My Lords, as announced in the Industrial Strategy last year, automated and electric vehicle technology forms an important part of the “future of mobility” grand challenge. This grand challenge sets out the ambition to create a long-term, strategic dialogue and partnership between government and industry, and to support sectors that can drive growth in the future. The Bill creates a framework to support automated and electric vehicle technology as it continues to develop and becomes more commonplace in our lives. It will lay the insurance framework as we prepare for fully automated vehicles on our roads, and provides for infrastructure that is easy to use for electric vehicle owners. Along with electrification, automation will make profound changes to our future vehicles and mobility.
First, on automated vehicles, it is over 85 years since the UK first introduced compulsory motor insurance for drivers on British roads to protect victims of collisions involving motor vehicles. The advent of a motor insurance framework in the Road Traffic Act 1930 revolutionised the car industry, enabling the mainstream sale of vehicles and changing the way people travelled throughout the country. Today, we face another revolutionary change in how we travel by road, thanks to innovative advances in computing and sensor technology. Vehicle manufacturers are already delivering advanced driver-assistance systems, and in the near future we will see the arrival of vehicles capable of safely driving themselves, at least in some circumstances or situations.
Noble Lords may recall our debate in December on last year’s report Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The Future? from the Lords Science and Technology Committee, which highlighted how automated vehicles could present an enormous opportunity for the UK, flagged some of the challenges and made recommendations to government. I thank the committee, led by my noble friend Lord Selborne, for the helpful and insightful contributions to this exciting field of automotive technology, and I look forward to this discussion continuing through the passage of the Bill.
The benefits of this new technology, for both mobility and wider society, have huge potential. The public could have their lives transformed for the better by the introduction of new and innovative mobility solutions. This could be particularly transformative for those who cannot currently drive: for instance, the elderly and people with disabilities that impair them from easily accessing different transport modes. Automated vehicles also have the potential to improve road safety by reducing the influence of human error. In 2016, human error was involved in over 85% of all reported UK road incidents. By automating the driving task, human lives could be saved on our roads.
Along with opportunities, there are many challenges in the area of automated vehicles, not least ethical questions and public acceptance of this technology. The Government are taking a number of steps to address these wider issues, including carrying out a three-year project with the Law Commission to set out proposals for a long-term regulatory framework for self-driving vehicles and investing in public demonstrations of these vehicles. The Bill that we are discussing today focuses on just a few elements of the Government’s work in this area.
To ensure the safe arrival of automated vehicles, we will need a compulsory motor insurance framework that is fit for purpose to support consumers and businesses involved in accidents. The Bill provides that framework. Currently, as the driver’s use of the vehicle, rather than the vehicle itself, is insured, collisions involving automated vehicles that occur when the driver is legitimately disengaged from the driving task may not be covered. Having consulted widely and worked closely with parliamentary colleagues, the automotive industry and the insurance industry, the Government are creating a new compulsory insurance framework within the Bill that covers motorists both when they are driving and when the driver has legitimately handed control to the vehicle. This framework will place a first-instance liability on insurers so that they can pay out to victims and, where they can, recover costs from the liable party.
We will ensure that victims continue to have quick and fair access to compensation by taking steps to align the way that consumers can buy insurance to the way they do now. As the Bill has progressed, we have been reassured of this approach by the support offered by both the insurance and the vehicle manufacturing industries. James Dalton, director of general insurance policy at the Association of British Insurers, has said:
“We support the approach the Government has taken in the Bill, as this will give the industry time to prepare for the commercial rollout of fully automated driving technology”.
As I said, these measures are part of a broader programme to ensure that automated technology is developed here and that, once ready, we are prepared to see it deployed on our roads.
While we prepare for the advent of fully automated vehicle technology, the Bill also seeks to encourage the use of electric vehicles by expanding and improving the network of charge points and hydrogen refuelling stations for plug-in and fuel cell electric vehicles. It is this Government’s ambition that by 2050 almost every car and van will be zero-emission. This commitment to zero-emission vehicles is technology neutral and should be industry-led but the Government have an important role to play. We are acting now to ensure that the right infrastructure is available right across the UK to meet the needs of current and future electric vehicle drivers. More electric vehicles on our roads will reduce pollution and improve local air quality, as well as deliver economic benefits. One in five battery electric cars sold in Europe in 2016 was made in the UK.
As numbers on our roads increase, owners need to be able to drive their vehicles and have confidence that they will be able to easily locate and conveniently access public charging infrastructure if they need to. We are investing nearly £1.5 billion between April 2015 and March 2021 to boost the number of electric vehicles on UK roads, and the Bill is a key enabler in delivering the infrastructure to support this.
The measures in the Bill will give the Government powers to make it easier for electric vehicle owners to charge their vehicles. To improve the consumer experience of using public charge points, the Bill includes the power to mandate a common method of payment and ensure that they are equipped with certain types of physical connector. This will give consumers confidence that, when they arrive at a public charge point, they will be able to plug in and pay conveniently.
The Bill also includes powers to mandate the provision of open data on the location and availability of charge points to a common standard. This will help drivers find charge points quickly and easily when they need to. To ensure the provision of sufficient infrastructure at strategic sites and overcome fears of range anxiety for anyone undertaking longer journeys, the Bill provides powers to require motorway service areas and large fuel retailers to provide charge points and hydrogen refuelling facilities.
The Bill also provides powers to require charge points in the future to be “smart”—that is, they will be able to receive, understand and respond to signals sent by third parties, such as National Grid. The Bill also provides a power to ensure that data transmitted from charge points to specified bodies such as National Grid is not stopped or disrupted so that energy demand can be accurately mapped and addressed. These requirements will enable the flexible management of electricity supply and demand and the ability for electricity networks to balance themselves at times of peak demand. This will also make sure that consumers can take advantage of managing their own charging patterns—for example, charging up when electricity is cheapest and potentially even selling electricity back to the grid at times of peak demand.
I fully acknowledge that with both automated and electric vehicles, there are many areas that the Government need to focus on, take action on and invest in. The Bill addresses just some of these issues but, taken together, the measures in it demonstrate the readiness of the UK to be part of this latest transport revolution to deliver easier, cleaner and safer journeys for everyone. The Bill is designed to put the UK on the front foot, ready to take advantage of the social and economic benefits these technologies will bring. I beg to move.
My Lords, I apologise to the House because my voice is a little frail today, after a rather difficult week.
I regret to say that I have mixed feelings over the introduction of the Bill, although I particularly welcome provisions dealing with battery technology. I believe that the moment the industry can claim 450 or 500-mile ranges for vehicles, particularly motor cars—with adequate charging points at home, on the roadside and in commercial areas—the market will take off.
