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Public Bill Committees

Debated on Thursday 2 November 2017

Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill (Third sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Mr Adrian Bailey, † Sir Edward Leigh

† Argar, Edward (Charnwood) (Con)

† Brown, Alan (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)

† Duffield, Rosie (Canterbury) (Lab)

† Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)

† Foxcroft, Vicky (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

† Hayes, Mr John (Minister for Transport Legislation and Maritime)

Jones, Graham P. (Hyndburn) (Lab)

† Kerr, Stephen (Stirling) (Con)

† Knight, Sir Greg (East Yorkshire) (Con)

† Letwin, Sir Oliver (West Dorset) (Con)

† Mann, Scott (North Cornwall) (Con)

Rodda, Matt (Reading East) (Lab)

† Stephenson, Andrew (Pendle) (Con)

† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)

† Tracey, Craig (North Warwickshire) (Con)

† Turner, Karl (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab)

† Western, Matt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)

Farrah Bhatti, Mike Everett, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 2 November 2017


[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill

I will say a few words before we start. Obviously, everybody should turn off their mobile phones and devices. The selection list for today is available in the room and on the Bill’s webpage. It shows how the selected amendments have been grouped for debate. Amendments grouped together generally deal with the same or similar issues. The Member who has put their name to the lead amendment in a group is called first; other Members are then free to catch my eye if they want to speak on all or any of the amendments within that group. A Member may speak more than once in a single debate.

At the end of the debate on a group of amendments, I shall call the Member who moved the lead amendment again. Before they sit down, they will need to indicate whether they wish to withdraw the amendment or seek a Division. If any Member wishes to press any other amendment or new clause in a group to a vote, they need to let me know.

I shall work on the assumption that the Minister wishes the Committee to reach a decision on all Government amendments if any are tabled. Please note that decisions on amendments take place not in the order that they are debated but in the order they appear on the amendment paper. In other words, debate occurs according to the selection list; decisions are taken when we come to the clause affected by the amendment. I shall use my discretion to decide whether to allow a separate stand part debate on individual clauses and schedules following the debates on the relevant amendments. I hope that this explanation is helpful.

Clause 1

Listing of automated vehicles by the Secretary of State

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert—

“(1A) The Secretary of State must consult on and publish the criteria that they will use to determine whether, in their opinion, a motor vehicle is designed or adapted to be capable, in at least some circumstances or situations, of safely driving itself without having to be monitored by an individual.

(1B) The Secretary of State may not change the criteria without consulting vehicle manufacturers, insurers and other such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”

This amendment requires the Government to consult on and publish criteria for the definition of “automated vehicles” that will be used by the Secretary of State.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 8, in clause 1, page 1, line 10, at end insert—

“(1A) The Secretary of State may only add a vehicle to the list if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the vehicle’s software has been approved for safe use on roads or in other public places in Great Britain.”

This amendment would ensure that vehicles cannot be listed as automated vehicles by the Secretary of State unless he or she is satisfied that the vehicle’s software has been through an approval process (see NC11).

New clause 11—Approval of automated vehicle software

“(1) The Secretary of State must set out in regulations a system for approving automated vehicle software.

(2) These regulations must, in particular, make provision for—

(a) the criteria to be used in the approval process to determine whether automated vehicle software is safe for use on roads or other public places in Great Britain, including, but not limited to the way in which the vehicle is programmed to—

(i) deal with moral judgements, and

(ii) transition between driving itself and being driven by a person.

(b) the process by which manufacturers of automated vehicles may apply for software approval, including, but not limited to, any inspection and testing that the vehicle may be required to undergo, and

(c) the process by which manufacturers of automated vehicles may appeal if their software is not approved.

(3) In this section, a “moral judgement” refers to any situation where an automated vehicle has, and makes, a choice of action during an accident while the vehicle is driving itself.

(4) In this section and section 2, the definition of transition of an automated vehicle “between driving itself and being driven by a person” may be set out by the Secretary of State in regulations.

(5) Where a statutory instrument contains the first regulations made under this section, the instrument may not be made unless a draft of it has been laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House.

(6) A statutory instrument containing regulation under this section, that is not the first such regulation made under this section, is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”

This new clause would require the Government to establish a system for approving automated vehicle software. The approval process would include an opportunity for manufacturers to appeal against a failed approval process. Criteria for approval would include consideration of the way in which the vehicle was programmed to deal with moral judgements.

It is always an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to the Bill generally and to the amendments tabled in my name, to which I will come shortly.

This is an exciting opportunity for the Committee to speak about the potential to liberate many people currently excluded from access to rural transport. The Bill also provides opportunities to improve personal transport arrangements, as well as air quality, which is crucial given the dire state of the environment and its impact on health. I begin by thanking the Minister personally for his collegiate approach to the Bill, and for his co-operation and assistance in the preparation for this sitting. He even allowed my staff access to his officials. It is genuinely appreciated.

Amendment 1 would improve the Bill, and I know that the Minister is intent on improving it. It would require the Government to consult on and publish criteria for the definition of “automated vehicles” that the Secretary of State will use. As the Committee can see, clause 1 as currently drafted puts the onus on the Secretary of State to define, in his or her opinion, what constitutes an automated vehicle, without having to consult the sector. In my view, the Bill would be vastly improved by a requirement to consult on and publish the criteria by which “automated vehicles” will be defined.

Secondly, the amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from changing the criteria without consulting vehicle manufacturers, insurers and other such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate. We ask for that consultation and publication of the criteria because it is crucial that manufacturers, vehicle owners and insurers know them, whether they are making, buying, warning about or insuring an automated vehicle, and whether the scope of the legislation applies to their vehicle. In the evidence session, the insurance industry welcomed the Government taking on the responsibility of saying what is an automated vehicle, but we are still concerned that the Bill as drafted leaves the Secretary of State with total discretion on what is an automated vehicle. We therefore tabled the amendment to provide greater clarity and to help the Government by ensuring that the relevant persons and organisations will be sufficiently involved, to inform the Secretary of State’s list of automated vehicles.

The Opposition believe that the additional clarity provided by the amendment would help to create a more reassuring environment and to encourage the development and uptake of automated vehicles. As I said, the amendment would also prevent the Secretary of State from changing the criteria without further consultation, and guarantee that the criteria used will be up to date and as practical as possible in a very fast-moving sector. We have rehearsed these matters previously so I do not want keep the Committee on this point for too long.

I have had the opportunity to look at Hansard; in the Committee for the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill, the Minister promised to go away, think about it and amend the Bill appropriately to tighten the definition, but that does not seem to have happened. I do not mean to criticise the Minister personally, but the Government have had six months to think about that. The only change that I can see is in clause 1(b) but that is just semantic. We intend to press the amendment to a Division.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Sir Edward. I have had a number of informal chats with the Minister as we have bumped into each other while wandering around the House. I appreciate his approach to the Bill. My amendments are genuinely to try to probe the area, which I find fascinating, of the interaction between artificial intelligence and human behaviour. Nowhere more than in our transport systems will this become more prevalent over the coming years. My amendments are to probe the areas where I think that that comes into sharp focus.

When we boil it down, we are legislating for vehicles that are driven by computer software, as we heard in the evidence. We heard from the witnesses on Tuesday that we are legislating exclusively for tier 4 and tier 5 of the five tiers. The tiers start with driver-assisted systems such as braking, steering and parking, through to automated vehicles that can switch between being driven by a human and by software at tier 3, which overlaps into tier 4, and to tier 5, which is purely automated vehicles. The legislation really challenges us as legislators, because by simplifying the insurance system we are being asked to enable our roads to become laboratories to sharpen that technology. We heard clearly in the evidence that there were different attitudes to what is taking place. When asked about tier 5 technology, Mr Wong, from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said:

“As to when those level 5 vehicles without steering wheels are capable of performing end-to-end journeys—from my house in the village to my office in the city—that is anybody’s guess. That will probably be some time in the 2030s. It is quite complex.”––[Official Report, Automated and Electric Vehicles Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2017; c. 43, Q98.]

However, we then heard from Mr Boland of Five AI, who told us that automated vehicles would be on our roads in 2019, albeit in an experimental fashion.

This is a big challenge for us. We need to consider the software in great detail, and the Secretary of State needs to be given the power to set and oversee certain standards. Mr Wong referred to the report written by the Ethics Commission on Automated Driving for the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. I am a bit of an anorak, so I have started reading that report, although I have not got through all of it in the last 48 hours. It makes fascinating reading. The commission’s approach is that the technology is there to improve safety, whereas our attitude seems to be that it is a technological advance to help industry, and that improving safety and social inclusion will be a by-product a long way down the line.

The operation of the software raises some ethical issues. I asked the witnesses about how the software would perform and take decisions when an accident is imminent. For instance, imagine a four-year-old toddler walking in front of a vehicle that cannot stop to prevent a collision. To the left is oncoming traffic, with the risk of a head-on collision; to the right are perfectly innocent bystanders on the pavement or at the bus stop—those are the vehicle’s options. Mr Wong noted that this was the “classic trolley problem” referred to in the German ethics commission’s report. The commission’s conclusion was that it is simple to make a decision when the choice is between property damage and human injury, but when the choice is between different types of injury to different road users or innocent pedestrians who are not part of the scenario, we move into a completely new area of morals and ethics. We have to be prepared for that; these situations will take place on our streets, and we need to legislate for them. We should give ourselves the opportunity to oversee this software before it is allowed on the streets. Amendment 8 would give the Secretary of State power over the software’s approval, and new clause 11 would set out the approval criteria.

Does not clause 1(1) already cover what amendment 8 seeks to achieve? Paragraph (b) requires that the Secretary of State be satisfied that vehicles are

“designed or adapted to be capable, in at least some circumstances or situations, of safely driving themselves.”

In making that decision, surely the Secretary of State would take into account the nature of the software.

We would hope so. In the general terms in which the Bill is drafted, that is quite possible. Amendment 8 is a probing amendment, and I will not press it to a vote, but this is an area that as legislators we need to scrutinise. The software is key. That is what will be making the decisions and that is what will be driving the vehicle.

We seem to have started this discussion in terms of this being a mechanical problem about how to develop a piece of technology that can read all the different scenarios on our roads and react accordingly, but looking at the research—vehicles’ different speeds, any delay in the transition between a driver and an automated vehicle—an awful lot of the issue around the software is not referred to in the Bill. I am attempting to draw attention to that and to put in the Bill that it is the crucial area of the technology and we should pay attention to it.

In particular, new clause 11 refers to the moral argument, which goes back to the point about the choice—the choice between property and injury is an easy moral question to answer, but then we might have to make a choice between two scenarios on the road. Mr Wong referred to a “minimal risk manoeuvre”, which sounds fine as an answer in Committee, but a minimal risk manoeuvre might be the result of a choice between injuring one party or another in a risk situation on the road, and that is a serious moral dilemma. How do we decide on the type of software, choices, algorithms, or whatever we want to call the calculations that will undeniably have to be made in the vehicles? It is not possible in all scenarios, as was described to us, for a vehicle simply to come to a safe stop. Some situations will be unavoidable.

At the experiment the Minister visited down in Greenwich, where automated vehicles are being tested, there was an incident in which someone pushed a plastic chair out in front of the vehicle. The vehicle did not stop and it hit the chair. That was not a scientific test, but it demonstrated that there are circumstances in which things will happen. The vehicles will have to make choices in such circumstances and we should be legislating for that. We should at least give ourselves the power to be able to react and respond in future as the technology develops.

I am not arguing against that technology—it is something that has arrived, and its time is here. As I was discussing with the Minister the other day, that capacity exists in air transport. We could fly passenger planes and they could take off and land perfectly safely without a pilot on board. In an emergency situation, they could be flown remotely by someone in air traffic control. If that capacity were tested in the market, however, all the evidence suggests that people would not buy a ticket, in spite of the fact that almost the entire flight of any flight that anyone undertakes today is done by a machine—by the technology—and some of that technology even shuts the pilot out now, because having the pilot interfere with it is not safe. We do not have that capacity in our air industry, however, because of public opinion.

The House of Commons Library tells me that the air industry would save £31 billion, so there is a big incentive for it to have that capacity, but it has not. We are legislating to have it on our roads, but we are not legislating to control the key bit of the technology, which is the software. That is why I tabled my amendments.

Before I launch into the subject, Sir Edward, may I seek your guidance on a question of procedure? I want to make some points that I wish to bring to the Minister’s attention. They relate to the amendments, but more precisely to the clause. Shall I make those points in the stand part debate or now?

No—if they relate to the amendments, make the points now. If the right hon. Gentleman speaks out of order I will call him to order.

Thank you, Sir Edward.

As the Minister knows, two specific issues in the Bill concern me and led me to seek to be part of the Committee. One relates to the question of the strict liability of insurers when the vehicle is operating automatically, which of course relates to the software and its safety—the subject of this group of amendments. I have suggested to the Minister two possible approaches to resolving that problem, which was exposed in our evidence sessions. One of those relates to clause 1(1) and would probably require a somewhat different amendment from those that have been tabled, albeit broadly of the same kind. Let me first explain the problem and then try to suggest the solution.

We established clearly from the insurance industry representatives we questioned that, as the Bill is currently drafted, strict liability will attach to the car rather than to an individual, which is an entirely new phenomenon in insurance law. Let us suppose that there is not a fundamental legal problem with strict liability attaching to the insurer of a car. I make that assumption, although I do not necessarily think that it is a safe one; that may be explored further in the other place by lawyers with much deeper acquaintance with insurance law than I claim to have.

Supposing that that is a feasible arrangement, we then face the question: at what point should that strict liability clock in? That would not be a material question if the machine was never driven by a human being but was driven only by the machine itself. As the hon. Member for Eltham pointed out, that was raised during the evidence session by the rather enterprising group that will create service operations on London’s streets out of what are, in effect, level 5 vehicles way ahead of the schedule that other witnesses suggested would apply. Such vehicles clearly will never have a human being driving them; they will be automated objects that human beings will get into. As it is currently drafted, the Bill will therefore create a strict liability for the insurers. On the happy assumption that that will work legally, insurers will insure those vehicles, they will discover whether that is a very expensive proposition and that will get built into the service price. I am not worried about that from a legislative point of view.

However, I think that the Minister would agree, as all our witnesses seemed to, that it is extremely likely that, in parallel with that rapid roll-out of highly automated level 5 items, for perhaps many millions of motorists there will be a gradual progression—not necessarily strictly demarcated as level 3, level 4 and so on—from vehicles that are largely driven by a driver but somewhat assisted by the machine, to vehicles that are driven by the machine under more and more circumstances but are sometimes driven by the driver.

I certainly do not think that we should legislate on the assumption that we know what the future will look like, but it is highly likely that there will be a stage at which there are vehicles that, for example, are well designed to operate on motorways on an automated basis. The nation may benefit hugely from them operating in that way, because it is safer and allows much shorter distances between vehicles and therefore much more intensive use of motorways, which diminishes capital investment in the motorway system, improves safety and prevents the environmental damage that building more motorways would occasion, so that may well in fact become compulsory at some point. However, those very same vehicles may be ill-designed to deal with country roads, city roads or other kinds of road, so they may well have a function that enables them to be switched back and forth between automated driving and being driven by the driver.

We heard rather different things from witnesses about that switchover. To tell the truth, I think that that is because nobody really knows how it is going to operate. The history of technology is littered with prophecies from experts about how future technologies will operate that have proved to be false, so the Committee would be wise to assume that we do not know, and will not know when legislating, how exactly the switchover between driver and automated vehicle will occur.

Mr Wong suggested in an evidence session that the vehicle itself will offer up to the driver the opportunity to switch over to automation in circumstances in which the vehicle is sufficiently intelligent to know that it is safe for it to take over the driving, and that it will never otherwise offer up that opportunity. It is perfectly sensible that if the vehicle offers itself to the driver to take over operation, and if the driver allows it to take over operation, the vehicle becomes the driver, and the strict liability of the insurer attaches to the vehicle and not any longer to the person. That would be fine.

However, if, as some other witnesses seemed to think was the case, it is the driver who will, at least in some circumstances, make the decision of whether to switch over to automated use, this becomes a highly material question: has the driver made that decision in a reasonable and sensible fashion? The reason is that if the driver has not made the decision in a sensible and reasonable fashion, and if the insurer of the vehicle is nevertheless bound to have strict liability for the vehicle taking over the action, insurers could be faced with enormous bills in circumstances in which what they were actually doing was facing a bad decision by a person whom they had never insured; they had insured the vehicle and not the person. That is the problem we need to address, which brings me to the question of clause 1(1).

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has looked into these matters with typical assiduity. I am also delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I briefly say that, as I have risen for the first time. I know that your sagacity in the Chair will match the warmth of your friendship and the generosity of your home, which you have offered me just this week at a dinner party. Anyway, let us leave that to one side.

I like dancing on the head of pins—I think it is an appealing thing to do—but we must be careful to avoid it in this Committee, because time does not permit it, many hon. Members want to contribute and there is a slight risk from doing so in this case. I will make this argument as quickly as I can. The key issue about an event that took place while the vehicle was in autonomous mode is not the point at which it went into autonomous mode, but the events at the point at which the incident occurred. If we can be very clear that the vehicle was being driven autonomously at the time of an incident or accident, that becomes the salient issue, rather than what might have happened five minutes or half an hour before, when the driver switched it to autonomous mode, because of course the circumstances of its being autonomous will then become absolutely clear, and at that point the liability is not in question.

I take the point that whether the vehicle should have been in autonomous mode may be material and I shall explore that more when I respond to the debate, but I think that it is what happens at the point of the accident that is of greatest concern. I just put that to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset for further consideration.

I have considered that and I think that is the assumption. My right hon. Friend has well exposed the logic that underlies the current drafting, and it is in error, in my view, because although of course the material moment is the moment of the hypothetical accident, the cause of the accident is the material question from the point of view of the operation of our insurance system, and if the cause of the accident was a bad decision by the person, there is an illogic that will eventually undo all the good we are trying to do if nevertheless the insurer of the vehicle has strict liability. The fact that it may have been five, 20 or 55 minutes before the accident that the person handed over control to the vehicle is irrelevant if the basis on which the person handed over control was wrong and the person made the wrong decision. It seems to me that the question we need to address is this: is it possible that the person should have made such a wrong decision, or have we eliminated that possibility? That is what I want to get on to, because that is where clause 1(1)(b) needs to have a (c).

Is it not highly likely that this sophisticated vehicle will prevent the driver from seeking to put the vehicle in automated mode if it is unsafe to do so? It will reject the request.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for asking that question because it leads me to exactly the point I want to raise in relation to 1(1)(a), (b), and, as I think it may need to be, (c).

It is indeed possible that the proposition that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire has put, which is exactly the proposition put by Mr Wong in the evidence session, will happen and that vehicles that are capable of genuine automated driving will have sufficient intelligence built in so that they will offer to take over only if it is totally safe. If that is the proposition on which the Minister wishes to base the legislation, bearing in mind that we do not actually know at the moment whether the technology will go in that direction, it seems what is needed is an amendment or a new subsection—clause 1(1)(c), or thereabouts—that makes it clear, and this relates to the Opposition amendment, that the Secretary of State will have the power to approve a fully automated system only if the Secretary of State has have verified that that system will always safely determine its own capability to take over the car.

I will give way, of course, in a moment.

Such a course of action is fine and would solve the problem that I have advanced, because the Minister or Secretary of State, or an expert acting on his or her behalf, would have verified in advance that the machine was capable of taking over and would take over only under safe circumstances. Before I give way to the Minister, I want to point out that that is using the law to limit the technology, and the history of the approach to that in our country’s legislation has been very bad. I will not go into all the history, but I am happy to write the Minister a memorandum about it if he wants. I once wrote an article about this. There is a very long history of Parliament trying to prejudge the technology, legislating on the assumption that it will be only that technology, mandating therefore only that technology, and discovering that there is not any of it and that people elsewhere are manufacturing things that we do not get because they do not fit our legal system. It is not the route I recommend, and I will come back to that when we get to clause 2. It is a possible route, however, and one that the Minister should at least consider.

I will speak more about my right hon. Friend’s last point when I respond to the debate as a whole, because of course it relates closely to the shadow Minister’s point about how far we define what we do now. The Bill is an attempt to thread a course between creating sufficient certainty to establish a framework to allow further development and, on the other hand, doing exactly what my right hon. Friend has mentioned in trying to predict a future that may not come to pass. He is right to raise that and I will deal with it in greater detail.

