Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill (First 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
Tuesday 14 November 2017
[Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]
Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill
I remind everyone to ensure that all electronic devices are turned off or switched to silent mode.
Accident resulting from unauthorised software alterations or failure to update software
I beg to move amendment 11, in clause 4, page 3, line 13, at end insert—
‘, provided that the vehicle manufacturer has made all reasonable efforts to—
(a) notify the owner of a vehicle about the need for an update of the vehicle’s operating system
(b) provide the relevant update of the vehicle’s operating system to the owner or insured person, and
(c) arrange for the installation and update of the vehicle’s operating system.’
This amendment would ensure the manufacturer has made every possible effort to inform the owner of the vehicle that a software update is needed before liability is passed to the owner.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 12, in clause 4, page 3, line 36, at end insert
‘(7) The Secretary of State must by regulations establish a system by which an automated vehicle may only be approved for driving itself on public roads if all application software is up to date.’
This amendment would require the Government to introduce regulations to establish a system that requires automated vehicle software to be up to date in order for them to utilise automated functions on public roads.
New clause 9—Updates to software and operation of automated vehicles—
‘The Secretary of State must bring forward regulations to require that automated vehicles cannot operate in automated mode on public roads unless the application software relating to the vehicle’s automated function is up to date.’
This new clause would require the Government to introduce regulations that require automated vehicles to be up to date in order for them to utilise automated functions on public roads.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Bailey. I note that you wisely ducked out just before I spoke yesterday in Westminster Hall, right enough—no such luck this morning.
Clause 4 is all about liabilities associated with operational software for automated vehicles. Amendments 11 and 12 aim to strengthen the clause and amendment 11 aims to clarify the responsibilities of the vehicle manufacturer. In turn, that may even assist the vehicle manufacturer with regards to clause 4(1)(b), which refers to whether a person ought to reasonably know about safety-critical software updates being required. We are using the right terminology, and it is hoped that the law meets its intended purpose both of ensuring that people are insured and of clarifying where liabilities are limited for insurance companies.
If the Bill sets out how important it is that safety-critical software is updated, it follows that duties are placed on the manufacturers to take all reasonable steps to ensure that that happens. Therefore, as with smartphones, the manufacturer must notify the owner of the need for upgrades but, unlike smartphones, it needs to be much more than a simple notification. Steps need to be undertaken to ensure that the vehicle owner is aware of the need for upgrades and to make arrangements for them to happen. There could be a series of warnings through the software, or written letters and correspondence. Given the sophistication of the software, and its interactive nature, in that it tries to talk to software on other servers, perhaps even some form of remote immobilisation could be considered. If those steps are followed, any evidence of the deliberate overriding of adaptations undertaken by the owner will fall within the insurance liability limitations outlined in clause 4.
Amendment 12 follows on from that, requiring the Government to introduce regulations to establish a system that requires automated vehicle software to be up to date in order to utilise automated functions on public roads. It might be argued that the amendment is not required, that it simply dots the i’s and crosses the t’s, but given that that function of the software is the brain of the vehicle, it is absolutely incumbent on the Government to ensure that there is a system for explicitly determining that the software is safe, and able to be used.
I suggest that new clause 9 serves the same function as amendment 12. I am therefore supportive of it in principle, but there is a logic in amendments 11 and 12 being put in with clause 4, to tighten it up.
I want to make a brief contribution. I mentioned in a previous sitting that I chair the all-party parliamentary group on insurance and financial services. We have looked into this area in some detail and I think it is fair to say that across the industry there is a lot of support for the Bill, which is good news. The industry is appreciative of the fact that the Bill is moving forward at pace, and of the Minister’s approach to that. However, we think there is a definite opportunity to tighten the wording in clause 4(1)(b), as there seems to be scope for conflict between different parties in two areas.
First, regarding the phrase
“insured person knows, or ought reasonably to know, are safety-critical”,
one of the consequences is that there might be a legitimate reason for software not being installed: a vehicle might be on a journey, there might be no signal or someone might have to use a vehicle in an emergency. The wording is open to interpretation and one of the consequences of that could be delays in paying out claims.
My second point is whether a safety-critical update was contributory either in whole or in part to an accident. Without tightening up the wording, there could be delays in the settling of claims, potential higher claims costs, and more data—data was raised quite a bit in the evidence sessions—being required to settle claims and to establish cause. Again, a knock-on effect is that the full potential of cost savings on insurance might not be fully recognised because of the cost involved in deciding on liability.
With those two points in mind it seems sensible to shift the onus from the insured person for the safety-critical update directly on to the manufacturer in all cases. We know the technology is there. It is available either to not enable the vehicle to start if a safety-critical update is not put in place or—this is probably more reasonable—to not enable a vehicle to access the automated mode unless all safety-critical software issues are up to date. Those are just a couple of points that I wanted to raise with the Minister which perhaps he will consider when he responds to the amendments.
Following on from the points that my hon. Friend just raised, will the Minister clarify a couple of points regarding the phrase in clause 4(1)(b), which states:
“the insured person knows, or ought reasonably to know”?
I am concerned that the phrase “ought reasonably to know” is a little woolly. I am not a lawyer or an expert in parliamentary drafting. It may be that the phrase is a well-used one that the courts can easily interpret, but in the context of the new software I am a little uncertain as to what “ought reasonably to know” actually means. I can envisage a number of scenarios in which the driver may have had an alert from the manufacturer that says, “We need to install version 1.whatever of the software.” He gets the update at a quarter to nine in the morning. He is rushing out of the house, late for a meeting, and says, “I’ll do that later on,” and then the car he is driving is unsafe at that point. I am simply not clear where the onus lies and when that person should install the software. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that point when he responds to this group of amendments, or he may wish to reflect on it and consider the matter further on Report. It is an area I have concerns about and we ought to get the drafting absolutely right.
It is a pleasure to recommence the discussion of the Bill under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey.
New clause 9, tabled in my name, states:
“The Secretary of State must bring forward regulations to require that automated vehicles cannot operate in automated mode on public roads unless the application software relating to the vehicle’s automated function is up to date.”
The new clause would require the Government to introduce regulations that require automated vehicles to be up to date in order for them to utilise automated functions on public roads. Under the current drafting, people would be able to drive their automated vehicles on the roads without having the latest up-to-date software, which could lead to safety risks. The new clause would ensure that the Government introduce regulations that require automated vehicles to be up to date in order for the automated function to be used. If a vehicle had a serious mechanical fault that could endanger the driver and others, we would not allow it on our roads. An automated vehicle would similarly present an increased safety risk if its operating system was not updated. Most people with a smartphone or computer are likely to have software that prevents it from being used until it is updated. I am not struck by any reason why a similar mechanism could not be included in automated vehicles. By preventing an un-updated vehicle from being used, we would achieve safer roads and cheaper insurance.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful point. This applies most critically to GPS, where there may be changes to roads or whatever. The automated vehicle would need to know where it is going and whether there had been some ad hoc intervention in the road layout that meant that the GPS was inaccurate. Clearly, there would need to be an update. Does he share my view that updates should be regular and frequent, because they are part of the safety process?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point when he talks about GPS systems. Without the new clause, people would be able to take un-updated vehicles on our roads, without being absolutely sure that they are safe. A primary benefit of AVs is that they reduce the likelihood of human error. However, one of the few areas in which the scope for human error remains—the responsibility for ensuring that software is updated—would not be addressed, even though it would not be difficult to do so. I cannot find any reason why it is not possible to legislate for this. The new clause addresses that obvious issue and I trust that the Government will consider it carefully.
We continue with dedication our diligent perusal of these matters and our scrutiny of this Bill. I am grateful to the Committee for its continuing determination to get this right. When we first met, we said that this was an important and challenging piece of legislation because we debate it in rapidly altering circumstances. The technology is moving on apace and we are trying to tread a path between creating sufficient certainty to allow insurers to develop the products they will need as the technology comes on stream and predicting a future which, by its nature, is unpredictable. That is the path we tread. It is important to emphasise in that spirit, in relation to this clause and these amendments, that the Bill is a first step. It does not solve all the problems or answer all the questions. It is a modest Bill, though an important one, in those terms.
It is doubtless true that as this technology unfolds more work will need to be done. We are on the cusp of an important—indeed, one might say revolutionary—change in what we drive and how we drive it, but it is not for this Committee, Government or Minister to predict quite what that might look like in decades to come. The modest character of the Bill needs to inform all our scrutiny. We are not aiming to solve all the problems here. We are aiming to take a measured first step towards solving those problems and meeting those challenges.
However, it is right that we debate the issue of how motorists understand and update their systems so that they can use their automated vehicles safely, as the shadow Minister, the mover of the amendment, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown), and other contributors have said. A core part of that is to ensure that the regulatory framework is in place which compels manufacturers to bring to market systems that make this process as simple and effective as possible.
This is certainly not the place for that legislative process to occur. It is not the purpose of the Bill. The requirement for systems to update forms part of an international set of standards, which I mentioned earlier. Vehicle safety and technology is subject to international standards. Those standards are well established in respect of the vehicles we all typically drive, but they are emerging standards in respect of autonomous vehicles. Much work has been done by this Government and others to ensure that those standards are fit for purpose. They will form the basis of a new type of approval process. We are familiar with the existing means by which these things are assured. That will develop over time, as the type of approval process emerges as a result of the work that is being done. Until that type of approval process is fit for purpose, these vehicles will simply not be sold or driven on our roads. In addition to our domestic non-insurance regulatory programme, it is vital that we are mindful of those further developments.
Robust standards will be in place before the vehicles arrive to market. There is, therefore, a risk in acting unilaterally. I understand why people are suggesting that we might; it is a perfectly reasonable response to the debate and the Bill, and it is useful that we are airing these subjects here. However, we would not want to try to anticipate the development of those standards without a clear understanding of the ultimate design standards to which these vehicles will be held, as we would risk creating barriers to the use of this technology and inhibiting further research and development—indeed, possibly inhibiting the development of the insurers’ products that the Bill is all about. We are continuing to take part in the international negotiation shaping the standards, and developing domestic road traffic laws and guidance. We do not accept new clause 9 and the amendments to clause 4 that would compel us to act without a settled knowledge of how these systems will ultimately be configured.
Let me deal, however, with some specifics. A series of points have been made on these matters during our scrutiny. I have written to the Committee, as Members will know, dealing with some of the questions that were previously raised. I do not think that this is an appropriate point to go through those letters because they do not directly relate to the subject at hand, but there will be a chance—I think at clause 7—to revisit some of the issues that were dealt with when we looked at clause 1. I simply put that on the record, in case people were wondering why I was not immediately addressing some of the things that were raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and others in earlier parts of the scrutiny.
In respect of the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South, I am looking for the guidance that I might have received from another place—[Interruption.] Ah, here we are; it has winged its way to me. In the end, the courts will interpret the facts. If a person knew that they needed to update the software and failed to do so—that is, knowingly took a view that they did not need to update their software, rather as if someone knowingly drove a vehicle that was mechanically unsound—a judgment will of course be made about their responsibilities and whether they should have used the vehicle. If someone is negligent in respect of their vehicle’s fitness to be driven, clearly the courts will have to take a view about their responsibilities.
I agree that we cannot anticipate exactly what form the technology will take, or the form of the updates. My right hon. Friend mentioned that further regulations would be issued before these vehicles went on the road. Would those regulations include a clearer definition of the obligations on the driver regarding when they must install any updates to the software?
I will come back to that, because in a way it relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire. We anticipate that the majority of software updates will be delivered automatically over the air, as it were, so we would expect software to be updated over time in that way that my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South suggests. I am mindful of the work that my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire has done on this—we have discussed it outside the Committee.
I will in a second.
In the end, the clause aims to protect insurers from a negligent person who intentionally fails to update their vehicle. For the sake of clarity, I offer the parallel of someone who fails to ensure that a vehicle they drive now is safe—who fails to take the proper precautions or make the proper arrangements to ensure that their vehicle can be safely driven when they go out in it. So it will be with autonomous vehicles and the software that relates to them. That is the purpose of the clause, but I am not entirely convinced by the advice that I have had on it yet. The civil servants in the room—I know I am not supposed to acknowledge them—will have a shiver going down their spine. I want to reflect more on it. I think we are right and I am sure what I have said is right, but I may have more to say on it. I am happy to reflect on it and come back to my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire if there is more to be said.
I appreciate that the Minister will look into it. He mentioned that the clause will protect the insurers, but the insurers of the insured person will still be footing the bill. By passing the onus for safety critical updates to the manufacturer, that could be taken away from the insurance industry.
With laser-like precision, my hon. Friend has focused on exactly the reason why I want to reflect on it. I thought that that was what he might say and that was what he meant when he first spoke. Although the response I offered him goes a fair way towards what he was seeking, I need to clarify that additional consideration for him. In the end, that will bring us back to the point close to the heart of all insurance considerations: how we discern liability and negligence. I want to be more precise about the second point that he raised, but I do not yet feel confident to do that. I will now give way to my old friend—the veteran of many Committees with me.
I am grateful for the Minister’s warm words. To return to the issue of GPS mapping updates, people expect the road network to be updated on vehicles, but the scenario is completely different for manual operation compared with automated operation. I hope the Minister is aware that most of the operated maps sit in the private sector. That is not an issue if the car is manually operated because the driver always has discretion as he sees the road in front of him, but that is not the case in automated mode. We have to think about our highways workers or our police force who may be intervening in the road network.
When we talk about updates, serious consideration needs to be given to GPS maps in automated mode. Who is responsible for them? Who owns them? Who will update them? How will we ensure that we have road safety? Updates are vital, but GPS mapping is particularly vital. The Minister needs to take a good look at that and how it will be integrated into the insurance industry and into the Bill and the regulations to protect our people working on the roads.
As I say, the hon. Gentleman is a veteran of many Committees. We have rarely crossed swords, but we have certainly waved swords at each other from time to time. He makes a sound point which is precisely why we would need to address a range of those issues in further regulation. At this juncture, I do not think we can think about adding that to the Bill. I know he did not say we should, but he did say that we should think about those matters and look at how they relate to this Bill subsequently. He is absolutely right.
At the risk of opening up a new avenue for discussion—I hesitate to do that because I know we want to make reasonably rapid progress today—the hon. Gentleman might also have raised the issue of the interface between the driver and the road, and the technology on the road. As we move towards smarter roads, there will be an increasingly close relationship between the information received in the car from outside, as well as the information that is at hand within the vehicle. That is another area where there will be a connection to automated vehicles. We are already seeing the regular use of gantries across roads that provide information. The interaction between that information, the car, and the information that is available locally will, over time, become an increasing feature of driving.
This is another area in which regulation will—in exactly the way the hon. Gentleman described—need to address how that works for automated vehicles. The assurance I give him and others is that we recognise these challenges, we anticipate further work, we know that work is ongoing and it will be set out, both in the formation of international standards for a type-approval process that I mentioned, and in the regulation we will introduce that matches that development.
I would like to take the Minister back to his comment that this Bill was designed to protect insurers against drivers who fail, or refuse, to upgrade the software on their vehicles. I think that what he really meant to say was that the Bill is here to protect the consumer, and that unless the consumer is acting wilfully and refuses to upgrade the car, they cannot be held responsible, and the insurers cannot use this Bill to wiggle out of their responsibilities and paying whatever they are responsible for. The Minister is aware is that his comments, which go on record in this Committee, could be used to interpret an intent behind the legislation, so how we describe things is important.
The hon. Gentlemen implies that those things are mutual exclusive. Of course, if someone intentionally—deliberately—goes about the business of not updating their vehicle, that creates a responsibility and a liability. That has ramifications of the kind that I described for insurers, but it also has the wider ramifications that he described. I do not think we are in different places on that.
Let me turn briefly to the comments made by the shadow Minister. Again, I can see why he makes that point, but as he knows, we will shortly discuss clause 5, which gives the right of recovery against the person actually responsible for the incident, whoever that responsible person is. We can probably deal with the matter he raises when we debate clause 5, rather than adding to this clause in the way he suggests. His intent is entirely understandable but I do not think this is the best place to make the amendment that he proposes. With that, and my commitment to take further the point that my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire raised, and the more general commitment I have made, reflecting my original remarks about the ambitions of the Bill, the limits on those ambitions, and the development of further regulation, I do hope that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun and others will see fit not to press their amendments.
I have listened to the Minister and to the comments that have been made. Amendment 11 is still about putting additional responsibilities on the manufacturer, which seems to accord with some of the comments made by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. The Minister agreed to take on board those comments, but I felt he was a little dismissive of amendment 11. I would like to press amendment 11 to a vote, but I will not press amendment 12.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
That is voted on separately at the end.
Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Right of insurer etc to claim against person responsible for accident
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Clause 5 gives insurers the right of recovery against the person actually responsible for the incident to the same extent that the person is liable to the victim. The person actually responsible for the incident could be, for example, the manufacturer. This clause also defines when and how the amount of the person’s liability is settled and when their right of action accrues. It sets out the arrangements and limits on the amounts they recover. This clause will therefore ensure that the insurers are able to recover from those responsible, to the extent that the victim will be able to do so. This will facilitate the effective functioning of clause 2, which imposes initial liability on the insurer or owner of the automated vehicle in respect of an accident.