However, I see two impediments. First, the price of home-charging units will inevitably go up because the Exchequer will have to compensate for the revenue loss on hydrocarbons, particularly taking into account the fact that some people will use their electric vehicles far more regularly than others. We need a little more information about how hydrocarbon revenues will be made up. Also, if home-charging rates are put up, we might get tax evasion—as we have with pink diesel, which has been a major area of tax evasion over the years. Secondly, the introduction of electric vehicles has consequences for west African and Middle Eastern politics: oil-producing countries that are dependent on hydrocarbon production will be in a rather difficult position. I am not opposing it at all, but I am not sure that we have altogether thought through the political consequences for those parts of the world.
Although I welcome the provisions on battery usage, I take a very different view on driverless vehicles. From the 2017 Budget report, I understand that the Government want to see some of them on the road by 2021. That worries me. I regard the development of driverless car technology as premature and, in the main, probably unnecessary—a huge black hole down which millions, perhaps billions, of pounds will be lost as promoters increasingly experience regulatory problems, software failure problems, contested legal liability—despite the first-instance arrangements that the Minister referred to—roadside vehicle control technology problems, road pricing arguments, public expenditure or infrastructure constraints, traffic delays leading to congestion and, most of all, driver frustration, which does not appear to have been considered to date. I foresee huge driver frustration with the technology. I am not suggesting that driverless vehicles will never happen; they will come one day, but only after the increasing problem of congestion has been resolved—particularly as every year there are more and more vehicles on our roads— public transport has been hugely improved, and there have been developments in as yet unexploited overhead transport systems in inner-city areas. The high-speed agenda currently being pursued is premature.
I will take two areas where the Bill seeks to reassure us. On insurance, we had a report from the Science and Technology Committee in February 2017. Paragraphs 54 to 59 of that excellent report are on liability and insurance and describe occasions,
“when an accident occurs and the car is in fully autonomous mode. In this case the ‘driver’ is not necessarily liable and liability could lie with the manufacturer of the vehicle”.
The report goes on to state that there were,
“some remaining issues, particularly around product liability”.
That is the understatement of 2017. The whole approach to vehicle liability will turn into a legal nightmare in the end despite the assurances given by the Minister. It is a lawyer’s dream, with different legal jurisdictions internationally drawing up different protocols, law, appeal arrangements and perhaps even immunities.
If noble Lords want more evidence of that, we need do no more than examine the provisions in the Bill. Clause 3(2) states:
“The insurer or owner of an automated vehicle is not liable under section 2 to the person in charge of the vehicle where the accident that it caused was wholly due to the person’s negligence in allowing the vehicle to begin driving itself when it was not appropriate to do so”.
“Inappropriate to do so” will be very expensive words, because the lawyers will make a mint out of it. They will love that one. How about this one?
“An insurance policy in respect of an automated vehicle may exclude or limit the insurer’s liability … for damage suffered by an insured person arising from an accident occurring as a direct result of …a failure to install safety-critical software updates that the insured person”—
once again we are into an area that the lawyers will love—
“knows, or ought reasonably to know, are safety critical”.
That is also worth a few bob.
We will end up in trench warfare between the likes of Microsoft, Tesla, Dyson, Ford, Mitsubishi and the big insurance companies and poor old Joe Bloggs, the innocent man caught in the middle, with 100 cars barping and beeping behind him as he sits at a congested roundabout with two software systems in two separate cars screaming and arguing with each other over who should go first. If the wrong one proceeds and clouts the other, there will be some very angry queueing drivers behind. It will be like a road traffic accident in Italy in the 1950s and 1960s—some noble Lords may recall them. Whenever there was an accident there would be a huge crowd of people surrounding the cars. The reason was of course because there was only third-party insurance and someone was going to pay. That is the kind of argument that I see us getting into.
I have another example on software conflict. Clause 2(2)(d) states that:
“Where … an accident is caused by an automated vehicle when driving itself”,
“a person suffers damage as a result of the accident”,
the insurer is liable for the damage. But which car’s insurer? I heard insurance companies referred to, but will they stand up at the end of the day? People pay premiums to insurance companies and there comes a point where someone has to take a decision on conditions of software conflict.
I ask myself a simple question. Should a vehicle owner who is not driving, an attendant driver, a passenger or any other person be held responsible in law in any way for a software malfunction beyond their knowledge or control that leads to damage to another vehicle or injury to others? By others I mean people in the car allegedly at fault, persons in another vehicle, pedestrians in the street or persons on private property. What about a multiple accident on a motorway? That will be an interesting one for the lawyers.
That brings me to the equally important issue of offences under the road traffic Acts. Again, I ask a simple question: who is liable when the software leads the vehicle to drive down a cycle lane, which is punishable in law? Who is liable if the vehicle turns right at a “No right-hand turn” sign, which is punishable; or exceeds the speed limit, which is punishable; passes through a red light, which is punishable; or enters a one-way street the wrong way—punishable? I have no reason to believe that these issues have been sorted out.
Finally, I have been referred to case law which is based on a House of Lords decision of 1925: Donoghue v Stevenson, known as the “snail in the bottle” case. It established the civil tort of negligence and obliged manufacturers to observe a duty of care towards customers. I should make it clear that I am not a lawyer; I am simply referring to the comments of others. In that decision, it was established that a manufacturer owes a duty to the consumers who it intends to use its products. This arose out of the need for negligence to be dependent on contract. It enforced the concept of a duty between the parties concerned. The lawyers will argue that in the case of the driverless car the software manufacturer, or even the vehicle manufacturer, stands in the front line of responsibility in both accidental damage and injury, and perhaps even in the unimaginable circumstance of road traffic Acts penalty fine payments. As I say, I am most unhappy about this latter part of the Bill. I know that the noble Baroness has given us assurances on first-instance responsibility, but I do not believe that it is going to work, or at least not yet.
My Lords, I must first declare my interests in the register as the chairman of the advisory board for the GATEway Project, the Greenwich automated vehicle test project which is running automated pods around the Greenwich peninsula. It is particularly concentrating on the human reactions to automated vehicles. Historically, I was the executive chairman and founder of an engineeringly fascinating but financially disastrous business called Modec, which manufactured and sold 400 pure electric delivery vehicles. We sold them around the world to brave pioneers like UPS, FedEx and Tesco. This was a zero-emission, battery-powered truck where the only emissions of carbon dioxide came from the driver. Alas, the idea came around too early, by at least 15 years, and I had to shut it down, but it did teach me a few things about electric vehicle manufacture—notably, that pioneering is expensive.
I first welcomed this Bill as a good step forward, but when I looked at it in detail, I did not think that it had been fully thought through. It seems to be a Bill that says, “Something must be done!”, but it does not really say what is to be done. Take, for instance, the definitions set out in Clause 8 in Part 2 of the Bill. There is a definition for a “hydrogen refuelling point”, but those points are not mentioned anywhere else other than in the definition, nor does the Bill aim to legislate for them, so why are we attempting to define hydrogen refuelling points in this Bill? In fact, one might argue that Part 2 provides powers only to regulate and does not produce new legislation at all.