On the specifics of his point about liability, I draw his attention to clause 3(2), which we will debate later. You will not let me debate it now for that reason, Sir Edward, but clause 3(2) specifically talks about the subject that my right hon. Friend describes, because it draws attention to the possibility of an accident being

“wholly due to the person’s negligence in allowing the vehicle to begin driving itself when it was not appropriate to do so.”

That is very much what my right hon. Friend speaks about, and it is why we put it in the Bill. He makes a separate point—a good one—about technology that kicks in of its own accord because the technology, the software, determines that it is better at that point for the vehicle to be driven autonomously. We will explore that in greater detail as we consider the legislation. I simply draw his attention at this stage to clause 3(2).

I recognise that I am treading on your indulgence, Sir Edward, but, as the Minister has mentioned clause 3(2), I will briefly point out, although no doubt we will discuss this later, why I do not think that it solves the problem. It is possible that it is susceptible to redrafting so that it will, but it is ill drafted if the intention is to solve the problem I have raised. In the first place, it says, “wholly”, in that it is

“wholly due to the person’s negligence”.

That is an almost impossible thing to establish. As currently drafted, it does almost no heavy lifting at all. I think I know why a parliamentary draftsman has nevertheless inserted the word “wholly”, because, like the Minister, I have had quite a long experience of dealing with parliamentary draftsmen on numerous Bills. I know that they think through carefully the question of what happens if we do not put in a word such as “wholly” under these circumstances.

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is gradually wandering from the strict road that relates to the amendment. He can always come back on clause stand part, and I have allowed him a lot of indulgence so far. I know he will return to the amendments.

I am grateful, Chair. I will leave it at that so far as clause 3(2) is concerned, but I will no doubt come back to it.

Finally, if it were the intention of the Minister to add to clause 1(1), rather than to do something to clause 2 or clause 3, which we will come to later, it would be important to establish whether the view taken by Mr Wong—that these machines will always be designed in such a way that they decide on a safe basis whether to take over—is a consensual view across the industry in every country or a happenstance view of some particular technologist.

Again, the right hon. Gentleman is touching on the area of ethics—it is covered in the excellent document written by the German Transport Ministry—which is about freedom of choice and the question of whether the individual driving the car should succumb to the superior knowledge of the software that has been put in the vehicle and have control of the vehicle taken away from them in certain circumstances. We have not discussed that issue, but it could arise as a consequence of the Bill. That is why I suggest we look carefully at the software. There is a major question about the freedom of choice of an individual driving their car if we allow the technology to take decisions away from the driver.

Yes, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Sharing his anorak tendencies, I too have been interested in the German case. In fact, I spent some while talking to German officials and motor manufacturers about the issue. Actually, I think there is a serious problem—this is the final point I want to raise—with clause 1(1)(b), which relates specifically to the questions of ethics that he raised. I want to draw the Minister’s attention to the word in clause 1(1)(b), “safely”. [Interruption.]

Undoubtedly so—it is No. 10 calling the Minister to higher things, yet they may not be of such great significance to our future as the Bill.

In clause 1(1)(b), the Secretary of State is asked to opine on whether the vehicle that is being approved and put on the list is capable of “safely driving”. An awful lot will hang on that word “safely” in what will probably be a rich jurisprudence over many decades. The hon. Member for Eltham is rightly drawing our attention to the fact that “safely” in this context could mean something technical—is the machine technically sophisticated enough to deal with circumstances—or it could mean something much deeper. It could mean the ethics and applied intelligence built into the machine so as to produce views or choices that accord with the social preferences of Parliament about, in trying to minimise the effect of an accident, who is to be sacrificed under circumstances where two different groups of persons could be sacrificed. Alternatively, it could mean any other set of very complicated ethical choices.

I of course bow to the Department’s legal advisers, parliamentary counsel and any external counsel, but my own hunch is that there is not enough jurisprudence available to guide us on whether “safely” will bear that amount of weight. I wonder whether the Minister should consider at least giving the Secretary of State the duty in due course to consider not just whether the machinery is capable of driving “safely”, but whether it is capable of driving—I do not know quite what words parliamentary counsel would want to choose—ethically or properly or in a socially desirable way. That is an odd kind of question to ask about a machine, I grant, but these are odd machines we are considering.

The hon. Member for Eltham is on to a good thing with amendment 8, even if he does not press it to a vote, because he raises an issue we will have to address. What we all do not want to get to—I think the Committee is united in this—is a sort of red flag situation where machines have been authorised because they have a large amount of technological wizardry in them that makes them highly sophisticated, but they make choices that any sane Parliament or Government, or indeed public, would regard as wholly morally objectionable, socially undesirable or both.

We need to think very hard about ensuring that the legislation at least lets our successors—whoever may be Secretary of State at the time—consider that range of issues when approving something. Otherwise, the Secretary of State will say, “Oh well, this is technically okay, but I don’t like the look of what it is going to do by way of the kinds of decisions it is going to make,” and some adviser will tell that Secretary of State, “Sorry, Secretary of State, it is ultra vires for you to refuse this vehicle on the list just because it is going to mow down young people in preference to old people”—or something—“because you are only allowed to determine safety, not ethics.” It is quite important that we get that precise wording right. I am grateful to you for your tolerance, Sir Edward.

I want to pick up the points made by the right hon. Gentleman. I was trying to think of parallels to try to understand this and imagine what it might be like in five or 10 years from now, and I guess I was likening it to the introduction of, say, cruise control and how that works with the insurance industry. If a driver instigates cruise control in an urban area and sets it at a speed that is in excess of the limit on that roadway, where would the responsibility and liability fall? The industry and technologies are improving at a pace. As was said in the Chamber on Second Reading, it is difficult to imagine where we will be, but I imagine that essentially the liability should be with the driver. If the driver has introduced the cruise control or automated driving system—in whatever form that may take—that is their choice just as it is their choice to manoeuvre from one lane to another today, which might ultimately result in an accident.

Perhaps I am not appreciating the fine nuance of the debate, but I would have assumed that, ultimately, the liability has to be with the driver. In the event of an accident, the telematics would be able to provide data to the insurance industry to prove things one way or another.

I rise simply to ask for a point of clarification from the Minister when he responds to the debate. I anticipate the answer to my question will be yes, but I would like to have it on the record. I anticipate that, as well as motor cars, the list of vehicles that the Secretary of State will compile and update will include lorries, buses, emergency services vehicles and other vehicles for which the driver would require an HGV licence or a public service vehicle licence. I would like clarification on that. For instance, I anticipate that, with technology, HGVs could be driven normally for a large part of a journey but then form part of some road train on a motorway with other similarly equipped vehicles. As I said, I would like clarification that the list will include those vehicles as well as private motor cars.

To paraphrase Bernard Shaw, I do not know whether I was born too early or born too late, but I do know that I was born to dare to dream of a future inspired—indeed shaped—by the past but not constrained by it; a future where we can achieve wonder. Part of that journey will be assisted by technological change. The technological change we are considering, as the Opposition spokesman said, could liberate many people who have not had easy access to private transport for a variety of reasons. That has extraordinary and wonderful prospects. As we consider the Bill, we should discuss it, as the shadow Minister did, in that context.

However, the Bill presents challenges, which are highlighted by clause 1 and the amendments, as well as by the contributions that we have heard from Committee members on both sides. In essence, the challenge, as I explained briefly when I intervened on my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, is to provide a legislative framework sufficient to give certainty, or at least a degree of certainty, to an industry engaged in research and development and further investment. On the other hand, being too specific in a highly dynamic area would be doing what he warned us against—trying to predict technological change, in the way that he described Governments doing in the past with unfortunate consequences.

That is our mission, and I am determined to do so in as convivial a spirit as possible; I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East for his generous remarks. Frankly, whoever was in government would face these challenges, and would be bringing a Bill of this kind to the House. It is perfectly appropriate that we should discuss it in as consensual a way as possible.

The job of the Opposition is to scrutinise such measures; indeed, it is the job of my right hon. and hon. colleagues to do so too. Those who have served on few Standing Committees and had little experience of legislation—there are some, who are newer Members of the House—will not have encountered a Minister quite like me. I am one of those rare creatures who are happy to listen to debate, hear suggestions and take them on board, be guided by them and concede where we have got it wrong. I am all the more so on issues such as this, because we are charting a difficult course, as I described.

The last time that we debated these matters—this is directly relevant to the amendments, Sir Edward, just in case you were thinking it might not be—we could not proceed with that Bill, because the inconvenience of a general election stopped us doing so. We considered the issues that we are beginning to debate now. They involve the creation of a list of automated vehicles to provide the public and the industry with the kind of clarity that I have described, and the relationship between those vehicles and new insurance provisions. Essentially, inasmuch as the Bill deals with autonomous vehicles, it does so in order to create a secure insurance market to allow the further developments that I mentioned.

The Bill suggests that the Secretary of State will create such a list to give clarity about insurance by applying the definition in clause 1(1)(a) and (b). We state that automated vehicles are those

“designed or adapted to be capable, in at least some circumstances or situations, of safely driving themselves.”

The answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South is that that includes other vehicles. He mentioned HGVs; he will know that some R and D is being done on those kinds of vehicle. Given what we already know about the work being done in this area, private cars might not be the first vehicles to become automated. I am not making a prediction, but it could be vehicles of the kind that he described. The best example that I can think of is the shuttles at airports that one uses to get to the terminal. We do not think of them as vehicles in the same way that we think of a car that we might drive from our home, but they are vehicles. They travel on a pre-ordained route, rather like the vehicle that I saw when I went to Greenwich and that I mentioned in earlier consideration. That was a fully autonomous vehicle driving on a single road from two set points. That might be the kind of first steps that are taken as the technology develops.

I emphasise that the technology is in its early stages—not quite in its genesis; more in its infancy. The standards by which these vehicles will be approved for safe sale and use are still being discussed internationally, so another challenge for the Government is to ensure that we—as a nation, as a polity and as a Parliament—do not jump ahead of those international standards. That is another ball that we are juggling, if I may use those terms. The international standards are developing because the research and development of the kind that I have described are happening across the world. Many countries are engaged in it; indeed, many of the businesses are pan-national, so they work in a number of different countries. This will be discussed and is being planned for by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, in which the UK plays a leading role.

The standards are still being developed and will form the basis of the type approval process, which is well established in the motor industry. We already talk routinely about type approval; it has been a long-standing part of how the industry works. The critical thing is that for a vehicle to meet to that type approval process, rather like a non-automated vehicle now, to be sold for safe use on roads, it must meet those standards. The core requirement of safety is implicit in the development of those standards, which will be international.

My right hon. Friend mentions the core requirement of safety. What does he understand “safety” or “safely” to mean in this context, and what advice has he received about whether it can bear the burden of distinguishing between an ethically proper set of choices by artificial intelligence and an ethically improper set of choices?

That is a very big question indeed. It is the one that, in a sense, was first raised by the hon. Member for Eltham in the evidence session and on Second Reading, when he painted the picture of a scenario where a human being faces an ethical dilemma while driving. I will paraphrase the example for the sake of brevity: a child runs into the road and the driver has the choice of hitting the child or swerving and possibly causing a more catastrophic accident. That is a momentary judgment that any driver makes. In the end, it is a practical and ethical judgment, is it not? We could have a very long debate. My hon. Friend on my right, the Whip, may be my former Parliamentary Private Secretary, but he will not be entirely indulgent of me if I engaged in that very long debate, because of course one could extend it—

Let me invite the Minister along that path a little. The right hon. Member for West Dorset raised an important question—I did not word it as succinctly as he did, but he has more experience of drafting legislation than I have, so that is no surprise. If morals or ethics are not specifically referred to in the legislation, a sharp-witted lawyer may later argue that the issue is not ethics or morals, but safety, and that it is therefore ultra vires to use the legislation to regulate that area of the technology. I urge the Minister to look at this issue again and consider amending the Bill to address it.

Let me try to answer the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset in two ways. First, I draw attention to something that Mr Wong said in evidence on Tuesday:

“May I point something out? I mentioned autonomous emergency braking. It has been demonstrated that the technology is improving all the time. Previously, autonomous emergency braking worked perfectly at 30 mph, which is urban speed, but it is becoming increasingly sophisticated. AEB can work well even at 50 mph. It would not surprise me if the technology improved in years to come”.––[Official Report, Automated and Electric Vehicles Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2017; c. 44, Q103.]

The technology is improving so rapidly and dramatically that in the scenario painted by the hon. Member for Eltham, an automated vehicle is likely to change lanes and—as in Mr Wong’s example—brake to ensure safety.

The representatives of the insurance industry stated in their evidence that the industry believes there will be fewer accidents, because the judgment of an autonomous vehicle will outpace that of a human being. I use the word “judgment” for technology with caution, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset used the word “ethics” with caution, but the judgment of the software driving the automated vehicle will be more acute and, in the end, safer. These machines are likely to be less prone to error than human beings, so there will be fewer accidents; the vehicles will be safer and therefore easier and cheaper to insure. We heard that point repeatedly in the evidence session. We can be confident that that is the direction of travel—I apologise for using that rather hackneyed phrase in this context—but we cannot be sure how quickly we will get there or exactly what it will look like. I would be a very bold man if I made such a prediction.

I, too, listened to Mr Wong and have re-read the part of his evidence that the Minister quotes from, but it is wholly irrelevant to our point. I thought it was extremely instructive that Mr Wong, who is clearly a very great technical expert, completely failed to understand the issue. The Germans have begun to understand it, but the Bill does not genuinely or seriously address it.

The Bill is drafted as if artificial intelligence were the same kind of thing as speed control. It is not, and that is a very important error underlying the Bill’s drafting. Speed control is a technical matter, and we could go much further with technical development and still be in the technical arena in which safety is the only question, because the ethical judgments are made exclusively by the human drivers. With artificial intelligence, as the hon. Member for Eltham rightly says, we are moving into a terrain in which the machine will make the kind of decisions that Parliaments and human beings make. These are questions not of safety, but of judgment about the right outcome under difficult circumstances.

I ask the Minister to go back to his Department and talk to its lawyers about whether jurisprudence will deliver to him or his successors the ability to refuse approval to a piece of artificial intelligence that, either directly or through its learning processes, will or could have the effect of producing totally dysfunctional anti-utilitarian results by making judgments that are technically perfectly safe but that just happen to take the view that, for example, wiping out a group of three-year-old schoolchildren is better than wiping out a 98-year-old crossing the road. That is a very difficult judgment for a human being to make, but it is the kind of judgment that Parliaments have to make, and I think that at the moment it is very clear in the Bill that it would not permit a Secretary of State to prevent type approval for a machine that was designed in such a way that there could be those very bizarre and undesirable results, and I am sure that that is not what the Department or the Minister wants to achieve.

Let us not overestimate how far this Bill—I am being very particular about my words—intends to go. This Bill is about ensuring that victims of collisions caused by autonomous vehicles get quick, easy access to insurance compensation in line with conventional processes. What we heard in the evidence and what we debated when the Bill was in its earlier incarnation was that it was important for the insurance industry, and therefore for the further development of this technology, that we were clear about that—there would be no difference, from the perspective of the person who owned the vehicle, in how they went about making a claim.

There is a much bigger debate, which will clearly have to be dealt with in legislation, in regulations, in type approval—in a whole range of other things—about some of the other matters that the hon. Member for Eltham and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset have raised. If they are both right that we will get to a point at which the machine makes what is in effect an ethical judgment—I am trying to use words very carefully; it is very obviously the machine making ethical judgments, but I do appreciate the strangeness of it—clearly that will have to be taken into account at a future point in the legislative process. I do not think this Bill is the place to do it; I just do not think it can do it, because we do not yet know enough.

We are back to my first point, about the line we are trying to tread between what we can do now with certainty and what we might do in the future in a world in which we can as yet only imagine what might occur. If my right hon. Friend will permit me to say so, perhaps the Hegelian synthesis, where we might meet between what appears to be my thesis and his antithesis, is that this Bill is a starting point—a first step along, as I have said, a long road.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I entirely accept that this Bill is just the starting point, but I think he is missing the point that I am trying to make about what starting with this language—with just the word “safely” and no reference to wider considerations—will do to his successors.

There is no point in having the Secretary of State empowered to make a list unless Secretaries of State are actually going to make lists. There is no point in empowering them to make lists of automated vehicles unless those lists are going to relate to automated vehicles. Those automated vehicles will have artificial intelligence built into them; they cannot be automated otherwise. Therefore, the Secretary of State, who is making the list in the first place, which this Bill provides for—not some other Bill, but this Bill—will be constrained by the terms that the Bill sets for what basis they can use to make the list. That is why the shadow Minister has raised questions about the criteria, and why we are having this debate in the first place. Surely, therefore, we need to empower—I am not suggesting that we in any way oblige—later Secretaries of State to consider, inter alia, whether the machines that they are putting on the list are actually murderously safe or good and safe machines. At the moment, they can decide only whether it is a safe machine. If it happens to be safe in the sense in which Stalin could “safely” eliminate large sections of his population, the poor old Secretary of State would, as I construe it—the Minister has not given us any indication that he has had advice to the contrary—be prevented from—

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is being carried away by his own verbosity. Stalin—

I think he is. We have started to wander more and more away from these quite narrowly defined amendments. I know that the Minister will get us back on track.

I am, as ever, guided by you, Sir Edward—having already cited your sagacity, I could hardly be anything other. I am delighted that we managed to get Stalin and Hegel into the same exchange. You will not get that in many Committees, Sir Edward. I am thinking about where we might end up, but I am prepared to live with that. It is important for safety, which in the end is a baseline factor, as I think my right hon. Friend will agree. However, there is a point about ethics. The advice I have received is that no vehicles that are not considered safe and ethical will be allowed on the market and therefore are not for consideration on the list.

Safe and ethical. I have received advice; I like taking advice and not taking it. Before I make that my definitive position, I want to reflect a bit. If we were to say no to the advice that was not safe and ethical, I want to be absolutely clear what ethical means. We know what safe means. We can draw on existing practice in respect of type approval. We know what measures of safety are about, but when we get to measures of ethics, we are in an altogether more challenging area. That is why I will reflect a bit on the characteristics. This is an incredibly interesting debate, by the way, and very useful.

I am obliged to the Minister for giving way. Will he concede that the right hon. Member for West Dorset and my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham are absolutely right that there is huge potential for legal argument about what is actually safe driving? There will be a debate around that that could end in litigation. No?

Yes, I agree. I think that is precisely right. As I said a moment ago, that is the significance of the debate. We are now at one in that there needs to be a list and that needs to be qualified. We have made some changes, which I will deal with in a second, since we first debated these matters. In his first contribution to our consideration, which now seems a long time ago, the hon. Gentleman spoke of consultation. I do not want to constrain the identification process or be too precise about the criteria, for the very reason that we have all been discussing, but it is right that a consultation is an implicit part of the continuing consideration of this. I am happy to say that that has to be part of it. As the technology develops, given what I have said about dynamism, there would have to be ongoing communication about the change in character of the technology and what that meant.

The safe functioning criteria are more straightforward. This is about a marriage between software and the machine. The machinery certainly needs to be safe. We drive machines now with internal combustion engines that are not fundamentally different from their early ancestors. So we know that the machine needs to be safe. The existing provisions in the Bill are clear that the list can comprise at present only vehicles that can be legally used on the roads. Having reflected briefly, I will reflect more—I am in reflective mode, as the Committee can tell. Perhaps it is about what we do in regulations. There might be an opportunity to qualify or clarify through regulation how the list develops.

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in one second. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset made the point that if we are too narrow in what we put in this legislation, even though it is a first step on the road, it may make the second, third or fourth step more difficult. That is the essence of his point, which he came to in the end. Either he focused his argument more precisely at the end or I was not bright enough to grasp it at an earlier stage of the argument, but that seems to be the essence of what he was saying. That is the bit that I want to think more about. I think that we are all happy that this is not the end of this process, but we must make the beginning of the process fit for purpose. That is essentially where we are.

Let me try to get through some more of my pre-prepared notes rather than extemporising, as is necessary when we have proper dialogue and scrutiny.

Yes, the Minister was in danger of going around in circles, so he should get back to the script.

I will not go around in circles; I will come to a brief conclusion.

As I said, I am not sure that it would be appropriate to be too precise about the criteria. The only scope that the Secretary of State will have to list a vehicle is by determining whether it meets the safety definition. If it does, it will be included on the list; if it does not, it will not. There is no discretion to make a decision outside those parameters; the power is merely administrative and is not a discretionary legislative power. That is so we can be clear about why vehicles need to be on the list.

