Clause 3 - Power to authorise

Automated Vehicles Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 19 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:30, 19 Mawrth 2024

I beg to move amendment 25, in clause 3, page 3, line 17, at end insert—

“(1A) An automated vehicle may be authorised for use in non-road public locations under subsection (1) as long as the Secretary of State is satisfied that the authorisation will not impact the accessibility of the locations to existing users, including pedestrians.”

This amendment would enable the Secretary of State to authorise vehicles such as for use in public places other than roads (such as automated mobility scooters and delivery robots on pavements, for example) as long as the impact on accessibility has been considered.

Photo of Martin Vickers Martin Vickers Ceidwadwyr, Cleethorpes

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Clause 4 stand part.

Amendment 17, in clause 5, page 4, line 24, at end insert—

“(5) An authorisation requirement may require purchasers of relevant vehicles to be provided with a demonstration of any authorised automated features under section 4 at the point of sale.”

This amendment would mean that sellers of automated vehicles may be required, under the terms of their authorisation requirement, to demonstrate automated features to potential purchasers.

Clause 5 stand part.

Amendment 16, in clause 6, page 5, line 10, at end insert—

“(6) Authorisation requirements must include a requirement for authorised self-driving entities to publish an equality impact assessment.”

This amendment would require authorised self-driving entities to publish equality impact assessments, reporting on the potential impact of their vehicles on, for example, those with protected characteristics and other road users.

Clauses 6 to 9 stand part.

Amendment 24, in clause 94, page 68, line 20, at end insert—

“or a delivery robot vehicle.”

This amendment would add delivery robots to the definition of ”authorised automated vehicle”.

New clause 4—User-in-charge: reaction times—

“Within two years of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must commission, and lay before Parliament a report of, a study into the reaction times of users-in-charge of automated vehicles when receiving an instruction to take full control of an automated vehicle and their ability to react safely to the relevant situation.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to commission a study into the ability of users-in-charge of automated vehicles to retake control of a vehicle when necessary.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Vickers. Amendment 25 seeks clarity on whether the authorisation of pavement robot vehicles can be within the scope of the Bill, and ensures that the safety of other road users is not negatively affected.

The amendment questions whether the Bill includes regulation for delivery robots. It is an opportunity for colleagues to consider whether we have thought about how the framework might be different from that for the automated vehicle framework and how it would be the same. This could well be a key missed opportunity in the Bill, and investment could be taken elsewhere if we lose out on economic gains because of the grey areas and lack of clarity. Pavement use is a grey area because the robots contain motors and a pavement is legally defined as part of the road. This question is within the Bill’s scope, yet clearly the regulation of vehicles that primarily use the pavement must be different from the regulation for those that use roads.

Pavement robots need clear regulation—for example, to ensure that they do not negatively affect disabled people, or that they are regulated only on pavements that are wide enough. Asda and Wayve have an ongoing trial of delivery services, and Starship already serves communities in Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and West Yorkshire—in fact, I have visited a site in the Wakefield constituency. The DFT plans to conduct research on pavement use, but if primary legislation is needed to enact what comes from the findings the issue may remain unresolved for years, meaning that the UK will continue to fall behind other nations and lose critical investment opportunities.

As I have seen in my Wakefield constituency, there is a lot of potential in the principle of delivery robots. They deal with the final mile from where the lorry drops off its load to when the parcel gets to the individual dwelling. I find them particularly good for people in my constituency who are socially isolated. Using electric robots for that last mile rather than diesel vans, as often happens currently, has the potential to make a big contribution to our net zero commitments.

Starship has called for the regulation of the sector, because the lack of regulation has the potential to impact on investment decisions. In fact, Leeds City Council and Cambridge City Council did a survey that showed between 75% and 93% approval of the service provided by Starship Technologies. Between the Lords Minister and the Commons Minister there seem to be some crossed wires as to whether robot delivery vehicles are within the Bill’s scope, so some clarity on that would be good.

