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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 9:07 pm on 20th December 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Sugg Baroness Sugg Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 9:07 pm, 20th December 2017

We do not yet have a time. Obviously, we need to look at that vigorous testing to ensure drivers are properly capable. We need to look at the wider safety impacts on jaywalkers, on the use of drones and on cyclists.

The issue of standards has been raised by many noble Lords. As is the case for other vehicle safety technologies, we expect standards to be set internationally at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. The UK has historically been very influential in those discussions. Indeed, we are chairing many of the relevant committees discussing standards for automated vehicles.

The arrival of automated vehicles will raise important ethical questions about how machines make choices that might impact on human safety. These are incredibly important issues and should be discussed publicly and transparently. The report calls for further government-commissioned social research, a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and others. We are taking forward a number of actions to help facilitate this discussion. We are investing with industry in public demonstrations of self-driving vehicles to raise awareness and to prompt debate. We have begun a three-year social and behavioural research programme to examine public perceptions of automated vehicle technologies. In the Budget we announced a new centre for data ethics and innovation, which will advise government on the ethical, safe and innovative use of data and artificial intelligence across all sectors, including transport. More research and debate is of course needed in this area, both within the UK and internationally, but I hope noble Lords will agree that, while we do not have all the answers to these issues, it is important that we do not stifle progress so we can make progress on these potentially life-saving innovations.

Pretty much every noble Lord raised the skills agenda. The Government absolutely agree with the conclusion of the committee’s report that skills are a key factor in achieving our objectives. That is recognised in our industrial strategy. The UK is well above the EU average in having access to the specialist skills required to develop and implement this technology, but we need to stay ahead. We will have to keep improving as the digital economy grows. For connected and autonomous vehicles this will require continued focus on a wide range of technical disciplines, from vehicle and infrastructure engineering to digital capabilities. I note the point the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, made about ensuring we have the right structure in place to recognise the skills.

The industry-led Automotive Council has played a pivotal role in improving skills in the sector, with an increasing emphasis on skills requirements for these vehicles. It has developed and trialled new trailblazer apprentices, targeting areas where there are skills shortages and co-ordinating work with other sectors. Through the transport infrastructure skills strategy we are looking at what skills we should be identifying for the future. It has developed STAT—the Strategic Transport Apprenticeship Taskforce—which has developed the most detailed skills forecasting tool in transport history to understand the skills we will need. That should show us where the gaps will be. It is also encouraging to see universities and industry working together to develop their own initiatives. For example, the University of Warwick will next September launch a master’s programme in smart, connected and autonomous vehicles.

The year 2018 will indeed be the Year of Engineering, as promoted kindly by the noble Lord, Lord Fox. It is a national campaign to increase awareness and understanding among young people, their parents and teachers of what engineers do. I look forward to keeping noble Lords updated throughout the campaign.

So a lot of good work is going on, but I agree with noble Lords and many of those who gave evidence to the committee that we must continue developing our skills strategy to attract the best talent to the industry in future and to keep them in this country.

The report also calls for further government-commissioned economic research on the potential financial implications of connected and autonomous vehicles, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, among others. We have published a forecast of the core economic impacts of connected and autonomous vehicle technology development and production in the UK. We are conducting analysis to refine the assumptions underpinning our economic forecasts, but it would not be productive to commission an overall cost- benefit analysis of connected and autonomous vehicle technologies at this time. There is not sufficient information to produce a realistic, meaningful or robust indication of all the economic benefits, and costs, of connected and autonomous vehicles.

Many noble Lords raised the important issue of jobs. Of course, the Government recognise that the technologies we are discussing today will have an impact on the labour market. That is why as part of our industrial strategy we are acting to ensure that the UK is well placed to succeed in the economy of the future. This technology will both create and disrupt jobs. That is true of all significant technological changes throughout history. The commercialisation of automated vehicles will create jobs in their development and production, as well as the new services they enable. We want UK businesses and people to be able to capitalise on those opportunities as far as they can. We are in a good position to achieve this as a consequence of our strength in the depth of disciplines that underpin this emerging market.

Alongside this, it is inevitable that some jobs will be disrupted, but what is important is that we are able to adapt. These changes will be tough to predict. Some of the more dramatic changes may not happen for some time. As I said earlier, making specific predictions about the impact on jobs is not possible at this early stage, so I am not able to provide the figures. However, we are ensuring that we are equipping people with the skills they need to compete in the future jobs market. I have already outlined some of the action that government, industry and academia are taking to tackle the issue of skills and the challenge of ensuring that, as this industry grows, so do jobs. As the technology emerges, we will continue to keep this issue under review.

My noble friend Lord Lucas raised an interesting proposal to make use of existing railway lines to help revive the local economy in the south-east and across the country. I understand that officials from my department are making connections with relevant UK companies to help pursue this idea, but I will certainly investigate it further and be very happy to meet my noble friend in the new year to discuss it.

On cybersecurity, we believe that industry must aim to design cybersecurity into connected vehicles. We recently published a set of cybersecurity principles for connected and autonomous vehicles to provide guidance to industry on how to address this issue. The department and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles work closely with the National Cyber Security Centre and the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure on this issue. We are leading the international debate on the cybersecurity of road vehicles and, as I mentioned, we are chairing a technical working group in the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which is developing internationally harmonised requirements on cybersecurity.

This evening’s debate has highlighted not only the challenges posed by the introduction of automated vehicles but the wealth of opportunities that they can bring to the UK. I again thank all noble Lords who have spoken, in particular my noble friend Lord Selborne, for raising this timely topic for debate. I also want to take this opportunity to thank all those who gave their time and expertise to producing such a comprehensive, interesting and thought-provoking report.

We will soon get another chance to debate this topic when the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill comes to your Lordships’ House next year. That will provide an opportunity to lay the legislative groundwork that ensures the UK is at the forefront of this growing industry for many years to come. I look forward to noble Lords’ contributions then.