The defined vehicles will not be covered by our current insurance framework and will therefore need new, specific insurance products. That is the point I was making about the limits to what we are trying to do now and the essence of why they matter. This is about allowing the further development of appropriate insurance products that are not out there now, because if they are not out there in the future that will inevitably limit how far we go with the further development of vehicles.

I promised to give way to the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington and I have not done so. That was very discourteous of me, so I do so now.

I thank the Minister. It was not a discourtesy; I was waiting and listening. I want to pick up the regulatory framework and where that takes us. The interpretation of safety is all about the criteria and what is set by, say, the Transport Research Laboratory. Let us look, for example, at the standard for an acceptable braking system. It is what the Secretary of State, through the Department for Transport, ultimately determines to be the criterion for, say, acceptable responsiveness—whether that is a swerving action by a vehicle or a braking system—that gets measured and therefore determines whether a vehicle is acceptable for inclusion on the list. We are obviously at the first stage, but the next stage will be determining those criteria for deeming a vehicle acceptable for UK roads. I hope that that is helpful; I imagine that a very technical regulatory framework will need to be determined.

Yes, I agree. That is precisely why we should develop criteria down the line in a regulatory way, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, and why we will need to do so mindful of the international standards that I described and the ongoing debate that is taking place internationally through well-recognised bodies. I agree. This is a highly dynamic and dramatic series of changes, if I might say so.

My final point is that the character of the amendments and of our debate is about the Secretary of State’s interpretive powers. We have to be careful about extending the interpretive scope of this part of the Secretary of State’s responsibilities. This is yet another line to walk and not to cross. The criteria for inclusion on the list need to be sufficiently clear as not to allow any doubt in the insurance market about precisely what kind of vehicle might be on the list and therefore what kind of vehicle might or might not be insured. I am therefore doubtful about extending the interpretive scope.

We need to be clear which vehicles and which software can safely be operated in automated mode. The Secretary of State will therefore be able to transpose approved vehicles on to the list to ensure that our domestic insurance framework is based on and clear about which vehicles need which insurance products. It would not be appropriate to legislate at this early stage, as amendment 8 and new clause 11 suggest, to set an approval procedure or safety criteria until we know what the international standards are. The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington is right; we will almost certainly need to do that further down the line as those international standards become clearer. Whether that is in other legislation or more likely in regulation—that is how I would like to go—is no doubt something we will debate over the course of the coming days.

In essence, I return to my core argument: the Bill is a starting point to creating greater clarity. It is not by any means the end of what I hope—I return to my very early words—will be a wonderful story.

I accept that the Bill is the mechanism for getting the ball rolling, but the more I listen to the debate, the more I am persuaded that we need something on the face of the Bill to ensure that there is consultation and criteria.

I always try to avoid contumely—I think that is a well-known fact about me—but I have said I will reflect on what the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset said. I have said that consultation is an implicit part of this process. I implore the hon. Gentleman to avoid contumely and withdraw his amendment.

I will not withdraw the amendment. With your leave, Sir Edward, I will press it to a Division.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Liability of insurers etc where accident caused by automated vehicle

I beg to move amendment 9, in clause 2, page 1, line 22, at end insert—

“or by an automated vehicle when transitioning between driving itself and being driven by a person,”

This amendment would ensure that the liability for accidents caused by an automated vehicle that is transitioning between driving itself and being driven by a person would be the same as the liability for accidents caused by an automated vehicle when driving itself.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 10, in clause 2, page 2, line 6, at end insert—

“or by an automated vehicle when transitioning between driving itself and being driven by a person,”

This amendment would ensure that the liability for accidents caused by an automated vehicle that is transitioning between driving itself and being driven by a person would be the same as the liability for accidents caused by an automated vehicle when driving itself.

I hope we will not take as long on these two amendments as we took on the previous group, although it was a fascinating discussion. The amendments follow on from that, because they relate to the transition period and the third of the five tiers that go from driver-assisted systems to full automation. Tier 3 is where the vehicle can transition from being fully automated to being driven by the driver, and vice versa.

Various pieces of research into the issue have come to different conclusions. In the evidence sessions, we heard that Audi had carried out some research at different speeds and come to the conclusion that there should be a minimum of 10 seconds in that transition period. The Venturer research came to slightly different conclusions, but all the research points to the fact that this is a problematic area in automated vehicle technology. It can take a deal of time for a driver to become alert. Mr Wong described to us various alarms that alert the driver to a vehicle request for the driver to take back control of the car; if those various alarms do not alert the driver, the vehicle will then slowly come to a halt. I am sure that we can all imagine the sort of disruption that could be caused if that happened on a motorway. He even described how the car prepared for an accident by tightening the driver’s seat belt just before the vehicle came to a halt, in case the driver had passed out or was so fast asleep that the alarms did not wake them up. There are various scenarios involving the transition that cause alarm.

Mr Gooding of the RAC Foundation felt that we should not even entertain tier 3 because it is unsafe and does not make any sense, and because the legislation is about moving straight to tiers 4 and 5. Clearly, if people giving us evidence are saying that, I suggest to the Minister that it should cause the Government some alarm, and that perhaps we should be legislating to say that we do not want to allow this on our roads. There are issues being raised about the clear dangers of tier 3 transition.

I, too, note what was said about tier 3, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not underplaying his own point. What he referred to in the transition phase also applies to tier 4. It is only at tier 5 that it disappears.

My understanding of tier 4, as Mr Wong said in his evidence, is that it is only at tier 4 that the human is removed from the equation; I think that those were his exact words. I must admit that that seems to be a contradiction. Tier 5, as I understand it, is a fully automated vehicle with no steering wheel, totally under the control of technology. One wonders what tier 4 is. If tier 3 is the transition between human and vehicle and tier 5 is a fully automated vehicle with no steering wheel whatever, what is tier 4? Is it a lesser tier 5 or a greater tier 3? I will give way to the Minister, who is going to enlighten us.

I suggest that I drop a note to the Committee setting out what each tier means; otherwise, we will have this debate time and again. I can anticipate Members across the Committee querying it. I have asked my officials already.

That would be helpful. I have looked at it, but as has been demonstrated in our exchanges, the difference between tier 5 and tier 4 is not entirely clear. From the descriptions of the people who gave evidence to us, in tier 4, the human is removed entirely from the equation.

We need to consider this issue. The evidence that I read said that the Venturer experiment at the Bristol testing centre discovered that drivers, when they first took over, tended to be over-cautious and drive at slower rates, which could increase congestion. There was also the potential for danger in vehicles suddenly slowing down, and Mr Gooding said in his answers to our questions that he felt that that issue was more important than congestion.

There are some important considerations raised by the issue of transition, particularly in tier 3. We asked witnesses, “When will the vehicle decide whether it is safe for the vehicle to drive or whether the vehicle should be handed back to the human driver?” They said that it depended on road conditions. That suggests that it will happen in the same locations on our roads: for instance, as vehicles leave motorways and enter more built-up areas, where there are more potential hazards and dangers for vehicles, it is likely that the vehicles will transition back to being driven by the driver. If that will happen regularly in the same location, it could create accident black spots. We could create a considerable new hazard on our roads.

We eagerly await the Minister’s note, but due to the wonders of modern technology, one can look it up on the web. Level 4 is clearly described as fully autonomous and

“designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip.”


“it’s important to note that this is limited to the ‘operational design domain’ of the vehicle—meaning it does not cover every driving scenario.”

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that the transition question arises in relation to level 4 when vehicles move from one driving scenario to another.

I accept that entirely and agree. It comes back to my point that it is likely to happen regularly in similar locations, and that patterns of behaviour will occur in particular spots where transition occurs because the technology requires it. We need to be aware of that. The testing is telling us that that is happening, but we are not taking it into consideration in the Bill, as we should.

I suggest to the Minister that we need to take that away and consider it. Safety must be the aspect most prevalent in our minds. There is also the moral or ethical issue of driver autonomy: will the driver be in charge of the vehicle, or will the technology be in charge of the driver? In the debate on previous amendments, he said that the technology is superior; he did not use that word, but he said that it is safer than a human in the event of an accident, even suggesting that a vehicle would make better or quicker choices than a human. That points us down a road, if Members will pardon the pun, of having roads operated in the way that our railways or underground service are controlled. Why not have fully automated vehicles of which drivers do not have control at all?

Let me be clear about that. We will not have time to complete our consideration of this group of amendments, so I feel that intervening might be helpful. What I said was that I drew that conclusion from the evidence that we received. The insurance industry and other witnesses said that they thought that the vehicles would be safer, and that insurance premiums might decrease over time; they said so because they believe that autonomy will make vehicles safer. It is implicit that they gauge the autonomous driving mode to be safer.

My experience has been that many people who come to give evidence to us as MPs assure us that a technological advance will deliver X, Y and Z, take us far forward and lead us to a promised land where things are safer and much improved, yet we find that due to the law of hidden consequences, we face a whole different set of scenarios. The one that I am pointing to here is that the transition between driver and technology is already throwing up potential hazards on our roads, even before we have let the vehicles on our roads. We know that the issue exists, because it has shown up in the testing. Therefore, we should legislate for it. I have asked the Minister to take on board those arguments, and I can see that the Whip is itching to get to his feet.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—Andrew Stephenson.

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill (Fourth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Mr Adrian Bailey, Sir Edward Leigh

† Argar, Edward (Charnwood) (Con)

† Brown, Alan (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (SNP)

† Duffield, Rosie (Canterbury) (Lab)

† Efford, Clive (Eltham) (Lab)

† Foxcroft, Vicky (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

† Hayes, Mr John (Minister for Transport Legislation and Maritime)

Jones, Graham P. (Hyndburn) (Lab)

† Kerr, Stephen (Stirling) (Con)

† Knight, Sir Greg (East Yorkshire) (Con)

† Letwin, Sir Oliver (West Dorset) (Con)

† Mann, Scott (North Cornwall) (Con)

Rodda, Matt (Reading East) (Lab)

† Stephenson, Andrew (Pendle) (Con)

† Stewart, Iain (Milton Keynes South) (Con)

† Tracey, Craig (North Warwickshire) (Con)

† Turner, Karl (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab)

† Western, Matt (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)

Farrah Bhatti, Mike Everett, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 2 November 2017


[Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]

Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill

Clause 2

Liability of insurers etc where accident caused by automated vehicle

Amendment proposed (this day): 9, in clause 2, page 1, line 22, at end insert—

“or by an automated vehicle when transitioning between driving itself and being driven by a person,”—(Clive Efford.)

This amendment would ensure that the liability for accidents caused by an automated vehicle that is transitioning between driving itself and being driven by a person would be the same as the liability for accidents caused by an automated vehicle when driving itself.

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing amendment 10 in clause 2, page 2, line 6, at end insert—

“or by an automated vehicle when transitioning between driving itself and being driven by a person,”

This amendment would ensure that the liability for accidents caused by an automated vehicle that is transitioning between driving itself and being driven by a person would be the same as the liability for accidents caused by an automated vehicle when driving itself.

My right hon. Friend the Minister rightly admonished me earlier in our proceedings for not making clear right from the beginning how the remarks I was making related to the structure of the Bill as it is and how it is trying to make progress without trying to solve all the problems.

In responding to the amendment of the hon. Member for Eltham, I want to ensure that I make clear why I am raising the point that I am raising about the Bill as drafted. I take it that the point of clause 2, which is one of the major points of the Bill, is precisely to ensure that the insurance industry has a clear and legally certain basis for proceeding. That is a restricted but very important ambition. The point that the hon. Gentleman raises in his amendment is very material from the point of view of realising the Minister’s ambition.

The way that the Bill is constructed, without the hon. Gentleman’s amendment or something like it, does not provide certainty for the insurance industry. The insurance industry has failed to recognise that the Bill does not provide that certainty. When the industry realises that it does not, it will blame us and the Minister for that and say, “Why on earth did you not give us certainty?” My whole intent is to ensure that the Minister can do what he is trying to do. I hope he will accept what I am saying in that light.

We had an interesting exchange in the course of the moving of the amendment about tier 3 and tier 4. To tell the truth, I do not have any faith in the tiers. They are a figment of a group of manufacturers’ imaginations. They are as good as we are going to get at the moment as a broad description of how things will go, but it is likely that all sorts of different things will be produced that are variously describable as tier 3-plus and tier 4-minus and God knows what else. I think the Minister has already agreed with what I think is certainly a true proposition: there will be at least a period in which people are experimenting with kinds of automation that involve significant opportunities for transition between the machine and the person. For that purpose, it does not matter whether we are talking tiers 3, 3-plus, 4-minus, 4 or, indeed, 4-plus.

There will possibly come a moment when drivers just fall out of the equation and there are not any drivers any more, just machines that take us to where we programme them to go. At that halcyon moment, probably decades from now, clause 2 would work fine, but the problem is that it will not work fine during what is likely to be the very long passage where there is a rather messy scene of vehicles that in varying circumstances are taken over by a driver or handed by the driver to the automation system. We were told in the evidence sessions with great certainty that it would take 10 seconds or less to hand over. We were also told that if a failure in the handover from the machine to the person occurred, all was well because the machine would find a way of stopping itself. I have learned, as I expect many members of the Committee have, always to take with a strong pinch of salt any assertion by assertive technologists that they know exactly how long it will take for something technological to happen in all circumstances. They do not know any such thing; they are speculating. They may prove to be entirely right—they certainly know a lot more about it than me—but it is perfectly possible that they will prove to be completely wrong.

The hon. Member for Eltham raised one circumstance in which the technologists could be very wrong. It may well be that the machines are so designed that they go to great lengths to wake up drivers who have gone to sleep when they have stopped driving and handed over to the machine. There may be rules enforced that say they must not go to sleep, but human beings are human beings, and they might go to sleep and it might take a lot longer than 10 seconds to wake them up. I happen to be married to someone who takes a lot longer than 10 seconds to wake up; I have no reason to suppose that every human being sitting next to the machine is going to be in full functioning order in 10 seconds. There could be quite long periods during which that transition is occurring.

The reason I say all that to my right hon. Friend the Minister is that we are not here talking about angels on pins; we are not talking about milliseconds that are just a figment of legal imagination. It is quite likely that, in real life, there will actually be some accidents that occur during periods of transition between machine and mankind. There is no reason we should be afraid of that; there are plenty of accidents on our roads now, and we are not entering into a new terrain in which there will be thousands more accidents—probably there will be thousands fewer. Nevertheless, some accidents might occur during transition. The Bill currently contains a binary choice. Either, as in clause 2(1),

“an accident is caused by an automated vehicle when driving itself”

or it is not. There is no allowance for the possibility of transition.

If a piece of legislation does not admit of a possibility, and that possibility comes about in real life and there is a court action about it, the court looks at the statute and it says to itself, “Blow me down! Once again, Parliament has been extremely stupid. There is nothing in the statute about this situation.” What does an English court do, thank goodness, under such circumstances? It invents the law. That is what it will do. It is not the case that there is a sort of legal black hole. Where there is statute and statutory construction does not lead to the answer to the case, the judge will invent the answer.

I take it that my right hon. Friend is speaking about fault. In those circumstances, what would be at question is where fault lies and what caused the accident. If that is the case, I direct him, without wishing to engage in a long debate about it, to clause 3(1), which deals with partial responsibility and therefore fault.

No, I am not raising the question of fault. I am raising the question of legal certainty about the circumstance. Clause 2 says that if the

“accident is caused by an automated vehicle when driving itself”

it is clear that

“the insurer is liable for that damage.”

It is equally clear, therefore, as a binary choice, that if the vehicle is not being driven by the vehicle itself, but by the driver, the driver is liable. Those two positions are perfectly clear. The insurer of the driver, who may or may not be a separate body from the insurer of the vehicle, takes on responsibility when the driver is driving. We are dealing here with the situation in which some combination of driver and vehicle has been the cause of the accident, during a transitional period from one to the other. The question arises, which of the two insurance policies is the relevant one? I do not believe that there is anything in clause 3 that solves that problem. If the Minister can point out something about the wording of clause 3, I hope you will allow him to do so, Mr Bailey, because it is definitely relevant to the point that the hon. Member for Eltham and I are raising.

My own view is that there is nothing in clause 3 that solves the problem, and therefore the courts will invent a solution. There is nothing wrong with that in general—the courts are very wise and may come up with a perfectly good solution—but the Minister’s purpose is not to say, “Let the courts invent a solution”. If that was his purpose, he would not need the Bill in the first place, because we have a common-law system. If there were no Bill, and if automated vehicles were to proceed and things were to go to court, the courts would find a solution. We would not need the Bill in the first place, if we were going to rely on the courts. The reason for having the Bill is to create legal certainty so that we are not simply trying to find out later, ex post, what the courts will make the law be. We are trying to make the law in advance, so that the insurance industry and the automated vehicle industry know how it will work. For that purpose to be realised, we have to be clear that the law covers all the possible circumstances—when there is a driver driving the vehicle, when the vehicle is driving the vehicle, and the circumstances between the two when somebody is handing over to the vehicle or the vehicle is handing over to the driver.

My point is that at the moment there is a gap; the Bill does not say what happens during that period. Incidentally, I do not think it matters terribly what the decision is; there just needs to be a decision, so that a case does not revolve around who the relevant insurer is under the circumstances of transition.

I know we are not debating clause 3, but since the Minister referred to it, let me point out that clause 3(2) makes it the driver’s responsibility if a vehicle is unsafely allowed to be driven automatically. A driver could be at fault if they cause an accident at the moment of transition by failing to respond when the vehicle tells them to take over, so clause 3 could actually make things worse for the driver.

Actually, I think the hon. Gentleman understates the problem with clause 3(2), which the Committee will consider in due course. During our consideration of clause 1 this morning, I made the point that unfortunately clause 3(2) contains the word “wholly”. It is therefore completely unclear what happens if an accident is not wholly due to the driver or to the vehicle, but is partly due to each, as it would be during the transition. That is a muddle, and the whole point of the Bill, which I applaud, is to avoid muddle. Muddle encourages courts to base decisions on common sense or common law, because the statutes do not tell them how to handle the circumstances. That is not what we are trying to achieve; we are trying to clarify and make certain.

We therefore need clause 2 to set out clearly the three possible situations. If the driver is driving, the driver’s insurer is liable. If the car is driving, the car’s insurer clearly has strict liability, novel though that concept is. But we need a decision—I do not really care what, so long as it is clear, definite and permanent—about what happens during periods of transition, however long they may be and under whatever circumstances they may arise. We cannot tell in advance how long the transition periods will be, and we should not take any advice from the industry that they will be only for 10 seconds and will always work perfectly—they will not.

May I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Bailey? Our discussion this morning was lively, but productive and wholesome. I am keen to make progress, as I am sure other Committee members are. The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Eltham relate to issues that we have already addressed, but with further consideration of the transition between autonomous and human driving. Clause 3(2) states:

“The insurer or owner of an automated vehicle is not liable…to the person in charge of the vehicle where the accident that it caused was wholly due to the person’s negligence in allowing the vehicle to begin driving itself when it was not appropriate to do so.”

I am conscious that much of the debate on these amendments relates to clause 3, so I must be careful not to stray into premature consideration of a clause that the Committee has not yet reached. Nevertheless, in resisting the amendments, it is pertinent for me to refer the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset to the Road Traffic Act 1988. If the driver has some role in the accident—if the vehicle is not self-driving, either during or before the transition—the current framework, which is set out in the Act, will apply.

It is also worth saying that if a driver negligently decides to hand over control of the vehicle, clause 3 will apply, which is why I said we would end up debating clause 3 if we were not careful. If it is partly the driver’s fault, subsection (1) will apply; if it is wholly their fault, subsection (2) will apply. For example, if the driver of a vehicle designed only for self-driving on a motorway is injured after putting it into self-driving mode on a rural road, the insurer’s liability will be reduced under the contributory negligence principle. If a court finds the driver to be wholly at fault, the insurer will pay only the third parties involved in the accident. Partial responsibility is therefore addressed in the Bill and the transition, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset paid particular attention, is dealt with in as much as we have an existing framework that of course insurers have built their current products around, which is drawn from the Road Traffic Act 1988 and other national and international regulations.

I apologise for not understanding, but will the Minister explain further how the Road Traffic Act 1988 covers the specific example of an automated vehicle transitioning from automatic to driver mode, or vice versa?

I will be happy to do that when further inspiration reaches me. In the interim, while I wait for that inspiration, I will say that we recognise the need to ensure that the transition controls are safe. It is of value to emphasise that research, including some being carried out in the UK, will help to determine a safe transition process to inform international safety standards of the kind I mentioned earlier. In essence, therefore, the field is a developing one in which those international standards are being built on. Research is taking place here and elsewhere.