Subsection (3) requires the insurer, if they recover more than they initially paid out to the victim, to pay the difference to the victim, and subsection (4) ensures the person responsible for the incident is not required to pay the insurer if they have already paid the injured party.
I am most obliged to my right hon. Friend. I am intrigued by subsection (2)(c), which refers to the amount of a claim as settled when it is established “by an enforceable agreement.” In this context, can he give the Committee an example of an unenforceable agreement?
When the Minister sums up at the end of the debate, will he say how he envisages this provision working in practice? An accident occurs, and an injured party is making a claim; the aim of this Bill is to ensure that people are paid out speedily, but the clause describes a process that could be long and drawn out. How does that protect the consumer? Who pays in the first instance? As we have already heard in several debates around this Bill, we are adding more people who could have liability. Because of software upgrades, we are now including the manufacturers—the people who actually design the software. There is no requirement in the Bill for those writing the software to have their own insurance, should their software fail, so where do they come into this process? How do we ensure speedy pay-outs to the consumer when we have an increasingly complex network of people who may have liability in the aftermath of an accident? This clause seems to set out a labyrinth of different permutations that could arise in terms of liability, and that could take some time to resolve. Could the Minister say what is in the Department’s mind and how this will speed matters up?
I would not want to accuse the hon. Gentleman of misunderstanding, so I will perhaps say that I did not make it sufficiently clear in my opening remarks. For it is better to blame oneself than other people. The purpose of the clause is to supplement clause 2, in that it will ensure that victims do not potentially have to pursue major manufacturers through the courts. This is to avoid both the unreasonableness of having to do that and the delays suggested by the hon. Gentleman. It is designed to protect the consumer. At the end of the day, the consumer is our principal concern, as he said in an earlier intervention.
We want the system to operate in a way that is as quick, straightforward and comprehensible as possible for the consumer. That is actually what the clause does, by supplementing clause 2. The business of the relationship between the insurer and the manufacturer will be going on behind the scenes. The consumer will not need to know about that, and will get a speedy and satisfactory resolution of the event in the way that they do now. If there was a difference at all, that is where it lies.
Before we move on, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire raised the issue of enforceable agreements, and I did promise—with your indulgence, Mr Bailey—to respond, in my normal spirit. I am told that the agreement must be legally binding and therefore enforceable in court. Whether that satisfies my right hon. Friend, I do not know, but that is all I have to say, so he is not going to get any more out of me.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 5 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Application of enactments
Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Briefly, clause 6 ensures that the new system of liability being created by the Bill preserves and is joined up with various forms of liability in other parts of legislation, and is straightforward in that respect. In creating a new form of liability in the Bill, that is vital. Where those liabilities exist in other legislation, they should remain unaffected. For example, the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 provides for a victim’s dependents to be able to recover damages in spite of the victim’s death, if the death was caused by
“wrongful act, neglect or default”.
That type of liability has been preserved and linked to the Bill’s system of liability so that the provisions of the 1976 Act are brought to bear. Not doing that would create gaps and risk leaving victims and their dependents with incomplete cover.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 6 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
I beg to move amendment 14, in clause 7, page 5, line 15, at end insert—
“(c) an automated vehicle may be listed, under section 1, as being capable of driving itself “safely” if the vehicle is designed and manufactured to be—
(i) capable of driving itself in a manner unlikely to cause damage to the automated vehicle or another vehicle, or injury to a person, on the road or surrounding area, and
(ii) protected from hacking risks that the manufacturer knew, or ought reasonably to have known, are likely to cause damage to the automated vehicle or another vehicle, or injury to a person, on the road or surrounding area (see section (Cyber security and hacking of automated vehicles)).”
This amendment would define what is meant by an automated vehicle being capable of driving itself “safely”.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 18—Cyber Security and hacking of automated vehicles—
“The Secretary of State must, within 12 months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, consult with such persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate on what steps will be required for the effective cyber security of automated vehicles listed under section 1 to protect those vehicles against accidents caused by hacking.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to report within 12 months what steps would be required to protect automated vehicles from accidents caused by hacking.
Clause 7 sets out when a car is deemed to be driving itself, or in automated mode, but there is no mention of what happens if the vehicle is designed or manufactured in a faulty way or is hacked due to a failure by the manufacturer to install adequate protective software.
How would our amendment improve the Bill? While we all welcome the opportunities that the new technology will bring, we also have to recognise that it will bring risk. A lot of those risks will be around the software used, and they therefore may be harder to pick up than in a conventional vehicle. We all know the risks of hacking in computer systems. We have had experience in this House relatively recently of a cyber-attack—a hacking event—on Members’ emails. That experience is commonplace in workplaces across the country. When hacking and cyber-crime can result in serious consequences, we need to be extremely cautious.
We have the opportunity to put safeguards into the Bill now to give protections in this area, rather than doing that later down the line. The Minister has repeated constantly that this is a modest Bill that is merely a skeleton and that regulation will have to come as technology improves. Indeed, given the uptake of these vehicles and the number of them being purchased, action will clearly be required where the technology changes, but there is a real risk in not legislating now, when we have the opportunity to ensure the safety of these things.
Our amendment would definitely tighten up this area of the Bill by setting out when an automated vehicle is capable of driving itself safely. That would give the driver protection with regards to liability, if it was proved that there was a manufacturer’s fault or if the vehicle had been hacked. I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote; its purpose is to start a discussion about this area, in particular the hacking element. The issue of cyber-security and vehicles being hacked has been discussed previously, in the predecessor to this Committee. I have read the Hansard report of those discussions and there was some very detailed debate, but it is important to look at it again now. I stand to be corrected, but the Minister previously said he would come back with potential changes in this area. However, I think he simply wrote to members of the previous Bill Committee.
New clause 18 would do exactly what we intend it to do. We now have the opportunity, and I hope that the Government will listen carefully.
I want to talk about clause 7(1)(b), which deals with the interpretation of what it is for a vehicle to be insured. That takes us back to the discussion we had in the Committee’s previous sittings. I am grateful to the Minister for providing access to his officials in the interim. I am satisfied that the issues I was raising are handled in the Bill, but want to set out how I now understand that to be the case, so that the Minister can give us an assurance that I have got this right and we know for the future that that is how the Bill is meant to work. It is a little sad that we have to do quite a lot of interpretative work to understand how the Bill is working, but I understand that that is caused by the fact that it is trying to piggyback on the Road Traffic Act 1988.
It turns out that clause 7(1)(b) is critical to the whole structure, because it defines a vehicle as being insured if there is a policy in force in relation to the use of it. Whereas one might think, under clause 2(1)(b), that when the Bill says the vehicle is “insured” at the time of the accident, it means the vehicle is insured at the time of the accident—indeed, I fell into the trap of thinking that that is what clause 2(1)(b) meant, because that is what it says—in fact clause 2(1)(b) has to be read in the context of clause 7(1)(b). Therefore, it is not actually the vehicle that is insured; it is the person who is, or may be—but maybe isn’t—the driver whose policy is the relevant policy and is actually insured to drive that vehicle. That is what I now understand clause 2(1)(b), in the light of clause 7(1)(b), to mean.
What clause 2(1)(b) is actually trying to say is that, as long as there is a person in the vehicle who, one way or another, is insured to drive the vehicle, then the insurer of that person is liable for the accident, even if the vehicle is driving itself. It follows from that that even if the driver, who is not driving at the time when the vehicle is driving itself, is not the owner but is insured to drive the vehicle on a policy that gives him insurance to drive other cars, it is also the case that the insurer of that person, not of the owner or the vehicle but of the person who is the driver—or would have been, if he was driving—is the insurer who is liable for the crash caused by the vehicle when it is driving itself. If I have at last understood all that correctly, it follows that the problems that I and several Committee members foresaw, about things such as transition, disappear, given that it is always the same insurer who is liable both when the car is in automated mode and when the car is being driven, because it is the insurer of the driver—or crypto-driver—regardless of whether he is driving or the car is driving itself.
That is the central and salient point. I think this is where the misunderstanding took place between us in the earlier sitting. That there is a single insurer, as my right hon. Friend now acknowledges, is one of the points covered in my letter, along with a couple of others, on which he will no doubt speak. He is right that that changes the assumption about the transition, as he describes it.
I understand that better myself now, but do I understand what the right hon. Gentleman is saying? The person in the vehicle is the one insured and, in the first instance, it is their insurance that would pay out. If the vehicle is found to be at fault, whether it is automated or under that person’s control, they would pay out in the first instance, and subsequently the discussion we had on the previous clause would apply, where there is a sorting out of who is actually responsible—the manufacturer, the software designer, the driver of the vehicle or of the other vehicle. That will be sorted out following the initial payment from the driver of the vehicle that is found at fault.
In that case, my answer is yes. As I understand it now, I think, the insurer who has insured the person who is sitting in the driving seat will pay the third party who has been damaged in the accident, regardless of whether the person sitting in the driving seat is driving the car or the car is driving itself. That is also regardless of whether the person sitting in the driving seat is the owner of the car, insured as the owner to drive that car, or is not the owner but is insured under some other policy to drive that car. In any of those cases—whether automated or not; whether the policy covers other cars or that car—the insurer of the person sitting in the driving seat at all times is liable to third parties, and then the insurer claims from whoever it wants to claim from, and is able to claim from in court, after the fact.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his helpful dialogue because it also relates the issues raised by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East. The short answer to the question posed to my right hon. Friend is yes. The complicated factor that my right hon. Friend is now dealing with is that there are policies—I do not have one myself and I do not suppose many here do—where fully comprehensive insurance cover allows other people to drive. That is not the named drivers policy that most of us will probably have, but a more permissive kind of policy, and that is exactly what my right hon. Friend is alluding to.
I am grateful again to the Minister. Yes, exactly: I had been worried about two cases, one in which the person sitting in the driving seat was the owner, and the other in which the person sitting in the driving seat was not the owner but was covered by a policy covering the driving of other cars. In both instances, I think it is clear.
The reason I am labouring these points and asking the Minister to confirm them is that I do not think that any ordinary human being reading the Bill would have the slightest clue that this is what it is trying to do. I think its architecture has been forced on it by the desire to piggyback on the Road Traffic Act; and I suspect that lawyers will understand, because they will be familiar with the Road Traffic Act and how its principles operate. Therefore, I am satisfied that probably this is the right way to structure the Bill. In any case, it is certainly structured in a way that, when everything is read together in the right way, does not create the gap that I was worried about, as the car moves between automated and non-automated mode. That was the critical issue.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I seek clarity from the Minister—I know he has been reasonably descriptive up to a point—on the types of vehicles that will and will not be insured. It will probably be connected and automated vehicles, automation level 4 and 5; however, I am concerned about the size and shape of the vehicles and how the legislation will fit them in the future.
There has been an issue about insuring automated vehicles, not just on public but on private land. However, even on public land, are there situations where we might see a size of vehicle—my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East drives a very small electric vehicle, and there might be even smaller ones—on parts of the road network that had become accessible to new types of electric vehicle, and where we might suddenly need to reflect on the type of insurance? They may get down to the size of a bicycle, for example—I do not know—so are there circumstances or situations where the shape and size of the vehicle would have some effect? I suppose that relates to the definition of level 3 and 4 automation. I know that the Minister will produce a list in future guidance, but I would welcome a clarification from him on shape and size, how the Government see that changing and whether they will be responsive to that.
Going back to insurance on private land, this causes an enormous problem, quite apart from my earlier point about mapping. The legislation says that vehicles must be insured on public and private land—although there are some discrepancies around private land. How will this work with automated vehicles? If we multiply that by the fact that the shape and form of automated vehicles may change—they may be able to go down narrow footpaths, for example—where are the Government on the insurance system? How it will work with automated vehicles accessing private land? I am asking for clarity on this point. I do not know the answer; I am probing the Minister to see if he does. There seems to be a complex minefield of issues when it comes to insuring an automated vehicle—of whatever shape, form or function—that can wander off on to private land. There does not seem to be much clarity in the Bill on that. It seems to be hanging on the old legislation for traditional motor vehicles as we know them and how they are insured on the current road network.
Turning to automated vehicles, in particular on private land, and their shape and form, this will clearly be a challenge, so will the Minister clarify how the Government will respond? Again, I come back to the mapping issue. There will surely need to be tighter definitions of where automated vehicles go and what they are allowed to do. There seems to be no reference to that in the guidance or anywhere else. Will the Minister provide some clarity? People want to know. It is not just about the public highways, motorways, A roads and B roads. It is far bigger than that and the insurance system has to cope with insurance off-road, on private land.
By way of adding a certain excitement to the proceedings, I shall deal with the last point first, rather than reply to the points made in chronological order.
The hon. Member for Hyndburn spoke about where vehicles might be used, and the size and shape of vehicles. He was right to identify that it may be—note the emphasis on “may”—that autonomous vehicles at the beginning of their life on our roads are typically used in certain places and in certain ways. One can easily imagine a vehicle in autonomous mode travelling on a long straight road—a motorway, for example. It could be that that is the way the technology will develop. He is right to draw attention to that because it has been written and spoken about many times in the discussions about autonomous vehicles. He was also right to raise the matter of shape and size. Earlier in our considerations, we discussed vehicles other than private cars. Of course we should not assume that autonomous vehicles will simply be private motor cars. There will be other kinds of autonomous road vehicle and it may be that they will develop first, or at least in parallel with the development of private cars.
The hon. Gentleman is right that that could well be where we are heading, but the essence of his argument is that we might have to have different insurance policies to deal with those different eventualities. That will not result from the measure before us; the size and place considerations—the type of vehicle and where it is used—will be the same as in the current insurance framework, most of which is covered by the Road Traffic Act, so I do not anticipate a huge departure from existing practice.
In essence, insurance works on the basis of insuring people, to some degree taking account of what they are driving—for example, policies take account of the size and shape of vehicles. I do not imagine that that will change and nothing in the Bill suggests otherwise. I anticipate—the insurance industry told us this in evidence submitted to the Committee—that the industry wants enough certainty from the Bill to develop products that are fit for purpose. My judgment, from what we have been told, is that the industry will want such products to mirror as much as possible what is available now. Certainly that is true of where vehicles are used and of their shape and size.
I was simply probing the Minister because the use of automated vehicles on private land is an interesting area on which the Government must be probed. I also made some other small points. I urge him to clarify whether he foresees any situations, beyond what is in regulation or statute now, where automated vehicles on private land may provide a challenge that the Government will need to look at.
I will deal with the private land point in a moment.
To re-emphasise: when we insure a vehicle at the moment, the questions we are asked by the insurer are not about where we intend to drive it—we are not interrogated about whether we will drive the vehicle on the motorway, on side roads or only in our village. That is not typically what happens with an insurance policy, although there are exceptions. Someone with a historic vehicle, for example—a classic or vintage vehicle—might well take out an insurance policy stipulating that the vehicle will only be used for a certain number of miles in a given period, paying a lower premium as a result. If people say that they will use their vehicle only on high days and holidays and that it will be driven for less than 100 miles a year, of course they will obtain a different kind of policy, often offered by a specialist provider. That, however, is an exception. As a rule, we are not interrogated about where we are going to drive, whether it be on a main arterial route or a side route, so I do not think that the insurance products that I hope are developed as a result of the Bill will, in those terms, be very different from what we have now.
That is certainly what the Association of British Insurers and others have told us. The evidence to the Committee emphasises not only the insurance industry’s support for the Government proposals, but its wholehearted support for the development of autonomous vehicles. The industry sees it as critical that we get the legislation on to the statute book so that it can develop the products necessary to provide the safety and security we all seek.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way one last time. To pursue this matter, let us say that an accident occurs on private land while the vehicle is in autonomous mode. Does he think that the existing regulatory framework is sufficient for insurers, or that some changes will be needed for assigning liability should there be an accident on private land? An automated vehicle goes on to a large piece of private land, a track or whatever, and there is an accident, so there needs to be an investigation as to who was in the right and who was in the wrong. On private land where an automated vehicle was making its own decisions, does he not think the Government should conduct some analysis of the potential issues? It may be that no changes are required, but should not the Government consider it? People do drive on private land, and if they are going to take automated vehicles on to private land, it is a legitimate question.
The hon. Gentleman’s specific question is about private and public land. The Bill and the products that emerge after it is enacted will follow the Road Traffic Act, which is clear about public roads and other public places. I see no distinction between what we have before us and what is in law now. Because I am not intoxicated by the exuberance of my own verbosity, I will end there.
I understand that Karl Turner wants to speak to new clause 18 separately.
The hon. Gentleman can decide whether he wishes to make his comments then or whether they would be more appropriate later.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East has raised an important point. There might be a whole new area of insurance with clauses in the small print of an insurance policy that require people to be covered in the event of an automated vehicle being hacked. If the manufacturer and the designer of the software that drives the automated vehicle, and the insured party who is in control of the vehicle or in the vehicle—I am not sure whether we can say in control of the vehicle now—have all taken reasonable steps to prevent hacking and the software is hacked in some way, and that affects the vehicle’s operation and causes an accident, liability inevitably falls back on the person in the vehicle at the time of the accident, as set out by the right hon. Member for West Dorset.
