I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
As you might imagine, Mr Speaker, I had for a moment thought that these crowds were for me. Now that I know that is not the case, I will be measured in what I say and hope that the crowd will re-emerge as a result of the strength of the argument that I will make on behalf of this Government and this important Bill.
In living memory, working-class lives have changed dramatically. The health and wellbeing now enjoyed routinely by working people is of a kind beyond the expectations—indeed, perhaps beyond the dreams—of my grandparents, who lived, alongside most of the people around them, with the daily grind of need. The chance to travel easily has been an important part of the altered lives of millions. My father bought his first car when I was a baby and he was 42 years of age. It transformed my family’s experiences. Suddenly new places could be explored, new opportunities realised and new adventures imagined. Until then, a bicycle was his way of getting to and from work, train travel a rarity and aircraft—except in wartime—entirely unknown. My family, like so many others, owed so much to motor cars. They brought challenge, chances and change to millions. Yet cars themselves have changed little.
Cars—the foundation of our transport system for the last hundred years—still have a lot in common with the first Model T that rolled off the production line in 1908: the same mass production methods; the same front-mounted internal combustion engine; and the same adaptable chassis to support a wide range of body styles. Now we are going to see significant changes. Over the next decades, cars will change more than they have for lifetimes. In those changes, it is vital that we consider the scale of the opportunities that now present themselves, how those opportunities may be shaped and, indeed, how they will need to be constrained.
There will be change to the way in which we power and fuel our cars, and even to the way in which we pay for motoring. This is happening not just in the United Kingdom, but around the world. But, just as Henry Ford proved a century ago, there are huge chances for innovators who are able to realise the revolutionary potential of new automotive technologies. Exports of low emission vehicles are already worth £2.5 billion to our economy, and it is estimated that the market for autonomous vehicles could be worth £28 billion by 2035. Ford himself said:
“Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.”
That is what this Bill is about. As I shall explain in this sermocination, the chances are profound. The Bill is salient.
These matters are not, by the way, partisan—they are not party political; they are things that, frankly, any responsible Government would look at and take action upon. Indeed, I expect the whole House to take a considered and measured interest in these affairs.
I am going to speak a little about the Whig view of history, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you might have expected. The Whig view of history, with its addiction to progress, is a deceit. The Marxist notion of a predetermined course of history is a fallacy. Not all change is beneficial; indeed, it can be the opposite. But change can be virtuous when it is shaped, harmonised and, yes, as I said, sometimes constrained. Enterprise and the market provide immense opportunity through the innovative, imaginative creativity they breed. But Government must be a force for good. Government must be prepared to step forward to make sure the market acts for the common good.
I refer to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Some academics are saying that when automated vehicles become commonplace, the Government will seek to ban people from driving cars themselves or will, at the very least, introduce a policy that severely restricts motorists. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that that is not Government policy today and that he has no intention of making it Government policy in the future?
It is certainly not Government policy. It would be intolerable to imagine a future where people were banned from using, for example, classic cars. I know that my right hon. Friend is very experienced and, indeed, knowledgeable—one might even go as far as to say expert—in such matters, and he will know that the vintage and classic cars owned by many people, including him in considerable number—
Well, I was not going to add that, but, yes—in rather less number. Those cars add a vivid aspect to motoring—an elegance and style we would not wish to see lost in any move towards this change in technology. But, for most people, their daily experience will not be to drive an Allard, a Jensen or any other of the cars my right hon. Friend and I revere; it will be to drive a car to get to the places in which they work, to access educational opportunities and to get to the places where they buy the goods they need to service their wellbeing; it will be to use a car for recreational purposes, in the way my father did for his family all that time in the past, as I described a moment ago.
The change that we are now experiencing, and that we will experience to a greater degree in the coming years, is not a threat and not something to doubt or fear, but an opportunity. It is an opportunity for Britain from the perspective of the technology we will develop and export. It is an opportunity to give access to cars to those who have never had them—the profoundly disabled, the elderly, the infirm, and the partially sighted and the blind. They have not been able to drive, and they have relied on others to drive them, but they will suddenly have the opportunity of car ownership, which has been denied them for so long by the nature of their disability or their need. That is the sort of future I envisage.
The Minister is making a characteristically wide-ranging speech, and he touches on important points, but the Bill is remarkably thin. It does not deal with many of these points. There are so many other issues—the social issues and the skills issues. When will the Government bring forward a Bill that actually deals with the issues the Minister is referring to?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I am, one might say, preoccupied by the subject of skills because I understand the relationship between skills and social justice. One might even say that I have been characterised by my determination to ensure that people get chances to acquire the skills necessary not only for our economy but for them to fulfil their potential. There will, of course, be all kinds of new skills associated with this technology, but I am not sure it is the time at the moment to dictate what they might look like. The job that the Government are doing is to legislate sufficiently so that change, innovation, and research and development are not inhibited, but not to the point where we dictate, or try to dictate, what the future might look like in this regard.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important that the message should not be that an electric car or an automated vehicle is an unpleasant driving experience, and that the only kind of car that is worth driving is a classic car? The modern car is a joy to drive. I hope that will remain the case and that he is not going to stop us doing it.
Yes, that is true. Electric cars can be a different but altogether just as enjoyable an experience. I have had the opportunity of test driving an electric car. As a Minister, I have travelled very frequently in an electric car driven not by me but by the driver from the Government car service. Only in the past few days, I have had the chance to drive in one of the new electric taxis. To experience that is to see a different kind of future and to enjoy a different kind of driving experience. I do not think it is worse. It is certainly different, but better in all kinds of ways, as I shall explain.
Is the Minister going to set out the scope of the intelligence and decision making of the vehicles that he is describing? For instance, some automated vehicles are capable, in the event of an accident, of assessing the situation and deciding which course of events is likely to cause the least amount of injury. To what degree does the Bill cover the decision-making process of those vehicles?
The hon. Gentleman, with his usual assiduity, introduces into our debate the really important aspect of how autonomous vehicles develop over time. This morning, I was fortunate enough to be looking at autonomous vehicles and having a discussion with some of those engaged in the research and development that I described a moment ago. We considered the programming of an autonomous vehicle, for this is, in essence, a combination of developing the sophisticated software that helps to drive the car and the technological development associated with the running of the vehicle. In testing that software, a judgment needs to be made: how much do we want the autonomous vehicle to emulate what a human being would do if they were at the wheel, and how far do we want it to improve on what a human being would do? As the hon. Gentleman implies, many car accidents—in fact, the insurers tell us that it is 95% of car accidents—are in some way due to human error. If we could, let us imagine for a moment, eliminate that error, or at least reduce it very considerably, we would, as he suggests, completely change the profile of driving, reducing the number of accidents and making our roads safer. That is a big opportunity, and not one to be sniffed at.
With regard to the huge advances in automated and electric vehicles, does the Minister agree that the technology industry has made an immense contribution, especially within my own constituency, where it is particularly preponderant, and that we need to provide further support for the technology industry to continue with these advances?
Yes, and we are doing that. We are providing support and we will continue to do so. I will elaborate on that in the course of my remarks. The hon. Gentleman is right that this has to be a collaboration. It is a collaboration between industry, academia and government, including local authorities. As I said, this morning I was with the London Borough of Greenwich, speaking about its role in these developments. It really is important that we see this work as salient, as I described it, but also capable of making a huge beneficial difference in the national interest and for the common good.
My right hon. Friend eloquently makes the point that we have the chance to be a world leader in transport technology. Can we use the Bill to reflect the possible effects of new technology and innovation on engine noise? We are often distracted by our smartphones, and we expect engines to make a noise and give us a clue that vehicles are there. For the sake of safety, can we make sure that we get this innovation right?
Part of the research effort concerns societal change and persuading people that the technology is right, good and efficacious. To do that, we have to be completely certain about safety. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that until people can be certain that the technology is safe and secure, they are less likely to embrace it as we hope they will.
May I preface this intervention by declaring an interest as a fellow of the Institute of the Motor Industry? The Minister knows that when the previous incarnation of this Bill was before the House, the Opposition tabled an amendment, on the question of skills, to require the introduction of a certification and licensing scheme for technicians working on these advanced vehicles. That was particularly important given that a survey of independent garages showed that about 80% of them do not have the skilled technicians that they need to work on these vehicles. At that time, the Minister said:
“My hope is that we can make progress on this matter during the course of the Bill’s passage to respond to some of the points raised today.”––[Official Report, Vehicle Technology and Aviation Public Bill Committee, 23 March 2017; c. 10.]
That Bill fell with the general election. Has the Minister made any progress on the matter, and can we expect the introduction of something to deal with it during proceedings on this Bill?
I am not unsympathetic to that argument. The hon. Gentleman is right that the development of the necessary skills to service this new technology will be critical to its acceptance, rather as the absolute assurance of safety will. I expect the new skill set to develop, and I think that the industry will want that to happen.
I spoke briefly about the balance between what the market will provide and what Government need to do to frame and shape market provision, and this is a good example. We hope to see the development of apprenticeship programmes that are sufficient to cope with the demands that the hon. Gentleman set out, and we want the Government to work with the further and higher education sectors accordingly. We want to ensure that the work being done on emerging technology by most of the big motor manufacturers—as he knows, there is hardly a motor manufacturer that is not investing in research and development in this field—is tied to a proper consideration of the development of enough people with the skills to support it.
I think the hon. Gentleman is right, and I look forward to further debate about the matter. I am not unpersuaded of the idea that Government should play their part. The Bill as it was presented to the House does not contain measures to that effect, but our scrutiny may well give us the opportunity to consider further the points that the hon. Gentleman has made. I cannot believe that the Opposition have not read their Hansard, and that they will not return to the argument that they made in relation to the previous Bill—not that I am, for a moment, accusing them of being repetitious.
The Minister has used the words “common good”, “national interest” and “safety”. Another thing in the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill was laser pen offences. The Minister heard from pilots about how dangerous such incidents are, so can he explain why those measures have been dropped from the Bill and tell us when he will introduce legislation on the matter?
Looking around the Chamber, I see, in all parts of it, Members with a laser-like approach to addressing legislation. It will not, therefore, have escaped anybody’s notice that this Bill is a rather cut-down version of the one that we considered earlier in the year, which enjoyed a Second Reading and a Bill Committee. We chose to focus on the core elements of that Bill, namely the provisions that deal with autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles.
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there is a proper concern about the use of lasers. That is something that we have discussed previously. Indeed, I have discussed it with shadow Ministers, and I am determined to do more. We are, by the way, also determined to do more in respect of drones, which may fly above our heads during our consideration in this Chamber, at least in a metaphorical sense—or rather, I hope, only in a metaphorical sense. We are determined to deal with those issues, and we will talk about them in more detail over the coming weeks and months.
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. One area in which drones and automatic vehicles will make a huge difference is the logistics industry. All too often, Government frameworks lag technology, but my right hon. Friend’s reputation for forethought will be enhanced by the Bill, which establishes a framework that will give the industry some certainty regarding innovation. We cannot and should not make predictions about the industry, but we should give it certainty regarding the innovation that it wants.
My right hon. Friend is right to put safety at the heart of his speech. Even with autonomous vehicles there will, unfortunately, still be the occasional accident, but one advantage is that if the circumstances of such accidents are known, they will be shared across the entire network. We will not all have to learn individually from our mistakes; we will be able to learn collectively, and that will be of benefit. However, when a decision is made by an autonomous vehicle, there must be a way to challenge it. As part of the Bill, it might be very useful to put some transparency into the algorithm process.
The aim of the Bill is to create the greater certainty that is, as several Members have said, necessary for further developments. As I will explain in a moment, when I get to the main thrust of my contribution, we focused mainly on insurance. That is because we were told by the insurance industry that it was essential to establish absolute clarity about the framework for the development of a series of insurance products. The Bill sets out that framework. Those who recall the previous discussions on the matter, and who have studied the record, will know that the insurance industry has widely welcomed our endeavours in that respect. I have the Hansard here, but I would tire the House unduly if I merely read out that which Members already know. In essence, the Bill creates greater certainty about the development of insurance products, to put at rest any doubts that might have prevailed.
What discussions has the Minister had with the insurance industry about the likely cost of premiums? If one of the main benefits of automated vehicles is increased safety, does he expect premiums to fall?
We explored that a bit with the industry in the witness sessions on the previous Bill. As Members know, we introduced the Bill and we gave it a Second Reading and a Committee stage—a very good one, actually—as part of which we took evidence from the insurance industry. The Bill that we are considering is very similar to the previous one, which, as a result of the general election, did not proceed.
My guess is that initially, as the marketplace develops and new products emerge, prices will be much as they are now; but that as the record becomes established and insurers’ calculations about the likelihood of claims are affected by the greater safety provided by autonomous vehicles, prices may well fall. That is, in the end, a matter for insurers. It is not something that the Government can stipulate, dictate or even, with any certainty, predict. Following on from the intervention by the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), it seems to me that if the safety of autonomous vehicles means fewer accidents, insurers will find that out. As they do so, the ability to insure a vehicle will grow and the price of doing so will fall. That is, as I say, a matter for the future and not for now.
It is very apposite that we are discussing this Bill on the day that the T charge—the toxicity charge—has come in for London, which will take the cost of coming into London to over £20 for people driving cars of a certain age. However, it also brings to mind the fact that there are already incentives on the statute book to encourage people to buy electric cars. As the Minister is in such an expansive mood, will he tell us what representations he has made to the Treasury about offering even greater incentives so that we can ensure the take-up of electric vehicles is even more rapid?
In the end, these are of course matters for the Mayor, and the Mayor must come to his own judgment. My own view is that it should be called the K charge, for the Khan charge, or perhaps the M charge, for the Mayor’s charge, so that people know exactly why it is being levied. Frankly, I have some doubts about the effect it may have on less well-off drivers and families. I take the view that we need to strike a balance between, on the one hand, being ambitious in respect of clean air—we have set out our plans, which I was involved in drawing up—and, on the other hand, disadvantaging many people who own older diesel or perhaps petrol vehicles, who will be affected by the charge. It is not progressive, after all, to say that everyone, regardless of their circumstances and regardless of who they are, what they are doing and where they are working, should pay the charge. I have some doubts about it, but in the end it is a matter for the Mayor, and he will be answerable for his own K charge.
Let me move on to the substance of what we are trying to do. In practice, we have long since moved beyond the question of whether road transport will be electrified. It is now irrefragable that that will occur. The question now is when—not whether—and at what pace. For many manufacturers in the UK, the answer to that question is, frankly, now. For Nissan, it means the second generation of its best-selling Leaf, capable of about 200 emission-free miles between charges, which is being built in Sunderland. For BMW, it means the introduction of an all-electric version of the Mini to be built in Oxford from 2019. For Jaguar Land Rover, it means the introduction of the world’s first electric premium sport utility vehicle, the I-Pace, coming next year, with every single Jaguar Land Rover vehicle being electrified from 2020. Just those examples alone show that British-made electric vehicles are increasingly competitive around the world, but if we are to keep that leading edge into the next decade, we need the UK’s charging infrastructure to keep improving.
I bought a Nissan Leaf last month, and I was very struck by the fact that for people to have their own charging point, they need off-street parking, which is obviously not possible for anyone who has a flat or a terraced house. Will Ministers please consider changing the planning rules to require charging points on new roads in all new housing developments, as well as at railway stations and in all publicly owned car parks, as in France?
It is my habit to be influenced by Members of the House during the course of debates. That may sound unconventional, but I actually take Members’ contributions in debates such as this extremely seriously, and I think that that is a very good point. I am happy to have discussions about that with my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government. There are issues about the inconsistent provision of on-street charging. That is partly due to planning, and partly due to the fact that some local authorities are more willing than others to install charging points. It is a discretionary matter for planners at the moment, but it does seem to me to be entirely appropriate to consider some of the things that the hon. Lady has suggested, so I am more than happy to have such discussions.
While the Minister is in an open frame of mind, will he look not simply at the lack of on-street provision, but at the unreliability of the network at the moment? If he has regularly driven in an electric car, he may well, like so many of us, have had the experience of coming into a motorway service station and finding that the charger is not working and that there is no 24-hour help, which for people whose battery is down to zero is a very significant problem. He may also have had experience of the fact that there are myriad different companies and that many of the providers’ systems are not interoperable and do not allow access when people arrive at a service station. A Government who are going to frame such a market could easily intervene and improve this situation.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has had early sight of my speech—if he did, he is even more remarkable than I regarded him previously—but I was about to come on to the principal reasons people cite for not buying electric cars. The first is the up-front cost, which will of course come down as volumes grow. As he will know, the Government already contribute considerable amounts of money—again, I will speak a bit more about that later—to offsetting some of that cost. The second is battery reliability, and people’s doubts about the technology that is driving electric vehicles. The third is the charging infrastructure, as he described, which is precisely why the Bill addresses that point. It is vital to put in place a charging infrastructure that is widely available and consistent, and that works. He described the circumstance in which someone who might otherwise have bought an electric vehicle is put off from doing so because they are not confident that the infrastructure is as good as it should be, and that is precisely why the Government are addressing this matter in the Bill. We have the chance to debate it tonight and beyond tonight during the Bill’s consideration.
