Amendment 26A

Automated Vehicles Bill [HL] - Committee (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 15 January 2024.

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Lord Holmes of Richmond:

Moved by Lord Holmes of Richmond

26A: After Clause 11, insert the following new Clause—“Statement of accessibility principles(1) The Secretary of State must prepare a statement of the principles that they propose to apply in assessing, for the purposes of this Part, whether an automated vehicle meets the required level of accessibility.(2) The principles must make provision for the accessibility of—(a) physical features and structures of the automated vehicle,(b) computer and software systems used in the automated vehicle, and(c) where relevant, booking platforms and other interactive digital services and systems used prior to, during and after using an automated vehicle, including through underpinning such services and systems with mechanisms to allow human intervention if required.(3) In preparing the statement under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult such persons they consider appropriate, in particular disabled people.(4) The statement under subsection (1) should include consideration of the accessibility of infrastructure with which automated vehicles must interact, such as pavements, kerbs, drop off and parking points.”

Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative

My Lords, it is a pleasure to open this debate on this group of amendments. In doing so, I declare my interest as an adviser to Boston Ltd. I shall speak to Amendment 26A, which I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for co-signing. I look forward to hearing about the other amendments in this group, which I shall not trespass on at this time.

Automated vehicles are either accessible, or they should not be pursued. They have such potential to enable mobility through technology, transforming people’s lives, be they older people, disabled people or any member of our society. If accessibility is not the golden thread that runs through all their development and deployment, this project should not proceed any further.

We see in Clause 87 a couple of mentions of disabled people and older people. It is good to see that, but Clause 87 is not specific or sufficient. Without greater detail in the Bill, inevitably we will have potentially many elements of the user experience which simply will not be accessible, and there is precious little point in having 70% of the end-to-end experience accessible if 30% is not. That needs to run through all elements: not just the AV itself but everything involved in that user experience of engaging with an automated vehicle. That is why my Amendment 26A proposes a statement of accessibility principles which will run through and set out in the Bill, in detail, what is required to enable an accessible experience for all users.

As has been said, the vehicle itself, the physical features, must be accessible. All onboard systems must be accessible, but also the booking platforms and all the physical infrastructure that the AV needs to interact with, such as kerbs and drop-off points, must be accessible; otherwise, the experience will be unable to be seen as accessible. It can be rendered useless if just one of those elements is not accessible. We need to see a statement of accessibility principles set out in the Bill; it needs to be understood as an end-to-end accessible experience for users; and we need to see disabled people involved in the development and deployment of this whole AV enterprise. I believe that by having all these elements in the Bill, we will have much greater opportunity to enable an accessible experience for all.

It is clear that we need to have backstops. If the onboard system fails, if the booking system fails, if any element fails, by technical glitch or for want of accessibility, there needs to be a human in the loop, the potential for human intervention, so that a disabled person, an older person or, indeed, any person is not left, potentially, in a vehicle with a failed onboard system and no back-up, both for safety but also just for knowing where you are—the vital information to enable you to have an accessible experience in that AV.

We have spent many decades putting right inaccessible buildings, infrastructure and public realm that was built and conceived of long before accessibility, inclusion and inclusive by design were even considered, let alone deployed. That is still a work in progress, but we need to be absolutely certain that we are not potentially building new systems, vehicles and infrastructure that are inaccessible by design. We cannot start creating new steps—new barriers to access—in cyberspace and across the whole AV experience. We will get this right if we see it as a user experience, end-to-end, every beat point with a golden thread of accessibility ensuring that AVs can be enabling, emancipating and a positive experience for all users. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I declare my past interest as a member of the Select Committee on the Equality Act and its impact on disabled people, which included assessing PSV transport regulations for safe and effective travel for disabled people. Once again, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, and to have been able to sign his Amendment 26A. I have three amendments in this group, also signed by my noble friend Lady Randerson.

I want to pick up the point the noble Lord made when he talked about not just disabled people, but the elderly and frail in our society. If you include all of those, we are talking about more than one in four of the population. This is not something that affects a few people; it is a major, really important part of automated vehicles, increasingly so as we become an elderly society, because it is less likely that people will be able to make their own journeys. One reason why so many disabled people cannot travel around is because they do not have access to the right vehicles.

