Amendment 5

Automated Vehicles Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 6 February 2024.

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Lord Berkeley:

Moved by Lord Berkeley

5: Clause 2, page 2, line 19, leave out “such representative organisations as the Secretary of State thinks fit” and insert “representatives of road user groups and other groups whose safety or other interests may be affected by the application of the principles”Member's explanatory statementThis would require the Secretary of State, when preparing a statement of safety principles, to consult representatives of road user groups and other groups whose safety or other interests may be affected by the application of those principles.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, this is a group that somebody has decided to call “operations”, which is fine. I have two short amendments in this group. Amendment 5 relates to the consultation requirements. Your Lordships regularly debate the question of who should be consulted and on what basis. My worry here is that the Government are suggesting that the right definition of who should be consulted are those whom the Secretary of State thinks fit. It would be more appropriate to have wording, as I suggest in the amendment, to make sure that it includes not only road users but other groups whose safety

“may be affected by the application of the principles.”

There is a worry here, which also comes out in my Amendment 34 in this group, about the weighting of persuasion and the weighting of firepower, or whatever one likes to call it, between the average uninsured road user—who might be a pedestrian or a cyclist, or perhaps eventually a scooter rider—and the companies that have invested a large amount of money in setting up the systems that the vehicles are using. Whether the pedestrians or cyclists should or should not be insured is another matter for debate, but the fact remains that most of them are not insured at the moment. If something goes wrong, there will be a tendency for Ministers to say, “Well, we need to hear the opinion of the company”, and somehow that will be given more weight than the opinion of those who might be affected. I hope I am wrong there, but it happens in other walks of life that occasionally your Lordships debate. For me, it is right, through Amendment 5, to look at the groups whose safety or other interests might be affected by this.

I turn to Amendment 34, which is much the same. If there is an accident or incident—whatever we want to call it—between a pedestrian and an insured AV, who decides who is at fault, if there is any fault? The vehicle will have insurance and the insurance company will work hard to make sure that its client is given the right advice and that it supports them where necessary. The amendment suggests that, if there was nobody in the vehicle,

“it will be assumed for the purpose of this section that the authorised automated vehicle caused the accident unless proved otherwise”.

That is very radical, but we do not have a better solution. If we do not have something that recognises the lack of balance between a pedestrian or an uninsured cyclist and an AV being driven legally with the right insurance behind it, we will have trouble in the future. I am not sure that this is the solution—I look forward to noble Lords’ comments on it—but something must redress the balance between what we might call the little person on the street and the big companies investing a lot of money in this. They will want to make sure that they look after their clients, if we can call them that. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Liddle Lord Liddle Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, we have a great deal of sympathy with the points that my noble friend Lord Berkeley made, particularly on his Amendment 34 dealing with insurance. That is a very complicated question; people have written to me about it, and I have difficulty understanding it, to be quite honest. The Government should give further thought to the question that Amendment 34 asks, for when the Bill goes to the Commons. We do not intend to press this in any way now, but it matters and deserves further consideration by Ministers.

Having said that, I turn to the amendments in my name. We will not press Amendment 9 to a vote, but it concerns another issue about which we hope the Government will have a good think before the Bill is presented to the Commons. We have been approached by people in the business of delivery robots that use pavements, and there is legal confusion. Because a pavement is legally defined as part of the road, this question is within the scope of the Bill; yet, clearly, the regulation of vehicles that primarily use the pavement must be different from those that use the roads. We think of the obvious case of mobility scooters, which are mainly intended to be used on pavements.

Amendment 9 does not direct anything. It gives the Government the power to make regulations about delivery robots which are designed to use pavements. This is not a trivial issue. There is a lot of potential in the delivery robot principle. It deals with the final mile from where the lorry drops off its load to how the parcel gets to the individual dwelling. Doing this with electric robots has the potential to make a big contribution to our net-zero commitments, rather than it being done by diesel vans as happens at the moment. This is an important question which we would like the Government to think about.

We attach a great deal of importance to Amendment 28. It proposes to establish a permanent statutory advisory council to examine the development of automated vehicles. We intend to test the opinion of the House on this because it is a matter of considerable importance.

Automated vehicles are a transport revolution in the making. No one is quite sure how they will evolve or what the problems are going to be. We are a bit in the dark, but we have to find a legislative framework for it—which this Bill does. We also have to find a mechanism for carrying the public with us as this revolution takes its course. During our debates on the Bill, we have made considerable progress on safety. This should be of paramount importance. We have a definition which we think is tight and can be implemented in time as a high-quality safety standard.