While the Minister is talking about the Government’s commitment to this area, will he remind the House about the £246 million they are investing in battery research through the Faraday challenge? That is a serious investment towards solving some of the challenges, and it should reassure people that we are serious about this matter.
Yes. I will not amplify that extremely well-made point except to say that my hon. Friend is right that each of the three objections cited are likely to be dealt with, in one way or another, over time. Some will be dealt with by the industry concerned, some will be dealt with by changing market circumstances and some will be dealt with by the sagacious and pertinent behaviour of the Government. It is with both sagacity and pertinence that I will now continue my short—some may say, all too short—introduction to the Bill. Some may not actually say that, but I prefer to side with those who do, so let me continue.
We certainly need to improve the UK’s charging infrastructure to ensure that we remain at the forefront of these developments into the future. Hon. Members will know that, as we have begun to debate tonight, the Government have set the goal that nearly all cars and vans should be emission-free at the tailpipe by 2050. That means less pollution and more clean air. I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) is not in the Chamber because I was going to say that this is not about a preoccupation with some high-flown theory about what the climate may look like in hundreds of years’ time. It is about having clean air now—the air our children are breathing in cities—and the particular material that affects human health day in, day out. That is why it is imperative we take action, and we are determined to do so. I am not prepared to have my sons, who are in the Gallery tonight, breathing air that is less clean than it ought to be. I want the same for them as I want for every other young person: to live in a cleaner world with fresher air, which is better for their health and their futures.
I welcome the Minister’s words. On the priorities for the charging infrastructure, will he confirm that the focus is on shopping centres and other places where people naturally leave their cars for a considerable time, not just petrol stations and places where they want to nip in and out? If there is a limited resource, it is obviously in the interests of the oil companies to have all the chargers at petrol stations to put people off, but we need them to be where people go shopping and stop at motorway services, and that should be the top priority.
That is a well-made point and one that we explored when we considered these matters previously. It is very important that the charging infrastructure is spread. There is a risk, which has been highlighted by Members from all parties, including the SNP Members who served on the last Bill Committee, that charging infrastructure becomes focused on major routes and in urban and suburban areas, and that smaller roads and rural parts of our kingdom are under-provided. That is not acceptable and we will look at ways of addressing it.
The Bill is born of a determination to increase the number of charging points. It does, as the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) suggests, talk of major retailers at the moment, but I am prepared to look at other ideas for how we can seed more charging points more widely. I have no doubt that we will explore that during the passage of the Bill.
I will not give way, because I want to make a little progress. I will then give way more liberally—although I hate to use that word, except as a pejorative—as time goes on.
We are not alone in recognising the benefits of electric vehicles. Many major car-producing countries are looking beyond conventional petrol and diesel technology. That is why we want to accelerate the transition and bring the benefits of electric vehicles to drivers, the public and our environment as soon as we can. We are giving financial help to motorists who choose cleaner vehicles through grants and the tax system, as I mentioned, and supporting local authorities to provide incentives such as free parking and congestion charge exemptions. Through the Bill, we want to make it easier and more convenient to recharge electric vehicles.
The Government have already aided the development of a network of about 11,500 public charge points in the UK and significant funding is in place to develop many more. However, in the years ahead, we want electric cars, be they hydrogen fuel cell technology or battery powered, to break into the mass market. The Bill therefore includes several new powers to help to make that a reality. Those powers will establish common technical standards and greater interoperability; increase the amount of consumer information on the location and availability of charge points; and accelerate the roll-out of electric vehicle infrastructure at key locations such as motorway service areas and large fuel stations. However, we will look at other measures, because it is important to ensure that charge points do not become concentrated in the way that the hon. Member for Swansea West and others have described.
There is already a rapid charger at nearly all motorway service areas, but I am mindful of what the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) said about making sure that they are working efficiently. We will consider that as a result of his contribution.
I am grateful to the Minister, because I understand that he is trying to make progress. When he looks at the network of chargers at motorway service stations, will he consider the availability of not only the different types of connector, but the different providers, such as Polar and Ecotricity?
That is a very good point. I mentioned interoperability a few seconds ago. There is a tendency with new technology for a series of parallel systems to develop. We know that from the development, following the invention of the microchip, of the information technology industry, of which I was a part. It is very important indeed to have greater interoperability and standardisation over time, and certainly for charge points to have a similar look and feel. At the moment, we are not quite in that place, but we can be and I think we need to be. [Interruption.] I can see the shadow Secretary of State for Transport smiling. He thinks that I am going to talk about the Hayes hook-ups. I read his mind—we must know each other too well. I will come to that point shortly.
While my right hon. Friend is looking at the infrastructure for charging electric vehicles, which is obviously one of the most important matters, will he bear in mind the rural areas of our country, because their access to the grid will be limited and that will be exacerbated by a rapid roll-out of electric cars? Will he consider encouraging solar car ports and canopies to help to address those rural grid issues while he is looking at charging points for motorway service stations, coffee shops, retail outlets and so on? I think that that is a significant issue because the rural community is always being left behind and it could be ahead of the curve if he incentivises solar car ports and canopies.
My right hon. Friend makes a bold case on behalf of rural places. Given that I represent Holbeach Marsh, Gedney Drove End, Sutton St James, Tydd St Mary and many other glorious places that can only be described as essentially rural—in fact I represent one of the most rural constituencies in the country—she would hardly expect me to neglect the interests of those who live there. We will do our utmost to ensure that they are not disadvantaged by any of the changes that are part of the Bill or any of the things tangential to it.
As I said, the Bill contains several new powers to seed more charge points across our kingdom. I have talked about common technical standards, but we must go further. There are already charging points at virtually all motorway service areas. Just last week, Shell chose the UK as the first market in which to roll out its forecourt rapid chargers, the first 10 of which will be operational by the end of the year. We may not have to use the powers in the Bill if industry progress continues at this pace.
I want to raise the issue of technical standards. My constituency has a small business that is very successfully retrofitting delivery vans with battery power when their old diesel engine has reached the end of its life. Can we look at standards for retrofitted vehicles?
Retrofitting is an important way in which we can improve the existing fleet of vehicles. As my hon. Friend will know, some of the money that is being invested in low emission vehicles is going towards changing the existing fleet, so she is right about that.
I thought of Disraeli as my hon. Friend rose, as I am sure did she. Disraeli said:
“Man is not the creature of circumstances. Circumstances are the creatures of men. We are free agents, and man is more powerful than matter.”
What we do in the future about these things is in our hands. It is in the hands of Governments and Parliament. We can create the kind of future we want and, in embracing this technology, ensure that it is harnessed to best effect. As I have said, not all technological change is implicitly virtuous, so people must not assume that all technological development is, by its nature, efficacious. It has no intrinsic moral aspect. It is for us to decide how the best outcome can be achieved through the kind of technological changes we are considering tonight. That will be done across the House, I know, by people of good will.
We need also to think about what workplaces can do. I want to help workplaces to provide charging facilities for fleets and employees’ cars. I want to ensure that vehicle charging is flexible to meet the demands of the grid and avoid extreme peaks in demand. It is in everyone’s interest to make the running of an electric vehicle as easy as possible and to get more of them on our roads as quickly as possible. In that vein, the Government will be—
I just want to make this point, because I am building up to an exciting part of my speech. That may not have been evident, but it will be in a moment.
In that vein, the Department will be seeking the views of the public on the design of the charging infrastructure. I promised previously a public consultation—indeed, a competition—to develop a charging infrastructure that is instantly recognisable. It seems to me absolutely right that when one drives down a street, one should be able to spot an electric charging point rather as one can spot a pillar box or Belisha beacon. It would be appropriate—although I leave this for others to decide—if my name were associated with such a thing. The shadow Secretary of State has suggested it should and I will take that as a proposal, but it is for the House to consider whether it agrees with that proposal and to make a decision on the exact nature of the name. Something alliterative and memorable might suit.
We certainly need to think about consistency with regard to charging points. People need to know where they are. We have electric vehicle charging points outside the Department for Transport, but I am not sure that anyone could spot them driving down Horseferry Road unless they knew that they were there and were familiar with what an electric charging point looked like. They do not stand out and perhaps they should.
My right hon. Friend might remember that at this point in his speech the last time the Bill appeared in the House, I pointed out to him that there were only two charging points in the House of Commons car park for those of us who have electric cars. He undertook to rectify that situation. After his speech, I met someone from the House authorities who said that the points were coming, but they are still not there. I wonder if my right hon. Friend is willing to give them a further kick to ensure that all of us—there are quite a lot of us now who have electric cars—can charge our cars in the car park.
I did not want to rush ahead and not give my hon. Friend the chance, on the Floor of the House, to make that point. Now that he has had that opportunity, I think we can proceed with alacrity. It does seem to me to be important that we lead by example. It behoves the House to put in place the necessary infrastructure in the way he describes. He has, not for the first time, done the House a great service in raising the matter in the way that he has.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way before he reaches the end of his preliminary remarks. [Laughter.] Has he had any further thoughts on the data log of automated vehicles, how long such information should be kept and who should have access to it? We all expect insurance companies and the police—even if there is no accident, the vehicle might be involved in a crime—to have the right to access the data log, but will others be able to seek access to it, such as an employer trying to see what an employee has been up to during the day, or an ambitious divorce lawyer seeking to prove adultery has taken place and trying to find out where the occupant of the automated vehicle had been during an afternoon?
Order. Just before the Minister answers that unnecessarily long intervention, I will, for the avoidance of doubt, draw it to the attention of the House that the Minister has already come to the end of his preliminary remarks, is now in the body of his speech, which is necessarily lengthy since he is educating us as well as entertaining us, and will very soon be approaching the peroration.
My right hon. Friend tempts me to enter into salacious matters, into which I will not stray. He raised this matter in Committee when we considered the first Bill, and he is right that we need to look at it closely. Information is a powerful tool. The House takes a very serious view on the collection and storage of information, so he is right to explore it. I hope we might look at it in greater detail in Committee. I do not know if he was volunteering to be on the Committee—that is a matter for the office, rather than me—but it is important that we consider information in this debate and discuss it further.
As you said, Madam Deputy Speaker—it is almost as if you had sight of my speech—I am well into the main part of my speech and will be rapidly moving on to my peroration.
In essence, the increase in electric vehicles has big implications for the way we power our cars. Other technologies have profound implications for the way we use our cars. Revolutionary new driver assistance systems are already delivering improvements that motorists now take for granted. Our parents could not have envisaged sat-nav, assisted parking or even cruise control, which would have seemed like science fiction just a generation or two ago. But this is not science fiction; it is science fact. They merely mark the way towards a much more significant change: the combination of technologies we will enjoy in our lifetime, and certainly in our children’s, will change motoring profoundly.
We expect automated cars to appear from the 2020s. They present an enormous opportunity for the UK: securing high-quality jobs and investment; creating new mobility solutions that can transform lives; and, as I said earlier, improving road safety. In 2016, human error was responsible for a very significant proportion of all reported accidents. Automated cars will radically change that. To support consumers and businesses involved in automated vehicle accidents, they will need an insurance framework that is fit for purpose. Currently, they may not be covered for collisions that result from vehicle failure, because in the UK only the driver is insured. Victims might have to take vehicle makers to court, which would be time-consuming and expensive, undermining the quick and easy access to compensation that is a cornerstone of our insurance system. Not tackling this problem risks jeopardising consumer protection and undermining the automotive industry’s competitiveness.
We have consulted widely, as the House will know, and, having worked closely with parliamentary colleagues, the automotive industry and the insurance sector, the Government are creating a new compulsory insurance framework that covers motorists when they are driving and when they have legitimately handed control to the vehicle. We will ensure that consumers can buy insurance in the same way they do now, and that they will continue to have quick and fair access to compensation. Insurers will pay out to victims and, where they can, recover costs from the liable party using common and product law.
As I said to the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards), not only will this make things easier for consumers, but over time it could also reduce premiums. David Williams, chief commercial underwriter at AXA, one of the UK’s largest insurers, said:
“As well as making our roads safer, insurance premiums are based on the cost of claims and therefore we expect substantially reduced premiums to follow.”
Automated vehicles, together with an effective insurance framework, as the Government propose in the Bill, could deliver significant financial and safety benefits for road users.
We have had many productive debates in this Chamber and in Committee, when these measures were included in last Session’s Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill. With that in mind, we have made amendments to take into account suggestions made by Members. As I said earlier, we had a considered debate and Members raised issues around software, which we have addressed. Those who study these matters closely will know that Members on both sides of the House talked about the definition of operating systems and how we should improve the proposed legislation. They will have seen, from what we have published, that we have done that. There was an issue about how we define an automated vehicle. Again, we have listened and, as a result of that scrutiny, we have clarified the definition. So far, the scrutiny has resulted in improvements. What we bring before the House is a better product than the one we brought the first time around, although that was, I think, important and welcomed by both the House and industry.
We cannot be prescriptive, for it might inhibit the very innovation we want to encourage. Knowing how much to do is about striking the balance between establishing the certainty that has been called for by a number of hon. Members who have contributed so far, and being, if you like, slightly too dictatorial about what that future might look like.
Have the Government considered that automation might require software to make moral decisions? For example, if a car is hurtling down a road and some children go on to the road, would the software decide that the only option is for the car to go headlong into a lorry so that only the driver would die? Has the Minister considered such moral aspects?
The research and development work I studied in detail this morning looked at hundreds of thousands of scenarios. The people developing these products are now engaged in exactly this process of designing software capable of anticipating all the variables that drivers might encounter. It is complex and challenging, but it is going to happen. The hon. Gentleman is right, however, that this is about doing as well as—indeed better than—a driver in control of a vehicle and therefore about making the vehicle safer.
If in making a moral decision—for instance, between hitting a child on the road and careering into a bus—a computer decides that hitting a child is the less dangerous option, what comfort is that to the parents? These are major issues to which we need answers before we allow vehicles with these capabilities on to the roads.
That is the point I made earlier about how much we want autonomous vehicles to emulate human behaviour and how much we want them not to. It is a fine balance, but not one we can strike in legislation debated in this House. It will need to be considered further down the line, but it is not the business of the Bill to do so. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise the issue, however, because it is about whether we can get vehicles that we can be sure about and be confident in and which will then be purchased on the basis that people enjoy that certainty, so I am glad he has raised the issue. It is not one for the Bill, but it is not unreasonable to put it on the table as something to debate in the future.
I want to move to my conclusion. I have spoken about our desire to be a global leader in the production and use of automated vehicles. We all in the House have experienced the benefits that good access to transport can bring. We can continue to debate these issues without amaritude or contumely. As I said earlier, perhaps what moves me most is the fact that some people do not yet have that good access to transport. For the elderly, those with disabilities, or those who cannot drive, using the transport system can be tough, and that can leave them unable to enjoy opportunities that come easily to others. The Government believe strongly that we should act to improve this situation.
If autonomous vehicles make a significant difference to those currently disadvantaged by their inability to access transport easily, they will have done an immense service to our country. In August, we published our draft transport accessibility action plan, with proposals to improve the travel experience of people with disabilities, and a key part of that will be exploring the opportunities that new technology offers to make travelling easier for these people. It might be a while before vehicles can fully drive themselves, but when it happens it has the potential to be transformational—to improve lives, spread opportunities and enable a transport system that works for everyone.
Taken together, the two measures in the Bill will ensure that the UK is at the forefront of the most profound changes to affect road transport in over a century. In the spirit of opportunity that enabled my father to provide a good life for his wife and family, we will be driven by the common good. That means cleaner vehicles, easier travel and safer roads. Good Governments know when to step forward and when to step aside to let others imagine, innovate and improve how we live. Ours is an ambitious plan to support the invention, development and manufacture of new vehicle technologies and to build skills and jobs here in the UK.
Ensuring a transport system that works for everyone, now and in the future, means believing in a new generation of cars made available to all so that all might benefit from the chance to travel.
Our glorious past was made by those with the confidence to dare to dream; the will to make dreams come true; and the means to craft and create a future filled with wonder. When our reach extends beyond our grasp, we can do our best, be our best. That is the prospect before us. Now let us reach out to the future. I commend the Bill to the House.
I start by putting on the record my sincere thanks to the Minister—and I do not say that entirely for the benefit of his family in the Gallery; he always co-operates with the Opposition. We greatly welcome his collegiate approach, and we share his objective of making this the best Bill it can be as it passes through the House. We would, however, have liked more time between First Reading and today for Members properly to scrutinise the Bill. It is true that some of these issues were rehearsed during our debates on the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, but we have new Members since the election, and they should have been given more opportunity to scrutinise the Bill. I accept, though, that that is not the Minister’s doing but another symbol of the Government’s weakness in having to push their non-contentious Bills to the fore.
We broadly support the Bill but have some concerns about the impact of some of its measures. We will press the Government on those and table appropriate amendments in Committee, but the Bill is crucial and we wish to support it. Part 1 deals with automated vehicles and insurance. Ultra-low emission and autonomous vehicles will play an important role in our country’s transport in the years to come, so it is right that the Government seek to address some of the issues relating to them. Last year, the UK automotive industry added £18.9 billion in value to the UK economy and supported 169,000 people directly in manufacturing and 814,000 across the industry and throughout the supply chains. Forecasters have estimated that the overall benefits of ULEVs and autonomous vehicles will be in the region of £51 billion a year and that they could create an additional 320,000 jobs. In the light of Brexit, supporting this industry will be vital to the future of our economy.
