I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Government recognise the value of investment. The Prime Minister has made clear her intention that this country should be the best place in the world to develop, test and deploy cutting-edge transport technology. We have already established ourselves as one of the world’s best places in which to research and develop next generation technology, but we also need to act to ensure that the UK benefits from the economic opportunities that those technologies provide. The Bill will help to ensure that the United Kingdom is ahead of our European and global competitors by creating the right balance of an open and permissive regulatory framework that keeps safety and consumer needs paramount.
There are enormous possibilities ahead with these technologies. In a few years, we will all increasingly have the opportunity to use semi-automated and automated vehicles. While amusing and novel for many of us, that will revolutionise the way many people live their lives; in particular, it will make a huge difference to the disabled and the elderly. However, to make these technologies a reality, we need to act now. We need to create the regimes that will help developers to bring their products to market in a safe way that protects consumers.
The Bill that I introduce to the House today is forward-looking, urgent and ambitious: urgent because we need to maintain and lead the modern transport revolution by attracting inward investment and becoming a hub for researching and developing the next generation of transport technologies; ambitious because we are establishing the right regulatory framework in advance to spur innovation in a safe manner.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving way so soon in his speech. Is he aware of a company called Dearman, which produces clean engines for use on refrigeration units? I am a bit disappointed there is nothing in the Bill that relates to that. The engines on these units normally use red diesel, and they are incredibly dirty. Although that technology is not in the Bill, I hope he will consider it, as a technology of the future. May I also just remind him that I invited him to come for a cycle ride around London with me, and I am still waiting for his response?
I am not aware of the technology the right hon. Gentleman refers to, but we are very interested in seeing this country be a real success in developing new technologies. The issues of clean-engine technology affect not just this country but many countries around the world, and any country that has a breakthrough in that area has a real opportunity worldwide. Of course, the Department for International Trade is focused on trying to help not just our biggest businesses but smaller businesses to exploit the opportunities that are out there.
Advances in data science, connectivity and automation are converging to bring about the biggest changes to mobility since the internal combustion engine. Automated vehicle technologies will have a profound effect on how we get around.
I will talk in a moment about electric vehicle technology. We are certainly seeing a transformation in battery technology. I expect the new generation of battery vehicles—we expect a new model of the Nissan LEAF to be selling in this country over the coming months —to take a real step forward. Of course, the longer the range of a battery and a vehicle, the more that vehicle becomes a realistic alternative for those driving around not just cities, but the country more broadly.
We need to ensure that the benefits of a shift towards intelligent mobility are felt far and wide, with journeys that are easier and more fuel-efficient; transport networks that are more accessible and responsive to the needs of those who use them; and, of course, new, high-value jobs in the technology and automotive sector, where we already have a number of businesses that are pathfinders in the field of developing autonomous vehicles.
We are embracing these developments. We are acting to position the United Kingdom as a global leader in automated vehicle technology, building on our heritage as a nation of entrepreneurs.
I am delighted to hear what my right hon. Friend is saying, and I fully support the Bill he has brought before the House. In Norway, around a quarter of all vehicles are electric or hybrid electric. On maintaining our leadership position, by what date does he think the United Kingdom might be on a parallel with the proportion in Norway?
Well, I would not put a forecast on it. Suffice it to say to my hon. Friend—he has been a diligent follower of this issue and is keen to pursue it, and he has been engaged in discussions with my Department about it—that our ambitions remain strong. We have good incentives in this country. We have measures in the Bill to make an electronic vehicle charging network much more transparent and visible. These things will accelerate the production and sale of these vehicles in the United Kingdom. Of course, with the Nissan LEAF in Sunderland, we have the world’s first mass-production car of that kind.
Car sales are projected to rise from somewhere in the region of 74 million today to 100 million in 2030, helped not least by the launch of the fourth-generation Range Rover, the Velar, which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Transport, saw with me last week. Mr Cunningham made a good point about the infrastructure being in the right place for the battery technology and the plants to be developed. We need that infrastructure in place near Jaguar Land Rover, so will the Secretary of State please tell me what his plans are for that?
Indeed, we do need that infrastructure. As I have said, I am excited about what JLR is doing in the field of electric vehicles. The Government car service is already a customer of the company, but I look forward to it also becoming an early customer of those electric vehicles as they are manufactured and sold. The company has specifically said that it needs infrastructure improvements to help it with those developments and its ambitions for electric vehicle manufacturing in the United Kingdom. I assure the House that it will receive that support. The autumn statement provided extra funding for electric charging points. This Bill provides for much greater transparency of data, making it much easier for those who own and drive electric vehicles to identify the locations of the best charging points. That is part of a strategy that will, in my view, drive forward substantially the sales of those vehicles in this country.
We should not, however, be entirely technologically biased. We will also take further steps to encourage the development of hydrogen vehicles in the United Kingdom and, of course, we provide tax incentives for hybrid vehicles. We must drive for a higher quality of vehicle in this country when it comes to the propensity to pollute, and we must provide the right support for that market to emerge. However, we must allow the technologies to win those battles themselves, rather than have the Government winning them for them.
This is not only about electric vehicles and almost zero emissions. There is an interim stage: in some places, we could convert lorries and diesel vans to liquid petroleum gas to get those NOx levels down in the hot spots quicker than if we tried to convert everything to electricity straight away.
Indeed. I know that my hon. Friend has been determined to push that argument, and rightly so, because that technology could make a difference to emissions. I absolutely support those who seek to transition vehicles to LPG, but the Government should not focus on one particular technology. We need to create the right environment for all technologies to compete to deliver the cleanest possible vehicles for the future, which is in all our interests.
I will talk about electric vehicles before turning to autonomous vehicles. The Bill creates the right environment for those markets to develop. We have a clear goal that by 2050 nearly all cars and vans should be emission-free, but we want to accelerate that transition. That will happen partly through giving financial help, through grants and the tax system, to motorists choosing a cleaner vehicle, and we are also supporting local authorities that provide incentives through free and cheap parking to those who move down the road towards acquiring a cleaner vehicle.
We have also helped develop a network of more than 11,000 public charge points in the UK; as I have said, significant funding is in place to allow more of them to be developed. We want the uptake in electric cars to continue, whether they be hydrogen fuel cell or battery powered, and for them to break into the mass market. The Bill introduces a number of new powers that will help make that possible. In particular, it enables common technical standards and better interoperability, and it will ensure that consumers have reliable information on the location and availability of charge points. We will also be able to accelerate the roll-out of electric vehicle infrastructure at key locations, such as motorway service areas and large fuel retailers, and make charge points ready for the needs of the marketplace.
Of course, we will then see further technological developments with hydrogen and, I suspect, and as my hon. Friend says, more developments on the LPG front. The Bill will create more of the necessary powers to drive forward the ambition of getting a much cleaner fleet of vehicles on our roads.
I welcome the Bill and the news that the registration rate of ultra-low-emission vehicles is rising rapidly. Two-tier local authorities can work better on issues relating to air quality and the Bill will enable them to reduce air pollution. Will the Secretary of State make a commitment that, where wider infrastructure investment is needed for roads such as the Botley bypass and the Chickenhall link road in my constituency—they are well known to the Department—it will come hand in hand with the Bill’s provisions?
Today is probably not a day for going into the detail of schemes, but I give my hon. Friend an assurance that we see easing congestion as part of the solution. Emissions are generated not just by dirty vehicles, but when cars are stuck in traffic jams or crawl along slowly for long periods. The Government’s investment in the road infrastructure will therefore ease emission problems in areas in which congestion is the principal cause.
I will talk briefly about automated vehicles. The Bill sets in motion the first steps towards the use of such vehicles on UK roads. They are a way to improve the situation regarding both congestion and air quality, because they will drive in a more efficient and effective way without creating the congestion to which human driving habits sometimes contribute. We will not wake up tomorrow to find a fleet of automated vehicles, but we will see rapid change. Technology will proceed step by step as our cars become more and more automated, and not too many years ahead the use of automated vehicles on our roads will start to become widespread. We will act to remove safely any obvious barriers to that happening.
We want journeys to be easier and more fuel efficient, and we want transport networks to be more accessible and responsive to the needs of those who use them. One part of achieving that is to deliver for the first time an insurance framework that makes it possible for automated vehicles to operate on our roads, and that is what the Bill does. You will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that your insurance policy on your car is for you, the driver. It is not for the vehicle. The Bill will allow the creation of two-dimensional insurance policies that cover you when you are driving the vehicle and that cover the vehicle if it is being driven autonomously. That will make it possible to move towards a framework in which insurance companies can provide cover for the vehicles of the future.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the point. The two-dimensional insurance policy will cover both the vehicle and the driver. If the driver is at the wheel, the insurance policy will cover the liability of the driver, but if a car is driving itself, the insurance policy will be extended to cover the vehicle. In that way, we cover all eventualities and make it possible for those cars to operate on our roads when the technology is ready for them to do so. That important step has been welcomed by the insurance industry. It opens the door to a new generation of vehicles on our roads, and it sends a message to the automotive industry and the world that we in this country are going to make sure that we have the right regulatory framework to enable those vehicles to operate.
I now change modes and move on to aviation.
Before my right hon. Friend changes modes, I know that he would be very disappointed if I did not mention motorcycling. I notice that the word “motorcycle” does not appear in the document “Pathway to Driverless Cars”. That initially pleased me because, as he will realise, an autonomous motorcycle would be entirely pointless, but I am slightly concerned about whether we have adequately considered the ability of driverless cars to coexist safely on our roads with motorcycles. Since I am on my feet, may I also say that many of his objectives could be achieved with a small modal shift to motorcycling?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of the motorcycle, and I cannot for a moment imagine him wanting to have anything to do with an autonomous motorcycle. Given the pleasure that he derives from motorcycling, I cannot imagine him sitting on the back of his bike and reading the paper while the vehicle drives itself along.
One important part of the insurance changes for which the Bill paves the way is ensuring that the insurance framework gives comfort to all on the roads, and that proper insurance is in place if there is, God forbid, an unfortunate “non-interaction”—in other words, not the sort of interaction that we would wish—between any vehicle and an autonomous vehicle, and certainly between a motorbike and an autonomous vehicle. It is really important to get that right. Of course, the technology is some way from being sufficiently clearcut and dependable to enable such vehicles to operate freely and openly on our roads as a matter of daily routine, but that day will come.
Before the Secretary of State moves on to aviation, and while we are still talking about vehicles, insurance and safety on the road—I very much welcome his comments about that—may I ask about pedicabs? They are not of course licensed, regulated or insured, and they cause tremendous grief in central London in that they are not seen as safe. Transport for London does not have any method of regulating them, and we have no way of making sure that they are insured, so will my right hon. Friend consider them when thinking about other aspects of insurance in the future?
I am aware of that issue. I am happy to give my hon. Friend such an assurance and to discuss the issue with her.
I want to probe the Secretary of State on this business about autonomous vehicles and the responsibility of the passenger—or the driver, who is I suppose a passenger in this respect—while the vehicle is in autonomous mode. When the driver is not in control of the vehicle and the vehicle is in autonomous mode, is the driver exonerated of all legal responsibility? Is that the principle of the Bill, because surely it cannot be as simple as that?
The measures focus on insurance. If the vehicle is under its own control, the insurance principle is still applicable. If the insurance policy applies to the driver and the driver is not driving the vehicle, by definition the driver cannot be at fault. Under the provisions in the Bill, it will be possible to have an insurance policy that covers both eventualities of something going wrong: when the driver is driving; and when the vehicle is in autonomous mode. That is one of the key changes necessary to create an environment in which such vehicles can operate freely on the roads.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the prohibitive cost of insurance for young drivers. Does he foresee a time when autonomous vehicles might help young people to have the freedom of a car at a much more affordable cost?
Absolutely. I think that this might help not just younger drivers, but elderly and disabled drivers. Once vehicles start to operate autonomously in a controlled environment, it will become much easier for people who struggle to get out on to the roads today to do so. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that that is one of the possible future benefits.
The Secretary of State does have plenty of time, but I am grateful to him for giving way. One of the outcomes over the next 20 to 25 years might be that the number of taxicab drivers this country needs falls very dramatically, because people will be able to get an automated car to pick them up and take them somewhere. What planning has the Department done on the challenge that that will pose to employment in this country?
The Government certainly think all the time about the impact of future technologies, of which there are many. We are a considerable number of years away from the situation the hon. Gentleman envisages, as most of the cars bought today will still be on the roads for a decade or more. It will probably not be an issue for this Parliament or the following one, but it will certainly be a genuine issue by the 2030s, and he is right to identify it as one.
We have of course seen throughout modern history how changes in technology alter ways of working—we will see more of that in the future. It is up to us as a society, and us in this Parliament and our successors, to make sure, none the less, that this country is a dynamic, entrepreneurial one that takes advantage of new technologies and creates job opportunities off the back of such changes. We are certainly doing that, and we will continue to do so. One of the ways in which the Bill will help is that if we set ourselves at the forefront of the development of such technology in this country, that will create a new generation of job opportunities that simply did not exist before.
I will move on to talk briefly about other aspects of the Bill. There are two key innovations in the aviation sector, which is crucial and a key part of our economy. Our air traffic control is provided under a licence held by NATS. It oversees 6,000 flights every day and develops innovative solutions that are used around the globe. It is essential that its licence is fit for purpose and that consumers are at the heart of the regulatory regime. The Bill will modernise the licensing framework for the UK’s en route air traffic control, which is currently undertaken by a subsidiary of NATS and overseen by the Civil Aviation Authority.
We propose to update the licensing framework in three ways. First, we will change the way in which licence conditions can be modified by the regulator. Currently, the CAA needs to get the agreement of NATS before it modifies the conditions. The Bill will give it more flexibility to make changes when they are necessary without going through a long negotiating process. The provisions will make sure that the CAA always acts solely in accordance with its duties while ensuring that the licence holder is also able to appeal modifications to the Competition and Markets Authority.
Secondly, the Bill clarifies the power to amend the length of the licence term. Currently, the licence termination period is 10 years, which sits uncomfortably alongside the average 15-year asset life of NATS investments. We think that exercising the power to extend the licence termination notice period will increase NATS’s finance ability, which in turn will lead to more efficient services being provided to users.
Thirdly, we are enhancing the enforcement regime, which is currently bureaucratic and inflexible. We will ensure that the CAA is accountable for enforcement decisions through appeal rights, but there will be a staggered approach to enforcement. Instead of having a situation in which there is no middle ground between serious action and a slap on the wrist, this will allow for a staged penalty regime that should give the CAA a clearer power to drive better performance in the management of our air traffic control systems.
