Clause 60 - The role of inspector

Automated Vehicles Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 19 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Llafur, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 15, in clause 61, page 44, line 2, leave out from the third “of” to the end of line 4 and insert “—

(a) identifying, improving understanding of, and reducing the risks of harm arising from the use of authorised automated vehicles on roads in Great Britain; and

(b) assessing the accessibility of automated vehicles authorised under section 3.”

This amendment would extend the purpose of automated vehicle inspectors to include assessment of automated vehicle accessibility.

Clauses 61 and 72 stand part.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George. Amendment 15, which I tabled with my hon. Friend the Member for Sefton Central, seeks to make a specific obligation on inspectors to ensure that they assess the accessibility of automated vehicles when investigating incidents. Part 3, chapter 2 sets out the role of inspectors to identify, improve the understanding of and reduce the risks of harm arising from the use of authorised automated vehicles. Currently, clause 62 states that the incident can be

“not of a kind specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State”,

suggesting that inspectors have discretion to investigate a wide range of incidents. The amendment would ensure consistency of inspectors in assessing the accessibility of a vehicle.

Gaining information on the accessibility of AVs is intrinsic to improving the understanding of and reducing the risks of harm involving AVs for disabled users and other disabled road users. We believe AVs present a fantastic opportunity for disabled people, so we must ensure that it is fully realised and grasped. Disabled people currently take 38% fewer journeys than non-disabled people.

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

I will mention the role of the investigators before commenting on the amendment. Clause 60 introduces the concept of investigation of incidents by statutory inspectors, which will allow for the creation of independent capability to investigate incidents involving authorised automated vehicles. The clause requires the Secretary of State to appoint at least one person to be an inspector of automated vehicle incidents. Clause 61 then states that the role of those inspectors is

“identifying, improving understanding of, and reducing the risks of harm arising from the use of” self-driving vehicles in Great Britain.

Like the existing UK transport investigation branches for air and maritime, the inspectors will conduct safety investigations into incidents involving at least one authorised self-driving vehicle. It will not be their role to apportion blame or liability; instead, they will draw on all the available evidence to publish reports and recommendations that ultimately improve the safety of self-driving vehicles, in line with recommendation 32 of the Law Commission’s report. I stress that their role is analogous to those in other sectors such as air and maritime.

That brings me to amendment 15. I should say at the outset that we are very committed to ensuring maximum accessibility for different user groups—that is part of the reason for introducing this legislation to start with. Many of the points that need to be made are in clause 82, to which the Opposition have tabled an amendment. I will address those questions in more detail when we come on to that clause.

I recognise the importance of accessibility, but I do not believe that the amendment is necessary, or that this is the right place to ensure greater accessibility. While inspectors will identify the causes of incidents, which could include issues around the accessibility of the vehicle, it is not their purpose to replace vehicle safety inspections or to ensure that vehicle safety is in line with accessibility requirements. Safety investigation is a long-standing practice, both in the UK and internationally, and under no circumstances would we wish to break precedent by adding to an inspector’s role in such a way.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

I seek clarification on a couple of issues in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield. I am not sure whether the Minister gave us this assurance in his remarks, so can he confirm whether the inspectorate will in due course become part of the road safety investigation branch that the Government committed to setting up in June 2022, when the Law Commission first looked into this, to prevent future incidents and make our roads safer?

Clearly, this is an evolving technology; this morning, the hon. Member for Copeland mentioned advanced driver assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane-changing features and parking assist, which assist the driver but do not enable the vehicle to drive itself. Those features are in effect earlier versions of this evolving technology, which we believe will lead to autonomous self-driving vehicles. While those ADAS features are not automated, it is essential, in any investigation following an accident, that potential pitfalls—I can think of a number, particularly in parking—are identified at an early stage, in case it is a software or system failure that could be corrected. Can the Minister tell the Committee whether the inspectorate will look at accidents involving advanced driver assistance systems, as well as self-driving vehicles, at this stage?

I certainly support my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield in ensuring that automated vehicles continue to be accessible to people with disabilities as they are designed and as the technology develops. I would be a bit disappointed if the Minister ruled out the role of inspectors in the process of assessing the suitability of automated vehicles, because that would be a missed opportunity. I urge him to consider the needs of disabled people at every stage, not just in the Bill, but more generally.

We have here a real opportunity. I have seen for myself, as has the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, the possibilities of improved access for people in wheelchairs or with various degrees of disability. Does the Minister agree that we must ensure that the inspectorate role includes an accessibility assessment to reduce the risk of potential harm from automated vehicles to people with disabilities, such as ensuring that the seatbelts are suitable for people in wheelchairs?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Llafur, Knowsley 2:30, 19 Mawrth 2024

Before I bring in the mover of the amendment, does the Minister wish to respond?

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

I will respond very quickly to a number of points. The difference between a self-driving car or automated vehicle and a vehicle that is not is specified right at the beginning of clause 1. This legislation is all about self-driving cars: it is not about all the other variants on driverless systems. As I stated, the independent inspection regime that we are setting up—we call it a capability—is just for where one self-driving, automated vehicle is involved, not for other forms. This is not the right place to legislate for a road safety inspection branch, whatever the arguments for and against that are. We say in the legislation that we call it a capability because the organisational structure is not set out in the legislation and needs to be decided in the future.

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

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way and for his dexterity in doing so. In terms of how the legislation will work, with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and other pan-UK inspection regimes, any offences are reported to the relevant police force. If inspectors found any evidence of issues that needed reporting, would it be reported to the Procurator Fiscal if it was in Scotland? How will that operate on the ground in terms of enforcement?

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

As I said at the beginning, the role of the inspectors is not to assign liability, blame or whatever else; it is to find out what actually happened in detail to ensure that it does not happen again. On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, I do not think that that has been decided, but I will write to him.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

It is important that disability is considered at every possible opportunity. This technology has the capacity to increase the number of journeys for disabled individuals, but getting it wrong could force that to go in the opposite direction. However, I will not press my amendment to a vote.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 60 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 61 to 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clauses 67 to 81 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5 agreed to.