The uptake of ULEVs will also play an important role in tackling the air quality crisis, which reportedly leads to 50,000 premature deaths each year and hundreds of thousands of cases of respiratory illnesses. It is an air quality crisis that is choking many of our towns and cities but which the Government have failed properly to address. Labour in government would do better and—it is fair to mention, given the Mayor of London’s announcement on toxic vehicle charges today—does do better. These vehicles will also be vital to the UK meeting its climate change objectives, for which the Government currently lack a clear plan.
It is vital that we introduce the legislation needed to facilitate and encourage investment, innovation and the uptake of vehicles of this kind, but if that is to be possible, a definition of autonomous vehicles will be necessary. At present, there is no clear distinction in UK policy, standards and legislation between advanced driver assistance systems and fully automated driving technology. The Bill requires the Secretary of State to prepare, keep up to date and publish a list of all motor vehicles to be used on roads in Great Britain that are deemed to be capable of safely driving themselves without having to be monitored by an individual for some or part of a journey, and the definition of an automated vehicle will be a vehicle that is included in the list drawn up by the Secretary of State. We are concerned that this gives the Secretary of State the power to define what is and is not an automated vehicle. There is clearly a need for collaboration between the Government, manufacturers, insurers and consumers to develop a viable and practical system of classification to identify whether a vehicle should be deemed “automated” or “autonomous”.
The dividing lines between automated and autonomous vehicles are not always completely clear. The Government must give more details of the plans to classify vehicles as automated, and consult widely on the definition and criteria for adding to the list of AVs in the Bill. In Committee, we will press for that to be subject to secondary legislation. Resolving the issue of how automated vehicles can be insured is also essential if they are to become a feature on our roads, and we support the Government’s action to ensure that vehicles’ insurance policies facilitate that in the future.
We are, however, concerned about the potential cost to policyholders, and the contention over liability between manufacturers and insurers. It is imperative that, in the event of a technological failure in an AV, it is easy for consumers to establish quickly where liability rests, and to make a claim as appropriate. At present, insurance law in the United Kingdom is driver-centric: drivers must have insurance in order to provide compensation for third parties for personal injury or property damage. The Government intend to emphasise that if there is an insurance event, the compensation route for the individual is still within the motor insurance framework rather than through a product liability framework of a manufacturer.
May I pursue the issue of insurance policies and who will be liable? In the event of a collision between a human-driven vehicle and a vehicle that is being driven by its computer technology, will the insurance company assume, given that 95% of accidents are due to human error, that the computer is right and the human is wrong and is therefore at fault?
The hon. Gentleman is presenting a series of very good arguments, but why does he assume that responsibility for the error would rest with the designer rather than, for instance, the software designer or the programmer, or perhaps even the ethicist who informed the design?
The hon. Gentleman is right to correct me. The claim will lie with the insurer. However, as other Members have pointed out, the position is not entirely clear. The Association of British Insurers is concerned about the likelihood that existing insurance practices would need to be significantly changed to deal routinely with road traffic accidents involving automated vehicles. The Government acknowledge that in their impact assessment for the Bill, saying that it might result in increased administrative and procedural costs for insurers. Although the Bill does enable them to claim from the manufacturers when the vehicle is in automated mode and deemed at fault for an incident, the Government also acknowledge that there could be significant teething problems with the system, particularly given early disagreements about liability between the parties. I hope that that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.
It is difficult to estimate how different insurance premiums will be when automated vehicles are fully functional on the road. The roll-out and proliferation of autonomous vehicles should produce significant safety benefits, with driver error being either significantly reduced or eliminated. Although that should lead to reduced premiums, a great deal of work will be necessary, as we prepare for this new environment, to better assess whether that will in fact be the case. If there were increased procedural and administrative costs for insurers, there could be higher premiums, in which case there would be a severe impact on the uptake of AVs in the UK, making the Government’s actions self-defeating. We believe that the Government must review at regular intervals how the insurance for AVs is working, so Labour will press for a review date to be included in the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman is making some extremely important points, and I hope that he will forgive me for interrupting him again. On that very issue of insurance, the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) made the very good observation that human error is the greatest cause of accidents nowadays. It is likely—although we cannot be 100% sure of anything—that the arrival of driverless vehicles would reduce the number of accidents, thus reducing the amount of insurance required and, as a result, reducing insurance premiums as well. Would that not, in many ways, liberate drivers rather than hampering them?
That is a valid point, and I know from my discussions with the Minister that the Government are considering it and taking it very seriously.
The second part of the Bill relates to electric vehicles, charging and infrastructure. At this point I should declare an interest, as the proud owner of an entirely electric vehicle. It is a little tiny Renault, a Renault TWIZY. I like to think that it is the Tesla for the many, not the few, because it is really quite affordable.
Electric and alternatively fuelled vehicles are key to reducing air pollution and meeting the UK's climate change objectives, as well as presenting economic opportunities. The uptake of electric, hybrid and alternatively fuelled vehicles is already underway and increasing. However, the Government are still 1.5 million vehicles short of their 1.6 million ULEV target for 2020, so it is imperative that action is taken to encourage their uptake.
Is not the current problem with some of the smaller electric vehicles the range that they have? I very much doubt that the hon. Gentleman’s own vehicle would get him from here to Hull without stopping for a recharge. Hopefully, that difficulty will disappear as battery technology progresses.
The right hon. Gentleman, who represents a constituency very close to mine, is absolutely right. The current range of my vehicle in London is about 50 miles, so it would take me several days to travel to Westminster in it; however, the technology is improving constantly. I think I am right in saying that the range of the current model of the Nissan LEAF is about 90 miles, but it is about to increase to 235 miles. That would suit me very well, because I think that the distance between my home address and Westminster is about 230 miles.
Partly as a result of the overtures from my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) and partly to alleviate any fears that the hon. Gentleman may have, I can announce that from next summer, when we begin the refurbishment of the underground car park at the House of Commons, we will provide 80 new electric charge points.
I am sure the House is very pleased to hear that.
The section of the Bill on EV-charging infrastructure is largely about enabling secondary legislation, and will not have significant impacts in the short term, but we agree that if the UK intends to be a global leader, we need to take broader action sooner rather than later. Given the importance of future-proofing the legislative framework in this area, the Opposition recognise the need to use secondary legislation, but we will seek commitments from the Government to consult properly and widely throughout the process. We will also be seeking assurances and a review from the Government of how the provisions of the Bill fit within a broader strategy for reducing harmful vehicle emissions and promoting a switch to ULEVs and EVs. If uptake is to be encouraged, electric vehicles need to be practical, affordable and convenient for users, which means providing the necessary infrastructure.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: the infrastructure is essential. What thought has he given to what we need to do to prevent the situation that we have with broadband? There is very good coverage in certain places but there are notspots in others, and that has really disadvantaged some areas.
Given the points the hon. Gentleman and hon. Lady have made, they will want to know that we are so determined to ensure this facility is spread as widely as possible that last week we announced a further £4.5 million to make charge points available for those without off-street parking.
I thank the Minister for that information.
There are currently nearly 12,000 charging points for electric vehicles in the UK, but at present there are multiple charging point operators, each with their own plugs, software, customer charges, billing systems and payment methods. They are also unevenly distributed, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) has said. For instance, there are more charging points available in the Orkney islands than in Blackpool, Grimsby and my own fair city of Hull combined, although I had the opportunity today to speak briefly to the chief executive of my local authority area and he assures me that, there are currently 32 charging points in Hull while in the not too distant future we expect there to be 70.
It is therefore welcome that the Bill seeks to increase the number of charging-point facilities and address their harmonisation and standardisation. The Bill will allow the Government to require co-operation and the sharing of facilities and information from operators if necessary, allowing the Government to ensure interoperability for charging regardless of the specific EV a person might have.
Clause 11 gives the Secretary of State the power to introduce regulations that require operators to provide information about public charging points, such as location, operating hours, cost and interoperability, and these, too, are very welcome. It is right, of course, that this legislation should be put in place, but it will not be enough on its own to successfully encourage the uptake of electric vehicles. It was counterproductive of the Government to slash the grants available for ultra-low emissions vehicles and electric vehicles, and to cut the plug-in grants for EVs and for home charging. In May last year, the grant for purchasing an electric vehicle was cut from £5,000 to £4,500, and the grant for hybrids was cut from £5,000 to £2,500. The electric vehicle home-charging scheme grant was cut from £700 to £500 per installation.
There are further issues that are not addressed by the Bill, which the Government must get right. They must ensure that the grid is capable of meeting the additional demands that electric vehicles will bring. I heard what the Minister said about that in his remarks, but that must be planned for and closely monitored as electric vehicle use becomes more common. The Government must also develop a strategy to tackle the skills gap, because without training the necessary personnel, we as a nation will not be able to support the growth of this new generation of vehicles and could miss out on the benefits that presents.
As this is the second time this has been raised, and rightly so, let me say that I am very happy to agree now to initiate discussions during the passage of the Bill with the Department for Education, which is responsible for developing apprenticeships, and with other Departments, so that we can begin, at least, to address this issue of skills. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise that again.
On the point about skills, as I have said I bought a Nissan Leaf, and I was struck by the fact that the men in the garage were not good at explaining how it worked. Of the 20 people employed there, I think that only one really understood it. The sales forces also have to understand how these things work.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: there must be proper training for sales personnel as well.
On infrastructure more broadly, the Government must ensure that regulatory divergence does not develop between the UK and the EU as a result of Brexit; this is a very important issue. We must absolutely ensure that regulation and standards are maintained after Brexit. That is essential if the UK is to be the vehicle manufacturers’ location of choice for the development, testing and deployment of automated and electric vehicles. However, if the Government continue to mess up Brexit, any positives this Bill brings in terms of encouraging the automated and low emissions vehicles industries will be completely negated.
My hon. Friend will be aware that Volvo and some other companies are getting rid of petrol and diesel production entirely and are focusing their fire more on France and Germany, which are going to stop diesel and petrol vehicles by 2030, as opposed to 2040, and where infrastructure development is also moving much faster. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to go at least at the pace of our European counterparts in providing the range of infrastructure needed to encourage the private sector in Britain to get a move on?
It is a pleasure to follow the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), particularly as he supports this Bill, as I do; indeed, I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that I greatly welcome the introduction of this Bill, which, as I pointed out in one of my interventions, is timely.
The Opposition Front-Bench spokesman talked about the official figures for the ranges of various cars, so he will be interested to know that when I was reading Next Green Car, I saw that the new Renault Zoe Z.E. 40 has an official range of 250 miles. It seems to me that almost on a weekly basis new vehicles are coming on to the market with that range extended, which is so important for electric vehicle users who suffer from range anxiety; I gather that that is a new form of anxiety which we can all suffer from if we get an electric car.
It is a great pleasure, too, to be taking part in a transport debate in which I am not discussing High Speed 2. This will come as a bit of a shock to some of my fans, but I have to say that I am more excited about electric vehicles and automated vehicles than about HS2. That is enough about HS2, however—except to suggest that perhaps the track could be used to run automated vehicles along, rather than the antiquated technology the Department for Transport appears to be ordering.
So often legislation and Governments are behind the curve when it comes to technology and science. In the ’90s, when I was first elected to this House, we were discussing the human genome project to a greater degree, and the legislation and regulations seemed to be far behind the science and technology at that time. So, unlike the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, I do not think this Bill can be introduced and put through its stages soon enough, because it covers one of the foundations of this new technology.
We are behind countries such as Norway, where more than 5% of the passenger cars now sold are plug-ins. The Bill, which covers the insurance position on automated vehicles and electric vehicle charging, is setting the framework for some of the most significant advances since the internal combustion engine made an appearance, which in fact halted the progress of the electric vehicle the first time around.
I do not know how many people appreciate that electric vehicles are in fact far from new: wider public ownership of them is new, but the first practical production electric car was built in London in 1884 by Thomas Parker. I have seen a picture of it; it looks a bit like a pram on wheels, and I would not recommend it to anybody. Interestingly, electric vehicles did come into use commercially, particularly in a small fleet of 12 cabs in New York as far back as 1897. The advent of the internal combustion engine provided the advantage of longer range and quicker refuelling. The rapid development of the infrastructure for petrol vehicles meant that electric vehicles took—forgive the pun—a back seat. There is a lesson to be learned from the death of the electric vehicle the first time round and the rapid introduction of the infrastructure for petrol vehicles.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that before world war two, all British cities had electric tram systems, and that after the war, the oil and motor car industries conspired to get them ripped out as part of the Marshall plan? Should we not be aware of the oil industry in our bid to get electrification and clean air in Britain?
I will leave the hon. Gentleman to make his own point on that.
I am particularly excited about the progress of electric vehicles because of my concern about the environment. Air quality has already been mentioned, and there is no doubt that the Paris climate talks started to exert the downward pressure on carbon dioxide emissions that will inevitably result in the phasing out of fossil fuels. I have been talking to the Renewable Energy Association, which is the UK’s largest trade association for renewable energy and clean technology. It has produced an excellent forward view, which estimates that the move towards electric vehicles will be even more rapid than is currently anticipated by the Government.
My right hon. Friend is making a fine speech about energy purity and clean air. Is she as excited as I am that so much Chinese technology is coming along, largely due to the dirtiness and air pollution in so many Chinese cities? Does she also welcome the amount of invention that is taking place not through Governments but through the free market and the technologies that it is spurring?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I shall refer to the international scene later in my speech.
The Renewable Energy Association estimates that most new car sales will be electric well before the 2040 diesel and petrol sales ban. It further estimates that 75% of new car and light commercial vehicle sales will be all-electric or plug-in hybrid by 2030. That goes to show that the electric vehicle market is set to be one of the most exciting in modern times. As others have said, however, there are several barriers. They include public policy, the cost and range of vehicles, the lack of infrastructure and the lack of availability of low carbon energy.
The UK’s EV and energy storage markets directly employ more than 16,000 people. That number will grow significantly, particularly if our public policy supports growth in, for example, grid flexibility as well as strengthening our building codes and even introducing workplace regulation. In addition to domestic growth, we also have the possibility of post-Brexit manufacturing and export opportunities, which are potentially very significant. However, to expand those export markets, we will need a robust domestic market, which will in turn depend on a reliable, available and affordable low carbon electric vehicle charging network.
The network certainly has a long way to go. I had a look in Chesham and Amersham, which are pretty go-ahead places that will be early adopters of the new technology. I was really disappointed by the electric charging map, however. I saw one point in Great Missenden, one in Little Chalfont and one in Chalfont St Peter. Chesham is ahead of the game with two. I found it interesting that the point in Little Chalfont is at the London Underground car park. I hope that the Minister will say something later about encouraging organisations such as London Underground and Transport for London to invest in far more charging points at their car parking facilities throughout the south-east.
As I said earlier, international progress is going to be rapid. My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) mentioned China, and it is worth taking a few minutes to look in more detail at what is happening internationally. In the UK, the Government have confirmed that they will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles without a battery element by 2040. France has done the same. The Netherlands has confirmed its plan to ensure that all new vehicles are emissions free by 2030. That will effectively be a ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol vehicles. Germany is considering banning new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. That would certainly require the upgrading of the country’s entire manufacturing processes and supply chain by that date. China is considering a ban similar to the one being introduced in the UK, but it has yet to announce a timeline. I think that that will be highly significant. Moving on to another country with a vast population, India has announced that it wants all new car sales to be electric by 2030.
An interesting by-product is the question of what will be needed for the manufacture of the batteries. Volkswagen estimates that 40 gigafactories are going to be needed for battery manufacture globally, and there is a belief that there is scope for a number of those factories to be located in the UK. They would create new manufacturing jobs and inward investment, if domestic markets were created for those battery products. I hope that the Minister will tell us what possibilities exist to encourage that sort of investment in our manufacturing in the UK.
I welcome the Bill. There is no doubt that the national roll-out of a strategic, smart and effective charging infrastructure is a critical component of developing the electric car market. The move to hold powers to require service area operators to provide a minimum level of EV charging is welcome, both on motorways and trunk roads. There is already some provision for charging on the majority of major motorways and trunk roads by one dominant operator, but there is a need for more competition and for making access easier in order to break down the perceived barriers to the uptake of EVs.
The applicability of these provisions to large fuel retailers that are not part of trunk road or motorway service areas might not be as valuable, however, because the dwell time at such sites is less desirable to the motorist. EV drivers typically stop for a short break commensurate with the time required to get a significant charge. There might be a need for further provision in areas where customers need to rely on public rapid charging instead of the classic overnight charging at home or at work. In those areas, the charging would be likely to be combined with another amenity, and it is therefore essential that the Government consider these provisions in relation to retail sites and coffee shops, for example, to provide an associated activity alongside the charging of the vehicle.
In the light of the alternative fuels infrastructure directive, we are starting to prescribe a common standard for what the future of EV charging should look like. We will also need to allow roaming. Just as we have roaming for phones, we will also need roaming to allow vehicle operators to use other people’s equipment. I would like to know what the Government are doing to encourage the use of another operator’s hardware, in order to cross the barriers created by having a contract with a single user.