I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will agree that it is important to get more electric vehicles into the market, not least because of the enormous improvements to air quality that can be delivered as a result. She will no doubt agree that leadership is better than legislation to achieve this. Would she therefore agree to add what pressure she can to the authorities in this noble House to ensure that electrical charging points are installed in our noble car park at the front of the Palace? Should we not install the very same sort of points that we are contemplating requiring large petrol stations to have?
Yesterday, I had the privilege of taking a test drive in a new Nissan Leaf, a car that will be made in Sunderland very soon. It can be recharged quickly, in about 40 minutes, so you can imagine that during a long journey that will be a chance for the driver to have a welcome cup of tea while the Nissan Leaf is recharging. But in a motorway service station, the restaurant is always some way away from the pumps, for health and safety reasons. Will the regulations contemplated in Part 2 deal with installing the charge points somewhere more convenient to the driver?
My noble friend the Minister has mentioned that the Bill is important to achieve the ambition of making the UK a centre of excellence for electric and autonomous vehicles. I share that ambition, but I am not sure that the Bill as presently drafted and without the regulations helps to achieve it.
I have quite a few comments about Part 1, specifically about the insurance of automated vehicles. I noticed the word “must” in the first line of Clause 1(1). I do not understand the implications of it. Does it make the Secretary of State liable if he fails to do this task? Why do we have “must” when the more usual “may” would do? The words in Clause 1(1)(a) and (b) are different, in that paragraph (a) defines that the vehicle travels on the roads but paragraph (b) does not. I can imagine an agricultural tractor driving on the roads manually, but autonomously only in a field. This would fall into both categories, but would not be an autonomous vehicle in most people’s opinion. Similarly, the self-parking function of a vehicle such as a Nissan Leaf might make it fall into both paragraphs (a) and (b), were it not for the qualification in Clause 7.
What is the meaning of Clause 7(1)(a),
“does not need to be monitored”?
In the Bill, it is a phrase used to define autonomous vehicles and whether they are to be included in the list, but in my opinion its meaning is uncertain. Does this mean level 5 in the worldwide accepted standard for autonomous vehicles, those of the SAE, the Society of Automotive Engineers? “Monitored” means different things to different people and is not defined in the Bill. If the Government are unwilling to accept other organisations’ standards, does it mean actually monitored by a driver with a suitable licence, or that it actually needs someone sitting in the driver seat?
What does “monitored” mean? Does it include operating the vehicle from a connected iPad, as might be done by a disabled driver in their wheelchair? When I take the tube, there is a lever to pull in cases of emergency. Does this not mean that the carriage is monitored by the passenger? Similarly, with an autonomous vehicle, if there is a button to press that stops or overrides vehicles in cases of emergency—I hope that it does have that—does that not therefore mean that the vehicle is constantly monitored for emergencies? If that is the case, surely the interpretations outlined in Clause 7 mean that there will be no vehicles on the list at all until level 5 vehicles are sold.
What does the word “safely” in,
“capable … of safely driving themselves”,
mean? As this will be used only when there is an accident, will someone argue that the vehicle cannot drive safely if it cannot avoid an accident? I have received an email from the Bill team that explains the need by saying, “A requirement for a vehicle to be capable of driving itself safely is not a requirement for it to be incapable of driving itself unsafely”. Could we have a meeting in which the Minister can explain to me slowly—very slowly—the meaning of, “a requirement for it to be incapable of driving itself unsafely”?
There is another “must” in Clause 1(3):
“The Secretary … must publish the list … each time it is revised”.
Is this practical when the Tesla, for example, may have the ability to safely drive itself turned on or off by remote software? When Tesla remotely downloads software, must a new edition of the Secretary’s list be issued? Is my noble friend sure that this is practicable?
One of the biggest costs in the insurance industry comes from ignorance, either of the driver or other road users. One of the advantages of autonomous vehicles is in the number of television or LIDAR cameras that they will carry. This trend is already starting with dash cams, but I would like to ensure that the guilty party in a crash does not feel tempted to delete the evidence from their car cameras. More cameras ought to reduce the cost of insurance.
Finally, I suggest that the regulation-making clauses should be amended. I have discussed this Bill with lawyers who have suggested that these powers are limited to Part 2 and therefore are relevant only to charging points. Similar powers are needed for the autonomous vehicle industry as they are likely to change faster than the electrical charge points. The focus should be on putting in place legislation which is as agile as it can be. This will enable it to develop, adapt and evolve with the technology that it tries to regulate. It could also help to remove obstacles, clarify grey areas and provide short, medium and long-term solutions which help demonstrate that the UK is a centre of excellence for the future development, testing and commercialisation of CAVs.
To summarise, I share the Government’s aim to put the UK at the front of the pack in developing and using these new technologies. The Bill as drafted does not yet help us achieve that ambition, because it merely enables future regulations. I hope that the regulations will help us achieve that ambition. Can my noble friend the Minister give us an indication of when these regulations will be published?
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, with his incisive critique of many aspects of the Bill. I understand that the Government are keen to be seen to be helpful and supportive of this new technology. The content and thrust of the Bill before the House today amply demonstrate that enthusiasm. It smacks of a “just do it” approach to this topic. I have no wish to be a spoil-sport but I am astonished that almost nothing is said, let alone covered, about safety: that is, road safety.
Not one element of the Bill has any realism unless the listed driverless vehicles are known to be safe for use on motorways, on all other major or minor roads up and down the country, on streets and avenues and in other urban settings wherever they may be cleared and allowed to roam. The safety not only of the occupants of the driverless car but of all other road users must be fully considered and regulated.
There must be negligible probability that they will behave like bumper cars, banging into each other or other vehicles or road users, or striking and damaging property. However, the Bill’s total coverage of this critical issue is limited to,
“in the Secretary of State’s opinion”—
in Clause 1(1)(b)—and a number of references to “safety-critical software”. It may be that the Secretary of State’s opinion will be that a particular type of vehicle can be used driverlessly only on motorways or dual-carriage highways, or he may have other ways of bracketing or classifying different makes or models of driverless vehicles and where, or where not, they may go.
While manufacturers’ undertakings will be an important guide, they surely cannot be the last word. One has but to recall the problems over diesel exhaust emissions to know how to answer that question. How is the Secretary of State to be satisfied that some enthusiastic DIY driverless car maker’s pet construction passes muster for safety—the safety, that is, not only of the occupants of the driverless car but of all other road users? It and all driverless-capable vehicles must be well described and regulated in ways that address the fundamental point of “safe to use”. Surely some MOT coverage of the automatics and its software will be necessary, too, as the vehicle ages.
Whatever methods the Secretary of State might use to arrive at their opinion, there must be some clear, publicly transparent criteria that underpin the opinion and manufacturers’ claims. In her letter of 8 February the Minister stated that the,
“approval process, which ensures that all”,
“vehicles on our roads are safe, is still in its infancy”.
