Clause 2 - Statement of safety principles

Automated Vehicles Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:00 am ar 19 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:00, 19 Mawrth 2024

I beg to move amendment 21, in clause 2, page 2, line 15, at end insert

“and, if so, the locations, types of location or circumstances in which those criteria are met.

(1A) The principles must set out how the Secretary of State will assess the potential safety impacts on different types of road user when assessing the locations, types of location or circumstances in which a vehicle is capable of travelling autonomously and safely, having particular regard to the safety of those road users who might be most at risk.”

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Ceidwadwyr, Cleethorpes

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 11, in clause 2, page 2, line 19, after “safety” insert

“and the safety of pedestrians”.

Amendment 22, in clause 2, page 2, line 19, leave out “better” and insert

“significantly better for all road users”.

Amendment 18, in clause 2, page 2, line 20, at end insert—

“(2A) The statement must include the Government’s intended definition of “careful and competent human drivers”.”

This amendment would require the Government to publish a definition of “careful and competent human drivers” as part of the statement of safety principles.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

We now come to the statement of safety principles. We have tabled three amendments in this group to strengthen the support that we anticipate will be beneficial when secondary legislation is introduced, and to give confidence not just to the courts, but to consumers and investors so that they can make the most of the economic opportunity. This is a similar point to the one we made in the debate on clause 1.

The Government described similar amendments tabled in the Lords as “ambiguous”—they said that the amendments to clause 1 were open to interpretation. I simply make the point that they were content to accept the change to “careful and competent” despite the fact that that is not set out in statute, so why strengthen safety in that way but not in this one?

These amendments have the backing of Cycling UK, which my hon. Friend the Member for Easington mentioned, and for similar reasons. Cycling UK says that we need

“a step-change in road safety”,

not just a marginal improvement. It continues:

“a slight improvement in overall road safety could actually mask a worsening in safety for pedestrians, cycle users and other non-motorised road users, providing this is offset…by an improvement in safety for motor vehicle occupants. We do not believe this is acceptable.”

I agree that there has to be an improvement for all road users. A similar point applies to all four amendments in this group.

We need the definition to avoid reliance on the ambiguity to which the Government themselves refer. We are trying to strengthen the definition with these amendments. Amendment 18, which requires the publication of a definition of “careful and competent human drivers” to address exactly that concern about the lack of precedent and the reliance on case law, has the support not just of the groups that I have mentioned but of the Road Safety Foundation and the SMMT, the industry body.

“Careful and competent” was first used in the Road Traffic Act 1988, but it was not defined. Currently, it can be judged only against case law, so at this stage we want to tighten up these areas, not because we want to make things more difficult, but because we are trying to anticipate as far as possible what is to come, and we want to create the strongest possible framework as we finalise the primary legislation. I look forward to the Minister’s response on these matters, and I commend the four amendments that I tabled with my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

I want to support my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central. As the Minister alluded to in a previous debate, clause 2 requires the Secretary of State to lay a statement of safety principles before Parliament, having consulted the relevant autonomous vehicle manufacturers, road users and safety groups first.

I recognise that the principles will be developed following the passage of the Bill, as the Minister said, but it is apparent that clear direction is needed for those principles in the primary legislation. It is also important that the safety principles are subject to frequent review—I think the Minister said that will happen—and consultation as the technology and roll-out of AVs is expanded over the coming years. The statement of safety principles must be clear, rigorous and informed by the needs of all road users and pedestrians, especially disabled people.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I thank my friend from the Transport Committee for giving way. On that point, was he as concerned as I was in the debate on the previous clause when the Minister said that we do not want to make the safety regulations over-onerous at the outset of the industry in case we allow it to take off elsewhere rather than the UK? That is a bit of a warning sign for me.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

I am inclined to agree, and I think it is a bit of a red herring as well. Language is important. I know the Minister said that “acceptable” has a legal meaning according to the Law Commission, but the point I was trying to make in the previous debate is that this is all about public confidence and perception, and what is acceptable to you, Mr Vickers, may not be acceptable to someone else.