It has been mentioned that the variety of ways of accessing charging points through accounts, cards or smartphones is confusing and unnecessary. We need to look at standardising that process. The requirement for charge points to be smart, especially those at home and in the workplace, is essential. It will allow electric vehicles to become part of the developing decentralised grid. We need to be able to use those vehicles not only to take power out of the network but to put it back into the grid at certain times. I hope that that massively distributed part of our grid infrastructure will become a reality with EVs, and I would like the Minister to say something about that as well. I have already mentioned the fact that solar carports and canopies will be essential to ensuring that rural areas are not disadvantaged.
I wondered whether there was any possibility of amending the Bill, so I want to make a couple of suggestions before I sit down. The Government could consider going further and regulating so that all new houses and housing developments with driveways or on-site capacity for EV charging should have the three-phase electricity supply that is necessary for effective charging of EVs. We should also ensure that the minimum power supply levels are included in building codes for all new homes, offices, shopping centres, public buildings and other areas where parking is available to the public. While we have only a small number of EV charge stations at present, that would ensure that retail sites can rapidly expand as demand grows. All new workplaces should also have EV charging facilities on site or a provision to install charge points. Lastly, those who have electric vehicles should be identified. In Norway, such vehicles have the identifying letters EL on their licence plates, which can go up to 99999, meaning 99,999 vehicles, and I think they are up to about 60,000. I hope that people can be rewarded by the Government for turning to electric vehicles. It is an exciting technology. It is the future, and I am glad that our Government are grasping it by the horns.
We often get a feeling of déjà vu in this place, and tonight is another of those times; I feel like we have been here and have heard some of these comments before. I warn Members that if any of them have actually paid attention to my speeches on electric vehicles, they will get another feeling of déjà vu. [Hon. Members: “Hooray.”] It merited more than that. Anyway, the sense of déjà vu comes because the Bill was clearly part of the previous Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which is testament to the folly of calling a general election. Not only was it a waste of money, but we are now revisiting legislation that had effectively already been through its Committee stage. We are redoing work that has been done before, which is costing the taxpayer money. [Interruption.] I will give way if the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) wants to make an intervention.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Just before I move on, this is proof of where this Government are at. What was the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill has been split in two. We have had the two-clause Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing Bill, and we now have this Bill. I am surprised that the Government have not split it in two to pretend that they have a bigger legislative programme over the next two years. [Interruption.] Perish the thought indeed. All that said, despite these comments which might seem churlish, I welcome what is in this Bill. It is a welcome step forward even if there is a feeling of déjà vu.
As the Minister set out, it is clear that there is a desire to increase the number of users and get to a stage where we can use fully autonomous cars, which will increase road safety. As has been mentioned, accidents are generally caused by human behaviour—driving when tired or people being distracted—so autonomous vehicles would remove the human risk factors. Changing insurance regulations so that insurance does not depend on the driver, which is the case at the moment, is clearly welcome. It is an enabling process, and I welcome part 1 of the Bill for that reason. The Minister said that it is hoped that autonomous vehicles will lead to reduced insurance premiums, yet we need to ensure that increased procedural and administrative costs for insurers do not lead to higher premiums. If that is the case, there could be an impact on the uptake of autonomous vehicles, so I ask the Government to review the cost of insurance premiums and whether there has been a negative impact on the uptake of autonomous vehicles.
It is important that Scotland is not left behind in this process. Indeed, when it comes to autonomous vehicles trials, Scotland needs to be included. Where better to trial the use of autonomous vehicles roads than on the narrow country roads of Scotland? Scotland still has single track country roads with passing places, and we sometimes have stand-offs where the drivers look at each other and wonder who is going to reverse all the way back to a passing place. Autonomous vehicles could improve that situation and make narrow rural roads safer, but trials will need to be held to see how autonomous vehicles cope with such situations.
I welcome the UK Government’s commitment in the industrial strategy to look at an autonomous vehicle hub, and we ask the Government to talk to colleagues in the Scottish Government about the opportunity of finding a suitable hub in Scotland. Autonomous vehicles are another technology strand that the UK Government claim to be global leaders in, but being a global leader means greater financial commitment. It also means collaboration, so the Government need to think how things will play out in a post-Brexit world.
Part 2 of the Bill relates to the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicles, which is overdue if further progress is to be made towards decarbonised transport. The UK Government announced a commitment that all new vehicles will be non-carbon by 2040. However, the Scottish Government have a more ambitious target of 2032, so I ask the UK Government to consider being more ambitious as well. We hear about a future with a smart grid, and electric charging can be part of it, so the UK Government need to start doing some long-term strategic planning towards that. We need wider policies that are linked together in order to implement the plan and make things happen.
Air pollution contributes to 40,000 premature deaths a year, so we really do have to decarbonise much quicker, and that is why I am asking the Government to consider more ambitious targets. Transport contributes 23% of carbon dioxide emissions, making it the joint largest contributor of emissions along with power generation, so decarbonisation is so important. As we plan for ultra low emission vehicles, there should be incentives to get diesel cars off the road. It cannot just be left to car manufacturers to operate diesel scrappage schemes. Given that it was a UK Government policy years ago to incentivise people to buy diesel cars, they have a responsibility to incentivise the scrappage of diesel cars and to encourage people to use electric vehicles. I have spoken previously about the need to consider the use of the secondary engines that run the refrigeration units on HGVs, which pollute much more heavily than other engines, so Government intervention is required. I welcome the fact that the Government are consulting on the use of red diesel in refrigeration units, but more action will be required.
The Bill provides some limited interventions that will help towards the uptake of electric or ultra low emission vehicles, but it is clear that much more will be required. The Bill makes provision for greater clarity in the information on charging points, which is welcome and necessary to improve consumer confidence. As has been said, users are not just concerned about range; they need to know where they can charge their vehicles. It also makes sense to have continuity of charging points and access to them, which is required to build consumer confidence and people’s willingness to take longer journeys without the concern of being stranded due to incompatibility with charge points. In that regard, clause 9 is an enabling clause, so proper regulations will be required sooner rather than later.
The Bill’s specification requirements on technology are welcome, because concerns were raised in Committee on the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill about possible hacking. Ensuring that is not a risk is important not just for cyber-security and safety but for underlying consumer confidence in electric vehicles.
If there is to be a bigger uptake of ultra low emission vehicles, there needs to be more charge point infrastructure. Although the Bill makes provision to force large fuel retailers to provide public charging points, greater clarity is required on how that will be implemented, on what exemptions will apply and on how Government funding will be provided. As we move towards ultra low emission vehicles, the current fuel provision network will no longer be fit for purpose, so just piggy backing on the existing fuel supply network might not be the best way forward. As we move to non-carbon transport, existing fuel suppliers will clearly change and modify, and they may no longer exist.
Better strategic intervention and direction is required to ensure a transition to ultra low emission vehicles. It is not sufficient that the Government believe infrastructure is best planned and delivered locally by public authorities, businesses and individuals—that is why we have heard today about the inconsistent roll-out of electric charging infrastructure. The Government pledge of £32 million for charging infrastructure between 2015 and 2020 is insufficient.
Let us compare that with the Scottish Government’s investment of more than £11 million since 2011 in developing the ChargePlace Scotland network of more than 900 publicly available electric vehicle charging bays. Even so, the Scottish Government have acknowledged that they need to do more. Currently, some £15 million per annum is spent on low carbon vehicles and infra- structure. However, the Scottish Government’s ambition is to more than triple the budget to £50 million per annum over the period 2018-19 to 2021-22. The UK Government should reconsider their funding arrangements, too.
The SNP Scottish Government will also accelerate the procurement of ultra low emission vehicles in the public and private sectors, transforming public sector car and van fleets by the mid-2020s and commercial bus fleets by the early 2030s. What are the UK Government doing on that?
Another example of where the Scottish Government are leading the way is the SNP’s commitment to making the A9 Scotland’s first electric highway. We have also committed to providing financial support for local solutions and small-scale research and development to address issues such as charging in tenement properties. The UK Government also need to consider such practicalities—other hon. Members have already mentioned terraced houses and flats.
There needs to be greater joined-up thinking across the research and development sector on low emission transport and renewable energy, which was at least alluded to in the industrial strategy. The Faraday challenge may assist with that, but more needs to be done.
Decarbonising transport without increasing demand on the electricity network while meeting the 2050 emission targets means doing a lot more than is in the Bill at present. It is an enabling Bill, but more needs to be done. Sales of ultra low emission vehicles are still hovering in the 1% range, so we clearly still have a long journey ahead. The Bill is just a wee baby step forward.
The thrust of this Bill is rightly uncontroversial and consensual. Were persuasion of its merits needed, it was supplied by the Ciceronian eloquence and elegance, and indeed the exhaustive explanations, with which the Minister for Transport Legislation and Maritime, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), characteristically set out his case.
As hon. and right hon. Members have said, the pace of technological change in this area, as in others, is rapid and dramatic, and is in many ways a manifestation of the much-talked-about fourth industrial revolution. The prize in this space is huge. We all want the UK to be the best place in the world to innovate and invest, and for society, individuals and the environment all to benefit as we do so.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) made extremely important points. Where technology advances rapidly, the regulatory framework too often lags behind and in some areas, as here, risks acting as a drag on that new technology.
The key to this Bill is that it seeks to remove barriers to the market operating and developing as we would all wish. Given the pace of change, it is right that we include provisions to enable the use of delegated legislation, with appropriate scrutiny, to allow the regulatory framework to continue keeping up with the pace of change—creating a framework to stimulate the market, but not specifying the specific technological solutions.
The Bill has two key aspects, as other hon. Members have said. First, the Bill is about stimulating automated vehicle technology, which is in its infancy. There are then the provisions on electric vehicles, a technology already set fair and continuing to grow, but which must be encouraged.
Automated vehicle technology continues to develop apace. In 2015, only a couple of years ago, there were four test sites in the UK looking into that technology and how it might develop. I hope more sites will explore the technology in future and that at least one of those sites might be in Scotland, drawing on the track record of experience and innovation north of the border, as highlighted by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown). In order for there to be such growth, one of the key barriers that must be overcome is insurance. Insurance policies and the insurance framework were designed for an age—indeed, our age—when all vehicles were controlled by humans and the idea that they would not be was inconceivable, with an individual being held responsible for their decisions and actions through the courts and through the insurance framework. We have already seen technology move on—for example, as in automated parking—but we have yet to see the insurance framework move with it.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting distinction between a vehicle controlled by a driver sitting at the steering wheel and a vehicle controlled by technology, suggesting that the latter is not controlled by a human. But of course it is controlled by a human—the human who wrote the code, who came up with the ethical choices and who designed the system, and who is now remote from the vehicle. There is still human control. It is merely a question of which human is responsible, not whether a human is responsible.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Perhaps I should say a vehicle’s driver has historically been held responsible. Of course, in this context the person who wrote the code would not be held responsible. The insurer, in the first instance, would be held responsible, with the insurer or the authorities being able to pursue remedies against the manufacturer through the courts were there to be a technological flaw or error. It is right to keep the insurer as the first step in seeking redress, as that makes redress as swift and easy as possible for an injured party, while not taking away the opportunity through the courts to address any issues that arise with the manufacturer.
I will address four areas of policy relating to automated vehicles. The first is safety. Concerns have rightly been expressed in the press and, on occasion, in this House about whether the technology is safe and whether this will be a safe way to proceed. The technology is in its infancy and continues to be explored, but the statistic from the Department for Transport is that 97% of accidents or collisions relate to human error, with the explanatory notes and the Library briefing on the Bill stating that it mainly falls into two categories. One of those is a driver losing control of the vehicle, driving too fast for the conditions or not being able to manage the vehicle’s progress. The other is a driver not seeing something. We would hope the technology would be perfect—I am not sure whether it will or will not be—but any technology is likely to significantly reduce that level of accidents and human error.
That takes us to the second challenge that has been both raised and then addressed by Members from both sides of the House: the impact on insurance premiums and the insurance market. Let us suppose that that reduction in accidents that we would all hope and expect to see occurred. As has been said in this debate, with the Minister, the shadow Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) I believe making this point, we would expect to see that helping to drive down premiums. That is not a reason for the insurance industry not to continue developing new products and streamlining its processes—I hope it will—so that this does not add to an administrative burden for those purchasing insurance, and I think there is a potential to drive down premiums there.
Given his expertise, I know that my hon. Friend will know that the car insurance market underwrites a lot of other insurance markets, as it is the most profitable, so the loss of premium in that market could have consequences in other insurance markets, including home insurance, that would have other societal consequences. I am sure he is going to address that.
My hon. Friend is right to say that changes on this scale have the potential to change not just the technology, the way in which we use it and the way we live our lives, but the supply chain, the energy market and the insurance market. One challenge for all of us and for that market is how it evolves and adapts to that change. In his speech in March on the precursor to this Bill, he highlighted to hon. Members who perhaps suggested that the pace of change was too fast that we cannot sit still and use the challenges posed to the current ways of doing things as a reason for not progressing.
There are two final areas I wish to touch on in respect of automated vehicles, the first of which is the environmental benefits that could be delivered through fuel-efficient transportation, for want of a better way of putting it. One would hope that the decisions made by a computer are that bit quicker and more efficient than reactions by a human, so this has the potential to bring about increased fuel efficiency. The other area is one the Minister highlighted: the opportunities that automated vehicles provide for those who may until now have been excluded from driving or from making use of vehicles, be they elderly or disabled people. These vehicles may well increase the opportunities for them to make use of this way of getting around.
The second part of the Bill deals with electric vehicles, a technology that is already well developed. I was very much involved with this issue in a past life, as Westminster City Council’s cabinet member for the environment and transport. One key thing I worked on back then with the Mayor and my colleagues in city hall was expanding access to electric vehicle charging points in central London. In many ways, this is the easy end of the scale in expanding use. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), who is no longer in his place, has spoken eloquently on this subject, and in his successful time as deputy Mayor of London he did much to drive forward the technology and access to it. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley), a former cabinet colleague of mine on Westminster City Council at the same time, also did a huge amount to expand that network. Westminster is one of the most heavily covered parts of the capital—it may even be the most heavily covered—for EV charging points, which increase access. One may argue that it is a part of the country that needs fewer charging points than others because the average journey in London is 10 km or less, and even current battery technology is normally capable of delivering that.
Achieving the roll-out and the commercial success of EVs more widely requires a number of key issues to be addressed in the country as a whole, the first of which is choice. In any market where a consumer makes a decision on where to invest their money and what to buy, particularly on a purchase of this size, we want to make sure that there is a functioning market. We see that in place, with myriad new electric vehicles coming on the market every year. The technology also needs to be affordable and we need to make sure that the charging networks are simple to use. We need the prices to come down and we need this to be seen as a viable and affordable alternative to conventional fuels. We must ensure that we have a network of interoperable charge points so that people can plug in regardless of the network they are on or the deal they are signed up to. That relates to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) on concerns about range. The grid must be smart, so that we can ensure we do not overload it when everyone comes home from work in the evening and plugs their car in and suddenly we see a surge in demand. Charging must also be swift. The point was well made that at service stations or motorway service areas there is an opportunity for people to plug in their EV and charge it while doing other things, but many people will want a quick charge and to move on.
The technology continues to develop but it is not there yet. A wonderfully interesting book was written some years ago called “Start-up Nation” which is about innovation in Israel. It talked about technology being developed to charge an electric vehicle’s battery in a matter of minutes. I do not know whether that technology worked or whether it is still being developed, but it shows that the innovation and the willingness to drive it forward are there. All these things are addressing the challenges of battery technology, but I believe that as we move forward—as we have seen with renewable energies—we will see significant strides in battery technology which will deal with these challenges. This Bill gives the scope for all these issues to be addressed. On technological advances, one of the best analogies we could draw is with the early mobile telephones. Twenty or 30 years ago, a mobile phone came with a briefcase, which was its battery pack, but over a very short period that was reduced to something that is probably smaller than my thumb. I see no reason why as this market develops we will not see similar developments in this area.
I believe the future is bright. We have an obligation to future generations. Not only are the economic benefits and the benefits to individuals evident, but we hold our environment in trust and it is in its environmental opportunities that the greatest opportunities with this technology exist. As the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun set out, it is estimated that about 40,000 people die annually from illnesses related to poor air quality. Some 80% of nitric oxide in inner-city hotspots is due to road transport, so the potential to address both air quality and climate change is there. Some may fear that we are swapping dirty fuel in cars for dirty power generation, as more electricity is needed. I would say simply that that is not a reason not to act; it is exactly why we must in parallel continue to embrace the opportunities presented by green and renewable power generation, building on the real progress made so far, also enabled by technology.
To conclude, this is a Bill to be welcomed. We must seize the opportunities that new technology offers for our economy, for enhancing our daily lives and for preserving and enhancing our environment for future generations. This Bill does that and I am pleased to support it.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this Bill, as the automotive sector is an important part of my constituency. It is home to the Vauxhall Motors plant, and last week, we heard the sad news of 400 redundancies. The site has built Vauxhall vehicles for more than 50 years and there is once again real concern about the future of the plant—I will return to that later in my remarks. In addition to Vauxhall, we have hundreds of dependent jobs in the supply chain, and many of my constituents are employed by nearby manufacturers, such as Toyota and Jaguar Land Rover. I shall focus on the impact on jobs—not only the immediate challenges for the automotive sector, but the Bill’s long-term employment implications, which I fear we are not going to address until it is too late.
