. They bridge the gap between walking and sitting in a polluting car, and they give individuals transport, but all the comments made by noble Lords so far are quite right: people need to obey the law, such as it is.
The key is probably to treat these scooters similarly to cycles, whether electric or non-electric cycles. They should not go on the pavement. People have strong views about whether people should wear crash helmets, but there is no point in putting an ASBO on people who ride scooters, any more than there is on those who ride cycles. Both can be very dangerous and both, as some noble Lords have said, can operate effectively and safely.
I welcome the trial that the Government are doing. It might have been easier if they had just said that a scooter is the same as a cycle, but they did not do that for whatever reason. My understanding is that 30 towns and cities have already signed up to it. In Northampton, there were 40,000 rides in three weeks, so they are very popular. In Coventry, there are 7,500 users. The average journey is 20 minutes and 85% are returning customers, but these are just the trials. In the United States, which we think of as the motorist’s bonanza, 88 million journeys by scooter were recorded last year.
We have to try to educate people, live and let live, and try to find a way to encourage people to cycle safely, because we cannot stop them now—it is too late. We also need to think about the green agenda. When 63% of riders say that they are replacing a car journey by riding a scooter, that is worth having.
I conclude with a story. I know that many noble Lords are quite old and may think this is something for young people, but I have a quote from YorkMix about a man called Tom—he will not give his other name—who travels
“around York illegally on an e-scooter”
and enjoys it. It is much better than an electric wheelchair. He carries on riding
“Because it helps him stay active”,
after being locked down for three months because of coronavirus. I encourage the Government to carry on with the trial to encourage people to use scooters safely and responsibly. Do not give up.
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. The trials in England, Scotland and Wales have been under way for almost three months. It is a shame that your Lordships have not had the opportunity to debate the regulations before now. I understand that the Government’s original intention was to run trials in four areas next year but, as has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, to mitigate reduced capacity on public transport because of Covid-19, these have been brought forward and effectively introduced en masse.
While I appreciate that rental e-scooters only are currently allowed on roads and cycle lanes for the trial, one must wonder how the police can differentiate between them and privately owned e-scooters, which remain illegal on public highways. The Metropolitan Police caught almost 100 riders in London in a single week last summer. It will be much more difficult to do so now. I note that the rental e-scooters permissible in the trials are required to carry a unique identifier to aid with enforcement. Could the Minister provide the House with more detail about the nature of this unique identifier and advise if it is clearly visible to assist the police with apprehending illegal riders? Registration plates would seem to be the obvious solution, but this was rejected by the Department for Transport.
I welcome the need for riders to hold a full or provisional car, motorcycle or moped licence to use e-scooters, and that they must be aged 16 or over. The decision to class e-scooters as motor vehicles is also prudent, meaning that offences such as drink driving will apply to them and can be enforced in the same way as they are for car drivers. I am less reassured by the absence of any form of training for riders before they take to the roads. Given the nature of the trial scheme, it should be straightforward for registered renters to either provide a short practical demonstration or require riders to show that they can safely use an e-scooter before being unleashed. Further, for the safety of the riders themselves, I am in favour of helmets being mandatory rather than optional. I agree with the Government that motorcycle helmets are unnecessary but surely a requirement to wear a cycle helmet is basic common sense. I would be greatly surprised if most e-scooter riders do not already own a cycle helmet, thereby removing cost as a barrier. Renting outlets could also have a small number of helmets available for hire.
I understand that the argument to set the power limit at 500 watts is to help e-scooters climb hills and inclines, particularly when carrying heavier riders, but I am wary of the speed limit of 15.5 mph, which seems high. Given that the Government have decided to set the maximum weight at 55 kilograms, that amounts to genuinely dangerous collisions when they do inevitably happen. The original position, as I understand it, was to set the weight limit at 35 kilograms but this changed following arguments that the lower limit would preclude designs with heavier batteries. I hope that the 55 kilograms can be reduced as technology improves and batteries get smaller, but to encourage manufacturers to make this a priority, I encourage the Government to make provision for the upper weight limit to be reviewed on an ongoing basis once the trial has concluded.
I urge the Government to take on board my concerns and those of other noble Lords before more permanent arrangements are put in place. I also hope that policymakers are listening in Northern Ireland, where e-scooters are still not allowed on public highways but could make an appreciable difference before long.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on taking the initiative to regulate electric scooters. They have arrived. Even in Eastbourne, we have people zooming around on them. We even have one young man on a Segway monocycle, and very stylish he looks too. As other noble Lords have said, however, we need to find a way of binding these into the rules of the road so that pedestrians can feel safe, and users know how to interact with each other. The Government must, absolutely, be on the front foot on this. I am sure they will get to a positive answer, and I do not think we need a repeat of the red flag Act or anything draconian. They are a liberating factor in our street environment and one to be welcomed.
