Examination of Witnesses

Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:27 am on 14th March 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

David Williams, David Wong, Steve Gooding and Denis Naberezhnykh gave evidence.

Q Let me welcome and thank our four witnesses for the first panel. I will let you know that the first panel must end at precisely 10.25 of the clock, and if you are in the middle of a sentence you will stop talking at precisely 10.25, because those are the rules of engagement.

I remind members of the Committee that they may ask questions on any subject, so long as they are within the context of the Bill; they will not be allowed to ask any questions outside that context.

First, I ask our four witnesses to introduce themselves briefly for the record, starting with Mr Wong.

David Wong:

I am David Wong. I run the technology and innovation portfolio at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the UK automotive industry trade body. I cover areas such as connecting autonomous vehicles, ultra low emission vehicles, and digital innovation and mobility innovation in design engineering.

Denis Naberezhnykh:

I am Denis Naberezhnykh. I am head of ultra low emission vehicles and energy at Transport Research Laboratory, and I oversee all our work on electric vehicles, low-emission vehicles, charging infrastructure and related topics.

Steve Gooding:

I am Steve Gooding. I am the director of the Royal Automobile Club Foundation for Motoring, which is a small think-tank devoted to research into motoring and motoring issues, as well as into roads and road use. Some Committee members will have come across me in my guise two years ago as a member of the board of the Department for Transport.

David Williams:

I am David Williams. I am technical director for Axa Insurance. We are involved in three of the Government-backed consortia looking into driverless cars: Venturer, Flourish and UK Autodrive. I am also chair of the Association of British Insurers autonomous driving insurance group.

Many thanks to all of you. We have quite a lot of business to get through, so may I ask that both questions and answers be relatively brief and coherent? Perhaps “coherent” is going too far, but they should brief and to the point.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

Welcome. TheQ Bill was originally being talked about colloquially as the modern transport Bill—a Bill to look at the challenges facing particularly, but not exclusively, road transport in the decades to come. Parts 1 and 2— those dealing with road transport—focus on two main issues: the insurance liability of automated vehicles and the provision of electric charging infrastructure by big retailers. Do you think those are the right things for the Bill cover, and are there things that should be in the Bill that are not included?

Who wants to go first? Not everyone has to answer each question, so please do not feel that the whole panel has to answer.

Steve Gooding:

We are pleased to see the inclusion of the provisions relating to autonomous driving insurance, an issue that needs to be gripped. We are also pleased to see that the Government are taking steps to do something about the rather confusing world of recharging electric vehicles—no doubt, we will talk about that later. The RAC Foundation would have liked to have seen provisions relating to the creation of the roads fund—a Government commitment that the Chancellor mentioned and that was included in the Budget papers but that is not currently coming into statute. We also support the direction of travel on speed awareness courses and bringing more scrutiny to an area where some of us suspect a bit of an industry has grown up around a bright idea in a way that might have gone slightly too far.

David Williams:

From an insurance perspective, we are very pleased to see the Bill. It is essential to have clarity, at this early stage, about the compensation process and about who is going to be responsible in the first instance, so that insurers and motor manufacturers can design their systems, business models and processes ready for it; so we are very pleased. Without that clarity, there is a danger that the public will lack confidence with regards to compensation being available when an autonomous vehicle is involved in an accident. Also, with road transport being a truly global element of our lives, it is good that the UK Government have come up with something at an early stage that hopefully will influence certainly Europe and maybe the US as well.

Denis Naberezhnykh:

From TRL’s perspective, we are very supportive of the Bill as it stands, in particular the focus on electric vehicle consumers and users—that is very welcome. Taking steps towards introducing smart charging and managed charging is also very appropriate and timely. Given the forward-looking nature of the Bill, we would like to have seen more consideration for future technologies with regards to charging and vehicles themselves.