We have to ensure that standards are as high as possible. It is certainly not anyone’s intention on the Opposition side to put off investment or scare it away; the potential is enormous. What we are trying to do is ensure that the legislative framework is not so prescriptive that it has a negative effect, but that it sets a standard that can be emulated by the rest of the world. I know we will come back to standards, European comparators and so on, so I will press on.

Clause (2)(2)(a) establishes a safety ambition that self-driving vehicles should be expected to

“achieve a level of safety equivalent to, or higher than, that of careful and competent human drivers”.

We heard that in the debate on clause 1. In my view, that safety ambition lacks clarity, and I ask that we clarify the meaning of a careful and competent driver in the Bill. “Careful and competent” is difficult to adjudicate, and the comparison should be made with a driver who is supported by existing assisted systems, fitted as standard to new vehicles. The assessment of automated vehicle safety must take into consideration all road users and how they will interact when engaging with AVs, especially if they operate in ways that would be considered unconventional when compared with a human driver.

I do not know whether you have been following some of the international events, Mr Vickers, such as the AV trials in Australia. The computer programming and the autonomous control systems are programmed to anticipate various scenarios, including how a pedestrian or another road user, such as a cyclist, will react. What defeated the trial in Australia was the unpredictable nature of kangaroos crossing the highway, because they do not cross in a straight line, but zig-zag and bounce about, which caused all manner of problems with the response of the AVs. We have to anticipate scenarios such as that and set the standards and framework accordingly.

The safety ambition needs to take into consideration both incident frequency and incident severity when assessing safety performance. There needs to be a clearly defined capability and operational constraint for systems, to ensure that users understand their roles and responsibilities when using or owning an automated vehicle. That is especially important in evolving technologies where there are transitions between the automated driving systems and the user in charge—the hon. Member for Copeland mentioned driver assistance systems—but also as new technologies develop and users are increasingly removed from the driving task.

We must also consider disabled people. Autonomous vehicle systems must be developed with an understanding of pedestrians with sight loss and their needs, which may differ from those of sighted people. As I mentioned earlier, people with sight loss will move around the built environment differently and use building lines, kerbs and tactile pavements for navigation. The increasing number of non-standard road layouts could present challenges to automated vehicles in inaccessible environments such as shared spaces and roadway. Floating bus stops, for example, may cause all sorts of problems, being away from the pavement across a cycle lane.

The movement of pedestrians with sight loss may prove especially difficult for autonomous vehicles to predict. That is why I, like various groups representing people with disabilities, including the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association and the Royal National Institute of Blind People, believe that the consultation process on the safety principles must be strengthened. As this is a recent technology that could develop in different ways, it is sensible to review the principles in the medium term to determine their effectiveness. I think the Minister has indicated that he is going to do that.

Amendment 21 stipulates that the principles must set out the assessment of the safety impact of AVs on different types of road users in different types of locations where the vehicle is travelling, which would be a reasoned improvement to the Bill. I am disappointed that Lords amendment 28, which was tabled by the noble Lord Liddle and would have created an advisory council, was defeated by the Government. It is disappointing that the Government did not accept that amendment as the Government proposals in amendment 5 really do not go far enough, even though they do ensure some level of consultation. I will leave it at that.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I thank the hon. Members for Sefton Central and for Easington for their contributions.

Clause 2 does indeed relate to the statement of safety principles. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Easington was suggesting that we include in primary legislation a requirement for kangaroo-detection technologies in cars. I have not been to Easington recently, so I do not know how many kangaroos they have there. I jest; the hon. Gentleman made a lot of very sensible points, although they are not for this stage of the process but for the statement of safety principles. The level of detail he was talking about will come at that stage. As I have said before, and as is in the legislation, we will consult with road user groups and road safety groups. We have already done so, and we committed to them to carry on that process.

I want to make it clear that we think the amendments are unnecessary because they are, in effect, already in the legislation. We share the ambition completely: autonomous vehicles should obviously be safer for all road users, and particularly for vulnerable road users, including partially sighted pedestrians, cyclists, equestrians and so on. However, that is actually already clear in the legislation. As with the highway code, references to road safety already legally apply to all road users, including the groups that I mentioned. The Government have already committed in the policy scoping notes that the statement of safety principles should be fair and equal and apply to all road users so that some are not advantaged at the expense of others. We have already committed to that.