She also mentioned discussions with the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe on this topic. But surely we must have our own national standards set out if we wish to be in the vanguard of using this new technology.
The repeated use of the phrase “safety-critical software” worries me, too. It is presumably meant to sound reassuring—until we ask how “safety-critical” is defined and who decides. Does it not imply that the vehicle was unsafe before the software update? There are also the so-called ethical and moral issues touched on in debates in the other place. I shall not dwell on them, but of course they will need resolution.
Without in any way trying to detract from the purpose of the Bill, I invite the noble Baroness to give some indication or explanation as to how the Government view and will deal with the road safety and ethical aspects of these vehicles and give insurers confidence in the safety performance of the new vehicles that they will be asked to insure. On a perhaps slightly lighter note, I hope that a more user-friendly word or expression than the phrases “driverless vehicle” or the even more legalistic and laborious “automated vehicle when driving itself” might be adopted. Once these vehicles become more than a pipe dream, the public will surely have coined a word. Look how the word “mobile” has been coined for such telephones. Might the now archaic word “autocar”, unhyphenated, first in use in the 1880s, and “autovan”, et cetera, be adopted? Perhaps the Minister might consider this use, with a definition in the Bill that resurrects this 19th-century word—or suggest another more user-friendly descriptor should the magazine Autocar decide to claim prior rights to the word.
While I might have no difficulty sitting back and reading the paper or answering my mobile as my automated vehicle—my autocar—takes me safely along a motorway or major dual carriageway, I doubt that I could feel safe on the many narrow and winding roads I frequently use when at home in Norfolk. Often, when another car approaches and the road is too narrow for both to pass, one courteously backs to a spot where the verge has been sufficiently flattened to allow enough space for the other to squeeze by. Will driverless cars display such courtesy or be able to decide which should reverse? How about roadworks that require vehicles to queue and pass in turn? Will the autocar approaching a stationary queue of cars ahead, waiting for the controlling traffic lights to go from red to green, too far ahead to be visible from the back of the queue, be able to distinguish that back of the queue from a couple or more vehicles parked by the side of the road, or will it erroneously decide to overtake?
Getting such autocar decisions wrong would have obvious safety risks. Even if such roadworks are hazard-signed and preregistered on GPS, there are also so-called mobile roadworks, with traffic control being maintained by two individuals with stop and go boards. Could an automatic vehicle cope with that as well, or would such roadworks have to be banned? These are but a couple of examples of my actual road traffic experiences in the past couple of weeks. Until such issues are resolved, the hype about the benefits that autocars will bring to those unable to drive themselves seems wildly premature.
To conclude, will the noble Baroness explain the Government’s thinking on their approach to safety in the regulation, approval and use of autocars? I am of course confident that her department will have been giving safety much thought—so, if the noble Baroness prefers, I am happy for her to write to me. With that, I have no other points to raise.
My Lords, I say at the outset that I very much welcome the Bill. The Government are indeed to be commended for making a start—it is really only a start—on the creation of a regulatory framework for the operation of autonomous vehicles and for enhancing the infrastructure to support electric vehicles. I add my usual, somewhat tangential, declaration of interest in that I work for an executive search firm which serves the high-technology and manufacturing sectors, among others.
Perhaps the first thing to say is that this is a field which is developing incredibly rapidly and is therefore unbelievably difficult to legislate for with any degree of certainty. We should all understand that while we are not quite ready for the operation of fully autonomous vehicles, what we are discussing is not a pipe dream or science fiction: although it must be considerably refined, the core technology exists now. The challenges are much less about the physical operation of the vehicle and more about the interaction with other parties and the regulatory and safety framework that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, referred to a moment ago.
Commercial aircraft have been utilising auto-land and fully automatic control systems for many years, with extremely high levels of reliability and integrity. Of course, they are operating in a highly controlled environment, but in terms of the physical operation of very complex machines in three dimensions, in all weathers and at high speeds, there are no concerns. In the military sphere UAVs are rapidly displacing manned airborne systems. At the other end of the spectrum, even consumer drone technology is quite extraordinarily capable in this regard. I have seen demonstrated one machine costing a few hundred pounds which can fly many kilometres and return to its launch site, avoiding collision with fixed and moving objects, and which is even capable of following a moving vehicle autonomously. These are the guides to the future.
We know that on the road real progress has been made in the development of autonomous vehicles, particularly their computing power and sensing capabilities. In some jurisdictions prototypes are even now operating on the roads; that is not without incident, but we should be in no doubt that the industry is moving ahead at great pace. As we have heard, already many cars are supplied with automatic—as opposed to autonomous—systems such as lane assist, park assist and various systems to apply the brakes to prevent collisions on motorways. But these do require oversight from the driver—at least, legally. I suspect that there will be a degree of confusion over what is required of the driver when he or she is operating a vehicle fitted with this type of system. There is an important role for the Government in making drivers aware of their continued responsibility for collision avoidance, no matter how clever their vehicles are, until those vehicles are specified by the Secretary of State in the manner envisaged by the Bill, which is many years off.
What is missing now is a regulatory regime to allow the operation of this type of vehicle. As we have heard, it is exceptionally difficult to legislate in this fast-moving technological arena. We can be sure that whatever we envisage in your Lordships’ House this afternoon will be outdated and superseded within just a few years. None the less, that is not an excuse for doing nothing. There is not an option to wait and see what develops. These initiatives are being pursued around the world, so we need to move forward and take the first steps towards creating that framework. Of course, technology does not recognise national boundaries, and if ever there was an area of the law which demanded co-operation with other countries, surely this is it. Whatever happens in our settlement with our European partners over the coming months and years, clearly it is absolutely vital that we pursue a transparent regime that is fully aligned in terms of standards, approaches and interoperability.
As I said earlier, we have to start somewhere, and the Government have chosen to prioritise dealing with insurance issues as the best place to start. I can understand the pressure from manufacturers and insurance companies to set the ground rules, and we should recognise that the Bill is a creditable and important first step. However, it is only that, and on its own it will achieve very little until we see the other areas of important regulation which will actually facilitate the operation of these vehicles. None the less, it is a start and the Government are to be congratulated on it.
The structure for how we approach the broader regulation of AVs is both highly complex and evolving. I think that the boundaries between the regulation of road vehicles and of other forms of automated transport, such as aerial drones, will become increasingly blurred; whether a vehicle travels along the road and whether it leaves it for certain sections remains to be seen. The regulatory, moral and ethical questions are legion, particularly as we are considering not just how machines interact with each other but how they interact with humans as fellow road users and pedestrians, and even with animals. For example, what happens with policemen trying to deal with a fast-moving situation on a motorway—how can they communicate in the way that they do with vehicles that are operated by human drivers?