I can foresee a circumstance where insurers say, “Every reasonable step has been taken to prevent hacking of this vehicle, so the manufacturer of the vehicle cannot be held liable, and nor can the people who wrote the software. It is unlucky, but it is your responsibility as the driver of the vehicle, because your vehicle has been hacked and has caused an accident.” It seems a considerable liability could be taken on by drivers. We have heard a lot about the safety aspect of automated vehicles, which is bound to reduce the number of accidents and therefore the number of claims, but what we can see here is a whole new area of insurance opening up where there are different sorts of claim being made as a consequence.
I think it is reasonable of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East to table an amendment requiring every step to be taken to protect the vehicles from hacking. It is right that it should be in the Bill because we need to protect consumers from that potential liability. What is the Department’s thinking? What consideration has it given to vehicles being hacked and liability in such circumstances? What are “reasonable steps” to prevent it happening? We all know that even though we have the highest level of security to protect the software or computers from being hacked, they still are. We have seen numerous examples in recent times, not least the successful hacking of some very high security systems, so we can imagine that this will present a challenge for some of those people who undergo that sort of criminal activity. It could put lives at risk and open people up to considerable liability, so I wonder what the Government’s thinking is about that.
Let me see if I can satisfy the hon. Gentleman by way of a brief intervention. I will then respond, as he invited me, to the shadow Minister when he comes to the new clause. The critical thing is to understand that an autonomous vehicle will, in practice, be a combination of sophisticated software and technology—the mechanical components of the car and the software that drives it. If the vehicle is deemed to be liable for an accident, that might be as a result of its software being faulty or because of a mechanical failure. From the perspective of those affected by the accident, that is immaterial because even if the software had been hacked the autonomous vehicle would still be responsible; the consumer’s position does not change. The consumer is protected, as it were, from the reasons why the autonomous vehicle was responsible and whether it might be as a result of a fault in the software.
If I have followed the Minister correctly, and it is distinctly possible that I have not, the situation I am describing is slightly different. He says that there will be a vehicle that is at fault, that the person who is insured to be in the vehicle will pay out initially, and that there will then be consideration of who is liable.
That is fine, but if the vehicle has been hacked, the person paying out initially is opened up to a liability even though they are not at fault because they took all reasonable steps to prevent such hacking. However, no one else accepts responsibility because they too took reasonable steps to prevent the vehicle from being hacked. It is not unreasonable to require in the Bill that every measure be taken to prevent the liability from falling back on the insured person, whose vehicle has caused the accident even though they were not at fault. How do we ensure that the liability is not dumped on the consumer?
There is also the issue of the vehicles communicating with each other. If they are hacked and are communicating duff information, who will be responsible? Considerable liability could fall on consumers. Their vehicle is the cause of the accident but they are not responsible for it because of hacking. However, they are ultimately deemed responsible because no one else will accept responsibility.
I will make the point more emphatically; I was perhaps being a bit too understated. Understatement is a problem I constantly struggle with, as my right hon. and hon. Friends know.
The simple fact of the matter is that if the autonomous vehicle is “responsible” for the accident, and its software is at fault, whether that fault be caused by malevolence or some failure, the consumer’s interest will be unaltered. In the Bill, the consumer is protected in the way I have described, regardless of why the vehicle was at fault. That will then be a matter to determine during the course of the events, but it will not affect the person or persons affected by the accident.
I think this is a conversation somewhat at cross-purposes. Use of the term “consumer” by the Minister is confusing the issue. Let us distinguish between the injured party and the insured party. The injured party is protected in the way my right hon. Friend the Minister and I have described, and the hon. Member for Eltham, my right hon. Friend and I are all in agreement that that is okay.
The hon. Gentleman is asking about the insured party. He is really asking whether anybody will be willing to buy an autonomous vehicle level 4 or 5 under circumstances in which, having taken out the insurance policy, the insurer then discovers that they are liable to some injured party. Then, having paid out to the injured party—tick—they come back to the insured party and say “Because the manufacturer had taken reasonable steps and because the hacking went on despite that, and because nobody including the manufacturer is responsible, and because your insurance policy excludes—you may not have noticed this—in the small print a hacked case, you, O insured party, are now responsible.” I hope I am correctly interpreting the hon. Gentleman.
Yes, good. He is raising a serious point. I do not know whether it is about the Bill, but it is certainly a serious point about what the Bill is trying to achieve, which is to get to a situation where people buy autonomous vehicles because they are able and willing to insure themselves to own them and drive them. They would not be if they thought this was a realistic possibility. Somehow, that problem needs to be solved, whether in the Bill or otherwise.
Again, I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I have a feeling of déjà vu because he is putting my points better than I can. I have little to add to that. There is an issue there that my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull East has raised in his amendment that the Government should go away and consider.
It strikes me that there is potentially a grey area between the software company and their design and the hacker and where the responsibility begins and ends, and how any court or technical expertise will be able to determine where ultimate responsibility lies. A software company could readily say “We designed it. We were perfectly happy with it and there were all these protections and safeguards in place,” and they will blame the hacker, but who can determine if it was down to a hacker or the failing of the software designs? I just throw that out because sometimes these things are very difficult to determine and I am not sure where the responsibilities lie.
I will finish on this point and I will not take much more of the Committee’s time. The Bill is designed to ensure that the injured party is paid out swiftly in the event of an accident, with blame subsequently apportioned either through agreement or by a court. In this case, however, there is another consumer—the insured party—who could be open to enormous liabilities through no fault of their own where nobody else can be found to be at fault because they have taken all reasonable steps. There is a grey area, as my hon. Friend has just said, where the Government need to go away and give that some further consideration.
It seems to me that we are risking going on a flight of fancy by trying to anticipate exactly what the insurance products that develops as a result of this legislation will look like. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset described a policy that might qualify the protection offered in the way that he set out. We cannot, at this juncture and certainly not in debating this Bill, start a debate about what those policies might look like down the line.
The essence of the Bill is that the insured party will only potentially be liable if they are responsible and the insurer does not cover that risk. If someone deliberately failed to maintain their vehicle, deliberately failed to update their software, even interfered with their software for some reason I cannot imagine, clearly there would be an issue of responsibility. The important thing is that the debate that takes place on why the vehicle failed—assuming it is an autonomous vehicle—is one that the individuals concerned should not have to know about unless there is a palpable reason for their doing so, because of the negligence or even malevolence that I describe.
We could have a long debate about the kind of insurance policies that might emerge. I am not an expert on insurance and I do not know if there are any in the room.
The set of circumstances described by the hon. Member for Eltham actually exists in current insurance. If someone had a car that was parked up and somebody else stole it, drove off in it and hit a row of parked cars, then for insurance purposes the onus is currently on the owner of the vehicle. The whole point of insurance is to protect the insured person against unforeseen circumstances, and hacking would come under that process, because we do not presently know how it could affect the systems.
One of the delightful things about the House of Commons, and indeed about Committees such as this, is that there is always expertise that one did not know about previously and that emerges as a result of the discourse. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his expert advice on that particular subject. The point raised by the hon. Member for Eltham is that he wants to be certain that an innocent party is not adversely affected by the development of products that do not afford the same kind of protection that people now routinely rely upon.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s view. My view is straightforward: it would be intolerable for a situation to develop in which people, through no fault of their own, and with no negligence or irresponsibility in what they have planned or done, were to find themselves uninsured because of the development of some perverse policy. In the end, that is a matter for the insurance industry, but I have made my views clear and put them on the record, and they reflect the views of the hon. Gentleman and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, who, among his many distinguished and eminent achievements, has today added another: becoming a spokesman—or perhaps I ought to say the interpreter—for the hon. Member for Eltham. And so it is that such unions are formed in Committees such as this.
I want to speak briefly to new clause 18. Before doing so, I want to put on record my thanks to the Minister’s officials for the work they have done with my office. They have been extremely helpful.
New clause 18 covers the issue of cyber-security and the hacking of automated vehicles. It would require the Secretary of State to consult with such persons as he considers appropriate within 12 months of the Bill receiving Royal Assent. I am not planning to push the new clause to a vote; its purpose is mainly to probe a little deeper to ensure that the Government properly and widely consult in this area. I would be grateful if the Minister indicated how that has already been done. I know that a great deal of work has gone on behind the scenes; will he assist the Committee by setting out who the Department has consulted with thus far?
I actually do not think that this matter can be dealt with in the Bill, but I agree with the shadow Minister that we should seek an assurance from the Government that they will spend the time that needs to be spent, once the Bill is out of this House, trying to deal with what is a very, very big problem.
It is easy to imagine that this is just science fiction, but it is not. It is more than imaginable that, as part of the convergence of networks and as the transport system becomes automated, the single biggest security vulnerability of the UK—and, while we are at it, of any other advanced economy—will be the ability of state or non-state actors to intervene in a whole series of its convergent networks. Obviously, there may also be threats from exogenous things such as space weather, which may affect convergent networks, including electricity, transport, communications and so on, but state actors and some non-state actors are employing serious and highly developed methods to intervene in our cyber-security, as the Government are well aware.
The capacity to do damage to the UK by bringing the transport system to a grinding halt, amidst thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of simultaneous crashes, is a delicious prospect. I absolutely guarantee the Minister, although I am sure that he does not need my guarantee to believe it, that someone sitting somewhere—if not several people sitting in several places—is planning that kind of offensive cyber-activity at this very moment. Many of those people have access to many of the people who will be involved in developing the software that will be used in the very machines that we want to be used on our roads.
That is an irony of the globalised world. This is not like the 18th century, when people sat behind huge national barricades and we did not use their technologies but they tried to use them against us. We are now in a position where the people who may use our technologies against us supply some of those technologies to us. That creates a degree of risk out of all proportion to anything we have witnessed before. I am a believer in automated vehicles—I do not think that we can resist this trend—but we need to ensure that an immensely higher level of cyber-security is built in from the start than we might think necessary under other circumstances.
I want to make one further point. This is one of those cases where externalities will not be internalised. It is not in the interests of particular manufacturers to worry very much about this issue. If I am a specific manufacturer of a specific automated vehicle, my interest is in producing something that is good to drive, cheap and normally safe, because that is the way I will sell the maximum quantity of it. If somebody tells me that I could make it safer from hacking, which is unlikely to occur, in the sense that there is a one-in-1,000 or one-in-10,000 or whatever chance of it being hacked, by making it significantly more expensive, my natural and commercial response will be not to add that protection, because it would make me less competitive. I am not particularly worried that Britain may be brought to a halt, because I am not Britain; I am a manufacturer, and I am answerable to my shareholders, not to the electors of the UK.
There is a clear area of intrinsic market failure here, where, however pure a free marketeer one is, Adam Smith principles apply and it is for the state to ensure that the externalities are internalised by legislating or regulating, or by reaching agreement with manufacturers. As I say, I do not believe that the Bill can be the vehicle for creating a whole new structure of invigilation of the cyber-security standards of automated vehicles, but the Minister, in conjunction with Ministers in parallel positions in other jurisdictions, needs to get to work on that rapidly. If that is not done, the Bill will be useless, because it will provide a framework for something that no rational Government will ever allow to occur.
We cannot allow the UK’s transport system to be put in peril by being easily accessible to hackers in a way that could cause hundreds of thousands of accidents simultaneously. It is a necessary concomitant to the Bill that there should be a serious attempt to create that degree of universal cyber-security for level 4 and level 5 vehicles. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that he is at this very moment getting the plane tickets to go and talk to all the other relevant Ministers and set up the international systems required to do something similar to the protocols that govern the GSM standard, which make it not unhackable, but much less hackable than previous mobile systems.
Perhaps I should say a word now about my personal and professional relationship with my right hon. Friend, in as much as it relates to what he has just said. When we worked together in Downing Street, we discussed these kinds of issues many times. I was the Minister responsible for cyber-security at the Home Office, and I take what he and the shadow Minister said very seriously indeed. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that cyber-security is a pressing, present and immensely great threat. It is vital that the work on this technology, like all the work we do across the House and across Departments, takes account of the scale and nature of that threat and that it does all we can to counter it. My right hon. Friend was involved in that at the Cabinet Office.
On a more personal note, I am not surprised that my right hon. Friend raised the issue. I am rather more surprised that he—with an absolute, but none the less surprising, frankness—emphasised the limits of the market and the constraints on commerce, because he has always been more inclined to a liberal perspective than I am. But then again, who is not? I know he is a great admirer of the power of the markets to shape our futures, so I am delighted—perhaps it is my influence or that of his dear late mother, who, I think it is fair to say, was more on my wavelength on these subjects—that he has been encouraged to take the view, which he has articulated so forcefully and persuasively today, that the industry will not do this alone. It is right that we should work in partnership with the industry. The Government must take their place and have their influence in that respect, and that brings me to new clause 18.
If anything, I regard new clause 18 as an understatement of how significant the issue is. If it were accepted—although I am grateful that the shadow Minister has said he will not press it to a vote—it would impose a requirement to consult on security risk. I do not regard that as a requirement; I regard it is as an obligation. It is absolutely essential that we do that. The work that we are already doing, which he asked me to briefly summarise, is advanced but ongoing. We are working with UK security agencies, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure and the new National Cyber Security Centre—which was set up while I was the Minister responsible, by the way. This issue is a real challenge for Government and for Parliament. It stretches well beyond any particular Government or political party, as has been made clear by what has been said. We will need to engage directly with industry and raise awareness.
We are already discussing the issue with industry. As part of that, we have consulted, developed and published a document, “The key principles of vehicle cyber security for connected and automated vehicles”. It is a guidance document for the automotive industry on good cyber-security and the connected and automated vehicle ecosystem. I do not know whether the Committee has access to that, but I will happily make it available in hard copy form. It is available electronically, if Members wish to take a look. We have also set up the automotive information exchange to promote the sharing of intelligence and best practice for effective cyber-security across the industry.
This issue has been identified as a top priority by the new National Cyber Security Centre. The work will continue and our understanding of how we can counter the risks will grow; but more than that, I would say—as a result of the contributions from my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East—that we should consider seeking additional powers over time. I do not think that this Committee is the right place to debate that, or indeed that the Bill is the right vehicle to bring those powers forward, but a commitment to considering additional powers, should they become necessary, is an important one to make. Furthermore, I think my right hon. Friend is right: we need to ensure good cross-governmental work on this. I will take that away, because a further dialogue across Government is necessary. It is happening, but we can always do more, and when it happens at ministerial level, as he will know from the meetings we have had over time, a great deal can be achieved rather more quickly.
The Minister says that the Bill is not the appropriate place for us to legislate on that, but that is exactly what new clause 18 says. It says that consultation should happen separately from the legislation and really only sets the timescale. On that basis, will he accept new clause 18?
I charged my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset earlier with being the hon. Gentleman’s spokesman and interpreter, but now the hon. Gentleman has put the boot on the other foot. He added further sophistication to my right hon. Friend’s argument in his last contribution. He is right that the Bill begins to address this issue; the point I was making is that, given the ongoing work I described through the agencies I mentioned, it would not be right to set that out in further detail in the Bill. I am arguing against an addition to the Bill, rather than what is in the Bill already.
There is another aspect to this that I want to add. It is very important that we work internationally. Of course, many of the manufacturers are, by their nature, multinational organisations that therefore work across national boundaries. We talked earlier about the development of standards, and how that is happening at UN level and as a result of international dialogue. There is an international dialogue as well on cyber-security, and it is important that we marry our conversations on vehicle standards with our conversations on cyber-security, to ensure a synergous approach to the two.
With those commitments, that absolute assurance of the Government’s understanding of the significance of this matter and my heartfelt support for the strength of the argument made by the shadow Minister and my right hon. Friend, I am delighted that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East will not push his amendment to a vote. We will report back further as time goes on. I will commission the work across Government and, as I have said, I will make available to the Committee some of the documents we have already published.
Before my right hon. Friend sits down, and at some risk of adding to the antiphonal relationship with the hon. Member for Eltham, I wonder whether he will also consider clause 1(1)(b). At the moment, it gives the Secretary of State the power to list vehicles capable of “safely driving themselves”. It might be appropriate to consider changing that to “safely and securely driving themselves”, or making some such other amendment, to ensure that he has the power already in the Bill when making the list to include on the list those vehicles that conform with whatever set of standards for cyber-security he eventually develops as a result of the work he is talking about.
Every member of the Committee should cherish the moment they are about to enjoy, because I accept that proposal and I will consult with my officials on making a minor and technical amendment to that effect, barring any absolute reason why it cannot be done. If we are advised by parliamentary draftsmen that it cannot be done for any reason, we will not, but barring that exception, I will do exactly what my right hon. Friend has described.
I have listened very carefully to what the Minister had to say and to the discussion between right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the Committee. I am satisfied that the Minister will do everything he can to achieve what the amendment hoped to achieve. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
My instinct is that the issues in clause 7 have been fully debated, so I will now put the Question.
Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
As we move to a new part of the Bill, it seems important to say a few words of introduction about it. The first part of our consideration was dedicated to gaining a clearer understanding and addressing the provisions in the Bill that relate to autonomous vehicles. The second part of the Bill, which we come to now, deals with electric vehicles and in particular electric charging infrastructure. With your discretion and indulgence, Mr Bailey, perhaps I may say why that matters.