I expect we will see much more use of electric scooters locally, but they have a deficiency. They are, essentially, vehicles for the young. You cannot really use them if you are at all shaky. You cannot use them if you want to go shopping or if you want to take the kids to school. In a very diffuse community such as Eastbourne—and there are a lot of similar towns and bit of towns around the UK—with houses that have a nice amount of space around them and a very convoluted road layout, it is inconceivable that, with current technology, we can devise a public transport network. Personal transport has devolved, largely, on to each household having two cars.
In Eastbourne, we have one of the highest rates of intra-urban car use in the UK, and this results in quite high levels of atmospheric pollution. Putting to one side the detriment to the world generally of generating so much carbon dioxide, we would like to do something about this locally. We need not an e-scooter but something cheap, slow, electric, short range, low technology, weatherproof and three-to-four seater.
Several of those things are clearly available on the market in China. They cost about £1,000, so are thoroughly affordable, but there has been no collaboration that I can find from the Department for Transport to get such vehicles on to UK roads. I would be really grateful if the Department for Transport would help me set up, on a very small scale, a representative on-road trial of these machines to see whether they solve the problems that I think they will solve and to see whether we can reap the benefits that they offer. They might look like a tin box on wheels and might not appeal to your average man, who has a different idea of what they would like to be seen in, but in areas where public transport is not working, and really cannot work, I think that they would offer a thoroughly practical solution in trying to reduce our levels of transport carbon emissions
My Lords, I declare my interests as listed in the register. I also declare that I am a fairly avid e-bike user and have tried out these scooters, albeit overseas on holiday.
My first point is one that others have already made. I welcome the Government’s use of trials to introduce this technology into the country but again I ask the Minister why we cannot have greater scrutiny, even with Covid. We need to ensure that we use the wisdom of this House and of Parliament as a whole to help make these trials work and introduce scooters to the nation in a healthier, sustainable way with less injury. As a country, we have a reputation for being an innovator and for using our expertise, including legal expertise, as a regulator. We should therefore trial these technologies in a sandbox in a way that balances the need to protect people with the need to be ahead of the game. You see that in many other sectors, so why not in this area too?
Secondly, having tried e-scooters, it is very clear to me that they are a bit more dangerous than bikes because of the way you stand on them. You are very susceptible to things such as potholes. Therefore, there is a difference. I ask the Minister what the policy is on e-bikes. I think that there is an even bigger opportunity to retrofit existing bikes with the many battery systems, whereby you essentially replace one of the bike’s wheels. Many millions of cyclists who might struggle to commute and use electronic scooters or regular bikes would benefit from that technology. I think that we should do that rather than focus on just scooters.
That said, in the interim there seems to be a real opportunity to use scooters as part of an integrated transport strategy, particularly in smaller towns and other places, as part of levelling up. Given the immaturity of the technology, I am not very much in favour of them being used in a totally deregulated way. Why can we not use them as part of an evolved transport strategy in cities and towns and ask those who lead those places to figure out on which routes there could be more trials of rented scooters? For example, Watford, which I visited recently, has a real problem in that the Tube finishes not in the middle but on the edge of the town. Could the use of scooters not be encouraged on very defined routes from the edge of that last mile to the town centre so that people could go there to shop and young people could be brought in?
Bicycle helmets are essential, as a previous speaker mentioned, and, as we have seen in these trials, we need to ID users. It seems that many of the problems have been with people who are not responsible drivers, and with some who are underage getting access to electric scooters. In the longer term, these scooters may be like drones; when the technology is ready, we can then start to bring them into wider use. As a nation, we perhaps need to encourage the manufacturers to look at the possibility of making the scooters stop when they encounter an obstacle, the ability of a person to geotag them so that they cannot go to places they should not, or the use of fingerprinting or other ID systems so that they literally cannot be used other than by the authorised user. Perhaps the way the scooter renter or user drives on pavements should affect their insurance, or their ability to use these vehicles. Ultimately, however, electric vehicles may over time become safer than existing vehicles, as in the way they allow the rider to accelerate away from red lights.
In conclusion, we must balance the risks with the potential to innovate and be ahead. I ask the Minister: what is the plan to do this in a careful and staged way?