The second aviation measure concerns consumer protection for holidaymakers. By its very nature, there are a number of risks in the holiday market. It is common for consumers to pay upfront on the promise of a holiday that might be many months away. As we have seen all too often, the financial stability of individual holiday providers can be shaky and sometimes the system lets down holidaymakers. In the rare event of a company failure, consumers may experience financial loss from a cancelled holiday or difficulties due to being stranded abroad. That is why the air travel organisers’ licence scheme was introduced back in the 1970s. It is the primary method by which the travel sector provides insolvency protection within our packaged travel regimes.
Madam Deputy Speaker, you will know that the way we book holidays is changing, so we need to adapt the schemes and regulations that protect people. The Bill will enable the ATOL scheme to respond to innovation in the travel sector, as well as enhancements to the UK and European consumer protection rules. It extends ATOL protection to a broader range of holidays and makes it easier for UK businesses to trade across borders, ensuring that the scheme remains fit for today’s world.
There are two or three final measures to explain to the House, first on vehicle testing. We already work in partnership with the private sector to deliver bus and lorry MOT tests at private sector sites. Such tests used to be delivered from Government sites. Of course, the testing of cars is done by private operators around the country. Through the Bill, we want to extend the partnership with the private sector to deliver specialist vehicle tests from those established or additional private sector sites, thus providing services that are convenient and local. The Government will benefit because we will not have to pay for the upkeep of Government sites. That will help to keep down the cost of vehicle tests, which will still be delivered by Government examiners who will travel to those private sites.
We will not compromise on vehicle safety and nor will we remove any Government sites from operations until a suitable private sector site has been established. Such private sector sites are inspected and appropriately approved. This partnership approach has worked well and has been popular with industry. We will introduce a statutory charge for the site owner to make for the use of their premises and equipment. It will be known as the pit fee, and it will be capped to avoid any unreasonable charges.
One of the highest profile issues that has faced the aviation transport sector, in particular over the past few months, is the misuse of laser pointers. The penultimate measure in the Bill should bolster safety across all transport modes and deal with the problem properly. Each year there are approximately 1,500 laser attacks on aircraft. Those incidents pose a threat to the safe operation of aircraft, risk causing eye damage to pilots, and put the lives of passengers and crew in danger. This is an issue for not just aircraft, but other modes of transport.
We will create an offence of dazzling or distracting the person in control of a vehicle. It will be triable either way, and will allow police to enter a private property for the purposes of arrest and to search for a laser pointer. It will be a clear deterrent to would-be offenders, with unlimited fines and a potential five-year jail sentence, sending a clear signal that using laser pointers in this manner will not be tolerated.
The act of shining or directing a laser at the eyes of a person in control of a vehicle that is covered by part 4 is a cause of great concern at Southampton airport, and its impact has been raised through consultative committees. The problem is particularly bad at regional airports. Many of my constituents work for NATS and report how dangerous these incidents are. They are also very concerned about drones. Is there scope to include the misuse of drones in this part of the Bill?
We are consulting on a new regime for drones, but the measures do not all have to go into primary legislation. I assure my hon. Friend that we are looking carefully at how to provide proper protection for airports and others from the use of drones in our society.
I am sorry that I was not in my place at the start of my right hon. Friend’s speech on this important Bill. I am delighted that the Government are taking such action on lasers. Although, according to the eminent eye surgeon, Professor John Marshall, who is my constituent, irreversible damage is unlikely to be caused because of the distances at which these lasers are operated, the risk to pilots is nevertheless very serious indeed. As my right hon. Friend knows, I am a pilot, and the thought that passengers could be put at risk makes it imperative that we take a decision on this. What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the laser manufacturers? May I also encourage him to take action on drones quickly?
I know that my hon. Friend is a committed aviator and that he understands these issues. My Department has had a broad range of discussions about the impact of lasers. We think that the risk of a five-year jail sentence is a pretty strong deterrent that will, I hope, focus the minds of those who might be tempted to use, in such a dangerous way, something that should be a simple and innocuous tool for making presentations in a conference room. People who act in such a reckless manner should expect a very serious penalty indeed, and I hope that they will think twice before doing so again.
Lastly, I come on to the issue of courses. When drivers and motorcyclists transgress, but not excessively, the police have the discretion to offer them an educational course as an alternative to a fixed penalty. Such courses are valuable. They help to remind participants about the consequences of inattentive driving. Drivers pay to attend the course, but they avoid paying the fixed penalty fine or having points added to their licence.
The Bill clarifies the basis on which police have the authority to charge for such courses. For the avoidance of doubt, we are providing a simple statement that the power to charge exists, together with technical arrangements for specifying its scope. This technical measure will not affect road users; it simply clarifies the legislative position, and provides greater transparency and police accountability regarding the way in which these charges are set.
The Bill contains a number of measures that are designed to improve the way in which our transport system works. Above all else, it paves the way for what is going to be a revolution on our roads. As we see the emergence of connected and autonomous vehicles, our lives will change—I think that this will be a change for the better for many in our society. This is one of the most exciting technological developments that mankind has produced for a very long time, and we want this country to be at the front of the development and trialling of the technology, and then at the front of experiencing it. The Bill paves the way to achieve that. It brings into play a number of improvements across our transport system. More than anything else, I hope that it will start this country down the road towards an automotive revolution that will transform everyone’s lives.
We were here last week debating the Bus Services Bill, when I said that another transport Bill would be along in a minute—and here it is. I thank the Secretary of State for his summary and account, and I wholeheartedly agree that the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill—VTAB from now on—presents an opportunity to put the UK ahead of the curve on transport, will encourage research and innovation that will shape how we travel in the future and will create the high-skill jobs that our economy needs, as well as tackling our environmental and climate change challenges.
Let me take this opportunity to place on record the Opposition’s thanks to the Minister of State, Department for Transport, Mr Hayes, for his collegiate attitude and co-operation. We share his objective of making this the best possible piece of legislation as it passes through the House. The Opposition are not opposed to the Bill; we are broadly very supportive of it. There are, however, some concerns about the impact of some parts of the Bill, so we shall press the Government on some issues and table amendments in Committee. Of course, the Bill alone is no substitute for the wider policy framework required for the UK to take advantage of the opportunities presented to us, but it is an important Bill that we wish to support.
Part 1 deals with automated vehicles and insurance. We expect ultra-low emission and connected and autonomous vehicles to play an important role in our country’s transport in the years to come, so it is right that the Government are seeking to address some of the issues relating to autonomous vehicles. Last year the UK automotive industry added some £18.9 billion in value to the UK economy. It supported 169,000 people directly in manufacturing, and some 814,000 across the industry and throughout supply chains. Forecasters have estimated that the overall benefits of ULEVs and autonomous vehicles are in the region of £51 billion a year, creating an additional 320,000 jobs.
If we are to build on that—which is increasingly important following the UK’s decision to leave the EU—it will be necessary for the UK to take advantage of the economic and social benefits that those vehicles present. Their uptake will play an important role in the tackling of the air quality crisis which leads to 40,000 premature deaths each year as well as hundreds of thousands of cases of respiratory illnesses, which is choking many of our towns and cities, and which the Government have hitherto failed to address. Such vehicles will also be vital to the UK’s meeting of its climate change objectives, for which the Government currently lack a clear plan.
In recent years, the Government have failed to reduce the number of casualties on our roads, against a backdrop of cuts in road policing and the scrapping of road casualty targets introduced under Labour. Those are pressing issues which the Government need to address here and now, but the potential 25,000 casualties a year that could be avoided by 2030 represent a significant opportunity to make our roads safer.
It is vital for us to introduce the legislation that is needed to facilitate and encourage investment, innovation and the uptake of vehicles of this kind, but if that is to be possible, a definition of autonomous vehicles will be necessary. At present, there is no clear distinction between advanced driver assistance systems and fully automated driving technology in UK policy, standards and legislation. The Bill requires the Secretary of State to prepare, keep up to date and publish a list of all motor vehicles to be used on roads in Great Britain that are deemed to be
“capable…of safely driving themselves without having to be monitored by an individual” for some or part of a journey, and the definition of an automated vehicle will be a vehicle that is included in the list drawn up by the Secretary of State.
There is a need for collaboration between the Government, manufacturers, insurers and consumers to develop a viable and practical system of classification to identify when a vehicle is deemed to be “automated” or “autonomous”. The dividing lines between automated and autonomous vehicles are not always completely clear. The Government must give more details of their plans to classify vehicles as “automated”, and consult widely on the definition and criteria for adding to the list of AVs in the Bill. In Committee, we will be pressing the Government for that to be subject to secondary legislation.
Resolving the issue of how automated vehicles can be insured is essential if they are to become a feature on British roads. We therefore support the Government’s action to ensure that vehicle insurance policies facilitate that in the future. We are, however, concerned about the potential costs to policyholders, and contention over liability between manufacturers and insurers. It is imperative that, in the event of technological failure in an AV, it is easy for consumers to establish quickly where liability rests, and are able to make a claim as appropriate. At present, insurance law in the UK is driver-centric. Drivers must have insurance in order to provide compensation for third parties for personal injury or property damage.
The Government’s intention is to emphasise that if there is an insurance event, the compensation route for the individual remains within the motor insurance framework rather than through a product liability framework against a manufacturer. However, the Bill does provide insurers with the capability to claim against manufacturers of vehicles if the automated vehicle was driving itself and was deemed to be at fault for the incident. But this is not clear-cut, and the Association of British Insurers has expressed concerns that existing insurance practices would need to be significantly altered to deal routinely with road traffic accidents involving automated vehicles. The Government themselves acknowledge this in their impact assessment for the Bill and say this might result in increased administrative and procedural costs for insurers.
Although the Bill does enable insurers to claim from the manufacturers where the vehicle is in automated mode and deemed at fault for an incident, the Government acknowledge that there could be significant teething problems with this system, particularly with early disagreements between the parties about liability. As such, it is difficult to estimate how different insurance premiums will be when automated vehicles are fully functional and on the road.
The roll-out and proliferation of autonomous vehicles should produce significant safety benefits, with driver error being either significantly reduced or eliminated. While that should consequently lead to reduced premiums, a great deal of work will be necessary as we prepare for this new environment, to better assess whether that will in fact be the case. If there are increased procedural and administrative costs for insurers, there could be higher premiums. If that is the case, there would be a severe impact on the uptake of AVs in the UK, making the Government’s actions self-defeating. We believe that the Government must review at regular intervals how the insurance for AVs is working, so Labour will be pressing for a review date on the face of the Bill.
Let me now move to the second part of the Bill relating to electric vehicles, charging and infrastructure. Electric vehicles and alternatively fuelled vehicles are key to reducing air pollution and meeting the UK’s climate change objectives, as well as presenting economic opportunities. The uptake of electric, hybrid and alternatively fuelled vehicles is already under way and increasing, yet we note that the Government are still 1.5 million vehicles short of their 1.6 million ULEV target for 2020, so it is imperative that action is taken to encourage their uptake.
The section of the Bill on EV-charging infrastructure is largely about enabling secondary legislation and will not have significant impacts in the short term, but if the UK intends to be a global leader, we agree that we need to take broader action sooner rather than later. Given the importance of future-proofing the legislative framework in this area, Labour recognises the need to use secondary legislation, but we will be seeking commitments from the Government to consult properly and widely throughout the process.
We will also be seeking assurances and a review from the Government of how the provisions of the Bill fit within a broader strategy for reducing harmful vehicle emissions and promoting a switch to ULEVs and EVs. For uptake to be encouraged, electric vehicles need to be practical, affordable and convenient for users, which means putting in place the necessary infrastructure. There are currently nearly 12,000 charging points for electric vehicles in the UK, but at present there are multiple charging point operators, each with their own plugs, software, customer charges, billing systems and payment methods. They are also unevenly distributed: as reported in The Times last September, there are more charging points available on the Orkney islands than in Blackpool, Grimsby and Hull combined. It is therefore welcome that this Bill seeks to increase the number of charging point facilities and to address their harmonisation and standardisation. The Bill will allow the Government to require co-operation and the sharing of facilities, and information from operators allowing the Government to ensure interoperability for charging regardless of what specific EV a person might have, if necessary.
Clause 11 gives the Secretary of State the power to introduce regulations that require operators to provide information about public charging points, such as location, operating hours, cost and interoperability, and these too are welcome. Of course it is right that this legislation should be put in place, but it alone will not be enough successfully to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles. It was counterproductive of the Government to slash the grants available for ultra-low emission vehicles and electric vehicles and to cut the plug-in grants for EVs and for home charging. In May last year, the grant for purchasing an electric vehicle was cut from £5,000 to £4,500, and the grant for hybrids was cut from £5,000 to £2,500. The electric vehicle home charge scheme grant was cut from £700 to £500 per installation.
There are further issues that are not addressed by the Bill, which the Government must get right. They must ensure that the grid is capable of meeting the additional demands that electric vehicles will bring. That must be planned for and closely monitored as electric vehicle use becomes more common. The Government must also develop a strategy to tackle the skills gap, because without training the necessary personnel, we as a nation will not be able to support the growth of this new generation of vehicles and will miss out on the benefits that they present. On infrastructure more broadly, the Government must ensure that regulatory divergence does not develop between the UK and the EU as a result of Brexit, and that regulation and standards are maintained. This is essential if the UK is to be the vehicle manufacturers’ location of choice for the development, testing and deployment of automated and electric vehicles.
The third section of the Bill relates to aviation, and Labour broadly welcomes the proposals to strengthen the role of the Civil Aviation Authority in respect of seeking licence modification changes. We recognise the need to implement the ATOL reforms in order to comply with the EU package travel directive. We also note that stakeholders are supportive of the proposals in the Bill. The proposed changes will allow the Civil Aviation Authority the modify licences more quickly. This is in line with recommendations from a report on NATS and will give NATS greater financial certainty. However, we are keen that the Government restate their commitment that the licensee will not find it unduly difficult to finance its activities and that these proposals will not be a subtext for the sell-off of NATS.
Clause 18 will bring ATOL up to date and ensure that it is harmonised with the latest EU package travel directive, extending to a wider range of holidays and protecting more consumers as well as allowing UK travel companies to sell more seamlessly across Europe. Labour welcomes the extensions, which will ultimately help to protect more holidaymakers, but we want clarity on how UK consumers will be protected by EU-based companies, as they will no longer be subject to ATOL but to member state equivalents. The implications for ATOL after Brexit are also a cause for concern. Hidden in the Bill are proposals that the Secretary of State will require only an affirmative resolution to significantly reform ATOL and the Air Travel Trust fund. Labour recognises the merits of some reforms, but we believe that an impact assessment, full consultation and full scrutiny will be required before any fundamental changes are made to this well respected consumer protection.
These issues bring to the forefront uncertainties over the future of UK aviation following the decision to leave the European Union, and Labour has been clear that whichever framework is chosen, the Government should prioritise retaining an essentially unchanged operating environment. They should prioritise air services agreements as part of the exit negotiations, and, as is customary, such agreements should be negotiated separately from and prior to the UK’s negotiations on trade with the EU.