The research that we spoke briefly about in the witness sessions is such that it includes the development of software to take account of endless eventualities that might occur while a vehicle is being driven or driving itself. The work being done is to simulate a range of road conditions and circumstances in which any car might find itself at any point in time on any kind of road. That is of course as numerous as might be imagined, but the aim is to have software that is clever enough to deal with all kinds of driving circumstances. The work is not complete but ongoing, and is being done on London roads as we speak—trials on London roads in real time.

I am therefore confident that the further work will lead to an outcome where the software that in the end allows us to see the further development of automated vehicles will be able to replicate circumstances that drivers find themselves in. That, by the way, relates to a debate we had earlier about the judgments that might be made by a human being replicated by the software given all kinds of different challenges.

Will the Minister focus his mind on a specific example? We are in a case in which the car has been driving itself on a motorway. It is programmed to turn off the motorway, but it is not judged by the Secretary of State to be a car of a kind that would be safe to drive off a motorway. It has therefore been programmed to hand over to the driver when it leaves the motorway—this is one of the situations on which the amendment of the hon. Member for Eltham is focused—and the driver is profoundly asleep, having been asleep all the way from London to Bristol on the motorway. The machine tries to hand over to the driver.

I am sure the Minister is right, that the software will be highly developed and it will try to hand over quickly, as far as it can, and that if it does not hand over quickly it will take all sorts of other sensible evasive action to prevent an accident occurring in such circumstances. If we could be absolutely certain that the software was perfect, we could all relax. The Minister would not need the Bill because there is no need to insure things that are absolutely perfect; they never have any accidents so there are no risks and no need for the law.

In introducing the Bill, however, the Minister rightly envisages that the software will not be perfect because things invented by human beings never are, unlike things invented by the Almighty that the Minister believes in. There will be circumstances in which the software goes wrong, such as if it tries to take evasive action having tried to hand over to a driver who was asleep and who it has failed to wake up. We have a prolonged transition period during which this magnificent software is trying and failing to get the driver to wake up and somehow does not do everything perfectly, and then there is an accident. Under clause 2(1)(a), is the vehicle driving itself in those circumstances or not? I do not know and a court will not know. It is trying not to drive itself—it is programmed not to be—but it has failed not to be driving itself. Somehow or other, that circumstance needs to be covered here. If the Minister can explain how the Road Traffic Act, which I looked at when it came up in the oral evidence sessions—

I do apologise. If the Minister can explain how the Road Traffic Act solves that problem, I am all ears.

I had forgotten for a moment that it was an intervention. Those who seek perfection on earth are invariably either extreme zealots or delusional, or both. Perfection exists only in heaven, as my right hon. Friend knows. The insurance industry does not claim that there would be no accidents in any circumstances as a result of automated vehicles, but it told us in the oral evidence sessions that it thought there would be fewer. It said that that would have an effect on the insurance marketplace because of the effect on safety—that is the exchange we enjoyed earlier—that comes about because the fallibility of men and women as drivers means that 95% of accidents, or a figure close to that, are caused by human error of one kind or another. We are clear about that.

We can also be clear that the Bill is welcomed by the industry because we were told so by Mr Howarth in the oral evidence sessions. He said:

“I think it is very clear that the legislation and broadly the development of automated driving are something that insurers are genuinely enthusiastic about.”––[Official Report, Automated and Electric Vehicles Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2017; c. 7, Q11.]

The insurance industry thinks that the Bill is an important first step, of the kind I described earlier, in establishing a framework, but it is a framework and further changes will be necessary as technology develops. Those changes will have to be dealt with in a regulation or subsequent measures.

I will, but I want to finish this bit otherwise I will get mixed up in my responses.

In respect of the intervention by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, to be clear, the Bill covers only cars in autonomous mode, because there is an existing insurance framework born of the Road Traffic Act that triggers insurance when the driver is at least partly at fault and establishes liability. I dealt with this issue earlier. Insurers look at what the causation is, the causation is linked to establishing fault and insurance kicks in accordingly. That is why the Road Traffic Act is relevant because that is where we are already. If we did not have a framework, we would not have a series of insurance products—they would be based on nothing. They are based on the existing law.

Is not the right hon. Member for West Dorset making a point about interpretation? The Bill as currently drafted could be a lawyers’ charter. Lawyers will be scrapping in court, arguing about various definitions, because the Bill simply is not clear enough on those points.

That is a good point. As the hon. Gentleman is a lawyer, I would not want to second-guess him.

A former lawyer, I should say. Of course Governments always look during scrutiny at the wording of Bills and at what can be tightened, changed or improved. That is part of the business that we are engaged in today. That is why we are having these debates; that is why we believe in the parliamentary process; that is why I started by saying that my intention was not to blindly drive the Bill through unaltered, but to listen, consider and reflect. That is the approach that I adopt.

The risk in this particular case, and with this kind of Bill, lies in trying to do too much. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset will say, “Yes, but it has to be sufficient,” and of course he is right. The point that he made at the beginning of his remarks was that if we are seeking clarity—and the case that we are making for the Bill is clarity—we cannot end up with something that is not clear. Otherwise, ipso facto, we are not fulfilling our ambitions. This debate is about that clarity.

Let me put this on record and see if it helps. It is likely that the first automated vehicles to reach the market will be usable in automated mode only in specific situations or use cases; we talked about that previously. They will probably be used, in the first instance, on motorways, for obvious reasons. In those terms, to put it in a way that most of us should find easy to grasp—I certainly find it easy to grasp, and if I find it easy, that is fair enough—it is a bit like a combination of what we have now. We have cruise control, which we might use on a motorway, but we probably would not use on a small side road in a rural area. We might use other driver-assist mechanisms currently available that are not automated, but have been developed over time to make driving more straightforward. We use assisted parking only when we are parking or reversing. There is a relationship between developing technology and actual use. That, I think, is how it will be at the beginning of the process—the journey, the road, the mountain; I do not mind which simile I use—that we are embarking on.

I will give way in a moment; I just want to complete this thought. Manufacturers have spoken about creating geofenced vehicles that would operate in defined parts of the city; others have spoken about systems that would operate on motorways and other high-speed roads. It is likely that the relevant global regulations that will be used to type-approve automated vehicles will reflect such limited-use cases. It is also possible that the regulations will contain requirements that the vehicle be able to detect where it is so that the system cannot be used in other situations.

Therefore, it is not clear that we need to make matching regulatory changes in our domestic framework. If necessary, we can use existing powers—this relates to what I said earlier—in the Road Traffic Act 1988 to revise existing or create new road vehicle construction and use regulations to reinforce the global regulations. That is exactly the point that I would make to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset. If that legal power exists, and as long as the Bill does not counter it—it is a useful addition, but it does not negate any of that—it seems to me entirely possible to deal with those technological changes.

I do not think that anybody could possibly be convinced by that, because it does not address the issue. The issue is when the insurer of the vehicle will be liable. It does not matter what regulations are made; they will have no impact on that question if the primary legislation says what it says now and no more. It will remain unclear what will happen in circumstances where it is not clear whether the automated vehicle is driving itself according to the terms of clause 2(1)(a), because it is in transition but failing to transition. That is a problem that the Minister cannot address through regulation; he must address it in the primary legislation if he wants the court to be clear about who is liable.

If it is helpful to explain to the Committee in greater detail and in more technical detail, if I can put it that way, the relationship between the Road Traffic Act and the Bill, I am happy to do so, and to do so in particular relation to the point that my right hon. Friend has just made about responsibility and liability, because he is right that if such a contradiction occurred, the purpose of the Bill would not be fulfilled. So, I am happy to reflect and write on that, and given what the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun has said, perhaps that will be beneficial in dealing with his query, too.

Further explanation might help, but the Minister also said that he could use the Road Traffic Act to create regulations that could deal with this issue, because he said that the Bill is to do with fully autonomous vehicles. However, it still seems logical that, if this is a new Bill to deal with autonomous vehicles, we should deal with the scenario that we know exists—it is a scenario that we have already heard evidence about. There is already what is called the tier 3 or level 3 mode of operation, whereby a vehicle already makes that transition from driving to automated, so it seems logical that we deal with this issue while we are considering the Bill.

No, I do not think that I agree with that. We are all, to a lesser or greater extent, experienced legislators, or most of us are, and therefore we know that when a Bill is introduced and then becomes an Act, it certainly needs to be synergistic and compatible with the other, pre-existing measures to which it relates. I am not sure that it always needs to replace them; if that was the case, every Bill would have to be immensely ambitious in its scope.

So I do not think it is impossible to reach a position where, if we can accommodate the requirements of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, we can end up with an Act that is compatible with existing regulation and that fits—knits, if you like—with it, in as much as the insurance industry can rely on the existing legal framework for the products that it already sells and that the public enjoy—or endure, depending on which way people look at it—and there can be a new set of products that relate to the new technology and that build on the framework that this Bill, which hopefully will ultimately become an Act, delivers. So I am not sure that I agree with the hon. Gentleman.

The hon. Gentleman intervenes from a sedentary position. Yes, but what I described does not suggest a lack of clarity. It simply says that the existing legislation is obviously clear, because it has given rise to an insurance marketplace that works; the new legislation needs to be clear, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset; and then the relationship between the two needs to be clear. We have achieved one objective, which has been achieved since 1988 at least; of course, there was legislation before that, but we do not need to deal with that legislation now.

So, I am not sure that those things cannot be squared; in fact, I am certain they can be squared and it is my job to do so. Because it is my job to do so, I am not sure that I can accept the amendment—although it is entirely understandable, well-argued and designed to help; I know that—not least because it is too detailed for the level of development of the technology and could constrain more appropriate subsequent regulation of the kind that I have described.

Also, ultimately the amendment would not help with the process of determining and apportioning liability in the event of an incident, which will remain the same as it is now, with the courts making judgments based on the facts. I am not sure that the amendment really helps with that, and for that reason I invite—not just invite but recommend—the hon. Member for Eltham to withdraw it.

Before I call the next speaker, I gently remind Members that in debates of this nature they may speak more than once on the same amendment. If you are making an intervention, keep it short; if you wish to make long comments, it may be better to do so as a separate speech. Equally, will Members stand to make interventions rather than making them from a sedentary position? That helps both me and, I am sure, the Minister.

Welcome back to the Chair, Mr Bailey. Do you intend to have a stand part debate? Should I forego my response and just contribute to that debate, or make my response now?

Unless you want to cover something that has not been debated to date, you might as well do so now so that we do not need to have a stand part debate. If you want to go in a totally new direction, do not respond now and we will have a stand part debate.

I will make my points now and then we can move on.

We need to go back to what we are attempting to do with the Bill. Why have it at all? Why not just let the insurance industry decide which vehicles they want to insure and make it up as they go along? We are not doing that; we are actually trying to create a framework to protect the public when these new types of vehicles go on to our roads. We have accepted in principle that we have to legislate to accommodate those vehicles, which are different from the vehicles that we currently have on our roads. The Bill must not allow insurance companies to determine what types of vehicles go on our roads. That is for us; that is why we are here. If the Bill offers the insurance industry too wide a scope, we may end up with vehicles on the roads about which people ask us, “Why did you allow this to happen?”

We heard conflicting comments from witnesses. Mr Wong told us that in an Audi, after a minimum of 10 seconds alarm bells would go off and, if the driver did not respond, the vehicle would eventually bring itself to a halt. That was a description of tier 3. Mr Gooding told us that we should not accept tier 3—we should not have it at all. Mr Boland told us that the service vehicles that he would test on city roads would be fully autonomous but, in the experimental stage, would have a steering wheel and a driver, who would take over immediately with no transitional period whatever, which research tells us is not possible. Even the pointy-headed technocrats who came to talk to us told us conflicting things about transition and how the technology works.

We have to be clear about the vehicles we enable to go on to our roads and the dangers that they may create. The transition issue is important, because the evidence is that it creates dangerous situations.

I think—to sound like a script from “Dad’s Army”—that the hon. Gentleman is going into the realms of fantasy a bit. His first point was that we need the Bill because the existing Road Traffic Act is not fit. I did not say that the existing Road Traffic Act was fit for the future, because it does not mention autonomous vehicles. The whole point is that it is fit for what it does but we need the Bill because autonomous vehicles are a growing reality and are likely to become so, as a result of research, at some speed in the coming years.

Secondly, of course it is true that the insurance industry has been involved in the work that led to the Bill; its representatives told us so in the evidence sessions. They not only welcomed the Bill; they have been involved through extensive consultations on what is necessary to build the framework to put the products in place. I think we can be clear about the fact that we need the Bill and that the insurance industry has helped create it, and likes it.

I accept that the insurance industry is a necessary part of our transport system—we have to have properly insured vehicles—but what the Minister has said alarms me a bit. We have the poachers, not the gamekeepers, in charge of the legislation. Of course the insurance industry would not like to be tied up in knots and would want to be as free as possible to insure the vehicles that they choose to put on our roads, but I would argue that we should have more say.

The issue of transition is important. The right hon. Member for West Dorset put it well—I am in danger of saying that someone put a case for my amendment more eloquently than I am doing myself, but his point is important. At the point of transition, when the driver does not respond to all the warnings that Mr Wong talked about in his evidence, does it then come to the point when the people insuring the technology will say that the technology worked perfectly, but there was an accident, therefore it must be the driver’s fault? That scenario is not improbable and could come about. We would be wrong if we did not recognise that in the legislation.

The Minister also spoke about human error. It is quite right that everyone said that more than 90% of accidents are caused by human error, but it is an obvious point. As all vehicles are currently driven by humans, it is highly likely that when accidents occur, they are caused by humans. Some 5% are down to mechanical error. Although I accept that the safety aspect may reduce the number of accidents, when asked, the witnesses could not defend the suggestion that the proportion of accidents caused by mechanical failure—the failure of technology—will increase, and that 5% will go up. They were silent. We are dealing with an area of safety on our roads that is going to grow as a proportion of the accidents that occur.

The Chair may call me to order, but we have not dealt with the issue of platooning and connected vehicles. Which vehicle is going to take responsibility if an accident is caused by a vehicle in a platoon of vehicles going down a motorway and the vehicle that is behind them is insured by another company? We were told in the evidence that it is the lead vehicle that guides the other vehicles. There is a whole area to do with connected vehicles and vehicles transitioning between human control and computer control that will need regulating. The Bill is silent on that, which is a flaw. I do not intend to press my amendments to a vote, but I am sure that on Report—

Given what the hon. Gentleman has just said, it would perhaps be helpful to repeat what I said in response to him and to my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset. I am happy to clarify the issue of transition.

Moreover, at its very heart the Bill will not put vehicles on to the road that are not safe and appropriate, because that is part of what the regulatory environment guarantees. Furthermore, of course, the Bill obliges the Secretary of State to draw up a list of vehicles. The hon. Gentleman, in withdrawing his amendment, can be assured that a good deal of what worries him—and I understand those worries—will be dealt with in the way I have set out.

I am grateful to the Minister. I am not convinced, but I will wait for further information from him. I will not push my amendment to a vote today, but these are subjects that we can return to on Report and possibly at even greater length in the other place, as is the tradition of this place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Before we do that, the hon. Gentleman said that the poachers were driving this legislation. In view of the geographical location of the Minister’s constituency, I hope you are not implying that he is the Lincolnshire Poacher?

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3

Contributory negligence etc

I beg to move amendment 2, in clause 3, page 3, line 4, at end insert—

“(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations define when it is and is not appropriate for a person in charge of the vehicle to allow the vehicle to drive itself.”

This amendment requires the Government to provide regulatory guidance for when it is and is not appropriate for a person to allow an automated vehicle to drive itself.

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I do not intend to keep the Committee terribly long on this issue. As the Bill is drafted, the

“insurer or owner of an automated vehicle is not liable”

where the event was caused by a person allowing the vehicle to drive itself

“when it was not appropriate to do so.”

The Bill does not define when it is and is not “appropriate to do so”. Our amendment requires the Government to provide regulatory guidance on when it is and is not appropriate for a person to allow an automated vehicle to drive itself.

This goes to points made previously by members of the Committee, not least the right hon. Member for West Dorset. It would clearly not be appropriate in some circumstances for vehicles to drive themselves. For example, early automated vehicles might be deemed safe to use only on motorways and not on some urban roads; or, for example, a software issue might arise such that using the automated function at that point would be absolutely inappropriate. It appears to me that the true intent of subsection 2 was to focus on bimodal vehicles, because it does not seem to apply to fully automated vehicles. Perhaps the Minister can clarify the position in his response.

One of the primary purposes of part 1 of the Bill is to provide a framework to give insurers, manufacturers and potential users greater clarity, providing confidence and encouraging progress on automated vehicles. However, it is still not clear from the Bill what the Government have in mind about when use of those vehicles would be inappropriate. I do not propose to press the amendment to a vote at this stage; I think the Minister has got the point I am making. It has been made and reiterated several times by members of the Committee. We are simply asking for regulations that better define those circumstances to be brought forward, because we cannot afford any confusion here. People must be absolutely clear where their obligations lie if we are to see the growth of the industry, which is something we all want. We do not want to leave these issues hanging over us.

I will address the points the shadow Minister has raised in a moment. Before I do, I want to come back to a fundamental point about the drafting of clause 3(2)—if you will allow me to do so now, Mr Bailey, rather than in a stand part debate—because it is relevant to the rest of the question. My concern relates to the word “wholly” in subsection (2). We discussed this point earlier today. My right hon. Friend the Minister said to me and the Committee that clause 3(2) was meant to solve the problem that I am worried about, which is that there are circumstances under which strict liability for the insurer of the machine is inappropriate, because the driver may do something either immediately before or some while before handing over to the machine that means he or she should not have handed over to the machine. Those are the very circumstances that the shadow Minister is also concerned about.

The Minister directed my attention to clause 3(2) as the solution. I pointed out then—I will now expand on the point—that if subsection (2) is intended as a solution, it is in desperate need of redrafting. The word “wholly”, which I assume has been inserted mindfully by parliamentary counsel, has a very definite meaning: it means “wholly”. Courts know perfectly well what to do with that when they come across a statute that very unusually—this is not something that we normally find—says that a contributory agency is not contributory, but absolute, and the person in question is wholly responsible. The court will interpret that very strictly, and rightly so, otherwise what on earth are we doing drafting Bills and Acts of Parliament?

There could be a circumstance under which the driver was wholly the cause of the accident. Incidentally, I cannot quite think what that might be. It is a pretty remote circumstance, and I would be interested to know whether the Minister can think of an example, but I accept the possibility of such a thing. Most of the time, however, it will be jolly tricky to work out who is actually responsible.

Let me go back to my example of leaving the motorway, but this time the driver was awake and flicked a switch that specifically made the machine take over. Let us imagine that the technology allowed that—it might or might not, we heard conflicting evidence on that, but suppose that it did—and the driver thought that the circumstances were such that the machine could take over and the machine thought, and that is probably an appropriate word to use, given that it is artificial intelligence, that it was appropriate for the machine to take over. However, they were both wrong. The machine was not good at handling the circumstance and it crashed. The machine got it wrong because it should not have taken over, and the driver got it wrong because they should not have asked the machine to take over. Who has caused the accident? I do not know. I am absolutely sure that there are people who will make millions and millions of pounds, and they are the QCs who will argue such cases in court, along with the rafts of solicitors and the enormous apparatus that goes with that. They will all be arguing about who is responsible.

If we lose the word “wholly”, we eliminate that argument, which I assume is the point of putting it in, because, as clause 3(2) is drafted, it says, “If there is the slightest doubt about whether the machine was in any scintilla of a way responsible for the crash, the driver is not wholly responsible and therefore the machine is wholly responsible, so there is strict liability for the insurer of the machine.” It may be that that is what the Minister wants to do, but it is a very odd thing to do, because the costs of insuring these machines would go up compared with what they would otherwise be. Under circumstances in which the driver was a heavy contributor to the cause of the accident by handing over inappropriately, the insurer of the machine would nevertheless be strictly liable because the machine made one millionth of the contribution to the cause of the accident. That is the effect of clause 3(2) as drafted, and I do not believe that that can be the Minister’s intention. That needs looking at.

Turning to the point made by the shadow Minister on regulations and clarification, I agree that it should be perfectly possible to handle the question of when it is appropriate or not to hand over through secondary legislation. I suspect that it will not be the kind of secondary legislation that we have been used to in the main hitherto. It will be very complicated legislation, because it may have to specify processes rather than results. I do not believe that the technology is likely to develop in a way that will make it obvious to the driver in advance, by reading some kind of guide, when the driver is meant to hand over and when not. I suspect that will be interactive and dynamic, and I suspect that the Minister’s successors—the Secretaries of State who will do such things in regulation—will have to find some way of compelling the manufacturers to create an apparatus that tells the driver in a dynamic and interactive way, as they are driving along, whether, as a matter of fact, it is safe to hand over to the machine or not.