My Lords, I welcome the Motion, which gives us the opportunity to examine this important issue. The Government have come to this pretty late in the day; we have now been talking about this for a couple of years. Cities across Europe and well beyond have been grappling with the issues raised by electric scooters for a long time now. My own experience as a frequent visitor to Brussels has been of a problem of abandoned scooters on pavements, often left in the way of pedestrians. Make no mistake, electric scooters are a very divisive issue. I am therefore surprised that there were only two weeks’ consultation, after years of thought building up to this.
I agree with the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee when it criticises the poor quality of the explanatory material provided with this legislation, and the apparent failure of the Government to build on experiences elsewhere. To make it clear, by instinct I welcome these trials. Electric scooters are exciting, and they look fun—I wish I were young enough to take up riding one. However, it is also important to remember that they are a complex issue, because they are frightening to many pedestrians, particularly older and disabled people. Overall, I find it anachronistic that we have a new environmentally friendly form of transport that remains illegal in Britain on public roads and footpaths.
Looking at the safety concerns in detail, on the roads, riders of electric vehicles will be exposed to traffic and, as they are lower than bicycles, are less likely than cyclists to be seen by motorists passing in their cars. On pavements they are an obvious hazard to pedestrians because they are both speedy and silent. Can the Minister explain why there is no requirement for a helmet, given that their maximum speed is same as that of an electric bike? Why should they not have lights? Why is there no requirement for reflective clothing? Should there not be visible registration numbers? These are vehicles on the roads, or soon will be. We have come round to the view that we require registration numbers for drones, so I think there should be registration numbers for electric scooters.
I also draw the attention of the House to the concern felt by the ABI, representing the insurance industry, about the lack of requirement for insurance.
Lessons from abroad indicate significant costs to local authorities in clearing up abandoned scooters and regulating the rental process. Will the local authorities that hold these trials be provided with any finance?
Who will enforce the requirement to have at least a provisional licence? If you are caught by the police doing something illegal on an electric bike, will the fact that you have a licence mean that you will get points on it? That is the kind of clarity I seek.
I draw the Minister’s attention to the Doppler schemes; they have been a particular cause of problems because of the method by which the scooters are recharged. They rely on people doing casual work, going around picking up the scooters and recharging them in their own homes; they are paid according to the number they recharge. The effect of this rather casual approach has been that scooters abandoned in difficult places get left there, unrecharged. So I urge the Minister to make sure there is a proper way of docking these vehicles.
One government response quoted by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee referred to making legal other micro mobility vehicles. Can the Minister please explain what other vehicles the Government have in mind?
Studies show that generally scooters are used much more as leisure vehicles and for short distances. Have the Government taken this into account? The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee raised the lack of clarity about the Government’s purpose. It is being done under the Covid umbrella; the Government say that they see this as an important alternative form of transport.
How many trial areas do the Government envisage? The press has mentioned 50. What is the timescale for the rollout? There will be some places where scooters will share space with pedestrians, so what about the rules of the pavement? Who will give way to whom?
How will the Government evaluate each of these trial schemes, and will the Minister undertake to publish a full evaluation and let us debate it here?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for providing the opportunity to outline the Government’s intentions in introducing trials of rental electric scooters—e-scooters. I also thank the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee for highlighting the omissions of our department. I am assured that it will not happen again.
As time is short, I will move immediately to the points raised. I note that there were noble Lords on all sides of the debate today, which I feel is positive progress. We have had some additional issues raised, including those from my noble friend Lord Lucas on electric tuk-tuks in Eastbourne and my noble friend Lord Wei on e-bikes. I will probably have to write in regard to those areas.
The e-scooter trials have been widely trailed, for quite some time, as part of the Future of Mobility Grand Challenge. They were planned for introduction by the Government in four regions in 2021. However, we felt that the trials could be brought forward and expanded in response to the pandemic, because we recognised their enormous potential to provide a new socially distanced travel option, to improve air quality and to reduce the pressure on public transport.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned electric bicycles and I welcome his All-Party Parliamentary Group on Micromobility; it is very important that we debate all these issues in great detail. The overall aim of these regulations is to treat e-scooters in trial areas as similarly as we can to electric bikes. For example, in common with users of e-bikes, users of e-scooters in trial areas will not be mandated to wear a protective helmet—although it will be strongly recommended, and many rental operators provide helmets. E-scooters will also be permitted where bikes and e-bikes are permitted. Users of e-scooters in trial areas will need to have some form of driving licence, which could be a provisional licence, and motor insurance must be held by e-scooter operators.