It is right that we begin to address the legal impediments to automated vehicles and help them to become part of the transport network. As with all technological developments, we need to ensure that the legislative framework is in place, not only to keep our citizens safe and protected, but to send out the signal that this country encourages innovation. We need a simple and timely method to determine liability in the event of an accident, and the Bill will achieve that aim. The likelihood is that over time the number of accidents will reduce substantially as the opportunity for driver error is significantly reduced, but I am not quite as persuaded as some Members that that will lead to any dramatic reduction in insurance premiums.
I imagine The Highway Code will have to be reviewed in due course, and although we are addressing civil liability in this debate, we may in due course have to consider changes to criminal law. At what point does the occupant—I use that term rather than “driver-operator”—cease to be personally liable for any breaches of criminal law? Will we need new offences to take account of the consequences of deliberate hacking?
I have read the lengthy discussions about software updates from the debates on the Bill’s previous incarnation, and I must say that I am not at all clear about where responsibility would lie if a vehicle did not have the required software updates. Should that be looked into in the context of MOT certificates? We are used to regular updates for consumer products such as phones—in fact, that is part of the manufacturers’ business model, to encourage us to buy new phones every few years—but a car is a rather different proposition. A balance needs to be struck between public safety and consumer rights. I do not want to see a £30,000 vehicle becoming unuseable because the owner refuses to pay what they consider to be an extortionate cost for a software update.
We need to consider the broader issue of value judgments. In all the films about artificial intelligence—in which, of course, most of the time things go wrong—machines usually have some sort of in-built fail-safe that prevents them from doing harm to humans. One can see how that idea could be transferred to an autonomous vehicle’s operating system, but it is inevitable that there will be occasions on which evasive action might prevent harm from being done to the passenger but could cause injury or worse to a pedestrian. Earlier in the debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) gave an example of how such circumstances might arise.
We in the House of Commons need to have a view on what happens if a car swerves off the road to avoid hitting another vehicle but, in doing so, hits a pedestrian on the pavement. I am not comfortable subcontracting that kind of value judgment to a software developer, and I am even less comfortable subcontracting it to some kind of machine that learns through trial and error which decisions to take. Of course, we humans will not have clear sight of how such machines make those decisions, and we might not be able to understand anyway. I was less than reassured by the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham. I suspect it would not be straightforward to put something of that nature into the Bill, and it is probably a few years before that kind of dilemma becomes relevant, but we do need to consider now how Parliament can ensure transparency and accountability for what could potentially be life and death decisions.
I have given some general observations on the kind of moral and legal questions we need to consider in the context of the Bill, but the main issue I wish to address is the Bill’s effects on employment, both good and bad. I know that the Government are looking to make the country a world leader in both automated and battery vehicle technology with initiatives such as the Faraday challenge, but I am concerned that although we will be a market leader in developing the technologies, our economy will not feel the full benefit of them because the mass manufacture of new vehicles will take place elsewhere. Dyson is a good example: it currently employs hundreds of people in this country to develop its own electric vehicle, which is of course a positive development, but so far it has not made any commitment to manufacture that product, when it is finalised, on these shores. Of course, Dyson has form in this area.
I shall develop that point, because we need to address some challenges relating to investment in manufacturing. The move to the manufacture of electric vehicles is going to require huge investment in plant machinery if we are to maintain our manufacturing base. The majority of engine plants in this country are still building combustion engines, so we need to think about what assistance we are going to give to those companies so that they can make the change to manufacturing electric engines. The Bill is pretty comprehensive on the infrastructure for consumers, but I am not sure there is the same level of commitment to the idea of the country as a producer of these vehicles.
We have heard that the Government intend to cease the sale of all petrol and diesel cars by 2040. The temptation might be to think that that is a couple of decades off so we do not need to worry about it now. However, if we are serious about it, the major manufacturers will begin to shift production to the new model types within the next one or two production cycles, particularly if consumer trends accelerate that. People will begin to look at the resale value of their vehicles, and if they see that petrol and diesel vehicles lose their value at a much quicker rate than electric vehicles, they are bound to purchase electric vehicles in much larger numbers. The right hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) mentioned some studies that suggest that the Government’s predictions on electric vehicle take-up are possibly a little on the conservative side. We need to be ready to intervene swiftly when decisions are made on new-vehicle manufacturing so that we have the best possible conditions for companies to invest in their production lines. For example, Vauxhall tells me that every time it looks to invest in new machinery, that has a negative consequence for its business rates.
Of course, at the moment the real challenge to the automotive industry—to all manufacturing—is the uncertainty created by Brexit. Investment in the automotive sector has halved over the past 12 months. We need to reverse that trend as a matter of urgency; otherwise, the new vehicles that it is hoped the Bill will facilitate will be manufactured elsewhere. A big part of that is reassuring as much of the car-manufacturing supply chain as possible. Too many parts needlessly travel back and forth across the continent. In the long term that makes little economic or environmental sense, and in the short term minimising it will lower the risk of a hard Brexit.
There is an immediate short-term need to proactively support UK car manufacturers, and I hope we will hear some good news in next month’s Budget. There is also the bigger long-term issue of how the Bill might affect employment levels. There are plenty of predictions out there about how many jobs will be lost to automation, and I know that there is always the argument that in the past technological advances have always created more jobs than they have caused to be lost, but this revolution is going to be on a scale and at a pace for which we are still quite unprepared.
It is estimated that 1 million driving jobs could be lost within the next 10 to 15 years. With some studies indicating that up to half of all jobs could be lost to automation and artificial intelligence in the next 20 years, there needs to be a twin strategy for dealing with the economic impact of the proposals in the Bill. To that end, I would have liked to have seen an economic impact assessment on the likely job changes that will occur because of the Bill. Even in the optimistic scenario that lots of new jobs are created following this revolution, what do we know about the sort of jobs that will be created and where they will be based?
A report published last week looked into the impact of automation constituency by constituency. It said that the worst-performing constituencies were set to lose around 40% of their jobs within 15 years. Although there were plenty of constituencies throughout the country at the top end, the pattern was clear: the biggest losers tended to be in the midlands and the north. I would like to see a similar study that shows the pattern of job creation in the new industries, but unfortunately none yet exists. If we did one, I rather fear that it would tell us that the new jobs created are not going to be in the areas that are set to lose the most. I do not want to see a repeat of the 1980s, when industry outside the south-east was subject to catastrophic losses of jobs that simply were not replaced.
Although I have painted some rather gloomy pictures, I am not a Luddite; I am a realist. I realise that the genie is out of the box and that there are tremendous advantages, and several Members have referred to the positives that driverless technology can bring to society, but we should not be blind to the consequences that these changes may bring. We need a fundamental debate about what we are trying to achieve here. The manufacturing infrastructure is just as important as the consumer infrastructure. The impact on existing jobs needs to be considered as much as the tremendous opportunities that this new technology brings. Finally, the new legal framework that we are setting up needs to be considered in the context of the moral framework that underpins it.
I draw the attention of the House to a potential interest of mine: I am discussing a possible role with the Faraday Institute, which promotes battery development in this country.
I want to make two points about two aspects of the Bill that will need further discussion in Committee. I would have raised them in proceedings on the earlier incarnation of the Bill if it had not become so evident that it was going to disappear from view due to the election.
The first relates to clauses 2 and 6. It is clear that the Bill intends to do what my right hon. Friend the Minister for Transport Legislation and Maritime said, which is to make the situation clear for the insurance industry. Unfortunately, it does not quite succeed in that in its current draft. He slipped into pointing out the problem himself when he inadvertently spoke of the driver not handing over control to the automated system, but, as Hansard will show, legitimately handing over control.
If one looks at the articulation of clauses 2 and 6, one sees that what determines whether the insurer or the person is liable—apart from the question of whether the vehicle is insured—is whether the vehicle was being run by the machinery rather than by the person. Unfortunately, that is not quite a complete explanation of what we need to have explained in order to make this work in terms of liability. It will not be a complete explanation of what we will need to treat this in the criminal law—clause 6 comes very close to a piece of criminal law. It will be very important that the criminal law does reflect the liability structure in the civil law. The reason why none of these questions is completely answered is that the question arises, “Was it, under these circumstances, appropriate or not appropriate for the person who was or might have been the driver to hand over control to the machine, which had become the driver?”
In case anybody thinks that that is an academic point, let me point out that it is extraordinarily likely that, as the technology develops and as artificial intelligence more and more becomes a part of that technology, we will find that, under these clauses, the Minister has to distinguish between different moments when it is appropriate to hand over control, and moments when it is not. For example, it may be that, for the sake of our motorways running much more efficiently, much more accident-free and much more intensively, it would be appropriate and, at some point, even mandatory for a motorist to hand over control of the vehicle when they are on a motorway in a way that might not be appropriate when they are on a single track road in my constituency on a rainy day. It may take a lot longer for the machinery to be able to handle the single track road in West Dorset than for it to be able to handle steady progress along the M4. As that is a likely situation, the moment of handover is a crucial element of getting the liability structure sorted out. If we do not get that sorted out now at this early stage, the insurance companies, when they come to consider the legislation, will discover that they do not have the framework that they thought they had, and we will not get the benefits that my right hon. Friend rightly seeks from that part of the Bill.
I also welcome part 2 of the Bill. When I was in government, I was involved in considerable efforts to improve the charging structure. It is the right thing to do. Much that needs to be done is dealt with in this part of the Bill. The regulation-making powers enable Ministers to deal with many of the points that have been raised in the preceding parts of this debate. Unfortunately, the regulation-making power in clause 9 and even in clauses 10, 11 and 12 is not only incomplete, but very materially incomplete. It will miss out the single biggest part of what needs to be regulated.
Reference has been made in this debate to off-street charging and to free-phase charging. These are the crucial elements because for that half of car users who do not have off-street parking—typically that is urban dwellers, particularly those who live in flats and terraced houses in urban settings—charging overnight, or at any time when they are not at work, will typically have to take place on urban streets. The people who will deal with urban streets are not local authorities, which was mentioned in the debate, or any of the objects of regulation here, but the public utilities that service our streets with the electric cables that run through them.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that, during the transition stage when we move to electric autonomous vehicles, there will be a period in which a goodly percentage of the population will retain normal diesel or petrol vehicles? How will we divide up the streets? If every single parking space in an urban area is given over to electric charging, will that prevent those who do not need to have electric charging from parking? Will we have to discriminate against them?
My right hon. Friend raises a good question, which has a very clear answer. For decades, in Saskatchewan and other parts of western Canada where it is extremely cold, every single parking meter—parking meters are common on the streets there—has been equipped with a power point, enabling the driver to plug in the car radiator with the signal advantage that the car can then be started, which it otherwise could not be. It is perfectly possible to mandate that the utilities place charging throughout all urban streets so that every place is a charging point and then the question that he raises disappears, because a driver uses it if they are a conventional internal combustion engine and if they are electric. Gradually, there will be more electric cars and fewer internal combustion engines. The space will be the space and it will always offer charging. If we do that—it will not be expensive if it is done incrementally, starting now under regulations—we will find that the largest part of the problem of charging disappears. Unfortunately, with the way that the regulatory powers have been cast, the Secretary of State does not have the power to make regulations of that kind and therefore a substantial amendment is needed to clause 9. That will also enable the Secretary of State to do the second most important thing, which is to mandate that there be free-phase charging. That is important because the speed of charging for those who have off-street parking is very material to the take-up of electric vehicles. That speed will be materially improved if free-phase charging is available.
My point is very simple. This is an excellent Bill as it does some very necessary things. It is not the whole answer to life, or even to automated electric vehicles, but it was never meant to be. However, there are deficiencies in the way that it is drafted that will need to be cured in Committee if it is to achieve the two main purposes that it sets out to achieve.
Let me elaborate further on the point about charging versus non-charging. On domestic charging, the whole point with an electric car is that a person can feed back some of the electricity into a meter overnight and make some money. What happens if they have parked off-street and plugged their car into a meter? If they want to feed back some of their charge overnight, will there be a way of gaining compensation financially?
It absolutely needs to be so and clause 12 has actually been correctly drafted in that respect. The provisions for smart charge points precisely allow the Secretary of State to ensure that there is interactive charging, which is evidently exactly what we need on our streets so that the electric cars of Britain become a massive battery resource. That will squish the shape of the load curve, so there will be longer periods during which renewable and nuclear resources will produce unlimited quantities of energy at a zero marginal cost without having to build the large amounts of back-up that would otherwise be required to deal with the peak. That is because one hopes that the peak will increasingly be dealt with by the battery resource of the nation’s cars when they are not being used. We will only get that effect if all the cars that are plugged in are plugged into smart points that can receive, as well as transmit, electricity. Of course, that also requires a design of vehicle that enables the on-board computer to respond to the price signals coming through the grid. It also requires half-hourly settlement of the grid, which is, in fact, already being introduced. We have made a good deal of progress towards the aim that my right hon. Friend rightly advocates. In that respect, the Bill will enable us to press the progress much further, but it will only do so if it relates to on-street car parking made possible through the utilities that can do this on a universal basis, and those measures are urgently needed.
I welcome the Bill. I will concentrate my remarks on the issues surrounding automated vehicles, but I support all the points that have been made about electric vehicles, particularly those regarding compatibility and infrastructure. We do not want people to be inconvenienced by different connectors and things like that. That is an obvious point to make, but one that has been overlooked in the past and that was well made today. Clearly, it is a technology for which the time has come. The batteries have a longer life and the vehicles can now travel further as a consequence. The environmental benefits are obvious and the cost of the vehicles is starting to come down, making them much more accessible, so I very much support that element of the Bill.
One of the impact assessments that accompanies the Bill refers to “connected and automated” vehicles, but the Bill is silent on connected vehicles, and I wonder why. Maybe the Minister will touch on that. Perhaps I am being too much of a conspiracy theorist, but the topic of “connected and automated” vehicles opens up a whole different range of issues from the straightforward automated vehicles as I understand it. The Minister will correct me if that is not the case. The issue that concerns me is that the software has to make a whole load of decisions when it is operating or driving the vehicle. We have heard from the Minister, and it is accepted, that somewhere between 90% to 95% of vehicle accidents occur due to human error. What happens if a vehicle is under the control of the software and has an accident with a vehicle being driven by a human or with a pedestrian, and the technology is then checked and is found to have been in perfect operating order? Is it the case that the human is assumed to be at fault? We need an answer to that question because it will have an enormous impact on how insurance companies approach decisions about who is at fault and who should get a payout.
I will not, if the right hon. Gentleman does not mind. I am trying to make a little bit of progress, but I may give way in a while.
The Minister said that he has visited the site in Greenwich that is testing automated vehicles. I was not there, but I heard of an incident where somebody threw a chair in front of the automated vehicle and the vehicle smashed into the chair. That raises the question of what would happen if a child ran into the road. Now, the accident with the chair may have happened even if the vehicle had been driven by a human. The chair may have flown out in front of the car far too late for the car physically to be able to stop, whether driven by a machine or by a human being. But let us imagine an incident where there is an automated vehicle on the road that is capable of making a decision about how to evade an accident.
If a child suddenly ran out in front of the vehicle, the software would be trying, in a split second, to make a decision about the safest evasive action, if any, to take in order to avoid running the child over. We are then immediately in the situation where a machine—a piece of computer software—is making a moral judgment. If we are to open ourselves up to the situation whereby connected and automated vehicles have to make such judgments when incidents or accidents are about to happen, we legislators have to be aware that such eventualities will come around. We must try, as much as possible, to be ahead of the technology, because one thing is becoming quite clear in the debate around emerging technologies: the huge companies are getting ahead of the regulators and legislators, and driving the barriers backwards.
Take, for instance, the recent situation with Uber in London, where the Mayor of London had to step in and take action. There are other examples of technology driving regulators to distraction and forcing us to catch up, such as Airbnb. In some cities, rents have been driven up because of the sudden availability of businesses and people hiring out their properties. Legislation has consequences and so does this Bill.
Automated planes fly on a daily basis; most of the flights that we all take are fully automated. The part of the flight that is controlled by a pilot only lasts for a few minutes. Many people do not appreciate the fact that most of their flight is now controlled by a computer. We are only a fraction away from technology whereby a plane could be flown without a pilot at all. If there were an incident and the plane had to be taken over by someone who is capable of flying it, that could be done from an air traffic control centre. We do not have to have the pilot on board. That technology exists, but the air industry is not imposing that upon us by removing pilots from aeroplanes because public opinion is so much against the idea of fully automated flights.
Yes, but driverless trains drive on a dedicated track. My point is that such technology is not being implemented in an area where the possibilities already exist—pilotless planes. Yet we are prepared to roll out that technology on our streets and our roads, where quite a complex range of incidents could occur and where vehicles being driven by software will come into contact with humans. I accept that the technology is here. We will have to accept that there will be demand for these types of vehicles, not least driven by the huge companies such as Uber, which already has driverless cabs on the streets of Pittsburgh. We are seeing technology driven forward by these large companies, but we as legislators have to start looking at some of the issues that arise around the moral questions that may have to be answered by machines.
On the point about safety, nine out of 10 accidents today are caused by human error—often because the two drivers miscommunicate with each other. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that one advantage of automated vehicles is that they can communicate with each other, thus avoiding accidents and making the world a safer place?
