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Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (Science and Technology Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:57 pm on 20th December 2017.

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Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 8:57 pm, 20th December 2017

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and his committee for their report. As has been said, it contains four main findings. These are that the Government are too focused on driverless cars when the early benefits are likely to be in other sectors; that the development of connected and autonomous vehicles across different sectors needs co-ordination; that there needs to be further government-commissioned social and economic research to weigh the potential human and financial implications of connected and autonomous vehicles; and that the Government need to do much more, including in the field of skills, to ensure that we can maximise the opportunities that connected and autonomous vehicles offer in different sectors.

I hope that the Government will take on board and act on, and continue to act on, the four main findings of the report. Their response to it seems a bit defensive in places, but then I suppose that government responses to reports over the years usually have been.

The committee is not seeking to be political or to damn, but it is seeking to offer considered and constructive findings based on genuine expertise and experience to help ensure that we can be one of the global leaders in this field and reap the benefits, and address the potential pitfalls, including over data, that will, or could, arise from being so.

We surely need to ensure that we can be up with the best, as significant change in this field is already taking place in other parts of the world. General Motors will soon begin testing autonomous cars in the far-from-straightforward transport environment of New York City, with a fleet of self-driving taxis appearing to be the initial goal, while the European Commissioner said that connected vehicles are likely to become available in the next two to three years.

On that latter issue, the Government said in response to the committee—on recommendation 27, I think— that they would be reporting back to the National Infrastructure Commission by the end of 2017 on improving our digital infrastructure on the roads network. Bearing in mind that we are quite close to the end of 2017, have the Government reported back to the NIC and, if so, what was the thrust of that report back?

I would like to raise a few points with the Government about the impact and future of autonomous vehicles in the light of some of the issues raised by the Committee’s report. In a recent Written Answer in the Commons, the Government said that,

“production of CAVs and CAV technologies in the UK will support over 27,000 jobs”.

However, that was in answer to a Written Question asking what assessment had been made of the potential effect on employment of the introduction of autonomous vehicles. Does that mean that the Government do not consider that connected and autonomous vehicles will have any negative impact on jobs in any field of transport, or at least not for a great many years, an issue about which they remained silent in their Written Answer last month? Will the Minister say what negative impact on jobs autonomous vehicles might have and over what period of time?

What impact do the Government think autonomous vehicles might have on the numbers of people who drive vehicles, fly aircraft or crew ships for a living? If connected and autonomous vehicles reduce the incidence of accidents, which is clearly a major plus point, what impact do the Government think this might have, for example, on the numbers of people employed in garages and in crash repair centres, as well as in the emergency services? If the production of CAVs and CAV technologies in the UK will support over 27,000 jobs, is it the Government’s view that that will mean fewer jobs involved in the production of the kinds of vehicles that we have today? If so, in the Government’s view, what kind of job losses are we talking about?

The committee report refers to the affordability and accessibility of connected and autonomous vehicles. Do the Government have a view on whether they are likely to be affordable for most people? If so, over what period of time will that be achieved? One assumes that the move to electric vehicles will also mean this form of power for autonomous vehicles. Have the Government given any consideration to fuel duty, or another form of power duty, that would apply to autonomous electric vehicles, as this will have an impact on cost? Fuel duty on petrol and diesel vehicles is a source of significant revenue for the Government. How will this source of revenue be replaced—will it be replaced?—as petrol and diesel vehicles reduce in numbers and electric-powered vehicles, autonomous and otherwise, increase?

What government oversight is there into research and development on connected and autonomous vehicles, bearing in mind that there are major safety issues and considerations which go well beyond simply those people owning and using such vehicles or indeed making and selling them? Have the Government laid down, or do they intend to, any minimum standards that have to be met in this key area of safety as far as the goals of research and development in this field and beyond are concerned? What provision will there be for the sharing of information on the development of autonomous vehicles and its implications, and what will be the involvement of local transport authorities?

On this latter point, the Government said in their response to the committee’s recommendation 5 that a further meeting with local authorities, described as a “forum for local authorities”, was scheduled for this autumn. What was discussed at that meeting? What conclusions were reached? How many local authorities were represented and which other bodies or organisations were present?

The committee report refers to international co-operation and the importance of cybersecurity. There would appear to be a real risk of autonomous vehicles being hacked, with potentially very serious consequences, including for safety, presumably on land, sea or in the air. Is cybersecurity being fully addressed as part of research and development objectives? Have any standards that have to be achieved in respect of cybersecurity been, or will be, laid down or set? The Government’s response to the committee’s recommendation 23 refers to the publication of a set of principles for cybersecurity of vehicles, which does not appear to be the same thing.

One of the committee’s recommendations—number three—is that the Government should bring forward a wider transport strategy that places the development and implementation of connected and autonomous vehicles in the context of wider policy goals, such as increased use of public transport and the reduction of congestion and pollution. Reading the Government’s response to that recommendation, it is not clear to what extent the Government believe that they have met that recommendation. They say in their response that they place importance on long-term planning and strategy,

“and as our work on CAVs matures we will continue to set this in the context of the Government’s wider policy aims for the future of transport”.

Do the Government see connected and autonomous vehicles increasing the use of public transport and reducing congestion and pollution, and if so, how and why? One could presumably argue that since autonomous vehicles would take away the strain of driving as well as enabling those who cannot at present drive a car or who do not wish to do so to travel by car, this might be at the expense of usage of public transport and reducing congestion.

Finally, the Government’s response to the committee’s recommendations came out over seven months after publication of the report, and not all of those seven months were taken up by the general election campaign. That was a considerable period of time to wait for an area involving rapid international change. Bearing in mind that we are talking about fields of activity where developments are likely to progress and occur with considerable rapidity, with potentially very significant impacts on the lives of all of us, how do the Government intend to keep this House advised of further progress being made on implementing or facilitating the implementation of the committee’s recommendations and on delivering whatever are the Government’s objectives and goals in this field, since this debate cannot be the end of the matter?