One way in which that could happen is the way we were presented with in the evidence sessions. The machine invites the driver to take over and then there is a simple double rule: only machines that invite drivers, as opposed to giving them instructions, are allowed on the road—and, while we are at it, only those certified by the Secretary of State as being safe when they offer the chance to take over are allowed—and, moreover, the driver is never allowed to hand over to the machine except when it does offer that. That is a possible configuration. That would be quite a complicated piece of secondary legislation, because it would have to be accompanied by a series of quite complicated technical codes that ensure that it is put into practice and that the cars manufactured fulfil all those requirements.

There are of course many other models, but it is terribly important to recognise that if the Minister wants to achieve clarity here—as I think he does, and rightly so—as well as getting the drafting of clause 3(2) right, so that it is clear under what circumstances there really is liability for the insurer of the machine when there is a mixture of causation, he needs to recognise that there will need to be either a quite large superstructure of regulation that gives us clarity about the circumstances under which handover is appropriate or, at least, processes that make it unnecessary to have such clarity in a set of rules. I hope that he will recognise in his closing remarks that even if the Bill does not give new powers to do that—because he believes he has somehow got them already—he will consider all those questions anon, as well as looking at the drafting of subsection (2).

My aim is to do that a lot more quickly than you might imagine, Mr Bailey. I accept entirely that there will be a need for a regulatory framework to ensure both the safe deployment and safe use of automated vehicles. The autonomous insurance measures in the Bill are part of that, but the subsequent regulations that ensue will be part, too. They will be—necessarily—dynamic and, I suspect, quite complex, because this is a complex and evolving field. The reason that it is better done in regulations is obvious: we cannot keep bringing primary legislation to the House in such a highly dynamic set of circumstances. It is therefore absolutely right that it is done in a regulatory framework down the line.

Let me try to deal with the “wholly” issue, because it is important that we do so. If the driver is partly negligent, clause 3(1) applies, and contributory negligence would therefore also apply. Clause 3(2) is there to pick up the limited circumstances in which the driver is wholly at fault—that is, contributory negligence does not apply because it is clear that fault lies with the driver. If we did not include “wholly”, there would be a gap in the scope of the clause, as subsection (1) covers only contributory negligence. That is why the word “wholly” is in the Bill.

I am in a slightly odd position because it is the Minister’s Bill, so I would expect him to understand it better than I can, but I have to say that if that is his intent, the plain words of the text do not do the job. In clause 3(1)(b), it is perfectly clear on the face of it that the accident has to be, to some extent,

“caused by the injured party”.

That is not the circumstance we are talking about. We are talking about a circumstance in which the accident is wholly caused by some combination, but unknown, of driver—ex or to be—and machine, not by the injured party, so I do not see how clause 3(1) solves the problem of clause 3(2) having a hole in it.

My right hon. Friend will understand that the injured party might include the driver; an injured party does not mean an injured third party.

Yes, but clause 3(1)(a) says that

“an insurer or vehicle owner is liable under section 2 to a person (‘the injured party’) in respect of an accident”,

so it covers both the driver or another party. That is repeated in paragraph (b). I do not understand what my right hon. Friend’s problem is.

The Minister is being very patient. Perhaps I am misunderstanding, but I beg the other members of the Committee to read the text:

“Where…an insurer or vehicle owner is liable…to…an injured party…in respect of an accident”.

The injured party is someone who has been injured—that is the reason for the reference to an “injured party”—but if I am the driver and in this case I am not injured, the insurer is not liable to me. I have just handed over control of the vehicle and it has injured somebody else, so I am not an injured party, and the injured party has not contributed to the accident, so clause 3(1)(b)—

“the accident, or the damage resulting from it, was to any extent caused by the injured party”—

does not apply. Clause 3(1) therefore does not apply in such circumstances, so it cannot solve a problem in clause 3(2) because it does not apply to the circumstances that we are talking about under clause 3(2)—or at least not to the circumstances that are worrying the Committee and that we have been talking about more or less all day, which is the question of what happens when I am handing over.

I am comfortable with the idea that the driver might be the injured party, and my right hon. Friend comfortable with that too. We are clear on the issue of whether the car was being driven by the driver or was in autonomous mode. Is my right hon. Friend concerned therefore about another party, unrelated to the vehicle, who might be affected by the accident? Is that what he is getting at? I do not understand.

I will try to make it as short as I can, but I am trying to advance the cause of understanding between us by answering the Minister’s question. We are envisaging circumstances in which a driver hands over to the vehicle and the vehicle takes over, but it turns out that it was arguably not safe or sensible for the driver to have done that. The driver was not injured and is not the injured party—the insurer is liable not to the driver, but to someone else who got damaged. That is the injured party. Clause 3(1) does not apply. That is the problem and that is the reason why clause 3(1) cannot solve the problem of clause 3(2).

I will reflect on that. It is clear to me when clause 3(1) and clause 3(2) do apply, but it is a reasonable question to ask where the clause does not apply—as my right hon. Friend has described—and what would apply in those circumstances. I am perfectly prepared to reflect and to come back with a clear answer. I am now certain to what he was referring, and that will help in the process of trying to satisfy him.

I was not able to be as short as I had hoped—I began this brief contribution by saying just how brief it would be. In respect of the shadow Minister, I think I have been clear that it is likely that the first autonomous vehicles will be used, as I said, in particular circumstances —earlier I talked about geofencing. It is likely that the global regulations that will be used to type approve autonomous vehicles will reflect those limited cases. It is therefore not yet clear that we will need to make matching regulatory changes in our domestic framework, as I have also said.

We do have the powers under the Road Traffic Act, as I said in response to an earlier intervention, to revise or create new road vehicle construction and use regulations. In that sense, the amendment would duplicate existing powers so really it is superfluous. Its intention is good, because it intends to do what I have just described, but I am not sure that for this purpose it is the right vehicle— I hesitate to use that term because, as so often in the debate so far, we are speaking about roads, journeys and vehicles. None the less, I am confident that we have enough powers and are taking enough powers, through the application of the regulations that I have said will ensue, to satisfy what the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East intends. On that basis, I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

I am happy to confirm that I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Andrew Stephenson.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 14 November at twenty-five past Nine o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

AEVB 07 British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association (BVRLA)

AEVB 08 IAM Roadsmart

AEVB 09 Association of Convenience Stores (ACS)

AEVB 10 Joint submission from academics at the University of Exeter and Koç University

Nuclear Safeguards Bill (Third sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: James Gray, † Steve McCabe

† Blomfield, Paul (Sheffield Central) (Lab)

† Bradley, Ben (Mansfield) (Con)

† Carden, Dan (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)

† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)

† Gibson, Patricia (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)

Gill, Preet Kaur (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/ Co-op)

† Harrington, Richard (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

† Harris, Rebecca (Castle Point) (Con)

† Harrison, Trudy (Copeland) (Con)

Hendry, Drew (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)

† Lewer, Andrew (Northampton South) (Con)

† Maclean, Rachel (Redditch) (Con)

† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)

† Robinson, Mary (Cheadle) (Con)

† Smith, Eleanor (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab)

† Sunak, Rishi (Richmond (Yorks)) (Con)

† Syms, Sir Robert (Poole) (Con)

† Whitehead, Dr Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)

† Wragg, Mr William (Hazel Grove) (Con)

Kenneth Fox, Rob Cope, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 2 November 2017


[Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Nuclear Safeguards Bill

I remind Members that they are welcome to remove their jackets during the sitting if they wish to do so. I also ask Members to ensure that their electronic devices are turned off or to silent mode. We do not normally allow tea or coffee to be consumed during sittings. The first order of business is an amendment to the programme motion.

I beg to move a manuscript amendment,

That the Order of the Committee of 31 October be varied, by leaving out line 6.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe—Mr Gray is a hard act to follow, but I am sure that you will do it well. Perhaps I could take the liberty of explaining the amendment. If accepted, it will mean that the Committee will not sit on 7 November. Everything else will remain the same.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr McCabe. My function at this point is merely to concur with the Minister’s suggestion that we leave out line 6.

Manuscript amendment agreed to.

We now begin line-by-line consideration of the Bill. The selection list for today’s sittings is available in the room and shows how the selected amendments have been grouped. Amendments grouped together are generally on the same issue. Please note that decisions on amendments take place not in the order in which they are debated but the order in which they appear on the amendment paper. The selection list shows the order of debate. Decisions on each amendment are taken when we come to the clause that the amendment affects. I will do my best to use my discretion to decide whether to allow a separate stand part debate on individual clauses and schedules following debates on the relevant amendments.

Clause 1

Nuclear safeguards

I beg to move amendment 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 22, at end insert

“which has been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament”.

This amendment would prevent the Government from using powers under Clause 1 to implement an international agreement without the agreement having first been approved by both Houses of Parliament.

It might be a good idea, before proceeding to detailed examination, to say a few words—for the benefit and satisfaction of all hon. Members, I hope—about what we are trying to do with the amendments we have tabled. Members who have had a chance to peruse the amendment paper in some detail will see that all the amendments tabled by Labour Members are entirely consistent with the speedy and successful translation of our present arrangements with Euratom into UK law. I want to emphasise at the outset that the Opposition concur completely that we need a new set of nuclear safeguard regulations and arrangements, contingent upon other actions that may take place as far as the present arrangements with Euratom are concerned. We certainly do not wish in any way to impede the process of achieving that new set of arrangements.

What we do want to do, however, is to put on the face of the Bill a number of safeguards, understandings and clarifications about how that process will come about. That will therefore be the content of this debate. The Committee might find it helpful and of some comfort to learn that that is how we intend to proceed. Should Divisions occur, they will be about particular issues that we want the Bill to address; they will not be an attack on the Bill’s fundamental purpose. We want to clarify that point by including a purpose clause setting out what the Bill is intended to do when it becomes law.

The amendment relates to agreements not with Euratom but, we hope, with the International Atomic Energy Agency. The UK had safeguarding agreements with the IAEA before it joined Euratom, and they were effectively taken over by the UK’s accession to Euratom by virtue of the European Communities Act 1972, under which that translation was undertaken without the need for further domestic implementing legislation. The safeguarding agreements with the IAEA therefore have to be untangled from Euratom and made anew in the event that we complete the process of leaving the EU. It will be necessary to negotiate effective new safeguarding treaties with the IAEA, and that will depend to a considerable extent on what the UK does to put in place effective measures, contingently or otherwise.

What we do in this Committee today will be a material issue for the eventual treaties with the IAEA. I am sure that the IAEA will want to see that the UK has an effective safeguarding regime in place as a successor to what is presently done under the auspices of Euratom, and that it is as good as or better than what is presently operating in the UK on the IAEA’s behalf through Euratom. A starting point for the completion of those negotiations will be that we have something in place that works, is sufficient for the IAEA’s purposes and can be the basis for an assurance that those arrangements will be in place for any treaty we make with the IAEA to get us back to the pre-1972 position.

The explanatory notes state:

“The consequential amendments necessary to these pieces of legislation will depend on new safeguards agreements between the United Kingdom and the IAEA that are currently being negotiated; as such the United Kingdom will need to maintain flexibility to ensure these future agreements can be implemented in domestic legislation. A power to allow this legislation to be amended in this way is taken in clause 2 of the Bill.”

Not only will the Bill allow that arrangement to take place, but the IAEA will shine a light on the outcome of our proceedings, at the point at which those treaties—those new arrangements—will be concluded and put in place.

I am not clear exactly what sequence of events will be necessary to secure the circumstances under which a new treaty arrangement with the IAEA will come into effect, so perhaps the Minister could help us with that. Negotiations on a new treaty arrangement with the IAEA cannot reach a conclusion, or indeed start, before a satisfactory regime is in place. Does that mean, as I take it to in this instance, the establishment of the possibility of such a regime through the passing of this Bill into law, or the actual establishment of such a regime, which would require the completion of secondary legislation, proper funding, the establishment of facilities through the Office for Nuclear Regulation and all the other things that go with the full roll-out of a new treaty arrangement? If it is the latter case, we might be much further down the line before an agreement with the IAEA can come to pass, and it is conceivable that there might be a cliff edge at that point.

If the full secondary legislation and all the other elements of the new safeguarding arrangement set out in the Bill have not been completed, the IAEA might say to the United Kingdom, “Well, you haven’t got a regime in place yet, so we can’t complete the new treaty agreement that we have to undertake.” It is conceivable that at that point there would be a hiatus, because we would have exited the protection agreement for safeguarding through Euratom but we would not have a new agreement in place with the IAEA, even though we would be substantially further down the road of translating the purview of Euratom into domestic legislation.

I would be grateful to know the Minister’s understanding of the IAEA’s position. I am aware that at least informal discussions are already taking place with the IAEA, and presumably they will shape the eventual outcome of the treaty arrangement. In any event, the Bill will have to be passed before any agreement with the IAEA is reached—that is the minimal provision. Whether anything else has to be done is a matter for further consideration, but the Bill at least has to be passed.

I think that it is germane to speculate a little on what the treaty might look like. Will it be sufficient to replace the function previously held by Euratom? If it is sufficient effectively to make our previous treaty anew, what additional obligations might its establishment place upon the UK? Of course, we do not yet know the answers to any of these questions, because we are not in a position to conclude the negotiations. Indeed, we are in the foothills of what I imagine will be a substantial mountain of discussion and negotiation with the IAEA before reaching a conclusion.

We understand the necessity of those discussions, but their position with the IAEA potentially puts the Committee in a difficult position as we undertake our consideration of the Bill. We are expected to agree to a measure that includes several Henry VIII powers, as well as some secondary legislation enabling Ministers to conclude the detailed business in the Bill effectively without further reference to Parliament. In many instances—it is by no means always the case—a Public Bill Committee would have before it drafts of the proposed secondary legislation so that it can see what it is signing up to. However, in this instance I can understand why that is not forthcoming. We are in the process of forming and shaping a completely new set of circumstances. The Committee has no draft legislation or impact assessment to look at; in fact, we have nothing but the wording in the Bill.

In order to pass the measure, the Committee will effectively have to pass over the fact that we are also effectively being required to agree to agreements that have not yet been negotiated, and about which we know little. That is an extraordinary state of affairs, and the Committee needs to think carefully about it. I am not comfortable with the idea that, simply by waving through a line of legislation, we should pass over all the scrutiny that is clearly required.

Are we supposed to say, “Okay, we have passed the legislation, and we completely trust Ministers to get all the rest of it right”? That is not all; I am sure that present company would absolutely be able to get it right but, as we have seen, people do not always stay in their office for ever—in this instance, of course, I am sure that leaving office would be the result of promotion. However, we need to be assured that the provision will stand the test of time, over and above any question of an individual Minister being charged with bringing the Bill into full operation. That is particularly important in relation to what we are negotiating with the IAEA.

The clause is intended to capture at least a part of the process in question, for the purpose of Parliament’s oversight of the proceedings. It requires prior sight of, and agreement to, the international agreement with the IAEA, when it is concluded, before we can say that the Bill is finally under way as an Act. That in no way impedes the process of negotiation that has to take place alongside the Bill. I have already mentioned an understanding of, and assent to, the fact that the negotiations are taking place, even though we do not know exactly what they will consist of. It is right, of course, that we should shape future treaty arrangements with the IAEA so that they are as clear as possible at the earliest stage.

It seems pretty elementary to include in the Bill a provision that Parliament should look at that process and assure itself that it properly matches up with what we thought we were doing. We find ourselves in unique circumstances when discussing how we will bring about the regime change from Euratom to the UK. The amendment simply states that the Bill should guarantee a proper procedure for parliamentary scrutiny and discussion about what we are doing with the IAEA because of those circumstances.

This is the first time I have served under your chairmanship in Committee, Mr McCabe. This is an important Bill and an important amendment. One of the joys of being a new Member is that friends and family members get in touch on an almost daily basis to ask what I am doing, perhaps imagining that it is all glamour and television. When I tell them that I will be attending the Nuclear Safeguards Bill Committee, they say, “Oh, that doesn’t sound like much fun—it sounds quite dry. Do you know anything about nuclear safeguards?” I have therefore been spending my evenings explaining why the Bill is so important.

During the oral evidence sessions, the hon. Member for Copeland spoke eloquently about the impact of the civil nuclear industry on her community, and that supply chain runs up and down the country. Similarly, we should all be concerned, as legislators and as citizens, about energy security. There is also the issue of public safety. Those are incredibly important matters. We hope that they will never make a visible difference to people’s lives, but were they to, we would know about it.

I support the amendment because we cannot wholly subcontract those matters to Ministers. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test has promoted the Minister once already in this sitting, and that may happen again. Although we can be sure of an individual’s knowledge and commitment, we cannot commit in a vacuum to an agreement that we know nothing about and that Ministers would be able to enact without recourse to our parliamentary democracy. We are a parliamentary democracy and Parliament is sovereign.

The amendment is inexorably linked to last June’s vote. I represent a leave constituency and I have spent a lot of time talking to people about their reasons for voting leave when I was voting to remain. Those conversations were illustrative. It will not surprise any Members, or indeed anyone watching, to hear that not once did someone say, “I am really concerned that our safeguarding procedures in the nuclear industry are too closely entwined with those of our European neighbours. We really ought to take back control and stand alone on that issue.” Of course that never came into it, and I do not believe that is what people voted for. If we stood in the middle of the market square in Bulwell, as I often do, and tried to explain to people that, as an inevitable part of the referendum decision, we will now have to do this—despite the at least mixed legal argument publicly in favour of whether we have to—that would be quite a difficult conversation.

I thank hon. Members for their positive contributions, and for their speculation about my possible promotion—I hope that the Prime Minister manages to take some time today to read the Hansard report of our proceedings.

I thought that the contributions were very positive. Although the hon. Member for Southampton, Test was gracious in saying that his concerns related not to me but to what happens in future, he is absolutely right, and that is a reflection of Government policy. I hope I will be here to see this through, but none of us ever knows. I am honoured to have two shadow Ministers in this Committee. It is not often that one is graced with two—or even three, if I may include the Opposition Whip, the hon. Member for Bristol West. I have read all the amendments carefully. I do not want this to be one of those Bill Committees in which nobody takes any notice and everyone votes as their Whip tells them; I hope that we can find a much more positive way of dealing with this.

To the best of my knowledge, all of us want the same thing. I do not know to what extent the Opposition have volunteers to be on Bill Committees. I am told that some Bill Committees involve press-ganging hon. Members, as the Royal Navy used to do. However, I think that the members of this Committee are interested in the subject, and not just because of direct constituency interests, such as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland. That is the right thing, because our constituents do not typically think about this subject, but it is our job. If there are issues, we can discuss them at length here and also afterwards. I hope that both shadow Ministers know that we would all much rather there was consensus, because we are trying to reach the same objective.

Given that this is my first contribution in our line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill, I feel it necessary to lay out the broader context for hon. Members, as the debate is on the record and will be read by the industry and anyone else who is interested. I will then turn strictly to the amendment. The Bill is required to establish a domestic nuclear safeguards regime that will enable the UK to meet international safeguards and nuclear non-proliferation standards after we withdraw from Euratom. We all know—I hope the country generally knows—that the nuclear industry is of key strategic importance to the United Kingdom. We are committed to our industry maintaining its world-leading status. We are determined that our nuclear industry should continue to flourish in trade, regulation and innovative research. We must ensure that our withdrawal from Euratom will in no way diminish our nuclear ambitions.

The Secretary of State, the Government and I share the views of many in this room about the importance of having a constructive, collaborative relationship with Euratom and all other international partners. I will set out briefly why we must act. We have emphasised our continued commitment to the IAEA and to international standards for nuclear safeguards and non-proliferation. Nuclear safeguards are reporting and verification processes by which states demonstrate to the international community that civil nuclear material is not diverted into military or weapons programmes. Under the Euratom treaty, the civil nuclear material and facilities in member states are subject to nuclear safeguards measures conducted by Euratom, which also provides reporting on member state’s safeguards to the IAEA. That three-way link allows global oversight of nuclear safeguards.

It is clear that the existence of a UK nuclear safeguards regime is a prerequisite for the movement of certain nuclear materials called special fissile materials in and out of the UK. It underpins our international commitment to the IAEA and our nuclear co-operation agreements. As we heard in evidence on Tuesday, without a regime in place, nuclear operators in the UK will be unable to import fuel or do anything necessary for their business. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which I and some of the same witnesses appeared before yesterday, heard likewise.