It matters because the Government are committed to promoting low emission vehicles. I have always argued that that is not because of a high flown view about what might happen to the climate in centuries to come; rather, it is much more about the effect of particulate materials, which are the result of petrol and diesel vehicles and which have a day-by-day, here-and-now effect on the wellbeing of our people. I have no prejudice about this, as is well known. I made the point on Second Reading to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire—who as ever made a passionate but measured case for those older vehicles that we enjoy on our roads—that we certainly would not want to prohibit their use. However, the Government are clear that by 2050 we expect new vehicles to be low emission vehicles. That will very largely be achieved by promoting and encouraging the use of electric vehicles. Our approach has always been technology-neutral, but electric vehicles are bound to be an important part of achieving our ambitions.
The reasons cited for why people do not buy electric vehicles in greater numbers now—I ought to caveat that by saying that their number is growing impressively—range between, first, the cost, which will to some extent be a feature of their number: as more are sold, the more the price will fall. Secondly, there are doubts about the battery technology and battery life. That is improving as battery technology moves on apace, with good work being done to improve the quality of the product. Thirdly, there is the availability of charge points. Most people, of course, charge at home, but people want to be able to charge away from their residence. As a result, in the Bill the Government are doing more work to put in place provisions that will allow the development of more charge points around and about the United Kingdom.
That is what the clause begins to do, by providing definitions of electric vehicle charging and in particular a precise definition of what a charge point is, as well as what a hydrogen refuelling point is. It goes further and defines a public charging point. It is important that those definitions are set out clearly, so that the effect of the power matches the intent and the intent of the power is made clear to the public. Clearly, any other, more detailed definitions can be set out later in secondary legislation, but in essence this part of the Bill is about defining electric charge points and, in later clauses, which I look forward to debating, going about the business of how we can increase their number.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 8 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Andrew Stephenson.)
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.
Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill [ Lords ] (First sitting)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: Geraint Davies, †Ms Nadine Dorries
† Badenoch, Mrs Kemi (Saffron Walden) (Con)
† Bowie, Andrew (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (Con)
† Courts, Robert (Witney) (Con)
† Cummins, Judith (Bradford South) (Lab)
† Docherty, Leo (Aldershot) (Con)
† Ellwood, Mr Tobias (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence)
† Jones, Gerald (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
† Jones, Mr Kevan (North Durham) (Lab)
† Keegan, Gillian (Chichester) (Con)
† Monaghan, Carol (Glasgow North West) (SNP)
† Onasanya, Fiona (Peterborough) (Lab)
† Pollard, Luke (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Lab/Co-op)
† Ross, Douglas (Moray) (Con)
† Smeeth, Ruth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab)
† Stuart, Graham (Beverley and Holderness) (Con)
† Sweeney, Mr Paul (Glasgow North East) (Lab/ Co-op)
† Trevelyan, Mrs Anne-Marie (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con)
Jyoti Chandola and Clementine Brown, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 14 November 2017
[Ms Nadine Dorries in the Chair]
Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill [Lords]
Before we begin line-by-line consideration, I have a few preliminary announcements, as usual. Please switch all electronic devices and mobile phones to silent. Tea, coffee and other hot drinks are not allowed during sittings.
Today, we will consider the programme motion on the amendment paper. We will then consider a motion to enable the reporting of written evidence for publication. In view of the time available, I hope that we can take those matters formally without debate.
If any gentlemen would like to remove their jackets, please feel free to do so. Minister, before I call you, would you like to remove your jacket?
I am not going to upset the Chair. If you tell me to remove my jacket, I am happy to do so.
You asked if you could. Otherwise, Minister, please feel free to move the programme motion.
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25 am on Tuesday 14 November) meet at 2pm that day;
(2) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 14 November.—(Mr Ellwood.)
The deadline for amendments to be considered at today’s sitting of the Committee was 4pm last Thursday.
That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Mr Ellwood.)
Copies of written evidence that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room.
We now begin line-by-line consideration of the Bill. The selection list for today is available in the room and on the Bill website. It shows how the selected amendments have been grouped together for debate. Amendments grouped together are generally on the same or a similar issue. A Member who has put their name to the leading amendment in a group is called first. Other Members are then free to catch my eye 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 a debate on a group of amendments, I shall call the Member who moved the leading amendment again. Before they sit down, they will need to indicate whether they wish to withdraw the amendment or to seek a decision. 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 that they appear on the amendment paper. In other words, debate occurs according to the selection and grouping list. Decisions are taken when we come to the clause that the amendment affects. 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 that explanation is helpful.
Regular forces: part-time service and geographic restrictions
I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
“(3B) The proportion of regular forces serving on a part-time basis in any single regiment may not exceed 15% of the total regular forces serving in that regiment.”
This amendment limits the proportion of part-time regular forces to no more than 15% of any regiment.
This is a probing amendment that seeks clarification from the Minister on how the Bill will work in practice, and specifically whether there will be any kind of cap or upper limit on the number of personnel on part-time working. The amendment refers to no more than 15% of any single regiment serving on a part-time basis, which is simply a way to establish whether the Government have any plans to place a limit on personnel who work part time, and at what level a cap would be placed.
There are significant problems with recruitment and retention in our armed forces, which is one reason for the Bill. As of September 2017, the regular armed forces were at a 5.3% deficit against the liability—an increase in the deficit from 4.1% under the liability in September last year. Furthermore, the outflow of regulars continues to outpace intake. Voluntary outflow is the main source of outflow, so most personnel who are leaving are doing so before the end of their agreed engagement or commission period.
The pay review body highlighted in its most recent report that issues with recruitment and retention have been acknowledged by the Department:
“In evidence MOD stated that there were recruitment and retention challenges across all Services for certain groups in the engineering and aviation cadres. It stated that recruitment of Regulars had continued to be challenging throughout 2015-16”.
Our armed forces are not in a situation where they can feasibly allow a significant number of personnel to work part time.
The Government’s fact sheet for the Bill says:
“We anticipate from the existing evidence that there will be a very small initial take up of the new flexible working arrangements, no more than 1% when they are implemented in April 2019. We anticipate that this will increase slowly as cultural change is fully embedded over the next 10-15 years.”
However, there is no indication of what the Government expect that figure to grow to and whether there will be any limitations on numbers.
The amendment highlights the fact that problems are more likely to emerge if a much greater proportion of those in specific roles want to work part time, particularly if they are in operational pinch points. OPPs are branch specialisations, sub-specialisations or areas of expertise where the shortfall in trained strength is such that it has a measurable detrimental impact on current, planned or contingent operations. As of April this year, there were 15 OPPs in the naval service. The key pinch points relate to engineering roles, plus some specialist roles such as warfare specialists. The Army has four OPPs, the key ones being logistics roles, and the RAF has 11 OPPs, where the key pinch points are in engineering and intelligence roles, as well as shortfalls in the aircrew branch. The Bill’s administration fact sheet says:
“The Approval Authority will take into account the chain of command’s recommendation, overall manning levels of the Service and the individual’s trade, and any specific skills held by the Service person.”
Presumably that means those from OPPs are automatically ruled out.
While I am not expecting the Government to accept the amendment, I hope that the Minister will answer some questions that were not addressed on Second Reading. Will there be clear limits on the number or percentage of those working part time in any specific regiment? How would that look in the RAF and the Navy? Would the percentages be universal or different for each service? If somebody applies for part-time working after that limit has been met, will they automatically be rejected? Will personnel from OPPs not be given the option to apply for part-time working, or will they be allowed to apply but, because of their trade, have no chance of being accepted?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I want to expand on some of those issues.
As my hon. Friend said, this is a probing amendment, but it goes to the heart of the entire Bill and how it will be implemented in practice. Will the 15% limit operate in the same way across the three services, and how will it work within each individual service? Let us take trades, for example. We all know that fast jet pilots are quite a small pool of individuals. If someone from that pool wanted to work part time, that would obviously have an adverse effect on the capability of that frontline unit. Likewise, if 15% of a ship’s crew suddenly decided to apply for part-time working, on what basis would a decision be arrived at in terms of operational effectiveness? As my hon. Friend said, there are certain niches or pinch points within the Army, with trades that are in scarce supply because of recruitment problems. What limit would be put on the number of those individuals who could apply for part-time working?
I would like to get an understanding from the Minister of how this proposal will work across the various ranks. There is a big difference, for example, between a private and a general applying for part-time working. We can envisage a situation where a senior officer in all three services wanted to go part time. One aim that General Carter has put forward for the legislation is to encourage opportunities for more family-friendly working practices, and obviously there is the aim of encouraging women not only to join the armed forces, but to advance up the career path. I would therefore like to know from the Minister what the rules are. Will there be uniform rules across the ranks for how individuals, and what percentage of individuals, would be covered?
Having read the Bill, I am not sure whether this issue is covered. Clearly, the ultimate decision is about the operational effectiveness of our armed forces. We could not have a situation in which, even if there was a 15% upper limit, we took out an entire capability that was needed by our armed forces.
I would be interested to know, through the probing amendment tabled by my hon. Friend, what the appeals mechanism is. One issue in the armed forces is women not advancing up the pay spine or rankings because of breaks in service and other situations, so what would be the appeal mechanism? If someone felt that they were being unfairly denied part-time working, what would be the process? If it relates to a female member of the armed forces, is that not opening us up, potentially, to a claim of discrimination against that individual if she feels that that is the reason why she has been denied part-time working?
First, it is a pleasure to be here. I am very grateful that the Bill has reached Committee and, from looking around the room, it is clear that there are many committed right hon. and hon. Members who want the best for our armed forces. I am pleased that the Bill has reached this stage and that we can scrutinise what I hope will be an important stepping-stone in our support for our armed services.
In the wider debate on the clause, I will expand on the virtues and benefits of the Bill, but specifically on the amendment, questions were raised about recruitment and retention. We concede that this is a difficult climate in which to recruit and retain personnel. That is why we have put forward the armed forces people programme, of which there are four distinct parts. This Bill on the flexible working programme, which we are debating here today, forms one part of that. We need to advance, to modernise. We need to reflect society and ensure that we can recruit from that gene pool—the voluntary force out there—and make the armed forces attractive in a modern-day context. That means providing an element of flexibility in the work that we expect them to do.
The Armed Forces Pay Review Body was touched on. We will probably look at this matter in further detail under a later amendment. Now, I will simply say that the freeze—the pay cap—has been removed. Absolutely, there may be a requirement for an increase in salaries for specific trades where there is a shortfall, and we need to attract people and fill posts. That is beyond the scope of the Bill and this debate, but it sits in the wider context of ensuring that we are doing our best to attract and retain people for the most professional armed forces in the world.
I was asked whether this provision applies across the three services. It does. However, the word “regiment” would not necessarily apply in all contexts of the armed forces. It is important to remember the requirement in respect of operational capability. The example was given of an individual seeking to apply for flexible working while on board a ship. The hon. Member for North Durham will be aware that they will be attached to a posting for a period—possibly nine months—and they will make an application for the future. They would hope, perhaps, to be able to remain in a geographic location or to have the freedom to work part-time or reduced hours once they got off the ship. Ultimately, operational capability is of first and foremost importance, and it must not be affected at all by any aspect of the Bill.
When we look at countries that already have this process, figures like 15% simply are not applicable. Australia has, I believe, up to 1% or 2% of its personnel interested in pursuing this. Ultimately, it is about the operational capability of any ship and the force on board. Any commander or authority has the ability to deny any individual application because of that. Should an individual still feel that they require this kind of working because of their personal circumstances, there will be an appeals process. We will come on to that under a later amendment.
We have the mechanisms in place to recall service personnel. I want to make that clear. Even if permission was given for an individual not to be on a particular ship, they could be recalled because of operational capability if the situation demanded it. That is the agreement under which this entire offering is being made.
These measures have been designed by the services for the services. This is the Army, Air Force and Navy looking at their own protocols and personnel situations, and seeing how they can manage situations like the one on the ship that was described by the hon. Member for North Durham. It makes sense, therefore, to leave many of the judgments on the details to the services themselves. They own the responsibility to deliver operational duty and capability in order to recruit and fulfil their tasks.
In our view, the arbitrary limit of 15% in the amendment was put forward with good intentions, but would inevitably prove unhelpful. I am pleased that it was clear from what the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney said that it is a probing amendment. We must allow the services to retain the flexibility and agility to manage their manpower as they see fit.
The Minister says that this proposal comes from the services. How far down the chain of command is there buy-in on this? If anyone in the Navy is asked about their next posting, they will always say, “Put the two at the top that you don’t want and you’ll get the one that you want third.” Will there be a cultural shift so that this is not just something that is recognised by the senior heads in the Ministry of Defence, but something that has buy-in from the people actually making the decisions about where people go?
As I say, this has been designed by the armed forces themselves. A series of surveys has been put forward. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the opening speech given by the then Secretary of State on Second Reading, which made clear the length and depth to which the Ministry of Defence has gone to ensure that there is buy-in and approval not just among service personnel, but from their families and partners who are directly affected by this. There is absolute support for this and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree, particularly with his experience, that it would not be wise to go ahead with it if the chiefs did not agree, if the commanders did not agree and if the armed forces personnel themselves were not calling for it.
Looking at the surveys, one reason why individuals make the tough decision to sign off and leave the armed forces is the stress and strain that it places on their families. That is why we have said, “Let’s adapt, let’s reflect on what society is doing and on what happens in civilian areas.” That is why I believe that it makes sense to persevere with this idea. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it has support across the board.
As I suggested, we envisage a modest take-up of between 0.5% and 1% of all service personnel. The take-up rate is highly unlikely to exceed 15%, but of course it would be wrong to place a cap or arbitrary limit on it. Following the assurances that I have provided, I hope that the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney will agree to withdraw the amendment.
I concur with the Minister about the unity across the House in wanting the best for our armed forces. As I said at the start, this is a probing amendment to seek further clarification. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham has indicated what clarification is required on how the proposal will work across the ranks and on the appeals mechanism.
Although I accept what the Minister said about the services having flexibility, there needs to be some idea of what the limit will be in the future. Hopefully the Minister will consider that. For the arrangement to work effectively, there needs to be further clarity. I ask the Minister to look at that again, but I do beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment 5, in clause 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
“(3AA) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish an annual report on any use of the power to vary, suspend or terminate set out in subsection (3A) and must lay a copy of the Report before Parliament.”
An amendment to require the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on instances where the right to work part-time or in a geographically restricted area has been varied, suspended or terminated.
I rise to speak to amendments 4 and 5—
Order. Amendment 4 has not been selected. It is not on the selection list, so just speak to amendment 5.
When we come to the clause stand part debate, you can be more wide-ranging in your comments, Ms Monaghan, but please just stick to amendment 5 for now.
I would like to raise similar concerns to those raised already, but probably coming from a different position. We have already heard that there are issues around large numbers of personnel and the requirement to maintain operational capability. I would certainly echo those concerns, but if the Bill is to deal with retention of the talent that we cannot afford to lose, and identify how best to make the armed forces modern and fit for purpose, we need to consider how it will be implemented.
There are some worrying phrases in the Bill, such as the “prescribed circumstances” in which flexible working can be suspended. We have already talked about the suspension of flexible working during a national emergency; nobody has a problem with that, but the form of manning crisis and its management, and the ability of the service to refuse applications broadly on the grounds of defence need are more problematic.
We have already heard about areas in which there are key shortages—engineering and particular parts of the RAF, and I will add the submarine service to that. There are people in those services who are currently unable to take the annual leave to which they are entitled. Those same people will not be able to access flexible working, and the result will be the same—members of the armed forces will leave before they are due to do so and the problem with retention will continue. To maintain operational capability, members of particular sections will not be able take up flexible working or get leave because of things that are absolutely out of their control, such as shortages and budget cuts. We need some clarity on how that is rolled out.
Getting the Secretary of State to report to Parliament is quite important. People need to know the situations in which applications have been refused and the number of people who have taken the option up. The Minister mentioned his view that a very small percentage will take it up. We need to be told regularly exactly what the uptake is and across which services, and why applications have been refused—was it because of a particular short-term issue or longer term, endemic problems? Having the Secretary of State report to Parliament regularly would allow some clarity and allow us to monitor who is able to access flexible working and who is not.
Amendment 4 is a probing amendment, but I reserve the right to return to it at a later stage.
I admire the way in which the hon. Lady finessed amendment 4, which disappeared, into amendment 5 with the dexterity that we all require in such situations.
I am grateful for the general support for the armed forces. It is important to understand the context. Is this about budget cuts? That is a knee-jerk reaction—a question that I also posed, when I was in opposition, whenever any decision came up. Is the Bill a consequence of that? I can say to the Committee that it is not; it is absolutely nothing to do with financing whatsoever. It is purely to do with recruitment and retention, and the hon. Lady cited examples of that.
I am not suggesting that the Bill is a way to deal with budget cuts. I am suggesting that budget cuts to particular areas may make people working in those areas less able to access the flexible working provisions because they are stretched to their limit.
I am grateful for that clarification. The hon. Lady talked about what she called the endemic problems we are having. I was very frank, honest and transparent and said, yes, as the Secretary of State and the Armed Forces Minister recognise, we need to do our best to recruit and retain. We can only do that if we adapt, and that is one of the reasons for the Bill.