Yes, where the situation involves two vehicles, but they are not the only things on our roads, and they are not the only things a car or other vehicle can come into contact with. I accept the hon. Lady’s point that this technology can improve safety. We have heard a lot tonight about how we even expect premiums to come down. I think we have more chance of finding hen’s teeth, but the fact is that one of the expectations is that there will be fewer accidents, that fewer payments will need to be made, and, therefore, that that will be passed on to the consumer. I hope that is the case, but there is, none the less, a moral issue. Two vehicles may be about to collide—accidents will happen, and even the most ardent supporters of this technology accept that—but the question I am raising is about the software, which has been programmed by a human, as we have heard, making a moral judgment about the safest course of action to avoid the accident. Which path will cause the least injury and damage? That could involve the software making a decision about which individual gets hit—about whether to veer into the oncoming traffic or on to the pavement, or whether just to go straight on and collide with the other vehicle.
There is no question but that these situations will come about. I would therefore like the Secretary of State to have to list in clause 1 the types of technology that can be attached to these vehicles, so that we have some idea of where we are actually going and some control over that. This general reference to an automated vehicle does not allow us to consider the situation where this technology is placed on our roads and where moral judgments are made by a piece of software. We as legislators have to pay great attention to that.
I do not want to see the door opened wide to this technology by default as a result of this Bill. As the barriers are pushed back by this sort of technology, I would like the moral questions that are raised about machines making these decisions to come back to us, so that we can judge whether we are going in the right direction and whether that is where we want to go. I am not arguing against the technology, or arguing that it should never be applied. I am not suggesting for a minute that we should hold it back or deny the opportunities for our economy that developing such technology will open up. However, it is unavoidable that there are moral questions for us as legislators to answer about where we are going with this legislation and this technology, and I hope the Government are listening.
It is a great pleasure to be called to speak in this important Bill debate. May I, for completeness, first declare an interest, in that I chair the all-party parliamentary group on the future of transport, which has its secretariat funded by the Transport Systems Catapult? I also chair the all-party parliamentary group on smart cities, which has a range of public and private bodies funding its secretariat.
I had the great pleasure of serving on the Committee that considered the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill in the last Parliament. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) said that today’s Bill was a case of déjà vu. Perhaps the correct phrase is that it is a system upgrade to the previous Bill. This is a better Bill, because, as has been mentioned, a number of the genuine concerns that were expressed previously by Members on both sides of the House have been reflected in this Bill’s clauses. I should add that that Committee was a perfect example of how Bill Committees should work. We had a very cordial and courteous exchange of views; genuine concerns were raised, and they have, as I said, been taken on board.
I remain very supportive of the objectives in both parts of the Bill. As has been said, it is important that we in this country are ahead of the game. It is forecast that the intelligent mobility market will be worth £900 billion globally by 2025, and we have to make sure that our industry and our system of regulation are as up to date as possible to make sure we get a good share of that market.
I think the Government have taken the right approach. It is not possible for us today to predict the precise technology that will be innovated. I take a different approach from that just outlined by the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). I do not think we can prescribe too much at this stage. The legislation has to be enabling and then further qualified by secondary legislation at the appropriate time.
The potential advantages of autonomous and electric vehicles are huge. I will not detain the House by repeating the ones that have already been mentioned, but these vehicles will make transport more accessible to people with disabilities and people who are elderly or who do not have the means to afford a private car. That is a very important social objective.
Surely three things must be tackled by the manufacturing sector: the performance of electric cars, their price and the commercial relationship with the Government that will allow us to provide the charging points. If we do not have those three things in place, we do not have electric cars or a way forward.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I will expand on in my speech, the Bill provides a way for those things to happen. If he will bear with me, I will touch on those points later.
The other advantages, of course, are to do with the environment and making better and more efficient use of the limited resources we have. It is no mistake that the United Nations has as one of its top priorities dealing with the increasing urbanisation of the world, and the human race is going to have to find better ways of moving people and goods around to make that development sustainable.
In that regard, I should mention that my constituency is at the forefront of a lot of the innovation involved in this technology. We were today recognised in the UK Smart Cities Index 2017 as one of the top cities in the country.
Before I move on to the detail of the Bill, I should say that we had mention earlier of the importance of matching skills to this new technology. I very much welcome the Minister’s willingness to have a constructive dialogue in Committee, and more broadly with other Departments, to look at this issue. As a starting point, the Transport Systems Catapult recently published its “Intelligent Mobility Skills Strategy”, which identified that, by 2025, we will have a 750,000-job gap in skills, and there is an urgent need to address that point.
In my Second Reading speech and in Committee on the previous Bill, I raised several concerns, which were addressed to my satisfaction by the Minister. In my comments today, I just wish to get reaffirmation on those points and to raise a few additional concerns.
Clause 1 provides for the Minister to provide a list of vehicles deemed to have autonomous capability. I just ask a simple question: when this list is compiled and then updated, will it include the freight sector and the public transport sector, or are we simply looking at what are deemed motor cars today? It would be helpful to have that clarification.
As regards clause 2, we had extensive debates on the previous Bill about what would, to use an umbrella term, be classified as driver-assistance technology—lane guidance, cruise control and reverse parking guidance—and what constitutes a wholly autonomous vehicle. The Minister was very clear in Committee that driver-assisted technology is not the point of this Bill. When we have these gadgets in cars—there will be ever more as we go forward—they are there to assist the driver. They do not replace the driver, so the driver remains absolutely in control.
Did the Committee look at the issue of the driver passing some kind of driving test? Is it envisaged that the whole Highway Code system will change? Will somebody getting a licence to drive an autonomous or a semi-autonomous vehicle have to sit a completely different test, and if so, when will it be phased in?
I am afraid that my memory is not as complete as it might be. I cannot recall whether that was discussed; I do not think it was. However, my right hon. Friend raises a very fair point, and I hope that it will be considered in Committee.
As regards the distinction between a wholly autonomous car where there are no driver controls whatsoever and driver-assist, there will be cases in the middle where the car has a dual function, with blurring as to when the technology is applied. I would still like Ministers to provide greater clarification for drivers and the industry on the point at which the transition occurs. We have heard talk about having road trains in future where a car may be driven under control up to a certain point and will then form part of a convoy on the motorway. There needs to be greater clarity, for the public in particular, about the point at which the changeover happens.
I am very interested in the hon. Gentleman’s comments. If we have totally automated vehicles end to end, and the whole purpose is to liberate people who would not otherwise be able to drive, is it not completely logical that they would not be subjected to any test whatsoever in the conduct of that vehicle?
Indeed. The shadow Secretary of State makes a perfectly fair point. We cannot predict what all these vehicles will be like. Some may have dual function, and we should prepare for that eventuality.
Clause 4 touches on where the liability lies if the software has been tampered with in some way. That could happen accidentally if the car was being repaired and an engineer did not upgrade or put the thing back together properly, or it could be deliberate. We have already had cases of cyber-attacks on autonomous and connected vehicles. We had reassurance in Committee previously that in the absence of further regulations, the current system would apply, and ultimately the Motor Insurers Bureau’s uninsured scheme would come into force. Does it remain the insurer of last resort? Sadly, given the huge number of scams we currently see in the insurance market with arranged accidents and so on, malevolent people will devise new ways of trying to scam how autonomous vehicles are insured. I urge the Minister to work with industry to make sure that we future-proof the systems and the regulations as much as possible to make sure that we can deal with these scams effectively as they arise.
Another point in clause 4 that still causes me some concern is subsection (1)(b), which refers to
“a failure to install safety-critical software updates that the insured person knows, or ought reasonably to know, are safety-critical.”
If there is such a failure, the insurer’s liability is diminished. I would like some further clarification as to what
“or ought reasonably to know”
actually means. At what point does the individual become liable for making sure that the software is upgraded? I am awaiting goodness knows how many updates for my iPhone; I am fearful of installing them because it will mess up my contacts list and everything else in it. That does not matter, because it is my phone and my choice, but if I am getting into a vehicle that is controlled by software, what is the point of liability at which I need to upgrade it? Will the upgrades have a limiting capability such that if it is not upgraded, the vehicle will not work? If so, where would that be specified? Subject to clarification on the points I have raised, I broadly welcome the general approach to insurance, as it will allow the industry to develop a variety of appropriate products. The market will change, and we need to give the industry the flexibility to develop.
With regard to part 2, on electric vehicles, again I welcome the general approach taken in the Bill. We cannot predict future technology, and it is therefore difficult to be specific, but equally we need to give industry and consumers confidence regarding concerns over range anxiety. Will charging points be harmonised? Will they work? Will there be enough of them at motorway services? Will there be sufficient time to recharge? All these points need to be dealt with to give consumers and industry some clarification.
We are seeing an increasing take-up of ULEV vehicles, particularly electric-only models. There have been developments with Volvo and others saying that all their new cars will be electric or hybrid in the very near future. However, there are a couple of broader concerns that are not entirely within the jurisdiction of the Department for Transport, but the Department needs to be in the lead in discussions with other Departments. First, there is the cost to Government in terms of lost revenue from fuel duty, and potentially from parking charges that local authorities levy on motor vehicles but are free for electric vehicles. One estimate is that if the Government do not make any changes, they will lose £170 billion in revenue by 2030 as people increasingly shift to electric vehicles. What does that mean for how we charge for our vehicles? I appreciate that that is a much broader issue that goes beyond this Bill, but it will have to be addressed at some point.
We also need to look at how we are going to power these cars. Atkins, drawing on a report by the Energy Technologies Institute, recently said that we need to understand when and where people will want to charge their cars. At the moment, it is likely to be in the early evening, particularly Sunday evenings as people have more leisure time then. That is forecast to add 10 GW of demand to the grid—a 20% increase at a time when it may be at its least resilient. How are we going to address that? I suspect that it will largely come down to the battery technology outlined by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin).
As others have said, 30% of UK residents do not currently have off-street parking, living in flats, terraced houses and other places where it is not easy to just put a plug out of the window and attach it to the car. That will have to be addressed in our planning systems as we move forward.
We had a very good Bill prior to the election, and this Bill has been improved. It addresses many of the concerns that were raised. I have raised a few more tonight, and I very much hope that they will be picked up in Committee. We have to get it right. This is an important Bill and it has my full support.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate, which is perhaps deceptively important to our future wellbeing as a nation. The Bill is about so much more than a driving experience. It could be a radical departure in travel, transport and low carbon fuels.
Although the Liberal Democrats are happy to support the Bill’s stated aim of enabling consumers in the UK to be among the first to reap the rewards of improved technology and setting a regulatory framework for the next wave of improved technology, our support is not unreserved. No, we have serious reservations about the approach—it is not the widespread approach that is needed to maximise the benefits and effectively control these new technologies—and about issues that have already been mentioned, such as moral judgments by computers, insurance and vehicle excise.
On the plus side, my party is committed to encouraging the swift spread and accessibility of electric vehicles to reduce emissions, so we welcome the proposed creation of universal charging points. Similarly, air pollution in the UK is already a killer, and we have heard that it claims about 40,000 lives a year. In my constituency, the pollution levels in St John’s Road, which is the most polluted stretch of roadway in Scotland, are a genuine cause for concern. The Government’s stated support for low carbon transport is welcome, and it is vital if we are to meet our commitment to reducing greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050.
The Liberal Democrats’ commitment to the development of automated vehicles was clear from the coalition’s £10 million investment in programmes and research. We believe that such vehicles will reduce accidents and enable more elderly and disabled people to use the roads. This Bill does not go far enough, however. There are several areas in which it falls short of the sort of far-reaching and visionary approach needed to secure an all-encompassing and successful move to greener transport, which protects our health now and protects the environment for future generations.
If the Government are truly serious about creating game-changing legislation, I believe that they should look to the sorts of measures that the Liberal Democrats have committed to, such as a green transport Act and an air quality plan. We need a diesel salvage scheme and a ban on small diesel cars and vans. We want the introduction of ultra low or zero emission private hire vehicles and buses within five years. We need low or zero emission zones and reformed vehicle excise.
We need to look at more accessible charging points, the importance of which must not be underestimated. As the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) mentioned, if electric vehicles are to become sufficiently popular that they reach a critical mass of usage, there must be charging points at which it is convenient to leave vehicles safely for hours. That means residential facilities and workplace charging facilities. Facilities at petrol stations and motorway services, as the Government propose, are all well and good, but those at homes and workplaces are more useful. Councils should perhaps have powers to require that new commercial and industrial developments provide electric charging points. We need a pilot scheme to look, for example, at the use of lamp posts in residential areas where there are no driveways—in areas containing flats and terraced housing, as has been mentioned.
The Minister has said that he is happy to have discussions, but those discussions and the consultation that he mentioned must be effective. If the roll-out of electric vehicles is to be truly effective at reducing emissions, the energy that they use must be clean. There is absolutely no point in every single one of us driving about in a clean vehicle if the electricity that those vehicles use is generated using old-fashioned dirty power stations. That is critical. We need an expansion of the renewable energy sector and the restoration of subsidies for solar power and onshore wind. Electric vehicles must not be the sole focus. The hydrogen fuel cell sector has much to offer and should not be ignored.
The Bill also looks at driverless vehicles. Their development, although highly desirable, will demand significant changes to insurance and road traffic laws, as we have heard from other speakers. The Government have not, in our opinion, given sufficient attention to these issues; indeed, we are now presented with a Bill that is narrower than was originally envisaged. Where, for example, is the regulation of the use of drones and laser pens, which can be so dangerous to landing aircraft? Much of the Bill is admirable, but, sadly, it lacks the vision of the legislation that was originally promised. Where is the overarching strategy in which electric and driverless cars are part of a societal change in vehicle use, road safety and carbon emissions?
Surely, none of us in this place can doubt the value and desirability of encouraging the take-up of new, greener and safer vehicle and transport technology. The underlying principles of the Bill are sound, but we should also be thinking about cleaner air, greener transport and renewable energy. They are our future, and we should approach them not in a guarded, half-hearted or compromising way, but with real ambition and an adventurous spirit. We should see ourselves as pioneers of a better, cleaner society.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak. I want to put on the record that I welcome the Bill. I will focus my contribution on clauses 8 to 15, the electric vehicles part of the proposed legislation. I want to make a couple of points based partly on my experience of market research on new and developing technologies and those in their infancy, as well as some of the difficulties we face in that area, and partly on points made by my constituents, because Cannock Chase was previously a bit of a blackspot when it came to public charging points.
One of the reasons for welcoming the Bill is that it will address some of the barriers to adopting electric vehicles. Overcoming those barriers will be key to meeting the targets on take-up, carbon emissions and air quality. To meet those targets we need a step change to get a breakthrough into the mass market. I have mentioned my experience of researching new technologies. My hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) quite rightly made the point that it is very difficult to predict the take-up of new and emerging technologies. I remember researching issues such as broadband, contactless cards and mobile banking, and I can tell hon. Members that before those products came to market, people just could not get their heads around them and they did not always go down terribly well. The barriers people put up involved price, simple fears of the unknown, security issues, the status quo kicking in—just being much happier sticking with what they already knew—and not necessarily having a clear view of the benefits.
I could go on at length, but I will come back to electric vehicles because, fundamentally, the learning point was the need to address such issues and barriers, and the fact that engaging the public was about ensuring that there was awareness, and that consumers really understood the new technology and could see its benefits. Why is this relevant to electric vehicles? The answer is that there are barriers stopping consumers and the public buying these vehicles in the first instance, and there is frustration among those who already own one. I welcome the idea that we are looking to improve the consumer experience and expand the electric vehicle infrastructure, because that will go some way to addressing those barriers. It is important to ensure that we address the fears and concerns of those who do not already own such a vehicle, and some of the fair frustrations of existing owners.
I want to turn my attention to the points made by one of my constituents, Mark Clemence. He has raised this issue with me on numerous occasions, and when I knew last week that the Bill was coming to the House, I sought more feedback from him and asked him to elaborate. I am very grateful to Mr Clemence. Unfortunately, I do not have enough time to go through all the detail. He provided a lot of detail, which has been very helpful because I do not, unfortunately, own an electric car and do not know about the issues some consumers face. It is important that the Bill should address the pull factors in the market, rather than the push factors for adopting electric cars. Mr Clemence says:
“I suppose my 3 sound bite message is…make it easy to own and run an EV”—
“keep the cost of commercial public charges reasonable…and encourage local authorities to install charge points in the car parks.”
He goes on:
“We are all happy to pay for electricity but if the cost per mile reaches that of a petrol car, then there will be no incentive to change to electric vehicles.”
Those points align incredibly neatly with the Bill.
Other constituents have spoken and written to me about these issues. There are concerns about the accessibility of public charging points, as many Members have said. There is a fear among consumers who do not have an electric vehicle—perhaps it is even a fear among some who do—that they would run out of power. I have learned this evening that that is called “range anxiety”.
Given that Cannock Chase has been a black spot in terms of public charging points and that Staffordshire has been at best patchy, one can understand why my constituents have not been at the forefront of adopting electric cars. However, I was pleased to learn that Chargemaster recently installed a rapid public charger in Bridgtown and that there are new Pod Point charge points in Hednesford car park, although there are potential issues with those charging points. We need to ensure that all places are well served by charging points. I believe that Milton Keynes is well served, in contrast to Staffordshire.