Nuclear safeguards include reporting on civil nuclear material holdings and development plans, inspection of nuclear facilities by international inspectors, and monitoring through equipment, such as cameras and recording equipment, placed in the facilities. I will make it clear—because on Second Reading some Members were confused—that safeguards are different from nuclear safety, which is basically the prevention of accidents and catastrophe. That is just as important, if not more so; it is just separate in this case. Nuclear security means physical protection measures, as most of us can imagine, and involves the police and other services. It is the subject of independent regulatory provisions. I understand the confusion, because I must confess that before I took on this portfolio I did not know the difference. I am sure that the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test, knew the difference from a very young age and knows the difference in great detail—I have done my best to catch up.

Let me turn to what I think most Members are interested in, which is the progress so far. I assure Members that the Government have not been ignoring the challenges that clearly lie before us. We have already made great progress in our work to secure continuity for our nuclear industry by establishing long-term arrangements to secure nuclear safeguards. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out in September—this is very important—our intention is for the new domestic regime

“to exceed…the standard that the international community would require from the UK”

and is expected to be

“as comprehensive and robust as that currently provided by Euratom.”—[Official Report, 14 September 2017; Vol. 628, c. 25WS.]

It will be run by the ONR, which already has regulatory responsibility for nuclear safety and nuclear security. Therefore, quite apart from the Euratom/Europe issue, it fits comfortably under that umbrella, although I accept the former—when I say “quite apart from,” I am not making any value judgment. If we must have a separate safeguards regime, as we do, the ONR is the natural body for it to fit within.

The ONR is in the process of developing an expanded safeguards function. For example, the ONR will recruit a tranche of inspectors, with further recruitment to come—I am sure that will be discussed further, because it was mentioned in the evidence given both to this Committee on Tuesday and to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee yesterday. The ONR will also build additional institutional capacity and develop the necessary IT systems. ONR experts have been in discussions with the IAEA on the technical aspects of the new system. We will also be agreeing a new voluntary offer agreement and additional protocol with the IAEA, and those negotiations have already begun. I know that hon. Members from all parties will agree that having a civil nuclear safeguards regime for the UK is of paramount importance.

I will briefly give hon. Members an overview of the Bill, before getting down to the narrower business of the amendments. I promise that I will not continue like this throughout the Committee’s deliberations, Mr McCabe; I just felt that it was necessary in my first contribution, despite the fact that many hon. Members know what I am talking about. I feel that it is necessary to put it on the record for those, less fortunate than ourselves, who have not been selected for this Committee despite wanting to be, which happens occasionally.

The Bill amends the Energy Act 2013 to replace the ONR’s existing nuclear safeguards purpose, which I have explained, with a new nuclear safeguards purpose definition. The ONR will regulate the new nuclear safeguards regime using its existing functions and powers. However, the Bill creates new powers, so that we can put in place through regulations the detail of the domestic safeguards regime. Some examples of that would be detail about accounting, reporting, control and inspection arrangements.

Finally, the Bill creates a new but limited power to create regulations to amend the Nuclear Safeguards and Electricity (Finance) Act 1978, and the Nuclear Safeguards Act 2000 and the Nuclear Safeguards (Notification) Regulations 2004. That power allows the references in all that legislation to international agreements, which have been mentioned before, to be updated once new international agreements have been reached.

I look forward to considering all these measures in depth with hon. Members over the next two weeks. I want to make it clear again that although we are leaving Euratom, we support Euratom and we will want to see continuity of co-operation and standards, because we have had a successful relationship with the Euratom community for more than 40 years and we want to maintain that successful civil nuclear co-operation.

I would like to reassure hon. Members that we are totally committed to supporting the nuclear industry and we will achieve that through several means, including the continued application of high standards on nuclear safeguards that the Bill will enable. The Bill is restricted to the nuclear safeguards regime, but there are many other aspects of what Euratom does. I do not know whether you feel that those aspects are within the scope of the Bill, Mr McCabe, but they have been widely discussed, there will be other opportunities to discuss them, and we are very much aware of them.

I will now turn to amendment 2—I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will breathe a sigh of relief, and I thank them for their patience. In his eloquent and well-informed opening remarks, the hon. Member for Southampton, Test asked specifically about progress on the IAEA negotiations. That was a reasonable question, which I had intended to answer anyway. We have emphasised our commitment to the IAEA and to international standards for nuclear safeguards and non-proliferation. We have begun formal discussions with the IAEA to conclude the bilateral safeguards agreements that will replace the current trilateral safeguards agreements between the UK, the IAEA and Euratom. As the hon. Gentleman correctly said, we will need them from the time of our withdrawal from Euratom.

Discussions began in September. They have been constructive and substantial progress has been made, as my colleague Mr David Wagstaff said when he and I gave evidence to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee yesterday. Importantly, our view is that the new agreements with the IAEA should follow the same principles as our current ones: the IAEA will retain its right to inspect all civil nuclear facilities and will continue to receive all current safeguards reporting, ensuring that international verification of our safeguards activity will continue to be robust. We are working with international partners on bilateral arrangements, and with the IAEA itself, to ensure that they are in place ahead of the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom. We are seeking to conclude new agreements with the IAEA that follow the principles I have outlined. I cannot make our intention clearer: we have every reason to believe that the agreements will cover exactly the same points that they do now. We are seeking to achieve that on a bilateral basis, and we have made a lot of progress.

I was asked about the timetable of the progress. I expect, and have every reason to believe, that the new agreements will be put to the IAEA board of governors to ratify at some point in 2018. We are on target for that. I am confident, and happy to say on the record in Committee, that the new agreements should be ready to enter into force upon the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom. That is important, and I agree that the House has a responsibility to know that it is happening, but officials are confident that it will, as was put on the record yesterday when our lead negotiator and I gave evidence to the Select Committee. Obviously, he is not here today because this is a Bill Committee, but I found that evidence compelling, coming from the person who is actually dealing with these matters.

New section 76A(1)(b) allows relevant international agreements, such as those we have been talking about, to be implemented in nuclear safeguards regulations. We are negotiating new agreements with the IAEA and other states. Those agreements will be capable of being relevant international agreements, but only when specified in regulations subject to the draft affirmative procedure. That is an important point about parliamentary scrutiny: we cannot just proceed without Parliament being involved. I know that the Opposition amendments are well thought through and well drafted, but I believe that we will do that through the draft affirmative procedure.

To be precise, that is the effect of clause 1(3)(b), in its proposed subsection (1B), and paragraph 9(2)(b) of the schedule. International treaties are already subject to the general ratification processes of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. The Bill goes a step further by separately requiring “relevant international agreements” on nuclear safeguards to be approved by Parliament in draft affirmative regulations before the regulation-making powers of new section 76A are unlocked. I apologise for being technical about this, but I feel these are a direct—I will not say rebuttal; we are not in conflict, I hope—answer to the points genuinely made about the fear that there would be no further parliamentary scrutiny, and that a Government who were not well meaning could decide to make changes without reporting to Parliament.

In more detail, clause 1(3) amends section 112 of the Energy Act 2013 by inserting a definition of “relevant international agreement” on nuclear safeguards. The ONR must ensure the UK’s compliance with such agreements in the new definition of the nuclear safeguards purposed in new section 72(b) of the 2013 Act. The Secretary of State also has the power to implement such agreements because of the power contained in new section 76A(1)(b). A relevant international agreement must be one to which the UK is party and that relates to nuclear safeguards; it is quite specific. An undertaking given by the UK to the IAEA in respect of guidance or other documents issued by the IAEA must also be specified as a relevant international agreement.

In every case a relevant international agreement always requires parliamentary scrutiny. It will become a relevant international agreement, for the purposes of these powers, only when specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State under new subsection (1B) of section 112 of the 2013 Act. I confirm that such regulations will always be subject to the affirmative procedure. The provision governing that procedure is found in paragraph 9(2)(d) of the schedule, which adds the regulations made under new subsection (1B), which is the power to specify relevant international agreements. It adds that to the list of provisions set out in section 113(2)(b) of the 2013 Act. That sets out the regulations made under the 2013 Act, which are always subject to the draft affirmative procedure. In addition, the Secretary of State is also required to consult before specifying relevant international agreements.

In conclusion, I hope that I have addressed the concerns of the hon. Member for Southampton, Test in detail. Parliament will have the opportunity to review international agreements before ratification, and any regulations defining relevant international agreements, for the purposes of the Bill, will be subject to the draft affirmative procedure. Basically, the amendment asks for parliamentary scrutiny, but our position is that Parliament clearly already has it.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive, though not entirely conclusive, explanation of where we are, so far as international agreements and parliamentary scrutiny are concerned. I would appreciate it if he could give a brief thought to the question of the point at which the IAEA will conclude that we have transposed the Euratom responsibilities to the ONR. Will that be when we have passed the enabling legislation, or when the process is completed and can therefore be presented in a box, as it were, to the IAEA saying all is done? That itself is likely to slow up the negotiation process with the IAEA, which I appreciate the Minister said he considers will be complete by exit day.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that valid point, which requires both a simple and a complex answer. The simple answer is that there is a sequence, and the agreements have to be ready but will not come into force until after we leave Euratom. The IAEA has a ratification procedure, which I intend to come to. The agreements have to be ratified by its board. The bilateral agreements referred to have to be ratified by the Parliaments of each country involved. I am not led to believe that that will be a problem, because I am pleased to say that these negotiations are more in the form of constructive discussions than one side wanting one thing and another side wanting another. What I am about to say will hopefully answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions. If not, I am sure that he will say so, and I am happy to meet him any time to discuss that.

I understand that hon. Members are concerned to ensure that there is parliamentary scrutiny. I have covered that, but I must stress that the measures in the amendment would be a significant departure from the usual position on the ratification of treaties, and I do not consider it appropriate in the context of the Bill. As Members will be aware, the UK Government are responsible for negotiating and signing international treaties involving the UK and always have been. The ratification of international treaties is covered in legislation, as the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 provides a ratification process that requires treaties to be laid before Parliament prior to ratification, except in exceptional circumstances—I do not know what the exceptional circumstances are, but I imagine they would be a war or something like that.

The Government have the power to conclude international treaties under their prerogative powers. Of course, that cannot automatically change domestic law or rights and cannot make major changes to the UK’s constitutional arrangements without parliamentary authority. That remains the case for international agreements relating to safeguards that are currently under negotiation—for example, the nuclear co-operation agreements currently being negotiated with the US, Canada, Japan and Australia, and the new safeguards agreements with the IAEA. Parliament will therefore have the opportunity to consider those agreements before they come into force.

We have been open and honest with Parliament about ongoing negotiations and will continue to do so. The intention is for those agreements to be presented to Parliament before ratification, ahead of the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom, and they will come into force immediately upon our exit. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr McCabe. I hope to respond to the Minister with the same collaborative approach he has tried to set for the Committee, and I hope all our discussions will be along those lines.

It is worth saying at the outset that I do not doubt for one moment—I do not think any Opposition Members do—the Minister’s good intent in seeking to reassure us on this issue. However, it is also important to recognise in not only this discussion but the wider discussions we will have in our remaining sittings just what is at stake. On a number of issues relating to our negotiations on exiting the European Union, Departments have shown good intention, but because there has been insufficient follow-through, that intention has not necessarily produced the outcomes to reassure other sectors.

It might be in some other areas possible to blur things a little bit at the edges, but we need to remind ourselves of the evidence we had from Professor Matthews on Tuesday. Nothing can be left to chance here. Professor Matthews outlined that if we do not get the safeguarding regime right, the consequences are that,

“Springfields, which produces nuclear fuel, will stop working. The Urenco plant at Capenhurst…will stop working because it will not be able to move uranium around.”

He went on to say:

“It would be difficult for Sellafield and other decommissioning sites, such as the old research sites at Dounreay, Harwell or Winfrith; some of the work there would grind to a halt as well.”––[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2017; c. 43, Q88.]

There is a lot at stake in ensuring we get this not just more or less right, but precisely right. That is one of the key factors behind our amendment. We must not simply be reassured in the Committee; Parliament needs to be reassured and to have the opportunity to express its view on this before we face the sort of consequences that Professor Matthews talked about.

The Minister has reassured us—again, I do not doubt his intention—on the full parliamentary scrutiny through the affirmative process. My reading of the clauses suggests that there is a bit more ambiguity. New paragraph (1B), which he referred to, says that the Secretary of State will not necessarily provide regulations but “may by regulations”, which gives quite a significant grey area. If the Minister is as sure as he indicated that there will be full parliamentary scrutiny by the affirmative process, the simplest thing to do would be to accept our amendment, which seeks nothing less.

I am grateful to the Minister for setting out in some detail the path by which he considers Parliament would have some scrutiny of the arrangements with the IAEA when they come about. However, I am concerned, as is my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), about whether what the Minister points to in the Bill actually does the job he thinks it does.

In new subsection (1)(1A) and (1B), inserted by clause 1(3), there is a curious circularity. I will not go through the whole thing, but new paragraph (1B) states:

“The Secretary of State may by regulations specify agreements for the purposes of subsection (1A)(b).”

If we then look at paragraph (1A)(b), it says:

“is specified in regulations under subsection (1B)”.

We then go back to paragraph (1B), and the regulations specified there are the regulations that the Secretary of State may make—that is it. We do not get very far in what I consider real parliamentary scrutiny by that semi-circular argument.

It appears that a relevant international agreement is as specified under new paragraph (1B), and a relevant agreement can be specified by regulations that the Secretary of State may make. If the Secretary of State does not pass regulations specifying those agreements, that is not the case, and the relevant international agreement then does not apply for the purposes of the legislation.

I suggest it would be far simpler to accept our amendment in view of the unique circumstances we are in at the moment. We are having to make treaties anew, and we need to be satisfied that they fully replace what we previously had for a number of years through Euratom. I appreciate that that is a voluntary agreement that has been entered into, and I appreciate that that agreement will undoubtedly be pursued in the light of co-operation, because of the voluntary nature of the agreements being entered into by the IAEA.

The central fact of the matter is that that is being undertaken not only while the Committee considers what it is going to do, but is actually tucked into the legislation as something that will remain outside what the Committee considers, because we have to take decisions about what we want to make our safeguarding regime look like when we do not know what those agreements will consist of. Having this particular system in place, which I accept is not the case for all international treaties, as far as the Bill is concerned, appears to close the circle, as far as the relationship between what the Committee is doing and what the treaty will look like when it comes out is concerned.

As I said, unless someone explains to me that I have completely misread new paragraphs (1A) and (1B), and that there is something else there that does not actually do what I think it says it does, I cannot take full reassurance from those clauses in the way the Minister suggests.

I have a suggestion for how we can progress, but I will just say that new paragraph (1B) provides the power to specify agreements for the purpose of the definition but the regulations are always subject to the affirmative procedure, so I argue that the hon. Gentleman’s object has already been achieved.

My suggestion, if it is acceptable—I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman intends to press his amendment to a vote—is that I am happy to sit down with him and discuss this in detail before Report. He has made quite technical, legal points, so I offer to meet him, if that is acceptable. Obviously, it is up to him to decide whether he wishes to press his amendment to a vote. I would have to oppose the vote, simply because I believe we want the same object, but my view is that the Government have clearly covered his rightful concerns about parliamentary scrutiny in our drafting of this.

I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification and for that kind offer, which is quite important for the way that we proceed. I think that the Minister, while he indicates that everything will be done under the affirmative procedure, has still not overcome the circularity in this particular part of the legislation, where the word “may” could derail the whole process of getting us to a position where those international agreements can be determined to be relevant.

Any piece of any statute is capable of being changed by Parliament in a new Bill anyway, but on the “may” and “must” argument, the hon. Gentleman will find that “may” is generally the terminology used in these things. There “may” be—oh dear; there might be reasons where a Secretary of State might quite rationally decide not to do something. A purely speculative and hypothetical example would be if something changed and this piece of legislation was genuinely not needed. I do not quite know what could happen, but hon. Members might speculate. The shadow Minister is nodding and smiling; I think he knows what I mean. There may, or must, be other reasons why. It would be strange to impose on a Secretary of State, saying that he or she “must” do something, if it was not necessary. If the Secretary of State did not do it, there could easily be an Act of Parliament or something else to reverse it. It is very normal procedure to say “may” in most Bills. The wording is not meant as a possible way of trapping a mad Secretary of State—I hope no one in this Room or anywhere else would suggest such a thing of the current one—who lost their head and said, “Oh, I’ve got the power; it doesn’t say I must, so I won’t do it, because it says I may.”

I thank the Minister for that further clarification and of course accept that the usual procedure in such circumstances is for the word “may” to be placed before the power of the Secretary of State to cast secondary legislation, whether affirmative or negative. Of course, the Bill is not being dealt with in normal circumstances because, as we shall argue on a later amendment, the normal circumstances for secondary legislation are that there is a change—positive, one would hope—to the previous situation, but that it is built on something pre-existing that will continue to take place even if the regulations are not laid.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, this place is littered with cases where a power to enact secondary legislation has simply not been used. He suggested that there might be circumstances in which it would be perfectly rational not to do so. There are instances in the history of the House where Governments have decided to put new measures before the House, eclipsing previous legislation. That previous legislation, including its secondary provisions, stays on the statute book, but the secondary legislation is not enacted, as it has been superseded.

At either end, that means that “may” is protected either because a new measure has come along, making it redundant to enact secondary legislation; or because, if the Minister decides not to enact the secondary legislation, the status quo ante prevails. However, that is not so in this case, because there will be no status quo ante should we exit Euratom without an associate arrangement. There would be nothing, and the circumstances attached to “may” take on a different colour, under that new and unique circumstance. That is why I am concerned that if we legislate using the wording that we often use in different circumstances, we may fall short of our duty, given that there is no status quo ante, to get things right in relation to subsequent proceedings.

I am trying, as always, to think carefully about what the hon. Gentleman is saying; but let us say there was a Secretary of State who was misguided or mad enough to say, “Actually, I am not going to do this because I do not want a nuclear safeguards regime. I want this country to be like North Korea”—or wherever. I think North Korea is the only country without a nuclear safeguards regime. If the Secretary of State desired to take that approach, there would be a lot more tools available for not having a nuclear safeguards regime than the interpretation of “may” or “must”. I am not making light of the point—it is dead serious.

No one has suggested any possibility that we should not have a nuclear safeguards regime, and wrong interpretation of the “may” or “must” point would mean that someone—a Secretary of State or a Government—had decided to do that. If a Government had decided to do that—I know it would not be the Opposition or anyone in any normal form of politics—such a change of policy would not just rely on an interpretation of “may” or “must”.

I understand that point well. Of course we have to squeeze our brains enormously to think about the circumstances under which that set of events would come to pass, but that is not what we are talking about in this clause of the Bill. We are talking about relevant—or otherwise—international agreements. As far as I understand it, in this clause the Secretary of State effectively has the power to declare something a relevant international agreement or not, and to set down what is and what is not relevant in secondary legislation. That does not affect the agreement, but it affects whether that international agreement is deemed to be relevant, and hence whether it comes under the purview of the arrangements that the Minister said were in place to ensure parliamentary scrutiny on those agreements. It is not about whether we design a nuclear safeguards regime, but whether an agreement reached subsequent to our setting out our safeguarding procedure is deemed to be relevant for the purposes of parliamentary discussion when that treaty has come about. That is what I understand this clause to be about. I am grateful to the Minister for his kind offer to lay this clause on the table, although there is not procedure to do that exactly, and discuss what may or may not happen on Report.

It must happen—well, we must consider the Bill on Report, but things may or may not take place on Report that we would be entirely happy with. I take that offer as suggesting that if there is confusion in Committee about what the wording means, our minds can be put at rest at that point, and if not it may be necessary to produce some kind of wording, perhaps on Report, that gets us to the position we both want to be in, so that we are in the same place on this legislation. That is my understanding of what the Minister has said. If that is the case, I am happy to take up that offer—provided a cup of coffee is involved as well—and we will not press for a Division on this clause.

The hon. Gentleman is being a little modest about his beverage requirements, as I happen to know that he does not have caffeine in his coffee.

Otherwise, I would put extra caffeine in the coffee. The serious point is that I do not accept the fundamental point of the amendments and I do not want the hon. Gentleman to think that I do. He has brought up some serious points, some of which are legal and technical. I would like to take the opportunity to sit down in a non-confrontational way with him and any colleagues who wish to come to drill down on those points. I do not want him to think that I suddenly agree that we do not have enough scrutiny in the Bill, but he made some good and technical points about the interpretation of clauses. I hope we can do exactly as he said: sit down and reach a wording that is acceptable to us all, given that we have the same objective. If not, we can always consider it on Report. That would be the correct way to progress, if that is satisfactory.