The hon. Lady gave an excellent example of those who are under pressure because of their expertise—there are not enough experts in a particular field, which places extra pressure on those who are there. We need to make sure that we recruit more experts in a particular field—engineers, for example—so that we limit the pressures on any individual to constantly be at work, which we do not want.
The new arrangements will be available to all regular service personnel and are aimed at improving recruitment and retention, in not just the short but the long term. Our aim is to approve as many applications as we can, but we also recognise that there will be some that we will not be able to approve. There will be requests made to work part time to which we will have to say no—for example, because somebody is serving at the moment in a high-readiness unit. We have to manage the expectations about the arrangements and we have to provide commanding officers with the information to help them to determine, with their people, whether the arrangements are right for them, or whether less formal flexible working arrangements, which are already available, might suit them better.
Careful consideration will be given to applications when they are made, and because of that we do not anticipate that there will be a need to vary, suspend or terminate any arrangements. However, the ability to do that is necessary to maintain our ability to recall if operational capability demands. It also provides our people with some flexibility should their own needs change.
When it comes to the numbers, as I mentioned, we do not expect take-up of more than about 1%. On that basis, in our view, collating or reporting the information for the size of the cohort will not provide significant or beneficial data. Our internal systems are likely to capture that information anyway as a matter of course and be reported to Parliament in the normal way. That will provide management information from which the services can assess how effectively the new arrangements are working and make any appropriate adjustments.
This is a new concept; of course we need to understand and manage it, see how it works in practice and adapt accordingly. It therefore seems disproportionate to require the services to spend time and resources compiling the management information proposed in the amendment into a form robust enough for publication when we expect the numbers affected by the powers to be small. I hope that I have provided clarification and assurances, and that the hon. Lady will agree to withdraw the amendment.
I still have some questions. There is a difficulty: if we cannot look at the entire picture and see the particular areas of service that cannot access the arrangements, we are missing a trick. Undoubtedly, if people are operationally stretched and unable to access them, there will be more retention issues. However, for the moment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Clause 2 makes small consequential amendments to existing legislation to provide that regular service personnel temporarily serving under flexible working arrangements continue to be excused automatically from jury service. It has long been recognised that regular service personnel are in a unique position when it comes to jury service. It is vital, as I stressed before, that operational capability is maintained at all times, so commanding officers have the ability to certify the need for their personnel to be exempt. The changes will ensure that the same protections are in place for those working under the new part-time arrangements.
The relevant legislation providing automatic excusal and discretionary deferral from jury service in England, Wales and Scotland refer to full-time serving members of Her Majesty’s naval, military or air forces. Service personnel temporarily serving under part-time working arrangements will not, therefore, be covered by the legislation in England, Wales and Scotland. Clause 2 will ensure that we maintain the current position for our people.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Short title, commencement and extent
I beg to move amendment 2, in clause 3, page 2, line 21, at end insert—
“(3A) Prior to making any regulations under subsection (3), the Secretary of State shall commission an independent evaluation into the impact of part-time and geographically restricted working on recruitment methods to the Armed Forces and shall lay the report of the evaluation before each House of Parliament.”
This amendment requires an evaluation of the impact part-time and geographically restricted working has on recruitment to the Armed Forces.
The amendment relates to recruitment methods and practices in the armed forces. It would require the Government to report on the impact of new working practices on recruitment and on how recruitment methods are changing to reflect that. I have already mentioned briefly the problem with recruitment into the armed forces. The numbers are simply not what they need to be, so we need to have a good look at current practices and how to improve the situation.
In 2012, Army recruitment was outsourced through the recruitment partnership project. The contract, said to be worth around £44 million over 10 years, is subject to renewal in 2022. Unfortunately, since 2012, the recruitment picture has not been pretty. When the Capita contract was awarded, regular soldier applications were around 70,000, but they fell to around 45,000 in 2012-13, which is roughly where they remain. A report by the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois), who I think we would all acknowledge has outstanding knowledge of these matters, highlighted the poor performance, stating
“with the programme now having run for some five years it is evident that RPP has been underperforming significantly below initial projections.”
Research by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), whose extremely hard work on this issue I must highlight, uncovered the poor rates of take-up at Army training courses across the country. Only 14 troops signed up for the standard common infantry course at Catterick in one of this year’s batches, despite 96 spaces being available, meaning 85% of the places were empty. Similarly, 30% of places were unfilled on courses starting between July 2015 and June 2017 at the Pirbright Army Training Centre, and a quarter of spaces were left unfilled at the Army Training Regiment at Winchester.
It should be noted that those poor results are not for a lack of financial resources. Figures from answers to parliamentary questions show that spending on advertising and marketing by the Army jumped from £6.7 million in 2016 to more than £10 million in the first nine months of 2017 alone. In total, the three branches of the forces have spent more than £84 million on advertising over the past three years. There was also significant spending on social media for recruitment purposes—around £800,000 in the first six months of 2017 alone. While it is good to see new streams of recruitment being explored to reflect modern life, it is troubling to see that the numbers applying to the armed forces do not reflect that investment. Things have become so bad that advertisers have even resorted to reverse psychology, with the “Don’t become a better you” and “Don’t join the Army” campaign, which did not end too well.
I will take this opportunity to clarify something. The Minister’s colleague, the Minister for the Armed Forces, mentioned advertising spend in an Opposition day debate on armed forces pay in the Chamber a few weeks ago. He seemed confused about the point we were making, so I will clarify it and perhaps the Minister will pass it on to his hon. Friend. It is not that we think there should be no budget for advertising for the armed forces—it is important to show people what the armed forces do and the excellent opportunities in the forces—but there must be a return on the investment made, and where that is clearly not happening, action needs to be taken.
There have also been reports that the Army is specifically targeting young people from working-class backgrounds, despite claiming to aim advertising at all socioeconomic backgrounds, with the “This Is Belonging” campaign specifically targeting manual and/or middle-income workers from specific areas across the UK. In our present situation, it is important that we do not close off recruitment avenues and that we show that there are roles in our armed forces for everyone, particularly in the light of changing working practices. I understand that the MOD is looking at the recruitment partnership project and how the terms of the Capita contract may be renegotiated to improve performance. I welcome that and ask the Minister to update us on its progress.
The amendment will allow us to examine how those delivering the recruitment contract will adapt their working practices to promote the new working arrangements and take advantage of the new recruitment opportunities they present. After all, the purpose of the Bill is not only to improve working practices for those currently in the armed forces, but to encourage more people into the armed forces. Having information on how the recruitment practices engage with the new working practices allows us to better scrutinise the work of those doing the recruiting, who, as I have already mentioned, are in receipt of a significant amount of taxpayers’ money.
I hope the Minister and the Department will look carefully at current recruitment methods and practices with a critical eye and accept the amendment to see how new working practices impact on how we recruit into the armed forces. If he will not accept it, perhaps the Government will be willing to add some other kind of monitoring element to the Bill. If so, I look forward to him updating the Committee about that.
The Minister has spoken about these new working practices, which I support and which are designed to make the armed forces more attractive to individuals. I can clearly see that people already in the armed forces may well take some of these on board as their lives change—with changing family commitments, for example. Has the Ministry of Defence considered offering part-time posts as part of recruitment?
The main thrust of the amendment is toward those already in the armed services, but would it allow the Ministry of Defence or the three armed services to advertise a role as part-time? People might say that that goes against the ethos of what we want from the armed forces, but I could see a situation in which someone who has previously served in the armed forces wants to come back once their circumstances change—certainly, if we are to try to attract more women back into roles—and they may want a specific role in the armed forces that is not full time. Will the Bill allow that, and has the Minister considered advertising certain posts as part-time? He has already talked about pinch-point trades, and some of those that are geographically restricted in certain areas could offer part-time work as part of a recruitment exercise to fill some of those posts.
There has been helpful discussion on this clause, and I welcome the tone adopted by both hon. Gentlemen. We discussed the excellent report by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford on the armed forces. It is called “Filling the Ranks”, and I recommend it to all right hon. and hon. Members. I am pleased that we have accepted all the recommendations. It is a sober consideration of the challenges that we face in our armed forces today, and part of the work that we are doing—including in this Bill—is about moving on from that.
We want to widen opportunities for those in the armed forces, and it could be that instead of working part time, somebody may wish to leave the armed forces all together. I remember from before I left regular service—I do not know whether others who have served felt this as well—that as soon as someone put their hand up and said that they were going to depart, they were given different types of jobs and treated slightly differently, simply because there was perhaps a question mark about their commitment that should not have been there. We now have a process of leave well and then rejoin well, because it could be that after a period in civilian life, someone might fancy going back again, and they need to be able to do that. People should not leave under any cloud, and the service should be welcoming so that somebody can come back in.
The importance of diversity was mentioned on Second Reading, and I agree. We want to recruit the very best from across the country—men and women from different ethnic backgrounds and geographical locations. There should be no inhibitors for anybody wishing to serve.
The contract with Capita was also raised, and there have been some issues and concerns about that. Again, we must advance and modernise to reflect the modern needs of our armed forces personnel.
The idea of the part-time post was raised. I will take that away with me as it is certainly worth considering. We must bear in mind that some of those posts already exist for reservists, and it will be for the services who are designing the arrangements to ensure that operational capability is not threatened in any way. It would, however, be silly not to consider any of the freedoms and opportunities that could be set up underneath that, and I welcome the input from the hon. Member for North Durham.
The amendment seeks to place an obligation on the Ministry of Defence to commission an independent report on the effects of new forms of flexible working on recruitment to the armed forces. The new flexible working measures are designed to attract, recruit and retain people from a more diverse cross-section of society. We stress that we need the knowledge, skills and experience to deliver that operational capability, and we believe that these measures will benefit a small but significant cohort who wish to take up this offer—for example, women and men starting a family, those with caring commitments, or those who wish to undertake long-term studies. However, evidence gathered by our external report, the internal surveys, the focus groups and our ongoing flexible duties trial shows we are providing our people with modern choices, which will help us retain highly skilled personnel who might otherwise leave—a concern that has already been expressed in this Committee.
This evidence already provides us with detailed assessment of the benefits of the new forms of flexible working. The MOD is experiencing many of the same skills and recruitment challenges that are being faced nationally, so to meet those challenges as proactively as possible, we are modernising the employment offer for our armed forces to better allow defence to attract and retain the right mix of people and skills. As I mentioned earlier, those are being managed collectively under our armed forces people programme, which comprises projects including the new joiner offer and the enterprise approach. The latter is about taking people with civilian skills—for example, working for Rolls-Royce or Babcock—and bringing them straight across to work in the defence environment.
The Committee will be aware that the intake in strength by rank, trade and specialisation is monitored and managed on a regular basis at both the service level and centrally by the MOD. The MOD already publishes detailed information analysis on intake in the “UK armed forces monthly service personnel statistics” publication—a long title. The overall numbers taking up the new opportunities are likely to be low, as I have mentioned before. This will mean that any detailed evaluation, external or otherwise, of the impact of the new flexible working measures on overall recruitment in the armed forces will be difficult to achieve in the early years of operation. Furthermore, evidence gathering already conducted by the armed forces of the benefits and impact that the new forms of flexible working will have on our people is of greater value than an evaluation from an independent contractor. The obligation proposed in the amendment will be unnecessarily costly, will delay the introduction of the new measures and their benefits for our people, and will add little value to what defence is already trying to achieve. With those assurances, I hope the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney will agree to withdraw this amendment.
I thank the Minister for his comments. While I do not intend to push this amendment to a vote, I ask the Minister to reflect on the need for further work to evaluate the investment being made in recruitment and the advertising process for recruitment to the armed forces, because it is not reflected in the current take-up. There is a need for further work and attention in that area. I ask the Minister to take those comments on board. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 3, page 2, line 21, at end insert—
“(3A) Prior to making any regulations under subsection (3), the Secretary of State shall commission an independent evaluation into the impact of part-time and geographically restricted working on Armed Forces housing contracts and shall lay the report of the evaluation before each House of Parliament.”
This amendment requires an evaluation of the impact part-time and geographically restricted working has on Armed Forces housing contracts.
The amendment is about armed forces housing and the impact that changes to working practices will have on housing contracts. As I am sure the Minister has gathered, the amendment is a way for me to question him about housing as it relates to recruitment and, more specifically, retention.
We know that housing is an important element of the overall offer to our armed forces. As far as I am aware, there will be no change to current allocation of service accommodation as a result of changed working practices. The Bill guidance states:
“Service provided accommodation, which is provided because of the inherent mobility of Service life, will continue to be available for those taking up these new flexible working arrangements under the normal eligibility criteria because they will continue to remain liable for routine assignment changes.”
This was affirmed in the other place by the Minister of State, Earl Howe, who said,
“I stress again that regular service personnel who successfully apply to work part-time following the introduction of these new measures will be entitled to service accommodation commensurate with their personal status category and other qualifying criteria in the same way as their full-time colleagues.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 October 2017; Vol. 785, c. 260.]
The only slight concern I have with Earl Howe’s statement is the reference to P-stat categories. Obviously, if the P-stat category changes, their allowance changes. Will the Minister please confirm that personnel who work in part time will not have their category changed? I am sure that was a turn of phrase and I am perhaps nit-picking, but I would appreciate having that confirmed by the Minister, just for the peace of mind of our service personnel.
The Minister highlighted on Second Reading that the new working practices were fitting into wider planned changes as part of the people programme. He mentioned,
“our future accommodation model, advancing the housing options available both to single and to married personnel, including home ownership”.—[Official Report, 30 October 2017; Vol. 630, c. 672.]
We know very little about the new accommodation model and I hope that the amendment will enable me to pry a few more details out of the Minister. I say “pry” because we have been asking for a while and unfortunately the Government remain tight-lipped.
We know that a lack of detail of the future accommodation model is causing considerable concern in the forces community. The shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), attended a reception last week hosted by the Army Families Federation at which lack of information and dialogue about the future accommodation model was flagged as a key concern. The Army Families Federation’s big survey 2016 found that if service family accommodation was reduced in favour of a rental allowance, 30% of those surveyed would definitely leave the Army and a further 46% would consider leaving, so there is a big potential impact there.
Earl Howe commented in the other place in reference to the future accommodation model,
“Extensive work is being undertaken to consider a wide range of options”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 October 2017; Vol. 785, c. 261.]
I find the reference to a “wide range of options” a little worrying, given that the Government have said that decisions are intended to be made in late 2017. We are rapidly running out of 2017 and the scheme is intended to be piloted in 2018, so perhaps the Minster will update us on progress with the scheme and when we might expect some more substantive information on what the model will look like. It would also be helpful if he indicated whether planning for the future accommodation model is factoring in the idea that some personnel will be working part time in its decision about which model to proceed with.
The amendment refers to the implications of the new working practices for the future of housing contracts, but I also want to mention current issues with housing. CarillionAmey won multimillion-pound contracts for maintaining about 50,000 housing units because it was the lowest bidder. We have heard complaint after complaint about the response time to repair and maintenance requests, and about the quality of repair and maintenance received.
As my hon. Friend and the Minister know, I pay close attention to this issue. The complaints are not necessarily about response times, but about where the key performance indicators have been set and how they do not meet the needs of our armed forces. CarillionAmey is meeting its KPIs. It will turn up within 24 hours, but it takes eight days to fix the boiler, and I think that is more of a problem. I can empathise with that, given how cold it is in here today.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. She has highlighted one of the many concerns that we have around the work of the contracts, or the way that the contract is not working for families in our armed forces.
Last year’s National Audit Office report on service family accommodation was damning of Carillion’s performance:
“The performance of CarillionAmey has been totally unacceptable”.
Although I welcome the action that has been taken, the Government had the option to terminate the contract, yet they did not, which leaves me with some concerns about how seriously the matter is being taken. I appreciate that there have been some improvements, but reports have shown that continued dissatisfaction with the delivery of the contract is still widespread. For those in service family accommodation, satisfaction with the quality of maintenance/repair and with response to requests for maintenance/repair fell to just 28%, which is very alarming indeed.
Of course, this is all in the context of many personnel seeing increased costs for their accommodation and ongoing pay restraint. The pay review body commented on that in its latest report:
“A key consideration in people accepting the increases in charges being seen…will be a clear improvement in both the overall quality of the housing stock and the effective delivery of maintenance services.”
I would like to hear whether the Department has any specific plans to take action to improve performance and at what point we might see that happen.
Recruitment and retention issues are at the heart of the Bill, and housing is a crucial factor in that. I hope the Minister can give me some assurance and answer my questions about how the new working practices will impact on housing allocation, what the latest progress with the future accommodation model is and how the Government will deal with housing contracts if marked improvements are not shown.
I would like to get an understanding of how the housing of someone who works part time will be dealt with. Housing has always been seen as part of the overall remuneration package that armed forces personnel get. We will potentially have a situation where someone who works part time lives in a house next door to someone working full time, with both getting the same housing package. If someone goes part time, will there be a way to recoup some of the advantage, or will they continue as if they are working full time? I can see that creating some issues, where people working full time and people working part time are getting the same benefits. How will the Ministry of Defence address that? There could be an issue of perceived fairness for the individual working full time and the idea that someone is getting benefits that they are not working for. I would like to know how the Minister thinks that would be addressed when this is rolled out.