On the three miscellaneous clauses in part 4 of the Bill, I shall deal first with clause 21, which relates to powers to designate premises for vehicle testing and to cap testing station fees. In principle, we do not oppose the changes that would allow Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency testing to take place on private premises, but we believe that the Government should provide further details as well as reassurances that the changes will not adversely impact existing testing facilities and staff. While an increase in the number of testing facilities across the country is to be welcomed, and while the Government have intimated that existing public sector facilities will not disappear before alternative facilities are available in the vicinity, we want more detailed assurances.
Secondly, in part 4 of the Bill, we are pleased to see in clause 22 that the Government are now beginning to tackle the dangers of lasers that present hazards and the offence of shining or directing a laser at a vehicle, which could result in terrible consequences if left unaddressed. It has proved too difficult to enforce the existing offence of endangerment by shining a light, so we support the creation of a new offence for the act of shining a laser beam, which could carry a maximum penalty of a fine and five years’ imprisonment. While that is to be welcomed, we encourage the Government to look at the ready availability of such devices and how that might be curtailed. When we heard from the Secretary of State, there was some confusion about the change of offence from endangerment to the act of shining a light, so it would be appreciated if the Minister could clarify that.
On aviation safety, the lack of action on drones in this Bill is a concern, as hon. Members have already indicated. There were 70 reported near misses with aircraft in 2016. The Government are not addressing the problem at the required pace, and Labour will seek to amend the Bill in Committee to regulate drones in order to address aviation safety concerns.
Turning to clause 23 and the courses offered as alternatives to prosecution, Labour broadly agrees with the Government’s proposed measures on diversionary courses, which clarify the basis on which diversionary courses can be used as alternatives to fixed penalty notices and be charged for. However, the Government should bring forward an assessment and review the effectiveness of such courses. It is imperative that there is some basis on which to establish that the programme is worth pursuing, but there appears to be little evidence at the moment. It is important to remind the Government that legislation alone is not enough to keep our roads safe at a time when police traffic officer numbers have been cut by a third and when progress on reducing deaths and casualties on our roads has ground to a halt.
In conclusion, Labour broadly supports the Bill, which marks the beginning of an exciting new era in transport technology. We are committed to securing the best possible framework to ensure that the sector flourishes.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate the Government on introducing it. I also congratulate the Department for Transport team. From time to time, we have had something of a mixed bag of Ministers at the Department, but we now have one of the best teams ever. Long may they stay in office. I declare an interest as chair of the all-party parliamentary historic vehicles group and the owner of a number of historic vehicles. It may seem a little odd to some that I, with an interest in historic vehicles and dedicated to preserving old vehicles and to ensuring that all are free to continue to use them on public highways, should welcome a Bill that seeks to take a step forward. However, I see nothing unusual in that because motoring has always been about pushing forward the frontiers. We can preserve the past, while embracing the future.
Only a decade or so ago, referring to driverless cars would have felt like something from a sci-fi comic to many people, but the very invention of a moving vehicle powered by a machine was revolutionary in its day, and the motor car has always had its detractors since those early days. In 1899, a Member of this House, John Douglas-Scott-Montagu bought his very first motor car—a 12 hp Daimler vehicle. He acquired the car in May, and in the summer of that year he drove it to the House of Commons for the first time, being the first parliamentarian to do so. When he got to the House of Commons, he was prevented from entering the precincts by a policeman on duty, who warned him that he thought there was a very real risk of the contraption blowing up the Palace of Westminster. So Mr Douglas-Scott-Montagu did what any good MP would and should do and appealed to the Speaker, one William Gully, who looked at the evidence, read up about this new-fangled thing—a car powered by a machine rather than a horse—and decided that the Member could bring the car into the precincts, so the very first spat between the police and a motorist was decided in the motorist’s favour.
As the Secretary of State and Andy McDonald have said, the Bill primarily but not exclusively addresses the advent of automated vehicles. Public transport is not an option for everyone, but neither is driving. Having automated vehicles on our roads will provide an opportunity to liberate people, particularly in rural areas, who are not able to use public transport and who cannot drive but who will grasp the opportunity to use an automated car. However, I will probably be one of the last people to switch to using an automated vehicle, because I enjoy driving. The most recent car I purchased has an intelligent cruise control system, and the car applies the brakes on its own if someone pulls out in front of me. I find that most infuriating because, time after time, the car applies the brakes when I can see that the motorist who pulled out in front of me is accelerating and I would not have applied the brakes. At the moment, I am not a fan of driverless cars. I cannot ever see myself owning a driverless car, but I can see that they will fill a niche in the market and that they will become invaluable to some people.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough raised concerns about insurance costs, and the Department’s figures indicate that about 97% of all road accidents are caused by driver error, not by vehicle condition. If the software is anything like competent, it should lead to a reduction in the number of accidents and, one would hope, a reduction in insurance premiums.
My right hon. Friend says that he will never buy a driverless car, and we are of one mind. I cannot imagine buying a driverless car, and my first question would always be, “How do I turn these things off?” Does he share my concern that, as more driverless cars become available, there will be an increasing pressure on us all to drive up safety by getting a driverless car and that the great hobby of motoring, which he and I enjoy, might come under increasing pressure as the years go by?
Coming under increasing pressure, particularly from the Whips, has never bothered my hon. Friend, so I cannot see that it will be a problem in this instance.
I have a number of questions for the Minister. I think it is self-evident, but I presume that clause 1, which gives the Government power to list automated vehicles for the purpose of approved road use, also includes the right to delist any model that is shown to be unreliable or more susceptible to accidents than other models that are allowed to operate.
Clause 2 contains details on the liability of insurers where an accident is caused by an automated vehicle, but those provisions raise a number of questions. Clearly, the Government think that, if an automated vehicle in automated mode is involved in an accident due to a problem with its manufacture, the insurance policy taken out by the owner will cover the costs of any damage caused in the accident but that, at a later stage, the insurance company will be able to pursue the manufacturer. That is my understanding.
I want to know what happens when no accident is caused but the law is nevertheless broken. Let me give the House an example. I assume that if a driverless car is travelling on the M1, the software would know that the vehicle is on a road where the speed limit is 70 mph. However, some stretches of the M1 are what the Government call “smart motorways”, where a Highways England official has the authority to turn on flashing lights and lower the speed limit to a speed the official thinks appropriate for the road conditions. Let us suppose that a driver in full automated mode on the M1 comes to a stretch of smart motorway and finds that Highways England has suddenly switched the speed limit down to 50 mph. If a police car is travelling behind and the automated car is slow in responding to the reduced limit, the police may stop the automated car and issue a speeding ticket. Who would then be responsible for the speeding ticket and who, if anyone, would take the three points that normally go with a speeding offence? If the owner, who would otherwise be the driver if the vehicle was in manual mode, was relying entirely on the car, he should not be guilty of the offence of speeding and should certainly not have his licence endorsed. The Bill says nothing about this, and I hope the Minister will give us some clue about what the police would be expected to do in that scenario.
The right hon. Gentleman is raising some important points. I would hope that if a speed limit was changed on a stretch of motorway, signals would be sent out and would be received by the automated vehicle, automatically causing it to change speed.
I accept that completely, but the scenario I am painting is one where the software is slow to respond, although it responds eventually. The police will follow a driver who is speeding for only three-tenths of a mile, which is not very far if someone is doing 70 mph. Who would then be responsible for that offence of speeding?
In opening the debate, the Secretary of State did not mention the Motor Insurers Bureau, which plays an invaluable role in guaranteeing funds that protect victims of uninsured drivers. What will be the status of the MIB when the Bill becomes law? Will it be able to recover costs from manufacturers where it is deemed that the software was defective? Will the Minister say something about the Vnuk case, which took place in eastern Europe? It involved a farmworker being knocked off a ladder by a farmer driving a tractor and then suing the insurance company for damages. The court held in the first instance that, as the tractor was on a farm, it did not need to have insurance, but the European Court of Justice overturned that and found in favour of Mr Vnuk, with the implication now that vehicles not on the road and not being used on the road may have to carry insurance. I know that there is concern in the motor racing fraternity about whether motor vehicles taking part in a race have to have insurance. This is not mentioned in the Bill. It may well be that Ministers are planning their response to this Court judgment and will announce it at a later stage, but I would welcome hearing anything that the Minister can say about this case.
The Bill envisages data sharing—the sharing of the driving log and data of automated vehicles. Will that apply only when an automated vehicle is involved in an accident or can data be obtained even where there is no accident? For example, would an employer be able to analyse the data from a self-driving company car to see where the employee went when he was sent out on a mission? Would a divorce lawyer be able to demand to see the data log for the driverless car of a husband if it was thought he was having an affair in another part of town? Who could access the data? I can understand that the data for a driverless car would be recorded to establish who was at fault in any accident, but who would have the right to seek to access that information?
Part 2 deals with electric vehicles and charging. The Secretary of State said in his opening remarks that the Government take the view that nearly all cars and vans should be zero-emission vehicles by 2050. What does he mean by that? Does he mean that by 2050 nearly all cars and vans that are then being manufactured will be zero-emission vehicles? Will he confirm that there is to be no attempt by the Government to force vehicles with some exhaust emissions off our roads at a future point in time?
I accept that it makes sense to increase significantly the provision of the infrastructure required to support the charging of electric vehicles. The Bill will impose on the large fuel retailers a duty to provide public charging points, which is good and to be welcomed. Why are we not also going to require large fuel retailers to do other things for the benefit of all motorists? For example, why are we not going to require fuel retailers to continue to provide fuel with an ethanol content of less than 5% for those who have not updated or cannot update their vehicles?
I understand that, under the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation Order 2007, at some point in time E10 fuel —that is, fuel with 10% ethanol—will be on sale on forecourts in this country. Experiences in France and Germany have shown that E10 fuel is incompatible with vehicles manufactured before 2000. It has the potential to dissolve petrol tanks, in some cases, and certainly to dissolve gaskets; to cause vapour lock in warm weather; and to cause starting difficulties. While we encourage people to move to the new technology, it is important that we do not leave behind a class of people who for the moment cannot afford to update their vehicles and need to go about their daily lives and to go to work. There should be a guarantee that they can still buy fuel with a lower ethanol percentage.
I have no comments to make about part 3, which deals with civil aviation. As has been mentioned, part 4 deals with vehicle testing, the shining of a laser at a vehicle and speed-awareness courses. I note that an offence is committed only if
“the laser beam dazzles or distracts a person with control of the vehicle.”
Could that ever apply for someone who is being driven in an automated vehicle? Clause 22(7) anticipates that the offence would apply in the case of a pilot in a plane, even if that plane is on autopilot, because it refers to someone
“monitoring the flying of…the aircraft”.
Why is there no similar provision for the driver of an automated car who will often be monitoring the progress of his vehicle? Is there any specific reason why the Bill covers only laser beams and not other high-intensity beams?
Speed-awareness courses have been running for several years. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough asked what evidence we had that they are effective. Having spoken to constituents and friends, I have considerable anecdotal evidence that they have been effective and that it was a good day when they were introduced. There is an incentive for an erring motorist to take part in such courses, because by doing so they avoid getting points on their licence. As these courses have been running for several years, why are we only now seeking to regulate them? Are Ministers aware of some legal challenge or some bad practice that we now wish to eliminate? There seems to be an air of mystery around this matter. Why, if these courses have been working well for so long, we are now about to say that we need the law to intervene in this area?
In addition to the new technology, I hope that the Government will look at a number of other common-sense measures. I am talking about following what happens in some American states where, at non-rush-hour periods, traffic lights are switched off or are switched to shine amber in all directions, thereby preventing vehicles from having to stop when there is absolutely no traffic coming in the opposite direction or across the junction.
Reference has been made to air quality. Do Ministers know when they are likely to publish the air quality plan? Is there not a case—I say this with respect—for making local authorities take into account the congestion effects of their crusade to remove road space in favour of wider pavements and more cycle lanes? Someone said to me the other day that there are fewer cars entering central London but that pollution is going up. Well, obviously it is going up because pavements have got wider and road space is being turned over to cycle lanes. The Mayor of London cannot have it both ways. If he wishes to reduce air pollution, he and others need to take care when they are seeking to remove highway lanes.
I started by saying that I welcome the Bill, which I do, and I applaud the Government for introducing it. Clearly, it is intended to address a number of market failures thus far, and I hope that it will enable the UK safely to take advantage of and benefit from new technologies and their use. I hope that it will help consumers in the UK to be among the first in the world to reap the rewards that improved transport technology will surely bring.
The Bill that we debate today is important, but our discourse on it focuses on existing, not future, technology. The Scottish National party welcomes the fact that we can support the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill in its general direction of travel, but we will suggest some helpful adjustments to its navigation if we feel that a wrong turn is being taken. We will also be ready to give the Minister a push if he looks like he is discharging badly.
If we are to change public perception and fully enjoy the benefits of new technology, we need to talk about how we move people not just physically, but emotionally. The reality is that planning for transport should be about planning for the future of people. Accepting only what we are presented with here and now misses the mark. If we are to make a success of the Bill, it is vital that we seek not only to address the known practicalities of the technology as they are presented today, but to have a vision for the way in which the future of transport can make life better for people. I am talking not just about those in the urban areas and those who are well off, but about those who constantly find themselves as an afterthought, be it through geography, different levels of deprivation, disability or lack of opportunity. The Bill must develop a more rounded and inclusive vision as it progresses through this House.
We welcome the sensible measures in the Bill. We will offer our views on those that need more work or more thought with regard to the future, and we will work constructively to progress the legislation. In return, we hope that our points will receive positive consideration.
Common ground can immediately be established on a number of current issues. I am talking about measures that encourage development of economic opportunities for growth and technology in autonomous and electric vehicle sectors; that simplify insurance processes and measures to keep people safe; that match the Scottish Government’s proposals to phase out all petroleum and diesel-fuelled vehicles by 2050; and that curb the malignant use of laser pens on all vehicles, including aircraft.
As has been intonated, there are many questions to be answered and much to add to the Bill to make progress successful. Let me start with autonomous vehicles. This is a global market that presents significant opportunities. KPMG estimates the value to be around £900 billion by 2025, so maximising advantage means acting with pace, but decisions should include ensuring that there are positive outcomes for people beyond the short-term economic reach. We advocate that there is an imperative to ensure that as many people as possible benefit.
There is the potential for a step change in transport for those with disabilities and those suffering from social exclusion as a result of mobility issues. We would also seek to ensure that, even if they do not live in a city, people are not left out and that those in rural areas are enabled to take part meaningfully. Thoughtful consideration must therefore be given to rural areas for the use of autonomous vehicles, and discussions should take place with organisations that represent disabled people to seek their views on the matter.
The Government must also take action to ensure that they grasp the opportunity to promote training and skills and create well-paid jobs. The employment opportunities within the technology and autonomous vehicles sector are new territory. We must therefore ensure that more people can access those opportunities, especially the still disgracefully untapped resource that is women. If the promised bounty is to be properly realised, work must be done to encourage girls and young women to be central to it.