David Wong:

The SMMT supports the principles underpinning the Bill, and we welcome its provisions. In particular, we think this is the right time for the Government to further encourage the take up of ultra low emissions vehicles and pave the way towards the deployment of autonomous vehicles. This relates to the insurance framework that is set out in the Bill.

What we would like to see more of in the Bill is greater clarity—perhaps going forward in secondary legislation—particularly on smart charging of electric vehicles. In the area of connected and autonomous vehicles, certainly something on infrastructure and connectivity would have been marvellous, particularly with regards to deployment of connected vehicles.

Photo of Richard Burden Richard Burden Shadow Minister (Transport)

Q Thank you. That is very useful.

The Government’s target is that all new vehicles on the road should be ultra low emission vehicles—zero-emissions, in fact—by 2050. How far do you think this Bill will contribute to that target? On current trends, we are a long way off that target at the moment. What do you think are the other barriers to the take-up of ultra low emission vehicles, or we could also say—more broadly—connected vehicles? There is quite a crossover between those two agendas. How do you think these other barriers can be best overcome?

David Wong:

Let me first deal with ultra low emission vehicles and electric vehicles. The Bill is a step in the right direction. Whether or not the targets are achieved depends on the extent to which we can solve what we call the three As. The first A is range anxiety; the second A is infrastructure accessibility; and the third A is vehicle affordability. Insofar as what the Bill is trying to do, it is crucial to address infrastructure issues, to support research and development and to provide continuing support for consumer incentives to create an enabling environment that will see a greater take-up of electric vehicles. If you look at range anxiety, a lot of it is due to the fact that technology has not evolved today to a point at which the electric vehicle can travel as far on a single charge as can a petrol or diesel vehicle. With greater research and development and Government support—not least in terms of, for example, battery technology—that may be an area that should be addressed for the future.

As for consumer incentives, this is particularly crucial in helping to address some of the issues regarding affordability, which is the second A. The technology itself is still very much in its infancy relative to other technologies, so we need to see continued support from the Government, as well as Government and industry working together closely on this.

The third A relates to infrastructure accessibility. From what we can see, this is a pivotal part of this Bill, and this—again—is a step in the right direction. Accessibility to infrastructure has been a key issue. It is the perception of most motorists that it is already not as convenient for people to charge an electric vehicle, which would take at least 30 minutes using a 43 to 50 kW rapid charger unit, compared to filling up a petrol or diesel vehicle at a petrol forecourt. We need to make it far easier for motorists to charge the vehicles. One of the things we need to do is to address the issue of interoperability of charge points. We are pleased to see that there is a provision for this in the Bill. When we consider the infrastructure from the perspective of the standardisation of multiple connectors and sockets that are available out there, it makes it confusing for motorists. We must not assume that every electric vehicle owner is a tech geek. We want to make electric vehicles as appealing as possible to the mass public. Standardisation is therefore important in making it easy for the average motorist to understand the plethora of technologies available.

Thank you, Mr Wong. Could I appeal to all witnesses to do two things? The first thing is to be as brief as possible, as we have a lot of business to get through in an hour. Secondly, Mr Williams led the way in demonstrating how one can speak loudly and clearly. It may be my age and decrepitude, but please could you speak as loudly and clearly as you can?

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous Conservative, South West Bedfordshire

I want to recognise the progress that we have made in this country, but could I press you on the 2050 date, which is 33 years away? A quarter of all of Norway’s vehicles are either electric or hybrid. China has, I think, 517,000 new energy vehicles, as they call them, on the road, and last year there were 800,000 charging points, notwithstanding the fact that it is a larger country. Thirty-three years is quite a long way off. I would like to press both Mr Wong and Mr Naberezhnykh on how we might turbo-charge this, perhaps adding a bit more to the three As that Mr Wong has told us aboutQ .

