Clause 3 - Power to authorise

Part of 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

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.