We have wandered into another huge chunk of the armed forces people programme. It is pertinent to the Bill, but it is so important that it sits alone as one of the four major pillars of improvement we are trying to make to recruit and retain armed forces personnel.
The future accommodation model has been mentioned. It will be coming round the corner very soon in more detail. It is still very much being planned, so I am not able to share too much detail, but it is helpful to hear the concerns, which we are very much alive to.
I know that the hon. Lady has spent a lot of time looking at these issues, and I am grateful for her input. She has done well to finesse those concerns into the Bill. She knows that that is a separate but very important subject. I hear what she says.
CarillionAmey was mentioned. That concerned the previous Secretary of State, and the company was called in to ensure that improvements were made to meet the KPIs. The contract comes up for renewal in 2020. That does not stop us making sure we provide the best accommodation we can for our armed forces personnel. We should recognise that what people choose and expect today is very different from 15 or 20 years ago, when a room this size would have been full of 20 beds. Now people expect individual accommodation, wireless networks and decent cooking facilities, and that is what we are providing, not least as we build new premises and new accommodation, with the returning of our armed forces from Germany.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney seeks to place an obligation on the MOD to commission an independent report evaluating the impact of new forms of flexible working on armed forces housing contracts. The Government have already provided assurances during the passage of the Bill that regular service personnel, when taking part-time work, will retain those entitlements currently available to full-time regulars. There will be no change there. Providing our people with service accommodation is pivotal for their work. We must ensure that their families have that guarantee and that support, particularly if circumstances change and they need to be called back at short notice.
Regular service personnel who successfully apply to undertake the new forms of flexible working following the introduction of these measures will be entitled to service accommodation commensurate with their personnel status category and other qualifying criteria, in the same way as their full-time colleagues. Individuals will take up these new arrangements for a defined period only and will retain an enduring liability for mobility. They will still be subject to the same moves associated with new assignments as others in the regular armed forces.
It is common sense that no one will suddenly be turfed out of accommodation, but can the Minister not see that tensions might rise if someone working part time is living long term next door to someone working full time? He said “as long as that contract continues”, but what happens if the person is still part time and is redeployed somewhere else for new accommodation? Will they have the same access to housing or will that change in some way?
I understand where the question comes from; it is a detailed, specific point, but it needs to be considered. They will be treated in the same manner as anybody else in the unit that they are with if there is an ORBAT change or movement. It will also be down to the arrangements made when the application is put forward in the first place. If a unit is moving from one location to another, that needs to be factored into the decision. Someone might look over their shoulder and have a view about that, but that same person might request a period of absence or a change in their circumstances to move to part time at a later date. I hope the fuller explanation that we give to our armed forces personnel as these measures are rolled out will clarify that and ensure that there are not those feelings that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned.
Support for service families was a recurring theme on Second Reading. The Bill is at the heart of the work we are doing to support our people. I reaffirm that enhanced flexible working options are about providing opportunities for our people who want to work more flexibly and not about disadvantaging them or their families by limiting access to support and entitlements. I have said before that only a small yet significant number of personnel will undertake flexible working and that the longer-term impact of these new options will be difficult to assess in the early years of implementation. For those reasons, the impact on service accommodation contracts is likely to be minimal—I do not see a huge change there—and challenging to assess, particularly in the light of the fact that there are no plans for the entitlements to be altered, and an independent evaluation is therefore deemed unnecessary.
The Ministry of Defence recognises that the current system for accommodation can be unaffordable and inflexible, and that it does not support personnel to live in the way that many of them want to today. We are reforming the accommodation model so that all regular personnel can receive support to live how they want to. We recognise the need to offer accommodation that meets their needs and expectations today and in the future. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney asked about the future accommodation model, which is due to be introduced in 2019 as part of the defence people programme. We are exploring options for a more flexible accommodation offer to give service personnel more choice in how they live.
I shall certainly go back to the bowels of the MOD and see whether I can find anything that the hon. Gentleman has left behind.
Extensive work is being done to consider a wide range of options, from widening entitlement based on the current model of service-provided accommodation to helping service personnel to meet their aspirations for home ownership. We hope to be able to say more about that at the end of the year. Eligibility under the future accommodation model will not be altered for personnel who work part time or who are subject to geographical restriction when the new measures come into force. I hope that makes it clear to the Committee that there will be no change. I hope that hon. Members are reassured by what I have said and that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
I thank the Minister for the clarification and reassurance he has provided, and for recognising that there is still significant concern. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham highlighted the concerns and practical issues facing families. The Minister commented on the future accommodation model, understanding that it stands alone as a significant piece of work. He said it is “coming round the corner” soon. Given that we were told that we would have the detail in 2017 and there are only six weeks left in 2017, and while I appreciate that he might not be able to give the fullest detail, I would have hoped for an indication of when that detail will be forthcoming. I am sure the Government recognise that this is a significant issue and that there are huge concerns around it. That said, I do not wish to push the amendment to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
I beg to move amendment 6, in clause 3, page 2, line 21, at end insert—
“(3A) Within one calendar year of making any regulations under subsection (3), the Secretary of State shall commission an independent evaluation into the impact of part-time and geographically restricted working on welfare of Armed Forces personnel.”
An amendment to require the Secretary of State to consider the welfare implications of part-time and geographically restricted working on Armed Forces personnel.
I will explain a little about the amendment. Ultimately, the Bill is to improve the welfare, satisfaction and work-life balance of those who are serving. Of course we want to modernise the services, consider working practices and, as a result, improve the recruitment and retention of personnel. The amendment would ensure that there was an evaluation of the process. Unless we evaluate the scheme, it will be impossible to know its efficacy and impact. The continuous attitude survey is already carried out, and we know that, at the moment, 35% of serving personnel report dissatisfaction with service life. It would be straightforward to widen the continuous attitude survey to include a section on flexible or part-time working, and have a specific evaluation for those who have undertaken that work.
Any new scheme needs evaluation. I am sure the Government have plans to monitor the success of the scheme, so I am not trying to be difficult, but it would be useful to know the details of the monitoring that will take place. Without evaluation, we cannot know the impact of what I believe to be a positive step for those now serving in the armed forces. I would welcome comments from the Minister on that point.
I understand what the hon. Lady is saying, but she wants to place a further burden on the Secretary of State to commission an independent evaluation of the impact of the new flexible working arrangements within 12 calendar months of the clause containing the powers to make the new terms of service regulations coming into force. I am not sure whether that is exactly the intention of what she wants to achieve. The regulations to implement the new flexible working arrangements may be made some months before they come into force, so she might be seeking to place a duty on the Secretary of State to commission an independent evaluation of the impact of the new flexible working arrangements within one year of the new terms of service regulations coming into force.
Either way, I assure the hon. Lady and the Committee that the policies and processes that will support the changes brought about by the Bill have been designed by the services for the services. We have done a great deal of work to ensure that the services develop policies that work for them and for their people. Any effects on allowances or promotion are intended to be proportionate and fair, and our policy has been developed to limit any of the negative impacts.
The physical and mental health of our people and their wider wellbeing contribute directly to our operational capability. I have stressed again and again that we must bear that in mind, but we recognise the welfare risks of some personnel having less income, for example, as a result of serving part time. We will strive to ensure that service personnel are independent and responsible in respect of their personal finances, and that will be one of the things that commanders discuss with applicants before making recommendations or seeing applications that are pushed through.
I hope that, given those assurances, the hon. Lady will withdraw her amendment, but I am happy to discuss it with her in more detail at a later date.
The hon. Lady makes the argument herself that if there is a sense of dissatisfaction, we have to ask ourselves why that is. We are trying to remedy that dissatisfaction; we are trying to make more people satisfied. That will be achieved through flexible working—through the Bill.
I think we are probably coming from the same point of view. It is difficult to know the impact if we do not monitor it. The impact of every change we make has to be monitored. However, given the Minister’s assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
I just have a question. Clause 3(5) states:
“Section 1 and this section extend to—
(a) England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland,
(b) the Isle of Man, and
(c) the British overseas territories, except Gibraltar.”
I wonder what the issue is with Gibraltar.
The hon. Gentleman poses an important question. There is a technical reason for this. It is simply because, as has come slightly mysteriously and miraculously to my attention, we have been liaising with the Gibraltarian Government about whether any provision of the Armed Forces Act 2006, with which he will be familiar, should be part of the new law of Gibraltar. They have undertaken to introduce their own legislation in the near future to effect this. I did know that, but a little piece of paper arrived to remind me of it. I am grateful for his question.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
New Clause 1
Protection of existing flexible working options
“(1) Nothing in this Act shall affect the ability of persons serving with a regular force to avail themselves of the flexible working options provided for in Chapter 1 of Joint Service Publication 750 (centrally determined terms of service).
(2) If the flexible working options in subsection (1) are withdrawn, the Secretary of State must make similar provision through regulations.
(3) Regulations under subsection (2) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”—(Gerald Jones.)
This new clause preserves current flexible working practices for the Armed Forces.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause relates to current flexible working practices in the armed forces. As the Minister knows, there are already ways for personnel to undertake flexible working. Although none of those options involves a reduction in overall hours, the former Defence Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Sir Michael Fallon), pointed out on Second Reading that they are well subscribed:
“We know that these existing initiatives are popular: in the six months to July 2017, 1,400 personnel had taken advantage of them.”—[Official Report, 30 October 2017; Vol. 630, c. 624.]
The new clause would ensure that those popular options were retained and that the new options did not have unintended negative repercussions.
The three flexible working options available to service personnel, including home working, are outlined in Joint Service Publication 750. They involve an individual working the full number of hours associated with their role in a specific period, but having scope to vary their hours day to day. The guidance states that arrangements should be reviewed every 12 months, or earlier if circumstances change.
The current flexible working options are as follows. Variable start and finish times allow service personnel to start and finish their working day at different times from those considered the norm in their working environment, although the total number of hours worked will not be less than those considered normal for the role. That measure may cover part or the whole of an assignment.
Home working allows service personnel to carry out their work from home if that gives them greater flexibility in meeting their domestic needs and if the nature of the work allows it. Ad hoc home working is an informal agreement that gives personnel the opportunity to work at home occasionally to complete a particular task or project. Regular home working gives personnel a more regular home-working arrangement, so their working time is shared between home and the workplace. Compressed hours allows individuals to work the normal number of hours for their role over a shorter period to allow flexibility for travel or to meet other domestic demands during the week. For example, it allows an individual working away from home on a conventional Monday to Friday pattern to start late on a Monday, finish early on a Friday and work extended hours on the other days to facilitate travel.
The guidance cites
“a variety of personal responsibilities, such as for young children or for sick, disabled or elderly relatives”
as possible reasons for wanting flexible working, but I am slightly confused about the role that the new flexible working practices will play. Of course, it would be much easier to establish that if we knew what they will look like, but the Bill is very light on detail. The guidance for the new practices states:
“Service personnel will be able to apply to take up the new flexible working opportunities at any point in their career once they have completed their basic and professional training, plus an additional period prescribed by their Service. Therefore, we expect that it will be around four years before a new entrant will normally be permitted to undertake part-time working”.
There seems to be a conflation of part-time working with flexible working. The guidance refers to “new flexible working opportunities”, but then refers to part-time working. Perhaps the current practices will remain with the addition of a part-time element. Will the Minister clarify whether there will actually be any changes to the current flexible working practices? If so, will the new practices supersede the current? Will personnel have the option to continue with their current situation? If not, will they be expected to move over to the new practices as soon as they are introduced or will there be a grace period to allow families to adapt? It may be that the current flexible working options fit very well with a person’s lifestyle, but a part-time option and the pay reduction that comes with it might not work as well.
If the Minister can reassure us about how the new practices fit in with the current ones, I will gladly withdraw the new clause, but I would like some clarity on those points.
I am grateful for this probing new clause, which allows me to explain how JSP 750—I have a copy here, should anybody wish to read that heavy-duty but important document—fits in with this flexible working Bill.
It is worth pausing to consider people’s perception of the armed forces. People see the armed forces as mainly the infantry, but certainly the action-orientated, frontline services. That is what they see on television, but it is the very top part. Any action that the infanteer takes is a response to a huge series of decisions taken by other people. We collect data in the armed forces and our other agencies. That data is turned into information, that information is turned into intelligence, that intelligence is turned into wisdom and that wisdom is turned into action. There are an awful lot of personnel doing an awful lot of work behind those we see—the overt picture of our armed forces.
The manner in which those personnel work varies. There are many situations—the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney went through some of them—such as variable start and finish times, compressed hours, home working, different forms of unpaid leave and career breaks. That is all covered in JSP 750, and it is very pertinent to providing flexibility prior to the Bill’s coming into force.
The new flexibilities that the Bill will introduce are part of a series of steps that we are undertaking to modernise the conditions of the service that we offer to those who serve. Those considering a career in the armed forces will not be affected at all by what exists already; nothing will be replaced in that sense. The long-term aim is to improve overall recruitment and retention in our armed forces.
We are seeking to reflect best practice in the development of our personnel policies. We are also ensuring that we continue to refine and develop policies that support our existing flexible working options to ensure that they are the best they can be. As with human resources policy in other organisations, the ability to manage and adjust our flexible working policy is essential to meet the emerging needs of our people in the services.
The current flexible working policies are published in Joint Services Publication 750—a document that I have here and that is openly available. I assure the Committee that we have no intention of withdrawing any existing opportunities for flexible working. I stress: there is no intention of withdrawing any existing opportunities. Some of those opportunities have been on offer to our people since 2005 and others have been developed to meet their need for a degree of flexibility in the modern world. To reduce the flexible working options would be a retrograde step—it would be moving backwards to do what the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney implied and limit them. I hope that, following the assurances that I have given, he will withdraw the motion.
I thank the Minister for his commitment to the existing arrangements under Joint Services Publication 750 and for the clarity that no existing arrangements will be affected by the changes. Given that he has stressed that intention, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 2
Reporting of Armed Forces personnel serving part-time
“(1) The Secretary of State must include the number of personnel who are serving part-time in the monthly UK armed forces service personnel statistics.
(2) The Secretary of State must include the number of personnel who are serving part-time in the UK armed forces biannual diversity statistic.”—(Gerald Jones.)
This new clause requires the number of UK armed forces service personnel working part-time to be reported regularly, and to be included in the UK armed forces biannual diversity statistics.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The new clause is about ensuring that armed forces personnel numbers and diversity statistics are as accurate as possible. It requires that both the personnel and diversity statistics include details of how many personnel are working part time. We believe that it is important to be open with Parliament and the public about the personnel statistics. Unfortunately, the Government have a poor record when it comes to the number of armed forces personnel, specifically the size of the Army.
Since 1 October 2016, Army personnel who have completed phase 1 training, which covers all new entry training to provide basic military skills, but have not completed phase 2, which includes initial individual specialisation and technical training following phase 1, are considered trained personnel. Prior to that, personnel were considered to be trained only when they had completed both phases.
The Government made a clear and specific promise in their 2015 manifesto that the Army would not fall below 82,000 under the old definition. Unfortunately, it seems that the change in the definition was a cynical attempt to keep that promise. The Government dropped the commitment for the 2017 election, and since then they have given increasingly vague answers to parliamentary questions about targets and minimum thresholds. That promise has not been kept. The latest figures show that the full-time trained strength of the Army is now just 77,680.
In the consultation on the change to the statistics, the Government said:
“The main purpose of these statistics is to measure the performance of the MOD against government and Parliament targets, and also to inform general debate in government, Parliament and the wider public.”
It is vital for accountability and informed debate that there is transparency around the personnel numbers. It would not be right to suggest that the Army or any of the services is at a greater strength than it actually is by failing to separate part-time and full-time personnel. Therefore, the personnel statistics must include specific detail on the number of personnel who are working part time.
The Government have made it clear that one of their hopes is that the Bill will encourage women not only to join the forces but, crucially, to stay in the forces. That is an excellent goal and one that we should pursue. When it comes to the diversity statistics, the reasons for wanting to include the number of personnel serving part time are twofold. As I mentioned, the Government have a record of trying to inflate personnel numbers. The 2015 strategic defence and security review includes a target to increase the number of women members of the armed forces. The aim was that by 2020, 15% of the regulars and reserves would be women, moving eventually to 20%. Figures from April 2017 show that just 11.4% of the regulars and reserves are women, but the new working practices apply only to regulars, of whom 10.2% are female. I look forward to the new diversity statistics that come out at the end of the month and hope that the numbers will have risen.
It is important that the number of female personnel is accurate, detailed and not overstated, so that we are not complacent about the work that is needed. If a significant reason for the legislation is to retain women, we need the diversity statistics to reflect how well that is working. The new Defence Secretary will name the new Chief of the Defence Staff soon. If we want to get to a situation where that could be a woman, we need to keep women in the services and promote them. There is a view that this was a missed opportunity to have a woman as the new Defence Secretary. She would have been the UK’s first female Defence Secretary, but who knows? Perhaps we will have one before long.