On this group, I want to refer to the Minister’s response at Second Reading, when the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and I raised accessibility just not being visible in this Bill, neither generally nor in Clause 83. From the Dispatch Box, the Minister said:

“The granting of self-driving authorisations will be subject to the public sector equality duty, and the Government intend to make equality impact assessments part of the authorisation process”.—[Official Report, 28/11/23; col. 1070.]

The granting of self-driving authorisations being issued by a regulatory body would mean that the grantee has to follow the PSED, providing that it is supervised by a state regulatory body and providing a public service, so he is no doubt correct that PSVs would be able to follow it. I would hope that the provision of public sector AVs would fall within scope but, as we have discussed, there are many other parties to the running of an AV, some of which may not appear to be party to the PSED or realise that they are required to obey it.

Can the Minister confirm that all those involved in the journey—the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, outlined some, such as those providing the apps or helping disabled passengers, as some parts of the journey are currently reliant on assistance from a driver or conductor who will not be visible—are aware that they have to follow the PSED? Also, will the organisation granted authorisation, as well as any private owners or leaseholders of AVs and all those in the PSV chain, from hailing apps through to any staff involved in the journey, have to obey it too?

The Select Committee on the Equality Act recommended that, under the PSED, the duties to assist passengers in wheelchairs in Sections 165, 166 and 167 of the Equality Act should be brought into force. In 2011, one year after the Act came into force, the Government said that they would do so, as they did in their response in 2016. However, the online advice for the licensing authorities on the Equality Act still says that they have yet to be brought into force. There is a gaping hole. Without it, disabled people—particularly those in wheelchairs, under these three sections—discover the failures of it every day when they make journeys. It could be when taxi drivers, or perhaps in future a hailing app, refuse to take them. If I want to hire an Uber and no wheelchair cab is available, I do not get my journey at all. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, made the point about ensuring that this must be by design—so that various groups in our society are not excluded from using AVs because those AVs cannot help or take them.

I raise this because it has become painfully clear that too many PSV companies and their staff currently do not understand the PSED. Doug Paulley had to take First Bus to the Supreme Court in 2017 to ensure that wheelchair users had access to the wheelchair space on a bus, over and above suitcases and baby buggies. That was delivered through a change to the bus driver regulations, which would be disapplied in Clause 83.

That brings me on to Clauses 83 and 87. The Minister kindly noted my concerns about disapplying current taxi, private hire and bus legislation resulting in important accessibility protections not applying. He went on:

“Clause 87 requires that automated passenger permits could be granted only with a view to improving the understanding of how these services can be provided and designed for older and disabled passengers. Service providers will also need to report back on lessons learned”.—[Official Report, 28/11/23; col. 1070.]

An “understanding” of how these services can be provided is a mile away from the actual provision and design of these services for older and disabled passengers, so forgive me for not being enthusiastic about the provision for them to report back on lessons learned. Lessons cannot be learned where people have ticked a box but not delivered what is needed. I see the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, nodding and am grateful for his support.

Why do I say this? A further problem was highlighted by the House of Lords Select Committee report on the Equality Act. Its report noted at recommendation 31:

“Our evidence has demonstrated that there is a fundamental flaw in the current Public Sector Equality Duty, namely that a public authority can make no progress towards the aims of the general duty and yet be judged compliant with it by the courts. We have heard convincing evidence that an amendment is needed to remedy this”.

The Select Committee recommended that a new subsection be added to Section 149 of the Equality Act to strengthen it and the Government said in their response that they would set up a review to make this happen. However, sadly, as with Sections 165, 166 and 167, the Government have not even set up a review, let alone changed the current legislation. That is another gaping hole.

That is why I have asked for Clause 83 not to stand part and laid Amendment 53, which would at least establish a statutory advisory panel with the purpose of designing a national minimum standard for accessibility of self-driving passenger service vehicles, and Amendment 57, which is consequential to it. The key thing about Amendment 53 is the involvement of disabled people. We in the disabled community have a saying: “Nothing about us without us”. Where coproduction works best, we are involved right from the start in the design, so that the voice of the disabled passenger can be heard and understood before it is too late to change it. I thank the Minister for his offer of a meeting and I hope that we can meet before Report. In the meantime, I hope that he can respond more favourably than he did at Second Reading.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green 5:30, 15 January 2024

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and to agree with everything they said. In offering support to all the amendments in this group, I will make a couple of additional points.