To go back to the comments made by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Sefton Central, about it not being clear what a careful and competent driver is, that is set out in the Road Traffic Act 1988, in the highway code and in the guidance for the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. A body of work sets out what a careful and competent driver is. Again, in the statement of safety principles we can give a lot more detail on exactly what is required.

The points raised in the amendments, such as those about assessing locations, are already included in the legislation. We share the ambition, but the amendments are not necessary.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:15, 19 Mawrth 2024

I welcome the support for and analysis of the amendments from my hon. Friend the Member for Easington. I wondered whether we were missing something about kangaroos in Easington.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

They have wallabies in Derbyshire.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am glad he has now clarified that. He is right that we have to anticipate perhaps not kangaroos but—

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

People who are inebriated, for example.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

He is giving me other examples from a sedentary position. He is right to raise the concern.

The Minister said that the points are accepted by the Government, which I welcome, but if they are accepted, why are they not in the Bill? However, he has said that in Committee, so that will have to be sufficient for now.

I will come back to what he said about the definition of “careful and competent”. Given that we have case law and that the definition was first used in 1988 in the Road Traffic Act, as he says, I would think it possible to have a definition now against which future secondary legislation and decision making in the event of road traffic incidents could be judged. I do not understand why he has not made that clearer. As a result, I will not press amendments 21, 11 or 22 to a vote, but will test the opinion of the Committee on amendment 18. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 18, in clause 2, page 2, line 20, at end insert—

“(2A) The statement must include the Government’s intended definition of ‘careful and competent human drivers’.”—

This amendment would require the Government to publish a definition of “careful and competent human drivers” as part of the statement of safety principles.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Rhif adran 1 Automated Vehicles Bill [Lords] — Clause 2 - Statement of safety principles

Ie: 5 MPs

Na: 10 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move amendment 12, in clause 2, page 2, line 21, after “must” insert “—

(a) hold a public consultation on a draft statement;

(b) ”.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Ceidwadwyr, Cleethorpes

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 13, in clause 2, page 2, line 21, leave out from “consult” to end of line 22 and insert

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

This amendment is designed to probe the consultation provisions.

Amendment 14, in clause 2, page 3, line 6, at end insert—

“(9A) The statement must be reviewed and subject to the same consultation as outlined in subsection (3)—

(a) after being in force for five years;

(b) every five years thereafter.”

Clause stand part.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

With this series of amendments we are keen to probe the consultation on the development of the statement of safety principles. It is a very important part of the legislation and I am pleased that the Government accepted the principle of publishing the statement of safety principles at the outset. However, the technology will continue to evolve, so it seems clear that the statement of safety principles should be subject to review and public consultation at a decent interval. Our amendments are designed to ensure that there is a sensible, five-year timeframe for each of the reviews by Parliament and that the work is carried on in the public domain. The Government have said that that will happen informally, but we believe it important to have it confirmed in the legislation so that there is a guarantee.

The Government say they anticipate consulting a wider group than those they have previously mentioned. They said publicly in the House of Lords that that group will include members of the public, academia, trade unions and other representative bodies. We would like commitments on all those points, to which we will return with some of our other amendments. The Minister in the Lords said that

“it remains the case that this is a particularly uncertain policy area with a rapidly developing industry”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 10 January 2024; Vol. 835, c. 81.]

Does that not highlight the need for ongoing consultation, parliamentary scrutiny and an ongoing review of the statement of safety principles? Putting that on the face of the Bill is the way to guarantee that it happens.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

I rise to speak in support of the amendment. May I ask questions of the Minister, and back up the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central, my colleague on the Opposition Front Bench? We are talking about safety principles. In an earlier debate he mentioned the advisory committee. I know we are not debating them yet, but I have been looking at some of the new clauses. It has been suggested that on the advisory council there are: representatives from consumer groups; organisations representing drivers; road safety experts; relevant businesses, such as automobile manufacturers; vehicle insurance providers, because that is a key issue; providers of delivery and public transport services; the trade unions, because it is possible that many individuals will be displaced or that there are issues around deployment; the police and other emergency services; highway authorities, because there is the issue of the digitalisation of the data for autonomous vehicles; groups representing people with disabilities; and groups representing other road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians.