Denis Naberezhnykh:

It is important to consider vehicles more broadly in the separate categories of vehicle types and vehicle users. When we think about the 2050 target for almost decarbonising the transport sector, we have to not treat private car owners in the same way as fleet and commercial vehicles. That is missing a little from the Bill at the moment. It focuses on overcoming short-term barriers—the problems and challenges that private car owners experience when attempting to use electric vehicles, such as clarity of data available on charging points, accessibility and the availability across the motorway network. However, what needs to happen to achieve the 2050 target is consideration of a broader picture, and recognition that there are other vehicle types—not just cars, but vans, trucks and buses—so what do we need to do to encourage those? They could create a growing proportion of the vehicle population as vehicle trends change over time anyway.

There is also a danger in comparing the UK situation to that of Norway and China, because the two have taken very different approaches in reaching their success. In Norway they have employed subsidy schemes and taxation schemes that I do not think we would find appropriate in the UK. In China they have taken the approach of simply saying, “You must buy these vehicles under any conditions,” and “You must install these charging points.” Unless we are willing to take steps like that, we have to be much more aware of what the market needs, or what the users need, and then tailor the products to suit those needs. That is where the transport sector needs to pay more attention: to focusing this Bill and future activities not only on targeting the near-term shortcomings, but on what we think might be the challenges in 10, 15 or 20 years from now, and preparing for those.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Conservative, Tonbridge and Malling

I will move on to the mixed use of roadways in the intervening period. Clearly one of the challenges is the Q new technology coming on to the roadways while the old technology is still using them. Has anybody done any thinking about the regulatory implications of that?

David Williams:

We think it is less complicated than it first appears. The Bill means that somebody involved in a road accident does not need to establish which insurance regime is in place; we are going to have the Road Traffic Act, and insurers are going to be dealing with claims in the first instance. Regardless of the fact that it will take a long time for manual vehicles to be replaced with safer vehicles, we also think, from looking at the modelling we are doing, that statistically the roads will become safer. Some people have expressed concerns that manual vehicle insurance might become incredibly expensive as the prices for autonomous vehicles plummet, but the reality is that if, say, 50% of the vehicles on the road are autonomous and much better at avoiding accidents, that makes driving in a manual vehicle safer. We are confident that the way the Bill sets things out means that establishing the claims process will be relatively straightforward, and that roads will become safer.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Q A couple of things have arisen from what witnesses have said. If I can call you David 1 and David 2, on insurance, David 1 helpfully used the word “compensation”. Presumably the key is to make sure that any injured party enjoys the same circumstances as they do now, and then anything else that happens does so invisibly to them. The injured party in any circumstance essentially gets what they get now; is that right?

David Williams:

Absolutely. We are very pleased with the way that discussions developed and the Bill came out, because initially the conversations were that liability would move from RTA motor to products liability. You can imagine a situation where an individual was involved in a little accident—a small dent or something like that—and then, because people are talking about products liability, you get a motor manufacturer’s high-powered lawyers arguing for two years about a little dent, just because they are concerned about creating a precedent. What will now happen is that an insurer will deal with the claim in the first instance, as is the current state of affairs. Yes, there will be circumstances where the motor manufacturers are held responsible, but that can take three or four years; it does not matter.

The other advantage we have is that it will be based on existing legislation, case law and precedent. The rules of negligence and defences available to motor manufacturers are still there unless the Government choose to amend them at a later stage. I really welcome the Bill, because it focuses on continuing to protect road users.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Minister of State (Department for Transport)

Q Quite. So, the delayed dispute disadvantage that you described, which might affect the ordinary motorist, pedestrian or whoever is involved in the incident, will effectively be invisible. My next question is to the other David. We have been talking about charging infrastructure. Should we have included powers for refuelling points for other low-carbon infrastructure? That came up in earlier consideration of the Bill. The technology is still developing and emerging. There are several competing low-emission technologies. What do you think about that?

