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Volume 831: debated on Tuesday 11 July 2023


Asked by

My Lords, there are regulations in place which govern the use of e-bikes on the public highway. Enforcement of these is a matter for the police. All road users have a duty to behave in a safe, responsible manner and to follow the rules set out in the Highway Code.

My Lords, there have been three tragic deaths of 15 and 16 year-olds in recent months, in Cardiff, my home city, and Salford. An exciting new invention—e-bikes—are rapidly becoming a major road safety and social problem, largely because of a lack of appropriate, modern regulations. Will the Minister commit to an urgent review to consider requirements such as helmets and a minimum age for the more powerful bikes? Very importantly, will the Government ensure that anti-tampering technology is installed by manufacturers? It is very easy indeed to override the 15.5 mph speed limit.

There has been some confusion in the media about e-bikes versus e-motorbikes; the two are very different. Obviously, what happened in Salford and Cardiff is tragic. On both those occasions, the individuals involved would have been breaking the law on multiple levels. I accept the noble Baroness’s point about tampering, but e-bikes are subject to type approval, like motorbikes and cars are. The DVSA has a market surveillance programme to make sure that e-bikes on sale meet the standards that we have.

With reports of fires due to excessive heat being generated during the charging of e-bikes in enclosed storage areas—particularly in underground car parks, and even within flats when external storage is unavailable—is there not a need for an urgent further safety review, followed by guidance on safety measures, or even further regulations if necessary?

I am delighted to say that the Government are already conducting that research. The Department for Business and Trade is working with the Home Office and the Department for Transport in assessing exactly what the issue is. We are also developing guidance jointly with the industry which will advise on charging e-bikes and various other safety measures concerning their batteries.

My Lords, I am an owner and an enthusiastic user of e-bikes. They are great; I use them both in the country and in London. To the extent that there are problems with use, those arise in large part because of the difficulties of enforcing existing regulations. I hope the Government will be very slow to introduce new regulations which might make life difficult for responsible users.

I am incredibly grateful to my noble friend, because we know that e-bikes have huge environmental benefits. They can be used on more difficult journeys, and they can take those who may be less able—which, of course, I am not suggesting is the case here—further and slightly faster. If we were to change the regulations on e-bikes, which are very clear at the moment, we would do so with an abundance of caution.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm whether there is any type approval for the types of what I think she called e-bikes that are not limited to the speed of a normal Brompton bike, such as the electric one I have, and do not need any pedal power? It seems to me that there are lots of them running around London and other places that can go any speed, do not need numberplates or helmets, and probably do not have any insurance.

No, those people who are riding those vehicles in those circumstances are breaking the law. All vehicles that are not e-bikes—they would be electric motorbikes—have to be registered with the DVLA, insured and taxed; the person would have to have a driving licence and to wear a helmet. Essentially, they would be the same as a traditional ICE motorbike and, yes, there is type approval of those vehicles.

My Lords, my noble friend replied to a Written Question from me, saying:

“The Government is considering bringing forward legislation to introduce new offences concerning careless or dangerous cycling”,

particularly in the case of “irresponsible cycling behaviour”, including by e-cyclists. Will she support my Road Traffic Offences (Cycling) Bill, which would introduce the offences to which she refers in her Answer?

My noble friend is quite right: the Government are considering it and we will publish our consultation response soon.

My Lords, as we have heard, there are already lots of rules governing e-bikes limiting their power and speed, and it is already illegal to ride them on pavements, so we do not need more rules. We need the police to enforce the ones we have; just as, when it comes to more rules for cycling generally, the police should be enforcing rules on drivers who speed or jump red lights—we see this every day on the streets of London, and that causes many more serious injuries and deaths to pedestrians and cyclists on the road.

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, but of course these are operational matters for the police. The police are operationally independent. However, they respond to pressure from local communities and the police and crime commissioner; therefore, I encourage those people to ensure that the police are doing what I am sure many would want in their local areas.

My Lords, I am totally in awe of my noble friend Lord Hailsham and believe he should be allowed to use his e-bike, as he does impeccably. Does my noble friend agree that e-scooters are a different thing entirely? They overtake taxis, their riders never have helmets, they have no registration numbers—they are an absolute menace. Can the wretched things be got rid of, as they have been in Paris?

This Government are not a great fan of banning things, but we do need to think very carefully about e-scooters on our roads. As my noble friend will know, it is illegal to ride a private e-scooter on a public road—it has always been, and it remains, illegal. When parliamentary time allows, we will bring in legislation for micromobility which will cover private e-scooters, but it will also provide a licensing framework for the rental micromobility operations which are currently in trial across the country.

My Lords, I have twice witnessed the same man riding up and down Whitehall—of all places—backwards on a cycle. At first, I thought it was a circus act, but then I saw him come the other way. Not once have I seen a police officer even take any notice of him. I cannot understand it, for the life of me. If we are accepting this sort of behaviour, what chance has the average motorist? We now have a full complement of police officers, and they really should be doing their job.

I do not really know how to respond to that. I was trying to think whether riding backwards was somehow riding carelessly, and it may well be, but, obviously, I did not see the gentleman. The noble Lord is absolutely right: it is a question of enforcement and the police should be encouraged to enforce our road laws properly.

My Lords, while the legal speed limit for e-bikes is 25 kph, the Minister will know that models which exceed that are widely available, and many who ride them may not even know that they are breaking the law. What assessment has the Minister made of the levels of enforcement by the police of those models, and can she share any data on these, including possible confiscation?

Yes. The Government are extremely active in this area. As I said previously, the DVSA has a market surveillance programme. Each retailer must check that the EAPC is compatible with the regulations. To date, five retailers have been prosecuted and there have been fines and criminal convictions, while many other investigations are ongoing. Such retailers are instructed to recall and remedy any non-compliant products. There is a system for catching these products. If there are products out there that have an off-road capability, for example, where you can switch it to more than 15.5 mph, we believe that those products do not comply with the regulations and we would encourage the DVSA to take appropriate enforcement action.

My noble friend the Minister is right that this is a matter for police enforcement, as other noble Lords have pointed out. However, she knows as well as I do that not a single police force in the country cares about this issue or is doing anything about enforcement. Will she use the powers of her office to gather every chief constable together for a conference and tell them to enforce the law for the safety not just of the riders but of the pedestrians who get mowed down on the pavement every day of the week?

The Department for Transport, the Home Office and the leaders of police forces across the country speak frequently about road safety. The messages about e-scooters and e-bikes are passed on, as are wider issues around road safety. As I say, these are operational decisions for the police; we must leave it to them to make those decisions for themselves.