Back in 2015, the Government provided £19 million to launch four driverless car schemes, based in Milton Keynes, Bristol and London. If further testing is to be undertaken, Scotland must be included in the next round. Similarly, although we welcome the industrial strategy in relation to an autonomous vehicle hub, we would look for co-operation between the UK and Scottish Governments to find suitable sites in Scotland.
Road safety is of paramount concern, as is clarity over responsibilities for insurance claims, and there is much work to be done to provide reassurance and put in place the safeguards required to create public confidence in driverless technology. It would be helpful to consider the needs as they will develop and provide guidance on aspects that may not yet be at the forefront of consideration, such as the possible certification of vehicles without steering wheels or control pedals. Sir Greg Knight made an interesting point about responsibility. What will autonomous vehicles mean for drink-driving regulations, for example? In all circumstances, will a sole passenger be considered just that—a passenger—with those responsibilities, or will they be considered to be jointly responsible?
Consideration will need to be given to future support networks. Autonomous vehicles will need specialist test centres, which should be equitably located around the nations of the UK, and people deserve to know how that will work in future. There will of course need to be strong mobile 4G and 5G signals for the technology to operate properly, so yet again we call on the Government to ensure that the next spectrum licensing auction is conducted with a rural-proofing measure, or an “inside out” policy that has been shown to work in other European countries.
Of course, with the guidance systems also will come a huge amount of data. Vehicles will, by virtue of their use, be tracked and records of journeys will be collated. The data can be enormously useful for improving performance, but there is the potential for it to be misused, so what measures will be put in place to protect the rights of our citizens? A right, except in circumstances of investigating an accident or offence, should be given to the public to own the data and actively authorise any non-performance-related use.
On electric vehicles, we welcome the plan to make every car and van zero-emission by 2050, as that now complements the Scottish Government’s plan to phase out all petrol and diesel vehicles by that year. Encouragement for the public to use electric vehicles must now be stepped up. Incentives such as the grants to purchase vehicles, free installation of home charging points, no road tax and no company car tax for pure electric vehicles should be continued while new incentives are developed. At the start of 2015, Scotland had already seen the uptake of more than 200 electric vehicles across our local authorities. The Scottish Government invested more than £11 million to develop the ChargePlace Scotland network of more than 900 publicly available charging bays, and a £2.5 million grant has been offered to each of the 32 community planning partnerships to help them to buy or lease electric vehicles. That is in addition to the £13 million provided over the past five years to support bus operators to bring in new low-emission buses. Those are great incentives and, as I have said, more can and should be done to encourage further uptake.
Of course there are other zero-emission technologies. Hydrogen is of growing interest in the field, so I was glad to hear the Secretary of State say earlier that there would be encouragement to support alternative fuels such as hydrogen. Scotland already has the Aberdeen Hydrogen Bus Project—the Scottish Government are a key funder—and now Aberdeen has Europe’s largest fleet of hydrogen-powered buses on two routes within the city.
On civil aviation and ATOL, although we welcome the extension of the ATOL agreement, there is a pressing need for the Government to start addressing the questions posed over the UK’s leaving the EU. Will the Secretary of State now give an assurance that the EU package travel directive will be continued? There are similar concerns over passenger rights and compensation, and no word as yet from the Government about whether they will be maintained. I am happy to allow the Secretary of State to intervene if he wants to make comment. No?
UK travellers currently benefit from a huge range of protections. The collapse of Lowcostholidays last summer made the value of the EU package travel directive crystal clear. Given that 76% of UK holidays abroad are outbound to the EU, what will the Government do to guarantee that they will not cave in to the lobbying demands of companies such as Thomas Cook, which said that rights had “gone too far” in favouring passengers?
On vehicle testing, we will be seeking assurances over safety in future operations of DVSA functions. We have concerns over the relentless way in which the UK Government have sought to divest publicly owned and managed facilities. It is clearly an ideological approach, but public safety must be paramount and guarantees are needed that examiners will be regulated and must adhere to procedures at least as strict as those already in use. Will the Secretary of State commit to that?
We welcome clause 22, which makes it an offence to shine a laser beam at any vehicle to dazzle or distract the driver or operator. Laser pen incidents are on the increase. In Scotland, there have been more than 150 incidents in the past 18 months, and 24 at Glasgow airport in February alone. The Scottish National party and the Scottish Government take very seriously any actions that could endanger aircraft, crew and passengers. We strongly support the Civil Aviation Authority’s efforts to publicise the dangers, and Police Scotland’s efforts to prosecute those who maliciously threaten lives in this way. Shining lasers at pilots or drivers could prove fatal, and these moves give clarity over the offence and should greatly improve safety.
While talking about road safety, I urge the UK Government to follow the example of the Scottish Government by taking the opportunity to lower the drink-drive limits. In December 2014, Scotland introduced a blood alcohol limit of 50 mg per 100 ml—lower than the 80 mg per 100 ml in the rest of the UK—resulting in a 7.6% reduction in drink-driving in 2015 compared with the previous year.
In conclusion, we welcome the aims of the Bill, and will work constructively to ensure that it is strengthened and improved. We seek assurances that communities at the periphery in both geography and opportunity are included, that the benefits of the technological advances in vehicles and fuels are shared fairly among all our citizens, and that positive outcomes for all communities are the Government’s first consideration. We want to see clarity and vision in the regulation and public safety issues arising from new vehicles, to give the public the confidence to embrace this step change in transport.
We must now, finally, also have answers to the questions on what happens to the rights of our citizens travelling in Europe following the triggering of article 50. We need a commitment to continuing all of the raft of benefits currently enjoyed by our people.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of this important Bill. I shall restrict my comments to parts 1 and 2—I have no concerns about parts 3 and 4. I wish to speak about the first two parts partly because of my role on the Transport Committee—we have considered these matters before—and partly because of a constituency interest. As has been referenced, Milton Keynes is at the forefront of developing and testing autonomous vehicles and a comprehensive charging network for electric vehicles.
The Bill is timely. The technology for autonomous and electric vehicles is quickly being developed and will be on our roads soon. I am talking not just about the experimental autonomous pods that Milton Keynes is innovating—the Secretary of State has just left the Chamber, and I was going to reference the maiden voyage that he and I took in the latest RDM UK Autodrive pod, somewhat bemusing shoppers in Milton Keynes shopping centre a few weeks ago, when I am happy to report that no injuries were sustained and that the technology worked splendidly—because established vehicle manufacturers and new entrants, such as Tesla and Google, are also developing cars that will be wholly or partly automated.
As the shadow Secretary of State, Andy McDonald, mentioned, we already have cars that are partly autonomous, given the technology they have on board, whether that is a self-parking mechanism or intuitive cruise control, and I will return a little later to a concern I have about those. The Government are therefore absolutely right to be addressing now how this changing technology has moved ahead of existing regulations on insurance and other matters.
The intelligent mobility market will be huge. Drew Hendry said that it could be worth £900 billion by 2025. If he has not already read it, I urge him to read the “Intelligent Mobility Skills Strategy” produced last autumn by the Transport Systems Catapult, which is based in Milton Keynes. It identifies a possible skills gap of 750,000 people by that same year. The skills debate is for another time, but I mention this issue just to indicate the potential scale of what we are debating. It is absolutely essential that we get the basic parameters correct.
The Government are right to address the gap in insurance legislation that autonomous vehicles will produce. It was with some amusement that I read the Bill’s impact assessment—perhaps that is not the most appropriate name, given that we are dealing with possible vehicle collisions, so the Department might wish to rephrase its title—but it did contain some important points. As has been said, insurance is traditionally driver-centric, and we need to set a framework for what happens when an accident is caused by the machine or the software that governs it.
I agree entirely with the clauses, as far as they go, but I wish to highlight a few concerns, which I hope the Minister will be able to address in his response or in writing, if he does not have the answers immediately to hand. My first concern relates to clause 4, which deals with accidents that result from unauthorised alterations to the software or failures to update it. It is absolutely right, as far as it goes, but is there sufficient clarification of where liability would lie should there be an accident resulting from a failure caused by external tampering with the software, be it deliberate or accidental? Tests of autonomous vehicles and their technology, and even of other vehicles, have shown that their intelligent connections can be hacked. There are examples of that having happened in the United States, and it could lead to clashes. Lots of clever criminals have scammed the traditional insurance market by faking accidents or somehow causing them to happen, and then claiming the insurance premiums. If someone were maliciously to hack the smart technology, where would the liability lie?
I have another example of a more accidental nature. If a car with autonomous technology goes in for a service and the garage makes an error when that car is under its supervision and the driver has no knowledge of it, where would the liability lie? When my previous car was serviced, the garage messed up the software that governs the engine, and when I took it away the engine misfired and the car would not accelerate properly. That did not cause an accident, but it was an external intervention. I would be grateful for clarification on whether such instances are covered by the Bill or other legislation. If not, what further measures might be needed in the future?
My second concern relates to where the onus of liability lies when a car is partly autonomous. As I said, we already have such technology, which includes adaptive cruise control and self-parking. Existing legislation is clear that the onus of liability lies solely with the driver, but I can foresee a time when technology will develop to the point when the driver will be able to switch off his or her control of the car, leaving the car in control. Although the Bill covers liability when a car is in its autonomous mode, is there an onus on the driver to switch off the autonomous controls when he or she perceives a danger? If a driver is part of a motorway car train in which all vehicles are autonomously controlled and they spot an external incident that would make the continuation of that train dangerous, will there be an onus on the driver to switch off the autonomous controls? I would be grateful for clarification of whether that is already covered by law, or if it will need to be addressed at a later point.
I appreciate that it is difficult to give specifics at present, because the technology is not in operation, but we will have to think about this. In particular, as other hon. Members have said, we need the insurance market to work speedily in the interests of consumers. We cannot have a situation in which the consumer is the innocent party yet different insurance companies are fighting out where the liability lies. It would be helpful to have some clarification.
My third concern about insurance relates to practicalities and costs for the insurance policy holder in a changing mobility market. At present, most insurance is perfectly simple: the individual is insured either for a specific car, or comprehensively to drive any car. However, we will increasingly be moving towards MAAS—mobility as a service—products, whereby the direct ownership of vehicles will probably decline and people will buy a comprehensive package that covers train fares, buses, hiring a car and summoning an electric pod. The insurance market will become much more complex, and new products will have to be innovated to reflect the fact that one person may, over a relatively short period of time, drive all sorts of vehicles—from a simple city runabout right up to a high-performance sports vehicle, which they may wish to hire for a weekend. My question is: are existing regulatory frameworks for insurance companies sufficiently flexible to allow for the innovation of these products, or do we require further clarification? It is important that we make the regulations as watertight as possible because the market will be huge, and these developments will come sooner than I suspect many of us believe.
Although part 2 of the Bill deals with electric vehicle charging, it is not unrelated to autonomous vehicles, because such vehicles will be electric. The more automated features cars have, the more power they will need to derive from the electric power supply, so it is important that we look at these things in tandem. The Government are right to take a broad-brush approach. Various manufacturers are innovating different types of technology, from wholly electric cars to hydrogen vehicles, and I think that the hybrid market will be particularly important. Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to travel in the BMW i3 and the Volkswagen Passat hybrid, which can be run fully on electric power but contain petrol engines to extend their range, for recharging, and to provide an alternative to the electric drive when the charge runs out.
I would not like the Government to have to make a call about which technology will become most prevalent, in the manner—if I may show my age here—of VHS and Betamax. We have not yet reached the tipping point of consumer behaviour that will indicate which technology will do so. People still have what is called “range anxiety”— they are fearful of switching to a wholly electric car because they might get caught out mid-way through their journey. Although they feel that such a car is appropriate for urban driving, they do not want to take it on a longer journey in case no charging point is available. I think that the tipping point will come when improvements in battery technology bring the range of electric cars up to a level comparable with that of petrol or diesel cars, and/or when charging an electric car becomes as easy and convenient as going to a filling station for petrol or diesel.
I do not have any concerns about the provisions in this part of the Bill. The one concern I have—it has been referenced by other Members—is outwith the scope of the Department for Transport, namely the demand that electric charging will place on the grid, especially if we do not find a way of smoothing out that demand. If everyone comes home at 6 o’clock and plugs their car in, causing a huge spike in demand, will we have the capacity in the grid and the generating capacity to meet that? That is relevant not just in this country but right across the developed world. I wish to see a cross-departmental approach. The Government are finally taking some initiatives in developing nuclear power, which I think will provide the necessary resilience in the grid. I urge them to look at nuclear fusion to provide a plentiful supply of electricity in the years ahead. That is a matter for another Department, but it is important that the Government operate in a joined-up way on these matters.
Let me conclude by congratulating the Government again on their foresight in bringing forward the Bill. It is important that the United Kingdom is a world leader in the technology and the regulatory framework for these new products. As I have mentioned, the market is huge. We want Britain to have a good share of that market, and the Bill will certainly help us along the way towards doing so.
It is a pleasure to follow Iain Stewart, who is a fellow member of the Transport Committee. He was educated at a good school in my constituency—for those who may be wondering, it was Hutchesons’ Grammar School—and his remarks show that that obviously paid off.
I want to recommend a book by a man called Alec Ross, who was the innovation and technology adviser to President Obama during this election campaign. [Interruption.] Tom Tugendhat has obviously read it. Alec Ross was also the innovation and technology adviser to Hillary Clinton when she was at the State Department. The book is called “The Industries of the Future”, a large chunk of which is dedicated to the issue of driverless cars. It also looks at other issues, and it provides some context for what we are discussing today.
The book looks at how the rise in the use of robotics helps not just in the vehicle industry, but in the provision of services. For example, a remarkable part of the book talks about how robotics are used to deliver some social care services in Japan. Hon. Members, if they take the time to read it, will find that absolutely remarkable. It looks at the use of robotics in the classroom, and at how young children who cannot get to a classroom can take a full part in the education system.
The book looks at the rise in the use of genetic code, the codification of money and markets, and the weaponisation of code—I am sure that that is very much on the Minister’s mind as a former Minister with responsibility for cyber-security—but it also looks at the use of big data, which was briefly touched on by my hon. Friend Drew Hendry. Just as land was the material of the agricultural age and iron was the material of the industrial age, so data must surely be the material of the new information age that we find ourselves in.