David Wong:

Certainly, there should be a positive mix of technologies taken into consideration, particularly if we are looking at co-location within certain infrastructure environments. For example, last month there was the launch of the first co-location of a petrol forecourt and hydrogen refuelling station in Cobham, on the Shell site. That was very much welcomed by industry. Looking at the provisions in the Bill, we could do the same for electric vehicles, with charging points being installed—or co-located, to use the industry parlance—at large petrol forecourts or motorway service stations. One must not forget, in terms of the wider energy mix, that hydrogen may also come into the picture.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Conservative, North West Hampshire

I want to ask about that specific point. There are obviously at the moment two competing power vectors for electric vehicles—hydrogen and batteries—and the Government are rightly saying that they are agnostic. Much of the Bill is agnostic, with much of the emphasis on battery-charging points. Is there a danger that industry could be compelled to spend a lot of money plastering the country with battery-charging points only to realise that battery vehicles are the equivalent of the fax machine—a temporary technology—and that fuel cells will overtake them within a fairly short period and the infrastructure will become redundantQ ?

David Wong:

I think it is fair for the Bill to take into account the reality, which is basically what is proportionate to the number of fuel-cell electric vehicles on the road. The number of fuel-cell electric vehicles on the road is very small but growing. We certainly need consideration of how the two can be factored in, because hydrogen not only is a fuel for transport but could be a medium of energy storage, particularly for the sort of energy that is being generated during off-peak hours and not used. Rather than wasting energy that is being generated and not used, it could be stored in the form of hydrogen and used for various purposes, including transport.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Conservative, North West Hampshire

Q As the owner and driver of a semi-autonomous plug-in hybrid, I get incredibly frustrated at the lack of a battery-charging network. It strikes me that the hydrogen fuel cell requires the minimum of behavioural change from the consumer. I would fill up my fuel-cell car the same as I would fill up my current car. A hydrogen nozzle would just be another nozzle on the fuel dispenser. Is the development of that technology accelerating? Some countries are way ahead of us, right? On that basis, is your view that the slow uptake of fuel cell vehicles in this country is because of the lack of technology or because of the lack of fuel? If there was a fuelling infrastructure across the UK, would it be the natural uptake for the consumer, given the lack of behavioural change required?

David Wong:

As with most technologies, it is a chicken and egg issue. In economic parlance, you would call it a network effect. Should you have hydrogen refuelling stations or vehicles first? Obviously, the gas companies that are building hydrogen refuelling stations will need to be confident that there are cars on the road, but vehicle manufacturers will want to be confident that there are hydrogen refuelling stations so customers can refuel. We are seeing a collaboration between industry and the Government in that regard. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, our vehicle manufacturer members, the British Compressed Gases Association and its gas company members are working hand in hand with the Office for Low Emission Vehicles through the UK H2Mobility consortium to chart a road map. We need to accelerate that collaboration, and the Government need to provide continued support for the building of more hydrogen refuelling stations.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Conservative, North West Hampshire

Q I get that chicken and egg point. For the Committee’s information, I used to be the chairman of the London Hydrogen Partnership, preparing the capital for this economy in the future. The same assumption does not seem to apply to battery electric vehicles. The Government are willing to put in the recharging network for battery electric vehicles, but not, seemingly, for hydrogen.

Denis Naberezhnykh:

We should not think of them as competing technologies, because they are not. They are both technologies that electrify decarbonised transport. I do not think it helps to think about the solution from a technology point of view. We should think about what we are trying to achieve, which is reducing CO2 emissions, and then look at the facts. The fact is that, right now, battery electric vehicle technology is far more market-ready than fuel cell technology, in terms of cost, availability and production capacity. If we are trying to identify measures for accelerating our progress to the 2050 target, we need to pick technologies that we are already confident can achieve the result.