If the safety principles are to operate, it is important that we get this right. The Minister has said that it is a moveable feast, and that the Government will set the ambition but the standards would be amended—presumably improved—as time goes on. I do not want to sound like a broken record, but when the Transport Committee was looking at that aspect of the proposals we received evidence from a number of witnesses, including the motor manufacturers.

David Wong from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders had concerns, when looking at safety principles, about the definition of “competent and careful”. Many organisations are not confident that that is precise enough. David Wong stressed that his organisation agreed with the terms and the ambition. Professor Siddartha Khastgir from the University of Warwick said it would be difficult to translate the

“abstract concept into something that can be implemented by engineering”.

A number of the witnesses that the Committee heard thought that the Government’s ambition was too lax, and that a more stretching target should be set. That is quite interesting. We were talking about perception, and Ed Houghton from DG Cities told the Committee that when researching public attitudes to self-driving vehicles, he asked participants, “How much safer does it need to be for you to want to use autonomous vehicles over the long term?” People said that it needed to be twice as safe, or 10 times as safe, for them to use it. That is the level of expectation that consumers have, and we should recognise it. It has to be the best that it can be before they will be able to trust it and buy into it.

Safety has to be at the heart of the Bill if the public are to trust the technology and enable the UK to become a world leader in AV technology.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Clause 2 relates to the statement of safety principles, which we have previously discussed. I will not go over that again, other than to reiterate that a lot of the issues that are being discussed now and in the various roundtables that we have had with road safety groups and so on are valid issues, but they are issues that need to be addressed as we get into the detail of the statement of safety principles.

On amendments 12 and 13 about consultation, we have already committed to consulting with road users, road safety groups, and businesses in the industry. The statement of safety principles will be subject to public consultation. We fully expect that the wide-ranging views of the public, businesses, academia and other representative bodies will be able to feed into that consultation.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

Can the Minister give some clarification on the composition of the advisory committee, or is that still a matter that the Government are considering?

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

We have committed within the legislation to consult with road users, road safety groups and businesses in the industry—and others will be able to feed in. We did not want to be more specific about exactly which groups, because they change over time; they merge, they close down, and new ones open up. We did not want to bind our hands and say that it must be exactly those groups, but they are broad, representative groups.

We are in full agreement that we have to take the public with us. It would be wrong for the Government to proceed in a way that did not bring road safety groups with us. The ambition here is to make roads safer. It is in the Bill that AV should be safer than the average human driver and will improve road safety. That is the whole point of the legislation.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Ceidwadwyr, Aberconwy

The Minister makes a good point about the importance of talking to members of the public, but of course one of the main drivers—if the Committee will forgive the pun—for change and the introduction of autonomous vehicles is industry, and the use of vehicles in very specific spaces, such as quarries, farms and such. A lot of effort is going into developing the intelligence and the decision-making capability of machines in that space. Has the Minister also consulted with the bodies that might represent drivers affected by such vehicles, such as trade unions?

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am very happy to discuss this with trade unions; I have not done so yet. I agree that it is important for all those affected to input into the process. That is primarily road users, as they are the ones most directly affected.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington 10:30, 19 Mawrth 2024

Could the Minister give a little more clarification on the composition of the advisory committee? Will highways authorities be represented? I know the Minister said that over time more organisations would be involved, but given that the digitalisation of the information will be key and there are issues about that, it would seem sensible to have them represented on the committee.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am happy to give a commitment that I will consult with highways authorities, but we are not going to move beyond road user groups, road safety groups and businesses in the industry as the statutory consultees, with the full expectation that the full range of groups that are interested in this issue will be able to have input. As I have said, the statement of safety principles will be subject to public consultation.

The hon. Gentleman mentions highways authorities. The Department for Transport talks at every level almost every single day with highways authorities about almost every single issue. They are well versed in all this. This will be subject to public consultation, so I am not sure what amendments 12 and 13 would add.

