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Volume 812: debated on Wednesday 26 May 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the number of e-scooters currently being used illegally in London; and what steps they intend to take to address such use.

My Lords, enforcement of road traffic law in London is an operational matter for the Metropolitan Police, according to local policing plans. The Government will continue to support the police by ensuring that they have the tools needed to enforce road traffic legislation, including relating to electric scooters.

Does my noble friend accept that it is totally illegal to use e-scooters in public areas in London at this time, yet they are widely used on pavements, in parks and on roads, risking casualties and deaths? The law is simply not being enforced. Will she use her good offices to ensure that before the pilots start in June for rental scooters in London, the use of e-scooters—which are illegal when owned and used in public places—is properly regulated and policed as a priority, and that the law is enforced? Is she aware that as they are not currently regulated and insured, dealing with any casualties will be a drain on the resources of the Motor Insurers’ Bureau?

I totally share my noble friend’s concerns. Of course, there are two categories of scooter: the rental scooter, which can be insured, and the privately owned scooter. It is perfectly legal to purchase them, but they cannot be insured. Trials have been going on all over the country, but I hope the trials going on in London will clarify the situation once and for all and prevent the problems my noble friend outlines.

My Lords, how can we be confident that the illegal riding of e-scooters on pavements will be prevented when the illegal riding of bicycles on pavements flourishes almost unchecked? How about introducing compulsory training in courtesy and respect for others before anybody is let loose on an e-scooter, or indeed a bicycle?

My noble friend outlines an important problem. As a humble pedal biker of a Brompton—other brands are available—I know how frightening it is to be approached by one of these e-scooters on the road. Riding on the pavement can result in a fixed penalty notice of £50, but to my noble friend’s point I recommend that everybody who rides a cycle, wherever they ride it, gets the proper training they need.

My Lords, I first became aware of the extensive use of e-scooters a couple of years ago, when I saw smartly dressed young men and women whizzing around the centre of Vienna, clearly on the way to the office. There, e-scooters have been legalised and integrated into the bicycling infrastructure. E-scooters are here to stay, at least for a while, so does the Minister not agree that the quicker we legalise them across the whole UK, the better—not least so that we can regulate specifications and ensure roadworthiness?

I think the trials will help towards this end. They are here to stay—nobody is denying that—but it is a question of not in any way endangering the safety of others and being ridden in a way that is safe to other motorists and cyclists on the road.

My Lords, the Minister is to be congratulated on riding a Brompton bike and not contributing to climate change, but I am afraid her answers are rather disappointing. Some three and a half years ago in this House, I broached the issue of accidents with bicycles on pavements, as she may remember, and there was a huge amount of press coverage about it afterwards. Can she not say why the Government do not ensure that people driving any kind of powered vehicle, be it a scooter or a bike with a battery, are not identified and capable of being identified, with proper identification, that regulations are enforced—because there is no point in having them otherwise—and that insurance is insisted on? At the moment, accidents are happening.

This comes back to the privately owned scooter versus the rental scooter. Rental scooters have identity tags on them and are insured. The thing is that it is not legal to drive the privately owned ones on roads or pavements. I fully take the noble Lord’s point and hope that the trials will go some way to addressing this.

There are 50 trial areas and only 7,608 e-scooters legally in use on our roads across the UK, but local authorities have reported over 800 incidents, including serious injuries to a three year-old child walking on the pavement. Does the Minister agree that this is an unacceptable level of risk and will she and her colleagues urgently look again at the trials taking place with the intention of speeding up the introduction of proper regulation and penalties across the whole UK?

I do think that 300 injuries is too many—one injury is too many—and, to that end, I know that the Metropolitan Police have impounded nearly 1,000 e-scooters in the two years to April this year.

Reference has been made to the e-scooter trials taking place around the country. What will be the Home Office objectives in respect of the content of any new laws and regulations on the use of e-scooters following those trials? Secondly, will the Home Office give a commitment today that, whatever laws and regulations on the future use of e-scooters are agreed and passed, they will be properly enforced by the police, who will have the staffing resources to enable them to do that?

On the noble Lord’s latter point, the Government are making good headway with recruiting 20,000 more police officers, who are operationally independent of the Government. As for the number one objective, of course it will be safety. The elements that rental scooters have that privately owned scooters do not have are unique IDs, rear lights and signalling ability, and I am sure that those factors will be taken into consideration.

Will my noble friend undertake to ensure that disability organisations, particularly the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, are consulted by the police about enforcement of the law concerning e-scooters?

I cannot say whether there is an intention to do that, but I acknowledge my noble friend’s point and will take it back. Not only are these things fast, they are also incredibly quiet and therefore difficult to detect.

The Science and Technology Select Committee in another place, on which I used to serve, once visited Boston, Massachusetts, and met entrepreneurs developing e-scooters. We had test drives, which were—let us say—challenging for some of us. Will the Minister and other government members undergo prolonged tests on e-scooters, as well as Segways and Solowheels, with the media present, to make sure that any new regulations are fit for purpose?

I think doing that with the media present would be a recipe for disaster, particularly for some Members of either your Lordships’ House or the other place. But I agree with the noble Lord’s point that these things have to be well tested. He makes the point about Segways and those mono-wheels, which I think are incredibly dangerous. I agree with him.

I fear that the Government have lost the race now. I am told by cycling groups that there will be 1 million illegal e-scooters on the roads by the end of this year. Would it not be best to make them the same as e-bicycles in the concept and concentrate enforcement on their not going on pavements and on road traffic not speeding?

All of what the noble Lord says is true. E-scooters are different from e-bikes in that you actually have to make some effort to propel the e-bike, whereas the e-scooter is self-propelling. I think they are here to stay, but at the heart of this is the safety of other people riding bikes or, indeed, driving cars, as well the as safety of pedestrians, particularly disabled ones, as my noble friend mentioned.

E-scooters are currently banned in Northern Ireland, but just last week the Belfast Telegraph reported that the PSNI had stepped up enforcement actions against these vehicles and their riders after noticing their increased popularity. Figures provided by local councils show that 210 people have been injured in e-scooter incidents since they were legalised in England last summer. I urge the Minister to share these statistics and any related background information she holds with the devolved Administrations, including Northern Ireland, in case they may be minded to follow Her Majesty’s Government’s misguided and dangerous policy on e-scooters.