The other point is about infrastructure and fuel. From a fuel and energy perspective, a fuel cell vehicle is far less energy efficient than an electric vehicle because you have to take it through more conversion steps from generating hydrogen to converting the hydrogen to electricity. Very few pathways exist in the world right now for producing a low-emission fuel cell electric vehicle that is anywhere near comparable, in energy efficiency terms, to an electric vehicle.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Conservative, North West Hampshire

Q I understand that viewpoint. There are obviously large original equipment manufacturers that have made a decision about batteries and are therefore lobbying heavily on that, but some large ones—Toyota and Hyundai—have made a decision to go down the route of fuel cells. Given that the Government should be agnostic on these issues, should they also be agnostic about the regulations in the Bill for taking the power to compel providers of charging points, for instance at motorway service stations? In other words, when they compel someone to provide a fast charging point for a battery, should they at the same time compel them to provide hydrogen refuelling? If they just compel a battery recharging network, it will be a VHS or Betamax situation.

Denis Naberezhnykh:

That goes back to my earlier point. We need to take the end use into consideration, and we need to think about which types of vehicles and users are likely to be using electric vehicles and where the infrastructure is required to support them.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Conservative, North West Hampshire

Q So you think the Government should predict and provide, rather than be agnostic about technology.

Denis Naberezhnykh:

Yes. I do not think being agnostic, in the sense of saying, “We don’t care which technology it is. We just need to invest in putting all of it up” is particularly helpful to the industry and the users. We need to recognise that some technology can achieve things that other bits of technology cannot. Some have strengths and weaknesses, and we need to pick out those strengths and weaknesses and emphasise them for implementation in infrastructure appropriately.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

IQ cannot see anything in the Bill that would change who is licenced to drive a vehicle. In terms of future-proofing, one can envisage that people under the age of 17 or people with significant visual impairment could be, to use the current verb, “driving” automated vehicles. Should that future-proofing be provided for in the Bill, Mr Williams, and if so, what insurance issues would there be, say, for a seven-year-old alone in an automated vehicle?

David Williams:

A major benefit of autonomous vehicles will be bringing mobility to people who currently do not have that benefit. We are very much looking forward to that. In Flourish—one of the Government-backed consortiums—we have Age UK as one of the critical partners to make sure that we understand the implications. I am not sure whether it needs to be in the Bill, because that establishes the insurance regime among other things. It will be complex for some vehicles. With the pods that UK Autodrive is going to put in Milton Keynes, there will be no way that you can intervene, so I see no reason why somebody in one of those vehicles would need to comply with any test or have any form of licence.

The majority of vehicles in the early stages of market development will probably be ones—for example, a level 4 vehicle—that you can switch from manual to automatic. You then get to the situation where people think, “An autonomous vehicle can bring me home when I’m drunk from a party, so I won’t need a taxi.” My thought is that you will not be able to do that if you have a vehicle that you can switch between the two modes, because you would still be in charge of a vehicle that could be driven manually.

At some point work needs to be done on licensing and testing, but for fully autonomous level 5 vehicles, the insurance aspects are covered in the Bill and we have no concerns there. We want to see the adoption of these vehicles because we think that they will make the roads generally safer and we therefore want them to be available appropriately, as widely as possible.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

Q The insurance provisions in the Bill would be sufficient to cover what I think you call a level 5 vehicle, which could be carrying a seven-year-old on their own.

David Williams:

Absolutely.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Transport)

IQ want to explore some issues of public confidence in the potential uptake of autonomous vehicles and get your views on whether the Bill goes far enough to set the scene. Given that the technology is available, what measures are required to make the public accept it and want to take it up? We have heard about the confusion and resistance, perhaps, because of the different approach to electric vehicles, but what do you think is required for the future in the Bill?

Steve Gooding:

First, the Government are right to focus on the insurance angle, because that strikes me and the foundation as the first thing that needs sorting for all the reasons that the Committee is thinking about. Following that, what will affect the public’s willingness to accept the technology is their sense that it is genuinely safe. It is understandable that the Bill is silent on such things as construction and use standards, because they will need to be negotiated in an international forum. That is definitely something—the Minister knows we have flagged this up—to get on with thinking about. How you move away from a construction and use safety regulation system that is very much based on traditional mechanical engineering to one that is based far more closely on one that we apply to human drivers, because we are dealing with artificial intelligence, needs a bit of a boost.