Along with other noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon, I ask my noble friend the Minister to give at least an indication—not in any detail—of the Government’s thinking on how they would approach the broader regulatory environment. Particularly contentious areas will include the certification of the autonomous systems themselves, as we have unique regulations. Our Highway Code in the UK is not the same as that of other countries, so the Government will have to have the capability to evaluate the assumptions and algorithms that lie behind the computing for these highly complex systems. Another area is that of training for human drivers in how they interact with autonomous vehicles. There is that critical lack of eye contact, through which one can gain an understanding of the other driver’s intentions—the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, gave a great example of a driver reversing courteously to prevent a traffic jam. We also need to consider integrity and the protection against hijack, for want of a better term, of these vehicles.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, presented a very pessimistic view, if he will allow me. He almost seemed to say that we should not really do anything right now because it is very complicated; indeed it is, but we need to make a good start now. He should be reassured that machines really are very much better at performing many mechanical and computational functions than humans. I suspect that if we were moving from an autonomous environment to allow the manual operation of vehicles, there would be a bigger outcry and the risk might well be higher. The prize is there in terms of road safety and particularly, I suggest, of environmental reduction.
On the subject of electric propulsion and that section of the Bill, briefly, it is indisputable that such propulsion has many significant benefits, particularly in environmental factors but also in terms of performance. We are seeing an unstoppable wave of investment and new product development from almost all established automotive manufacturers and from some exciting new entrants. We know the limiting technological factors—battery capacity and the length of time it takes to charge the battery—and they are being addressed rapidly. But the Government have their part to play in seeking to address the current charging infrastructure. I suspect that once the electrical vehicle movement gains critical mass, as it almost has now, then commercial imperatives, innovation and the operation of the free market will solve many of the problems that we seek to solve through the rather clunky method of primary legislation. I also suspect that areas of the Bill will become otiose quite quickly. None the less, the Government have a clear role in helping to co-ordinate and align interoperability, nationally and internationally, and to facilitate the provision of greater infrastructure.
Finally, I want to say a word about power and the degree to which we take electricity for granted. I direct your Lordships’ attention to a video clip on YouTube that shows the German Olympic cyclist Robert Forstemann, an immensely powerful sprinter, nearly killing himself at maximum effort on a static bicycle connected to a generator. He struggled to maintain 700 watts of output for a number of minutes—the equivalent of climbing a 40-degree incline. His challenge was to produce enough electricity to toast a single slice of bread; he just about manages that but afterwards was completely shattered and collapsed in agony on the floor. It is a great illustration of how we take for granted the flick of a switch, whereas to move these vehicles around takes enormous reserves of power, which is itself a scarce resource.
My Lords, like many noble Lords, I also welcome the Bill as an heroic attempt to deal with the challenges. It certainly has not dealt with them all but it is a good start.
The complexity is well illustrated in the schedule, which to me demonstrates the need for a comprehensive review of all road traffic legislation. I know we will not get that at the moment; it would be a lawyer’s paradise. But the Minister mentioned some work by the Law Commission, which I found interesting. Its work seems a bit delayed. Five years ago, the Law Commission produced an excellent report on making level crossings safer not only for trains but for cars, lorries and so on, and we still have not seen any legislation about that. If there is to be legislation, I hope this Bill does not jump the queue.
The term “automated vehicles” also applies to railways and shipping, where they are happening. We have not yet heard how you would rescue a ship in the middle of the Atlantic if the whole thing fails, but no doubt we will. I think drones are excluded, but the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, talked about air. It all comes back to public acceptance. There is already a trucking experiment—probably more than that—going on in Germany. What are called “platoons”—of three trucks, I think—are driving down what I think is a private motorway. I am told that they have even found a way of having two platoons driving together in adjacent lanes and automatically hitching and unhitching the second or third truck with no driver in it between one and the other. I shall not explain where they could have come from, but they would all be going along at the same pace. How you deal with other people who want to overtake in a car, goodness knows. That is happening, and one of the failures of the Bill is that it does not take into account the road freight sector, where the challenges are probably different. The results may be different, but it is definitely happening. On the whole, a greater number of professional drivers are driving or controlling them than there possibly are in the private car sector.
Clause 1 refers to the listing of automated vehicles and their data. I think many noble Lords will have received a briefing from the Association of British Insurers which sums up the problems of insurance very nicely. For me, the most important thing is for the Government to ensure that users of automated vehicles are able to demonstrate that their vehicle was in a fully automated mode to exercise their rights under the legislation. What commitment can the Minister give us that the data confirming the status of the vehicle at the time of a crash will be made available to insurers and the public? I hope the answer is that it will be, because it is fundamental.
What happens to pedestrians and cyclists on a road where some of the vehicles may be in automatic mode and some may be being driven by one’s stepmother who cannot drive, has never had a licence and has forgotten how to turn a corner? Then there are many examples that we know of, involving people on scooters and things like that.
I worry about the definition of a vehicle driving itself, which the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, mentioned. It may be going along by itself, but it is under the control of somebody. It may be a computer or a human being playing some kind of game of Matchbox cars or something, but somebody is in control. This whole idea of the vehicle driving itself will be a bit of a get-out somehow.
The other issue is that if a vehicle is in an automatic mode, I do not believe it can possibly break the law. If it did, like a lot of motorists and truck drivers do today, it is not just about the weight of the vehicle, its speed and whether it has turned right in the wrong place, because that is all recorded, or it should be. We have to accept that everybody will be watched by Big Brother all time and will not disobey the law; otherwise they will presumably have their password removed and will not be able to control the thing any more.
There is another question related to that. You get power failures and breakdowns of computers. At some stage, these vehicles will break down, for whatever reason, and one has to find a way of rescuing them and making them go again. As many noble Lords will know, if your computer breaks down, someone—whether it is you, the retailer or someone else—has to try to start it again, and that sometimes takes a long time. That is a question that we need to look at.
On charging points, I do not think the needs of the trucking industry have been looked at. There need to be many more such points. In the future, I think most of them will be smart, for the reasons that the Minister and other noble Lords have given. There will be a need to get a quick charge and for your vehicle’s battery to feed back into the grid, if that is thought to be a good idea and it makes money, to get rid of the peaks and troughs.
It is essential that we have one common socket. That may seem a very small point, but many people drive to the continent—we will still go there after Brexit, I am sure—and many continental cars and vehicles will come here. Let us learn from the horrible divergence of power sockets in Europe at the moment. The Swiss have one, most of the rest of the continent has another and we have a different one again. There are very good reasons for that, but let us try to have one common socket everywhere so that they are completely interchangeable. I think we shall need one socket outside everyone’s property, if they still own a car. I am not convinced that everyone will own cars by then; I think they will hire them when they want to travel, which is another challenge. We must have many more smart charging points, taking into account not just heavy goods vehicles and so on but taxis—Uber, black cabs or whatever we like—because otherwise how will they work when the vehicle works 24 hours a day and they want a very quick charge?