The noble Lord, Lord St. John of Bletso, mentioned technical standards. We work with each rental operator to satisfy ourselves that the technical conditions we require have been met, and out requirements are based on the world-leading German regulations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned lights, which we do require on our trial scooters. We consulted on the use of helmets, and the majority of those who responded agreed that cycle helmets should be recommended and not mandated. Given that in trials these scooters have a maximum speed of 15.5 mph, we recommend that an e-scooter user wears a cycle helmet, as we do for bikes and e-bikes, but this will be subject to review after the trials end.
We believe that e-scooters offer many potential benefits. They are a greener form of transport than private cars, and if people use them for journeys normally undertaken by a private car, we will see a decrease in congestion and in air pollution. However, we acknowledge that there are risks surrounding the safe use of these scooters, as many noble Lords have highlighted. We have looked at their introduction in other countries. In countries where e-scooters are allowed on the road in an unregulated way there have been difficulties, including a rapid increase in the number of e-scooters, discarded scooters causing a hazard for pedestrians—as noted by my noble friend Lord Blencathra—and scooters being used in, frankly, unsafe ways. Some lessons have been learned and there are many successful examples of operators and cities working together to ensure that excellent services are provided. None the less, e-scooters are a new type of vehicle, and it is important to stress that the evidence around their potential benefits and risks is limited and inconclusive, hence we need time-limited and location-specific trials.
Currently there are trials in six areas: Tees Valley, Milton Keynes, the West Midlands, Staffordshire, Norwich and Northamptonshire. Ministers have approved trials in 11 further areas, and there may be more in the pipeline, because in each of these areas we look very closely at the local authority and work very closely with it. Each local authority has volunteered to take part and is fully involved in selecting which e-scooter operator it wants to work with. Also, a local authority can decide how many e-scooters it wants to allow in its area. The scooters are branded and individually identifiable. This allows the local police force to trace riders when needed, and to differentiate them from privately owned scooters—a concern of the noble Lord, Lord Rogan.
My noble friend Lord Wei mentioned local authorities defining the areas for use. He is right; this is exactly what happens. The local authority decides where it is safe for e-scooters to be ridden, including in cycle lanes, and is required to engage with the local police force and accessibility groups in designing its proposals and to work with them to resolve any issues. To date, no concerns have been raised about the capacity of cycle lanes during the trials. The cost to the Government and local authorities of running e-scooter trials is low.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, mentioned funding. Local authorities hosting trials can use a small proportion of the £250 million active travel fund to make the necessary changes. However, this funding is capped at a total of £5 million overall, not per trial. The Government are running the central monitoring and evaluation contract to assess the trials and to further reduce costs. They have given support to local areas in designing their proposals through a series of weekly online meetings.
Let me be clear. The regulations being discussed today apply only to e-scooters used as part of the trial, arranged between a rental authority and the local public authority. They do not extend to privately owned e-scooters, which are where we have many of the bad apples. E-scooters are not allowed on the pavement during trials or at any other time. A trial e-scooter may be used in a cycle lane but not on the motorway. E-scooter users who commit an offence can be fined up to £300 and, to answer the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, have six points put on their driving licence. The Government are publishing details of the trial areas on GOV.UK as each trial begins. We anticipate that most trials will be live by mid-October. The trials will run for 12 months but we will keep this under review based on the evidence that we gather. They are trials in the truest sense of the word, to see what works and what does not work. Nothing is being taken off the table. The national evaluation of trials will be undertaken by third-party contractors managed by the department and the results are likely to be published towards the autumn of 2021 when we have robust data.
I have ridden an e-scooter and it is great fun. I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that she should have a go too. In all seriousness, I sense the issue here is not that most noble Lords are against progress in micromobility but that they want to get the implementation right. That is what we are focused on. I am extremely grateful for the input of all noble Lords today. These deliberations will be taken into account as we consider the future of e-scooters.
Like the Minister, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this all-too-brief take-note Motion debate and made it worth while. I thank the Minister for her responses to the many points and questions that have been raised.
E-scooters may well prove to have a valuable role to play as a safe mode of transport. If this is to be the case, let us make sure that it is with public consent and acceptance, after full public consultation and parliamentary scrutiny, following properly conducted trials, independently assessed against transparent criteria, with the assessments being made public.
Once again, I thank noble Lords for their participation in the debate and thank the Minister for her responses.
House adjourned at 3.51 pm.