We need to look at where the public want to charge their cars and align the charging points to the location. I am concerned about the points in Hednesford because Mr Clemence tells me that it would take him 10 hours to charge his car in that car park, whereas a rapid charger gives him 95% of the power in 35 minutes. I am not sure that he plans to spend 10 hours in the car park in Hednesford.
Another constituent has raised the issue of public charging points at motorway service stations and large fuel retailers. I am pleased to see that covered in the Bill. They also suggest that we need to ensure that charging points are included in planning for new fuel stations, one of which we have in Cannock Chase.
Mr Clemence raised the issue of cost and the sheer complexity of it because there are so many variables, such as the unit price, the price per kilowatt-hour, the subscription fees—I could go on, but I think everyone would rather I did not. Another issue is the consistency with which pricing information is provided.
At the moment, it seems that the user experience is rather clunky. I return to Mr Clemence—he really did give me lots of information. He has two apps and three RFID—radio frequency identification—cards for different suppliers. He suggests that it would be much easier to have a more universal system. It strikes me that it is a bit like the days when there were lots of different cash machines and people could not use the entire network. I hope that the Bill will resolve some of those issues.
I welcome the Bill. It addresses many of the issues the public have raised. There is also work for the market to do. By making these moves, we should be able to overcome some of the issues in public awareness and public confidence in electric vehicles, such as range anxiety. The more points we see around the country in more locations, the more confident people will be that they will be able to charge their car.
Finally, I believe that having a universal signpost or branded icon to signify a location where people can charge their electric vehicle will raise public awareness of the points and make consumers more comfortable that there are different locations where they can charge their car.
In short, I welcome the Bill and hope that these measures and developments, as well as work on the part of the industry, will ensure that there is a breakthrough in the adoption of electric cars.
I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome the Bill and the Government’s decision to end the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030, but it is clear that that aim will be successful only when consumers can afford electric vehicles and when charging infrastructure is readily available.
On affordability, I ask the Government to pay close attention to the current work of the Financial Conduct Authority in reviewing the consumer compliance of debt financing agreements for consumers in the car industry, where many do not know the terms on which they sign up for such things as personal contract payments, and are unclear as to the consequences and costs at the end of the term of that loan. There is no doubt that with the increase in the uptake of electric vehicles, this part of the car market should be watched closely.
On charging infrastructure, in my constituency, as many hon. Members have said about their own, I have only three public electrical vehicle charging points for 40,000 homes and a large industrial estate. I clearly think there should be more, but it is not just about charging points and vehicles. I hope the Government have a proper plan to ensure that both the energy and communications infrastructure is fit for purpose, with upgrades to our Victorian-age grid; new technologies for storage and distribution of power, including local generation, storage and distribution; and a communications infrastructure that can deal with the enormous amounts of data created by increasingly intelligent vehicles, safe from the threat of cyber-security.
As ever, Bristol is leading the way. I welcome recent investment in the Institute for Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems at the Bristol and Bath Science Park, and further funding into further pilots for autonomous vehicles in Bristol. Bristol has a strong environmental record, most recently as European green capital, yet we still struggle with our air pollution targets, so I and my constituents welcome the adoption of clean vehicles powered by clean renewable energy to ensure we can meet those aims.
May I somewhat audaciously suggest, Madam Deputy Speaker, that the debate has focused on the mundane obviousness and is missing the bigger picture? We need to take the opportunity to look up from our papers. This is the first Bill in this Parliament that paves the way for the technological reform of our economy; the start of a journey towards robots being a normal part of our daily lives, raising enormous ethical questions and posing serious challenges to the Government on their role in steering Britain through this globalised technological transformation. Just to touch on one point, Government Members have raised questions about the use of personal data in electric vehicles, yet the European framework, the general data protection regulation, which will set the framework for this processing in our country, is currently not set for debate in this House, being adopted with deemed consent under a statutory instrument and the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. In fact, the Data Protection Bill will not allow us to debate the substance of the GDPR.
As it stands, it appears to me that the so-called fourth industrial revolution is happening to us, and not because of our leadership. In his opening remarks, the Minister quoted Disraeli, saying that our future is in our hands, and it is to that point that I wish to direct my remarks today. Given the apparent lack of parliamentary time to do anything complicated, or indeed contentious, we should be looking at what is not in the Bill and what should be. The Bill is purely technical: it will legislate for insurance policies and car-sized plug sockets. Important as those may be, it is yet another example of a Government failing to lead on the big issues. We must set the tone of what is and is not acceptable in this new digital age, ensuring adequate protections from cyber-risk and potential consumer harm from self-learning algorithms. Those debates must be had in this place and we are missing the opportunity to do so.
Where in the Bill do the Government set out how they will prevent the mass unemployment associated with driverless vehicles? According to the House of Commons Library, nearly 1 million are employed as drivers today: taxi drivers, bus drivers, truck drivers and driving instructors. It is clear that automated vehicles will be deployed in the easiest of options first, but no one is suggesting that they will not roll out to every aspect of our daily lives. In Bristol North West, I have significant distribution centres: Asda, Ocado, Morrisons, United Parcel Service and all the activity in the Bristol Port, to name but a few. What will happen to those jobs when suddenly vehicles drive themselves, shopping baskets pack themselves, or drones deliver our parcels? Where is the active industrial strategy that invests in new markets and jobs to help redundant workers find new work? I welcomed the intervention from the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) recognising that China—no doubt a champion of state-backed industrial strategies—was now leading the way in developing these technologies, and I note that we are still waiting for the industrial strategy White Paper from the Government.
Where is the digital skills agenda that many have talked about this evening—for the younger people who will manufacture, produce and maintain these vehicles and for the older people who will need to retrain for new work? We have had statements from the Government week after week about job losses. In my view, these have been largely driven by this disastrous Tory Brexit, but although Brexit is the biggest threat to our country in peacetime, it is none the less a short to medium-term risk. I would rather it was not happening, but either way what will Britain look like after this period of ridiculous self-harm? The Bill could be part of that vision. It could start the debate, it could set the tone, but it fails on every test.
The Government rightly see the adoption of robotics, continuous connectivity and the cloud as a means to finally unblocking economic productivity problems. Autonomous vehicles are part of that solution. I am all for that. I am pro-business and pro-technological reform, at home, in the private sector and especially in the public sector, but the Government are silent on these vital strategic concerns, and we have no space to debate the negative consequences of these advancements. The jobs of thousands of my constituents are potentially at risk, yet we are not debating that today. We must be on the right side of the fourth industrial revolution. If we go head first, first towards automation, then towards artificial intelligence, we risk once again being on the wrong side of an industrial revolution. It is incumbent on us to debate these issues now, therefore, not after millions of people lose their jobs.
To reiterate, I welcome the Bill, but I am disappointed by the missed opportunities it presents, and I call on the Government to take this opportunity to put forward their vision for a modern, connected, digitally transformed Britain that also focuses on workers and the lives of my constituents. If they fail to do so, the Opposition will happily step in.
I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. As many have outlined, the Bill has two parts, and, in the hope of brevity, I will contribute only on the automation side.
I welcome the Bill and its limited nature, which has been debated at length for the past few hours. We have a decision to make as a country. Automation is coming. The decision is whether we allow it to happen with us or to us. This has been a very constructive debate—I particularly welcomed the comments from the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner), who speaks for the Opposition—but I worry that some of the contributions tended towards trying to solve problems that we might not fully understand at this stage in the development of automation, when legislation is not always the immediate answer. One would naturally expect me, as a Conservative, to work from the basic principle that we should legislate and regulate only where necessary, rather than always trying to create a framework that aims to solve every problem that might arise. That is essentially my point today.
The hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) and I were on a panel together in the summer, away from this place, when we debated this extensively. Although he has made many important points that definitely need to be debated within and without this place, I think there is a clear and consistent argument for limiting the activities in the Bill and how we regulate automation in order to allow people to innovate. Before he spoke, I was going to say I welcomed the fact that no one had used the B word in this debate, but obviously he referred to it. As important as Brexit is, and as important as it is to my constituents that it is delivered, there is a danger within the political discourse in this country that we are losing the capability and bandwidth to talk about much bigger and equally as existential issues, such as this one. Brexit will influence us for the next 18 months and beyond, but the likes of driverless vehicles and automated vehicle technology have the potential to influence our society for 18 years, or 36 years, or 54 years. We have been allocated time to talk about this issue, but the wider political discussion tends to be incredibly breathless about Brexit and, perhaps, to reduce the amount of time that we have to discuss such issues. So, in order to avoid falling into the trap that I have suggested others have fallen into, I will move on from Brexit immediately.
I welcome the Government’s approach to a rolling regulatory reform. While I entirely understand why Opposition Members such as the hon. Members for Eltham (Clive Efford) and for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine)—neither is present now—outlined the need for a vision and an expansive understanding of this issue, we are at an early stage in the development of automated vehicles, and regulation should accord with that. We must accept that we are currently seeking to guide a nascent industry from some very small-scale trials in semi-pedestrianised areas, often involving speed limits of just a few miles an hour, into a more large-scale set of trials. It is important for regulation to move, although not necessarily to expand in every area, but that needs to be done in a measured and controlled way.
We will arrive at the stage of early adoption relatively soon, and I think it appropriate to think about regulation again in the future. If the technology is successful, it will hopefully be adopted on a large scale, and will subsequently become the majority. Eventually, we will be dealing with the long tail with which we must always deal when deciding how to ensure that the adoption of technology is ubiquitous. The regulation at each of those stages will necessarily differ, and we should not seek to complicate the current position by trying to answer all the questions that are being asked now about developments that may not take place for a number of years. I welcome what the Government are doing in that connection.
I am pleased that the Government are doing some tidying up, and ensuring that the insurance framework around automated vehicles is appropriate. Clause 2, for instance, will ensure that there is clarity about what happens in the insurance market when the machine, rather than the driver, is in control of a vehicle. I also welcome clause 4, which makes some clear statements about the difference between product liability and the continuation of pooled insurance.
There may be a case—which we can debate both here and elsewhere—for saying that the point about pooled insurance versus product liability will be appropriate in the future, but product manufacturer liability will be appropriate only when nearly all drivers are in automated vehicles. Until that point, we must ensure that the framework is appropriate, which is why a pooled insurance system is itself appropriate. There will never be a silver bullet—there will never be a way in which to resolve all the conceptual and philosophical discussions about how pooled insurance can be applied to this kind of market, particularly in a transitional form—but I think that what the Government are trying to do here is very welcome.
Many Members have mentioned our wish to become a world leader in technology of this kind, and I support what they have said. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) spoke of the importance of putting money behind activities such as this, and I agree with him to an extent, but I also think it important to establish the right regulatory framework. Places like Silicon Valley are streets ahead of many parts of the world when it comes to automated vehicle technology, but it should be noted that only a handful of American states have taken up the opportunities that it has provided. We heard earlier about companies in China, such as Geely and Baidu, which are proceeding apace with automatic technology, and about Chinese-owned companies such as Volvo, which is doing the same on our own continent, but the country has a real opportunity, as an early adopter, to provide the frameworks that will allow such companies to innovate and thrive. That is why we should be careful about the regulatory framework, as the Government are being here.
I wish to make one final point, on which I concur with the hon. Member for Bristol North West. Discussions on these kinds of issues prompt important existential questions around how we as a society should adopt such technologies in the future. Change comes in three parts: technological change, regulatory and legal change, and cultural change. The technological change is coming forward, which is why we are talking about it tonight. We are also talking about the regulatory and legal framework that will be necessary, but cultural change is the responsibility not just of Members of this House, as it must be debated by wider society, and it will take many years to come forward.
We have talked about safety. As a politician, I am interested in polls, and a YouGov poll of a few months ago found that approximately 50% of drivers do not think driverless technology is safe at this point, and only 33% said they do think it is safe. We should beware of just one poll, as we have all learned in this place over the past year or so, but that poll is important in that it highlights that many people are unconvinced by this technology. However, if we do not take the opportunities that it presents, which have been outlined in the debate, we will be doing a disservice to the country.
I also accept the points of the hon. Members for Bristol North West and for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), who is no longer in his place, about the disruption and dislocation this technology might bring in the very long term, but we must not get too far ahead ourselves.
I am now perhaps addressing far too existential questions for 9 o’clock on a Monday evening in this place. However, I welcome what the Government are doing here, and the deliberately limited nature of the Bill. I also welcome the opportunity to ask the wider questions it opens for society, which is why I am happy to support the Bill this evening.
I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I welcome the Bill, although it is clearly much reduced from what was originally put forward. It is interesting how so much of our discussion has been around cars as vehicles, as opposed to vehicles more generally, and I draw attention in particular to electric bikes, scooters, taxis—which have been mentioned—vans and lorries, and in particular buses, which I will refer to again later.
I also welcome initiatives such as the Faraday challenge, which is a terrific example of how Government can work with academia and businesses to bring about change and revolution in a particular sector. That stimulus is crucial for major step changes such as electric vehicle technology and autonomous vehicles. A good example of that has been at Warwick Manufacturing Group, which although not in my constituency employs a good many of my constituents. It is very much at the cutting edge of the development of battery and fuel cell technology, working with many other universities across the country and vehicle manufacturers from the UK and around the world.
It is critical that we gain leadership in this sector. We need a competitive advantage over the likes of China, South Korea and Japan, which are very much the established dominant players in battery and fuel cell technology. To that end, we urgently need to establish a battery prototype centre that is able to adapt to the rapid change in this technology; as we see in other sectors, change can be so rapid that it is easy to be caught out by technological development. I hope that such a centre might be located at the heart of the automotive industry, which is very much in my constituency of Warwick and Leamington, and in Coventry and Warwickshire. They are at the heart of the development of connected vehicles. That would be a very welcome move indeed, and I look forward to an announcement on that matter.
The ambition has to be matched by our legislative will as policymakers, and by the acknowledgement of the need to change consumer behaviour. There has been a lot of talk about that recently by Members on the other side of the Chamber. We have to encourage people through initiatives, exemptions, fiscal measures and perhaps scrappage schemes if we are to accelerate not only that change in behaviour but investment from manufacturers and investment in infrastructure.
Several weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to the Jaguar Land Rover Tech Fest event here in London, at which the company announced that every new vehicle line would have electrified versions as of 2020. That is a terrific innovation coming from such a major employer and investor in this country. Even the E-type Jaguar will be retrofitted with a battery cell, so there is something for everyone in what the company offers. We have heard about the Nissan Leaf, which has been hugely successful and a terrific economic stimulus for the north-east. We have also heard about the electric versions of the Mini that are coming through. Reference has also been made to the Polestar range from Volvo and Geely. I think I am right in saying that Geely will be the first car manufacturer with an entirely electric vehicle range.
There need to be incentives, but if we look at other countries we see perhaps a greater degree of leadership in this area than there has been here so far. I believe that more than 10% of new vehicle sales in Norway’s total car market are pure electric vehicles, for example. That compares with just 2% or 3% in this country. We are really behind the curve compared with other European countries. Our ambition is to be non-petrol and non-diesel by 2040, but that will come a little too late.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, in order to stimulate the electric car market and ensure that we can move to a fully electric market, we will need a minimum density of electric charge points in residential and commercial areas?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention, and I certainly agree that there needs to be a minimum density. That is an area of infrastructure on which we should insist in all development in our town centres, and also in our new-build housing. It relates to local plans, and it is a critical part of the framework. The Government and local authorities should be showing leadership in this area. This is a great opportunity and we need to accelerate the uptake in electric vehicle use over the next few years.
Buses have not yet been referred to. Our buses, lorries and vans are among the dirtiest vehicles in our urban areas and there is perhaps greater urgency to get them off the roads. I was recently proud to attend the launch of the new Volvo electric bus, which is now being tested in certain areas around the country, most recently in Greater Manchester, where it was extremely well received. These sorts of vehicles will change the air quality in our town centres dramatically, and we need to encourage and accelerate their adoption.
The challenges also lie in the power grid, which can be hard to access in many areas, particularly rural areas. A further issue for the adoption of electric buses is that of interoperability and the standardisation of on-route charging sites. This is an area in which our European peers are a little bit further ahead. It is rather like the VHS/Betamax debate many years ago, which many of us will remember. We need a general acceptance of standardisation, to ensure that we have the right sort of infrastructure in place in our town centres. At the same time, we need subsidies and fiscal incentives for bus operators to adopt electric buses. Bus operators receive public money in subsidies, so I urge that this is targeted through a progressive taper to advantage electric vehicles.
As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), there has been much debate about domestic, commercial and on-street charging points—my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) also referred to them a moment ago—but I want to draw greater attention to the revolution that can be had with the advent of smarter cities, where streetlight columns and other street furniture can be used for charging. That is happening elsewhere, and the supply can be two-way, to the benefit of either the user or the municipality.