I am sure a lot of interesting amendments will come up in Committee and thereafter, but I wish the Bill well. Let us hope we all try to improve it.
My Lords, I too welcome the Bill. I hope we will be able to persuade this House and the Government to strengthen it a bit because we need a Bill that is capable of dealing with standards, as many noble Lords have said, and we need to respond to emerging standards fast rather than having to wait for other Bills to come through, because we hope to be at the forefront of development in this area. We hope this is going to be one of our emerging industries. If we have to spend two years putting through primary legislation every time there is a new standard, we are very quickly going to fall off the wave front.
As many noble Lords have said, standards will be needed for how vehicles detect each other, how they react, how they resolve conflicts, how they communicate with each other and with the overall structure of what is going on, and indeed how they behave in particular circumstances—when they are not allowed to turn right, how fast they are allowed to go in built-up areas and how they deal with pedestrians and cyclists. This will all have to be covered by standards. Those standards will evolve over time, and we must be in a position to react fast to them. So I really hope the Government will allow us to add to the Bill some powers for them to make regulation in this area. I cannot see how a process of primary legislation is possibly going to allow us to succeed in this area.
As the Minister knows, I am a proponent of transforming our extensive slow rail network into a set of dedicated highways for autonomous vehicles, thinking of autonomous vehicles as standard passenger road vehicles. That, to my mind, has enormous advantages. First, it allows us to begin this transformation immediately because we are dealing with dedicated highways. There is no problem with pedestrians. There may be the odd cow—there certainly is round our part of the world—but generally, there are no manually driven vehicles, no pedestrians and nothing to obstruct the dedicated highway. We can use current vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, and current technology, or certainly that available by the time we get around to making the transformation.
It is a low-cost transformation, because essentially the roadbed is there and just requires some relatively inexpensive adaptation. The charging structure is there—it certainly is around us—the third rail is there and you can just use that, because no people are using these highways. Using current technology, you would get a service which was more reliable, because there would be lots of vehicles rather than the occasional train that breaks down, and much more convenient. It would be much easier to deal with things going wrong, because it is easy for a car to steer around a car which has stopped and there is plenty of extra space on a two line railway.
We as a nation would quickly get a very large population of autonomous vehicles—much larger than anything happening anywhere else in the world. We could upgrade their facilities as the technology became available, perhaps to allow them to be driven out of the stations and become manual vehicles, perhaps to allow them to trundle back very slowly to the station. You get a system that can evolve because it is big enough to afford to change, not a series of small experiments. We have tens of thousands of such vehicles, so it is much easier for us to make a big industry out of it and to have a voice in evolving it. It gets around all the problems mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours: you do not have to deal with them until you have the technology to do so. It would allow us, rather than to be trotting along behind the French, Japanese and, doubtless, the Chinese, to be at the forefront because we would provide the place where such vehicles could be used on a large scale.
One feature of that system, and possibly of automated vehicles generally, is that the vehicles would not be owned by individuals but by a much larger organisation—perhaps the railway. That has great advantages, because the whole business of ensuring that a vehicle is up to spec, has the latest software installed and all its parts are working would become the responsibility of a large-scale supplier, which could be made the person liable under the insurance policies if such things were not done. My computer keeps itself up to date with software, but most people let their software get out of date. The idea that all sorts of different versions of software would be trundling around the roads is a nightmare. I do not think that is possible. To make automated vehicles possible, we will need some form of common ownership. We ought to reflect that in the insurance clauses in the Bill. A problem that does not seem to be dealt with is the transfer of control from autonomous to manual. How does the autonomous vehicle, owned by some large corporation, know that the person who wishes to drive it manually is entitled to do so? I want to ensure that the data flows necessary to achieve that will be allowed under the Bill.
This is a Bill with great possibilities. I shall certainly propose amendments to widen the Government’s powers, so that they can take on board the sort of developments that I would like and have the powers that I think they will need to govern how vehicles are owned and how they operate on our roads. I suspect that the Government, and particularly the Department for Transport, have got used to seeing Southern Rail as an insoluble problem and a complete pain in the fundament—and certainly that is the way in which its passengers view it—but it is not. It is an enormous and wonderful opportunity, which we should seize, and I really hope that I can persuade the Government of that.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who exhibited his normal entrepreneurial and visionary flair.
I have no doubt whatever that, one day, all vehicles will be electrically powered and autonomous and that, as a result, travel by road will be safer, faster and carbon-free. However, this Bill is but a modest, incremental step towards that very distant goal.
Electric vehicles are not new. In 1899, a Belgian electric vehicle, “La Jamais Contente”, which looked like a torpedo with a man perched uneasily on the top, was the very first vehicle of any kind, anywhere in the world, to break the 100 kilometres per hour speed barrier. All new cars in the UK will have to be electric by 2040—earlier in some countries. Anyone purchasing a car in or around 2030 will be wary of buying anything other than an EV, because the resale value of a carbon emitter will become so low. So, in a little over 10 years, the rush to buy EVs may well have begun.
Currently there are 37 million vehicles in the UK, of which only 140,000 are plug-in electric—and these EVs have access to only 15,000 charge points at the moment. Think how much energy is required to move nearly 40 million heavy metal objects across long distances—the noble Viscount, Lord Goschen, gave us a very vivid illustration of that. Full electric mobility will exactly double our current demand for electricity. Moreover, at the very same time, to meet our carbon targets to which we have all agreed, gas and oil heating will itself be replaced by electric heating and overall demand for electricity will be triple what it is now. EVs will be by far the most power-hungry devices connected to the low-voltage grid, so a massive investment in the local grid will be needed to cope with the huge increase in domestic demand.
My first question is: when will the Government produce a plan for the transformation of the electricity generation and distribution system to accommodate this tripling of demand—a demand that must be served by non-carbon means? Furthermore, the Government’s thinking on a charging infrastructure for tens of millions of EVs appears to be in its infancy, as the Bill demonstrates. My second question is: when will the Government produce a strategy for charging to match the scale of the demand that will surely occur?
I turn to CAVs, connected and autonomous vehicles—a far less mature technology than EVs. The Secretary of State has said that we shall have,
“fully self-driving cars, without a human operator”,
on UK roads by 2021. This Bill provides a framework for authorising such vehicles. I have been heavily involved with organisations at the forefront of digital technology for 25 years, including leading global players. I have the most direct experience of the awesome power of these technologies and of their transformative impact. However, in every single organisation in which I have worked, digital technology has also often gone wrong. This is an embryonic, still nascent technology. For instance, we cannot get wi-fi to work reliably in the Palace of Westminster. On almost all technology platforms, one piece of software exposes bugs in another. Malign elements at home and abroad penetrate deep into our systems. The notion that we can reach level 5 autonomy by 2021—what the Secretary of State described—is a fantasy.