As has been mentioned, this country is driving the innovation as far as driverless cars are concerned, but let us be entirely honest with ourselves: we are slightly behind. I accept that the Bill goes some way to bringing us up to speed and, indeed, getting us into a position from which we can lead, but self-driving taxis have already been used in Singapore, Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh. It has been said that the technology has become mature over time, and that we can get to the position in which driverless cars are a thing of the mass market. I hope we do get there, because the last thing anybody wants is for such cars to become a plaything of the rich. The technology must be something that really drives big changes in all areas of our society.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very fine speech on the nature of innovation. Is he going to touch on the very radical change that the driverless technology that he is talking about could make to our entire economy? For example, if one thinks that the average car is in use only about 10% of the time—often even less—driverless technology could allow that figure to rise to 90%. However, that would of course mean fewer cars, fewer auto workers and less need for road space, which would be a huge transformation for our economy.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I will come on to mention some of those things.
I am keen to hear more from the Minister about testing, and not just about where it will take place. As we have heard, there has not been any testing in Scotland yet. May I make a punt for my own fair city of Glasgow? Given that it was designed on the grid system, it would actually be ideal for testing driverless cars. I also want to hear more about the conditions in which the cars will be tested, because very few driverless cars have been tested in snow. In that respect, anyone coming to pretty much anywhere in Scotland at any time of the year will find some snow somewhere.
These are important issues, and although companies are developing driverless cars that can recognise the difference between a pedestrian and a cyclist or between a lamp post and another vehicle in front of them, it is quite clear that there is still some way to go. In that endeavour, the Government have my support.
The hon. Gentleman touches on such an important area that I know he will be aching to speak about: the ethics of the decision-making process. If a driverless car in his fair city of Glasgow has to make the awful decision of whether to hit a lady with a pram or to hit two nuns, which should it hit? That is a terrible and very difficult ethical choice to make, but I am sure he will guide us.
I am not going to suggest it hits either, but the hon. Gentleman hits on an important point. Alec Ross travelled to 41 countries during his time at the State Department. He found that the suspicion of robotic technology is actually greater in developed western economies than it is in the east. In reality, I suspect that driverless cars will be the first major robotic that people learn to trust. If we are going to trust them, they will have to be tested so they do not hit the lady with the pram or the two nuns.
If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman is making an extremely thoughtful speech. The socialisation of the inanimate depends on understanding the interface between the robotic technology he describes and human beings, as Drew Hendry said. Understanding the impact it will have and the benefit it might bring allows the acceptance of the inanimate and socialises it accordingly.
The Minister is absolutely right.
In his first intervention, the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling asked about the change this will bring to our economy. The big technological change that stands before us will perhaps bring us some unintended consequences. For example, if driverless cars become a thing of the mass market, what of the future of car parks? Local authority car parks are worth over £1 billion to the economy according to the British Parking Association, and that does not take into account private sector car parks. Mr Deputy Speaker, if you can get your car to take you to the airport and programme it to pick you up after your two weeks in Salou—though I am sure you would not be away for that long—or wherever you have chosen to spend your time, why on earth would you pay the fees, which are in some cases exorbitant, for your car to sit in the car park for a fortnight? It also raises questions about what it will mean for the workforce who drive taxis, buses or HGVs, who, it has to be said, in most cases do not have the education or qualifications to go into other skilled parts of the economy.
The hon. Gentleman is making such a fine speech that I feel I am only adding the smallest of cherries on the top of his extremely fine cake. In any moment of transition there is always a danger that some people will be left out of the moment of transformation. However, I am sure he shares my confidence that should a moment of transition happen—I look forward to it happening—there will be an opportunity for people in one form of employment to be employed in other areas, for example the caring sector. He mentions a car sitting idly in a car park for 14 days; it could instead ferry people to and from medical appointments or liberate the infirm. This is an amazing opportunity.
I welcome all the cherries the hon. Gentleman has been throwing at me from the other side of the House. He is absolutely right. In considering the workforce and the change we will be presented with—this is perhaps less for the Minister’s Department and more for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy or the Department for Education—how will our education system deal with it? How do we need to restructure vocational education? As some people will win, some people will inevitably lose. I hope that Ministers, including the Minister here tonight, are heavily engaged in these discussions; otherwise, we risk protests like those we saw in Seattle in 1999 with regard to the free trade agreement. If this big technological change—I cannot wait to see it happen on the scale that will inevitably occur—is to mean anything, it must mean that it does not leave out those who hang around the bottom end of society, constantly looking to this Government and indeed to all Members of Parliament to make sure that the future belongs to them as well.
It is a great pleasure to speak on the Second Reading of the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill and to follow Stewart Malcolm McDonald. As the Minister said, the hon. Gentleman gave a very thoughtful speech about the way forward, which saw a great number of interventions from my hon. Friend Tom Tugendhat.
Before dealing with clauses 8 to 15 on the electric vehicle charging points, I want to raise some more general issues. It is good to see the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend Mr Hayes, in his place, and I echo the words of my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight who commented on what a wonderful team of Ministers we have. When this particular Minister came before the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, he dealt with issues of air quality. Although the Bill will not in itself solve all the problems relating to air quality, many parts of it could help. What we need to do is to target these electric vehicles very much in our inner cities and our hotspots where there are high levels of NOx emissions.
On the particular point about air quality, I understand the need for it to be improved in cities, but does my hon. Friend believe that with electric vehicles, which will need the electricity to be produced somewhere, we might end up moving the problem of the pollution of energy production to the rural parts of our country?
My hon. Friend raises a very interesting point, to which I have given much thought. I think that in the real world we have to accept that the highest levels of pollution that prove to be most detrimental to people’s health are mainly in inner-city areas. The electricity will have to be produced somewhere, and unless it is going to be done entirely through green technology—we will move towards that in the longer term—it will cause some pollution. We have to accept that to reduce inner-city NOx levels, there might need to be a little bit of pollution across the country. We cannot allow individuals to suffer from the high levels of nitrogen oxide that are currently in the inner cities. I have to accept that there will be some pollution somewhere else; otherwise, we will not be able to reduce the levels of pollution in our inner cities.
This is why charging points for electric vehicles are so important. It is not just this Bill that is relevant, because there may be something in the Chancellor’s speech later this week. If we are to have any sort of scrappage scheme through which people could convert to electric vehicles, we need to try to target it towards our inner cities in particular, because the need to reduce pollution is at its greatest there. We can use hybrid vehicles and other types to bring us to the cities; when we are in the inner city, we will need not only electric cars but electric taxis, and we shall need to convert many of our lorries perhaps to liquid petroleum gas or something that will reduce the current levels of NOx.
Unless we do something really serious to deal with pollution in the inner city, the Government are going to be in the dock and DEFRA will sit in the dock. It is possible to reduce a little of the nitric oxide that comes from farming, but it is not so easy to cure the problem in the inner city. That has to be done mainly through transport measures and perhaps by local government.
I had better move on to the Bill’s clauses, Mr Deputy Speaker; otherwise, you will get agitated with me for going beyond what the Bill contains. I shall speak mainly to clauses 8 to 15, which deal with electric vehicle charging. I shall outline the benefits of electric vehicles in the specific clauses in order to incentivise their use. Electric vehicles are on the verge of a massive expansion in the UK, and the potential benefits are enormous, as many Members have said this evening. However, the figure for new registrations in this country is less than 2%. The figure in Norway is some 25%, so we have a little way to go, although I am sure that, in the safe hands of the Minister, it will happen overnight.
Electric vehicles mean better air quality. Toxic gases from combustion engines are linked to more than 40,000 deaths in the UK, and road transport is responsible for about 80% of nitric oxide in our inner-city hotspots. A move away from combustion engines and towards electric vehicles would cut levels of nitric oxide in the air, and would reduce the number of early deaths. British motorists currently face some of the highest fuel prices in Europe, but an electric vehicle that achieves 3 miles per kWh can cost about 4p per mile. Ultimately, that really will encourage people to buy electric cars. The AA has estimated that they are about five times cheaper to run than the average petrol car. The Chancellor may miss a little bit of fuel tax, but I think that, in terms of air quality, this is a step in the right direction. Transport produces higher carbon emissions than any other UK sector, including power generation. Moving vehicles from carbon to electric will help the UK to slash its carbon emissions further, especially as renewable energy is rapidly rising in the UK.
How can we boost electric vehicles? Although the market has grown rapidly in recent years, ultra-low emission vehicles still account for only 1.2% of new car registrations in Britain. The Government’s own research shows that one in five Britons has considered buying an electric vehicle, but the biggest barrier to uptake is the lack of availability of charging points and the lack of knowledge of where to find them. I am glad that the Bill seeks to deal with those problems.
I agree with my hon. Friend about the lack of availability of charging points, but may I also ask him to join me in urging the Minister to start this project at home, on the parliamentary estate? We have only two charging points, which means that those of us who have plug-in electric cars often have to compete for a space, or cannot find one.
That is a very good point. We should lead by example in the House, and if more of us have electric cars, we shall need more electric charging points. I look forward to hearing the Minister respond to my hon. Friend’s point—
I think that is an excellent point, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I know you will think so too. We will get on to it straight away. I will ask my officials—indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am asking them now, through you—to bring me some reports, as a matter of urgency, on how we can do something about the matter.
I am sure that it will, Mr Deputy Speaker. I have every faith in the Minister. Speaking as his former Parliamentary Private Secretary, I am absolutely certain that he can achieve this—probably through his PPS. No, I must not say that; I was only being facetious.
Charging points are necessary, but we must also ensure that fast charging points are available. We do not want to leave our cars charging for a long time; they need to be charged reasonably quickly.
Clause 9 gives the Government power to require operators to provide an appropriate uniform method of accessing public charging points. People need to know that their vehicles fit the chargers. I hope that the Government will take that opportunity. There are currently myriad charging structures, memberships and prices. Clear and uniform charging structures, so that the public can plan their bills and do not feel ripped off, will boost electric vehicle take-up. Clause 10 makes it a requirement for large fuel retailers to install electric charging points. That is a common-sense change, which we have been calling for since last year. We will never boost electric car numbers to diesel or petrol levels until we have parity in refuelling infrastructure. Are there enough incentives for large garages to provide charging points when they like to sell us petrol or diesel?
Clause 11 is particularly important. It requires public information on the availability of public charging points. We need a public awareness campaign on exactly where the electric charging points are. The public need to have confidence that if they buy an electric car, they will have charging points in the vicinity. This is absolutely fundamental.
Clause 12 sets the minimum standards for charging points, including the ability to transmit data to the user, energy efficiency requirements, and the ability for data to be accessed remotely. It is a good start, but I would like the clause to go further: I would like to see minimum charging speeds as a requirement for new charging points. We need more rapid DC charging points that can charge a car to 80% capacity in 30 minutes. I am sure that the Minister is more than capable of that. This will help EVs to properly compete with petrol and diesel vehicles. I hope the Minister will consider this change, because until we can charge our EVs quickly, we will not be able to cover the distances, and that is partly what stops people getting electric vehicles. I also say to the Minister that ULEVs currently make up only 6.3% of the Government car service fleet, so the Government must get their own house in order.
The Government have the laudable aim that every new car in the UK should be an ULEV in the next 25 years. The Business Secretary says that he wants Britain to be the world leader in EVs; this is a big step in the right direction. We should be bold with our electric charging infrastructure and give the public the confidence to buy an electric car. The tangible benefits are within our grasp, and I look forward to backing this Bill in the Aye Lobby this evening.
Just last week, I was complimenting the Government on introducing an amendment for talking buses in the Bus Services Bill, and now this week I find myself in agreement with another Bill, so I am greatly looking forward to Wednesday’s Budget, when normal service will be resumed.
In this Bill, the measures on autonomous vehicle insurance are certainly a welcome look ahead; they are just a small step on the way to the future outlined by my hon. Friend Stewart Malcolm McDonald, but they are a welcome step nevertheless. However, we also need to start planning the necessary mobile infrastructure to allow these vehicles to be fully rolled out in the future.
Scotland must not be left behind on AVs, and, as we have heard from my hon. Friends, we must ensure that Scotland is involved in future trials of these vehicles. I am thinking here in particular of our country and rural roads. Scotland is still unique in that in many areas there are single-track roads with passing places, and it is not unusual for people to become involved in a Mexican stand-off where two vehicles come head to head and the question is which will reverse first. I would like to see how AVs tackle that dilemma; that is not quite the dilemma of the nuns or the mother and the baby in the pram, but it still needs to be overcome.
The hon. Gentleman does not want to know how they settle that in Glasgow.
I agree with my hon. Friend Drew Hendry about our wish for a hub for the development of AVs in Scotland. That covers AVs from our perspective, but I particularly want to focus on ULEVs. Part 2 is okay as far as it goes. Greater clarity and consistency is undoubtedly required in information on charging points, and it is welcome that the Government are going to clear that up. That will lead to improved customer and consumer confidence, because many people are clearly still reticent about buying EVs, as they are concerned about how far they can actually travel journey-wise. Clearer information on charging points and the type of charging points will clear that up.
The key questions for the Minister, however, are whether the Bill goes far enough with respect to charging points and the roll-out of infrastructure and whether there is enough strategic thinking on this matter across Departments. The reason I pose those questions is that the Scottish Government and the UK Government share the target of all vehicles being ultra-low emission vehicles by 2050. That target exists because of air quality issues and greenhouse gas emissions. At present, transport contributes 23% of carbon dioxide emissions—it is the joint largest contributor along with power generation —so the decarbonisation of transport is absolutely vital. Neil Parish pointed out that there are 44,000 deaths a year as a result of poor air quality. That underlines the need for action in this area.
Recently, the United Nations special rapporteur on hazardous substances and waste stated:
“Air pollution plagues the UK”, and particularly affects children. He also said that there was an
“urgent need for political will by the UK government to make timely, measurable and meaningful interventions”.
I should point out that, in November 2016, the Government lost a court case relating to their proposals to tackle air pollution for the second time in 18 months. There is no doubt that more needs to be done to improve the roll-out of ultra-low emission vehicles. In January last year, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Andrew Jones, suggested that the sale of ULEVs had reached a tipping point, and a Department for Transport press release last September trumpeted the fact that there had been a 49% increase in registrations of such vehicles compared with the previous year. The reality is that the registration of ULEVs represents only 1.2% of vehicles, and a 50% increase on 0.8% of sales is not really a tipping point. We have a long way to go.
This Government have to do more. They should copy some of the initiatives that the Scottish Government have undertaken, including the low carbon transport fund, which offers interest-free loans of up to £35,000 for new hybrid and electric vehicles, with a repayment period of up to six years. Businesses can access loans of up to £100,000. However, even that is not enough. At the moment, we have the paradox of low oil prices keeping fuel costs down, making a switch to electric vehicles even less attractive in the short term.
I have touched on air quality. The bottom line is that need to get diesel vehicles off the road. The UK Government must be bold in that regard. I also suggest that those who have already bought diesel vehicles in good faith should not be penalised. I have been contacted by constituents who are concerned that they will be penalised for having bought such vehicles, even though they did so in good faith. Do the Government have any plans to help those people and to truly disincentivise the purchase of diesel cars, rather than simply leaving that to local initiatives? A wee, independent, oil-rich country called Norway has managed to achieve a market share of 18% for electric vehicles. What lessons are the Government learning from Norway?