First, to follow on from debates on previous groups today, it is obvious that, given the general state of our roads and infrastructure, if we are to see automated vehicles operating in the foreseeable future, that will be in only very limited and controlled circumstances—probably in newly constructed areas—and they are likely to be public transport. A great deal of our debates on this Bill have focused on private individuals having their own cars whizzing around, but public transport systems are most likely to be the first affected. We need to see the provision of access by design included as part of that.

Secondly, it deserves to be noted that, for the past year, the Transport Committee has been holding hearings on the accessibility of what we have now. These have exposed insufficient accessibility right across the transport sector, particularly in the need to update regulations to accommodate modern travel methods and equipment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, we are starting from scratch and could get it right from the beginning, so we should absolutely aim to do so. She spoke about relying on the public sector equality duty when it is so clearly failing; we have not heard the final conclusions of the Transport Committee, but a report out last month from the disabled people’s organisation Transport for All titled Are We There Yet?—to spoil the ending, the answer is definitely “No”—surveyed more than 500 disabled people in England on the journeys they had made in 2021 and 2022.

The report found that disabled people make far fewer journeys than non-disabled people—an average of 5.84 a week, which is one-third of the national average across the community. Those disabled people said they would like to make twice as many journeys every week, but lack of accessibility was preventing them doing so and being able to fully participate in our society, in the way that they would like. Finally, the report noted that nearly half of the respondents

“thought that the accessibility of transport and streets” would worsen in the next 10 years, while only 28% thought it would improve. Your Lordships’ House has a duty and an opportunity to show that it is possible to make things better instead of letting them continue to deteriorate.

Photo of Lord Borwick Lord Borwick Conservative

My Lords, I declare my interest, as I have been involved in accessibility to modern taxis and other public transport over many years. I entirely agree with most of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and my noble friend Lord Holmes. However, with their amendments, I am not sure that we are heading in the right direction. It is clear from Clause 87 that those clauses intending to make the vehicle more accessible are heading in the right direction, but the noble Baroness believes they do not go far enough.

I am not sure that adding an extra automated vehicle accessibility standards panel, as in Amendment 53, would do anything other than delay everything in practice. By the time that such a panel is formed and educated to the standard of familiarity that we all hold with the Bill—or most of us do—I am not sure that it would do anything but delay the whole Bill, when we are already behind others. Although I very much hope that we could be at the forefront both of the existence of automated vehicles and of accessibility, we are of course two years behind other countries in Europe. We have got to catch up. I hope that we can alter Clause 87 to achieve what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and I would like to see, rather than add a completely new panel on top.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

I very gently challenge the noble Lord on his contribution. The problem is that, if there is no chance to rethink, for example, the design of some of the vehicles or the structures that go with it—including architectural software structures in apps—it will be too late. We will end up in the position that we have now found ourselves in on the railways; five years ago, we were expecting to have level access at every single railway station in the country to remove the need for ramps. Unfortunately, because there was no work done at that time, rolling stock was bought that did not conform with other rolling stock—let alone platforms—and it was delayed until 2023. It has now been delayed until 2035.

If we do not tackle this right at the start, it will prevent disabled people using these vehicles, because they will not be involved in the process. Just like trying to get hold of wheelchair-accessible cars, it will be almost impossible to find accessibility works for disabled people in AVs.

Photo of Lord Borwick Lord Borwick Conservative

I understand the point that the noble Baroness makes.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Minister (Transport)

My Lords, first, I am very sympathetic to the whole problem of access. Secondly, I recognise it is very complex and defer to the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, in the detailed knowledge that they display in these two amendments.

Broadly speaking, I would like to see these amendments encapsulated in the Bill. The key question, however—which I invite both the noble Lord and noble Baroness to answer—is whether the two concepts contained in these amendments are mutually compatible or are in any way in conflict. If they are not, I support the general direction of these amendments and hope that there is recognition of the latest point made by the noble Baroness: you can expect a much more optimal solution if you adopt a clear direction on this difficult issue at the start, rather than trying to bolt it on afterwards.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 5:45, 15 January 2024

My Lords, I will take up the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe. You have to start on the right footing immediately. One theme that has run through the amendments to this Bill is that those of us putting forward probing amendments are not doing so in the spirit of wanting to delay anything. I would argue that the purpose of these amendments—the detail may not be ideal; but this is the probing stage—is so integral to getting it right that you must accept that there might be a delay.

