Clause 82 - Power to grant permits

Automated Vehicles Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 19 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 2:30, 19 Mawrth 2024

I beg to move amendment 10, in clause 82, page 58, line 11, at end insert—

“(5A) A permit may only be granted if the service meets all relevant standards issued by the appropriate national authority relating to the provision of information to users in an accessible format through regulations.”

This amendment would require automated vehicles to meet relevant accessibility standards before being granted a permit to provide automated passenger services.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Llafur, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Clauses 83 and 84 stand part.

Schedule 6.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport)

The amendment would require automated vehicles to meet certain standards of accessibility, specifically in respect of the provision of information to users in vehicles, before being granted a permit to provide automated passenger services. The amendment sets out that this will take place by way of regulations to require a threshold of standards for the purposes of accessibility.

How the technology covered by the Bill will develop and be used over time is a great unknown, and it is vital that accessibility exists for disabled people so that they can benefit from it too. Disabled people are mentioned only in clause 87, which lacks detail. We need clear and consistent accessibility standards for the technology so that, for instance, those with sight loss can still utilise it.

As I mentioned, we currently have a substantial gap in our transport network, with 38% fewer trips taken by disabled people compared with those without disabilities. We are clear that disability and advocacy groups must be consulted from the very beginning, and that makes an advisory council even more vital. Guide Dogs is clear that AVs can unlock independence for those with sight loss, but vehicles must be safe when it comes to interacting with pedestrians and passengers.

Photo of Grahame Morris Grahame Morris Llafur, Easington

I want to reinforce those points to the Minister. He is a reasonable person and I am sure he gets this, given that we have raised the issues of access and the rights of people with disabilities on several occasions now.

I remind the Minister—I am sure he remembers—that the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association ran a successful campaign to contact many MPs about the value of talking buses. I did an exercise in which I wore a blindfold. It is incredible—I thought I knew the route, but I struggled without that aid. There are other examples. We should not overlook the need to ensure that people with sight loss are catered for in the provisions on this new and exciting technology.

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

Before I address the amendment, I will set out a bit of background. The existing law on taxi, private hire and public service vehicle licensing is predicated on having a professional driver in the vehicle, which makes the application of the current licensing laws to automated passenger services complex and uncertain. Recognising this uncertainty, the Law Commissions recommended the creation of an alternative, bespoke permitting system for passenger services.

Holders of valid automated passenger service permits will, then, not be subject to existing taxi, private hire and public service vehicle law when operating within the terms of their permit. Permits will be issued by the appropriate national authorities: the Secretary of State in England and relevant Ministers in devolved Administrations. The Bill therefore provides broad flexibility over the terms of passenger permits to ensure that we can respond appropriately.

That brings me to the hon. Member for Wakefield’s amendment. The permit system already allows us to mandate that such information be provided to users in accessible formats. That power is already there and we have already committed—I know the hon. Gentleman will come to this in a moment—to having an advisory council of accessibility and disabled groups for public service vehicles and taxis. Crucially, as permit conditions can be specific to the service in question, the existing system operates in a way that is more flexible than the approach proposed in the amendment. For example, the provision for bus-like services could be very different from that for taxi-like services. We want to retain that flexibility.

The amendment is not necessary because the power is already there. We already have a consultation on an advisory board for disabled and accessibility groups. Part of the reason for the legislation is that it improves accessibility for a whole range of different user groups, and we are committed to doing that.

Photo of Simon Lightwood Simon Lightwood Shadow Minister (Transport) 2:45, 19 Mawrth 2024

It is disappointing that the Government are once again not grasping this. There are real opportunities here for disabled people, but also real risks that the technology could pose for disabled people in their interactions with the environment. To be clear, the amendment does not advocate that AVs become public service vehicles. Our aim is that they vehicles should be accessible to use if they have that use case. Nevertheless, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 82 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 83 and 84 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 6 agreed to.