As I have said, the switch to ULEVs is moving at a snail’s pace. However, while we can get fixated on the roll-out of electric cars, the biggest polluters are large diesel vehicles. We have started to see real progress with buses, and the Scottish Government are leading the way with the hydrogen fleet in Aberdeen. We are also seeing buses switching to biofuels, which is welcome. But the elephant in the room is heavy goods vehicles, particularly transport refrigeration units. Approximately 50% of TRUs, which keep goods cold in transit, are powered by a secondary diesel engine. These small engines emit 29 times more particulates and oxides of nitrogen than the vehicle’s main diesel engine. The main engines are governed by European standards, but those separate refrigeration units are not regulated at all. There is a huge disparity there.
Also, those secondary units can use red diesel, so the Government are providing a subsidy that is enabling the units to pollute the atmosphere and cause the kind of air quality issues on which the Government have already lost court cases. The Government need to rethink how they handle the regulation of secondary units. To be fair, they have invested in research and development to fund the development of zero-emission refrigeration units, so it makes sense for them to provide more funding to allow haulage company owners to upgrade their units, which would improve air quality and, in the long run, provide health benefits and reduce costs for the health service. Providing funding would lead to a virtuous circle.
I touched on research and development and, going back to strategic thinking, the Government need to provide better joined-up thinking on R and D for low-emission transport and renewable energy. We should bear in mind that this Government have wrecked the renewables sector with a 95% reduction in investment by 2020, with one in six jobs in the sector being under threat. The Government have also withdrawn funding for carbon capture and storage. If we truly are to meet our green energy targets by 2050, the Government need to rethink their policies as a whole. I welcome the Bill, but the Government need to consider things across the board rather than in isolation.
I rise to support the Bill with a mixture of joy and apprehension. I feel joy because I see foresee the great things that it will bring to people’s lives. If those who would otherwise not be able to drive find themselves with the liberty of independent travel, that will be a very good thing indeed. I think particularly of people who may be disabled or blind. Also, given the commute I had this morning—I happened to drive in—I think how much it would have been improved if I had not had to drive along the A40. I do view the development of automated vehicles with a degree of joy, but my apprehension, as I indicated earlier, is that I do not want conventional driving to be banned. Some of us enjoy driving or riding a motorcycle as a thing of pleasure and take some joy from the skill of driving for ourselves.
Although a ban may seem a preposterous, ludicrous suggestion, I raise it because an enthusiast for the policy and for driverless vehicle technology took some pleasure in telling me that motorcycling would have to be banned one day because motorcycles cannot, or ought not, to be made autonomous because they would be dangerous alongside self-driving cars. I therefore view such developments with a degree of apprehension.
Coming all the way from Wycombe, my hon. Friend will know that not only is there the possibility of having driverless vehicles, and therefore autonomous vehicles, but horses could have been abandoned and yet have not been. Despite the fact that technology has moved on, horses have never been more popular than they are today. I hope that my hon. Friend is not assuming that we have to abandon all legacy technologies just because technology moves on.
My hon. Friend is right. We still enjoy our bicycles and all the rest of it. Should the dread day come that driving is banned, I do not doubt that things would continue on the racetrack, but my point is that an enthusiast for these new technologies—a member of a Conservative party policy group—put it to me with some joy that motorcycles would have to be banned because he considers them dangerous and incompatible with self-driving cars.
I thank my hon. Friend and fellow enthusiast for giving way. As someone who has never ridden a horse, a donkey, or even a pony, I can say that some of us already view horses as autonomous vehicles.
Not only are they autonomous, but I would argue that they are even more dangerous for that very reason. However, that is by the bye and perhaps a diversion from the Bill.
As I said, I am a self-declared petrol head, but we have nothing to fear from electric vehicles. If anyone wants to check my YouTube channel, they will find a review of the Agility Saietta R electric motorcycle—a vehicle with excellent torque—and that brings me on to the idea of charging. It is not a market failure that there is diversity in the marketplace. Competition is not a failure but the way by which we make progress, so I encourage the Government not to stamp out competition and experimentation as we make progress with this new technology and in this new market.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should also encourage competing technologies? One issue with electric vehicles is the method of power storage and, historically, the Government and this House have put a huge amount of effort, resources and subsidy into the battery, and little comparative resource into hydrogen, as a store of power. The fuel cell is the technology of the future, and the battery is possibly a temporary technology like the fax machine. The Government should be allowing such competition, too.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and makes a good point. As an idea, the fuel cell’s time is still to come. He makes a wise intervention.
On the substance of the Bill, I exercise my pedantry as an Oxford-educated software engineer—not something I have been able to do recently—by saying that in clause 4, on accidents resulting from unauthorised alterations or failure to update software, subsection (1)(a) addresses
“alterations to the vehicle’s operating system”.
If there is one group of people more pedantic than software engineers, it is lawyers and courts. Should an accident arise because of a failure to update software, that definition would be tested in court.
Underneath the operating system is firmware in non-volatile memory within hardware. The operating system is loaded on to volatile memory, and on top of that is application software. A self-driven or autonomous car will probably run on that application software. If it were to be tested in court, I fear we might find problems if the Bill, as enacted, talks about a vehicle’s operating system.
I encourage the Government to consult specialists in the industry, rather than only taking the advice of an out-of-date software engineer, but it is important that the Bill uses the right terminology to ensure that the right software is updated and that, therefore, the law meets its intended purpose of ensuring that people are insured and that liability falls where it should when there has been a failure to update software.
The hon. Gentleman is perhaps trying to get at the lack of detail in the Bill about the regulation of that software. Given what he has just said, such regulation would surely be enormously important.
That is interesting, and I love the way the hon. Gentleman has framed that for me. The point I was trying to get to is the one I made, which is that the language of clause 4 must be tight enough to ensure that, should it be tested in court, we do not find that the law fails as a result of describing software as the “operating system”, which is the wrong term. I dread the day that this House starts regulating how software is written. Much as I respect my colleagues in this House, the last thing I would want to see in legislation, having been a professional software engineer, is detail of how to write software, particularly safety-critical software. I will be grateful for having done my MSc in computer science when the House is able to have a detailed discussion of Object-Z, but that day is far off. We should not be legislating for how safety-critical systems should be engineered.
I have two other points on the Bill. I am glad we are now legislating for offences relating to the use of lasers. I was an engineer, rather than a pilot, but I can see the issue. The Government are wise. If anything, I would ask whether the penalty is harsh enough given that we could be talking about airliners with large numbers of passengers.
My final point is about drones. Having looked at the legislation on remotely piloted vehicles, I think there is a danger of constraining things not just too tightly but quite wrongly. If we were to regulate drones such as the DJI Phantom, which are hobbyists’ toys for taking video footage, as if they were aircraft, we could end up ruling out perfectly legitimate uses—for example, the man who uses a drone to inspect tiles on rooftops so that he can reduce householders’ bills because, by doing so, he can avoid the expense of putting up the scaffolding that he is now legally required to use before going up on a roof. By investing in a drone and flying it near someone’s home, this person saves the householder a fortune, without endangering them. Were we to regulate these things as aircraft, he would not be able to do that.
Let me reassure my hon. Friend that we are consulting on those matters, and his contribution to that consultation is eagerly awaited and most welcome.
I am grateful for the addition to my workload.
I wish to make a final point about diesel, which has been mentioned. I drive a diesel vehicle, and I am conscious that there is a good argument to say that so many of us are in diesel cars because Governments encouraged us to drive them, in the interests of reducing CO2. Let us not compound one bad incentive with other poor incentives. Let us just be a little more humble about what we encourage people to do in large numbers and leave room for experimentation and for markets to work, provided always that people carry the costs of their own decisions.
This modest Bill is clearly uncontentious. It seeks to adjust legislation to new technology, but from the red flag Acts onwards the House of Commons has not been great on anticipating either the potential or pitfalls of technological advance. Victorian Members used to fulminate against the railways, on the grounds that they led to revolution and moral torpor. In truth, it would have been hard for those Members to have anticipated the astounding success of the internal combustion engine, and the huge behavioural, commercial and social change that flowed from it.
Cars are potential killing machines driven by millions of people, of a variety of dispositions and intelligences. The fact that the car does not simply create havoc is due to intelligent legislation which has evolved over time. As I am sure the Minister would agree, it is always better to have legislation in place before we get to the problems, rather than after. I apologise if at this point I sound like a petrol head—Mr Baker has confessed to being one and I must, too—but I am sure that we have not quite sized up all the problems relating to these new cars and new technologies. Indeed, we probably cannot do so. I recognise that autonomous cars and electric cars exist as developed technologies and will only improve, and that we already have satisfactory transport in the sky and on the rails which is almost autonomous. We also know, and we all agree, that human error is the principal cause of accidents. However, successfully trialling a few vehicles on an open road in California or in dedicated areas in the UK does not enable us to figure out, in any easy way, the consequences of their mass adoption, especially within a heavily congested network with a mixed ecology of driven and autonomous vehicles. Sure, we need to get insurance for those that exist and charging capacity for electrics, but what will mass roll-out look like? What desirable and undesirable behavioural changes will result?
I am sceptical about the mass adoption of electric vehicles, which may be a strange thing for a Liberal Democrat to say, as the party has always been massively enthusiastic on this score. However, there are big implications for the grid; for greenhouse emissions, as this depends on how we actually generate the electricity and how clean that is; for the streetscape and for planning authorities; for the world’s resources, given all these batteries which, to some extent, use rare elements; and for the second-hand market, which is not doing so well in electric vehicles, and on which I heavily depend.
The hon. Gentleman is making a fine speech, from a luddite perspective. I appreciate that he was instrumental in passing the red flag Acts through this House in the early 1900s, but surely he can see the liberation of resources and of planning-scape, the reduction of the impact of the vehicle and the liberation of the citizen that all that can bring.
Not necessarily, but I did listen to the hon. Gentleman talking about the Deputy Speaker’s voyage to the airport and saying that he would not need to leave his car in the car park. The hon. Gentleman was looking on the positive side, but we can also look at the negative side: the Deputy Speaker’s car has had to travel back to parts of Lancashire and then come out to get him again, so he has filled up the road more. We can spin these things either way.
I am terribly grateful that the hon. Gentleman is giving me the opportunity to reply, but he is assuming a level of ownership of today’s vehicle that is simply not relevant. If one looks at a vehicle as a means of transportation and sees it more in the form of a train, one sees that Mr Deputy Speaker uses a vehicle to get him to the airport and then gets out and gets on his plane, and somebody else gets in the vehicle and goes all the way back to Lancashire. Lucky Lancashire, to have spared the use of two cars.
We invented the train some time ago; there are trains available, even in Lancashire. My fundamental point is that electric vehicles are probably a less flexible technology than either the internal combustion engine or the hydrogen fuel cell, and the technology is wholly inapplicable in the case of heavy goods vehicles, in which they surely do not have much of a place. Even if I am wrong about that, there are some legislative problems if we anticipate a silent city of electric vehicles moving about at pace and the hazards that that may present for pedestrian safety.
What would prevent drivers of ordinary cars from bullying autonomous vehicles in the knowledge that they must give way? They might cut out at junctions, as I believe they already intend to do. What responsibility does a driver or owner have when he initiates a journey? He may be tempted to plan a journey much longer or more hazardous—for example, at night—than he previously might have done, or more frequently than if he had to drive himself. Would he have to nominate a co-pilot, and what would be the safety protocols there? Can the roads cope with possible additional vehicle use? People have anticipated elderly people who had given up using their cars returning to them, and the use of cars by disabled people becoming far more common.
I fear the hon. Gentleman sounds as though he would have argued, when the lightbulb was invented, that candle makers would be put out of business. I hear a lot of negatives, some of which I accept are entirely valid concerns, but can he enlighten us as to the Liberal Democrats’ vision for this new, innovative technology, on which we cannot be left behind?
Did the hon. Gentleman not make the case for autonomous vehicles when he talked about people potentially making long-distance journeys when they are tired? The whole problem with drivers at the moment is that they fall asleep at the wheel and lose concentration. Autonomous vehicles must be an improvement on that.
We are just looking at different sides of the same problems. It is quite obvious that people will not get tired in autonomous vehicles in the same way, but they will then perhaps make longer journeys than they otherwise might have. Both points remain valid.
If people are going to go along the motorways in convoy and at the right speed all the time, have we not considered the thought that everybody could get into the same vehicle? Have we not, through a back door, invented the bus all over again?
There are imponderables from a manufacturers’ side. It is easy enough to insist on technology that does not let people drive if it is unsafe, but once they are on the road, vehicle failure midstream is always a possibility, even if the software is up to date. There might be unexpected damage to sensors or equipment because of conditions such as bad weather or through accidental damage. In responding to a change of circumstance mid-journey, at what point is it the driver’s responsibility? If road signals fail, road markings are obscured or traffic is unexpectedly redirected in a haphazard fashion, at what point does the manufacturer, the council or the passenger take the blame should an accident occur?
We can leave out all the hypothetical moral dilemmas involving nuns or how a vehicle would distinguish between a black bin bag waving and a child frozen in terror when collision is inevitable. Machines would make different calculations, and I am sure there would be solutions. I suspect that with the development of artificial intelligence, machines will better reflect our moral preferences and become smarter. The other day, I was torturing myself by thinking about what would happen if two autonomous vehicles met on a single road, on which one could not pass the other, and one had to give way but both systems predicted that the other would. One would have a sort of parallel to the Balaam’s ass dilemma.
The Bill is a modest attempt to tackle the issues I have outlined. The pious hope behind it is that the tricky issues will eventually be ironed out in court. But courts can operate only within the law they have, and my expectation is that technology will move faster than the law and we will be back here soon.
I am generally supportive of the aims of this Bill, not least as the mother of an 18-year-old son who has just passed his driving test, as insuring him is almost impossible. The cheapest quote we have had so far is £1,700. Autonomous vehicles will offer young people and those who have given up driving—the elderly and the disabled—an opportunity to get into vehicles.
I am excited by the technology surrounding autonomous vehicles because much of it is powered by the photonics industry. It is really quite fortuitous that, only a few months ago, we set up the all-party group on photonics. I am delighted to be standing here as the chair of that group. It is almost as if the timing of this Bill has been set especially for us. Driverless cars are operated by light detection and ranging—LIDAR—technology, which allows for smooth traffic flow and reduced fuel consumption. Ultimately, the technology leads to safer transport.
The UK is perfectly placed to develop this technology. We have a world-leading photonics industry. In particular, I wish to highlight the photonics companies across the central belt of Scotland. I also want to mention a group at Oxford University that is developing a low-cost autonomous navigation system. A robot car will navigate using lasers and cameras linked to a computer. A horizontal laser on the number plate detects obstacles and halts the car to avoid a collision, while a vertical laser casts a curtain of light on the surroundings to make a 3D model of the environment. When the car takes the same route the second time, it recognises where it is and can drive accordingly.