This whole project could be seriously delayed by bad publicity, adverse reporting and so on. If one in four people are looking to this brave new world of public transport, which was going to open things up for people with disabilities, and they discover that they cannot get on the new buses or into the new taxis, that will be the sort of really bad publicity that will set this revolution back by a considerable period of time.

I add one little example to those already provided by my noble friend Lady Brinton. I have 30% of normal hearing. I have found a number of times that the requirement to have both audio and visual announcements is not carried out in practice: they either have one or the other. An audio announcement on its own is no use to me at all. It shuts bus journeys off to me in areas where I am not familiar with the stops and layout of the town. If we apply that principle to people in wheelchairs and people with serious sight loss, large parts of the huge potential benefits of this new technology will be unavailable to an increasingly large section of the population. With an older population, this percentage will only get bigger.

Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Minister (Transport)

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has made the point that she can speak twice in Committee. I invite her to speak for a third time to confirm that the two amendments are mutually compatible.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

I suspect that between Committee and Report, the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and I will discuss this in detail. We might even try to do it at the meeting with the Minister.

Photo of Lord Davies of Gower Lord Davies of Gower Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I once again thank noble Lords for their contributions in this group. Self-driving vehicles present an opportunity to radically improve the accessibility of transport. In particular, automated passenger services could help open up new transport links in areas where accessible services are currently limited. As colleagues rightly point out, however, it will take work to get this right. Indeed, I remind the House of the Law Commissions’ comments on this subject; they said:

“there is much that is not known about how passenger services will operate in the absence of a driver. The immediate need is to collect more evidence and gain more experience, particularly on issues such as accessibility and safeguarding”.

The Government have taken that on board. We are undertaking research to improve our understanding of the current driver duties, so that we may better design requirements to ensure journeys are accessible. Further, applicants for passenger permits will not only be required to show how they are designing services to meet the needs of older and disabled people but obliged to publish reports on how those needs are being met in practice. That is in addition to the requirements under the public sector equality duty, to which I referred in our earlier debate.

On Amendments 53 and 57, we recognise the importance of co-designing the development of self-driving vehicles with disabled people. In our policy paper Connected & Automated Mobility 2025, we committed to setting up an accessibility advisory panel before we launch the passenger permitting regime. The panel will advise on the granting of permits and assist in the development of national minimum accessibility standards. Although we have chosen to do that through non-statutory means, such a body is in line with the principle underpinning the Law Commissions’ recommendation.

The Government already have a statutory adviser on transport accessibility in the form of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee. The committee has an established role in providing independent advice to the department. It provided feedback as part of the Law Commissions’ review, and its expertise will be brought to bear alongside the advisory panel. Creating further statutory roles risks duplication; I do not wish to see additional complexity added at the expense of a material improvement in outcomes. By contrast, the flexibility offered by a non-statutory solution enables a tailored response that can adapt quickly to the rapid evolution of policy in this area.

I turn to the proposal for a “statement of accessibility principles” put forward by my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond. I absolutely recognise the points he raised and the intent of his amendment, and I reassure him that the measures in the Bill already provide scope to consider accessibility at every stage. As I said during our last debate, the Government will require anyone seeking authorisation to submit an assessment of fair outcomes. As well as considering accessibility for people with different needs, the assessments will cover data biases. Applicants will be required to include plans for how they will avoid their vehicles unfairly discriminating against particular groups, as was recommended by the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation.

My noble friend’s amendment highlights the importance of adopting a whole-journey approach when reviewing accessibility. In his very apt words, there must be a “golden thread” running from the physical vehicle design to the booking system, the integration with public transport, the support offered by operators and beyond. Indeed, the respective roles of each of those elements will likely change considerably as the technology develops and as users become more confident. That is why we look to address those important issues in Part 5 of the Bill as part of the automated passenger services provisions. These provisions allow us to set specific requirements covering the whole-passenger experience, rather than splitting them across the authorisation and operator licensing processes. As I said, accessibility is a mandatory consideration in setting those requirements.