I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 2, line 14, at end insert—

“(3A) No regulations may be made under this section unless the Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement certifying that, in his or her opinion, it is no longer possible to retain membership of EURATOM or establish an association with EURATOM that permits the operation of nuclear safeguarding activity through its administrative arrangements.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to certify, before making any regulations to provide for nuclear safeguarding regulations, that it was not possible to remain a member of EURATOM or have an association with it.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 3, in clause 1, page 3, line 3, at end insert—

“(11) Regulations may not be made under this section unless the Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a report detailing his strategy for seeking associate membership of EURATOM or setting out his reasons for choosing to make nuclear safeguards regulations under this Act rather than seeking associate membership of EURATOM.”

This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from using the powers under Clause 1 to set out a nuclear safeguards regime through regulations until a report has been laid before each House setting out a strategy for seeking associate membership of EURATOM or explaining why we cannot seek associate membership of EURATOM.

Amendment 8, in clause 4, page 5, line 6, at end add—

“(5) No regulations may be made under this section until—

(a) the Government has laid before Parliament a strategy for maintaining those protections, safeguards, programmes for participation in nuclear research and development, and trading or other arrangements which will lapse as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from membership of and participation in EURATOM, and

(b) the strategy has been considered by both Houses of Parliament.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament on the protection and trading arrangements that arise from membership of EURATOM, and his strategy for maintaining them prior to making regulations concerning nuclear safeguarding.

New clause 1—Purpose

“The purpose of this Act is to provide for a contingent arrangement for nuclear safeguarding arrangements under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in the event that the United Kingdom no longer has membership or associate membership of EURATOM, to ensure that qualifying nuclear material, facilities or equipment are only available for use for civil activities (whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere).”

This new clause would be a purpose clause, to establish that the provisions of the Bill are contingency arrangements if it proves impossible to establish an association with EURATOM after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The new clause and amendments that we are debating in this group go to the heart of the Bill, and I shall explain why. I thank you, Mr McCabe, for ensuring that new clause 1 was in this group, rather than at the end of proceedings, as it would be normally, because that allows us to discuss in some detail, around both the amendments and the clause, what goes in at the beginning of the Bill and what the Bill is about.

Our new clause 1, the essential part of this group, seeks to place a purpose clause at the beginning of the Bill. Hon. Members who have studied the history of purpose clauses in some depth may say, “That’s not usual; most Bills don’t have purpose clauses,” and it is true that most do not, but it is not the case that they never do; and I suggest, given what we have discussed on Second Reading and in Committee today, that to establish a purpose clause for this Bill would seem very sound and wise. For the record, a number of Acts of Parliament do have purpose clauses. For example, both the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 and the Education Act 2002 have substantial purpose clauses, setting out what the Act is about.

In this instance, the key issue about this Bill is that it is a contingent Bill. It is not like a number of other pieces of legislation, which simply require that we undertake certain actions to achieve a certain end. This Bill will not come into operation, should other circumstances take place. Indeed, on Second Reading the Secretary of State made it clear how the Bill had been prepared. He said:

“I can confirm that the Bill has been prepared on a contingency basis. The discussions around our continued arrangements with Euratom and with the rest of the European Union have not been concluded, but it is right to put in place in good time any commitments that are needed in primary legislation. Euratom has served the United Kingdom and our nuclear industries well, so we want to see maximum continuity of those arrangements.”—[Official Report, 16 October 2017; Vol. 629, c. 617.]

I think the Secretary of State, in addition to making it clear that the Bill could be described as a contingent piece of legislation, was alluding to the fact that there are a number of sets of circumstances, which we do not yet know about but might in the fullness of time, that would effectively cause the Bill not to be operational although it remained on the statute book. Harking briefly back to our previous discussions, the Bill might conceivably be in the position that I described of other pieces of legislation that are full of provisions for secondary legislation—Acts that, because something else has happened that causes that Act and those provisions to become effectively redundant, stay on the statute book but are not further enacted. A purpose clause to make that clear at the beginning of this piece of legislation seems quite important, given the fairly unique status that this piece of legislation holds.

When I say that other things could occur, I mean that in the fullness of time, we might turn out to remain a member of Euratom. Even if not a member, the UK might conceivably have an association with Euratom such that the provisions for nuclear safeguards in the Bill might continue to be undertaken under the auspices of Euratom—not the Office for Nuclear Regulation as the Bill sets out. I will take those two possibilities in turn.

There are legal opinions and other opinions around, about whether Euratom is synonymous with the treaty of Rome and whether, therefore, the decision to exit the EU means that we must exit Euratom at the same time. After all, Euratom was in place marginally before the EU took shape originally and it was brought about by a separate treaty, not the one that caused the EU to come into being. Although there have been a number of arguments on the other side, it is true that, to all intents and purposes, that Euratom treaty has been absorbed into the doings of the EU in subsequent years. In a number of instances, such as the use of the European Court of Justice to undertake dispute resolution procedures within Euratom’s undertakings, one could certainly say that Euratom is fairly firmly stitched into what takes place in the European Union. However, it is by no means clear that it originated in precisely the same way as the European Union.

Our understanding is that the reason that the Prime Minister decided to include leaving Euratom in her letter to the European Union invoking article 50 was to pay particular attention to the issue of the ECJ as far as Euratom was concerned, and it was not done necessarily on, shall we say, universally agreed advice. Whether the very inclusion of that view in that letter itself causes us to exit Euratom in a way that we might not otherwise have done is a matter for further debate and conjecture; but there is at least an open question as to whether, should the UK continue to observe Euratom’s procedures exactly and agree to what it is that Euratom does in its entirety, there are circumstances under which membership of Euratom might be maintained.

I agree that, since 1956, no non-EU member has held Euratom membership, but I worry that that argument—this is a terrible Welshist analogy—is a little like someone going to a village, knocking on each door and asking what the name of the resident is, and everyone says Jones so they leave the last five houses out, on the understanding that everyone in that village is called Jones so they can go home. The fact that there are no members of Euratom who are not EU members will not necessarily always be the case in the future.

Still less equivocal is the idea that one might be an associate member of Euratom, or have an association with Euratom, which does the job that we are seeking to do concerning nuclear safeguards in the Bill. Although an association with Euratom would not have all the requirements and privileges of membership, it would nevertheless take under its wing the nuclear safeguards process that we have worked on through Euratom for a number of years, and that we would want to have in identical form in UK legislation for a number of years subsequently.

There are different circumstances around associate membership than there are around full membership. I mentioned that no non-EU states have full membership of Euratom, but some have what might be called associate membership, or various other kinds of association. It might be worth considering for a moment what those associations consist of. The Swiss associate membership of Euratom is certainly fairly limited; it covers some things, but it does not include the sort of safeguarding arrangements with Euratom that we might want to continue. The EU-Ukraine association agreement, however, does provide for extensive co-operation between Ukraine and Euratom. For those hon. Members who are wondering, article 342 of the agreement aims to

“ensure a high level of nuclear safety, the clean and peaceful use of nuclear energy, covering all civil nuclear energy activities and stages of the fuel cycle, including production of and trade in nuclear materials, safety and security aspects of nuclear energy, and emergency preparedness, as well as health-related and environmental issues and non-proliferation. In this context, cooperation will also include the further development of policies and legal and regulatory frameworks based on EU legislation and practices, as well as on International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) standards. The Parties shall promote civil scientific research in the fields of nuclear safety and security, including joint research and development activities, and training and mobility of scientists.”

That clause comes pretty close to the idea of an associated nuclear safeguarding regime, which is what we are discussing today.

Some evidence, therefore, already exists that an associate arrangement with Euratom could cover that particular set of circumstances, and there is a further piece of evidence to bring to the table. Although wording on association with the European Economic Community has changed over the years, wording on association with Euratom has not changed since it was originally written in 1956. Any associate arrangement between the United Kingdom and Euratom would therefore be based on the 1956 wording, not on any subsequent version. Indeed, the drafters of the wording for association with Euratom clearly had in mind an association with the UK, which was a nuclear power at the time but not a member of the EU. Although that was before the non-proliferation treaty, the UK had a clear interest in association with Euratom, and the Spaak report of 1956 declared that Euratom should seek a tailor-made and “particulièrement étroite” association agreement with the UK.

Given that the wording has not changed, and that Euratom at its inception wanted an agreement, it appears substantially possible to resuscitate that approach 60 years later. We therefore believe that the Bill should make it clear that such alternatives are possible. If a Bill is said to be contingent, it is a pretty straightforward logical step to ask what it is contingent on. The Bill should include a purpose clause that states not only that it is contingent, but what it is contingent on and the circumstances under which that contingency should continue.

Our other amendments all follow from that central point. Before I speak to them, I hope the Committee will consider just how central it is. Whether or not the Committee is minded to accept our other amendments, I hope it will agree that a purpose clause at the beginning of the Bill would set things in proper order.

I am aware that we are reaching the magic hour of 1 o’clock, Mr McCabe. I fear I cannot do justice to our other amendments in 90 seconds, so I propose that I should do so after lunch.

Actually, you will not be able to carry on after lunch, because you cannot resume your speech after you have taken your seat.

Perhaps someone else will enlighten the Committee about our other amendments after lunch, then. I know hon. Members will be devastated, but I shall take your ruling firmly to heart and sit down.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Rebecca Harris.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Nuclear Safeguards Bill (Fourth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: James Gray, † Steve McCabe

† Blomfield, Paul (Sheffield Central) (Lab)

† Bradley, Ben (Mansfield) (Con)

† Carden, Dan (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab)

† Debbonaire, Thangam (Bristol West) (Lab)

† Gibson, Patricia (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)

Gill, Preet Kaur (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab/ Co-op)

† Harrington, Richard (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

† Harris, Rebecca (Castle Point) (Con)

† Harrison, Trudy (Copeland) (Con)

Hendry, Drew (Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey) (SNP)

† Lewer, Andrew (Northampton South) (Con)

† Maclean, Rachel (Redditch) (Con)

† Norris, Alex (Nottingham North) (Lab/Co-op)

† Robinson, Mary (Cheadle) (Con)

† Smith, Eleanor (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab)

† Sunak, Rishi (Richmond (Yorks)) (Con)

† Syms, Sir Robert (Poole) (Con)

† Whitehead, Dr Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)

† Wragg, Mr William (Hazel Grove) (Con)

Kenneth Fox, Rob Cope, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 2 November 2017


[Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Nuclear Safeguards Bill

Before we resume, I should explain that I asked the Clerk for some further advice during the break. We were in a slightly unusual set of circumstances before lunch because I was anxious that you got an opportunity to break for lunch but I was also very conscious that Dr Whitehead was part-way through his remarks. He had spoken about the new clause but had not referred properly to the amendments. As I explained before lunch, normally, when a Member sits down, they would not be able to resume. However, I have had some further advice. There are no objections from the Minister. I think it is important in this Committee that people get a chance to hear what is being debated and what is the substance of the issue. With that in mind, I invite Dr Whitehead to make some concluding remarks that he was not able to make just before one o’clock.

Clause 1

Nuclear safeguards

Amendment moved (this day): 1, in clause 1, page 2, line 14, at end insert—

“(3A) No regulations may be made under this section unless the Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a statement certifying that, in his or her opinion, it is no longer possible to retain membership of EURATOM or establish an association with EURATOM that permits the operation of nuclear safeguarding activity through its administrative arrangements.”—(Dr Whitehead.)

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to certify, before making any regulations to provide for nuclear safeguarding regulations, that it was not possible to remain a member of EURATOM or have an association with it.

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

Amendment 3, in clause 1, page 3, line 3, at end insert—

“(11) Regulations may not be made under this section unless the Secretary of State has laid before both Houses of Parliament a report detailing his strategy for seeking associate membership of EURATOM or setting out his reasons for choosing to make nuclear safeguards regulations under this Act rather than seeking associate membership of EURATOM.”

This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from using the powers under Clause 1 to set out a nuclear safeguards regime through regulations until a report has been laid before each House setting out a strategy for seeking associate membership of EURATOM or explaining why we cannot seek associate membership of EURATOM.

Amendment 8, in clause 4, page 5, line 6, at end add—

“(5) No regulations may be made under this section until—

(a) the Government has laid before Parliament a strategy for maintaining those protections, safeguards, programmes for participation in nuclear research and development, and trading or other arrangements which will lapse as a result of the UK’s withdrawal from membership of and participation in EURATOM, and

(b) the strategy has been considered by both Houses of Parliament.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament on the protection and trading arrangements that arise from membership of EURATOM, and his strategy for maintaining them prior to making regulations concerning nuclear safeguarding.

New clause 1— Purpose

The purpose of this Act is to provide for a contingent arrangement for nuclear safeguarding arrangements under the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in the event that the United Kingdom no longer has membership or associate membership of EURATOM, to ensure that qualifying nuclear material, facilities or equipment are only available for use for civil activities (whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere).

This new clause would be a purpose clause, to establish that the provisions of the Bill are contingency arrangements if it proves impossible to establish an association with EURATOM after the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Thank you very much, Mr McCabe. I am obliged to you for your kind thoughts in that respect. I guess it is a good thing, as it transpires, that I did not tear up my notes at lunchtime after all.

We will see.

I want to draw briefish attention to the three amendments that are in this group, in addition to new clause 1, which I have already spoken about and which would be a purpose clause at the front of the Bill. The three amendments effectively follow on from that purpose clause. Amendment 1 would require the Secretary of State, before regulations are made under clause 1—what is done under secondary legislation after we pass the Bill through the House—to produce a statement certifying that, in his opinion, it is no longer possible either to retain membership of Euratom or to establish an association with Euratom that permits the operation of nuclear safeguarding activity in the way that I described in my remarks on the purpose clause.

The amendment is important because we are in such uncharted waters as far as the demise of our arrangements with Euratom and what we will put in to replace them are concerned. Assuming the Bill comes to pass as a contingency, it is important that we know between us what has been done in respect of possible continued Euratom membership, and what has been done in respect of possible association with Euratom. Even after those things have been done, it will perhaps turn out that no progress has been possible on those particular areas. The Secretary of State should report to the House that that is the case—that the time for negotiations and discussions is over, that there is no prospect of going down that route and that therefore this Bill, as a contingency, comes into operation.

Were it to be passed today, the amendment would mark an important juncture in the Bill coming into play. Essentially, it would draw the line and, publicly by reference to Parliament through a report from the Secretary of State, show that matters have been explored and avenues gone down but those avenues have now closed to us. That may be just because the time for making those arrangements has run out, or it may be because it is difficult to secure associated status with Euratom similar to that of Ukraine or to that envisaged by the Spaak report in 1956.

If the amendment is passed, such a certification would be put before the House so it can see that efforts have been made, what the situation is and what we can expect, as far as the legislation is concerned. That should be in the Bill because, as everyone agrees, this is contingent legislation. It is contingent on certain actions. The legislation will either be placed aside or work fully as an alternative to the Euratom safeguarding regime.

Amendment 3 follows on from that. It requires the Secretary of State, before that process, to place before Parliament his or her strategy for seeking associate membership or another form of association with Euratom. That is important. There is a number of possible routes by which an association with Euratom could be achieved. Clearly, as we said this morning, the ideal route is to seek full membership of Euratom after the UK leaves the EU. As the Minister said previously, and I am sure will say today, there is a considerable difference of opinion about whether a full membership arrangement is possible or whether our notification to leave the EU has already closed that door. A strategy for seeking associate membership—or, indeed, full membership—would securely lay that argument to rest one way or the other. If the advice the Government receive suggests that certain doors are closed, I anticipate that the strategy would reflect that and the kind of associate status the country might expect to undertake. The Government would report on what strategy would be used to achieve that and whether that kind of status would be sufficient to cover the question of nuclear safeguards. In Switzerland, that appears not to be the case, but in Ukraine it appears possible.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that any such associated status would have to be stitched carefully to reflect the particular circumstances of the relationship between the UK and Euratom. It would probably not be taken off a shelf. That is an additional reason for some kind of report—outlining the strategy, the possible arrangements, and the kind of outcome envisaged were the strategy to succeed—being laid before Parliament. That is what we seek to achieve with the amendment. It is not in any way intended to delay or alter how the Bill works; it is simply to achieve greater clarity about what we are doing, given the contingent nature of the Bill.

Amendment 8 concerns the fact that today we are only discussing one of Euratom’s many functions in relation to UK nuclear activity. Euratom has a range of functions, concerning nuclear research and development, transport of nuclear and fissile materials, arrangements for making sure that nuclear materials are in the right place and in the right hands, and arrangements regarding who owns what when Euratom is or is not involved. Those are all essential functions of Euratom—functions in which the UK has participated wholeheartedly over many years. They will all have to be brought into national arrangements, but are not subject to the provisions of the Bill.

We are saying that we are in circumstances where we think that we have to leave Euratom as a whole and not just part of it, as part of the process of leaving the EU, so it is right that the Government should have available to it and indeed should publish a strategy regarding how Euratom’s other functions will be properly incorporated into the UK’s activities after we have left. The amendment is essentially about laying a strategy before Parliament for maintaining the wider range of protections and facilitations that are within our present Euratom arrangements.

As the Minister himself has made clear, the Bill is about nuclear safeguarding—not nuclear safety, the transport of nuclear materials or any of those other things. Nevertheless, those things are an essential element of Euratom activity. We think it is important to take that into account—not to delay the Bill, but to ensure that a strategy for maintaining those elements is laid before Parliament and is considered by both Houses of Parliament before the regulations are made under this clause.

I commend those amendments. I think they are sensible additions to the Bill, not only in terms of Parliament considering these issues, but in terms of considering all the circumstances under which we will potentially leave Euratom and what kind of regime will be in place once we have left it and replicated, as well as we can, what happens now, for the future of the country. I hope that the Minister will, by acclamation, be able to accept the amendments or, at the very least, accept their bona fide purpose, which is to strengthen the Bill as it goes through the House.

I want to speak in support of amendments 1, 3 and 8 and new clause 1. The Minister knows, as certainly it is no secret, that the Scottish National party absolutely does not support the decision to leave Euratom. We have been told that it is essential and a requirement that we do so, and that we are where we are, but I urge the Minister—as I have before—to explore to the fullest possible extent the legal advice that is, at best, differing and conflicting, as that may be the best way to go.

The Prime Minister has told us, and the Minister has reiterated it, that the UK Government seek a close relationship with Euratom. I suggest that the closest relationship would be to remain a member, but if we cannot and if the Minister stretches every sinew, explores every avenue and finds that we cannot remain a member of Euratom, we want to remain an associate member, as has been pointed out. We have heard that Switzerland became an associate member of Euratom in 2014, under article 206. That arrangement could be a way in which we can continue to access funding for nuclear research.

Although safeguard regulations are certainly reserved to the UK Parliament, the Minister will know that there are areas of regulation that are devolved to the Scottish Government, for example the regulation of waste and emissions from nuclear sites. When talking about nuclear safeguards I do not feel that we can properly and safely artificially separate those areas, so I hope that the Minister will involve the Scottish Government at every stage of the Euratom negotiation process to ensure, whatever the deal, outcome or final situation, that the deal also works for Scotland.

With regard to amendment 8, we must be mindful—I am sure that the Minister is—that critical pillars of scientific research and medicine must be considered as an important part of the Bill. Following our departure from Euratom—if that happens—the UK will have to strike new regulatory agreements with the EU and other trading partners, to continue to import nuclear materials. That will only be possible with a new regulatory system. I am tempted to quote the expert advice from Tom Greatrex, the chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, and of course a former Member of Parliament. He points out that:

“While medical isotopes are not classed as special fissile material and so not subject to safeguarding provisions, it is not accurate to say that Euratom has no impact. They are subject”

to the treaty.

He is echoed by the president-elect of the European Association of Nuclear Medicine, who tells us:

“The transport of isotopes across borders is regulated so it is not something you can send in a package”.

There is room for question and to search for more clarity, which I hope the Minister can provide. We need to know the strategy for the trading and transportation of nuclear materials, such as fuel for reactors and isotopes. EU officials and independent experts have stated that

“these isotopes would be subject to wider Euratom rules on the trade and transportation of nuclear materials after Brexit.”

I hope that the Minister will take the concerns addressed in the amendments on board. I am very interested to hear what he has to say.

I said earlier that I do not think there is public energy behind us not participating in Euratom in some way. Similarly, in our discussions, neither the experts we had in front of us nor hon. Members said that leaving Euratom is desirable and that we should actively choose to do it. Rather, it is a necessity of circumstance, and this Bill is a contingency to cover such an event.