If we can establish how women are using the new working practices and how they affect their length of service and progression, we can establish the policy’s impact. To do that successfully, the more information we have, the better. The new clause does not try to undermine the Bill or its measures, but would be important in helping us to monitor how successfully the Bill’s aims are being met and in ensuring that the statistics are transparent. The new clause is a way of seeing whether we need to do more or explore other options. As was said on Second Reading, the Bill will not be a silver bullet for recruitment and retention issues in the armed forces, but we need a way to establish whether it is successful and, critically, how successful it is.
The Government’s fact sheet on the Bill acknowledges the issue, stating:
“The impact of these new arrangements will compete with the many other factors that influence recruitment and retention, and measurement of the effects of the changes will entail a mixture of metrics on the numbers and types of applications and the approval rates, alongside specific surveys to assess the impact. We are currently designing our strategy and methods for measuring this.”
Will the Minister give us an update on the progress of the monitoring systems?
I hope that the Minister will accept the new clause or give us assurances either that the personnel and diversity statistics will reflect the new working practices or that some kind of monitoring report will be publicly available, if that is already in his plans.
I am once again grateful for the manner in which the hon. Gentleman asked his important questions about transparency in the numbers. We are aware of the challenges on recruitment and retention, and we are here today to advance our offer to the general public to consider a career in the armed forces. However, the challenges we face do not currently affect our operational capability. We are involved in about 30 operations in about 80 countries across the world. We are very much meeting our commitments, but there are challenges, which is why we have introduced the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned some of our targets on diversity, as did several hon. Members on Second Reading, including the 20% target for women, which I hope we will meet. He is aware that we already publish detailed information and analysis of the UK armed forces in the monthly service personnel statistics publication—I have a copy of it here, should any hon. Member wish to look at it. It provides statistics on the number of service personnel by strength, intake and outflow in the UK armed forces. Detail is provided both for the full-time armed forces and the reserves.
The MOD promotes the importance of the armed forces being appropriately representative of the diverse society that they exist to defend, with operational effectiveness being dependent on inclusion and fairness. My Department publishes comprehensive data in the UK armed forces biannual diversity statistics, a statistical release that presents information relating to the gender, ethnicity, nationality, religion and age of personnel employed by the MOD. That meets our obligations under the public sector equality duty to provide information on our workforce in relation to the protected characteristics identified in the Equality Act 2010. In addition, the armed forces proactively release data on the number of personnel undertaking and returning from maternity and shared parental leave as part of that publication.
The recording requirements for any pattern of work in our armed forces are stipulated in policies and recorded on the joint personnel administration system. JPA is already used to process applications for existing flexible working options. We plan to enable all instances of part-time working or geographical restriction on the part of personnel to be recorded on JPA when the options are made available. As the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney implies, it will be crucial to ensure that all cases of flexible working are properly recorded and monitored to provide personnel and commanding officers with a record of all the discussions and agreements, so that they can understand the impact and success of the entire process.
The number of applications, however, is likely to be low in the early stages, so collating and reporting information on a monthly or biannual basis on the number of regular personnel undertaking new forms of flexible working would not provide significant or beneficial data. The longer-term effects of those measures should be a measure of the effectiveness of the new arrangements. We must also bear in mind our operational capability. I should add that any hon. Member may exercise the right to ask a written question—looking around the room, I can see that that is done regularly—to verify or confirm the statistics at any point.
With those assurances, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will consider withdrawing the new clause.
I thank the Minister for the information that he has provided and for his commitment to improving the diversity of our armed forces. I am aware of some information that provides some of the detail that I have talked about, but it is essential for us to be fully aware of diversity and personnel numbers. It is important to ensure that there is no confusion about the number of personnel as a result of part-time equivalents. I ask the Minister to reflect on that and to ensure that it is included in future. With those comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill to the House.
Thank you for your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I would have thanked Mr Davies as well, but we have not reached the afternoon sitting. We had his support yesterday.
I thank the Clerks for their assistance in drafting and tabling the amendments, which supports better scrutiny of the Bill. I thank the Doorkeepers, who keep us safe, and Hansard for recording our every word in a rapid process that ensures transparency and clarity for the Committee.
I thank the Opposition and Government Whips for their organisational skills in running the process effectively. I thank all hon. Members, and Opposition Members in particular. I think that there is unity of purpose across the House in wanting the best for our armed forces. Finally, I thank the Minister for his constructive approach and for some of his responses, which were helpful at times, and the civil servants for their hard work.
I rise to reflect that at the weekend, we all paused to show respect and reverence for all those in our armed forces who have fallen in the past. Up and down the country, there was a moment of silence to say thank you to those who have served. The country owes them a huge debt of gratitude.
I think we would all agree that our armed forces are the most professional in the world. They can only continue to be so if we recruit and keep the right people. That is why the Bill, in context, plays a wider and more important role in what Britain seeks to do on not only the national but the international stage, as we face the difficult challenges of the 21st century.
I am pleased with the attitude and commitment throughout the Committee. I join the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney in thanking you, Ms Dorries, for chairing the sitting, the Clerks for their work and my team for the few hours that we put in behind the scenes to ensure that everything went smoothly. I also thank hon. Members—everyone in the Committee is very committed to our armed forces—and the Whips, who keep us all on the straight and narrow.
I look forward to reconvening on Report and Third Reading, when we can look further into the detail. I am glad of that, because the Bill is an important part of the jigsaw of improving recruitment and retention in our professional and brave armed forces.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly to be reported, without amendment.
Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill (Sixth 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
Tuesday 14 November 2017
[Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]
Automated and Electric Vehicles Bill
Public charging points: access and connection
I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 9, page 6, line 22, at end insert—
‘(4) The Secretary of State must consult charge point operators and vehicle manufacturers on the prescribed requirements for connecting components (before regulations under subsection (1)(b) are made).”
This amendment requires consultation with charge point operators and vehicle manufacturers on the requirements for connecting components for the charging of electric vehicles.
It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. The amendment requires consultation with charge point operators and vehicle manufacturers on the requirements for connecting components for the charging of electric vehicles. As the Bill is currently drafted, the Secretary of State has the power to make regulations in relation to the components of charging points. What the Bill does not do is define what criteria will be used or who will be consulted when making that decision.
The Bill presents a significant opportunity for the UK to lead globally in encouraging uptake of electric vehicles. Making the most of that opportunity will require action in a number of areas. One is the availability and interoperability of charging points. As Members will know, there is some concern about differing design standards for charging points. Those Members, such as myself, who have electric cars, or know constituents who do, will know how frustrating it is to come to a charging point when there is no common universal standard. It is extremely annoying to pull up, try to plug in and then, all of a sudden, realise there is no opportunity to charge. It is important to avoid the situation in which vehicles have a wide range of different connecting components because they will have to be reflected on forecourts. A wide range of different connecting components will be absolutely impractical and create confusion, as we have already discussed. The amendment would require the Government to consult charge operators and vehicle manufacturers on these vital infrastructure decisions.
Sir Edward, I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote. Its purpose is to probe a little deeper to ensure that the Government consult properly and widely on the final form and implementation of those connecting components, specifically consulting recharge point operators and vehicle manufacturers.
My main purpose in speaking to this clause and the amendment is to raise the same broad issue that I tried to raise on Second Reading. I have had a chance since then to talk to some of those involved in various elements of the industry and I am reaffirmed in my view that the scope of the regulations proposed in clause 9(1) and 9(2) is too limited.
It is clear that, if we take clauses 9 and 10 as a whole, they miss out a very important, critical element of the scene, without which we will not succeed in engendering the spread of electric vehicles that we seek. That is the assembly—many thousands in the one case and many hundreds of thousands in the other—of apartment blocks on one side and homes on the other side that do not have off-street car parking. In my own constituency, a very large proportion of the population does have off-street car parking because it is a rural area. Many suburban areas fall into the same category, but in our major cities there are many people who live in homes that do not have off-street car parking. Except at the very top end of the market, almost all people living in apartment blocks do not have full off-street car parking that is particularly associated with them. There may be a place where people park but it is not one that can be guaranteed to belong to a Mr or Mrs X. At the moment there is nothing in the Bill that mandates any off-street car parking under either of these circumstances.
My right hon. Friend the Minister may say, as he is wont to do in the Committee, “This Bill is only the beginning.” Yes, but it needs to be a beginning that is sufficient to bring about the largest part of what we seek to achieve. I urge him to talk to his colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to work out how, in connection with the clean growth strategy, he can provide, probably in the other place rather than on Report, although either would do, an amendment to clauses 9 or, conceivably, 10, or even a new clause, to provide powers for a Secretary of State—probably the one for Business rather than the one for Transport—to ordain that district network operators have to install off-street parking on some rational basis.
Clearly, a lot of consultation is needed with the manufacturers of the relevant equipment, as the shadow Minister said, but principally with the utilities themselves—the district network operators—to work out the best way through that. My feeling when I was involved in this as a Minister was that there is a great deal of difference between taking this in marginal steps as streets are being broken anyway for the purpose of repair or expansion of the network, and doing it all at once. Asking the DNOs to put in off-street car parking on all city streets and for apartment blocks that have not got it and where parking is permitted would be expensive and overplay what is needed in the first year or two. It is doable, but it is excessively costly for the consumer of electricity on whom the cost would fall—assuming it was allowed into the regulatory asset base, which it obviously needs to be. If, however, it is a programme of work that proceeds as streets are broken—I have done a little investigation, although the Minister’s counterparts in BEIS will be able to do much more, which suggests that over about a 10-year period almost all city streets would be able to have off-street charging installed at the same time as works went on—there will obviously be a marginal cost, but it is small.
I made an error in my remarks on Second Reading, because I thought at that time that the rational way to do this was to provide for fast charging off-street through what Hansard, with a delicious benevolence, transcribed as “free-phase charging”. That is a lovely idea, but I hope what I actually said, and I certainly meant to say, was 3-phase charging, which is fast charging. I thought that would be necessary off-street to provide for people to come home from work, charge off-street and then set out for supper or whatever. I have now been told by three different groups of manufacturers, so I begin to believe it, that that is not judged to be necessary and that low-voltage charging would do. That is because, in experience so far, almost everyone who engages in off-street parking or indeed any kind of charging at home does it overnight, in which case low-voltage does perfectly well.
That makes the proposition I am making considerably cheaper. If it is just a question of putting in lamp posts and bits of street furniture that have plugs, it is not complicated. It would be much aided if what the shadow Minister is requesting happened and there was a universalised plug system—but in any event it is perfectly doable at reasonably low cost if done over a period when streets are being broken anyway. If that does not happen, we will not see anything like the spread of electric cars that we would otherwise see, because about half the population does not have access to off-street parking, so it is a very important thing to do.
I want to anticipate one thing that I know from experience the Minister will be told by people in BEIS if his officials ask its officials. That is why I ask him to talk directly to our mutual friend, his counterpart Minister there, about it. He will be told that it is okay because Ofgem has powers within its current regulatory regime to modify licences in order to bring this about and it has powers to allow things to be charged to the regulatory asset base. Those propositions happen to be true, but I do not think that they are a good basis for not taking the power, because the next thing, which the Minister may or may not be told but is also true, is that Ofgem is an independent entity and one cannot guarantee that it will actually use the powers, because if we look at its duties in the underlying primary legislation, we see that it does not have the duty to promote the use of electric vehicles. It may interpret its duties to the electricity supply industry, in terms of balancing and economics, as meaning a large amount of renewables and the prospect of a large battery for the nation residing in its cars. It may interpret its duties as meaning that it ought to do this, but it might interpret its duties differently. It may say that the electricity consumer should not have to bear this cost, and therefore I think that Ministers need the powers directly. They may well never need to exercise them, because they may be able to say to Ofgem, “Look, we have a regulation-making power here. Rather than us using it, why don’t you just enforce this?” But one way or the other, I think that the power should be taken, and it could be taken in a form that allows a very moderate, slow roll-out over, say, a 10-year period. That would broadly do, because I do not think any of us imagines that tens of millions of our citizens will have these kinds of cars 10 years from now. We want there to be able to be tens of millions of our citizens with these cars 20 or 30 years from now, so it would do if this was done gradually as streets were broken.
I hope that that is clear and the Minister is willing to consider it, in conjunction with BEIS, between now and the final passage of the Bill through the other place.
I rise briefly to seek the thoughts of my right hon. Friend the Minister on clause 9(2), which deals with the potential regulations covering the payment methods for charging points. During an evidence session, one of the most powerful pieces of evidence that we got was from Robert Llewellyn, who pointed to the chaotic situation that existed in California and Ireland, where different providers had different payment cards and methods and there was no standardisation until they legislated for it. My reason for speaking is to hear a little more about what the Minister intends under clause 9(2). Is it his intention to seek a common payment mechanism, and if so, is the current wording of the clause sufficient? The evidence that we had from Robert Llewellyn was that the industry itself will not come up with a common payment mechanism and that will require Government intervention. The Minister may argue, and I will be perfectly happy to accept, that the clause as drafted does it, but perhaps he will wish to consider a slight alteration in the wording to set out that expectation.
I want to amplify the points made by the right hon. Member for West Dorset in talking about the opportunity we have—I think he was saying this—to be more ambitious and to mandate more for the provision of public charging points on our streets, and the challenge that we face particularly in urban areas. Many of us will appreciate the financial pressures that local authorities are under, and we need to look at introducing LED street lights, whereby we invest in order to save in the budgets employed by councils in the provision of street lighting. Linked to this is a huge opportunity for those authorities to invest in and provide street charging points, and for electric vehicles. I want to broaden the thinking. We are talking in the main about electric cars—that is the mindset we are focused on. However, particularly in urban areas, other forms of electric mobility will offer us a huge opportunity. We need to be cognisant of that, especially electric bicycles—I think that will be a huge growth area.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the private sector will undoubtedly play its part in providing charging places? I am thinking in particular of pubs, which are always looking for ways to increase their takings. In Yorkshire there is one pub, near my constituency, which has introduced three electric charging points that are there now, ready for use. Many supermarkets have their own car parks, and it seems to me natural for a supermarket to start providing charge points in their car parks.
Planning is not my specialism, but I agree that that does come into it, as we recognise what the opportunity is. I think that in China there is already significant progress in electric mobility. Certain cities are adopting this in its entirety. Of course, they are starting from a green field to develop these new eco-cities. It is within our remit to consider these things and to think about planning new elements under local plans that are going through many of our local authorities right now, and how that might be provided for. It is something that we need to do now. Perhaps I can only speak from a Warwickshire perspective, where I know there is a wholesale plan. The right hon. Member for West Dorset spoke about the renewal plan—the accelerated plan to start putting in LEDs and all sorts of other street furniture. It is a terrific opportunity. If we put the framework in place we could help to accelerate, if the Committee will excuse me using that term, that introduction, which would be a very healthy one.
What a delight to sit under your chairmanship again, Sir Edward, to participate in this exciting exchange of views. As I mentioned informally earlier, we moved from autonomous vehicles to electric vehicles apparently seamlessly, but with equal determination and diligence.
This clause provides powers to improve the consumer experience for gaining reasonably straightforward, easy access to all public charging infrastructure, regardless of where motorists are driving in the UK. The aim is essentially to improve confidence in the purchase and use of electric vehicles, which in itself is part of our efforts to reduce emissions by encouraging people to buy those vehicles that emit fewer NOxic things. We spoke earlier about particular material, the effect it has on human wellbeing and our determination as a Government to take action to counter its effects.
At the moment drivers face myriad different charge points, as we have heard in the course of the debate. I suppose that partly because the industry is developing, the technology is evolving. Like all technological change in its first phase, a variety of different options is still available to the consumer. Perhaps that is the inevitable consequence of the early stage of the development of technology. Usually technology settles around a few common standards and often around a single common standard. That may be the natural consequence of a rationalisation in the market.
I had an interesting conversation about two pervasive and—by the fact that they are widely believed—apparently persuasive myths with two members of the Committee over lunch, not from the Government side, by the way. The two myths we discussed were the misconception that the market would necessarily and automatically settle these matters itself. That is not my view. The second myth was that all technological change is, by its nature, intrinsically efficacious. That is not my view either. It is a lazy assumption that all change is for the better and an even lazier one that all technological change, by its very nature, because it is exciting, fresh and enthralling, must be in the interests of the people. That is not so. It is our job to ensure that these things are encouraged where they are indeed virtuous but constrained where they are not, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset and others have mentioned, to shape change for the best effect. That is precisely what the Bill tries to do with electric charge points.
I have many notes ahead of me, some of which I will use and some of which I will not because I want to address directly the points that have been raised. There seem to be four points. The first point is about access to charge points and making that access, as I described it a moment ago, straightforward, readily available and widely understood. That is not the case now, as the shadow Minister said of his own experience as an electric car driver. The Bill creates powers for us to achieve what I think he wants. The powers will be sufficient to allow us to define a single means of access and to link to that a single payment method. The problem at the moment is not only about interoperability—although it is about that—it is also about how you pay. Some power points are paid for in advance, some are pay-as-you-go. There are different systems; some are paid by card. There are different payment methods, which adds to additional doubts—for the purposes of Hansard, that was alliterative; it was tautological as well as alliterative, to be precise, Sir Edward.