Amendments 17 and 16 and new clause 4 aim to improve transparency on the impact of AVs, to ensure that the public are properly informed and to increase Parliamentary scrutiny. Amendment 17 would mean that the sellers of automated vehicles might be required to demonstrate how each of the automated features were engaged and disengaged. That is critical in terms of transparency. Amendment 16 would require authorised self-driving entities to publish an equality impact assessment to assess the impact on other road users—including, crucially, disabled people.

New clause 4 would require the Secretary of State to commission a study on the transition period in respect of users in charge, to be laid before Parliament. The insurance company AXA has said that there is still debate over how long it would take for a user in charge not only to take back control but to understand their surroundings, fully re-engage with the driving task and react safely to an obstacle that the self-driving vehicle was incapable of dealing with.

Overall, the amendments and new clause 4 would provide greater transparency and reassurance to consumers, which I am sure Members will agree is crucial, and nowhere more so than in respect of the safety of AVs for all road users. In chapter 5.7 of its report, the Law Commission states that equality impact assessments must be published, but there is no reference to such assessments anywhere in the Bill. There is, then, a need for clarity on transition demands. The policy scoping notes, and the Minister on the Floor of the House, committed to equity of impacts, so why is that not on the face of the Bill, given that the Minister knows how important it is? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

I want to make a few points in support of my Front-Bench colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield. As he rightly said, clause 3 would enable the Government to authorise a vehicle as an automated vehicle if it met the self-driving test and if other authorisation requirements were met. That is both a safety and an insurance issue, so it is fundamental to what the Bill is intended to achieve.

I would like the Minister to note the concerns of the insurance industry, which supports increased visibility of the automated vehicle authorisation process. That should include not only a view of vehicles that have been authorised, but transparency on how authorisation requirements differ for different automated driving features, software updates and systems upgrades.

The hon. Member for Copeland mentioned some currently available features that enable remote parking, cruise control on motorways and so on. Those are driver-assist systems, not fully-automated ones, but it is perfectly conceivable that over time some could be upgraded to make vehicles fully autonomous. The legislation has to anticipate that, and it has to be transparent. That is also what the insurance industry wants.

There will also be a challenge if software updates become more prevalent—vehicles previously not certified as automated could then be deemed to be so via an over-the-air update. That would pose a significant challenge to the insurance industry because the risk profile of the vehicle could change in an instant. If that were widespread, it would add significant uncertainty to the insurance risk and the insurance book. Obviously, it is vital for the owners of vehicles to have adequate insurance cover for their own vehicles, members of the public and other road users. Furthermore, there will be different approaches to how automation is brought to the market. There will be additional concerns if automation is distributed on a subscription basis, which would make underwriting and understanding the true risk of a vehicle more challenging.

Hon. Members have mentioned the Starship robot delivery system in Milton Keynes, which is very good. However, apart from crossing the road, the robots basically operate on pavements. Again, the Bill needs to address and define that issue in terms of what is acceptable. I encourage the Government to work with the insurance industry to create an appropriate system of information sharing and to allow for increased visibility for all types of automated vehicle authorisations, to prevent insurance issues from arising.

Amendment 25, moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, seeks to ensure that pedestrians, especially disabled people, are not negatively impacted by AVs in public spaces—such as the aforementioned delivery robots using pavements. Those types of vehicles must be authorised only when it is proven that AVs will not have a negative impact on accessibility.

To conclude, we need more visibility and scrutiny of the authorisation of AVs to ensure that insurers can do their jobs and that disabled people are not disadvantaged.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport) 10:45, 19 Mawrth 2024

I am grateful for the contributions of Opposition Members. As the hon. Member for Wakefield said, a couple of amendments are about delivery bots. I declare an interest: Starship operates in my constituency, in the town of Cambourne. It is incredibly popular, and I love seeing the robots tootling about the pavements; they are the subject of much local interest and fascination.