I am in favour of this cluster of amendments and the new clause, because it is important that we provide evidence that we have taken every step to try to maintain what is currently a successful relationship. In doing so, we will resolve the debilitating difference of legal opinion on this matter, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test characterised it.

The Minister said clearly that we are leaving Euratom, but on Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), who at that point was a member of the ministerial team for the Department for Exiting the European Union, said:

“Triggering article 50 therefore also entails giving notice to leave Euratom.”—[Official Report, 1 February 2017; Vol. 620, c. 1131.]

I believe there is a difference between saying we are leaving and saying we have to leave, as, in effect, the right hon. Gentleman said. The Minister may say that that is a distinction without a difference. However, in the first sitting of this Committee, we took evidence from two senior lawyers in this area—Jonathan Leech and Rupert Cowan from Prospect Law—and I asked them whether triggering article 50 necessitated, as the right hon. Gentleman suggested, leaving Euratom as well. Jonathan Leech said, “No”, and Rupert Cowan said, “Absolutely not.” Jonathan Leech continued to say:

“The advice would be that you do not have to accept this and it may not be in your interests to do so.”––[Official Report, Nuclear Safeguards Public Bill Committee, 31 October 2017; c. 12, Q23.]

This is clearly contested space.

We subsequently heard, as my hon. Friend said, that perhaps it is something to do with the Government’s preferred future approach to the European Court of Justice. Perhaps they think we ought to escape immediately anything that seems to have some sort of tie to the ECJ. That may well be the view of the Prime Minister and No. 10, but it is considerably different from what was said on Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which is that we have to do it.

Leaving Euratom is a political choice and, as such, ought to be debated in the usual way. We should make a democratic decision about it. The best way for us to do that, as Members across the Committee have said, is to carry on with this contingency Bill, but in doing so prove the case either way. I am perfectly willing to accept that there will be conflicting legal advice. A Minister has been very clear in this place that he believes it to be absolutely one way, and this Committee has heard evidence to the complete contrary. The best way to resolve that is for us to see the information and talk about it. Critically, as these amendments require, future Ministers should lay before both Houses of Parliament what advice they have taken, what course they have chosen and why they have had to do that. If they do that, I believe that both the House and the public will have confidence that that very difficult, possibly traumatic, decision is the only one that could have been taken.

Unsurprisingly, I rise to speak in favour of this cluster of amendments and the new clause, which gets to the very heart of our purpose here. We should be at one—I am sure we are—with the Minister, who described the Bill as a contingency. We should see it as a safety net, but the overriding ambition should be to stay within Euratom.

All the witnesses we heard in our evidence session on Tuesday said, when the Minister pressed them on it, that they support the Bill, but only if we cannot remain in Euratom, which would be a far more preferable option. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test set out the case very well in his opening remarks. There is a strong case for having a purpose clause that frames the Bill, because of its unique characteristics. The other amendments will fall into place. If that is the position, we need to say that full membership is our negotiating purpose in the Brexit talks. If that proves not to be possible, we need to set out, as amendment 3 suggests, a strategy for seeking associate membership, recognising that the current examples of associate membership fall short of what we would hope to achieve. However, we are in unknown territory in all these negotiations over our departure from the European Union.

Amendment 1 sets out that, if this is a safety net, what are the conditions under which we have to open it? That should be in the form of a report from the Secretary of State. Amendment 8 clearly sets out the requirement for Parliament to fully explore the many other benefits of Euratom membership, whether in relation to medical isotopes or to the research work in nuclear fusion at Culham, which we lead the world in. This is an important cluster of proposals from Labour and we hope they are all helpful.

The contribution my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham North made a moment ago brings us to a central political issue: why are we in this position when there appears to be such unanimity about wishing to remain in Euratom? He made a point about the discussion on Second Reading. As far back as February I challenged the then Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the European Union, the right hon. Member for Clwyd West, about suggestions that it was the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice that had led the Government to issue a notice to withdraw from Euratom. In response, he told the House:

“it would not be possible for the UK to leave the EU and continue its current membership of Euratom.”—[Official Report, 8 February 2017; Vol. 621, c. 523.]

However, as we know, there are conflicting legal views on that. The Government have, apparently at the desire of No. 10, chosen to take one set of views, which is why they decided to trigger the departure from Euratom alongside the article 50 proposals. I am sure that the former Chancellor of the Exchequer is highly regarded by hon. Members on the Government Benches. In his new role he wrote, on 10 July, that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union

“was open to Britain remaining party to the Euratom Treaty…It was Mrs May who overruled Mr Davis and others in the Cabinet, such as Greg Clarke, to insist that we sacrifice those sensible international arrangements on the altar of the dogmatic purity of Brexit.”

I would not want to disagree with the former Chancellor of the Exchequer on this point.

Here we see a Bill that has been introduced partly because there has been an apparent surrender of the real negotiating ambition that we should have of remaining within Euratom, simply because of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. That dogmatic red line, as the former Chancellor of the Exchequer describes it, is something we should be concerned about, because remaining in Euratom makes such overwhelming sense to everybody involved in the industry and to Members on both sides of the House. It was interesting when we had the debate on Euratom in Westminster Hall in July that the hon. Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), who is not a noted dove on issues relating to the European Union, said that we should surely explore some closer form of co-operation and that we should not rule out some form of associate membership of Euratom. There is a huge consensus on this issue. It is unfortunate that this red line about the ECJ has got in the way of what is transparently in the interest of not only the industry but our country. It is all the more ludicrous when we recognise that in all the period the ECJ has been the arbitration body in relation to the European Atomic Energy Community, the Minister would find it hard to identify a single ruling—there have not been many—that we have not supported.

The fact that the Bill is being talked about in this way is unfortunate. These amendments give us an opportunity to move on from that place and to come together with an ambition that is far more sensible for the industry and the country. The Minister said earlier that we should try to reach a common place. That common place could be to state unambiguously that our negotiating ambition is to remain within Euratom. In that context, I hope he is open to accepting the new clause and the three amendments we have tabled.

I thank hon. Members for their contributions. I sympathise with the Opposition’s general aim, but I disagree with how they are going about it. I also disagree with the definition of “membership”, but I will come on to that in a minute.

I think the Opposition would accept that the Government would be reckless to do anything other than start what we are doing now, irrespective of the views of Members on both sides of the Committee about whether we should have membership, whether to call it associate membership, which I argue it is not, and whether it is a looser arrangement or a closer one. Contingency means that we are in the process of setting up a regulatory regime.

The amendments cover the fundamental issue of the UK’s future relationship with Euratom, which I understand. I think most commentators, experts and Members would accept that we have had many benefits from Euratom. As I said yesterday at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, we could not find any ECJ judgments that we have been involved in. There may be some, but the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), who is probably a lot cleverer than me in many ways—she is a physicist—could not find any, and we have not found any. In practice, this has not been an appellate jurisdiction issue at all. It has been providing a set of rules that we have all abided by. As far as I can see, it has gone pretty well.

This seems to be an appropriate opportunity for the Minister to confirm that he agrees with us that the Government’s negotiating ambition should be that we remain a member of Euratom.

I cannot, unfortunately, confirm that, but I can confirm that it is our intention to have as close a relationship as possible with Euratom, to cover the areas that Euratom covers with us at the moment.

The Government decided to serve the article 50 notice to leave the European Union. I am not a lawyer, but I accept the legal advice on both sides and have read a lot of the commentary around it. Whatever our views on that, it has been done, and it is our job as a Government to set up a suitable regulatory regime and negotiate with Euratom the closest possible relationship.

I would like to deal with the question of associate membership. It has been used in amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which will come before the House, and it has been mentioned a lot in conversation. I have had conversations with the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), and with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey).

Associate membership implies a form of membership that I am sure one would have at the finer gentlemen’s clubs in London—not that I belong to any—where someone can be a member or an associate member. It is not like that, as I am sure hon. Members accept. I do not want to make too much of the terminology, because there is not an off-the-peg associate membership. There are agreements with two countries, which have been mentioned—Switzerland and Ukraine, with Ukraine being the most recent. I could go into more detail, and I am happy to if there are further questions.

Switzerland’s agreement is purely for research and development—I do not make light of that; it is a really good thing—and Ukraine’s is that and a little bit more, but neither is actually akin to Euratom membership. Those are a close form of association in their fields, but we are looking for a close form of association in every single field that Euratom covers, of which the nuclear safeguards is one element, although there are important others.

The Minister will have noted that I pointed out in my remarks that both existing forms of associate membership—for Switzerland and Ukraine—would not meet the requirements to which we aspire. However, the difference there is surely that neither of those were formerly full members of Euratom. We are in the unique position of withdrawing from Euratom, and the negotiations therefore put us in a different sort of place, as other Ministers have argued in relation to other aspects of the negotiations.

I fully accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. I only mentioned Ukraine and Switzerland because they were mentioned by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test in terms of associate membership. I accept that they are different; in fact, that would be one of my main points were I reading my notes, but I am not, because I am trying to respond to the question.

Article 206 of the Euratom treaty deals with association. I quote from it:

“The Community may conclude with one or more States or international organisations agreements establishing an association involving reciprocal rights and obligations, common action and special procedures.”

It may seem pedantic but I think it is an important point: it is an association, not membership. However, what is in a name? I accept that we or any country can try to negotiate any kind of arrangement it wants with Euratom or anyone else; it takes two sides and a lot of goodwill.

However, I feel that the coverage sometimes gives the impression to my constituents who take an interest in this—I accept, as colleagues have said before, that very few actually do—but who are not studying it in detail that there is an open option for associate membership or for rejoining after we leave. I am sure that anything is on the table with Euratom, but our negotiations are entirely on the basis that we will leave Euratom on the same date as we leave the European Union, and that we are negotiating for ourselves the closest possible agreements for all of the activities.

We have mentioned safeguards, but for the record—I know hon. Members are probably aware of this—I will briefly mention the other important activities: research and development, which we have discussed; the Common Market trade arrangements for nuclear goods or products—let us call it free movement of goods and products; free movement of nuclear workers, which we discussed the importance of yesterday, in the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, and the day before; and the setting of safety standards through regulations and directives, even if they are not carried out directly by Euratom, as we discussed this morning. In many ways, the R and D side is the easiest of them. We briefly discussed Ukraine and we certainly discussed Switzerland. I believe that progress can be made quickly on those things.

On the second article, article 101 gives the power to conclude various types of agreements with third countries. It is worth the Committee noting that the current “association” enjoyed by Switzerland, which, as I have said, specifically relates to research, was made under this narrow article—101—and not under the wider article 206, which I just quoted.

So, when hon. Members cite this “association” as a precedent that can be followed, I do not disagree—as I say, it is very encouraging—but I do point out the narrow scope and limited power under which it is achieved. It does not amount to what people would generally refer to as “associate membership”—not by a long way.

However, I must make it clear that nothing is off the table in discussions with the EU—nothing—because those discussions have not actually started yet. The preliminary discussions have, as has been well discussed before. They are what is called the “separation arrangements” and hon. Members will know, from discussions concerning the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the difference between the two types of discussions. We are in phase 1 of the negotiations, but the future relationship between the UK and the EU, and the details of any implementation period, are for the next phase of negotiations.

I accept that some areas of Euratom are linked to much wider issues, such as the free movement of goods and services. That must be linked to the general negotiations on the free movement of—well, materials that are not non-Euratom-compliant in every other sector, and very important they are. I do not underestimate the challenge that we face, in this area and in the wider negotiations.

However, given the uncertainty about the outcome of all the negotiations, it is absolutely vital that we continue to press ahead with work to set up an internationally approved safeguards regime and to put in place the nuclear co-operation agreements we will need. So, I am happy with the word “contingency”, which has been used, but “contingency” has to start now; it cannot start after all else has not succeeded. It is as much a logistical operation as anything else, but it would send a signal to our partners that we are serious, and we would be very negligent in our duties if we did not start it. I know that Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition are not negligent in their duties; I am not saying that we are “holier than thou” and the other side could not care less; of course we are all very concerned, but we would be very negligent in our duties if we did not start on this “contingency” work now.

I know—well, I hope and I believe—that I have full cross-party support on that point, even from Members who do not believe at all in nuclear generally; it has been well publicised about Scotland. However, the safeguards regime element of nuclear, given that we have got nuclear, is as important to the Scottish Government as it is to the UK generally. I mean, it would be impractical and not right—and I would like to say that that is not believed at all by the Scottish National party or indeed any other mainstream party in Scotland.

I also acknowledge that the hon. Members who tabled this group of amendments are not trying to wreck the Bill at all. Their actions are not irresponsible; I hope that we are having an informed and intelligent discussion on what to do, as we try to achieve the same object. I say that because amendments are always regarded in a partisan way. The Government put something forward; the Opposition, if you like, try to ruin it. However, that is certainly not the case in this instance and I would not like anyone to think so. There are quite a few experienced Members here—both Government Members and Opposition Members.

We must introduce the Bill to ensure that we meet international safeguards. This is to do with non-proliferation issues after we withdraw from Euratom. I would like to put it on the record that we are making very constructive progress in negotiations on the bilateral agreement with the IAEA and on the agreements with key partners such as the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan. They will all require—I say “will” because, obviously, they are not yet signed and finalised—or are contingent on our having the domestic safeguards regime in place on exit day.

We have to maintain the momentum and reassure the international community that the UK remains committed to nuclear non-proliferation and will provide clarity to the industry, which is very important. Tomorrow, I am meeting—possibly in this room but certainly on this floor—representatives of the nuclear sector, to discuss the nuclear sector deal. The industry wants to know that it can move vital materials, parts and expertise after exit day. Whatever word we use for our relationship—membership, associate membership, close association—the industry needs to know that it will be able to perform those functions.

The Minister told me in answer to a previous intervention that he was unable to commit fully to our negotiating ambitions in relation to membership. I hear what he says, but I am sure that what the sector wants to hear tomorrow is clarity. In a different context, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has said that the Government intend to seek from our future trading relationship “the exact same benefits” that we currently enjoy from membership of the single market and the customs union. Is it, then, the Government’s ambition to seek in our future relationship the exact same benefits that we currently enjoy as members of Euratom? I am sure that the sector will be keen to hear that tomorrow.

I could not have put it better myself. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will be delighted to have been quoted. But it is a serious point and I would confirm seriously that it is our intention to achieve exactly the same terms and conditions in this sector as we have enjoyed with the benefits of Euratom. I will make that clear tomorrow to the industry, as I have done before; I do not think that the industry would say otherwise.

We have to ensure that we are committed to nuclear co-operation. I would never joke about North Korea, but I cannot imagine that any responsible person in this Committee Room or in the whole Palace of Westminster could ever think that we could leave ourselves without nuclear safeguards, because then we would be like North Korea. We must be able to compete internationally and do the things that decent countries do in this field. Euratom has provided that ability, and it is our full intention to ensure that that continues.

I hope that the hon. Members for Southampton, Test, for Sheffield Central and for Bristol West will withdraw their amendments. To summarise my argument, I would say that each of them would complicate or delay—in my view, to no good effect—the vital process of preparation that we are now embarking on. We are already committed to the path down which the amendments are trying to push us, so although I am sympathetic to them, I argue that they are not necessary.

New clause 1 would undermine our position in our negotiations with international partners beyond the EU. It would change the purpose of the Bill to permit arrangements for a safeguards regime to be put in place only in the wake of failure of the discussions with the EU. We need to pursue discussions bilaterally and with the IAEA now, while we await the start of negotiations with the EU on our future relationship. In fact, as I said, those discussions are well advanced. Over the past few days, several hon. Members from various parties have asked the Government in various forums how confident we are that new bilateral arrangements can be put in place in time. Our answer is that we are indeed confident, but only as long as we can continue to push at full speed; we cannot afford to await the outcome of our discussions in Brussels.

Amendments 1, 3 and 8 would risk delaying the legislation necessary to implement the domestic safeguards regime; I do not believe that that is their intention, but that would be their effect. I will address the transition period when we consider new clause 2.

The Government’s strategy is to progress the Bill; to continue to negotiate with the EU to achieve the closest possible future association with Euratom; to continue to negotiate an agreement with the IAEA, the importance of which I cannot overstate; to continue to negotiate nuclear co-operation agreements with our key trading partners; to increase the capabilities of the Office for Nuclear Regulation to deliver a robust domestic civil nuclear safeguards regime; and to push for research and training partnership, having committed to delivering the UK share of the Joint European Torus project after withdrawal from Euratom. I hope that after hearing those arguments, Opposition Members will feel able to withdraw their amendments.

I am sorry if what I am about to say brings forth an uncomfortable image in hon. Members’ heads, but I cannot help thinking that the Minister has been dancing adroitly on the head of a very small pin. I say that because it is extremely difficult to conceive of circumstances where we would have the closest possible relationship with Euratom after we have left it or “the exact same benefits” as we would have as members but where that would not consist of an association with Euratom that one might call associate membership.

That association could not be the same as existing associations with Euratom; it would have to be a close association that was tailor-made for UK circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central made the important point that our circumstances are not moving us towards Euratom, so the association might be a preliminary status that could be added to later. That association carries on from a helpful, mutually satisfactory, long-term working relationship with Euratom that has served the UK, Euratom and the wider international community tremendously well over a long period.

The circumstances of the closest possible relationship, as set out by the Minister, and of the “exact same benefits”, as the Minister set out in agreement with my hon. Friend’s statement, almost have to be—I cannot think how they could not, in fact—a close associate membership of Euratom that would enable the nuclear safeguarding part of Euratom that we are talking about to be undertaken. The Minister, in dancing so well on the head of this particular pin, has underlined why the close relationship would manifest itself in that way. If the Minister is saying that we must have the closest possible relationship but that we cannot or will not define what that should be because—I am not quite sure of the line of logic here—that might in some way impede the progress of our future negotiations, I should have thought that the opposite would be the case. It would be rather good for future negotiations if we had an idea of what we wanted to negotiate about at an early stage.

I have been listening carefully to the hon. Gentleman. For the sake of this question, let us say that our negotiating ploy was to go to Euratom and say that we want full membership—the same as before. Its answer would surely be either yes or no. The Government want to replicate the five areas that Euratom covers and for those to be as close as possible to membership.

The hon. Gentleman accuses me of dancing on the head of a pin. The thought of me dancing on anything is a dreadful one, which I ask hon. Members to put out of their minds.

Heaven forbid—although think about some of the people who have done it.

I am afraid that such a restriction invites a yes or no answer. The Government are saying, “We want the closest possible relationship on these different headings,” which may amount to what the hon. Gentleman says, but everything is in the negotiations. This is not a yes or no matter; these are complex negotiations. I cannot speak for him, but I believe that by using the wording we have—what I have put on the record about how close we want everything to be—we may well be asking for a series of arrangements that amount to what he wants.

I thank the Minister for that clarification, which takes us a little further to the centre of the pin. The point is that the Bill clearly is not considered, has not been worked on and does not have its full set of secondary legislation attached, but it will practically come into force when the results of the discussion about the closest possible relationship are known. Let us say that, despite the Minister’s best endeavours to get the closest possible relationship, Euratom says no to everything—“You’re on your own; you’re out.” The provisions of the Bill must then come into place to get us a fully functioning nuclear safeguards regime that seamlessly takes over from the point at which Euratom says no. That is my understanding of the contingent nature of the Bill.

That does not mean—and it should not be taken to mean—that the Opposition are in any way trying to impede the work that needs to be done to get the Bill in place in order to fulfil that function. Of course that work needs to be done now and not at a future date. However, it would be really good, for the purposes of framing the Bill properly—in the way I have described—to know what the Government will seek as far as associate membership or the closest possible working relationship are concerned. I am considerably reassured by what the Minister says about the Government’s intentions in that respect, but it would be really useful to have that clear and in front of us.

I do not think that would in any way cause Euratom to say yes or no. Indeed, I would have thought that having a strategy in front of us that says what we want to achieve would be positive as far as Euratom is concerned, because it would then know exactly where we stood and exactly the limits of the closest possible working relationship we wanted, and it would be reassured to negotiate accordingly.

I worry that the shadow Minister and I are doing a duet on the head of this pin, because we are more or less in agreement about what we want. I thank him for his reassurances that he understands the need for the safeguards regime, which is the entire purpose of the Bill—it says so in the title. The Bill is not vague; it is deliberately precise, because we need to set up a safeguards regime.

I hope that I have made our strategy very clear, as I have on other occasions. Given that we have exactly the same intention, I ask the hon. Gentleman not to invite the answer