On amendment 14, I have said that I would be amazed if a future Government did not review this, because the technology is changing. It is highly unlikely that we will get this right first time and that it will never be changed, but I do not think it is right to bind the hands of a future Government on the timing of the review, and the need to conduct one every five years. We might find that there are lots of problems earlier on and want to review things beforehand, or that everything is going amazingly well in five or 10 years—if we complete the review every five years—and everyone is very happy with it, and then we would be doing a formal review of something that everyone was happy with. It is far better not to bind the hands of future Governments.

There is also a requirement within the legislation for a duty of monitoring by the Secretary of State on the application of the statement of safety principles. That will be published every year.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Ceidwadwyr, Aberconwy

Yesterday, I and several other hon. Members had the opportunity to go in autonomous vehicles around parts of Westminster. The point was made that the system the cars use is a learning system, in contrast to some systems that have been used in other countries, which are rules-based. The point of having a review at a fixed point in time is not to see whether the rules that are written today still work in five years, because we are talking about systems that have the ability to learn well in advance of any review.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I agree totally with my hon. Friend. As somebody who is very interested in artificial intelligence and who has also gone round in the Wayve car, but around Kings Cross, I was very impressed at the way that the vehicle is learning as it goes along. I asked whether it recognised speed bumps, and it learned that itself; drivers slow down for speed bumps and the AI learned that was something it needed to do.

This is clearly going to change a lot. I have been around Government long enough—not very long, but long enough—to know that it is not good governance to bind the hand of future Governments with precise requirements to do this at this time and that at that time. When the time comes, it could be completely inappropriate. It is far better to trust whoever the future Government are that if there is a need for a review, they will conduct a review. It is unimaginable that they would not.

A monitoring duty is imposed on the Secretary of State to follow how closely the statement of safety principles is working and whether any issues arise. I really do not think we need to set out a five-year review clause that may not be appropriate.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

Holding a review is not binding the hands of any future Government. Setting a timeframe on it is definitely not binding their hands; it is actually just putting in a sensible provision for the future. My understanding of the way that the legislature operates is that one cannot bind the hands of a future Government anyway.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

The Government would then have to pass primary legislation in order to not do a review. If we end up in a situation where everyone is happy with the statement of safety principles—I think this will be a very long way away, I have to say—we would have officials coming to the Minister at the time, whoever that was, saying, “We have to do a review of the statement of safety principles, even though everyone’s completely happy with it, because it is in primary legislation and we’re not allowed to break the law.” Yes, absolutely, we could pass a new piece of primary legislation at some point in the future saying, “We don’t need to do a review,” but why create that work? Why bind a future Government?

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

Well, I think that a review that says, “Everything is going very well, Minister,” is not something to be worried about, but there we are.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

Reviews do take a lot of work. They are done properly; they are not done on the back of an envelope. A whole process has to be set up. It requires a lot of work from civil servants and a lot of input from wider stakeholders. It is unimaginable that there will not be various reviews in future, because the technology will be moving on, as we have discussed, but doing a review of something where there is wide acceptance that there is no need for a review—as has happened in other areas of my responsibility—creates a lot of work for no end benefit. It is not good legislating to set down in primary legislation that a future Government must do that.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

Well, it is an interesting view. I think “every five years” is far from onerous.

Turning to some of the other points made in the debate, we have deliberately left a wide definition in amendment 13, where we use,

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

That is not setting in stone exactly which organisations should be part of the consultation; it is important that we all recognise that. As time goes on, the nature— the exact identity—of those groups will change, and our amendment very much reflects the realities. I was concerned that the Minister had not discussed the legislation with the trade unions, which I think he said. I hope that he rectifies that very quickly. The TUC, I am sure, will be very happy to talk to him, and Unite the union is another one.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

In this role I have talked to unions about many different things, although not about this legislation yet. However, the Law Commission, in its three-year review of the legislation, did consult directly with the unions, and they have had input into all of this legislation that we have taken forward.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

Okay. I hope that the Minister will rectify that apparent omission promptly. As I say, amendment 14 is not binding the hands of Government at all. Holding a review is an important part of the future process, and I hope that the Government will reflect on that. The Minister said that the Government intend to hold reviews; I just do not understand why he is not prepared to put that into the legislation. However, on this occasion I will accept the Minister’s word on that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.