Toyota was the most innovative car maker in the second half of the 20th century. It invented lean manufacturing and produced reliable vehicles, thus ending the era—an unwelcome part of my youth—of push-starting cars in second gear on cold winter mornings. When the careful, measured CEO of Toyota’s research arm recently said that,
“we are not even close”,
to level 5, I found it all too easy to believe him. As the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, illustrated brilliantly, how can technology reliably master 100% of the extraordinary complexity of the driving experience, in all circumstances, overnight? In a Renault test, the sensors fogged up and the system tanked. I invite noble Lords to look at the BBC website to see the driverless Nissan in east London. It stops impressively at zebra crossings and traffic lights but it is completely thrown by the—admittedly unusual—sight of a broken-down emergency vehicle with fluorescent flashes being ferried on the back of a trailer with a big blue turn-right sign on the rear. It would have flummoxed me and it certainly flummoxed the driverless car.
There have been many crashes of autonomous vehicles in California, not least because the way CAVs currently move confuses human drivers and thus triggers human error. We must be extremely cautious about allowing CAVs on to our roads. It will certainly be a very long time indeed before I will be trying out a CAV on a crowded M6 on a stormy winter evening and risking meeting one of the double platoons of heavy goods vehicles described by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. So my third question to the Minister is: how will the licensing system for CAVs work? I simply do not understand it and I suspect other noble Lords do not, either. What criteria will be applied before these vehicles are allowed on our roads?
Finally, bold, unevidenced statements appear to be a growing feature of our modern politics on all sides. In recent times Ministers and officials have loudly proclaimed, “We will keep Britain at the forefront of CAV technology”, or, “We are at the front rank of electric vehicle technology”. There are many more such examples. My fourth question to the Minister is: what evidence is there to support these confident claims? I can find none. If you look at the sector analysis, the global leaders of these technologies are, unsurprisingly: GM; Ford, which acquired Argo AI, a collaboration between former Google and Uber executives; Honda, working with Alphabet’s Waymo; and Renault and its partners, including Microsoft. No British names appear in the global tech analysis.
I will offer some hard numbers. In the past few days I have looked at patent applications for CAV-related technologies to the end of 2016. US companies had 10 times, German five times and Japanese 4 times the number of patents applied for by UK-based companies. What evidence does the Minister have to persuade us that the Government’s rhetoric is justified and that we are leaders and not laggards in this important new technology? We must prepare for electric vehicles and we should be alert to the potential of autonomous vehicles, but we need a far bolder vision and plan for both than we have yet seen from the Government in this Bill.
My Lords, there is general agreement that this Bill, while modest, is nevertheless an encouraging start. I think it is a start to something far wider than transport and driverless vehicles; I refer particularly to the employment implications of robotics, and of course autonomous vehicles are part of that story. Over the next decade, or probably much longer, the Government will have to deal with a whole succession of issues about how to bring legislation in line with transformative, often disruptive, technologies. We agree that the Bill is a modest start to that. It is easy to look at insurance as a discrete issue and the industry has done some work on that, which I welcome, but I particularly welcome the Government’s recognition that a start has to be made. We should not disguise from ourselves the fact that, if we are to attract inward investment in these essential new technologies to deliver the industrial strategy which was published last year, we need to have legislation, in successive stages, in place to assist the overall policy.
We can all speculate about the speed with which these transformative technologies will be introduced. However, as has been pointed out, we have developed autonomous vehicles for shipping, rail and air transport, and discrete vehicles in isolated tracks. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned platooning in Germany. I can see that it would not be very difficult to fence off or bollard off a lane of a motorway and reduce it from four lanes to three or three lanes to two and simply have platooning going down that track. My noble kinsman Lord Lucas has a more adventurous proposal with regard to railway tracks. I am not sure whether I go the full way with him on that, but I would at least like to see some of Dr Beeching’s tracks restored in that way, even though cyclists might object.
We can say with absolute certainty that, with the advent of robotics, existing jobs in many sectors will disappear—in the transport sector, drivers will, of course, disappear—as they always do when transformative technologies are introduced. The secret is to try to ensure that we get the required inward investment. It does not have to be UK companies that are developed, although it would be good if that were the case, but we have to make ourselves fit for purpose in terms of inward investment.
What will make companies from around the world choose the United Kingdom as the preferred place for investment? I suggest that, first and foremost, it is our science and engineering base and skilled workforce. It is certainly helpful to companies to have a research infrastructure which will advance their cause. Many of the companies involved in this area are not necessarily existing car manufacturers but new entrants—for example, computer companies. They will certainly wish to work closely with university groups leading the field in this highly fast-moving area. Therefore, we must make sure that we promote our national research base. Above all, we need to deal with an issue that we have discussed many times in this House—namely, the skills gap and the shortage of qualified engineers in this extremely fast-moving area. Again, I refer not just to autonomous vehicles but to robotics as a whole.
We also have to ensure, as several noble Lords said, that we are around the table setting the international standards. It would be disastrous if we found that our initial enthusiasm proved to be redundant because the international standards were different from those we had pioneered. It is not just about having one common socket, which the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to, although that would certainly be a start; there are many other common standards which we will have to favour. We therefore need to think about how we look at the whole sweep of new technologies, of which autonomous and electric vehicles is one.
That brings me back to the Bill. Modest though its scope may be, with most of the provisions concerning driverless cars, which address the insurance issues, the Bill represents a start on the legislative programme which will be of critical importance to the successful implementation of a much wider industrial strategy. If we look at some of the detail, which has already been referred to by several speakers, in particular my noble friend Lord Borwick, there is a complete mystery as to what in fact a driverless vehicle is. It cannot just be level 5, which is some years off. If you look at the table from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which was reproduced in the Science and Technology Committee’s report, which the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, referred to, you can see that there are quite a lot of situations, and that levels 3, 4 and 5 might meet the definition of a car which in certain situations is capable of safely driving itself. Therefore, in Committee, unless we are to give a bonanza to lawyers, we must chisel down and decide exactly what we mean by an autonomous vehicle. I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that the lack of adequate definitions in the Bill seems to be a hostage to fortune so far as legal fees are concerned.
My Lords, I welcome the Bill generally. As the Minister stated when she moved the Second Reading, the Government have said that, by 2050, nearly all cars and vans should be zero-emission vehicles. As other noble Lords have said, that is not a particularly stretching target compared to the ambitions that are being laid down by many other countries, but to reach even this goal we will need major improvements in both the availability and reliability of electric charging points. I will concentrate on Part 2 and will essentially try to be practical in looking at what is happening around us and fairly close to us.
While the Bill starts to address the key risks and issues in rolling out electric charging points, it falls short on two fronts. First, it does not give the Secretary of State the power to require electric charging points to be installed at workplace car parks or residential developments, or in other large public locations. Secondly, it does not give the Secretary of State the power to require a minimum standard of reliability. This has not been picked up greatly in the debate so far; at the moment we have a system which is in many respects quite unreliable. People who use these cars often find that the connections do not function. It is quite disastrous if you are out on the road and get to a charge point but then find that it does not work. We need to address this point much more closely to ensure that effective infrastructure is rolled out.