A road train, which is a convoy of closely packed vehicles, might be one of the first applications of driverless cars. It is likely that it will appear first on motorways. Mr Baker raised concerns about his ability to continue to use his motorcycle, but I am sure there will be plenty of roads available that can be used by vehicles operating in a less autonomous fashion. There is certainly a real potential to get traffic moving on our motorways.
We have talked about the possibility of trials and pilots, and my hon. Friend Stewart Malcolm McDonald mentioned the grid system in Glasgow. I will add to that by saying that Glasgow is a perfect urban setting in which to hold a trial.
In Scotland, we have some difficult issues to overcome. We have heard about single-track roads, and while I will not talk about nuns and prams, there are often obstacles such as cattle grids and sheep that these cars will have to take into account. The bigger problem for rural Scotland, and for rural areas across the UK, is how these cars will communicate. Driverless cars have to communicate with their surroundings. If, as is the case in some areas, there is not a 3G network available, how will these cars be able to proceed?
I raised the subject of mobile connectivity earlier. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is vital that the UK Government take an outside-in approach with new licensing for the mobile spectrum auctions?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. There is real concern that a lot of the spectrum that has been licensed before has been licensed for the benefit of companies, not consumers, and this is an ongoing problem for many people not just across Scotland, but in rural UK generally.
One of the challenges that we will face as this technology develops is dealing with our massive skills shortage in engineering and photonics. We currently have a huge number of EU nationals working in those fields, but we are yet to see any guarantees for those workers from the Government. We are talking about unilateral guarantees because those highly skilled workers have job prospects worldwide. We should be rolling out the red carpet for them, rather than for a certain President.
I also agree with my hon. Friend Drew Hendry that women are a massive group who are ignored in STEM careers. Someone once asked me why I keep going on about getting more women into STEM careers and whether it is just about gender equality. Yes, gender equality is important, but we also have massive skills shortages and a huge group of people whom we are not tapping into. We need to start taking advantage of that raw potential.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is being generous in giving way. Is it not an absolute scandal that 50% of the potential workforce we need in that industry are not being encouraged in—girls and young women?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. One of the big challenges we face as a society is the need to look at the signals we give not just to girls who are considering their career options, but to parents. What are we saying to wider society? An engineer is not just somebody who wears an oily overall; an engineer can also be somebody working in the field of photonics and developing driverless technology. We really need to plug that. We need to see female engineers on programmes such as “EastEnders”, and then we might start to see some progress.
The industrial strategy Green Paper that was published a few weeks ago referred to key enabling technologies. If autonomous vehicles are to progress at a pace that keeps us up to date with the rest of the world, we must ensure that we properly support the photonics and engineering industries and ensure that enabling technologies are given proper priority.
Let me move on to low-emission vehicles. We have heard a few comments today about charging points. What will happen to the national grid when we all arrive home in the evening and plug in our electric vehicles? We already know that the national grid has certain peaks, for example during advert breaks in particular programmes. We can look at smart charging technology that will have different cars charging at different points, but we are still talking about a much higher current being drawn from the national grid, and the source of that energy will be power stations. Are we simply switching from dirty fuel in our cars to dirty fuel in our power stations?
Again, I thank my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way. Is not it true that the use of renewable energy is the way ahead to ensure that we can cope with those loads? UK Government policy, by stifling renewable energy, is hampering a technology that could solve that very problem.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. He has just taken my next point—thanks very much. Once again I will use the phrase “untapped potential”. Renewable energy really is the way ahead. I do not want to get pollution out of our cities only to put it into industrial areas with power stations, whether they are coal, oil, gas or nuclear.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech and touches on a point that I raised during an intervention. She took an intervention about renewable energy from Drew Hendry, but renewables might not be the way forward. It is not just industrial areas that may experience an increase in pollution. Rural areas such as Lincolnshire, or the east midlands as a whole, where lots of power is currently generated, will have to generate even more power to create that electricity. In cities such as Lincoln, companies already have to pay extortionate amounts for electricity between the hours of 4 o’clock in the afternoon and 8 o’clock in the evening because of the peaks, and there is no way that we will ever be able to charge a multitude of electric cars with renewable energy.
I disagree. Has the hon. Gentleman visited Scotland at any point? I struggle to go out in Scotland on a day when it is not windy, so we could be tapping into that potential. There is a huge possibility there. Nuclear is often billed as the clean energy source, but tell that to the workers in India who are mining the uranium ore—it is certainly not clean for them. The Bill needs to cover different forms of low-emission vehicles, such as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. That technology has been pushed aside to a certain extent, but we need to ensure that there is a possibility to develop it.
In conclusion, I generally support the aims of the Bill and I am excited by the technology. However, we need to ensure that we are enabling that technology to progress, that we look after EU nationals working in science and research, and that we consider how various types of fuel can be dirty.
It is always a pleasure to speak in this Chamber, whatever the occasion, and we have heard some valuable contributions today. There has been a consensus in support of the Government. While we often support the Government, we also criticise them when things are not done right, but today we have not had the opportunity to be as critical as we might normally be. As the Democratic Unionist party’s spokesperson for transport here, it is always a privilege to speak on any Bill of this sort and to highlight its issues, some of which are pertinent to Northern Ireland. Hon. Members have spoken about Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom.
This wide-ranging Bill covers many issues, with some of its measures simply providing clarity. The Government have done well to bring those forward and we thank them for that. Clause 22, which will ensure that the use of a laser pen that dazzles a pilot becomes a criminal offence, is common sense. It is good to see that that measure and the cap for vehicle testing are in the Bill.
I have a particular interest in insurance for self-driving cars. Hon. Members have given us examples about that— plenty of them. Indeed, one way of shortening the winter was to listen to all those stories—I could almost feel my beard growing—but they were a useful way for hon. Members to raise important points about insurance.
In my youth—I suspect like others in the Chamber—this concept was something for sci-fi stories or Batman films, but we are living in times when technology is taking us forward with great leaps and bounds into the future. This technology is so advanced that it might be possible—and, indeed, probably a lot safer—to put a destination into the system and let the car take us there. If this technology is available, it is clear that we must legislate to ensure that protection is still available for those involved in accidents, which might well still occur. The staff in my office often say to me that technology is great. Well, it is, when it works, but when it comes to controlling a vehicle, protection for other drivers must be in place. I certainly agree with the Government’s approach on that.
Mr Baker, who has just left the Chamber, always espouses the enjoyment he gets from riding motorbikes. I get the same pleasure from driving a four-wheeled vehicle. There is an enjoyment in driving. Having a driverless car is not everybody’s cup of tea, but we have to accept that technology moves forward for a reason.
The Bill will enable a driver involved in an accident to claim compensation if the incident took place when the car was driving autonomously. Under the rules, insurers would be able to try to recover their costs from the vehicle manufacturers. I have noted that there are a few exclusions—namely, that drivers involved in an accident while the vehicle’s self-driving system was in control would not be covered if they had made unauthorised changes to its software or failed to install an update.
Carol Monaghan referred to the insurance premiums needed for her son to drive a car, and I remember when my boys were growing up. I am a member of the Ulster Farmers Union, which gives exceptionally good premiums for insurance. They were much below the cost on the market, and my three boys were able to take advantage of that. However, the question I want to ask about the legislation the Government have brought forward is, what is the Minister doing to ensure that premiums for driverless cars are monitored and that competition rules ensure that prices are kept down? It is important that we do that.
There are multiple levels of vehicle automation. The proposals state that the Department for Transport will be tasked with determining what is classified as a self-driving car. There is still work to be done on ensuring that those responsible for these cars know exactly where they stand, but the Bill provides a structure, and it is welcome to those who use these vehicles and to other drivers on the road.
Many Members have spoken about electric car-charging points, and I have asked many questions about them in the years I have been in the House. The Government have made money available centrally for the devolved Administrations, including the Northern Ireland Assembly. That money enabled the Assembly to introduce charging points across the whole of Northern Ireland. Perhaps the Minister could inform us in his response what discussions have taken place with the Northern Ireland Assembly that those grants will continue.
With those grants, we have been able to ensure that electric charging points could be introduced, incentivising people to drive electric cars. The competition seems to be moving in the right direction, but take-up is low. Again, what are we doing to ensure that it increases?
The other point on electric charging points is where they are located They have to be on the high street and at the shopping centres—they have to be where the cars are. That is important. Again, the Government are going in the right direction, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
The other clauses that are of interest to me concern ATOL protection. Clauses 18,19 and 20 in part 3 enhance protections. Again, I welcome those protections, which the Secretary of State referred to in his introduction, so they are clearly a core issue for the Government. It is good to see that and the Secretary of State’s ability to provide regulation through clauses 18, 19 and 20.
There are very many travel websites available, and the difficulty lies in ensuring that holidays are protected should difficulties arise. With the ash cloud in Iceland a few years ago, we saw the importance of protecting a holiday. Indeed, I had staff members at the time who travelled to Belfast City airport in the mornings to speak with the team there to try to get constituents home from Iceland at a time of extreme difficulty. Their money was running out, and they did not have the insurance to cover them.
The ability to repatriate holidaymakers in the event of unforeseen circumstances is vital. The enhancements the Government have brought forward seek to provide for that where people use websites to book their holidays. My office staff always encourage people to ensure that their holidays are ATOL-protected, and the Government do as well.
In conclusion, these enhancements are necessary. The wisdom to bring us in line with the EU, but also to have the freedom to alter things to suit our needs outside the EU, is what is needed. We must provide in Bills in this House for what future technologies will change. I welcome the protection that has been offered, and I hope to see the Bill progress in a timely manner. Well done to all those who have been involved in it and who have made valuable contributions today.
I, too, thank all those hon. Members who have contributed to today’s debate: Drew Hendry, who leads for the Scottish National party, Sir Greg Knight, and the hon. Members for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), for Glasgow South (Stewart Malcolm McDonald), for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), Mr Baker—a self-confessed petrol-head—and the hon. Members for Southport (John Pugh), for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon). All of them, in different ways, made highly perceptive speeches and posed questions it will be important for the Minister to pick up in winding up the debate. Indeed, many of them also raised issues that we will need to pursue further in Committee.
We have been waiting patiently, for some months, for the Bill to make its way to its Second Reading, although when we talked about it in the past, it was known as the modern transport Bill. Apparently its name had to be changed because the word “modern” is not considered a parliamentary term. Make of that what you will, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I can understand if the original title created difficulties for the Minister of State, given his love of classics and his disagreements with what he described last year as modernist determinism. Whatever the Bill is called, I can confirm that Labour will not oppose its Second Reading. Indeed, we broadly support its aims. May I add my thanks to the Minister of State for the collegiate way in which he has approached it so far? I am sure that that spirit will continue throughout its Committee stage.
I am sure that the parts of the Bill that will attract most attention, in Committee and during its other stages, and as has happened today, are those concerned with automotive issues. Before I come to those, though, I will say a few words about some of the other things that the Bill covers.
The Bill clarifies the basis on which diversionary courses that are used as an alternative to fixed penalty notices can be charged, and in another section and other clauses it proposes greater use of the private sector to carry out a number of the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s vehicle testing duties. Both of those changes may make sense, but we will want to be assured in Committee that neither of them will have adverse effects. It is timely to remind the Government of what the Transport Committee and so many others have told them, namely that however valuable diversionary courses are, they are in no way a substitute for the proper enforcement of the laws that we have passed in this place to keep our roads safe, and that cuts of up to a third of traffic police numbers are incompatible with that effective enforcement.
The changes that the Bill makes to the licensing relationship between the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS appear to have widespread support from stakeholders. I hope that Ministers will confirm, in response to the question asked by my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State at the start of the debate, that they have no plans to pursue any further privatisation of NATS. There will, of course, be questions to address in Committee about the impact that Brexit may have on the safe and efficient management of our skies.
Likewise, the Bill’s provisions relating to the air travel organiser’s licence arise from a European directive and offer the prospect of better protection for holidaymakers. Again, however, in Committee we will want to press Ministers for more detail, both on that directive and on the implications of Brexit.
I am pleased that the Government are taking action to address the problem of lasers being shone at aircraft and other vehicles. We do not, however, understand why Ministers are not using the opportunity presented by the Bill to introduce proposals to ensure safety and better regulation with regard to the use of drones. I know that they are consulting on that issue, but the timetable for that consultation and for the Bill is entirely in their hands. The Bill could be an important opportunity to sort out that matter, but it has not been included, so we put Ministers on notice that we want them to act. We will pursue that in Committee.
I now turn to those parts of the Bill that deal with automotive technology. We are living through a fourth industrial revolution, which is transforming our horizons in automotive technology and automotive travel. Connected information systems are already starting to enable us to make smart choices about how and where journeys are most appropriately taken by car and when other forms of mobility are more appropriate. There is no more powerful example of why we need to be better at making those smart choices than the 40,000 people who die prematurely every year because of the air quality crisis that is choking our towns and cities, and to which emissions from road transport are a major contributor—a theme that has come up several times during this debate. But the choices we make will not simply be about the journeys for which we use cars or the kind of engine that powers the car. We will also be talking about how and when the driver wishes to be in control of the vehicle, and when to switch control to the technology in the vehicle. It is an exciting prospect, which potentially has huge benefits for road safety. It is also a very challenging prospect, not least in relation to liability when something goes wrong. That is why the Bill is right to mandate insurance for a vehicle when it is controlled by its technology rather than by its driver. As we have heard in many contributions today, however, that equation is far from simple and that aspect of the Bill requires scrutiny.
The problem with the Bill is that Ministers seek to future-proof the legislation by giving themselves very wide-ranging powers not only to determine the rules but to define even the vehicles to which the rules will apply. Of course, none of the technology stands still and it will be impossible to cover everything in the Bill, so we accept that many issues will have to be covered by secondary legislation. But that cannot mean that Ministers should be given a blank cheque. We want to know the criteria by which Ministers will make decisions; we want to know whom they will consult and how; and we want to make sure there are regular reviews of progress on the effectiveness of the measures in the Bill and the rate of technological advance in the areas that it seeks to regulate. If the Bill ends up being behind the curve, and if it leads to spiralling insurance costs for automated vehicles, it will be self-defeating.
The Bill is also right to mandate improvements in the charging infrastructure for electric vehicles across the UK. For that infrastructure to be fit for purpose, moreover, it has to be of sufficient scale, the charge points have to work with a range of different vehicle makes and the pricing has to be clear and transparent. I welcome the fact that the Bill tries to address all those things. Once again, however, it concentrates on giving Ministers powers to develop regulations covering the charging infrastructure through secondary legislation. I can see why an element of that is required to future-proof the legislation, but this cannot simply be blank-cheque land. Ministers need to be clear now that they will carry out meaningful consultation as they devise their plans, and that the plans, once introduced, will be open to the scrutiny they deserve.