David Williams:

I think that we need to be vocal about the capability of the technology. We often quote statistics: for instance, automated emergency braking systems reduce accidents by 15% and injuries by 18%, so even if they do not avoid the accident completely, they slow the vehicle faster than a human would and reduce injuries. That is one small component of what will be the driverless cars of the future.

We need to show people the testing regime that these vehicles will undergo before they are let loose on the road, but it is natural to expect some nervousness and resistance. I do not know if any of you have seen the trailer for the new “Fast and Furious” movie, “The Fate of the Furious”, where robot cars get taken over. That will not help and, therefore, we need to be particularly vocal about the positive benefits. I fundamentally believe that we will see fewer deaths on the roads and much safer roads and, therefore, we need to do whatever we can to encourage adoption.

There is also a massively positive business case in the haulage industry for the adoption of connected and autonomous vehicles. I think we may see more rapid adoption in the commercial vehicle space. People will then get used to being around autonomous vehicles, even if they are commercial vehicles and that will make the adoption at a personal level easier.

Denis Naberezhnykh:

I would add that some excellent work is happening in the UK now. A project called MOVE-UK compares and contrasts the different styles of vehicle automation and how an autonomous vehicle would perform in the same situation that a human driver performs in. That kind of comparison and learning will enable those automated vehicles and semi-autonomous functionalities to be as palatable to users as possible, so that there is the least amount of discomfort or worrying about the functionality when they try those vehicles out for the first time. It will be the first early adopters—early users—who will form an opinion and then spread the word about whether it works or whether they feel comfortable or not. Getting that right is important and some great work is already happening in the UK to try to do that.

David Wong:

I have four brief points on increasing acceptance. One is on messaging. In addition to what Steve has just mentioned about showing the public that the technology is genuinely safe, we have to be very careful, particularly with regard to the Bill, with public messaging in relation to insurance, to assure the public that this will not result in a hike in insurance. The public will rightly expect that the lowering of risks and fewer accidents will mean that insurance premiums should come down.

The second point is about convincing the public through public demonstration projects. We are pleased that the Government are backing a number of these collaborative R and D and demonstration in live trial projects. We would like to see some of the learning coming out of these projects on how the public might interact with autonomous vehicles.

Thirdly, on public demonstration projects, going forward, perhaps the consumer can pay, not unlike the very successful Go Ultra Low campaign for ultra low emission vehicles. It may be useful for connected autonomous vehicles at the right point in time, and particularly at the point when vehicle manufacturers are ready to deploy these vehicles on UK roads.

Lastly, we think as an industry that the gradual escalation of the levels of automation can perhaps help Joe Public to be more comfortable with the technology, as opposed to asking Joe Public to jump straight into a vehicle with no steering wheel from day one.

We had better get a move on. Briefly, if you can.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Transport)

Q Very briefly, in terms of public confidence and liability issues, you mentioned safety. Do you feel the Bill should address public confidence in the maintenance of vehicles? How will that be conducted across the different standards?

Steve Gooding:

We need the construction of new standards for whether a vehicle is judged road-worthy in the first place, to the subsequent—as we call it—MOT system, which continues to verify over time that that road-worthiness is being maintained. We need both systems to cope with the new technology.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

IQ am conscious that cars can be converted to use LPG if they are petrol. It seems to me that potentially they could be converted to use hydrogen, as well. Mr Wong, is that something that the industry has considered?

David Wong:

It is certainly in the mix. Cars today are being retrofitted as dual fuel vehicles, so, hydrogen in an internal combustion engine. For example, a company in the north-west called ULEMCo is doing that with a good degree of success. It is important to look at the outcome from such a conversion. Will it help to achieve the targets? Will it be below 75 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre? The jury is still out on that, to be honest. We need to see whether technologies can help over a period of time to decarbonise road transport, not simply the conversion of any sort of technologies or even the hybridisation of any of these fuels.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Q To be clear, can you explain why we cannot get carbon below 75 grams when we are burning hydrogen? If we burn hydrogen, we get water. Where does the carbon come in?

