Amendment 1

Part of Automated Vehicles Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 6 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:45, 6 February 2024

My Lords, I think this group has two subgroups. There is the subgroup of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley’s subgroup. I am afraid to tell my noble friend that we will support the Davies subgroup and not the Berkeley subgroup.

There are many reasons for this, ending with a very pragmatic one. First, the proposals from the noble Lord, Lord Davies, are structurally sound as they separate the roles of Clause 1 and Clause 2. Clause 1, as it will stand after these amendments, in essence says, among other things, that there shall be a safety standard. The clause is headed “Basic concepts”. Clause 2 attempts to address what that safety standard shall be.

We believe that government Amendment 3 is right. It is a very sound definition of “safe enough”. It is built around the well-crafted concept of

“careful and competent human drivers”.

It is today’s standard at its best. It is today’s standard after, as is set out in the commissioners’ report, eliminating the distracted, the drowsy, the drunk, the drugged and the disqualified. It is a high standard but not an infinite standard. It recognises that there has to be a limitation, otherwise the whole pursuit of a standard that is not defined becomes impossible.

It passes what I consider to be the death test. One of these vehicles is going to kill somebody. It is inevitable; the sheer volume of events will mean that something will go wrong. It is at that moment that you have to be able to respond to public opinion, have a standard that is easy for people to understand and defend it. I know this because I have been in that position when running a railway. The 1974 Act that applies to railways demands a standard: that the risk is as low as reasonably practical. It is one of the most brilliant pieces of legislation ever passed. Its impact on safety in this country has been enormous. Its impact on construction and railways, and its crossover impact on nuclear, have served this country well. I believe that this standard, which involves being as safe as a careful and competent driver, is the natural equivalent.

I also note that the law commissions produced three answers. Since they took three years or something to come to these three answers, it seems a pretty good idea to pick one of them. They were options A, B and C. Option C is, in my view, clearly rejected by these amendments. That option was to be

“overall, safer than the average human driver”.

The average human driver includes this wonderful list of distracted, drowsy, drunk, drugged and disqualified drivers. The world is a better place for eliminating them. Option B was

“as safe as a human driver who does not cause a fault accident”.

That is so ill defined that even the law commissions gave up on it. Option A is this one:

“as safe as a competent and careful human driver”.

It passes that test in a way that, when the experts set about turning this into regulations, I believe it will be feasible for them to achieve.

We also support government Amendment 7, which is a compromise. It ensures that Parliament—the importance of Parliament is very much brought out in the supporting documentation—has a positive involvement with the initial statement of safety principles. It also assures us that there will be a negative involvement with subsequent revisions. That is a balance, and we can support that.

I am afraid that government Amendments 3 and 7 have a rather unique advantage that we should not ignore: the name on them is the Minister’s, that of the noble Lord, Lord Davies. But, with the greatest respect to him, if you rub out “Lord Davies” and look under that name, you see “His Majesty’s Government”. Their majority in the other place means that these two amendments will become law—a piece of law that will guide this industry well.

I turn to an issue that is not so directly involved but needs to be there to tidy things up: the principles relating to equality and fairness. What does this mean in this environment? This too is set out in the law commissions’ report. In essence it means that an autonomous vehicle does not come at the expense of any particular group of road users. The policy scoping notes say:

“Government is likely to include a safety principle relating to equality and fairness”.

That is not there at the moment, but I am delighted to be advised by the Minister that this will be changed from “likely to include” to “will include”. This emphasis is particularly important for pedestrians, who must not be sacrificed to achieve the introduction of automated vehicles.