We have already indicated in our policy scoping notes that equality and fairness are likely to be included as part of the statement of safety principles. Therefore, a second set of accessibility principles may create overlap. However, I hope that this offers my noble friend some reassurance that the intent of his amendment is already being considered.

Finally, I turn to the proposal that Clause 83 be removed. Clause 83 disapplies existing taxi, private hire and bus legislation to vehicles operating under an automated passenger services permit. The application of existing public transport legislation to self-driving vehicles is complex and uncertain. While it will remain possible for providers to be regulated under these regimes, as was the case for the CAVForth bus project in Scotland, relying on this alone could leave gaps in regulation. This in turn could lead to unintended consequences and hamper the development of the automated passenger services industry. Therefore, the Law Commissions recommended offering a separate bespoke scheme, creating a clear and lawful route for service providers to become licensed. As well as bringing clarity, this has allowed us to create a modern, flexible framework, specifically designed to help grow our understanding of how automated passenger services can best support people with disabilities. The Government want public transport to be available to all. The intention of Clause 83 has never been to undermine that goal. Its purpose is simply to avoid the ambiguity and potential overlap in how current passenger licensing laws might apply to service providers.

In conclusion, I respectfully ask my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond to withdraw his Amendment 26A. I look forward to discussing these issues further with him and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, in the coming days.

Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I thank my noble friend the Minister for his response.

The reality is that the current measures on accessibility in the Bill are not specific and are insufficient. To my noble friend Lord Borwick, I say that it is entirely possible that we could add to Clause 87 to make it specific to and sufficient for that purpose; I will certainly get my drafting pen out between Committee and Report.

I look forward to the meeting with the Minister to cover these issues. It is essential that we get them right at this stage. I will give an example of what happens if we do not. For many years, and potentially still, there have been stations on our network that are described as fully accessible; they are marked as “fully accessible” stations on the overall map of the network, be it in London or nationally. Indeed, they are: if you arrive at the stations, they have wide gates; if you have access needs or are a wheelchair user, they have audio announcements; and if you happen to be visually impaired or blind, they have lifts that enable passengers to access the platform. They are fully accessible stations—but you cannot board the train when it arrives. That is why it is critical to look at the golden thread of accessibility for the end-to-end experience. Just one small step, be it even tiny, can trip up the whole process of enabling an accessible experience.

The Bill needs to be beefed up on accessibility, otherwise it will be a game of catch-up and missed opportunities. The Minister said in winding up that there is “scope” for that, but scope is not actuality. He said that there is potential and opportunity, but opportunity is not inevitability. We have the opportunity in the Bill not to slow anything down. Through the input of disabled people from the outset, we can actually speed up the process and have free consultation from them—although everybody who is part of the co-production should, rightly, be paid and supported.

More needs to be done between Committee and Report. The opportunity that accessible automated vehicles provide cannot be left to go the way of other transport developments over the previous 200 years. We will certainly return to this between Committee and Report, potentially with some specific amendments on Report, but for the moment I beg to withdraw my Amendment 26A.

Amendment 26A withdrawn.

Clause 12: Power to establish operator licensing scheme

Amendments 27 and 28 not moved.

Clause 12 agreed.

Clause 13 agreed.

Clause 14: Collection and sharing of information

Amendment 29 not moved.

Clause 14 agreed.

Clauses 15 and 16 agreed.

Clause 17: Power to issue information notice

Amendment 30 not moved.

Clause 17 agreed.

Clauses 18 to 21 agreed.

Clause 22: Use of information obtained

Amendment 31 not moved.

Clause 22 agreed.

Clauses 23 to 37 agreed.

Schedule 1 agreed.

Clause 38: General monitoring duty

Amendments 32 and 33 not moved.

Clause 38 agreed.

Clauses 39 to 41 agreed.

Clause 42: Protection of information

Amendment 34 not moved.

Clause 42 agreed.

Amendments 35 and 36 not moved.

Clause 43: Fees

Amendment 37 not moved.

Clause 43 agreed.

Amendment 37A not moved.

Clauses 44 and 45 agreed.

House resumed.