In summary, I welcome the Bill, but I urge more ambition in certain areas and more caution in others. In implementing the regulatory framework and incentives to accelerate electric vehicle adoption to arrest serious air quality problems and climate change, we must be as ambitious as India, the Netherlands and others in banning new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2030—2040 is too late. In considering the merits and needs of autonomous vehicles, I urge legislative caution. Yes, the legislation must be enabling, but as we see with sat nav systems even today, the concern is about the data and the software’s interpretation of it. By way of example, around the corner from where I live in my constituency is a narrow cul-de-sac called Clapham Terrace, which is regularly used erroneously by continental articulated lorries to access a local industrial estate. They must then reverse 300 metres back down a narrow street with a school on it. Finally, will Ministers ensure that the Bill is clearer about different types of vehicles? It should include lorries, buses, motorbikes, scooters and electric bicycles. In all other respects, I welcome the intent of the Bill.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. Today is the 310th anniversary of the first ever meeting of the Parliament of Great Britain, commemorating the Union of Scotland with England and Wales. I welcome the fact that the Bill applies in its entirety to Scotland and Great Britain, and I hope that Ministers and officials both here and in the devolved Administrations and local authorities across the UK work together to ensure the legislation’s full implementation.
I support the Bill both in principle and in practice. In principle, I support it because the UK needs such legislation to ensure that it stays at the forefront of technological research and development. In practice, the Bill puts in place the infrastructure and framework to ensure that we carry with us the support of the various bodies and industries upon which the Bill will impact. I will start by exploring the Bill’s practical measures by briefly touching on clauses 1 to 7, which cover insurer liability. That part has been covered by colleagues throughout today’s debate, so I will not labour the point too much, but if we are to move towards the automated and electric vehicles of the future, as I believe we must, it is crucial to put in place the framework to ensure the safety of these vehicles and their users.
The Bill makes it compulsory for users of automated vehicles to have insurance that covers any technical failure of the technology. Given that insurance is already compulsory, it is sensible and simple to extend that requirement so that insurers are initially liable to pay compensation, which they can then recover from the liable party through existing common or product law. Crucially, the Association of British Insurers fully supports this Bill, saying that it will give the industry time to prepare for the roll-out of automated vehicles. Indeed, it calls for the legislation to be introduced as soon as possible to give everyone a clear idea of how claims involving automated vehicles will be settled.
Safety is a key concern, with many preferring to be driven by a newly qualified teenager than a machine. However, as has been recognised today, the majority—up to 90%—of accidents are actually caused by human error, which featured in 85.7% of reported collisions in 2015. By minimising the human factor through automation, we may actually help to make our roads safer. That is why it is important to put in place the right legislative framework to support the operation of the new vehicles.
The Bill paves the way for the necessary infrastructure to be put in place to encourage more people to switch to electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, a transition which is essential to encourage the decarbonisation of British roads, in turn helping to improve air quality through reduced carbon emissions. As we move away from petrol and diesel cars, we must ensure that the Government and private providers have sufficient time and support to prepare for the majority of vehicles switching to electric and hydrogen fuel cells in the early 2020s. As has been mentioned, the provision of uniform and interoperable charging units is essential.
I add to the voice of other Members who have raised concerns about the accessibility of electric and hydrogen charging points in rural towns and villages across our country. As an MP representing a number of rural towns, villages and businesses, I hope the Minister and the Government commit to ensuring that infrastructure is provided in our rural towns and villages so that we have no further divergence between town and country in this nation.
In addition to the regulatory and structural enablers it provides, the Bill makes clear the UK’s aspiration to continue playing a role as a world leader in automated vehicle research and development. The UK Government have committed to spending £600 million to support the growing market for ultra low emission vehicles, in addition to the £270 million announced in the 2016 autumn statement. The automated vehicle market will be worth £28 billion by 2035, and the Government are investing more than £200 million in research and testing infrastructure, helping to ensure that we remain a world leader.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising those points, which I was about to cover.
I hope the Minister will encourage entrepreneurs and companies from across the UK to compete for funding to ensure that the benefits are spread across the UK so that we can present and achieve a more connected kingdom.
In my constituency of Ochil and South Perthshire we propose to develop a new carbon transport and active travel hub as part of the Tay cities deal. The research and service centre will offer alternative fuel sources and encourage a modal shift by deploying and maintaining electric vehicle infrastructure. The centre will allow Perthshire, Scotland and the UK to be a leader in driving progress and research on automated and electric vehicles while bringing needed investment to the part of the country I represent. In order to do that, however, we need the Bill to ensure we have the legal and physical framework to facilitate such development in Perthshire and elsewhere in the UK. That is why I support the Bill.
Westfield Sportscars in my constituency is a family-owned firm. The company was built on manufacturing sports cars and kit cars, but it has now expanded into electric and autonomous vehicles. I was pleased earlier this year to welcome the Secretary of State for Transport and the Government Chief Whip to Westfield to see the new autonomous pods it is now exporting. Working with Ordnance Survey and a range of academic and commercial partners, Westfield has created a world-beating product. Westfield has told me that the Bill is necessary for it to develop the next generation of world-beating autonomous vehicles.
Westfield Sportscars concluded a deal with a regional government in South Korea earlier this year, and I was pleased to welcome a delegation from South Korea to Westfield in March. The firm is now supplying autonomous pods as an urban transit system in a £30 million contract that is potentially worth far, far more. Westfield is now working with Emirates to introduce similar pods airside, which has enormous potential—Emirates is looking at 3,000 vehicles.
This small family firm based in the Black country is delivering cutting-edge autonomous vehicles across the world, but until the Bill is enacted Westfield is unable to supply many of its pods for use right here in the United Kingdom. This Bill provides the stability, the supportive regulatory framework and the clear insurance market that not only firms such as Westfield need but that consumers need if they are to have confidence in this emerging market. Legislation introduces a basic legal framework and it is not appropriate to expect it to have great detail—that will appear later in statutory instruments. However, we must make sure that the legislation we are considering at this point does not preclude later secondary legislation from creating the clear framework that a successful industry will need.
Let me briefly touch on a few points that I hope the Minister will consider in this legislation and the regulations to follow. We need to consider the retention of vehicle and safety data. I am talking about things such as gravitational readings, as well as internal and external cameras, and how they can be made available to investigators and to insurers in cases of accidents and near misses to establish what went wrong and where any fault might lie. For that to be useful it will be necessary for the data to be retained for six years, in line with personal injury limitations.
Similarly, we need to make sure that we are properly logging versions of vehicle software that is safety critical. It may be remotely updated. That is one issue that has not yet been considered in the Bill. Where the software is remotely updated, we need to consider how that can be recorded and made available to vehicle operators and to insurers so that we can be sure what software was running at the time of any incident.
Thirdly, on the question of sensor payloads, the Minister will be aware that the pace of advancement in technology means that sensors may be out of date within six months. I therefore ask him to consider whether the duty should be placed on the original equipment manufacturer to upgrade the vehicles to the latest specifications and then to inform insurers, in a similar way to what happens in the aviation industry. I hope Ministers will consider those three elements as this legislation proceeds and in the regulations that will follow, adding more detail to this regulatory framework.
The key message coming from industry is that this legislation is needed quickly so that we can protect Britain’s place in leading the world in autonomous vehicles.
I refer Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and my chairmanship of the all-party group on fair fuel for UK motorists and UK hauliers.
I was going to regale the House with talk about Jaguar Land Rover in Solihull and all the efforts it is making in this regard, but that can wait for another day. The Bill takes us part way, doing good groundwork and providing rolling regulatory reform, to ensuring that the necessary provisions are in place by the time the cars of the mid-21st century hit the market in the 2020s. For electric cars, we need not only a proper regulatory framework, but to ensure that the necessary physical infrastructure such as charge points is in place. I, along with my all-party group, outlined to the Chancellor recently in a letter that we have a long way to go to reach this goal.
We have 8,400 filling stations, each of which can fill five or six cars every five minutes, whereas there are fewer than 4,000 public charging points, only a quarter of which can fully charge a car in half an hour or less. We need to bring confidence to the market over time by reassuring motorists that there is no danger of their running out of juice on their way to the next appointment or to their urgent engagement. This is to say nothing of the major upgrades that will be needed to the national grid and our national power generation, or the technological progress necessary to feed back into the network from these new types of car.
I am pleased that the Government are taking steps to ensure that the challenges involved in insuring automated vehicles are resolved as soon as possible. The Bill will rightly ensure that insurers have a statutory right to recover costs from a manufacturer in the event of a crash caused by malfunctioning self-driving technology. That is absolutely vital to ensure that car users are not unfairly punished in the event of a collision they could not have prevented. Moreover, the provision to ensure that insurers retain the primary responsibility for settling claims means that victims will not need to wait for the outcomes of arcane and technical disputes.
Finally, I must emphasise how important it is that the public mood is prepared for self-driving cars. As chairman of the all-party group on fair fuel for motorists and hauliers, I have seen how millions of motorists bought diesel cars with the very best of intentions, urged on by politicians, only to face the potential for punitive taxes as official winds now blow in a new direction. I well understand why the public would be sceptical of politicians lauding a new game-changing technology, but we need to emphasise the huge potential to save thousands of lives by cutting the number of human error car accidents on our roads each year. We will fulfil that potential, though, only if automated vehicles are taken up widely. We all know how easy it can be to stick with what is comfortable and familiar. If public opinion does not keep pace with technology, the visions contained in the Bill will not go as far as they should. I welcome the Bill; it is definitely a step in the right direction.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. We have had a very thorough debate, so perhaps Members thought that the ground has been well covered, as it has.
As has been previously stated, Labour is supportive of the Bill. We intend to vote in support of it but to table key amendments in Committee. Indeed, we supported these clauses the first time around, when they were part of the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, which had passed through its Commons Committee only for the Prime Minister to go off for a walk in Wales and then call a snap election, so all that work was lost.
I commend the Minister for Transport Legislation and Maritime for his approach to the Bill, which reflects his approach to all such matters. If Carlsberg did legislation, it would copy his lead.
Before I discuss the content of the Bill and some of the contributions we have heard, I wish to express my disappointment at the Government’s decision to break up what was the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill so that it could be reintroduced as smaller, separate Bills. As the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) said, the introduction of the Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing Bill—a four-clause Bill, whose clauses had already been debated as a part of the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill—and the inordinate amount of time afforded to debating it, was nothing less than an embarrassment. It is clear that the Government, running scared of Parliament, decided to break-up the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill in an attempt to compensate for a threadbare legislative agenda, and so that the House would spend as much time as possible re-treading old ground so that they could avoid debates and votes on the myriad important issues facing our constituents that should require our urgent attention.
We will seek to make a number of key amendments in Committee on areas of concern, such as the liberal use of delegated powers in the Bill, and I have taken on board some of the comments made by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) on clause 9. We will amend any areas of the Bill that might add costs to policyholders and contention over liability between manufacturers and insurers. We will also seek to amend the Bill so that the Government have to consult widely on developing a definition of “automated vehicles”, as highlighted by the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart), and we will press the Government to clarify how the proposed regulations will promote the uptake of electric vehicles, ultra low emission vehicles and automated vehicles.
We have heard a range of contributions. My hon. Friends the Members for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) and for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) returned to the issue of the adequacy of charging points and came forward with many suggestions, including the provision of charging points at shopping centres and the like. My hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) was quite correct to highlight some of the moral choices that we will have to wrestle with through Committee stage and beyond in terms of the choices that automated vehicles will make on our behalf.
There was a wide-ranging and thought-provoking contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) concerning the reality of the job losses in his constituency. He highlighted that particular moment when the occupant ceases to become liable, and mentioned deliberate hacking, which was referred to on a number of occasions. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) talked about the potential ratcheting up of debt finance agreements, and the affordability of such contractual arrangements. She warned about our remaining vigilant in that respect. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) highlighted the higher take-up of electric vehicles in places such as Norway and their apparent better interoperability, saying that perhaps lessons could be learned in that regard.
It is important to make it clear that although there is much support in this Bill, it is not accompanied by a broader strategy that is sufficient to combat air quality and climate change or to support industry. It was a positive move from the Government to announce the ban on sales of all diesel and petrol cars and vans from 2040, but that will not be achieved while the target remains unaccompanied by additional measures and increased funding for alternative modes of transport.
The Bill does not address the issue of funding sufficiently to support the uptake of electric vehicles. It was clearly a counterproductive move to slash grants for ultra low emission vehicles and electric vehicles and to cut the plug-in grants for EVs and for home charging, as the market alone will not facilitate the transition to future vehicles. The Office for Low Emission Vehicles already subsidises low emission cars and vans but does not do so for e-bikes. OLEV has said that that is because Ministers have not given it a remit to do so.
Labour has also pledged an additional £200 million to the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, which could be used to reinstate grants such as a wider commitment to invest in the work of OLEV to provide clean modes of transport. In practice, better funding to the office would also mean that the new ULEV grant scheme could be financed as part of better support for research and other grants, including for e-bikes, which OLEV deems necessary. Grants could be awarded to create a wider network of charging points. On that point, I do acknowledge the announcement of extra funding made by the Minister tonight, for which I am grateful.
Automated vehicles will make our roads safer and underline the importance of reducing the number of killed and seriously injured on our roads. Tragically, for too many families the road safety record of this Government is not a happy one. The latest road safety statistics make for chilling reading, with the number of road deaths at a five-year high and serious life-changing injuries up by 9%.
Labour made significant progress on road safety, but those targets have been scrapped, which has allowed our roads to become more dangerous. The underfunding of police forces has meant that there are a third fewer dedicated traffic police than a decade ago, making enforcement less effective. In the long term, automated vehicles will make our roads safer, but we cannot allow the Government to substitute urgently needed action with long-term strategies, and legislating on automated vehicles should not be an excuse for a failure to reintroduce road safety targets and a refusal to deliver the resources our police forces need.
Although it is true that air quality will in future be improved by the use of electric and ultra low emission vehicles, there is an abject failure to tackle the air pollution crisis that today is causing some 50,000 premature deaths. The Conservatives have failed to introduce a diesel scrappage scheme or to give local authorities the powers they need to introduce clean air zones. We saw today measures set out by the Mayor of London, but it is wrong that the Government are denying local authorities the powers they need to clean up our towns and cities. The Government are presiding over a lack of investment in sustainable modes of transport, including cuts to bus services, which are in decline due to a combination of cuts and the failure of the bus deregulation system.
However, against that backdrop, Her Majesty’s Opposition will support this Bill. We will work to secure the support of the Government for our amendments in Committee to deliver the best possible legislation to accommodate the burgeoning automated and electric vehicle industry, and the massive social and economic potential that it represents.
What an excellent debate this has been. It has been largely warm, sensible and, in general, non-partisan—until the last few minutes at least. The speech of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) would have been electrifying, but only if he had been plugged into one of our 11,500 charging points around the country. We have had a Whig theory of history; we have had the modern industrial strategy from my beloved colleague, the Minister for Transport Legislation and Maritime; but there has been no mention of Keats, Shelley or Byron.
I know; it is hard to imagine, Mr Speaker. None the less, we have managed to soldier on. As the Minister said, his remarks were all too brief at a mere 58 minutes, leaving the House yearning for more. He went on at some length—and rightly so—about the rurality of his constituency and the importance of these issues, which affect not merely urban, but rural constituencies. All I can say is that South Holland and The Deepings is downtown Manhattan compared with Craswall, Longtown and Rowlestone in my constituency. He also advertised the electrical charging points, which I think he wishes to be known as “Hayes’s hook-ups”. I think he is secretly yearning for such a name, based on the Belisha beacon. May I suggest “Johnny’s jumpstarts” as an appropriate alternative name for the charging points, doubtless equipped with car-activated klaxons, lasers, smoke, and son et lumière to alert the driver to the possibility of a charge?
We have had a good debate. I can do no better than to touch on some of the contributions and correct one or two points in passing. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) said that the Bill contains too much discretion for the Secretary of State, but the Secretary of State’s power is not discretionary. If a vehicle conforms to the criteria, the Bill will apply to it. He also rightly mentioned the importance of a common mode to access charging, which is what the Bill is designed to provide.
I greatly enjoyed the excellent speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan). She made us very happy by not talking about HS2, as she promised. She rightly encouraged Transport for London and local authorities to invest more in charging infrastructure. The Government agree, which is why we have invested £28 million so far to support charging points at tube and train stations. She rightly talked about manufacturing opportunities. Again, the Government agree. The industrial strategy has the Faraday Challenge, which many hon. Members have mentioned, as its counterpart. That is worth some £246 million. My right hon. Friend also pointed out, as others have, the importance of charging back to the grid. We have announced a £20 million competition to stimulate vehicle-to-grid charging.
I greatly enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), who regretted a sense of déjà vu and worried that insurance premiums will not fall as we hope they will. I hope that he was reassured by the quotation from the head of insurance at AXA.
My hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar) was right to emphasise both the commercial and environmental opportunities offered by the legislation. The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders) emphasised the importance of proper support for jobs, so it is interesting that the Transport Systems Catapult predicts that this technology set will provide 6,000 to 10,000 new jobs by 2035. I also welcome the focus he and several other hon. Members gave to the legal and moral issues raised by this legislation.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) made some brilliant philosophical points, which will need to be addressed in Committee. The same was done by several other colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) and for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling). My hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) built his reputation on a further excellent extemporary speech.
This is an excellent piece of legislation, it is warmly supported by the Opposition, and I commend it to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 16 November.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which those proceedings are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill (Ways and Means)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a)),
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.—(Rebecca Harris.)
Question agreed to.