It might seem a good idea for the Bill to give the Secretary of State the power to require petrol forecourts to install charging points, but the average person will not want to leave their car charging at a forecourt for long periods; they will want to charge it at home. The Bill should go much further than just forecourts and allow the Government to require charge points to be installed at public places such as shopping centres, leisure centres, stadiums and airports. There are massive parking areas at airports with very few facilities, despite all the pollution that we get there. When my noble friend Lord Adonis was in power, we were suggesting bringing that to a halt if there is a problem with pollution at airports. However, very little charging is planned for those areas and little encouragement is being given to people to install it. We should extend charge points to train stations, local golf clubs and National Trust centres, where, in some cases, hundreds of cars are parked. There are no such facilities in those places and, from reading the Bill, there is no indication that this has even crossed the Government’s mind.
Then we come to where 98% of people are located—domestic residences, with many people living in flats. What is in the Bill to assist people to charge their cars at blocks of flats and residential developments, as well as at large office car parks, where vehicles are parked for a lot of time? Electric charging points are needed there. Before making it a mandatory requirement, the Bill should lay the groundwork for incentives to be introduced in many of these areas so that people can look positively at effecting changes. For example, there could be lower council tax rates for premises that provide electric charging infrastructure. Have the Government looked at any new incentives that they might offer to people who change their infrastructure? I would like a response from the Minister on the possibility of council tax being one area that could be reviewed.
Speaking personally, I have been trying for two years to persuade the management board of the private estate where I live to introduce electric charging points. We are still talking about it but are no further forward. I live in a flat but I also have a garage, which is situated well away from the flat. We have a whole battery of garages with no electricity in them. Cars are parked all over the place and nobody uses the garages. If only the garages had electricity, people would put their cars in them to charge them and we would have a better life all round because the cars would not block the roads. It would be a double-win situation, but trying to get people to move on that is extraordinarily difficult.
The Bill needs to be strengthened to a degree to encourage local authorities, groups of individuals and landlords to look for ways in which they can start working together and make early changes. Achieving win-win situations is possible if we approach this matter with an open mind. As I said, it is essential to install charging points where people live and work, and a start needs to be made on that. We need to go way beyond just the forecourts mentioned in the Bill.
If we look at the size and scale of the electric charging infrastructure being rolled out in countries such as China, we see that our economy is at great risk of falling way behind. If we are to be at all competitive, we need to scale up much faster and require many more charging points and much more infrastructure than we are currently planning.
Earlier, I mentioned reliability. The Bill makes reference to the 11,500 charging points around the UK, but nobody has referred to how many of them actually work. What data do we keep on which of them do or do not work? Although it is good to see that, through the Bill, the Secretary of State would be given powers to require data on charging points in the future, it appears that it does not enable the Secretary of State to require a minimum standard of performance from them. Why not? If we look at similar utilities—such as water and electricity—for households and businesses, we find regulations on minimum levels of reliability. It is the same for telephones: obligations are placed on utility providers to ensure that they provide a reliable service to the public.
Running out of power in an electric vehicle is not only a major inconvenience; it could damage a business and its prospects, particularly if it relies on only electric vehicles for deliveries. What a problem it is to find a charging point for your delivery van, but find that it does not work because minimum standards have not been required and are not being met in any way. The charging point can be left unrepaired for considerable periods of time—as is the case with many of them, which are not immediately righted when they break down. We need to have a look at this and see whether we can find ways to avoid the frustrations that people currently encounter when they find so much unreliability in the existing network.
I ask the Minister whether the Government have been thinking about this and what ideas they have in mind for regulation. Is there any possibility of bringing something on standards into the Bill when we come to debate it in Committee? I look forward to the answers to the questions I have posed.
My Lords, I am the happy owner of a new all-electric car, so I have a strong personal interest in this. Although I am proud to be a green driver, and delighted with the quiet ride and freedom from queuing at petrol stations, at the same time I have two considerable problems, one of which is addressed by this valuable Bill.
The unaddressed one is being a pioneer. Every year, the battery life of electric cars is increased by technology, and new cars are selling with longer mile ranges than mine. So the 2017 model I have will not only suffer the usual depreciation, but will frankly be valueless: not in a year or so—I gather the selling price is quite good for about a year—but quite soon, because no one will want a short-range car when they can have a longer-range battery. We pioneers deserve all the subsidies we can get as we lead the way in persuading all, or many, drivers to go electric.
The second problem, which the Bill begins to address, is the range. My car’s is 120 miles maximum. The distance from my home to Westminster and back is a 126-mile round trip. Therefore, I dare not make it without being assured of being able to recharge, let alone allowing for any unexpected diversions on the way. I am like a goat tethered to a stake, going 50 miles this way, 50 miles that way, or round in circles—as tethered goats tend to go—but always going back to the centre and the comfort of the electric socket in my garage.
I echo the noble Lord, Lord Borwick: the Palace of Westminster should be leading the way. However, there are no charging sockets in the House of Lords car park. I have been agitating over this for nearly a year. I was told that it was impossible because this is a heritage site, not to be despoiled. However, all it takes is an ordinary three-prong socket, perhaps in the lamp posts dotted around our parking area, to allow charging during debates; indeed, they provide the most convenient length for this exercise. Those spaces, if we can get them set up, would have to be reserved for electric car owners. Nothing is more off-putting than to arrive at a charging point in a car park, only to find a petrol car parked there so that there is no hope of charging.
I support as urgent Clauses 8 to 16, which give the Government power to support the charging point infrastructure. Indeed, it needs to go further. Right now, the Government should mandate operators to provide uniform charging points and one method only of information about them and about payment and access. We have multiple confusing memberships, information packages and payment options now, which only add to concerns on a long trip. We need public charge points right now at every large garage, car park, motorway service area, supermarket, station car park, park and ride, in new buildings, offices and in residential areas, not to mention the House of Lords. It is not good enough to wait until this place is refurbished. There are lots of reasons to refurbish it but we should not have to wait to get simple, three-point plugs installed in our car park. The information about charging needs to be consistent and transparent right now. It is not good enough to wait for the market to do this itself.
I say that because it is no surprise that, as I have read, the Petrol Retailers Association does not agree with pushing ahead, and there is a risk that progress will be delayed indefinitely. The Government must send a positive message. Potential buyers will not buy until they are assured of charging convenience, and charging points will not come about in sufficient quantities until the purchases take off. The same was true as we moved from horse-drawn transport. The horses were always ready to go, despite the heavy maintenance, the mess and the smell, but we moved to petrol even though there were so few petrol stations at the start. Let us embrace this new progress.