Motorway infrastructure is not the only issue, but several comments have been made on Second Reading that deserve attention, not least those about the impact on the national grid of the extension of charging point infrastructure envisaged in the Bill. Expanding infrastructure for charging electric vehicles on motorways is a key part of creating the conditions for many more people and companies to switch to ultra-low emission vehicles in future, but it is only part of the picture. Electric vehicles will be an important part of that future but so, too, as we have heard, will hydrogen fuel cell and other technologies. In the journey towards an ultra-low emission future, intermediate technologies such as LPG are also important. Our infrastructure strategy must reflect all those things.
The capital cost of buying an ultra-low emission vehicle and uncertainty about residual values and battery ranges are significant barriers to more rapid expansion of the market in electric and ultra-low emission vehicles. It will be for the industry to deliver solutions to the technological aspects of those issues, and rapid progress is being made, but Government can help to accelerate the pace of change by encouraging more active procurement of ultra-low emission vehicles by public authorities and putting in place the right consumer incentives. It is difficult to know how the cuts that the Government have made to grant support for plug-in vehicles are compatible with the consumer incentives that are needed.
At a broader level, an active industrial policy is vital to make sure that the UK is in pole position in developing and making the connected, automated and ultra-low emission vehicles of the future, and in creating the highly skilled jobs that a modern economy needs, as well as in boosting the market for the vehicles themselves. If ever there was a day when it was appropriate to emphasise that, it is today, when PSA has announced its purchase of Vauxhall/Opel from General Motors. We cannot afford to relax and let someone else do the driving on that.
We also need a laser-like focus on building our skills base, as people in the automotive industry have urged us time and again. Carol Monaghan was right to emphasise the gender dimension to building such a skills base. Let us remember that we are not only talking about the skills in automotive research development and manufacturing, important though those are. If people need a CORGI—Council for Registered Gas Installers—certificate to repair a gas boiler, is it not time we had proper accreditation of qualifications for maintaining and servicing the new generation of sophisticated, connected and automated vehicles?
This is a worthwhile Bill, but the transition to a low-carbon, low-emission and sustainable future is a journey in itself. The Bill is a contribution to that, but the Government need to do much more to make it happen.
I have just over two hours in which to sum up this debate, and it will not be easy. It is with great pleasure that I close the Second Reading debate on this Bill. It has been an excellent afternoon’s and evening’s debate, without a glimpse of animus, a hint of acrimony or a moment of contumely. In that spirit, I thank very much all who have contributed to the important consideration of this important subject.
The Bill is not politically charged or partisan. We act in the national interest and for the common good. I am grateful to Labour Front Benchers for their kind comments about the spirit in which we have embarked on this process. They can be assured that that will continue during its scrutiny. By the way, as they have said, it is right for the Opposition to hold us to account and that they should critique the Bill. I look forward to such discussions and debates in Committee and beyond, because I know that the Bill will be improved with that kind of considered and measured scrutiny.
As many of those who spoke have said, the Bill is certainly prescient, pertinent and, I might even say, pellucid—pearl-like—in its quality. However, that does not mean that we should not listen and learn from its further consideration. As well as the Government, other parties will help to frame the shape and form of the legislation; it is right that they should because we are preparing, together, for the future. As I have said, this has to be driven by the wellbeing of all our people. We share a commitment—do we not?—to ensuring that the UK remains one of the best places in the world for the research and development of the next generation of transport technology that is fit for those to come.
As Drew Hendry said, these things must be shaped by the influence they have on people’s lives and life chances. It is true, as Stewart Malcolm McDonald described so eloquently, that technological change is rapid, dramatic and—as hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden) said—perhaps even revolutionary. However, it has to be measured against the difference it makes to those who enjoy it, and those who do so must not be limited to the privileged few; it must be for the many. It is also true that the Bill must ensure that the UK benefits from the economic and social opportunities that the next generation of technology will provide. This is not a Bill that tries too hard to do too much, but instead a Bill to pave the way, carefully, to the future.
Winston Churchill once said that the future is unknowable but the past should give us hope. The lesson of the past is that good government must always attend to the future, a future with all its potential and pitfalls, as John Pugh described it. It is the Government’s ascription of value to the future, as well as to the present, that motivates us in putting this proposed legislation before the House. Putative technology is rapidly changing, but we cannot predict exactly how it will develop.
Let me say what the Bill is not. It is not prescriptive. It directs us to the future, but it does not try to dictate it because we simply cannot. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield said in his summing up, that presents a dilemma for the Government. Should we delay to be certain and risk falling behind, or legislate now with the risk of error? It is true, as Carol Monaghan said, that these matters are changing rapidly. By the way, I would be delighted to attend her recently formed all-party group. That sounds as though I have invited myself. I am sure she will accept my suggestion in the spirit with which it is offered to talk through some of the drama of the rapid changes she described.
In truth, we must do what we can now and leave what we could do for the future. This measured approach characterises the Bill. I recognise that, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield said, no one in this House, particularly the Opposition, would want to give the Government what he described as a blank cheque. It is right that we consult properly and fully and that we set out as much as we can about how further developments will happen. It is true that the Bill paves the way to the future through a series of powers taken by the Government, but it is right, too, that those powers should be framed in a form that the House will respect, as a means of further scrutiny and shared consideration. I understand that call and will respond to it.
The Bill, as the Secretary of State set out, will do a number of important things. It will make it compulsory for drivers of automated vehicles to have insurance that covers innocent “drivers” who are legitimately disengaged from the driving task, as well as any innocent third parties involved in a collision. The Bill will give the Secretary of State powers to improve the charge point infrastructure for electric vehicles, powers to create technical standards, enable interoperability and ensure consumers have consistent information on pricing, location and availability.
The need to ensure that the charging infrastructure is reasonably and fairly spread lies at the heart of our ambitions. As was said by many contributors to the debate, not least my hon. Friend Neil Parish, it is right that rural areas across the country should have access to charging points. We do not want them to be focused entirely on urban areas, a point raised by other hon. Members, too. My hon. Friend also made a point about the rapidity of charging vehicles. It is important that we not only accelerate the roll-out of electric vehicle infrastructure at key locations, such as motorway service areas, but make charge points modern and flexible and take advantage of technological change, so that people can charge their vehicles more quickly.
As my hon. Friend Iain Stewart said, it is important that we take account of the regulatory environment, both in respect of electric vehicles and automated vehicles, and we will do so. He is right to suggest that that will change as the technology changes, and I understand his call perfectly.
Our management of those providing our air traffic services will be improved through more appropriate control licences under which they operate, including enforcement tools and unlocking access to more efficient forms of finance. Holidaymakers will see their protection against the insolvency of travel companies extended to cover a broader range of holidays. Protection will also be aligned with that offered across Europe to allow UK-established companies to sell more easily throughout Europe and across borders.
Commercial vehicle owners will be given access to a greater range of sites to undergo their mandatory tests, and controls will be put in place to ensure fair prices for using those sites.
The shadow Secretary of State raised the issue of employment. We will address that. I appreciate and understand his concern about jobs, so I will come back to that issue when I have concluded these brief introductory remarks and move on to the main part of my summation.
The legislation will make it an offence to shine a laser at an aircraft or any mode of transport, so improving the police’s ability to maintain the safety of our transport network and safeguard wellbeing. This has been widely welcomed across the House, as I think we all recognise the risk posed by these devices getting into the wrong hands and the need to act now to deal with that risk.
The Bill will provide greater transparency and police accountability regarding the way in which fees are set for courses offered as an alternative prosecution for driving offences.
We have heard so many interesting and thoughtful contributions to this debate. I shall try to respond to some of them now, but I give this, perhaps unusual, commitment, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I hope will be welcome: I shall respond in writing to every point that has been raised. There have numerous points and I would tire Members if I were to go through them religiously and in detail now, but I will commit to respond to each and every one of them, following today’s debate.
Let me therefore in this short peroration—[Interruption.] I hear someone behind me saying “all too short”. [Interruption.] Welcome to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was just saying that in this perhaps all too short summation I shall have time to deal only with some of the contributions, but will deal with them all subsequently in writing.
On the points made about insurance, I appreciate that, as suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South, Drew Hendry and others, people are keen to make sure that the insurance industry responds in a way that is appropriate and protects the interests of drivers and those who might suffer as a result of accidents. As it is important that we do not over-regulate, we are consulting; we have been in discussion with the industry; but the critical point is that no one must be worse off than they are now in respect of liability and that people’s interests are protected. Frankly, I accept that different insurance models will develop—different products are bound to result from these changes—but I am more than happy to discuss this during the passage of the Bill and outside it. We will have to deliver those objectives through the Government working with the insurance industry to guarantee absolutely the commitment that no one will be worse off and that people will be properly protected.
I think that Members have been right to suggest that it is possible for changes in technology ultimately to drive premiums down. The safety that results from automation might well reduce risk, and if risk is reduced, it is likely that the vehicles will become easier and less expensive to insure. I do not want to give any guarantee, but I think that change is most likely in that direction. Let us take the steps we need to take now, so that we do not constrain or inhibit these developments. Let us do so without dictating the future but simply by pointing towards it.
My right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight was understandably concerned about older vehicles. I understand that, as an owner of many of them, he speaks for many others who share his concern. I want to be absolutely clear, although I think that he already knows this, that vintage and classic car drivers have nothing to fear while the Secretary of State and I are in post, because we appreciate their perfectly proper concerns. They have a particular interest, which should be neither ignored nor disregarded. My right hon. Friend can be sure of that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South made a good point about the protection in place to prevent hacking cyber-security on automated vehicles. It is clearly vital that security is designed for these systems from the outset. We are actively shaping the agenda to deliver outcomes on those important issues at the relevant international forums, including the European Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. We shall be chairing a technical working group with the aim of developing internationally harmonised guidance, standards and regulations.
I am pleased that Andy McDonald raised the issue of consistency and pricing in the context of electric vehicles. I shall be taking action in that regard. It is only fair for drivers to be charged the market rate for the electricity that they use. Electric vehicles will still offer significant savings in running costs, especially given that most charging takes place at private charge points—for instance, at home or at work—but we want to ensure that the market is competitive, the costs are fair, and the consumer’s interests are protected. We plan to introduce new regulations this year, under existing powers, consulting further when necessary, to improve the consistency and comparability of pricing information. Everyone is familiar with the price of petrol being given in pence per litre, and with the clear, simple signage at petrol stations. It should be just as easy to shop around and get the best deal for electric vehicle charging, and we will make sure that it is.
The hon. Member for Southport and the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, and other places—[Laughter]—not that those other places are any less important than Inverness or Nairn, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be quick to point out—raised the issue of hydrogen, and how that technology fits into the Bill. I know that I have talked a great deal about charge points and automated vehicles, but the Government must have a technology-neutral perspective. In achieving our goal of zero road transport emissions, we must rule out no emerging technology. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are at an earlier stage of technological development and market roll-out than battery electric vehicles, but, as has already been said, they can offer a useful alternative, particularly in certain settings. We are supporting the early market for those vehicles and the development of an initial refuelling network, and we are excited to see how the market is developing. We also recognise the wider economic and decarbonisation benefits that hydrogen, as a flexible energy source, could provide.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield spoke briefly about NATS. The Bill does not include privatisation measures, and, as the hon. Gentleman will know, the measures that it does include have been widely welcomed by those who felt that the regime needed to be updated and to become more practicable.
In the context of the air travel organisers’ licence, the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey made a good point about how the Bill would help UK businesses to trade in the European economic area. UK-established businesses licensed under ATOL will no longer need to comply with the different insolvency rules in other EEA states, which will make cross-border trade easier. It will give such businesses more opportunities to sell to a wider consumer base, and to grow.
The hon. Gentleman also said that he wanted to ensure that British consumers were safe post-Brexit. Far be it from me to anticipate the negotiations—that would be well above my pay grade, and outside my orbit—but it is important for us to continue to co-operate in these matters, and of course it is right for us to continue to take into account holidaymakers and other consumers throughout Europe. I have no doubt that there will be many opportunities to debate such issues as the Bill progresses, and I do not want to anticipate those exciting opportunities this evening.
The hon. Member for Middlesbrough asked whether staff would lose their jobs when we closed Government-owned sites for vehicle testing. The answer is plain: no. The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency will still employ the examiners who deliver the vehicle tests at private sector sites. Staff who maintain the facilities do so under a contract with a total facilities management provider, and are responsible for a number of different facility contracts as well as the DVSA contract, so they will be redeployed on those contracts. That will include the maintenance of local driving tests centre under the same contract with the DVSA.
My hon. Friend Mr Baker raised the issue of lasers, so let me be clear again about that. Under the new offence, the police will have the power to search after arrest on suspicion. Creating a laser-specific offence will bring consistency across all modes of transport, give police the powers they need to investigate the offence fully, and carry penalties that reflect the seriousness of that offence.
As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield raised this point, I emphasise that diversionary courses are not an alternative to proper enforcement. He is right to emphasise that, and I do so too from the Dispatch Box in accordance with his request.
Jim Shannon asked for a reassurance that we will work with colleagues in Northern Ireland. I can confirm that we will and that we have been in close contact with devolved Assemblies in respect of this Bill. I have both spoken to Northern Irish Ministers and received their communications, which have allowed the further development of the Bill. Indeed, I have spoken to Scottish Ministers too, to ensure that they, the Welsh and the Irish understand what so many contributors to this debate tonight have grasped: this Bill is important, non-partisan, vital for our future, and measured. The Government understand that as the Bill develops it will evolve and change as the technology changes. That is the approach that we are adopting, and I am very grateful for the welcome that that approach has been given.
I am very pleased to have the Minister’s reassurance in relation to the Northern Ireland Assembly, and in relation to the Scottish and Welsh as well. The Government have given a certain amount of financial assistance, certainly for electric cars and ensuring there are charging points. Is it possible to confirm for Hansard today in this Chamber what that financial commitment will be to the Northern Ireland Assembly?
As many more issues to which I wish to respond have been raised in this debate, I suggest that I add the hon. Gentleman’s request to the list and make sure I satisfy him, as far as I can, in respect of the matter he has raised.
It is a consequence of our knowledge of the past and our assiduous stewardship of the present that we can now prepare for a presently unknowable future. I was challenged by one of my hon. Friends to introduce some poetry to my peroration, and I did not want to let her down. As T. S. Eliot wrote in the “Four Quartets”:
“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.”
I thank all who have spoken for their contributions, and anticipate further consideration of the Bill without fear of contumely or animus, but rather with confidence and enthusiasm. In particular, I am grateful to the Opposition for their sedulous and thoughtful approach. Change and challenge face us all; Government must meet both with foresight tempered by care, and ambition softened by humility. We cannot be certain of all that will come, but we can certainly ensure that all we do is driven in the national interest and by the common good. I therefore commend this Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.