David Wong:

For a fuel cell electric vehicle, you get zero tail pipe emission, but for a dual fuel vehicle, it depends on the dual fuel.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Q Okay, I see the point you are making. What if one were to convert a car to run exclusively on hydrogen? Would that achieve zero emissions?

David Wong:

Yes, if it is a fuel cell electric vehicle, basically you just get water vapour.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Q I did not mean fuel cell, but an internal combustion engine running exclusively on hydrogen. Why could you not do that?

David Wong:

You can probably use the fuel cell as a range extender for electric vehicles, but to have an internal combustion engine that basically burns fossil fuels and then you have hydrogen—

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Q I don’t want to labour this too much because I have other questions. The point I am making—

Please don’t labour the point too much, Mr Baker. We have five minutes left.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Q The point I am making is that a car with an internal combustion engine could be converted to run on hydrogen as an internal combustion engine, could it not?

David Wong:

In principle, yes, but I hesitate to give a straightforward answer because we do not describe a hydrogen vehicle as an internal combustion engine. That is the parlance we use for combustion, which, at the moment, is petrol or diesel. We like to frame hydrogen in the context of clean energy.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Q Okay. I’ll move on from hydrogen in the interests of time. My other point is security. I am a former software engineer. I have got two points about software. First, have you considered cybersecurity and the risks of cars being hacked and people finding themselves driving to destinations they did not intend to go to?

David Williams:

Absolutely. In the FLOURISH consortium there is a specific focus on cyber. Also, in the VENTURER consortium, BAE Systems is involved and does military-grade cybersecurity. We should be worried about cyber risks, but we should be worried about those generally, not just with regard to vehicles. There are ways to make things safer. It will be a key element of the communication programme and the technological development of these vehicles in making sure that they are as safe as they can be.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Q So is there a provision missing from the Bill in relation to cybersecurity?

David Williams:

The only area that we think needs further debate is whether insurers will pay for claims in the first instance where there is an incident, but what if there was a massive terrorist incident that caused a problem with a huge number of vehicles globally? That may need separate consideration. The problem is, even in saying that, it is almost scaremongering about that risk. Clearly, we would rather focus on protecting vehicles. You are used to virus protection and those sorts of things. We are talking about new technology. We need to get to the same state where people have confidence.

Steve Gooding:

The Bill recognises the risk of tampering, which is a version of cyber-hackingThe construction and use regime, which says a vehicle is roadworthy, must take into account that it is roadworthy and protected from the risk of cybercrime.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Q Finally, on tampering, the point I made on Second Reading was that that section of the Bill that can exclude or limit an insurance liability after alterations to the vehicle’s operating system, or a failure to install software updates to the vehicle’s operating system, is a drafting point. The provision should simply state “software” rather than “operating system”, because there is firmware and there will be application software. You are nodding, Mr Naberezhnykh. Can I ask you to put on the record whether that is correct and the Bill should be drafted in terms of software and not only the operating system?

Denis Naberezhnykh:

My concern is that, were it to be tested in court, the Bill would not achieve its intended aim if, for example, application software had been tampered with or firmware had not been updated. I appreciate it is a technical point.

Steve Gooding:

I think you need to ensure that the breadth that you are describing is covered. I suspect that is a question you need to put to the drafting counsel rather than us.

Photo of Steven Baker Steven Baker Conservative, Wycombe

Q You were nodding, Mr Naberezhnykh.