The advent of automated vehicles is not just a question of safety. It has implications for many aspects of daily life, such as the future of public transport, delivery robots—as we have just been saying—how we shop, and how we deliver care to the vulnerable and housebound. The Government recognise this and the need for officials and Ministers to consult extensively with the relevant groups. If the Government recognise that they need a process of continuous consultation, I find it difficult to understand why they object to this proposal for an advisory council.

Let me put the case for something to be formalised. First, we on this side of the House think it very important that employee representatives—trade unions—should have a formal role in the development of this sector in some way. It is going to affect the jobs of an awful lot of people—bus drivers, lorry drivers and goodness knows who else. We all have a choice in life. Do we just take these technologies and try to impose them, or do we try to work in partnership in order that they can be introduced in a way that is acceptable to the workforce? The latter is much the better course of action.

Indeed, again, I cannot see what problem the Government have with this because, when I raised this point in Committee, the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Gower—said that the Government would

“bring in the views of the public, academia, trade unions and other representative bodies”.—[Official Report, 10/1/24; col. 81.]

So why can we not formalise that commitment in the way this amendment proposes?

There are big advantages in having a formalised advisory council. The risk with all these new technologies is that, in essence, their regulation becomes governed by the producer interest—that is, by the people who are putting money into their development. Of course, one wants innovation and enterprise. One wants producers to make their views clear as to what framework suits them. But, at the same time, there must be a proper mechanism for giving equal weight to the views of other road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians, as well as those of groups in wider society that have a stake in the wider economic changes that automated vehicles will bring.

I will mention my experience of working at the European Commission. The trade commissioner had every three months to appear before something called the Social Forum, which represented a wide group of interests concerned with trade—including, for instance, NGOs such as Oxfam and War on Want and other such people. It is important to have a formal structure where the Minister, the politician, sits and listens to a wide range of views and does not just read the briefs produced by the producer interests. In my view, that is the way you get good policy. For that reason, I hope that the Government will think about supporting our Amendment 28.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport) 4:15, 6 February 2024

My Lords, the amendments in this group deal mainly with consultation. Given that the Bill is a framework in large part, with the detail still to be developed, ensuring that the right people are consulted is obviously a key issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, referred to various groups that might be part of this advisory council. It is clearly essential that other road users and those who will be affected by automated vehicles—cyclists, disabled people and so on, as well as the trade unions—are consulted. We would pick out the emergency services, too; it is absolutely essential that they are included in the group of people to be consulted.

There is an element of overlap with Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, which I have signed. It suggests that various powers be given to the Office of Rail and Road. Before I signed the amendment, I looked at the scope of the ORR’s powers; indeed, I spoke to ORR to see whether it felt it was an organisation that could take on this role. The issue is that, currently, the Bill is much too vague. It is far too unspecific about how the Government will consult and how they will develop and impose the regulations. Later in our debates, we will come on to Amendment 10 and I am sure that, at that point, the noble Lord will explain our thinking behind that.

In Amendment 6 the Minister has provided some detail, but it is not specific enough. Amendment 28 is much more precise. I want to mention Amendment 9, which I have signed, along with the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. I signed it because I remain concerned at the very narrow scope of this Bill. It is ironic that this Bill is looking ahead so far, trying to second-guess how things will develop, but it does not have the scope to allow us to deal with applications of automation that exist now and are a potential problem now. Indeed, those engaged in that sort of activity are keen for a legal framework within which they can operate safely.

I have mentioned in this Chamber before the ongoing activities of Starship, and when I visited Wayve I was shown a vehicle that is being used to trial automated deliveries in partnership with Asda. This is not something that we can look at in the future; we should be looking at now. I urge the Minister to talk to his colleagues in the other place and in the Department for Transport with a view to bringing forward the kind of precision we need on these issues.

Photo of Lord Borwick Lord Borwick Conservative

My Lords, the only comment I will make is on Amendment 34 from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. In the event of an accident, the conventional problem the police face is competing descriptions honestly held by two different people about what actually happened: “I did this; he did that”. The thing about an autonomous vehicle accident is that there will be at least half a dozen cameras recording every factor in the accident, as there have been in the various accidents that have taken place in San Francisco. There will be far more information in the event of an accident involving an autonomous vehicle. So to suggest that it is automatically assumed that the authorised automated vehicle caused the accident unless proved otherwise is moving the burden of proof completely on to the autonomous vehicle. I think this is a very bad idea, because the press will immediately assume—backed up by this amendment —that it is the fault of the autonomous vehicle when the facts will be available on the television cameras. So I really think that it is a thoroughly dangerous new suggestion to assume the guilt of an autonomous vehicle because it is autonomous.