I am afraid the Minister cannot rewrite Hansard.
Quite. I know the Hansard writers are wonderful people.
The aim of the Bill is to create greater clarity and consistency about access and payment. We are confident that the powers are sufficient to do that. It is necessary to consult the industry on this and I commit to doing so. We want to do this as much as we can as a result of that collaborative, co-operative dialogue, but we will take powers as necessary to provide the certainty that we all seek. That seems to me to be important and urgent and it is very much in tune with what the shadow Minister said.
The second point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset was about the location of charge points in those places where it is less straightforward and where there is not easy access.
I thank the Minister for giving way and for mentioning our brief conversation at lunch time; it is very good of him. On his point about the location of charge points, as someone who represents a constituency with poor quality air—we suffer greatly from air pollution in Reading, as do many other urban areas, even relatively small or medium-sized ones—I not only commend his interest in encouraging charge points but urge him to speak to his officials and other partners, including the industry and local authorities, to see whether areas with air pollution problems can be prioritised as we roll out this new technology. Residents in those areas would be very grateful and appreciative if thought were put into whether that is possible.
The hon. Gentleman, with great courtesy, gave me notice as part of the civilised conversation we had at lunchtime that he would raise that very point. When he mentioned it to me informally, I said that it was an interesting thought. It is not incompatible with the zonal approach we have taken to air quality. As he knows, we have developed an approach that focuses on areas that are particularly severely affected by poor air quality. I cannot give a definitive commitment to do exactly what he says, but I am certainly prepared to think about it. It would not be out of tune with the Government’s approach; as well as raising the quality of air for everyone, we have done extra work in parts of our country—typically urban places—that are particularly badly affected. I think he can take that as a small win, in that he has made his point, which I have acknowledged and committed to going away to think about more.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset made a point about existing powers. He will be aware of the powers granted by the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulations 2017, which I think he referred to. They have just been introduced in the UK and will go part of the way to solving the problem. Those regulations require that all charge points offer ad-hoc access without requiring people to have membership, as some existing systems do. They are about creating the greater consistency that he seeks.
In a former life I was the Energy Minister, and I remember dealing with Ofgem and others, as my right hon. Friend will have done in the roles that he has had. I hear what he says about the practical business of ensuring that the appropriate powers are employed in the way that we seek, and I will think more closely about that, too. It might be necessary to do that in primary legislation in the way that he described, but there may be other ways of achieving that end, and I want to give it further consideration.
It is certainly essential, if we are going to make this multiplicity of charge points as widely available as possible, to address the issue of off-street charge points. As my right hon. Friend and others will know, some local authorities have already made progress in that regard. I am delighted to be able to tell the Committee that just this weekend, London boroughs took the lead. Wandsworth approved a plan to convert all lampposts so that they have charge points, which is notable and important, and Kensington and Chelsea announced the conversion of 50 lampposts as a first step to converting all its lamp posts. So, there is some progress in London.
It is indeed encouraging that those things have been done, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the scale of the ambition is wholly different? Fifty charge points is fine, but I am talking about something like 10 million. I think that I am right in saying that there are about 20 million cars in this country, so about 10 million will be owned by people in places where there is off-street car parking. I do not think that local authorities, Ofgem or utilities companies have got the idea at all that we need to build the infrastructure far in advance of the cars if we are ever going to have the cars. That is why I beg him to consider primary legislation that puts it beyond doubt that Ministers could, if necessary, just make this happen wholesale. That way, they will probably avoid ever having to use those powers.
Before I give way, I will quote Ruskin. I know that the hon. Gentleman will want to be informed by that before he contributes. Ruskin said:
“Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.”
The effort required is of a scale and of the kind that my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset mentions. I shall be able to offer extra, exciting news in a few moments.
I am more likely to quote Rousseau than Ruskin. To take the point made by the right hon. Member for West Dorset and talk about it practically, in my constituency 50%-plus of properties are terraced and the lamp standards are set back, not kerbside. That causes a difficulty, because even if we were to fit charging points, we would still have trailing wires. We therefore have all sorts of issues about how we interconnect a property with the kerbside when the lamp standard is set back towards the property, not the road.
By 2040, of course, all vehicles will have to be electric vehicles. The houses will still be there—we are not going to demolish or reconstruct them—so there will have to be a process of adaptation between now and then. The right hon. Member for West Dorset was talking about 10 million charging points and 20 million cars, and I do not think he is too wrong. Who knows? With smaller vehicles, there may be more vehicles than that. How does the Minister envisage resolving that?
One thing the Minister could do, though it would not bridge the problem of open wiring and cabling from a property to the kerbside, is on parking bays. One of the problems in terraced areas will be the competition for parking outside. If a person has a charging point on their property, with the Government having alleviated the problem of cabling across the kerbside, they still have the problem of accessibility when they come home. The Government need to consider how the charge is transferred from the property to the roadside and how to prioritise, because someone who has just bought an electric vehicle will want to be able to park outside their house to connect the cable up at the shortest point. Those are issues the Government need to consider. When we look at the scale mentioned by the right hon. Member for West Dorset and where the volume of terraced properties is like mine at 50%-plus, we see there is a major challenge for the Government.
Yes, and one might say, paradoxically, that the challenge is both urban and rural. In many urban areas, people may not have convenient roadside parking, while in many rural areas people may live remote from main arterial routes and therefore major retailers. The Bill mentions major retailers, and I want to deal with that in greater detail. The point was made by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun in considering the previous incarnation of the Bill—the first Bill that dealt with these matters, which never came to fruition because of the general election—that rural areas in the north of England and Scotland and elsewhere could be disadvantaged if charging points are focused on main routes and urban places. I want to deal with that in my remarks and the subsequent actions I take.
The hon. Member for Hyndburn is right that there is a technical challenge in making sure that the infrastructure is in place to deliver the charging points. There is also the planning challenge. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset describes the efforts of Wandsworth and Kensington and Chelsea as just the beginning. Those were not his words, but I want to ensure that no one felt he was being critical of those brave local authorities.
Yesterday, I met the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and discussed this with him. In two respects, planning is critical. It is very important that we ensure that, first, electric car charging points are part of any application for new housing—an implicit part of new developments—and secondly, in respect of local authorities, we achieve greater consistency in the provision of charging points for the very reason that my right hon. Friend gave. The numbers involved require all local authorities to consider them and act on those considerations, or we simply will not get enough charging points—or, just as seriously, we may get them clustered in certain places and absent in others. That will not build the confidence we require to encourage the purchase and use of electric vehicles.
I agree with the principle that we need to expand the infrastructure as quickly as possible to create the space for the development of these vehicles. However, when we legislate for these things, as we must, there is the risk of hidden consequences. For instance, in an area where there is a high demand for kerbside parking spaces, particularly in central London, if these parking spaces are exclusive to electric vehicles that reduces the number of spaces for other road users. That may be one of the reasons why some of the boroughs in central London are resistant to creating large numbers of spaces, because they are going to lose the revenue from the car parking on the kerbside and the parking meters. These are the hidden consequences and we have to consider how we roll this out, because it could inconvenience a great many people. It certainly would in my constituency.
Yes. It is possible, as the hon. Gentleman says, that there could be contradictory needs, and incentives and disincentives such as those which he describes. We need to be careful about how we put in place those additional requests and requirements. That is about the conversation we will have with the Department for Communities and Local Government. I am writing to the Secretary of State as a direct result of my conversation with him about this yesterday evening. I knew the Committee would want to know about it and I made sure I had it before we met today. I anticipated that the Committee would want reassurance, which I am now ready to offer, that I intend to take this as far as we need to go. This would be done not only by taking these pretty extensive powers, which allow us to make regulations to ensure the easy accessibility of charge points to a common access method as a minimum, but also through the work of other Government Departments. I include BIS, where I used to be a Minister—now called BEIS—and DCLG.
This exchange across the Committee is important. We need collectively to adjust our view of what we are trying to achieve. Hitherto, we have been talking about putting in—if I can put it in these terms—a few charge points here and there in the hope of getting some useful experimentation with electric vehicles, which has all been good. We now have to move into an entirely different world, in which we, by no means exclusively reserve places for electric vehicles, nor do we have a few of them. We have to build out the infrastructure, just as with mobile telephony we have to build out the masts and therefore the capacity to deliver long before people will buy the machines to use it. We have to build out charge points everywhere, right across the country. Every parking place must be a place where you can park an electric vehicle and charge it, because that is the only way we will move quickly as a country from next-to-zero to millions and millions of electric vehicles.
We have a choice as a country. We could be a laggard; we could pass nice Bills, preen ourselves that we are interested in these matters and watch the countries that are going fast go fast. We have done that with some technologies and it is always catastrophic to our competitive status, but we could do it. I do not think that is what the Minister wants, I do not think it is what the Government wants, I do not think it is what the clean growth strategy demands and I do not think it is what the Committee wants. If we do not, we have to envisage regulatory powers that will force the build-out right the way across the street so every on-street car parking place is an on-street car charging place.
Order. Interventions are becoming longer and longer and more and more discursive. So, interventions should be short—anybody in these Committees can speak whenever they like—and to the point.
Let me be crystal clear: I have no intention of being behind the curve. I am not satisfied to be on the curve, we are going to be ahead of the curve. That is why we must think about housing developments and local authorities but, more than that, about workplaces. I want the Committee to know that the Government have already put into place grant funding to encourage workplaces to put charge points in place, so that people who do not have easy access to a charge point on the street and have not charged at home can charge at their place of work.
I want every local authority in the country to know that there is grant funding available for on-street charge points and I encourage them all to apply. We are not simply speaking of regulations or guidance that encourages or obliges them to consider these matters. We are prepared to help to fund this roll-out.
Workplaces, homes, local authorities, on-street, working across Government—this will not simply put us ahead of the curve, it will make us a leader in this field. I personally am not a laggard, and neither are the Government.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. He raises a good point: it is desirable to have charging points in workplaces, and I hope the Government will follow through on the Minister’s advice. People do not want charge up at home. There is obviously an issue there: the energy is coming from their own power point and, even if they have solar panels, they will be at work during the day when the sun shines and their vehicle is more likely to be at work. So the workplace is a great place for people to charge electric vehicles. That is desirable in the UK because if we are charging during the day—most people work during daylight hours—it will be from a renewable energy source.
Let me will just return to the Minister’s point about local authorities. My local authority is about to implement a planning policy making charging points automatic in every new build. They are progressive, but they are still left with this legacy. I put this to the Minister today, in my constituency of Haslingden and Hyndburn—where 50% of homes are terraced houses and the lampposts are set back—what incentive do people have to buy an electric vehicle when they cannot charge it at their property? Either they cannot get an access space, or they would have to run a cable. There is the technical problem of running a cable from the property to the car. What is the Minister’s response today, to get the electric vehicle market growing, and to get it growing in constituencies like mine?
It is straightforward: greater interoperability, greater shared and common access, consistency about payment method, and much greater availability—in homes, on streets and in workplaces. We simply have to have a step change in volume, but a fundamental change too in the ease of use of charge points.
It is true that most people who currently have an electric vehicle, for most the time, charge at home, and typically they charge overnight. That point was made earlier in the debate. But unless people have the confidence that they can charge straightforwardly elsewhere—with a system they understand and a payment method that is easy to use—they will not have the confidence to purchase or drive an electric vehicle. We see this as absolutely critical to our bigger ambitions for low emission vehicles, which is why we introduced the Bill. The whole purpose of the Bill is to address one of the principal reasons people might cite for not switching to an electric vehicle.
What scoping have the Government done of alternative charging methods? I ask because there was a scheme run in Israel, which admittedly did not work, but it failed because of lack of critical mass of electric vehicles. The technology was in place for service station-type set-ups where the entire battery could be replaced within five minutes. A car would go in, and come out with a fully charged battery. That would seem to get round quite a few of the problems we talk about in terms of roll-out and range, but also cover the areas that do not currently have any electrical charging points.
I do not know about the Israeli experience but I am more than happy to ask my officials to explore it and to see what we can learn from it. Other countries are engaged in the same process: electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular across the world, so most Governments are looking at the barriers to entry to the market and what they can do to remove them. Certainly we should learn from the best international examples and see if it is right to emulate them.
The scale argument is well made by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, the accessibility argument well made by the shadow Minister. Neither one is the more important. As I have said, accessibility, interoperability, ease of payment and scale all matter, but they must also sit alongside an appropriate consideration of design. The Committee would be disappointed were I not to say more about that, because part of the problem with charge points at the moment is that they are not easily recognisable. One could drive past the Department for Transport’s electric charging point and not know it was there, because it does not stand out like a beacon. Perhaps it should. Anywhere in the country, it would be better to know what an electric charging point looked like, particularly a roadside one in an unfamiliar place. People know their own locality, but this will be a national network of charging points and we have to consider people who are driving outside their locality.
I have mentioned previously, and am happy to cement today into our consideration, the idea of a competition. We will launch a competition in December for an iconic design for publicly accessible electric vehicle charging points, which would be widely deployable across the United Kingdom. We have already attracted the interest of the Royal College of Art, the National Transport Design Centre and the Design Council, with whom we have had early meetings. I will describe the competition in greater detail when I launch it but it will happen in concert with and alongside the progress of the Bill, and certainly before the Bill fulfils its destiny and becomes a landmark Act, for which we will all take some credit, Sir Edward. I want the design competition to be launched and advanced, if not completed, by then.
I welcome that competition. May I suggest that, if the points are to be easily distinguishable, they should be bright golden? If they were named after the Minister, they could be known as the bright golden Hayes. If one were put in a meadow, even better.
The Hayes hooks, as I think they were dubbed by a former Member of this House, now gone on to other—I will not say greater—things, are my only hope of emulating my predecessor Leslie Hore-Belisha with his beacons. I do see myself as a beacon, as you know, Sir Edward, and my charging points would be a lovely contribution to posterity.
Order. In respect to the Chair, should they not be called Leigh leads?
I will take that, Sir Edward, with the courtesy that you deserve, as a bid and consider it alongside other helpful suggestions.
So, the design competition will be launched shortly. A combination of that readily recognised design, with the pervasive policy that will result from the work that we are going to do with other Government Departments and the powers we are taking here, will mean that, as with the old red telephone boxes, when they were more common, and pillar boxes that still are, people will know exactly what a charging point looks like and how they can access one.
Perhaps inspired by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, I want to deal with the matter of rural areas, which is not in my notes. I am mindful of the experience of mobile telephone coverage or the roll-out of broadband. Members of the Committee who represent rural areas who, if they have not said something already, will at least be thinking, what about Dorset, Lincolnshire or Cornwall? We love driving on the main arterial routes, but will we be neglected? I think we need to do more work on that. We have mentioned major retailers in the Bill, but by their nature they may well be disproportionately located in the places where populations are concentrated and where most vehicles travel, and not in the rural areas represented by a number of members of this Committee.
We should think creatively about how to ensure that rural areas are not neglected. We must not end up with an inadequate number of charging points in parts of the country and therefore a disadvantage for the people of, for example, Gainsborough. I know you would not want that, Sir Edward. That is an additional consideration that I offer the Committee. I do not think it is an automatic consequence of the Bill, but it should accompany it as a further piece of work. There may be ways in which we can encourage certain local authorities. There may be ways to monitor and then ensure a consistent roll-out of charge points across the country. This is not unlike the suggestion that was made by the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington about how we might apply different aspects of the policy in different ways at different locations.
This part of the Bill facilitates a regulatory environment that would allow us to address a range of challenges. The Bill anticipates regulations, though I do not yet know whether this needs to be done by regulation or whether it can be done by other means. I wanted to highlight that I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I know that the Committee felt that there is, not a risk or a likelihood, but a possibility that we might end up concentrating charge points, even though they are interoperable and easily accessible and wonderfully recognisable and beautiful, and that rural areas would consequently be at a disadvantage. I will look at the matter closely and see whether we need regulation, or whether we can use other means.
I must say a word about amendment 3, as it is the subject of the debate. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East suggests that we require the Secretary of State to consult charge point operators and vehicle manufacturers before regulating. I can absolutely assure him that we will be consulting charge point operators and vehicle manufacturers before we make regulations. He has my certain assurance that that consultation will take place. I do not feel that the amendment is necessary, because it is implicit in the way in which the Government will go about their work. Ruskin said:
“Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies for instance.”
That does not mean that useful things must be ugly. It is perhaps true that the most beautiful things are useless, but let us make useful things as beautiful as they can possibly be.
I think we have had a very discursive and wide-ranging debate. If the hon. Gentleman wants to add anything, he should speak now.
The clause states that the Secretary of State will make regulations on these matters. What is the timeframe for this and what is the process? Who will be involved in some of these decisions and in formulating some of the ideas? When in the near future will some of these regulations be laid? As I said earlier, 50% of the issues for my constituents are simple technical matters: terraced property, road and the kerb that sits in the middle. When will the Secretary of State bring forward the regulations in clause 9 and who will be involved in that?
Could the Minister wait for Mr Stewart?
Forgive me if I was so mesmerised by the prospect of the competition that the Minister has just announced that I missed his comments, but can he clarify the point I asked about the common payment mechanism, which I think would be an important feature of the interoperability of these charging points?