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

I do not know whether they have names. The hon. Gentleman has stumped me there, but it is a good idea.

As the hon. Member for Wakefield recognised in his comments, the legislation already covers pavements—the definition of roads or highways covers pavements, driveways and so on, including other accessible public areas. That could be used for the regulation of pavement bots, if desired.

I agree that there is a grey area, but the issue opens up many other issues outside the scope of the Bill: how we regulate the use of pavements, or what sort of vehicles we want or do not want on them. At the moment, mobility scooters or vehicles are allowed on the pavement, with a maximum speed of, I think, 4 mph. Such vehicles involve a whole range of issues to do with what pedestrians might expect or not on pavements, which should be subject to carefully thought-through legislation.

The issue with the delivery bots is that they are not regulated as road vehicles—they do not have licence plates and are not subject to any of the requirements made of road vehicles—so there is a risk that they would be caught by legislation that most people would think inappropriate. That raises so many issues, but they are outside the scope of the Bill. We will have to address them in some other way. I agree that there is a grey area, but this is not the way to deal with it.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Transport)

The Minister points out that the bots are unregulated. What are the Government’s plans, if any, to regulate to address the anomaly? It is pretty implicit in what he says that there is a need for regulation. When and where will it happen? If not here, where?

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

I will write to the shadow Minister.

On amendment 17, the hon. Member for Wakefield mentioned the requirement for sellers of self-driving vehicles to demonstrate features to prospective buyers. The legislation includes requirements to communicate with end users. There is a requirement on ASDEs—I do not think that we have mentioned authorised self-driving entities yet. ASDEs are authorised to sell the technology for self-driving cars, and they will be required to communicate with end users.

There are multiple troubles with requiring someone selling a vehicle to demonstrate to the person buying it. One issue is that the person buying a vehicle will often not be the person using it, and what matters is the demonstration to the user. Imagine someone buying a vehicle on behalf of a car club, for example, or a private sale: someone selling their car might not be qualified to give demonstrations of the technology to someone else. It is far more appropriate for the ASDE, whose technology it is, to do that. As I said, the Bill already requires ASDEs to communicate with end users about how the technology works. That covers this issue. Amendment 17 would have too many unintended consequences.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; he is being generous. If the ASDE in North America, say, is doing the sale and the updates remotely, will the legislation still be binding and apply to it and its liabilities? I am thinking of the insurance risk.

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

It absolutely would. To be authorised, the ASDE is required to be competent and financially sound. Clearly, the legislation needs to be binding on the ASDE wherever it is, or we could not regulate or authorise it.

New clause 4 is about transition demands, as we call them, although I do not think the hon. Member for Wakefield used that term in the new clause. It is important to get the right timing for transition demands. The Bill already requires a robust approach to ensuring that the user in charge—the transition demand relates to the user-in-charge feature; it goes back to them taking control from the self-driving feature—can respond safely to a transition demand and that they are aware of their responsibilities. As the hon. Member mentioned, we are already doing research on this fast-moving area, but ultimately what transition demand is appropriate depends on the use case: it might be different for someone driving on the motorway compared with someone doing some urban driving or operating a taxi or delivery vehicle.

How the transition demand works should be set out in the authorisation of the ASDE. Again, we are getting more and more data on the matter, and research is being done. It needs to be flexible because it depends on the individual case, so I do not think there is a need to set out in law that there should be research on it. Essentially, the new clause is unnecessary.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

Clearly, the only way we can have absolute clarity on the robot issue is to put it in the Bill and reference the inclusion of delivery vehicles specifically. There is potentially a mistake in terms of getting in the way of future investment and economic gains because of the grey area that continues to exist. We have had no clarity from the Government on when they may look at the issue further.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Easington for his comments regarding the insurance industry. Again, the amendments were there to give that transparency and clarity to that industry and to disabled groups. I will not be pushing any of the amendments to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 4 to 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.