Photo of Lord Davies of Gower Lord Davies of Gower Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 4:30, 6 February 2024

My Lords, this group covers the general functioning and underlying mechanics of the regulatory framework. It includes government Amendments 11, 25 and 26, which correct minor and technical drafting issues. It also includes government Amendment 33, which applies the affirmative procedure to regulations setting the maximum penalties that can be levied against regulated bodies. Following careful reflection, we agree with the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that it would be inappropriate to leave these regulations entirely to the negative procedure. I am grateful to the Committee for its considered recommendations and hope that this provides sufficient reassurance.

I will begin with the subject of consultation. I know that there have been calls for specific groups to be named in the Bill. Government Amendment 6 therefore creates an explicit obligation to consult the three groups with the greatest interest in the safe operation of the system: road users, road safety groups and businesses in the industry. However, this list is not exhaustive. It is the Government’s intention to ensure that anyone who feels that they are affected can feed into the development of the statement of safety principles. The consultation will be public and therefore open to all, including trade unions.

Amendment 5 looks to include

“other groups whose safety or other interests may be affected by the application of the principles”.

As drafted, this would add little to the existing requirement in Clause 2 to consult representative organisations. Amendment 28, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, instead proposes an overarching advisory council. The requirements he proposes are very broad, explicitly mandating representation from, at the very least, 11 different groups and sub-groups. The noble Lord proposes that the council advise and review evidence from government, as well as reporting regularly to Parliament on

“any related matters relevant to … self-driving vehicles and associated public policy”.

This is an extremely wide remit which could not be carried out by a group of this size without extensive co-ordination, expert input and supporting staff, which would create unnecessary bureaucracy and carry additional administrative costs. I completely understand the noble Lord’s interest in ensuring appropriate independent scrutiny of the regulatory framework. However, in the Government’s view, this is a role for Parliament and the statutory inspectors, both of which are free to consult any group they deem necessary in carrying out their respective functions.

Turning to Amendment 34, the Bill does not look to change the insurance provisions set out in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act. The Law Commission considered the Act and concluded that it would be premature to change its application now. It determined that change need be considered only if real-world use-cases encounter challenges in settling claims. However, I recognise the points noble Lords have made and assure them that we are working closely with the insurance industry to anticipate potential issues of this kind. My colleague, Mr Browne, is due to meet with the Association of British Insurers imminently as part of this engagement.

The amendment would apply a presumption of liability to authorised automated vehicles regardless of whether the self-driving feature was active at the time of the incident. This would be disproportionate and potentially unfair. Consider, for example, the implications for a human driver who uses their vehicle without ever activating its self-driving features. Further, such a change could lead to risk-taking behaviour. We would not wish to encourage the perception that the safety of self-driving vehicles somehow reduces obligations on other road users.

Moving, finally, to Amendment 9, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, the Long Title of the Bill states that it is to regulate the use of self-driving road vehicles on roads and in other public places. To be clear, this means that driveways and other non-road locations to which the public have access are already within the scope of the Bill. Pavements are also covered, as they are included in the definition of “roads”. Clause 4(4) also creates the flexibility to regulate use-cases in which a road vehicle uses both public roads and private land. Therefore, as drafted, the amendment would have little to no effect.

However, I recognise the broader point being made about pavement use and accessibility. Ensuring that pedestrians and other vulnerable road users have safe and accessible spaces, including the pavement, is essential to road safety. That is why there are existing restrictions on the use of road vehicles in these spaces. This question goes well beyond the safety of self-driving technologies. It was therefore not considered by the Law Commission, and any potential future changes would need to be subject to careful consultation.

I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, to withdraw Amendment 5.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this group. I was particularly interested in the comments on my Amendment 34, which I thought would bring some interesting views. I said that I did not think it was a solution, but I am pleased that the Minister is at least looking at this issue with the insurance industry, because there has to be a solution that everybody accepts.

I am particularly grateful to my noble friend, who may or may not divide the House on his amendment on not a supervisory board but a consultation board. I think it is a rather good idea. It is separate from my Amendments 9A and 9B, which I will speak to in a later group, but I certainly support my noble friend’s amendment. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 5.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.