Steve, we had better move on, as we have only three or four minutes left.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Secretary of State for Transport

I’llQ be very brief. The Bill introduces the new concept we are moving to—the exposure to manufacturers’ liability. Has the Bill got it right in terms of the balance between insurers’ and manufacturers’ liability? Secondly, Mr Wong talked about accessibility cost. The cost of insurance will be key. Is the insurance industry ready for this? Clearly, premiums should be cheaper if we are getting errorless driving, but is the insurance industry sophisticated enough and ready enough to make that offer to consumers in the first instance? Lastly, on the issue of updates, does that present fresh exposures to manufacturers for the duration of the life of that vehicle on every software update iteration? Have you given any thought to how that plays in the context of current consumer protection legislation and issues of limitation? Does that now cause us to revolutionise the way we look at people purchasing vehicles? Are they going to be out there forever with software with little or no control? Any thoughts or comments?

David Williams:

I think the Bill does have the balance right. It focuses on the road user. That is why we have got the Road Traffic Act 1988. Therefore the Bill has to focus on the safety of road users rather than insurers and manufacturers. As an insurer, we can price for anything. You have a balance with regard to how much liability finally rests with the motor manufacturer. That can develop over time, and they have definitely got some skin in the game. If they are negligent they will be called to account and will need to indemnify the insurer; so I think the balance is right.

With regard to whether the insurance industry is ready, in the past I do not think we have been, for things like this, but the fact that we already have the Autonomous Driving Insurance Group, which meets regularly and is very well attended, that the Thatcham motor vehicle research institute is all over it, and that AXA alone is involved with three of the Government-backed consortia means we are ready—we will be ready.

David Wong:

On software updates, we believe that the “state of the art” defence principle applies here, which means at the point when the vehicle, together with the systems, including software and firmware, are being developed, the manufacturer has done its utmost to ensure that it is completely secure and, based on the scientific knowledge and the technology at that point in time, has done its very best. Of course, software updates are always, basically, a moving target; it changes every hour—but the “state of the art” defence applies in this case.

Steve Gooding:

I think the motor industry will have to answer for this, because if you think of your home computer, every now and then you get a message saying “Your software is going out of support”. I think we need a bit of reassurance from the auto sector that we are not going to find that a vehicle we buy next year, and then in seven or eight years’ time is in the second-hand market, gets the message that “this vehicle is going out of support” and is therefore judged in some sense to be no longer roadworthy.

David Wong:

It is reasonable to expect that vehicle manufacturers will continue updating, upgrading and patching the software, as do computer manufacturers and software manufacturers. However, even as Microsoft has decided, after a while, to discontinue the support for Windows XP and Windows Vista, one must not expect vehicle manufacturers to continue supporting particular software 20 years’ down the road, even if the vehicle is still roadworthy.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, Bedford

WithinQ its scope, does this Bill do enough to position the UK as a global leader in vehicle technology? If not, what is missing? If you do not have the time to answer, maybe you can email me.

Two minutes to cover that favourable topic.

David Williams:

From an insurance perspective, yes.

Denis Naberezhnykh:

From a research angle on this, no, not entirely, but that is because as I said at the beginning we think it could be further-looking, as with what some countries are doing; but it is adequate at addressing the near-term goals.

David Wong:

From the vehicle manufacturers’ perspective I think more can be done—particularly with regard to connected autonomous vehicles. The particular area of connectivity and infrastructure is clearly missing in this Bill.

Finally and—we have two minutes—very briefly, Drew Hendry.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Transport)

IQ wanted to cover the issues of liability a little bit further, but I suspect we are going to run out of time before I can get an answer to those—in particular situations where there might be, for example, someone who is incapacitated in the vehicle. If they are incapacitated because of ill health, or for other reasons such as alcohol consumption, where would the liability sit, with such issues? Does the legislation need to go into more detail about some of those other causes? You mentioned the maintenance regime earlier.

Order. Drew, those remarks will form part of the record and part of your contribution to the discussion of the Bill, but we are now at 10.25 am and the rules stipulate that we must stop at precisely 10.25 am. I thank our four witnesses very much for their useful contributions. We got through most of what we wanted to ask you and you have certainly given us some very good thinking points for our further discussions on the Bill. Thank you very much indeed.